12 August 2011

"Adjoining the territory of Judah, from the east side to the west, shall be the portion that you shall set apart, twenty five thousand cubits in width, and in length equal to one of the trbial portions, from the east to the west, with the sanctuary in the middle of it." (v. 8)


Ezekiel's vision of the future continues with the allocation of the land to the 12 tribes of Israel. The same questions abound about how such a passage should be interpreted, not least because the majority of the twelve tribes no longer existed in Ezekiel's time and there is a lot of disparity between the allocation of land in this passage and that of the original occupation by Israel. Nonetheless land is and always will be an important political and religious aspect of our lives and we should be careful not to avoid the hard physical realities of this fact.

The boundaries that Ezekiel describes all run from the Mediterranean in the west to the Jordan in the east. The territory of Dan is in the northern most section probably runs from Tyre on the coast to the source of the Jordan in the east. From then on the territories form sections moving further south. It should be noted that Levi is not mentioned as a recipient of a portion of land as they are the priestly tribe who will have land in the central portion which contains the temple and the city. However, Manasseh and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph are given portions of land to make up the number 12. It is also worth noting that the tribes born from Jacob's concubines are furthest from the sanctuary, whilst Judah, despite not being the firstborn is the nearest. It was through the tribe of Judah that the messianic promise was given. We can see therefore that the allocation is not primarily based on geographical considerations.

The final portion of land in this section is that set aside for the Lord. Where I live there is a dispute about whether an old cinema should be turned into a church. In Israel and Palestine today the dispute is among competing religions and peoples about who owns the land. Ezekiel's vision is one in which each tribe has an appropriate (in Ezekiel's mind) share of the land, whilst due consideration has also been given to the Lord's portion.

To Ponder

What role should religion play in the planning of our built environment?

What, if anything, do you think Ezekiel's vision says about today's situation in Israel and Palestine?

Bible notes author: The Revd Jonathan Mead

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