by Bob Davidson
Inheritance and the related topic of being an heir are important subjects in Scripture. A number of different people are said to have an inheritance or to be heirs to something.
In the Old Testament the word ‘inheritance’ occurs more than two hundred times, and it concerns three main areas, the Lord’s inheritance, Israel’s inheritance and the Levites’ inheritance.
The Lord’s inheritance
The Bible clearly teaches that–“they [Israel] are thy people and thine inheritance.” Deut. 9:29. Israel are the Lord’s inheritance.
At the dedication of the temple Solomon said ‘For thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth, to be thine inheritance.’ 1 Kings 8:53. The psalmist makes it clear what a blessing it was to be the Lord’s inheritance. ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.’ Psa. 33:12. There is no doubt that the Lord recognized Israel as His inheritance.
Their position as the Lord’s inheritance was secure. ‘For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance.’ Psa. 94:14.
The nation of Israel also had an inheritance, involving the land which the Lord gave them. In Num. 26:2 the Lord told Moses to take a census of the people. The next forty-nine verses of this chapter detail the results of the census, then in verse 53 the Lord said ‘Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.’ So every man of Israel who was twenty years old or more, with one important exception, the Levites, was to have an inheritance in the land.
This inheritance was meant to be long-term. The Lord gave specific rules for the passing on of the inheritance after a man died. These rules are listed in Num. 27:8-10. ‘If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. –if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren – if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren–if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it.’ The inheritance was to be kept in the family. That the Lord considered these rules of inheritance important is made clear in verse 11. ‘And it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.’
Ezekiel added more to the concept of inheritance. He said that if a prince gave a gift from his inheritance to a servant then it would belong to the servant only until the year of liberty or jubilee, when it would return to the prince and become the inheritance of his sons. Ezek 46:17. The inheritance was meant to remain in the family.
Considering how seriously the inheritance was regarded, it is little wonder that Naboth refused to give or sell his plot of land to King Ahab. When the offer was made Naboth said to Ahab ‘The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.’ 1Kings 21:3.
The Levites’ Inheritance
The tribe of Levi did not inherit part of the land as the other eleven tribes did. They were a special case, set aside to serve the Lord. ‘And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them.’ Num. 18:20. While the rest of Israel was to tend the land and watch over their flocks, the Levites were to serve the Lord in the tabernacle.
But if the Levites had no inheritance in the land, how were they to tend crops or raise animals? How would they eat? The Lord had this under control. ‘But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit.’ So their physical needs were taken care of. Several of the offerings made to the Lord were for the Levites’ sustenance.
But did the Levites have an inheritance? Yes! ‘I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.’ Num. 18:24. Their inheritance was the Lord!
The Inheritance of Jehovah’s Son
There is one other inheritance mentioned in the Old Testament. It is found in Psalm 2. “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Psa. 2:7-8. This deals with the Lord taking vengeance against those who are enemies, and has yet to take place.
Inheritance in the Gospels
The word ‘inheritance’ occurs only four times in the gospels and on each occasion it refers to inheritance as described above concerning Israel.
The word ‘inherit’ occurs six times. In Matt. 5:5 ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’. In Mark 10:17, Luke 10:25 and Luke 18:18 different people ask how thy can inherit eternal life. Matt. 19:29 speaks of people inheriting everlasting life, and Matt. 25:34 says ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’. It is necessary to have eternal life to participate in an everlasting kingdom.
The concept of inheriting eternal life does not appear in this form in the Old Testament, but inheriting the earth and inheriting the kingdom do.
Inheritance in Acts and the Acts Epistles
In Acts 7:5 Stephen speaks of inheritance, and he is referring to Abraham’s inheritance, so there is nothing new here. The word ‘inheritance’ occurs only twice more in Acts. These occurrences are Acts 20:32 and Acts 26:18 and refer to inheritance among them which are sanctified. And who are the sanctified? “……. but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1Cor. 6:11. In Hebrews the relationship which allows inheritance is made clearer. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Heb. 2:11.
Paul, in Romans 8:14 -17 explains how those in the Acts period become heirs. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God……ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ”.
The same truths are revealed in Galatians 4:4-7. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
God’s Son was made of woman, made under law, to redeem them that were under the law, and Gal.3:29 says “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Those who were under the law were those who were heirs according to the promise, “Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” Rom. 9:4.
Inheritance in the Post-Acts Epistles
In the post-Acts epistles which refer to the present period, quite a different picture emerges. Paul says of gentiles that previously “ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” Eph. 2:12. The gentiles had no access to the promises made to Israel, except to be grafted into Israel during the Acts period, as is described in Romans.
But Paul points out that this situation has changed. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” Eph. 2:13-15.
However in the present period the gentiles have a hope, but it is not according to the promise, but according to the good pleasure of his will. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Eph. 1:5, and “we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Eph. 1:11.
The present hope has nothing to do with the promises of the Old Testament. It has a lot to do with the good pleasure of God’s will. The gentile does have an inheritance. “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” Col.1:12 and “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Col. 3:24.
The present hope is not on earth, but in heaven. Paul says “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Col. 3:1-2 and “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Col. 3:4.
So there are a number of groups which have an inheritance, and each inheritance is different:
- The Lord’s inheritance is Israel.
- Israel’s inheritance is the land.
- Levi’s inheritance is the Lord.
- The Acts period inheritance is in the kingdom of God.
- The present period’s inheritance is with Christ, far above all.