The Strange Case of God’s Allocation of World Geography


The Divine Allocation of World Geography


Near the end of Moses’ life he wrote a prophetic message to the people of Israel. We have come to call this the “Song of Moses” for it poetically expresses his thoughts regarding the past and future of the Nation of Israel. The “Song of Moses” is found in Chapter 32:1-43 in the book of Deuteronomy. However, in chapter 31 Moses gives specific directions, which he wrote just before he died on Mount Nebo (circa 1404 B.C.). In chapter 31, he gave two direct commandments.

Deuteronomy 31:24-26

22 Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel. 23 And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee. 24 And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, 25 That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, 26 Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee (KJV).

In the first command he directed Joshua, his successor, to “be strong and of a good courage” to bring the children of Israel into the Promised Land. In the second he commanded the Levites to insert the Song as part of the Law into the Ark of the Covenant.







Ark of the Covenant

In fact, Josephus the first century Jewish historian wrote that copies of Haʾazinu (Hebrew for “The Song of Moses” in Deuteronomy 32:1-43) and other biblical poems were kept in the Temple (Josephus, Ant. 4.303; cf. 3.38; 5.61.). According to Tigay in rabbinic writings, it is stated that the Levites are to read parts of the poem in the Temple (RH 31a; TJ Meg. 3:7, 74b, end; see Maimonides, Hilkhot Temidin u-Musafin 6:9.). The reading is completed over a six-week cycle and then is to begin again.[1]  So, this song has particular significance within the Hebrew culture.

The song has one particularly fascinating characteristic. It states that the various nations of the world were geographically segmented through God’s predetermined plan for Israel:

Deuteronomy 32:8

8 When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel (KJV).

The Most High (Hebrew ʿelyôn) divided humankind into nations and assigned to them their geographical and historical allotments (v. 8a). The Lord (who is perfectly sovereign), in a prescriptive sense, is using the volume of the people in the nation Israel to determine the world’s geographic boundaries. Most Bible students agree that the background to this is the “Table of Nations” found in the tenth chapter of Genesis. In Genesis 10 the segmenting of people groups on this earth are further subdivided by racial and political entities. The table establishes the distribution of the human race immediately following man’s rebellion under the leadership of Nimrod at the Tower of Babel. Eugene Merrill sees a tie between the two books of Deuteronomy and Genesis, through the use of the same verb “divided”. The verb translated “divided” (Hebrew pārad) which occurs in Deuteronomy 32:8, likewise occurs in Genesis 10:5 and speaks of the separation of the human race into lands, languages, clans, and nations.  It also occurs in Genesis 10:32 in a statement summarizing the divine distribution of peoples throughout the earth:[2]

Genesis 10:32

These [are] the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.


Table of Nations Genesis 10

Source: Map from Bible History online

Even though the nation Israel had not yet been created, they were central to the Lord’s purposes. All the nations who were dispersed at Babel could no longer speak to one another after the Lord confounded their original language. He then directed them away from Babylon to the various locations he had determined for them. Somehow He did it in accordance to the number of the future population of the Jews.

Most of our English Bible translations of the Old Testament are from the Hebrew Masoretic text. The oldest complete texts come from the 10th and 11th centuries A.D. This is also the authoritative Hebrew text used by the Jews today for their Tanakh (our Old Testament).


The Tanakh

Source: Artscroll Tanakh

Although the existing copies of the Masoretic Text date back only to the tenth century, two other important textual evidences let’s us know that it is accurate. First, the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) at Qumran revealed manuscripts dating between 167 B.C. to A.D. 233. Second is the comparison of the Masoretic text to the Greek translation called the Septuagint (or LXX), which was written around 285 B.C. (The presumed number of 70 Jewish scholars at Alexandria, Egypt did this for the Egyptian king.) Afterwards the Hellenistic Jews used the Septuagint as they became less familiar with Hebrew.[3] Alexander the Great forced the Greek language on the nations he conquered.
While not exact mirror images of each other, both the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal a strong consistency with the Masoretic Text. This consistence assures us that God has sovereignly protected His Word through thousands of years of copying and translating. Both of these individual texts have multiple versions.

The Hebrew text of some lost manuscripts have been translated into Greek through several other translators, three of which are Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus. Origens’s Hexapla (about A.D. 230-245) combined the others as well as the Hebrew text of his day in a six-column display comparing them all.[4]  All these are nearly unanimous in the echoing of the text of Deuteronomy 32:8b.

