Biblical Boundaries of the Land of Israel
On that day Hashem made a covenant with Avram, saying, “To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates:
I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding. I will be their God.”
- Dan is described in the Bible as the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel
- Be’er Sheva is described in the Bible as the southernmost city settled by the Israelites. Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov all spent time in Be’er Sheva (see map Journey of the Forefathers – Key Places).
- The Nile River is Egypt’s primary source of water. At the beginning of the Israelite’s slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh commanded that all baby boys be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:22), and baby Moshe was placed in the Nile (Exodus 2:3) and drawn from the Nile (Exodus 2:5) when he could no longer be hidden from the Egyptians. The first two plagues the God brought upon the Egyptians also began in the Nile (Exodus 7:14-24, Exodus 7:26-8:11).
- The Euphrates River is the longest river of Western Asia, and is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia. According to the Bible, the Euphrates was one of four rivers whose source was a river flowing from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:14).
There are two different phrases often used to describe the biblical boundaries of the Land of Israel:
- From Dan (1) to Be’er Sheva (2)
- From the Nile (3) to the Euphrates (4)
The expression from Dan to Be’er Sheva appears nine times in the Bible (Judges 20:1, I Samuel 3:20, II Samuel 3:10, II Samuel 17:11, II Samuel 24:2, II Samuel 24:15, I Kings 5:5, I Chronicles 21:2, II Chronicles 30:5), and is used to define the area of the Israelite settlement in the Land of Israel (highlighted in yellow on the map). These borders reflect the promise that God made to Avraham in Genesis 17:8 “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.” Though these are the basic borders of the Land of Israel, it is possible to expand beyond these borders as seen, for example, in Numbers 32.
The phrase “from the Nile to the Euphrates” includes a much bigger area than Dan to Be’er Sheva (highlighted in pink on the map). This phrase has its source in the Covenant of the Parts in which God promises Avraham “’Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). These two rivers mark the limits of potential expansion of the original borders of the Land of Israel. In addition, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag explains that the Nile and the Euphrates represent the two centers of ancient civilization, Egypt and Mesopotamia. By saying that the land in between these two bodies of water is set aside for the Children of Israel, God is implying that it is Israel’s destiny to become a blessing to all mankind by declaring His name “at the crossroads of the two great centers of civilization.”