Numbers 34: 1-12
Mark 7: 24-32
I would like to say something, dear brethren, as to the borders of the land, the land of Canaan. You might ask me what it represents and I suppose it is typical in some way of the believer’s present position. The believer is not to be settled just anywhere; he is to be settled in the land of God’s choosing. We do have ground for thinking of it in a future sense - no doubt J N Darby had that in mind when he wrote –
When to Canaan’s long-loved dwelling,
Love divine thy foot shall bring
We are allowed a certain flexibility in applying these Old Testament types, but it is not strictly speaking typical of heaven, because when the people got there, there were giants and you will not find those in heaven. It is typical more of the believer’s divinely appointed position where a good deal can be enjoyed; but it is not exactly the settled state of heaven.
There will be war in heaven, and even now there is a conflict in heaven (Rev 12: 7-12); I am referring to the fact that the accuser is there but also the Advocate. There is conflict in that sense. There is One, the blessed Lord Jesus, who has taken up the Christian’s case even though he fails; the Lord is having to meet Satan’s efforts to discredit me (alas that I should give him any handle), but still the Lord is there, 1 John 2: 1, 2. I mention these things because, strictly speaking, Canaan is more typical of the believer’s present position and calling, a place where God would have you and me to be. He led His people out of Egypt and, of course, for us the wilderness journey goes on as well. (You cannot tailor the types to fit exactly into Christianity, although there are some very blessed lessons to be learned.) For us the wilderness experience goes on along with that of the land. Going to work is a wilderness experience, I suppose doing the washing is a wilderness experience; but coming to the meeting is more of a land experience. But God directed them to Canaan; that was the place to be. It was not back into Egypt; it was not to Moab or to Edom or Greece, but it was to Canaan, and therefore it must represent in some way the believer’s position in responsibility here.
Now questions come up as to how I stand in relation to unbelievers, how I stand in relation to God’s service, and it is interesting that, in Numbers 34, the borders are quite clearly defined. It is as if God in His grace would give us a wide area in which to move and live and praise Him, and yet there are borders to it; the land is defined. So that the question comes up constantly in one’s life as to whether I am justified in doing this or that. I must keep within the borders - that is God’s appointed place for me - to keep within the borders; but not to be narrow or cramped. If you look at the map (and many of us have maps in the back of our Bibles) you will see that the land was quite long and narrow. That strip of land on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, the land of Canaan, has two long borders, one on the east and one on the west, but comparatively short borders on the north and south. One thing that I would suggest to the brethren is this, that, in the delineation of the borders of the land, so much water is used to define it. On the west side there was the Mediterranean Sea: verse 6 virtually gives us the complete border: “the great sea, and its coast”. Now, other seas came into the border as well and also extensively on the eastern side, the River Jordan. You might say, ‘We do not want a geography lesson’, and that is true, but there must be some reason for this instruction and I think involved in it there may be God’s consideration for our need of constant preservation. You could not go very far east or west without coming to water, and there you would not be unaware of the border. It would not be like walking across a field or several fields; if you came to water you would be made immediately aware and when you came to water you would say, ‘This is the limit’. I think that is partly God’s consideration for us, dear brethren, that there are certain clear demarcations suggested and they are marked by water. Now, it is not entirely like that because on the north and south there were adjacent lands and it would have been easy, in those directions, to have gone over the border. However, if you look carefully at the physical map (and I am sure that we understand these things are types for us), there is teaching to be found in it for us. But these two other, north and south, probably test our powers of discernment as to what is suitable and where the border lies. So that, speaking quite simply, dear brethren, questions come up as to how far, for example, I may go with relatives not in fellowship. Clearly to ignore their existence altogether is not of God as the family idea is of God and I have a responsibility to my brother or sister, even if they are not in fellowship. But we are tested, and I think God left this north and south border especially to test us. He has defined a good deal for us but there are areas which have purposefully been left undefined; unlike in the definite way that the meeting of water would suggest. Therein we are tested as to our judgment and to know what we should do. I trust the brethren would agree with this; I think it is right. The interesting thing about the two long borders, in the teaching of it, is that the west border is the sea which speaks, of course, of the gospel. It is there you get the ‘fish’ who are going to be brought into the assembly and it is a very large border, as if to suggest that there is plenty of room for gospel activity and an evangelical outlook. You can walk to the coast and there is plenty to do, dear brethren, evangelically. I wish that I was more able, more adept, perhaps I should say (not to excuse myself) more committed to it.
