Israelites of Old Testament times considered an inheritance to be more than merely an amount of property received upon the death of one’s parents. The inheritance was tied up with the family’s portion of land originally allotted to it in Canaan (1 Kings 21:3-4; Micah 2:2). It was a gift that came from God (Gen 12:7; Deut 4:37-38; 12:10). The New Testament shows that Christians also have an inheritance. This inheritance is tied up not with material possessions but with the kingdom of God. But like the Old Testament inheritance, it is a gift that comes from God himself (Matt 25:34; James 2:5).

Israel in the Old Testament

When Canaan was divided among Israel’s twelve tribes, each tribal area was known as the inheritance of that tribe (Josh 15:20; 16:8; 18:2). Each tribal area was then divided among the families of that tribe, and each family portion was to remain with that family permanently. If anyone later sold part of the family land, it returned to the possession of the family in the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25:13-17; see JUBILEE). The inheritance passed from one generation to the next through the male descendants, though if there were no sons, it could be shared among the daughters. If the daughters later married, they were to marry within their own tribe and so prevent the inheritance from passing to another tribe (Num 27:1-8; 36:1-13). If there were no descendants at all, the land passed to the nearest living relative (Num 27:9-11). A childless widow could, however, ask the brother of her dead husband to act as a sort of temporary husband to her, so that she might produce a son who would inherit the dead husband’s property and carry on his name (Deut 25:5-10; see WIDOW). Whether concerning land or possessions in general, the eldest son received double the amount of the other sons. This special inheritance was known as the birthright (Gen 49:3; Deut 21:17). The firstborn could lose the birthright either by foolishly selling it or through misconduct (Gen 25:31-34; 1 Chron 5:1- 2; see FIRSTBORN).

The Christian’s inheritance

The New Testament uses the picture of an heir firstly of Christ, and then of the Christian. Christ is the heir of all things (Heb 1:2), and through him believers also become heirs. The blessings of salvation promised to Abraham were fulfilled in Christ, and believers inherit these blessings through him (Gal 3:14,16,29). Through the grace of God they become children of God and receive eternal life (Rom 8:17; 1 Peter 3:7). Although Christians enjoy this inheritance now, they will enjoy it more fully when Christ returns. Their salvation will then be complete. Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within them, they can look forward to this inheritance with assurance (Eph 1:14,18; Titus 3:7; 1 Peter 1:4; see HOPE). Their expectation of this future inheritance gives them courage and perseverance amid present trials and difficulties (Heb 6:12; 11:13-16,39-40; Rev 21:7; see PERSEVERANCE).

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