The Children of Israel were still camped just east of the Jordan River on the plains of Moab where they were making final preparations to invade Canaan. God had instructed them to divide the Promised Land - once it had been conquered of course - among the twelve tribes based upon their relative sizes. In keeping with this command, Moses had ordered and conducted a second census to determine the current population of each tribe. Now that those numbers had been tabulated, dividing the land proportionally would be much easier.
But what were to be the outer borders of the Promised Land? How could the inheritance be divided into pieces without first clearly defining its boundaries? In other words, what were to be the specific dimensions of Israel? How much land were they to conquer? How far were they to advance? These geographic lines needed be drawn in order to clearly define area of land in question. Fortunately, God spoke to Moses and provided detailed information establishing the borders of Israel.
The nation of Israel was given by God to the descendants of Jacob as an everlasting inheritance. Despite its turbulent history, the LORD has preserved and protected Israel for centuries. In the end times, Israel will be restored to its former glory and Jesus our Messiah will reign from Jerusalem over the entire earth. Israel will always be God’s chosen nation.
This morning we will lay out the God-given boundaries of Israel. This was to be the eternal inheritance of Jacob, divided up among the twelve tribes. But would they all want it, or would some of the tribes settle for something else?
I. THE BORDERS OF ISRAEL (Numbers 34:1-12)
God gave Moses the specific measurements of Israel. Its border was to begin at the southern tip of the Dead Sea and extend southward along the edge of Edom. From there it turned westward and crossed the dry and desolate Wilderness of Zin. Upon reaching the Brook of Egypt the border slanted northward until it reached the Mediterranean Sea. This line made up the southern border of Israel.
The western border of Israel was the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.
The northern border began at the Mediterranean Sea and extended eastward toward Mt. Hor. From there it continued to Zedad and Ziphron, finally ending at Hazar-enan.
The eastern border was drawn from Hazar-enan down to the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee. It then ran southward along the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, down the length of the Jordan River, and along the eastern shoreline of the Dead Sea.
These were the boundaries of Israel as determined by God and recorded in Scripture. Any land within these borders was part of the Promised Land and rightfully belonged to Israel. That said, any region outside of these clearly established borders was not considered part of the Promised Land and, subsequently, was not part of God’s covenant agreement to Israel.
II. THE EASTERN TRIBES (Numbers 32:1-42)
While God’s children were camped in Moab, in an area also known as Gilead, two of the twelve tribes - namely Reuben and Gad - decided that they’d rather have an inheritance there than receiving a portion of the Promised Land. The regions of Gilead and Bashan were suitable for their large herds of livestock, and so they requested that these been given to them as their possession. These two tribes were content to settle in Moab and to not cross over the Jordan with their brethren.
Upon hearing their request, Moses was quite upset. Israel was about to invade and conquer Canaan, to displace all of the people who were living currently there, and to occupy it as an everlasting possession. It would take all of them standing and fighting together to accomplish such a monumental task. And now, unexpectedly, two of the twelve tribes tribes seemingly wanted to back out. It seemed to Moses that Reuben and Gad were turning their back on the remaining tribes, not willing to finish the mission.
Moses remembered what had happened years before at Kadesh Barnea and how Israel became discouraged by the spies’ negative report and decided not to invade the Promised Land. He was determined not to let that happen again. So he made the Reubenites and Gadites promise to accompany the rest of Israel into Canaan. Moses offered them the land of Gilead and Bashan as their inheritance so long as they sent warriors into the Promised Land to fight alongside the remaining tribes. Reuben and Gad agreed to these terms.
Because they solemnly pledged to help the rest of Israel in its conquest of Canaan, Moses went ahead and reluctantly gave the tribes of Reuben and Gad their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Apparently some division arouse within the tribe of Manasseh over this incident and it split. Half of Manasseh aligned itself with Reuben and Gad. When it was all said and done, 2 ½ tribes decided to settle beyond the Jordan while the other 9 ½ received their inheritance within the Promised Land. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, along with the half-tribe of Manasseh, became known as the eastern tribes.
III. WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM (Joshua 22:1-34)
In the years that followed the eastern tribes made good on their promise. Under the leadership of Joshua, during the period of conquest, men from these tribes fought valiantly alongside their brothers to defeat the Canaanites. After the Promised Land had been taken and settled by the remaining Israelites, the descendants of the eastern tribes returned to their possession beyond the Jordan and settled there.
The Jordan River formed a barrier that effectively cut off the eastern tribes from the manifest presence of God which resided in the tabernacle at Shiloh. Therefore, they decided to build an altar that would serve as a replica of the one in Israel. Their duplicate altar was not used for burnt offerings - as a matter of fact, no sacrifices were made on it at all. It was built solely to identify the eastern tribes with their relatives in Israel. It was completely void of God’s presence - just a cheap copy of the real altar.
As time went by, the eastern tribes became increasingly nomadic and their possession became more and more blurred. Because they were outside of the Promised Land and separated from their kinsmen by the Jordan River, the eastern tribes were never really considered to be a viable part of the nation of Israel. They gradually faded into obscurity. The land of Bashan and Gilead was eventually conquered by Assyria, and even today this territory is occupied by the nations of Jordan and Syria.
Sadly, the legacy of the eastern tribes reflects strongly upon many Christians today. Many willingly exchange the promises of tomorrow for the pleasures of today. They are content with a mediocre Christianity that lives just outside of God’s abundant blessing. They want to live close to the will of God, but not actually in it. They’d rather abide near Him than in Him. They don’t mind being associated with the LORD and His people, but don’t necessarily feel the need to be a part of them. They are easily satisfied with the good, and therefore never realize God’s best. They readily forfeit their eternal inheritance for a temporal one.
Don’t be like Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. Don’t accept a substitute in place of God’s promise. It is the LORD’s desire for His children to live in the very center of His will, not skirting around the edges of it. God wants us to be living sacrifices who offer our lives willingly on the true altar - not pretenders who offer nothing on imitation altars built for show. The LORD has reserved an inheritance for us - not only in the next life, but in this life as well. Don’t settle for anything less than His best.