Borders of Israel: Summary
The current land disputes with Israel over the so-called “occupied territories” will be relatively short-lived. Bible prophecy points to a soon-coming age (the Millennium) when the people of Israel (Abraham’s descendants, the Jews) live at peace within the boundaries promised unconditionally to Abraham. Those boundaries span from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west, and embrace the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza. It is interesting to observe that the boundaries given to Moses as he was about to divide up Canaan for the twelve tribes (Numbers 34) correlate well with the Millennial boundaries given in Ezekiel 47.
Biblical Borders: The Future Borders of Israel According to the Bible
The current borders of Israel are disputed by the international community, from the UN to the Arab leadership. But these parties insist on ignoring the true legal position, link. Even the US, Israel’s greatest ally makes misleading statements:
We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines [Barack Obama, 2011]
Obama gave US support for a future Palestinian state based on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war. Thankfully, Israel’s border disputes will be short-lived. When this age ends and the 1,000 year ‘Millennial Age’ of earth begins, Israel’s borders will be firmly established by the God of Israel. In fact, Israel’s future borders are already clearly written in Bible prophecy (if only the world would read it).
The Promised Land: Israel’s Biblical Title Deeds
God promised that He would give all the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. He made a covenant with Abraham:
To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt (Jewish tradition: the Nile) as far as the great river, the River Euphrates (Gen 15.18)
I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines (Gaza coast), and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates (Exod 23.31)
Despite Israel’s future disobedience, this promise was unconditional in that the land was to be theirs forever; no strings attached:
I will give to you and to your descendants … all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession (Gen 17.8)
Where was Canaan, this “Promised Land”? Where did the twelve tribes of Israel settle? They settled mainly in the area currently referred to as Israel, including the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, although the tribes of Benjamin, Gad, Reuben and part of Manasseh settled east of the Jordan (Fig.1). So there we have it: Abraham’s descendants, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel are promised their own land, their own piece of real estate in the region we now call Israel.
Location of Israel’s Future Borders
Let’s try and identify the biblical geographic boundaries. As the Israelites conquered more territory the term ‘Canaan’ was gradually applied to all the lands west of the Jordan valley, and there are references to Canaanites living in the valleys and plains of this region (Num 13.29)(Josh 11.3)(Judg 1.27). In time the LORD gave more detail of the geographical boundaries. For example, in Num 34.1-12 we find the boundaries given to Moses as he was about to divide up Canaan for the twelve tribes. These are:
- Western: the Mediterranean Sea
- Eastern: from Kadesh-barnea, via Zin and the salt sea to Zedad and Hamath in the north
- Southern: from Kadesh Barnea to the Brook of Egypt (Jewish tradition takes this as the Nile)
- Northern: from the Mediterranean Sea (Mount Hor) to Hamath to Zedad
The boundaries defined in Numbers 34 are shown in Fig.2 and in Ezek 47.13-20 we find more boundary detail which confirm these boundaries. It is clearly stated that the Jordan is the eastern boundary (v18) and the western boundary (the Mediterranean Sea) goes north as far as ‘opposite Hamath’ (v20). The southern boundary is defined by a ‘brook’ in Num 34.5 and Ezek 47.19 and by a ‘river’ in Gen 15.18. As mentioned, Jewish tradition takes this to be the Nile (although some dispute this, link, link).
Future (equal) land Division
Historically, the tribes occupied only some of this land and, as already mentioned, in addition occupied some land east of the Jordan (see also Israel’s History). Under Moses, the land was divided according to the size of each tribe (Josh 13) and so resulted in very unequal division e.g. the tribe of Manasseh took a large share. In contrast, Ezek 47 and 48 state that the land in Millennial Israel will be divided equally between the tribes, and in an east-west way (parallel sections):
The Sovereign Lord said, “These are the boundaries of the land that is to be divided among the twelve tribes … I solemnly promised your ancestors that I would give them possession of this land; now divide it equally among you. (Ezek 47.13-14)
So each tribe will have one portion, starting with Dan in the north and ending with Gad in the south, and all sections run east-west, Fig.3. There are several important points to note here.
The LORD’s Temple
Firstly, there will be a portion of land between the section for the tribe of Judah and the section for the tribe of Benjamin that is “set apart for the LORD” (Ezek 45.1-5, 48.8-22). Why? Recall that one day soon, in the Millennial age, the law will emanate from Zion (Mic 4.2). In the Old Testament, Zion came to mean Jerusalem, and the temple area in particular. This indicates that Christ will rule from some future temple and it’s surrounding area. In fact, Messianic Jews expect such a temple to be built in the near future, and we find a graphic description of such a temple in Ezek 40-48.
So the land “set apart” must include a holy place for the LORD’s temple or sanctuary. It’s precise dimensions are given in Ezek 45.1-5 and it is in the center of this special section of land (see Fig.4). It is the place of Christ’s throne on earth – a glorious place in the midst of the children of Israel. This is the place described as “THE LORD IS THERE” (Ezek 48.35).
Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever (Ezek 43.7)
The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the juniper, the box tree and the cypress together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary; And I shall make the place of My feet glorious (Isa 60.13)
Israeli-Palestinian Problem Solved
We should also ask, “What of the non-Jewish population – those who currently war against the Jews?” In the coming age this conflict is resolved by the LORD. Israel is instructed by God to treat “the stranger” (non-Jews) as one of themselves and let them live in the land:
“… and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord God (Ezek 47.22-23)
This of course is nothing new. Thousands of years ago God instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel how they should treat foreigners (non-Jews). They were commanded to love “strangers” and to let them live normal lives amongst them (Deut 10.19):
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong … (he) … shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself (Lev 19.33,34)
So under the new (Millennial) borders of Israel, God repeats this instruction via the prophet Ezekiel. During an interview in 1989, Arial Sharon was asked: “Do you think of Arabs as your friends, neighbours, your enemies?” He replied:
From my childhood, I have believed Jews and Arabs can live together, and I believe now they should live together. All the rights to this country, to the land of Israel – especially Judea and Samaria – are Jewish … but everyone who lives in the country should have all the rights of the country”. [Ariel Sharon, TIME, April 1989]
Unfortunately, as long as Arab countries refuse to recognize Israel and continue to attack her, such peaceful cohabitation is impossible. But it will happen in the Millennial age under Christ’s rule.
A Border Discrepancy?
At first sight it appears that there is some discrepancy in the northern boundary, since initially God told Abraham this boundary would be the River Euphrates, much further to the north (Gen 15.18). The kingdoms of David and Solomon did indeed stretch from the river of Egypt on the Sinai peninsula, across the Syrian Desert to Tiphsah on the Euphrates, but the Euphrates boundary is absent from Num 34 and Ezek 47.
A possible explanation is that God is giving boundaries for two time periods. At the Second Coming of Christ, link, there will be significant geological changes in the Middle East (Zech 14.4,10)(Isa 11.15,16) and one of these is the drying up of the Euphrates (Rev 16.12). So whilst the Euphrates served as a boundary for David and Solomon, it virtually ceases to be a landmark in the Millennium.
Comparison with Today’s Borders
It is interesting to compare the future biblical borders and land division with the current situation in Israel. Clearly, the future borders include both the Gaza strip and the West Bank! They also include significant parts of present-day Syria i.e. up to Hamath, and probably all of Lebanon. Are the politicians listening?