The discovered Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) have revealed several versions of the text representing our Bible’s Old Testament. All of them are nearly unanimous in the repetition of the text of Deuteronomy 32:8b. What is interesting about these two manuscripts (the Hebrew Dead Sea Scrolls[5] and the Greek Septuagint[6] ) is that both of them, in all versions, have a different term for the “children of Israel(Bene Yisrael) of Deuteronomy 32:8b than what appears in the Masoretic Text. Here they use the different of  “sons of God”, (Bene Elohime). Actually some use the term “children of God.”[7]

Some discussion of these two terms is necessary in order to understand the distinction and similarities of the “the sons of God” in the DSS and the LXX as well as the term “children of Israel” in the Masoretic text.

The Children of Israel

The name Israel was first given to the patriarch Jacob as chronicled in Genesis 32:28 which according to archbishop James Ussher was about 1900 B.C.[8]  Jacob was the grandson of the patriarch Abraham who received a significant unilateral covenant from God. This covenant included a land, seed and blessings for both him and his progeny. In fact God gave Abraham the boundaries of the land that he and his offspring would some day inherit (Genesis 15: 18-21). He also told him that his progeny would be afflicted and spend four hundred years in a land that was not theirs. After this period they would leave that land with great wealth and substance (Genesis 15: 13-14).

Jacob then wrestled with a celestial being that had the appearance of a man. We know this to be the Angel of Jehovah or a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bereshit Rabbah says it was the guardian angel of Esau (BR 77: 3). Whether it was Esau’s guardian angel or not, Hosea 12: 5 confirms the “man” as an angelic being and not an earthly man. The wrestling went on all night until the morning. The text says that the angel did not prevail against Jacob. This is not because He was not able. Angels are significantly stronger then men. It was because He wanted the struggle to last. Jacob was going to come out of it a better, more refined man. Finally, when the Lord wanted the wrestling to end, He gave Jacob’s thigh a debilitating supernatural blow. As a result Jacob’s hip was dislocated. Still Jacob would not release his hold on the Angel until He blessed him. Interestingly the Angel asks Jacob his name and he answers “Jacob.” The Angel then said, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).

So, God calls Jacob “Israel”, which in Hebrew is יִשְׂרָאֵל Yisrael, or a combination of the two Hebrew words “sarah” (meaning “he strived”, not the feminine name) and “el”. It literally means “he who strives with God.” The word play becomes significance to our understanding of the name change from “Jacob” to “Israel”.  Jacob “strove” with Esau his brother, then with Laban his father–in-law, and finally with God Himself before he took the Abrahamic Covenant he was prophesied to receive. The covenant, which was passed to his father Isaac, would have been passed to Jacob eventually, but first God allowed him to conspire with his mother Rebecca against Esau, and Isaac to take the birthright, which entitled him to the covenant, on his own. Further, Esau despised his birthright and because of this attitude, was unworthy to receive the promised covenant (Genesis 25: 34; Hebrews 12: 16-17). He however greatly resented his brother Jacob getting the covenant promise, and this eventually leads to the conflict between the progeny of these brothers. The history of the Nation of Israel clearly reveals this “struggling” with the Arabs. The “struggling” with God is evident as the Jews continually turned from Him to follow after the pagan nations around them. What we see in the word play of the word “Israel” is that God fought for Jacob and God will fight for the Nation of Israel. Even though they sin terribly, God will be on their side when all the world’s nations turn to transpire against them. God selected the nation Israel to be His own and this name is threaded throughout the Scriptures starting in Genesis 32:28 and continues on into the Millennial Kingdom following the Great Tribulation. There their roles and experiences will be of prime significance in the Millennial Kingdom. The Nation of Israel is close to the heart of God, and only divine intervention would change that:

Jeremiah 31: 35-37

35Thus saith Jehovah, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, so that the waves thereof roar; Jehovah of hosts is his name: 36If these ordinances depart from before me, saith Jehovah, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 37Thus saith Jehovah: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Jehovah (ASV 1901).

Israel had Twelve Sons

The “sons of Israel” refer to the Jewish people who descended from Jacob, the patriarch whose name was changed by God to “Israel” (Genesis 32:28). He had twelve sons with four women and they are the Benei Yisrael, or the “sons of Israel”.



Chart of Jacob’s Family Source: Logos Software

The designation of Jacob’s sons as The Twelve Tribes of Israel or, sometimes, The Sons of Israel occurs ten times in the Bible without any individual names being listed (Genesis 49:28; Exodus 24:4; 28:21; 39:14; Ezekiel 47:13; Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; Acts 26:7; James 1:1& Revelation 21:12).

