The Lord’s Day Evening
With God in the Wilderness
Divvying Up Canaan
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. Please be seated. If you have your Bibles with you, I’d invite you to turn with me to Numbers 34. Back on Sunday evening, April 6, when we were last together in Numbers with God in the wilderness on the Lord’s Day, we were in a passage which contained a wilderness travel log, Numbers 33:1-49, and it had a succession of almost unpronounceable names and obscure place references, and we asked, “What in the world could we possibly learn from such a chapter?”
Well, as we studied it we observed that in those names, those place names which comprised the travel log that ran from the Red Sea to the very border of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, we had a remembrance of a truth about God and about His provision which was attached to those locations that was important for reminding the children of Israel and us of God’s person and power, of His deliverance, of His miraculous provision, and even of His judgment against sin and unbelief.
Then last Wednesday night, when we came to Numbers 33:50-56, looking at that passage at the end of that long chapter, we learned how we are to hear God’s word, and about how we’re to prepare for worship and to serve God, and about how we are to live the Christian life, and about how God so generously and wisely cares for us, and the danger of disobedience.
And so, looking at that passage we attempted to give attention to five things: Revelation (how God revealed himself to Israel); command (what God commanded them to do with regard to expelling the Canaanites from the land); blessing and responsibility (His giving to them the land, but His requirement that they take the land); God’s provision for them in the way He distributed the land; and, His warning to them if they failed to heed the commands which He had given to them.
Now very frankly, we didn’t get through all of that on Wednesday night! As is so typical, I got through about two of my five points, and we looked really only at God’s revelation — how He speaks to His people through the mouth of the prophet. We camped on verses 50-51, where God speaks to Moses and tells Moses exactly what to speak to the people, and we pointed out that that’s exactly how the word of God works, the very formula of God speaking words to Moses and then Moses speaking those words to the people is designed to give the people confidence in Moses’ words not as simply Moses’ words, but as God’s word relayed to them through Moses, so that Moses is merely God’s mouthpiece and the words that they are hearing through Moses’ mouth are actually God’s word to them.
But we also had time to look at God’s command to drive the Canaanites out, and we said that that all had to do with purity of worship; that God did not want the children of Israel mixing their praise of Him with following after the gods of the Canaanites. And so they were to drive out the people of Canaan, and destroy their altars and images and high places, in order that they would be wholly devoted to the Lord.
And we also looked at the severe warning which He gave to Israel in verses 55-56 as to the consequence of their disobedience. You remember the Lord said, ‘If you will not exile the Canaanites from their land, then I will exile you from your land.’ Well, it took about a thousand years. God is very patient. But from the very beginning, the children of Israel disobeyed, and so finally when 586 BC came, almost a thousand years later, God had had enough, and He did exactly what He told the children of Israel (in Numbers 33:55, 56) that He would do: if they did not drive out the people of the land, He would drive them out of the land. And so the whole story of the exile goes back to Numbers 33:55, 56.
Well, that brings us to Numbers 34, and as Jeremy ably introduced the hymn, There is a Land of Pure Delight, he really introduced the passage to you, because the passage is about dividing up the land of Canaan. And in this passage the Lord draws attention to His generosity in giving such an extensive land. He draws attention to a principle of sanctification which we’ll capture in the little phrase “the land is yours; now take it.” Let that lodge in your mind, because we’re going to come back to that. This is the way that sanctification is to operate in the Christian life, and it’s based on the way that God dealt with the children of Israel. And we also see God’s wise provision for the children of Israel in the way that He appointed the land to be divided up. Those three things we’ll give consideration to tonight, so let’s give attention to God’s holy word in Numbers 34, beginning in verse 1. And before we read it, let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing.
Our Lord and our God, this is Your word, and even in passages with strange proper nouns that mention places that we’re not familiar with, we know that You have rich and practical instruction awaiting us, for no word of Scripture falls without accomplishing what You have appointed it to accomplish. So we pray, O God, do not let Your word return void as it is read in our ears, but write it on our hearts by Your Holy Spirit. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is the word of God:
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders), your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom, and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the East. And your border shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea. Then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon. And the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and its limit shall be at the sea.
“ ‘For the western border, you shall have the Great Sea and its coast. This shall be your western border.
“ ‘This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be at Zedad. Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.
