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B'Midbar/Numbers 26:55 Only by lot shall the land be divided, according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.
This verse presents us with something of a puzzle. Two verses earlier after the total count of the male Israelites on the Plains of Moab "from the age of twenty years up, by their ancestral houses, all Israelites able to bear arms" (B'Midbar 26:2, JPS) has been announced - 601,730 -HaShem has instructed Moshe, "Among these shall the land be apportioned as shares, according to the listed names" (v. 53, JPS). That makes it sound as though there will be 601,730 individual portions, one for each man counted. In this verse, however, the division seems to be by tribe and fathers. Naturally, this sparks debate among the commentators.
The Sages of the Talmud start by with the statement: "The land was divided according to these1 and according to those2, in order to carry out [the injunctions in] those two verses. How [was] this effected? -- He [who] was of those who came out of Egypt received his share among those who came out of Egypt. He [who] was of those who entered the land, received his share among those who entered the land. He who belonged to both categories, received his share among both categories." (b. Bava Batra 117b). RabbiHirsch, pointing back to HaShem's instructions a few verses earlier - "Among these shall the land be apportioned as shares, according to the listed names" (v. 53, JPS) - asks, "Which names?" and then elaborates, "If it is the names at Sinai, then for two brothers who had one and nine sons respectively, there would be two portions, one held by the one and one shared between the nine. If from the names in Moab, then there would be ten portions, one portion for each child. By merging the two methods, ten portions are allocated because there are ten children, with half the inheritance going to each brother: five to the one child of one brother and five portions divided between the nine children of the second brother."
TheSforno explains that "although the land was divided into larger and smaller portions according to the needs of the tribes and their size, nonetheless no portion was given to a tribe except 'according to the lot' and thus each tribe received its portion according to G-d", while Jacob Milgrom confirms that "each person will take his share within the territory assigned to his tribe by lot". Solomon was later to say that "Lots are cast into the lap; the decision depends on the L-RD" (Proverbs 16:33, JPS), making it clear that the precise allocation was decided by HaShem. Rashi goes as far, based on the start of the verse after our text - , literally "by the mouth of the lot" - as claiming that "the lot would speak - 'I the lot, came up for such and such boundary'. This tells us that the land was divided through the Holy Spirit". At the same time, Rashi comments, the phrase "only by lot" also tells us that "Joshua and Caleb have been excluded because it says, 'They gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised' (Judges 1:20, JPS) and it says, 'At the command of the L-RD they gave [Joshua] the town that he asked for, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim' (Joshua 19:50, JPS)." These portions for these two men were explicitly given, rather than being allocated by lot.
Each tribe received the appropriate portion, by size and productiveness, that it needed - not by human design, but by the explicit and particular gift or allocation of G-d. From the overall geography of the Land, it is clear that some portions would have been in the mountains, some in the coastal plain, some in the Jordan valley or surrounding the Kinneret. Each would have its own strengths and weaknesses, crops for which it was better or worse; some would have suitable soil for a vineyard, others would be better for olive trees or figs. The Sages look forward to a time when a land inheritance would include all types of soil and terrain: "In the world to come there will be no single individual who will not possess [land] in mountain, lowland and valley; for it is said, 'The gate of Reuben one; the gate of Judah one; the gate of Levi one' (Ezekiel 48:31, NASB). The Holy One, blessed be He, Himself, [will] divide it among them; for it is said, 'And these are their portions, declares the L-rd G-D' (48:29, ESV)" (b. Bava Batra 122a).
Two questions follow from this. The first concerns lots: should we still use lots to determine what the L-rd would have us do in some circumstances? Lots are mentioned only only three times in the New Covenant Scriptures. The first, in Luke's gospel, describes Zacharias being chosen by lot to offer incense in the Temple (Luke 1:9); the second, in all four gospels, is part of the crucifixion narrative where the Roman soldiers cast lots for Yeshua's clothing (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:24); the third, in the book of Acts when the eleven disciples choose a twelfth of their number to replace Judas as an apostle (Acts 1:26). The prominent absence of any other mention in any of the letters or elsewhere in the gospels suggests that casting lots is no longer considered an appropriate method of determining G-d's will in the age of the Spirit.
The other question concerns inheritances: how and what do we inherit - what is our inheritance and from whence or who does it come? Rav Sha'ul explains that having an inheritance follows from being children of G-d: "if we are children, then we are also heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with the Messiah" (Romans 8:17, CJB). This is confirmed as followers of Messiah Yeshua: "if you belong to the Messiah, you are seed of Avraham and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29, CJB). Sha'ul also makes it clear that the inheritance is available to all believers in Messiah, regardless of our earthly stock, Jew or Gentile: "in union with the Messiah and through the Good News the Gentiles were to be joint heirs, a joint body and joint sharers with the Jews in what G-d has promised" (Ephesians 3:6, CJB).
Whereas Israel was promised an earthly inheritance - "In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance" (Jeremiah 3:18, NASB) - and Jewish believers in Messiah may well experience that, for it will certainly happen, the wider promise of inheritance for believers in Messiah is mainly in heaven: "an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4, NASB); we have been given "the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15, NASB). But our inheritance is also partly available to us now: "the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13-14, NASB) - the Ruach who is the earnest or down-payment that guarantees the whole. This inheritance comes not from our families or friends, although they may be instrumental in helping us to connect with G-d, but is given individually by G-d to each believer in Yeshua. That is to say, we do not have G-d's inheritance because our parents had a relationship with G-d - that is their inheritance - but only because we ourselves have a relationship with G-d and are given our own inheritance. In turn, we cannot leave that inheritance to our children; we can only point them towards obtaining their own inheritance by coming to know G-d for themselves.
In our daily lives we have to both live in and work at our inheritance. Yeshua urged His disciples to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20, ESV). We share the story of our inheritance with others, as Rav Sha'ul and Barnabas did at Pisidian Antioch: "We bring you the good news that what G-d promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Yeshua" (Acts 13:31-32, ESV). G-d's promise of a Messiah and, though Him, relationship and peace with G-d, was promised to successive generations of faithful people - "By faith Noah ... became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Hebrew 11:7, NASB) and has now been revealed to us who walk by faith. We inherit the promise because it is actualised or fulfilled in our lives as we hear and respond to G-d's invitation to join His kingdom and become part of His family.
Casting lots for a land inheritance which is then passed down from father to son or daughter is therefore not a practice that applies in the kingdom of G-d, although the principles outlined by the Jewish commentators remain. Each believer has their own inheritance, directly given by G-d; each believer has an inheritance that exactly and uniquely matches them, that G-d has chosen; our inheritance is ample and sufficient for our needs, whether in this world or the next.
1. - These who were numbered by Moshe and Aharon at Mt. Sinai after coming out of Egypt
2. - Those who were numbered by Moshe and Elazar on the Plains of Moab after forty years in the wilderness
Further Study: Colossians 1:9-14; Jeremiah 12:14-17
What are you doing about your inheritance? Are you confidently living in
your inheritance now, secure in what G-d has provided for you and waiting for
its fullness in due time, or do you wonder what it is all about? Talk to the
Inheritance Planner about it today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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