The Bible contains twenty-four appearances of the twelve sons of Jacob and, or, the tribes of Israel with the individual names listed. Some of these are in very brief lists, while others are spread out over several paragraphs or chapters. These lists discuss the distribution of the land, or name certain representatives of each tribe, one after another. Each listing is slightly different from all the others, either in the order of the names mentioned or even in the specific names used. For example, the two sons of Joseph are sometimes listed along with, or instead of, their father; and sometimes one or more names are omitted for various reasons. A few of the texts actually have more than twelve names.

Jacob’s twelve sons are first mentioned in the order of their births (to four different mothers) in the Book of Genesis (29:31–30:24 & 35:16-20). Here is a list of the mother and her sons with their birth order number preceding their name:

  • Leah (1st wife) 1) Reuben  2) Simeon  3) Levi  4) Judah

later also 9 Issachar  10 Zebulon

  • Bilhah (Rachel’s slave): 5 Dan  6 Naphtali
  • Zilpah (Leah’s slave): 7) Gad   8 Asher
  • Rachel (younger wife): 11 Joseph 
(Manasseh & Ephraim, sons of Joseph, are often listed separately. In some later texts, the half-tribe of Manasseh is further divided into its eastern and western halves) 12 Benjamin

This is a representative list of biblical references describing the variations of the grouping of “the children of Israel”:

  • Genesis 29:31–30:24 and 35:16-20 – the births of the first eleven sons are mentioned in chronological order, along with the meanings of their names; the last son, Benjamin, is born significantly later.
  • Genesis 35:22-26 – briefly lists the names of the twelve sons of Jacob, grouped by their respective mothers: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah.
  • Genesis 46:8-27 – lists the seventy members of Jacob’s extended family who went to live in Egypt: Jacob’s sons (grouped by their mothers: Leah, Zilpah, Rachel, Bilhah), along with their sons and even a few grandsons; aside from the mothers, only three other women are named (Leah’s daughter Dinah, Asher’s daughter Serah, and Joseph’s Egyptian wife Asenath); the total is seventy, “not counting the wives of Jacob’s sons” (Genesis 46:26)
  • Genesis 49:1-27 – just before dying, Jacob blesses his twelve sons with various words, in a slightly different order than the previous lists.
  • Exodus 1:1-5 – a brief list of “the sons of Israel” who migrated to Egypt; the same order as Genesis 35:22-26, except that Joseph is mentioned last, because he “was already in Egypt.”
  • Numbers 1:5-15 – a brief list of leading men, one from each tribe, who are to assist Moses and Aaron in taking a census of all the Israelites; for the first time, Ephraim and Manasseh are listed separately for the descendants of Joseph; the tribe of Levi is omitted, as explained at the end of the chapter.
  • Numbers 1:20-46 & 47-54 – the completed census, reporting the number of fighting-age men in each tribe; curiously, Gad is now listed third, but otherwise the order is the same as the previous list; vv. 47-54 explain that the Levites were not to be included in the census, since they have a special responsibility for the Tabernacle.
  • Numbers 2:3-29 – the arrangement of the encampment in the desert is prescribed: three on each side (E, S, W, N), with the Levites and the meeting tent in the middle; the four camps are named after Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan, with two other tribes associated with each one, respectively.
  • Numbers 7:1-88 – after the Tabernacle is set up, the leaders of the twelve tribes present offerings, one each on twelve consecutive days, in the same order as listed in 2:3-29, except that the introduction mentions the Levites as the ones receiving the offerings brought by all the other tribes.
  • Numbers 10:11-28 – the Israelites break camp in a very orderly fashion, identical to Numbers 2:3-29 except for the position of the Levites: the camp of Judah (with their 2 associated tribes) goes first, then the Gershon and Merari clans of Levites carry the Tabernacle, then the camp of Reuben; at midpoint, the Kohath clan of Levites carries the sacred objects for the Tabernacle, followed by the camps of Ephraim and Dan.
  • Numbers 13:4-15 – twelve men, one from each tribe except Levi, are chosen to reconnoiter the land of Canaan; the order is similar to Numbers 1:5-15, with two minor reversals.
  • Numbers 26:5-50 – a second census of fighting-age men is reported in the same order as the first census (Numbers 1:20-46), except for the reversal of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, both of which are still explicitly identified as the descendants of Joseph.
  • Numbers 34:19-28 – after the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh are settled on the East side of the Jordan river, one leader from each of the remaining 9-1/2 tribes is to work with Eliezer (priest) and Joshua (new leader after Moses) to apportion among themselves the land of Canaan (West of the Jordan).
  • Deuteronomy 27:12-13 – Moses says that six tribes “shall stand on Mount Gerizim to pronounce blessings over the people,” while the other six tribes “shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses”; the list includes both Levi and Joseph, but the order is different than any previous text.
  • Deuteronomy 33:1-29 – just before his death, Moses blesses eleven of the tribes of Israel; the order is totally unfamiliar, and curiously Simeon is omitted.
  • Joshua 13–19 – the division of the Promised Land among the twelve tribes is described in detail, beginning briefly with the 2-1/2 tribes East of the Jordan (Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 of Manasseh), followed by greater detail about the 9-1/2 tribes West of the Jordan.
  • Joshua 21:4-8 – each of the tribes of Israel gives several cities to the Levites, in four divisions: the Kohathite descendants of Aaron (from Judah, Simeon & Benjamin); the other Kohathite clans (from Ephraim, Dan & half-Manasseh); the Gershonite clans (from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali & half-Manasseh); the Merarite clans (from Rueben, Gad & Zebulon).
  • Judges 5:12-22 – six tribes formed the Israelite league fighting against Sisera: Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir (probably representing Manasseh), Zebulon, Issachar, and Naphtali (led by Barak); four tribes are chided for not participating: Reuben, Gilead (Gad), Dan, and Asher; the tribes of Judah and Simeon (more distant), and Levi (priestly) are not mentioned.
  • 1 Chronicles 2:1-2 – a brief list of the 12 sons of Israel; similar to the order of Genesis 35:22-26, except that Dan is placed before Joseph.
  • 1 Chronicles 2–7 – very long genealogies covering the time span from the patriarchs down to the Babylonian exile; the tribe of Judah is covered first and in greatest detail (Chapters 2-3; because of King David and the Chronicler’s own Judean context); Chapter 4 covers the southern tribes: Judah & Simeon; Chapter 5 the 2-1/2 eastern (Transjordan) tribes; 5:27–6:66 the various Levite clans; 7:1-40 most of the other northern tribes, but only briefly and omitting Zebulon.
  • 1 Chronicles 12:24-38 – thousands of soldiers from each tribe assemble at Hebron to swear allegiance to David as the new King; the tribe of Judah is first and the 2-1/2 Transjordan tribes are last, but the rest is in an order different from anything prior (why?)
  • 1 Chronicles 27:16-22 – a brief list of 13 leaders of the tribes of Israel at the time of King David; Levi and Aaron are curiously listed separately, as are the eastern and western halves of Manasseh, but Gad and Asher are omitted.
  • Ezekiel 48:1-29 – an idealized division of the land among the tribes of a New Israel, with seven tribes in the north, the tribe of Levi administering a sanctuary and sacred city in the middle, and the remaining five tribes in the south.
  • Ezekiel 48:30-34 – the new sacred city has twelve gates named after the twelve sons of Jacob, three on each side (N, E, S, W)
  • Revelation 7:5-8 – the only list in the New Testament of the twelve tribes; John hears that 144,000 Israelites have been “sealed” for salvation, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes; this list curiously lists both Manasseh and Joseph (but not Ephraim), and omits Dan.

