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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Boundaries in the Wilderness

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

Boundaries in the Wilderness

Green referenced the social boundaries being “like the Israelites when they were moving into the Promised Land from Egypt.” This metaphor deserves further examination as God established mental, religious, and physical boundaries for the Israelites from the time of the Exodus through their occupation of the Promised Land.

Mental Boundary

Scott and Davis stated that boundaries must exclude “the inappropriate or deleterious elements.” When God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they brought some of these elements with them. Merida alluded to the difficulty of eliminating these elements, comparing Jeroboam to a new Aaron who “made two golden calves” and led his people back into idolatry. Shemesh explained that “although [the Israelites] left Egypt physically, they remained affiliated with the Egyptian culture and identity. Hence, they must become liberated from their past and proceed towards the future, which requires them to forge a new Israeli identity.” Many ministers have stated the same point this way: “Now that they were out of Egypt, God had to get Egypt out of them.”

The Israelite spies’ report further demonstrated the need for a mental boundary. Numbers 13:33 (NKJV) quotes the spies as saying, “we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” This fear-based thinking could not continue with the Israelites into the Promised Land. Thus, their generation had to die out in the wilderness (Numbers 14:26-38). God used the 40 years in the wilderness to establish a mental boundary between the Israelites and Egypt.

Religious Boundary

Deuteronomy 7 identifies God’s plan for the religious boundary for the Israelites in the Promised Land. They were to “utterly destroy [the seven nations inhabiting Canaan… …and] make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them” (Deuteronomy 7:2). God explained that they would lead the Israelites into idolatry which was impermissible because they were a holy people He had chosen (Deuteronomy 7:4,6).

The inhabitants of the Promised Land included wicked giants that somehow returned to the earth after the Flood (Genesis 6:4, Numbers 13:33). God sent the Flood to destroy them, and the Israelites needed to eradicate them to take possession of the land. The Canaanites not only participated in idolatry, but in all sorts of despicable sin. They sacrificed their children to Molech, participated in temple prostitution, engaged in sexual immorality, and Leviticus 18:27-28 said that they had done many other “abominations…, …and thus the land is defiled” and the land vomited them out.

Clearly, there was a need for a strong religious boundary, and the Lord provided one. He commanded the Israelites to consecrate themselves to Him, kill everyone within those seven nations, destroy their religious facilities, and follow His commandments. Unfortunately, they were only partially obedient. Idolatry, immorality, and other sin persisted throughout Israel’s history and David and his family were still killing off the giants in Goliath’s family centuries later.

Physical Boundaries

Finally, the Israelites needed physical boundaries for their protection, to ensure equitable allocation of resources, and to secure peace among their people in their new homeland. God established these as well. Arieli and Israel-Vleeschhouwer noted that, “In religious thought, biblical borders of the Promised Land, as well as internal borders of the tribes of Israel, are presented in classic sources as God-given and optimal, embodying inherent natural compatibility of land to its rightful inhabitants.”


God established mental, religious, and physical boundaries for the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. While human disobedience and imperfection led to unintended outcomes, the boundaries are still indicative of God’s goodness, faithfulness, grace, mercy, and steadfast love toward humanity and His chosen people.


Arieli, T. & Israel-Vleeschhouwer, A. (2019). Borders and bordering in Jewish geopolitical space. Geopolitics, 24(4), 969-988.

Donnelly, D. E. & Morrison, P. J. (2014). Hereditary gigantism – The biblical giant Goliath and his brothers. Ulster Medical Journal, 83(2), 86-88.

Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered exposition commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. B & H Publishing Group.

Scott, W. R. & Davis, G. F. (2016). Organizations and organizing: Rational, natural, and open system perspectives (6th ed.). Routledge.

Shemesh, A. O. (2020). Food, memory and cultural-religious identity in the story of the ‘desirers’. Hervormde Teologiese Studies, 76(3), 1-9.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.


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