Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CONSIDER THESE BOUNDARIES ACCORDING TO THE EXTENT OF WHAT THEY INCLUDED. The territory was a very limited one, geographically speaking. The promised land, intended to typify the large privileges of the believer, and the heavenly and everlasting inheritance, was not a continent, nor even a considerable part of a continent. The Lord would teach Israel, and through them all his people, the difference between bigness and greatness, between quantity and quality, between mere superficial extent and the inexhaustible wealth that comes out of a really good ground. A square mile in the land that the Lord hath blessed is better than all the sands of Sahara. There was no legitimate room in Israel for men of Alexander's spirit, weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer. The scene that God thus mapped out was large enough to give impressive and beautiful illustrations of his ways, and to bring peace, prosperity, and happiness worthy of bearing such names to all who received his will in the fullness of it. Though only a limited territory, it was for that reason all the more compact; and at a very short notice the whole nation could gather to any point for purposes of worship or defense. Outsiders, who did not know how blessed was the nation whose God was the Lord, might count the land only a little one among the thousands of the whole earth. All depends on what we mean when we speak of the lives of certain people as limited, poor, narrow, and unprivileged. Such words may only reveal our ignorance, our erroneous principles of judgment, and not the real state of affairs. It should ever be part of the brightest radiance of God's glory in the eyes of his people that he can welcome the poor and the lowly to his choicest blessings and to the sweetest pleasures he can confer upon the human heart. Their poverty and lowliness do not unfit them for these things. Paul, who had to work with his own hands, and who said that having food and raiment he was therewith content, was also able to say, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33). No lord of broad acres he, no partaker of luxurious repose among intellectual pleasures, but still he knew of the peace that passeth all understanding, the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and something of the breadth, and length, and depth and height of that love of Christ which passeth knowledge. We had need be very sure of our competency before we begin to pronounce judgment on the compass and depth of a true believer's life.
II. CONSIDER THE EXACTNESS OF THESE BOUNDARIES. The country was carefully defined, and could give no occasion for boundary disputes. And all Christians have a carefully-defined life marked out for them. Even external circumstances are more under our control than at first seems to be the case. Many such circumstances indeed we cannot control, but many also depend on the spirit in which we regard the will of God. For instance, it could hardly be said that God marked out their territory for Reuben and Gad. For his own wise purposes he allowed their choice, but it was no true choice of his. If we have only a thoroughly trustful spirit, a spirit of stewardship towards God, we may all have the profit and comfort of feeling that we are working within the channels and limits that he would choose for our life. Social station makes no difference in this respect. The path of a pious king is just as strictly fixed as that of the humblest of his subjects. The farthest planet that circles round the sun has its path just as much marked out as the nearest one, though it travels a far longer distance.
III. CONSIDER THE EFFICACY THESE BOUNDARIES WERE MEANT TO HAVE IN THE WAY OF EXCLUSION. We see God clearly providing one necessary part in the means whereby to drive out and dispossess the Canaanites. He fixed the line beyond which they were to be driven, and within which they were not allowed to return and dwell. The lines between the Church and the world are not to be tampered with by such as value all that is most precious in spiritual possessions. Let the world have its own principles and assert them in its own field of action and in its own way. Let the men of the world act as men of the world, and transmit their much-belauded policy of life from generation to generation of such as believe in their principles. They go by what men are and by what they cynically assume men must be, for they do devoutly believe the fact that what is born of the flesh is flesh, even though they can make nothing of Christ's reference to the fact. But let us ever claim and preserve a place, and earnestly defend it, where the supercilious egotism of worldly wisdom shall find no entrance. Let our territory be fenced round with "Thus saith the Lord," and let us watch with a jealous vigilance the slightest encroachment on it. We also believe that what is born of the flesh is flesh, and that we must go by what men are; but then we regard in addition what men ought to be, and recollect that what is born of the spirit is spirit. Blessed is he who feels marked out in his own heart the boundary which Paul specifies when he says, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17); Canaanite against Israelite, and Israelite against Canaanite. It availed a man nothing to live within Israelite borders if he had a Canaanite heart. Of old idolaters were rigorously excluded from a certain well-marked territory, and the typical significance of this is that idolatries themselves must be driven out of the regenerate heart, and kept out of it by all the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.
IV. CONSIDER THE SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WESTERN BORDER (verse 6). The great sea was there, the open pathway of nations, the symbol, and to a large extent the avenue, of Israel's connection with the whole world. For though Israel had destroyed Amorite and Midianite, and was laid under command to drive out the Canaanite, yet in the seed of Abraham all families of the earth were to be blessed. From Canaan there was a path of blessing by a landward way to many lands beside, but by sea there was a way to every island also. Consider the place in respect of Christian privileges and influences which the island England occupies among the nations. The seaward aspect of Israel suggests to us the blessings that we, and indeed many peoples beside, have gained from her. Notice also the element of reference to the sea which this seaward boundary of Canaan has brought into the Scriptures. The Scriptures were written by men who felt the power of the ocean. Men within reach of the sea could then hear the whole of nature praise God. They could not only say, "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad," but also, "Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 96:11). How could David have given Psalm 104. its completeness without a sight of the sea? And thus we find Haggai contrasting the great elements, first of the heavens and the earth, and then of the sea and the dry land (Haggai 2:6). It helped David to think of the omnipresence of God, as he imagined himself dwelling in the uttermost parts of the sea, and feeling even there that mighty grasp guarding and sustaining him (Psalm 139:9, 10). And it served also to remind men how in after days the Lord would famish all the gods of the earth, and men would worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen (Zephaniah 2:11). Truly it was by no accident, but by a deep and gracious design, that the land of promise had the great sea for one of its borders. - Y.