The International Bible Lesson (Uniform Sunday School Lessons Series) for Sunday, November 23, 2014, is from Ezekiel 47:13-23. Questions for Discussion and Thinking Further follow the verse-by-verse International Bible Lesson Commentary below. Easy print International Bible Lessons Commentary versions are now available in the English Standard Version, King James Version, New American Standard Bible, and the New Revised Standard Version on the International Bible Lessons Commentary website. Study Hints for Thinking Further, a study guide for teachers, discusses the questions below to help with class preparation and in conducting class discussion: these hints are also available on the International Bible Lessons Commentary website. The weekly International Bible Lesson is also posted below for you to study or read to your class. Additional publications and resources by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr. Prepare daily for Christmas by reading Prayer Steps to Christmas.
(Ezekiel 47:13) Thus says the Lord GOD: These are the boundaries by which you shall divide the land for inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have two portions.
In Ezekiel 47:13-20, Ezekiel received instructions on how the Promised Land should be divided among the 12 tribes after they returned from exile. The Levites received some cities, a portion of the offerings, and lived among the other 12 tribes: Joseph’s descendants had been divided into two tribes, leaving 12 tribes to inherit the land. Since the returning exiles did not obey the vision that God gave Ezekiel, they did not divide the land according to Ezekiel’s vision either.
(Ezekiel 47:14) You shall divide it equally; I swore to give it to your ancestors, and this land shall fall to you as your inheritance.
Since the Judeans had been sent into exile partly because of their dishonesty and stealing from others, God commanded them to divide the land equally when they returned from exile. Repeatedly, the LORD commanded through Ezekiel, “you shall,” but the returning exiles did not obey Ezekiel’s vision. If they had begun to obey God in rebuilding the temple according to God’s specifications, then God would have helped them obey Him in all things and God would have also given them more specific specifications as needed. God wanted them to treat one another equally or justly, including how property would be inherited in the future. Remember, because he obeyed God’s command, Jeremiah had bought land before the Judeans were taken into captivity with the promise from God that the land would be inherited by his descendants after their time of captivity ended and they returned to the Promised Land.
(Ezekiel 47:15) This shall be the boundary of the land: On the north side, from the Great Sea by way of Hethlon to Lebo-hamath, and on to Zedad,
The Great Sea was the Mediterranean Sea. We cannot say with certainty the locations of many of the other places in Ezekiel’s vision. The people in exile must have been encouraged to learn from Ezekiel that God intended for them to have a new temple, His presence with them in their new temple, and land given proportionally for their homes when He permitted them and enabled them to return from exile to the Promised Land.
(Ezekiel 47:16) Berothah, Sibraim (which lies between the border of Damascus and the border of Hamath), as far as Hazer-hatticon, which is on the border of Hauran.
God gave detailed visions to Ezekiel that the people of Ezekiel’s day would have understood geographically and mathematically, though these place names remain obscure today.
(Ezekiel 47:17) So the boundary shall run from the sea to Hazar-enon, which is north of the border of Damascus, with the border of Hamath to the north. This shall be the north side.
God gave Ezekiel boundaries for the 12 tribes that included borders on the north, south, east, and west. Damascus was the capital city of Syria and was a well-known city even in the days of Abraham.
(Ezekiel 47:18) On the east side, between Hauran and Damascus; along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel; to the eastern sea and as far as Tamar. This shall be the east side.
Originally, the name Gilead applied to lands occupied by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh.
(Ezekiel 47:19) On the south side, it shall run from Tamar as far as the waters of Meribath-kadesh, from there along the Wadi of Egypt to the Great Sea. This shall be the south side.
The south border was the border with Egypt.
(Ezekiel 47:20) On the west side, the Great Sea shall be the boundary to a point opposite Lebo-hamath. This shall be the west side.
The West border was the Mediterranean Sea.
(Ezekiel 47:21) So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel.