Chart describing the Hebrew meaning of the names of the12 sons of Israel:

Name                  Meaning in Hebrew      From Bible Verse

Reuben See as Son Genesis 29:32
Simeon Heard Genesis 29:33
Levi Joined Genesis 29:34
Judah Praise Genesis 29:35
Dan He Judged Genesis 30:6
Naphtali Wrestled Genesis 30:8
Gad Fortune Genesis 30:11
Asher Happy Genesis 30:13
Issachar Hire-Reward Genesis 30:18
Zebulon Honor Genesis 30:20
Joseph He Adds Genesis 30:24
Benjamin Son of the Right Hand or Son of the South Genesis 35:18
Manasseh Making to Forget Genesis 45:51
Ephraim To Be Fruitful Genesis 45:52


The Sons of God

Bene HaElohim is a general term that means “to be brought into existence by God’s creative act.”  Because the term carries this meaning, it is used selectively throughout the Old Testament and is always used of angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). In the Old Testament the terms El, Elohay, and Elohime, refers to celestial rulers and judges as divine representatives at sacred places, or as reflecting divine majesty and power. They can refer to any divine ones, for example, superhuman beings including God.  So while its usage is widespread in the biblical text it can also refer to celestial beings that are not Jehovah God. We know from Scripture that there are three levels of celestial beings, the Cherubim, Seraphim, and the common angels. Michael is the only archangel named in Scripture. One-third of the angels became aligned with Satan when he fell. In the New Testament the term “sons of God” is expanded. Adam is called the “son of God “because he was brought into existence by creation (Luke 3:38). Believers are called “sons of God” (John 1:12) because believers are considered to be a “new creation” (Galatians 6:15).