Now the great apostle Paul, he looked at what this sea represents and he fished it too (Rom 15: 16-21), securing the material for the assembly. Solomon brought material this way for the temple. It came down the sea on the rafts, cut down and floated down by raft for the building of the temple. It is like a person today cut down, made useless for the world, but made useful in relation to God’s house and praise, 1 Kings 5: 8-11. So that there is the suggestion that on the west side there is plenty of room for gospel activity, but this, of course, brings its own questions as well. Mr. Coates has a letter (Letters p 22) in which he speaks of how he would go a long way in his sympathies with a person who was an evangelist and who loved souls and desired to win them; and yet he could not embrace all that popular evangelism does. You see, an intelligent believer could not go on the radio and preach the gospel, could he? How could he use unclean means to speak about the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus? But still, there is a great area open and I trust that we will not neglect it, maybe in our contact with those we work with. I know that some are constantly at this; thank God for every one such who never fails to take the opportunity to speak to persons about their souls: they operate on the west border and are justified in doing so. May we be encouraged, all of us in our places, because there is many a needy soul, many a divorced person, many a heartbroken person, who does not know where to turn - not even in relation to their circumstances in life - to whom a word about “the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men has appeared” (Titus 2:11) would just be balm, Jer 8: 22. Let us not neglect it.
But as I said, this does bring its test and there is on the other side, on the eastern side of the land, the Jordan. That too is a long boundary line and it speaks to us of the death of Jesus and also of our death with Him. The brethren will pardon me for going over this: we used to be taught that the Red Sea suggested the Lord’s death for us, how He has come in, how He has delivered us from the power of Satan - represented in Pharaoh - made a way through and broken Satan’s power; He did that by His death. He could go through, but the Egyptians could not; they could not face that. He could face it and He made a way through for His people, Exod 14: 15-31. But the Jordan is more my death with Him, that is, if He has died, if He was rejected by the world (the Jordan represents more that side), I will accept rejection too, my death with Him, Col 3: 1-4. So that enters in to the believer’s present position. He is to be evangelical, he is to look on souls as he sees them and think of them potentially as persons for God’s service and God’s house, but he is also under this check that he has to say to the death of Jesus and all that that involves. It means, dear friends, that certain things are outside of a believer’s touch, he regards them as incompatible with the death of Jesus.
Now I read in Mark because I thought it showed how the Lord respected these borders when He was here. I think I am right in saying that the Lord moved only within the confines of the land. The whole world was His and He is yet going to have it, “the nations for an inheritance, and for thy possession the ends of the earth” (Ps 2: 8), but the Lord when He was here accepted the limitations of that land. That is to be a great lever in my soul. Which of us has not wanted the world at some time as we have grown up? We have seen it in its glitter, what it offers, how fair it looks, how attractive, how bright, how appealing it looks. Older persons of course, even worldly persons who are older, become disillusioned with it sooner or later, but dear friend, as the hymn says -
O worldly pomp and glory,
Your charms are spread in vain!
I’ve heard a sweeter story,
I’ve found a truer gain
(translated from a German hymn written by Samuel C G Küster).
That is the answer. The Lord Jesus Christ and His world have much more to offer than this poor world. The Lord accepted the limitations, and limitations do come upon a believer, especially as he recognises that there is a certain place allotted for him. Now the Lord moved here, as far as the border of Tyre and Sidon. He had gone right over to the west and there He found this soul. It is a very touching scripture, how the Lord went to the borders - the word is actually used in Mark 7: 24: “he rose up and went away thence into the borders of Tyre and Sidon”. Previously to this, He is attacked by the Pharisees and scribes coming from Jerusalem, where they question Him and dispute with Him; and the Lord goes over to this area as if He would look for some soul: the greatest Preacher was the Lord Himself. He went as far as these borders and there He found a soul. How wonderful it was, what is must have meant to His heart! The great work that was going to be done in what that area represented was left for Paul, but the Lord as Man here accepted the limitations of His pathway, dear friend, and that is the happiest thing for you and me, to accept the divinely appointed limitations.
May we have grace to accept them. I know how we chafe, I know how I have chafed. I do not know what else to say except that the Lord is greater and He is more worthy; and it is more blessed to be with Him in a condition of limitation than to be without Him in a condition where I could do what I liked. It is more blessed to have the Lord.
I read in the next section how He came back. He went across to Decapolis and came to the sea, that is on the other side. I use this scripture in Mark, solely to point out that the Lord accepted those limitations. He said prophetically, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage”, Ps 16: 6.
Well, I would suggest, dear brethren, that in the working out of our lives and our contacts with other believers, our contacts with men in the world, we have to respect these borders. The one is like having our heart: wide, expansive, that is the west border, the great sea - the greatest sea that was in that area and to Israel it was the great sea. Compared to the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea it was a great sea. We have to respect that side, a great area, and our outlook is to be large: may it not become narrow. How easily, even as believers, we can become narrowed up in our affections; let our outlook be wide, looking out on persons, wherever they may be and what they might be potentially if they are recovered; then on the other side there is the fact that I must accept that the death of Jesus and my death with Him has brought me into certain limitations. So I cannot go everywhere - even if my heart towards other believers would go a long way with them there may come a time when my feet have to stop, to keep my feet in the narrow path, but there are also these other areas, dear brethren, on which we are tested. The north and the south borders, where we are tested, where we do not, so to speak, meet water, are not extensive but it is there our spirituality and our judgment are tested and I suppose the answer in these situations is to seek the Lord’s help and to be able to justify what we do.
Well, these thoughts are very fragmentary and I just commit the idea to the brethren, for their consideration.
May the Lord bless it to us, for His Name’s sake.