Guarding Our Inheritance
Richard Jeffery, Reading, England
During Pauls first recorded address delivered in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, he refers to that important era in Israel's history when the land of Canaan was divided unto them by lot in fulfilment of the divine promise of Deuteronomy 7. 1. Each tribe was given an inheritance according to the number of the souls within it. "To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to few thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him", Num. 26. 54. "So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes", Josh. 11.23. Thus what the Lord gave to the Israelite was to be kept and enjoyed; it was not to be passed from tribe to tribe, Num. 36. 7-9. After the servitude in Egypt as a slave people, the appreciative Israelite would understandably express his thankfulness to the Lord in such words as, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage", Psa. 16. 6. There were difficulties, however, as the people settled to enjoy their portion in the land. For example, we read of the five daughters of one, Zelophehad, who had died in the wilderness and had no sons, Num. 27. 3. These women came to Moses with their grievance, saying, "Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father". Moses, therefore, brought the matter before the Lord, and His judgment was given, and the law of inheritance introduced, becoming "a statute of right" in Israel, Num. 27. 11 j.n.d. There were fears, however, among the brothers of Zelophehad that, should these daughters marry into another tribe, their inheritance would automatically be transferred to that tribe, 36. 4. The Lord gave commandment in this matter saying, "Let them marry to whom they think best; only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry. So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe: for every one of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers", 36. 6-7.
There are several well known instances recorded in Scripture where the Israelite was prepared to guard the inheritance as a trust from the Lord. First, we will briefly consider Gideon, one of Israel's judges in a time of declension and confusion in the nation. "Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites", Jud. 6. 1-11. These raiders were constantly destroying "the increase of the earth", being instruments in the Lord's hand forthe chastening of His people because of their disobedience to His voice, v. 10. Gideon, however, was determined to keep his inheritance and the fruit of his labours from the enemy by threshing "wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites", v. 11. He thus shows his determination to keep that which the Lord had given him from falling into enemy hands.
Secondly, there was Shammah, one of David's mighty men, who proved himself worthy of a place among the king's most prominent generals, for, when David reached the throne of Israel he gave the places of highest command to men who had proved themselves by feats of conspicuous bravery. The incident we are to consider is related in so few words that we must read it more than once to grasp the motive behind the deed. It reveals the resoluteness of the Israelite in defence of the inheritance the Lord had given him. "Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines. But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the Lord wrought a great victory", 2 Sam. 23. 11-12. To some, Shammah's piece of ground may have been covered with little more than a patch of weeds, and hardly worth defending, but to the Israelite it was precious as being part of the inheritance given him of the Lord. Furthermore, unselfishly, Shammah may have considered the capture of his piece of ground becoming a bridgehead for the Philistines from which they might make further incursions into the land. Nothing the Lord has entrusted to us is to be esteemed lightly.
Thirdly, there is the story of Naboth's vineyard 1 Kings 21. The covetous eyes of Ahab, Israel's apostate king, were upon Naboth's possession, and with subtlety and tempting offers he tried to persuade his subject to part with it. "Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it" whines the evil king, v. 2. "And Naboth said to Ahab, the Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee", v." 3. Such a determined and courageous reply was certain to have unfavourable results for Naboth, for the sinister shadow of "that woman Jezebel" moved behind Ahab's covetousness, for, did he not "sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up"?, v. 25. Naboth's refusal to part with his possession to Ahab drew out the words from his heathen queen, "Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite", v. 7. Then she put her plan into action, a plan framed in covetousness, forgery, false witness, and, finally, murder. Her plan resulted in her jubilation as she tells Ahab, "Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money: for Naboth is not alive, but dead", v. 15. Naboth died for a principle. He refused to part with that which the Lord his God had given him.
Gideon may hide his wheat; Sham-mah defend his patch of lentiles; and Naboth die for his vineyard.
We, too, have an inheritance to keep, not "in the land", but "in the Lord". "That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us", 2 Tim. 1. 14; "the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also", 2. 2. So urges Paul upon his beloved Timothy. These things are not to be compromised in a day when so much is for change, and much that is characteristic of New Testament assembly fellowship is being tampered with to make things more agreeable to those on the outside. The insistence that some of our "tradition" could be dispensed with, and a broader ecclesiastical outlook accepted is typical of the restless world about us. One word could well summarize the times in which we are living, and that is, confusion.
Let Paul's final words to Timothy come to us with new urgency and conviction as the coming of the Lord draws near, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season: reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine", 2 Tim. 4. 2. Let us hold fast that which we have, and let no man take our crown, Rev. 3. 11.