Apportioning the Restored Land
“In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, declares the Lord GOD” (v. 23).- Ezekiel 47:13–23
Peace with God for the ancient Jew was inconceivable without possession of the land of Canaan. The Lord promised the territory to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to be without this land was to be out of the Almighty’s favor (Gen. 15; Deut. 28:64–68). So, if you wanted to communicate the fullness of peace with God in the restoration from exile to the ancient covenant community, one of the best ways would be to assure the people that they would again possess territory in their ancestral country.
With this in mind, we see that the boundaries defined in today’s passage and tribal allotments described in Ezekiel 48 are not mere ancient property matters that have little bearing on new covenant believers. Instead, they communicate the surety of the Lord’s promises to His ancient people and to us today. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the ancient covenant people and thinking about how they would have heard this boundary-drawing text helps us to understand this. The Babylonian Jews who first heard Ezekiel’s prophecy would have heard it in light of the history of ancient Israel and the boundaries of the land as recorded in Numbers 34. Just as Israelites in generations past settled into their tribal inheritances and found rest from their enemies under Joshua and David, so would the people after the exile receive their inheritance. God saved them before, and He would save them again. Understood in this light, we likewise find comfort in what would otherwise seem to be a rather mundane text. The Lord will save His people fully and finally, granting us an inheritance like—no, even better than—the inheritance for the ancient Israelites (Heb. 11:39–40).
Finally, although Ezekiel’s discussion of national boundaries and tribal allotments might seem nationalistic and ethnocentric at first glance, today’s text also has good news for people no matter their family or country of origin. Throughout the old covenant period, it was possible for those who were not the physical descendants of Abraham to join the covenant community and celebrate God’s great act of liberating His people from slavery in the Passover (Ex. 12:43–49). Yet even though Gentiles could become Israelites, the “resident aliens” or “sojourner” who came to faith in Yahweh did not have any established property allotments like native-born Israelites did. This is how many scholars interpret Deuteronomy 24:17–22. But in Ezekiel’s vision, sojourners are assigned an inheritance (Ezek. 47:21–23). In the restoration, Gentile believers are no longer second-class citizens.
By faith we “are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). In the kingdom, one Christian is not “more of a citizen” than another Christian. There is not one class of believers that has access to the King in a way that another class of believers does not. In Christ, we have all that we need to be full members of the Lord’s people. Even when we feel like our faith is weak, we who trust Jesus have as many privileges in the kingdom as those whose faith is stronger.
Passages for Further Study