3.51 Boundaries, Towns and Patrimonies

The final chapters of Numbers (Num 34-36) are concerned with national boundaries, cities of refuge, and family inheritances.  It is interesting to note that God's land had boundaries.  Though God is the Creator and ruler of all lands and He is "God of the spirits of all mankind," yet He confined His earthly kingdom in the Old Covenant to specific landmarks.  It is important to realize that Israel had no mandate to impose covenant law beyond these borders.  There was, in the establishment of these borders, an implicit recognition by God of the rights of non-Israelites to live by their own rules in their own lands.  There is no hint of imperialistic expansion of the theocratic community into the larger world.  But if foreigners wished to come from other lands and live in Israel, they were welcome so long as they agreed to abide by Israelite law.  

        

Not only were there external boundaries, but internal ones as well.  Land was assigned to each clan by lot (Num 33:53-54), and passed down through families.  Inheritances had to remain within the tribe (Num 36:9).  This whole scheme presupposed a static agrarian society.  There was no mobility geographically or socially.  The grandson had the same occupation as the grandfather.  Over time, this static model could not have been maintained.  Given any growth in population, a family's inheritance would be subdivided to the point where it could not sustain the lives dependent on that single plot of ground.   

        

Certain towns were reserved for Levites, and cities of refuge were established for accidental killers (Num 35) -- another interesting legal innovation.  We see here the balancing of different values:  justice, mercy, insistence on multiple witnesses, allowance for human carelessness, consideration of intent in capital crimes.  We find these same themes acknowledged, and sometimes trampled on, by the far more byzantine formulae of our modern legal  systems.