“ ‘You shall draw a line for your eastern border from Hazar-enan to Shepham. And the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain. And the border shall go down and reach to the shoulder of the Sea of Chinnereth on the east. And the border shall go down to the Jordan, and its limit shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.’
“Moses commanded the people of Israel, saying, ‘This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe. For the tribe of the people of Reuben by fathers’ houses and the tribe of the people of Gad by their fathers’ houses have received their inheritance, and also the half-tribe of Manasseh. The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, toward the sunrise.’
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘These are the names of the men who shall divide the land to you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun. You shall take one chief from every tribe to divide the land for inheritance. These are the names of the men: Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. Of the tribe of the people of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Ammihud. Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon. Of the tribe of the people of Dan a chief, Bukki the son of Jogli. Of the people of Joseph: of the tribe of the people of Manasseh a chief, Hanniel the son of Ephod. And of the tribe of the people of Ephraim a chief, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan. Of the tribe of the people of Zebulun a chief, Elizaphan the son of Parnach. Of the tribe of the people of Issachar a chief, Paltiel the son of Azzan. And of the tribe of the people of Asher a chief, Ahihud the son of Shelomi. Of the tribe of the people of Naphtali a chief, Pedahel the son of Ammihud. These are the men whom the Lord commanded to divide the inheritance for the people of Israel in the land of Canaan.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The whole book of Numbers looks forward to Israel’s settlement in the Promised Land. That’s why we’ve been singing Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, and that’s why it’s so appropriate that we sing There Is a Land of Pure Delight right now as we are standing just across the Jordan from that Promised Land. And so since the whole book of Numbers looks forward to Israel’s settlement in the Promised Land, it’s totally appropriate that the book of Numbers would close with provisions by God in relation to the occupation of the land of Canaan by the children of Israel. In fact, the book closes with six provisions of God for the children of Israel with a view to their occupation of the land of Canaan. And the first provision we saw on Wednesday night in chapter 33, verses 50-56, and it’s very clear. There we have a God-required exile of the Canaanites from the land.
Now it’s very important for us to understand that what we have God commanding the children of Israel in Numbers 33:50-56; it is not some kind of xenophobic genocide. This is not some sort of inherent fear and hatred of a people group which excites mass extermination of them. This is a God-commanded judgment against the Canaanites. The Canaanites were so wicked — in fact, we’re going to see in the fifth provision here at the end of Numbers, the Canaanites were so wicked that purification had to be made for the very land. The land was considered impure because of the wickedness of the Canaanites, and this is not something new. If you go all the way back to Genesis 15 when God promises Abraham the land of Canaan, He tells Abraham that the children of Israel are going to be exiled for four hundred and something years before they come back into the land of Canaan, because — remember what He says? — “…because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” In other words, God in His patience is going to give the Canaanites four hundred years to repent, but they’re not going to do it. In fact, they’re going to be worse and worse and worse and worse. And so when the children of Israel are sent into the land and told to exterminate the Canaanites, it is not an act of xenophobic genocide, it is an act of God-appointed judgment. It is not unlike the flood. As God sent the flood to judge the world in the days of Noah, so He sends His people into Canaan as His instrument to judge the Canaanites. It’s important for us to understand this. But that’s the first appointment that we see at the end of Numbers, the God-required exile of the Canaanites.
Second [and that’s part of the passage that we’re going to be looking at tonight], in Numbers 34:1-15, we see the God-given boundaries of the Promised Land. The Lord appoints starting with the southern boundary, and then going up the western boundary, and then going across the northern boundary, and then coming down the eastern boundary (not in an exact square, but roughly working clockwise south, west, north, and east he gives the boundary of the Land of Canaan.) He tells His people exactly the boundaries, the extent of the land He’s given to them. And so we see the God-given boundaries of the Promised Land.
Third, in Numbers 34:16-29, we see God-appointed leaders who will distribute the land. It’s really striking that God himself picked the men who were going to be involved in distributing the land to the tribes of the children of Israel. You can imagine that having been exiled for four hundred years, having been wandering in the wilderness for forty years, you could have had the whole nation of Israel blow up over land disputes once they got into the land of Canaan. And God in His wisdom and kindness makes sure through three specific ways that that didn’t happen, and we’ll look at those three specific ways tonight. So that’s the third thing that we see in preparation for the occupation of Canaan, God-appointed leaders who will distribute the land.
Then, in chapter 35:1-8, we see a fourth provision at the end of Numbers: God-appointed cities for the Levites. The Levites don’t have land, remember? But God gives them cities to live in and makes provision for them, and those cities are appointed by God himself.
