Borders of the Promise
Given By: "Glenn D. Blank" On Saturday, July 21, 2012


B’midbar (Numbers) 34:1–3, ADONAI told Moshe,  “Command the children of Israel and say to them: “When you enter the land of Kena‘an, this is the land that will fall to you as an inheritance—the land of Kena‘an with its borders. Your southern side will be from the Tzin Desert close to the border of Edom, and to the east your border will be the southern end of the Salt (Dead) Sea.”

The varying borders of the Promised Land are a measure of faith in the promises.They vary because the faith of God’s promises. What are our borders—the borders of our faith in God’s promises to us? What are your borders—the borders of your calling, of your faith in God’s promises to you?

Our Torah portion mentions one of several sets of borders for the Promised Land of Israel. This description in today’s Torah portion seems to be the most detailed and specific, though it uses some ancient place names that are hard to pin down today. V. 2 says that the children of Israel are about to enter the land of Canaan (Kena’an) as their inheritance. Verse 3 starts with the southern border, which crosses the Negev desert—actually the word Negev means south. So the Hebrew actually says, p’at-negev—the Negev side or southern edge. Here we are, riding in the Negev…. [s] Here we are, swimming in the Salt (Dead) Sea. Verse 4 says it extended from the southern tip of the Salt Sea (which English-speakers call the Dead Sea), through the Tzin Desert (or Wilderness of Sin in most Bibles) down to Kadesh-Barnea, along the border between modern Israel and the Sinai peninsula—where the children of Israel had encamped while the 12 spies explored the land. Verse 5 says it it turned up to the “brook of Egypt”—probably not the Nile but a wadi (the Hebrew word nachl means torrent—a wadi is a valley through torrents would rush during rainy season) which flowed down from mountains in the Sinai to the Great Sea or Mediterranean. 

Verse 6 says says the Great Sea was the western boundary (so that would have included Philistia). Verse 7 marks the beginning of the northern boundary at Mount Hor all the up to Mount Hor.This Mount Hor is evidently different from the one in Edom, where Aaron died.

The word Hor itself is related to the word for mountain or hill—har. The map (from Wikipedia) shows Mount Hor in northern Lebanon, but that’s a guess. My guess is that it it’s a peak north of Acco possibly one on the northern border of modern Israel. Here’s a mountain that goes right up to the sea at the border of modern Israel and Lebanon. The tunnel through the mountain is closed off. Then the northern border would conform more closely with the territory of Canaan that the twelve tribes eventually occupied.

Vv. 8 and 9 traces the northern boundary with place names that are now obscure, so it’s hard to be sure. V. 10-12 marks the eastern border [s] down to Lake Kinneret or Sea of Galilee, and the River Jordan. There are many other references to boundaries for the Promised Land. Genesis 15:18, On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”—So the Abrahamic covenant envisions borders from one great river to the other—i.e., the entire territory that Abraham personally walked through. 

Exodus 23:31 makes a promise to the children of Israel after they’ve left Egypt: “I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of Philistia, and from the wilderness to the River [Euphrates].”—Instead of the River of Egypt, the southern extent is the Sea of Reeds, where horses and riders drowned and the children of Israel had left Egypt behind.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:7 mentions “the Negev, the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and the Lebanon, as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates.”--As in today’s portion, the southern border is in the Negev desert, but the northern is the Euphrates. Finally, Ezekiel 47 foresees a set of boundaries that might be similar to those of Numbers 34, but uses quite different place names, and may well extend further north to include all of modern Lebanon.

So, which is it? Now, those of you who have attended Bible studies in my home know what I typically say when confronted with an either/or question, posing a seeming contradiction. Both/and! The different promises may have something to do with varying contexts. What might be different in these contexts—the faith that the Chosen People has, or that God expects them to have, for the promise of the land. The promise in Genesis 15 flows naturally out of the faith of Abram for all the land he walked though. Also, Father Abram had great faith!

The promise of Exodus 23, flows out of the faith of the b’nei Israel formed at the Yon Suf. The promise of Numbers 34 is for the land that the children of Israel could envision capturing. Yet HaShem understood that even this faith would come little by little.

Exodus 23:30, “I will drive them out before you little by little, until you bear fruit and possess the land.”—Some translations use the word “increased” but the Hebrew is teefreh or bear fruit.—The fruit that HaShem would look for is the fruit of faith in Him.

Exodus 34:24 says, “I will drive out nations from your path and enlarge your territory.”—So it seems that the promised territory would grow as Israel’s faith to conquer it expanded.

Eventually, King David conquered much of this promised territory—though the areas associated with Lebanon and Syria were probably vassal states rather than occupied by the tribes of Israel. Ultimately, this “greater Israel,” extending to the Euphrates, is for when the faith of Israel meets Messiah. That’s one reason why I think the borders of Ezekiel 47 are not the same as those of Numbers 34. Ezekiel 47 looks forward to a future age, when Messiah shall reign in Zion. Amen?

There’s an important principle here for us. The borders of the God’s promise and calling to us also depend on the extent of our faith. If you have little faith, your borders will be small—but you could still expand them little by little. If you have great faith, your borders will keep expanding—what limits are there in God? Romans 12:3 mentions “the measure of faith God has given you.” This measure of faith need not be static—it’s not as if God measures out faith only once!

I for one can testify that the faith I had when I first accepted Yeshua as the Messiah was much less the measure I had when I understood that God would actually speak to me and direct my steps. And my faith has been expanding step by step ever since. Certainly the measure of faith to serve as your Messianic Rabbi I have now is much greater than when the Lord first called me to this ministry 20 years ago.  Back then, I told the Lord I thought it was a bad idea!

Eventually, I was able to step away from my job at Lehigh University, with complete confidence in his blessing & provision.  And I expect my faith to continue to expand—as well as the borders of my calling. How about you? What are your borders—the borders of your calling, your faith in His promises to you?

Before closing, this message is also a setup for pitching a trip to Eretz Israel. Visiting the Promised Land can be life-changing—it can really expand the borders of your faith? How many of who have been to the land would agree with that?  Baruch HaShem! So, how many of you would be interested in a congregational tour of Israel next spring? It will be similar to the one I’ve planned before, seeing biblical and modern sites by day, and in the evenings visiting with Messianic belieers, such as Marc Chopinsky, and Eddie and Jackie, and Ivy? Would any of you be interested in working with me to firm up the details of a tour?