According to Job 1–2, the “sons of God” present themselves before God to report on their assignments. One of them is Satan or “the Adversary” (Satan in Hebrew means “the adversary”.) Clearly this is Lucifer after his fall when he became God’s “adversary”.

While not at all authoritative it is also helpful to view the ancient culture groups in Canaan at the time of the ancient Israelites. Here we see some similarities to the true God and His adversary in their writings. The equivalent term in other Canaanite languages is benei ʾel (im), and according to Ugaritic mythology there are seventy such beings. While these pagan religions could have some connection to the true God it is most likely that they are referring to Satan’s retinue. While ʾelohim and ʾel (im) literally mean “god” or “gods,” they also refer to various types of supernatural beings and heavenly bodies that form God’s retinue. These include spirits, angels (malʾakhim, literally “emissaries”), the sun, moon, stars, and “the host of heaven.”[9] In keeping with the activities of the fallen angels in Psalm 82 God rebukes the “divinities” (ʾelohim) for judging unjustly and the psalmist calls upon God to judge all nations personally and take them all as His allotment.

In keeping with Psalm 82 where God rebukes the fallen angels, the book of Daniel refers to them as “governors” or “princes” (in Hebrew sarim) and describes them as angelic territorial adversaries of God over various nations. Daniel mentions those of Persia and Greece (Daniel 10:13, 20). Paul in the New Testament affirms the great spiritual battle, which is taking place in the celestial realm and has its battleground in the minds and hearts of human beings (Ephesians 6:12-13).


Since the Masoretic text states Deuteronomy 32:8 passage as “sons of Israel” and the LXX as well as the DSS use the term “children of God” this writer accepts them both as authoritative. It is God’s divine sovereignty to manage His creation in any manner of His choosing. The manner in which people groups have migrated into the world after the Flood is defined in Genesis 10. God changed their language and directed them away from Babel. The idea stated in the various passages is that the number of nations equals the number of “sons of the divine” and suggests that each of these beings is paired with a nation. From Daniel 9:13 it appears that God appointed divine beings to govern the nations on His behalf. Jehovah God distributed the peoples of this earth based in part upon the number of Jews that were instrumental in the history of the nation. [10] Over every nation, or people group He appointed a ruler; but the Lord’s portion is Israel. Consider these points:

  • The Jews were chosen by God and as such are a unique people group on the earth:

Jeremiah 10:16

The portion of Jacob [is] not like them: for he [is] the former of all [things]; and Israel [is] the rod of his inheritance: The LORD of hosts [is] his name (KJV).

  • The Lord leads the Children of Israel in the paths that they will go:

Isaiah 48:17

Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel;  I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit,  Which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go (KJV).


  • He controls the earth by directing His angels to carry out His Will:

Matthew 13:41

The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity (KJV).

The scribes responsible for transcribing the text of the Bible realized that both the Heavenly Host and the Children of Israel were directed by God to carry out His divine will. Some wanted to emphasize the divine control through the celestial beings, and others wanted to emphasize the divine control according to the number of the Children of Israel.  The Hebrew text states that the number of  “the sons of Israel” was meaning “the number of Israelites” and the Septuagint as well as the DSS has “according to the number of angels.” The sense is that, in accordance with the number of celestial beings, God divided humankind into separate people groups. Each people group would have its own divine “guider” taking directions from God by placing the people groups around the earth in accordance with the Jews God Almighty placed within their nations to influence their histories.


Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.


[1] Tigay, J. H. (1996). Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah Commentary (513). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

[2]  Merrill, E. H. (1994). Vol. 4: Deuteronomy. The New American Commentary (413). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Brenton Sir Lancelot C.L. (1851) The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, (Introduction) Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd., London.

[4] Wenger, Paul D. (1999) The Journey from Texts to Translations,(192-195) Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 49516

[5] Scanlin Harold. (1993) The Dead Sea Scrolls and Modern Translation of the Old Testament. (112) Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187

[6] Thomson, Charles (Ed. Muses, C.A.) (1954) The Septuagint Bible Translated from Greek to English (350) The Falcon’s Wing Press, Indian Hills, Colorado 80454

[7] Abegg, Martin Jr. Flint, Peter. Ulrich, Eugene. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, Published by T&T Clark, Edinburgh, Scotland 1999

[8] Ussher, J, 1650. Annals of the World: James Ussher’s Classic Survey of World History (Modern English republication, ed. Larry and Marion Pierce, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003)

[9] Tigay, J. H. (1996). Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah Commentary (514). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

[10] Fruchtenbaum, Arnold, G. The Book of Genesis (204) Ariel Ministries, San Antonio, TX 78279-2507