The Promised Land Does Not Include Transjordan

Yesterday I gave the arguments for the view that includes Transjordan within the Promised Land.

This was the position of the other two faculty when I was teaching in Israel. I held to the opposing view, namely that the Jordan River is the eastern border of the “Promised Land.” Biblical evidence in support of this position includes the following:

1. The land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was “Canaan.” “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Gen 17:8; cf. Exod 6:4; Lev 14:34). Countless passages make it clear that the land aspect of the promise included only Canaan. The biblical or extrabiblical descriptions of Canaan never include territory east of the Jordan River.

2. In preparation for the conquest, God said that the eastern border of the land they were to inherit would run from “the Sea of Kinnereth…down along the Jordan and end at the Salt Sea” (Num 34:11-12).

Wadi in Gilead mountains, tb110603119

The mountains of Gilead

3. Moses was forbidden from entering the promised land; consequently he stood on Mount Nebo (which had already been given to the tribe of Reuben) to “view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession” (Deut. 32:49).

4. If the land of the Amorites in Transjordan was part of what God had originally determined to give
the Israelites, Moses would not have bothered sending a request for safe passage through the territory of Sihon the Amorite. In any dealings with the “promised land,” Moses and Joshua simply destroyed the population without making any requests of them (e.g., Jericho, Ai, Hazor). It was only because Sihon refused to allow Israel to pass (perhaps thinking that the Israelites would leave him alone as they had done previously with the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites) that the Israelites destroyed his army and their cities. As a result, the land was available for settlement and the two and a half tribes came to Moses with this special request.

5. After the Conquest, the two and a half Transjordanian tribes reported back to Joshua in order to receive permission to return to their land. Joshua said that this was “the land that Moses gave you on the other side of the Jordan,” explaining that it was legitimate for them to live there, but that it was not part of the original land of promise (Josh 22:4). Joshua also said that this land was “acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord” (Josh. 22:8), also indicating that such a notice was necessary because this was not part of Canaan granted to Abraham.

6. The construction of an altar by the two and a half tribes nearly resulted in a civil war. The Cisjordanian tribes accused their brethren of rebelling by building the altar near the Jordan River.

Note their statement: “If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the LORD’s land, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us” (Josh 22:18). “The land” here clearly means “the land of promise.” The Transjordanian tribes respond that they built it only to prevent a future division between the tribes: “We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD” (Josh 22:24-25). God indeed had made the Jordan a boundary, not only a natural one, but one that defined the borders of the promised land and one that potentially threatened the nation’s unity.

7. In a period still future (best understood as applying to the earthly millennial kingdom), God will divide the land among the twelve tribes (Ezek 47:13-23). It will be divided equally among the tribes, with Joseph receiving two portions. “This land will become your inheritance.” The border is clearly demarcated on the eastern side of the Jordan River. “On the east side the boundary will run…along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel, to the eastern sea” (Ezek 47:18).

Concluding Thought:

The issue is not whether or not it was legitimate for the two and a half tribes to settle in Transjordan.

Clearly this was granted by God. The question is whether or not this land was considered part of the everlasting “promise.” If the Transjordanian territory falls within the definition of “inherited” but not “promised” land, it may best be understood as the temporary but not eternal possession of the Israelites.


6 thoughts on “The Promised Land Does Not Include Transjordan

  1. The inhabitants of the area east of the Jordan lost their lease on the land in their fight against God.

    It was at this point that it was added in with the inheritance given to the descendants of Abraham. It is prophesied that Israel will re-turn to the land of Israel and this area was clearly Israel.

    I'm sorry, but I think you're simply arguing semantics and missing the basic thought of the inheritance. What was given was given and will not be taken back.

    “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Num 23:19

    “And so all Israel shall be saved" Rom 11:26-29 All of Israel simply means all of Israel.

  2. Loretta, it's not that simple. First of all, where is it prophesied that Israel will return to the territory of Israel? Are Gentiles who believe in Jesus (and thus grafted into Israel) counted among them? What about 10 northern tribes that were destroyed? Do they count, or just the tribe of Judah? Also, as for "all of Israel" believing, aren't you in fact arguing universalism? Does Paul project a universalist gospel in this passage, particularly when he says he has bound ALL men to disobedience so he can have mercy on them ALL: universal salvation, yes? If the answer is no, then obviously this passage is more complicated than you suggest.

    Anyway, the article is well put. Like End Times, much in the Bible is more complicated and less obvious than is presented in many churches.

  3. Both sides (no pun intended) in this debate should be able to agree on this: the territories of Edom, Moab and Ammon – as they existed at the time – were definitely not included in the "promise". In Dt 2, God explicitly forbids Israel from attacking or seizing land from their kinsmen through Lot and Esau, saying he had already given those lands to others.

    The lands taken by conquest in Transjordan were taken from the Amorites. In Ge 15, God told Abram his descendents would not possess the land of promise for another 400 years because "the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." The Amorites' destruction under Moses should probably be seen as God's judgment coming due. Like Pharoah, Sihon's heart was hardened in preparation for his destruction: "God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands' (Dt 2:30). The Amorite Og, to the north in Bashan, was also destroyed.

    Neutralizing the Transjordan Amorite kingdoms had a tactical purpose – the Amorite kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon (Jos 10:5) who formed a league to fight Israel when Joshua advanced to what would soon be the tribal territory of Benjamin, would not be able to count on allies from Heshbon or Bashan coming to their rescue. And Israel would not find itself fighting on two fronts. I don't know if the Amorites of Bashan would have joined Jabin the king of the Canaanites' alliance to fight Israel in the north, but Moses had made the question moot.

    The defeat of Sihon and Og depopulated the former Amorite territory. Its empty cities, fields and pastures were an opportunity to be exploited – and it was in Israel's security interest to populate it before other potentially hostile groups moved in. Three hundred years after taking Sihon's lands, Israel still occupied them (Jdg 11:26). Israel continued to occupy Gilead until the invasion of the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:29). In the New Testament period, there was a large Jewish population in Perea on the east side of the Jordan. For much of biblical history, Israel was more successful east of the Jordan than it was occupying the coastal plain that was indisputably part of the promised land.

  4. That Transjordan was not intended in the promise can be inferred by Moses' accusation that the Gadites and Reubenites were "discourag[ing] the Israelites from crossing over into the land the LORD has given them" (Nu 32:6-7). Moses' orders to Eleazar the priest and Joshua indicate their possession of the eastern lands was provisional and that he was willing to see them abandoned and have the Gadites and Reubenites receive their inheritance west of the Jordan like everyone else: "If the Gadites and Reubenites, every man armed for battle, cross over the Jordan with you before the LORD, then when the land is subdued before you, you must give them the land of Gilead as their possession. But if they do not cross over with you armed, they must accept their possession with you in Canaan." (Nu 32:28-30)

    That Moses, who was not permitted to cross the Jordan, had to go to the top of Pisgah (Dt 3:27, 34:1-4) in order to see "the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants,'" strongly suggests the land "promised" was west of the Jordan. However, the inclusion here of Gilead in the list of places God showed Moses – and the persistance of Israel's occupation of Gilead – has me still withholding final judgment on the question.

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