Then, fifth, in chapter 35:9-34, we see the God-required purification of the land. The land had been spoiled by the wickedness of the Canaanites, and so purification was required for the land. And then finally, in chapter 36:1-12, we see the God-appointed rules of land inheritance.
Now this means a number of things to you. One is it means that Numbers is almost done. We’re just a few sermons from the end of this book. We’ve been in this book on and off for — I don’t know — a couple of years now, and we’re within shouting distance, we’re within sight of the end of this book. Maybe three or so more messages and we’ll be to the end of this great book. And I must say it’s been a sheer delight for me. I’ve learned so much. I don’t know what you’ve learned, but I’ve learned a lot. It’s perhaps been at your expense, but I’ve learned a lot and I’m thankful for it, and I’m thankful for your patience.
But especially tonight we see, with this layout of six things at the end of Numbers, that of those six things that are mentioned here in chapter 34, tonight we’re going to consider the boundaries of the land and the men who are appointed by God to see to the distribution of it.
And here we’re going to see three things:
we’re going to see God’s generosity and His wise provision;
we’re going to be reminded of a principle of sanctification;
and, we’re going to see God’s kindness in the very way that He provides for the distribution of the land.
I. God’s generosity.
So very briefly, let me point you to the first thing. Let’s first look at the generosity of God, and you see this in the very description of the extent of the land.
If you look in this passage from chapter 34:2 down to 34:12, you have the boundaries of the land of Canaan described. And even though we don’t know exactly where all these place names are, we know enough of them to have a pretty good and accurate idea of where these boundaries are. Well, guess what? Israel was never as big as these boundaries. Even in the reigns of David and Solomon, Israel was never as big as these boundaries. Did you realize that? That God gave Israel more land than they ever lived in? Isn’t God generous? But aren’t we timorous not to take what God has so generously offered?
This immediately floods my mind with that thought from John Owen. When John Owen was speaking about what his goal was in pastoral ministry, the first part of that goal [I won’t tell you the second part because it’s not relevant to what we’re doing tonight]…but the first part of his goal was this. He said,
“In pastoral ministry it’s my desire that those who are in union with Christ would know that they are in union with Christ.”
That was the first part. He boiled down his whole goal…this is the man who wrote 24 volumes of theological works. You’d be doing well to read his theological works if you took your whole life to do it, and you’d be doing even better to understand them. But he could boil down his whole goal in pastoral ministry to two points, and the first point was that those who are in union with Christ would know that they are in union with Christ. And do you know why he said that? He said that because so many of people who have the blessing of God to be united to Jesus Christ by faith do not live up to that reality. And isn’t it just like Israel? God gave them a land that they never fully occupied. Isn’t God generous? But ought we not desire to live up to the blessings that God has given to us in union with Christ? Point one.
Point two: God’s blessing of the land to Israel. And you see this reiterated in various ways. In chapter 33, verse 53, he says,
“You shall take possession of the land and settle it, for I have given the land to you to possess it.”
Isn’t it interesting? “I have given the land to you; you are to take possession of it.”
And then in chapter 34:2:
“Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders)…”
Then verse 12: “This land shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.”
We see a principle here. God says to the children of Israel, ‘This is your land; I have given it to you. Now take it.’ Do you see the principle? The land is yours, but you’ve got to take it. The land is yours; now take it. This is a vitally important principle for Christian sanctification. God tells you that the riches of union with Christ are yours; now take them.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Romans 6. You’ll see this play out as the Apostle Paul describes to us the work of God in our sanctification by our union with Christ.
Romans 6:11 — “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Now there’s something glorious. He says because you’re united to Christ, here’s how I want you to think about yourself. Consider yourself to have died to sin and to be alive to God in Christ. Because you’ve trusted in Jesus Christ, because you’ve been united to Him by faith, here’s how I want you to think about yourself: I have died to the dominion of sin in my life, and I am fully alive to God in Christ. He says that’s how I want you to think about yourself. And then look at what he says in the very next verse:
“Now therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.”
‘Think about yourself this way,’ he says. ‘Consider yourself to be dead to the dominion of sin, and fully alive to God in Jesus Christ. Now don’t let sin reign. Consider yourself as a person in whom sin does not reign.’ And then what’s the next thing he says? Don’t let sin reign.
