Numbers 34: Boundaries of Israel

God outlines the boundaries of Israel and with the exception of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, those boundaries are intact today.


Photocredit: W
God specifies the boundaries the Israelites are to inherit in Numbers 34—I wonder if this is in response to people wanting land outside of the boundaries He'd promised. His boundaries are such that the southern part of the land was bordered by Edom and the dead sea near the wilderness of Zin. The western border border is given as the great sea, which we now call the Mediterranean Sea. The northern border was to include Mount Hor (where Aaron died). The eastern border was to go from Hazarenan to Shepham. This is thought to be the oasis of Qaryatein or Hadr near Mount Hernon.[1]

9 1/2 Tribes Inherit Land

Tribe Prince
Judah Caleb
Simeon Shemuel
Benjamin Elidad
Dan Bukki
Manasseh Hanniel
Ephraim Kemeul
Zebulun Elizaphan
Issachar Paltiel
Asher Ahihud
Naphtali Pedahel
9.5 tribes stood to inherit land within the borders of the promised land. Eleazar and Joshua are placed in charge of dividing the land amongst these tribes. Each tribe's inheritance is given to their prince and presumably further divided amongst the tribe by the prince.[3] Based on the map in my study Bible (as well as several others), the inheritance was given to the princes from South to North in the order they are listed in Numbers 34:19-28 (this order has been duplicated in the table to the left. The Tribe of Judah receives the most land. The land for Simeon was located within the territory assigned to Judah. West Manasseh stretched from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean and was probably the 2nd largest territory. Both Ephraim and Zebulun received land locked territories.[1][4][5] The evidence for the map's depiction of the inheritances is given in the book of Joshua.

Princes of Israel

The Princes of Israel are listed in several places throughout Numbers. From the chart below, we notice the change in leadership between Numbers 1 & 7 to Numbers 34. This is expected since the princes of Numbers 1 & 7 were from the generation that died before the 40 years was up. What is a little strange is that the princes listed in Numbers 34 are neither the sons nor the brothers of the previous princes.

If we think about princes from a western mindset, there are a few scenarios that could give us this outcome. One possible scenario would be that the princes of Numbers 34 were the sons of the previous princes' brothers due to lack of sons, but it seems unlikely that none of the 12 princes had sons eligible to become prince. Another possibility is that the prince of the tribe was simply the eldest, after all elders would be considered the wisest. It is also possible that in Numbers 1, the princes were already elderly, their sons would have been in the generation of the first census, and the princes of Numbers 34 were actually the grandsons of those men. Though, to be honest, none of these really feel right.

As we dig deeper, it should be noted that Numbers 16:2 tells us that at the time of Korah's rebellion, there were 250 princes. Thus, the criteria to become a prince had to be different than what we expect today. With 250 princes, each tribe would have had roughly 20 princes each. I find it unlikely that any one family had 20 sons. Considering the fact that even as twins the Bible dictates Esau as older than Jacob, I also doubt there were 20 men considered eldest in the tribe. Numbers 1:16 tells us that the princes were appointed from the community, so likely, the princes were simply appointed and not chosen through bloodline the way European royalty is.
TribeNumbers 1Numbers 7Numbers 34
JudahNahshon (son of Amminadab)Nahshon (son of Amminadab)Caleb (son of Jephunneh)
IssacharNethaneel (son of Zuar)Nethaneel (son of Zuar)Paltiel (son of Azzan)
ZebulunEliab (son of Helon)Eliab (son of Helon)Elizaphan (son of Parnach)
RuebenElizur (son of Shedeur)Elizur (son of Shedeur)---
SimeonShelumiel (son of Zurishaddai)Shelumiel (son of Zurishaddai)Shemuel (son of Ammihud)
GadEliasaph (son of Deuel)Eliasaph (son of Deuel)---
EphraimElishama (son of Ammihud)Elishama (son of Ammihud)Kemuel (son of Shiphtan)
ManassehGamaliel (son of Pedahzur)Gamaliel (son of Pedahzur)Hanniel (son of Ephod)
BenjaminAbidan (son of Gideoni)Abidan (son of Gideoni)Elidad (son of Chislon)
DanAhiezer (son of Ammishaddai)Ahiezer (son of Ammishaddai) Bukki (son of Jogli)
AsherPagiel (son of Ocran)Pagiel (son of Ocran)Ahihud (son of Shelomi)
NaphtaliAhira (son of Enan)Ahira (son of Enan)Pedahel (son of Ammihud)


The land given to the 9.5 tribes listed above is almost synonymous with modern Israel. The exceptions, of course, are the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. (Note that Israel of today also includes some of Edom, while Israel originally did not.) To state the obvious, the relationship between these three territories (Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank) is extremely volatile.

One issue that fuels the fire is that the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were there before the nation of Israel was created. They are descended from the Philistines,[6] who are mentioned as early as Genesis 21:32. In Joshua 13:1-2, it is confirmed that the Israelites were commanded to take the Philistines' land as well. However, just as God warned, the constant disbelief of the Israelites enabled their capture or occupation by several other nations (such as Rome and Babylon) over time. While Jewish people lived in this area after the fall of Israel and before the recreation of Israel in 1948, they were a minority. Like the Canaanites and Philistines of Moses and Joshua's era, the point of view of those living there today is that their home land has been taken from them—which is true. From the Jewish point of view, and much of the Christian world, the land belongs to the Jews by the mandate of God. As you can guess, this creates a great deal of tension and animosity.
Modern day Israel
Tribal Inheritance
Photocredit: Bible History

Another major issue that is embedded in this conflict is the issue of the Holy Land. Israel is considered the Holy Land for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Jerusalem, which sits directly on the border of the West Bank and Israel, is God's holy city and the original location of the Jewish Temple as well as the Dome of the Rock. The destruction of the Temple in 70ad marks the end of Jewish rule in Israel, but also the end of their ability to practice Judaism as written since there is no longer a Temple for God to receive the sacrifices.[7] In the 7th century ad, the Dome of the Rock was built on Temple Mount as a shrine for Islam. The Dome of the Rock is the oldest shrine in Islam, whereas Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims believe that this is the spot at which Muhammad ascended, while Jews identify this location as the place where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac and the location of the Temple. Not only is the site home to the Dome of the Rock, but it is also the location of Al-Aqṣā mosque.[8]


  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 292-294. 2014
  2. "Mediterranean". Ancient History Encyclopedia. January 2011
  3. Henry, Matthew. "Numbers 34 Bible Commentary". 2016
  4. "Division of the Promised Land Map". 2016
  5. "Map of Canaan - 12 Tribe Portions". Bible History Online. 2016
  6. Kenyon, Kathleen Mary. "Palestine". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2016
  7. Moses, Jeremy. "Israel Before the State". My Jewish Learning. 2012
  8. "Dome of the Rock". Ecyclopædia Britannica. 2016

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