Though the Assyrians had destroyed the Northern Kingdom and had dispersed the 10 northern tribes in 722 BC, and though the Babylonians had destroyed the Southern Kingdom and had dispersed the remaining Judeans to Babylon in 597 BC and 586 BC, Ezekiel’s vision included providing land for returning exiles from all the 12 tribes of Israel. Ezekiel’s vision was one of hope, because God would enable His people to do what He commanded when they returned from exile, and God could arrange for representatives from all 12 tribes to be present when the land was divided.
(Ezekiel 47:22) You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.
The land divisions were to be an inheritance for the descendants of each of the 12 tribes. Ezekiel’s vision distinguished between “foreigners” and “aliens.” “Foreigners” were “uncircumcised in heart and flesh,” and they joined with the rebellious house of Israel to perform abominations (see Ezekiel 44:4-14). “Aliens” were those who had converted to Judaism, perhaps even as Ezekiel ministered to Judean exiles, Babylonians, and others. God wanted Gentiles who had converted to Judaism to be treated equal to natural born Israelites in all of the 12 tribes of Israel. These Gentile converts to Judaism were to have the same rights of inheritance, property, and other legal protections as the Israelites. Later, the Apostle Paul would insist that Jewish converts and Gentile converts to Christianity should have equal rights, because they were all one in Christ Jesus.
(Ezekiel 47:23) In whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign them their inheritance, says the Lord GOD.
As Ezekiel’s vision indicates, certain responsibilities fell to certain tribes and limits were placed upon some in these tribes. For example, Levites could be servants in the temple in certain areas, but only those in the family of Zadok could draw near to God (Ezekiel 44:15-16). With respect to legal rights to land and inheritance, Gentile converts to Judaism were to be treated equal to the natural born Israelites. As far as we know, Jews and Gentiles only treated each other equally after they believed the good news of Jesus Christ and became a part of the Body of Christ, the Church.
Questions for Discussion and Thinking Further
1. Why do you think God gave boundaries to the 12 tribes of Israel?
2. Since the Israelites often did not do what God told them to do, why do you think God included sins of omission in the Bible?
3. Why do you think Ezekiel’s vision from God included such detailed instructions for building a new temple and dividing the land?
4. What is the difference between a foreigner in Israel and an alien in Israel?
5. Why do you think it was difficult for the Jews in the early church to treat the Gentiles in the early church with Christian respect and the quality?
Study Hints for Thinking Further, a study guide for teachers, discusses the questions above to help with class preparation and in conducting class discussion; these hints are available on the International Bible Lessons Commentary website.
Word Search International Bible Lesson Puzzle
An Educational and Printable Handout for Review using Key Lesson Words
International Bible Lesson
When Aliens Are Citizens
“And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you, which shall beget children among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel” (Ezekiel 47:22—KJV).
“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel” (Ezekiel 47:22—NRSV).
Four types of people lived in the land of Israel. Even before the days of Ezekiel, many Israelites had turned from serving the LORD alone to worshiping the idols of their neighbors. These idolatrous Israelites were similar to a second group that Ezekiel labeled “foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh” (Ezekiel 44:7). With all of their abominations, these two groups broke God’s laws and covenant with Israel. God condemned the idolatrous priests in Jerusalem for appointing idolatrous foreigners to act for them “in keeping my charge in the sanctuary” (Ezekiel 44:8). The third group was the true Israelites, physical descendants of all the tribes of Israel who were circumcised in heart and flesh. They loved the LORD and sought eagerly to express their love by obeying the Law of God as revealed to Moses and emphasized by the prophets of God. The fourth group was aliens. Though aliens descended from foreigners, they came to love the LORD and accepted the Law of God as the standard for how to live in the land of Israel. Through Ezekiel, God commanded the true Israelites to treat these aliens with equality since they all obeyed the Law of God. In the days of the Judges, Israel had done this, and Ruth was a Moabite who became an alien when she loved the LORD and moved to Israel with her mother-in-law. Ruth became an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Today, Jews and Gentiles are “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
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Begin or close your class by reading the short weekly International Bible Lesson. To print the International Bible Lesson in three different sizes (including large print size and bulletin size) and for the Teacher’s Study Hints for Five Discussion Questions andThinking Further, go to the International Bible Lessons Commentary website.
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