Do you see the principle? The land is yours; now take it. You are dead to the dominion of sin; now act like it. It’s how sanctification works! God does an amazing work of liberation and victory in us, and then He says: Live it out. He doesn’t say, ‘OK, I’ve saved you; the rest is on your own. Get holy. Become more spiritual. Be like Jesus by doing stuff.’ No! He says, ‘In union with Christ I have wrecked and destroyed the dominion of sin in you. Now live like it. The land is yours; now take it.’
This is a principle of New Testament living. You see it again in Ephesians 1:14 and 17. In Ephesians 1:14, do you know what the Apostle Paul says? He says that you have received the Holy Spirit of promise, who is a seal of your adoption as the sons of God. And then do you know what Paul prays for you, three verses later in Ephesians 1:17? He prays that you would be enlightened by the Spirit. First, he says you have the Spirit and you’ve been sealed with the Spirit, and then he prays that you’d be enlightened by the Spirit. The land is yours; now take it. The Spirit is yours; now live like it. Dominion of sin has been destroyed in you; now live that out. The land is yours; now take it. And the principle goes all the way back to Numbers 33 and 34.
II. God’s provision.
One last thing: How kind God’s provision is in this passage. The children of Israel could have killed one another over the land. You remember there had already been dispute from the tribes that wanted to settle in the Transjordan. There had almost been a civil war in Israel when some tribes said, ‘Look, you know, this land over here is pretty good. We’ll just settle here, and y’all go ahead and fight the Canaanites.’ And you remember how that had been sorted out. God said, ‘OK, if you’re going to settle here and you’re not going to go in the land of Canaan, here’s the deal. You’re not going to get your land until the very last tribe of Israel has gotten its land in the land of Canaan. In other words, your men are going to go fight with us until we subdue the land of Canaan, and then you can come back here and settle in the Transjordan.’ But there had almost been a civil war just with the announcement of those two tribes and the half tribe that wanted to live in the Transjordan. Can you imagine the kind of fighting over the land?
And God did three things that were so kind and wise to keep that from happening.
First of all, He said that the land in Canaan was going to be divided how? Based on the size of the tribes. Big tribes get big land; small tribes get small land. Settled at the outset. It’s going to be done proportionately. The bigger tribes are going to get more land, the smaller tribes are going to get less land. So here’s the rule. It’s going to be proportional.
Secondly, how is that land going to be chosen to be the specific land of the tribes? By lot. They’re going to draw straws or cast lots. Nobody…nobody, then, will be able to say, ‘Hey, hey, hey! That’s not fair!’ Because it’s simply going to allow God in His providence through the casting of lots to appoint who gets what.
And then, thirdly, notice what He does. He appoints…God himself appoints men to distribute the land. Look at chapter 34:16.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘These are the names of the men who shall divide the land to you for inheritance….”
So God himself appoints the men who are going to supervise the sub-distribution of the land. The big distribution of the land is decided by the size of the tribe and by lots, but then when you get down to the family units, then you’re going to have these wise men that are directly appointed by God from each of the tribes deciding how that distribution is going to happen. God puts into place three mechanisms to make sure that the receiving of the land doesn’t end up being a big curse and a big mess for the children of Israel. How wise and kind God is!
And it’s so interesting that when you look through the names of these men, so many of their names have God’s name in their names. This is a pattern that is called theophoric names, God-bearing names; names which bear the name of God. Everywhere in that list where you see the word El or Eli, that’s the name of God in that man’s name — like Kemuel. These men would have been infants, or at the very least under age twenty, as the children of Israel were journeying across the wilderness, because the wilderness generation above twenty isn’t going to enter the land. So these are men who have been named in faith by their parents with a name that bears God’s name, in faith that God’s promise will be fulfilled. And now they are appointed to distribute the land.
We see here God’s wisdom and kindness in His provision for His people, so that this moment of blessing doesn’t become a moment of disaster. In all this we see God’s providence, we see God’s generosity, and we even see how God intends for us to live out the Christian life because He’s given us the land and He’s called on us now to take it.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this Your word. We thank You for the riches that You store up for us in unlikely places, and we thank You that we’ve found this out over and over and over in the book of Numbers. We pray, heavenly Father, that You would not allow this good news to lie fallow in us, or to fall on rocky soil; but that it would fall on the well-tilled soil of our hearts and that it would spring forth, giving a return — some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, some a hundredfold, to Your glory and our good. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away.