The word “inheritance” is rich, deep and expansive — like the word “faith” or “family.” It’s used in a legal sense to speak of what takes place when a person dies and their land and possessions are passed on to another (see Numbers 27:8-11). Although the specifics of Israel’s inheritance law might give us cause to pause (think of the levirate law — Deuteronomy 25:5-10), the concept of inheritance itself isn’t difficult to understand.
However, most of the time “inheritance” is used in the scripture, it’s not in a legal sense, but in a spiritual one — such as the land of Canaan being Israel’s inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:21, 38). In contexts like this, it carries the meaning of being a gift “with an emphasis on the special relationship between the benefactor and the recipients,” (Will E. Brown, “Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology”). And contrary to the legal usage, there is no death of the benefactor. In fact, God’s ability to give this gift to Israel was proof that He was very much alive (see 12:10).
God gave Israel the land as their gift or inheritance. But we’re also told that God brought Israel “out of Egypt, to be the people of His inheritance, as you are now,” (4:20). After the incident at Kadesh Barnea, Moses pled with Yahweh, “do not destroy Your own people, Your own inheritance that You redeemed with Your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (9:26, see also v. 29). In Egypt, God inherited Israel by virtue of the redemptive acts He performed on their behalf. To say that Israel was His inheritance is similar to saying He adopted them or redeemed them. It’s another way of saying they were His people.
In the NT, “inheritance” is often used to speak of what God has in store for His people (Jew or Gentile) when this life is over. Just as Israel under Moses was headed toward its inheritance in Canaan, disciples under Jesus are headed toward their inheritance in heaven (Hebrews 3:1-4:11). The writers of the NT don’t go into detail about our inheritance, so it seems best to just apply Paul’s words (spoken in another context) in 1 Corinthians 2:9 in framing our expectations:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love Him.
We’ll all have our day in court when we come before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). For some, the result will be condemnation, but if Christ is your defense lawyer (1 John 2:1), then you’ll receive an inheritance that’s out of this world.
Green has written a book on the model prayer called “Praying in the Reign.” It is available through 21st Century Christian.
Find more of his writings at his website: www.a-taste-of-grace-with-bruce-green.com.