“This is the land which ye shall divide by lot unto the tribes of Israel for inheritance, and these are their portions, saith the Lord God.” — Ezekiel 48:29
On May 20, 1862, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. This legislation encouraged people to move west by allowing citizens who had not borne arms against the country — including immigrants, women, and former slaves — to take steps toward obtaining 160 acres of public land as their own. Those who wanted to homestead paid an $18 fee for a “patent,” and were then required to build a home and cultivate their land allotment for five years. President Lincoln said the purpose of the Act was “to elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial burdens from all shoulders, and to give everyone an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”1
While the opportunity was there, fulfilling the requirements for land ownership was not easy. Travel to the plots available for homesteading was plagued by difficulty, and once families arrived, the work was long and hard. One woman who was a teenager when her family arrived at their designated allotment told how they planted corn but grasshoppers ate it all. Although there was wild grass, they did not have a method of harvesting it, so during the winter, their livestock starved. Times were hard for these people.
The Homestead Act became personal to me a few years ago. While looking through paperwork after my aunt and uncle passed away, we found a large certificate signed by President T. Roosevelt in 1905. It was a land patent labeled Homestead Certificate No. 9743. My uncle’s ancestors must have struggled through the difficulties, obtained ownership, and then passed the land down from one generation to another, because years later, my uncle and his siblings still farmed that homestead.
In today’s text, Ezekiel described a future distribution of land to the Israelites. When Ezekiel was given this vision, the Israelite people were captives in Babylon, but God was promising eventual restoration. He said the tribes of Israel would be given land that would be divided by lot; each would be given a specific portion.
The closing words of this chapter and the Book of Ezekiel say, “And the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there.” God was telling Israel that there would come a time when He would dwell with them and be the center of their lives. Although many of us are not Jewish by birth, Jesus Christ made it possible for each of us to have an eternal possession in a place where God will dwell. What a hope! This homeland will be blessed beyond anything we can imagine, and it will be worth any amount of effort necessary to obtain it. Jesus paid the price. We can possess it by repenting, believing, and then obeying Him day by day.
Ezekiel’s Temple vision ends with final details regarding tribal apportionment in restored Israel. Land allotments for the northern tribes and the central sacred district are noted in the first part of chapter 48. This final section of the chapter describes allotments for the five southern tribes of Israel (verses 15-29), and concludes with a description of the gates of the city (verses 30-35).
Tribal descendants of Bilhah and Zilpah were generally located farther from the Temple than the descendants of Leah and Rachel. The phrase “divide by lot” in verse 29 does not imply random allotments, but indicates that the division was not done by the will of man; it was to be as God directed.
The prince, mentioned in verse 21, is alluded to many times in Ezekiel’s Temple vision, and his actions correspond with the historical functions of princes (tribal leaders or chieftains). Though not a king or a priest, the prince is a key figure in the restored system of worship. His faithful discharge of duties is contrasted to the corrupt princes mentioned earlier in Ezekiel and in the history of Israel.2 Because of his importance in the worship of restored Israel, in this final chapter of Ezekiel, he and his descendants were given a portion of land very near the Temple as an inheritance.
In this conclusion of Ezekiel’s vision, the purpose of all the details given is subordinate to the fact that the Lord will dwell among His people. To the Israelites, the relationship between a place and its name was of fundamental importance. The name of a city usually had symbolic or prophetic meaning, and carried with it a sense of character, importance, or an allusion to some notable event that had occurred there. Sometimes city names were changed to reflect new events or changes. For this reason, the city at the center of the restored nation will be named “The Lord is there,” using God’s proper name. The fact that the Lord will attach His name to the city “from that day” (verse 35) indicates this will be the center of worship of the one true God.
IV. The consolation of Israel
B. Prophecies of the millennial kingdom
2. The restoration of the land
c. The division of the land
(4) The portion for the city (48:15-20)
(5) The portion for the prince (48:21-22)
(6) The portion for the five tribes (48:23-28)
(7) The conclusion (48:29)
d. The designation of the gates (48:30-34)
e. The designation of the city (48:35)
Eternity with God in Heaven is a bright hope. God’s promises can help us hold fast to Him and reach that goal.
1. History.com editors, “Homestead Act,” History.com, March 2, 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/homestead-act.
2. See Ezekiel 7:27; 12:10; 21:25; 38:2-3; 39:1.