Numbers ends with inheritance law. That’s a pretty big theme throughout the entire Bible: inheritance.
Lineage was important. Keeping the inheritance in the family was important.
I can’t help but feel that this is connected to Paul’s statement that we are joint heirs with Christ. We are brought into the family of God and granted a claim to the inheritance of the son of God.
Think about it. Every fifty years, whatever land you sold was returned to the family. Because the land was granted by God, they had no power or authority to redistribute it, not really, and every fifty years they were reminded of that. The land belonged to God, and they were merely entrusted with it’s care, rewarded by it’s produce, sure, but whatever they built up, whatever they achieved, it all came from and ultimately belonged to God. They possessed it because it was a birthright.
Our birthright is death. Until we are accepted into a new family with a new birthright. Until we become joint heirs with Christ. Whatever we gain, whatever we lose, will all be set right in the final jubilee. The inheritance will return to the true line.
We don’t think about ‘birthright’ much in our culture anymore. Sure, we have the concept of heirlooms, and we have inheritance laws, but the idea of the birthright… Through no merit or fault of your own, you are born to this position. The firstborn takes the land, the power, the wealth, the blessing, the name. The rest of the children… they inherit something, but it’s never the same.
I guarantee you there were some firstborns who would have preferred to be second, though perhaps not as many as secondborns who would have preferred to be first. Birthright was an honor, but it was also a responsibility. I can hear the line in my head, the angry, practically spat out: “It is my birthright!” The honor denied, a character who feels cheated. I can also hear the words almost mournfully levied: “It is your birthright!” The character, usually the mother, maybe the father, challenging their son to step up and accept the role the were born to. Coveted, resented, cherished, usurped. Birthrights are weighty, inescapable, and impersonal.
Our birthright is death. But we have been given the opportunity to trade that one in for another, for life.
Yes, I think the theme of inheritance is significant. I’ve heard many good sermons on the concept of birthright, on whether we will inherit death or chose life, but I’m starting to think I need a good series on the narrative themes of the Old Testament and how they connect to the new. (Any suggestions?) After all, I’m still processing the repetitive motif of second sons blessed before the first, which in turn seems rather connected to this concept of inheritance. I’ve long been acquainted with the idea that the entire Bible is a single narrative building toward and supporting the ultimate message. We talk about Abraham and his descendants blessed to be a blessing, the sacrificial system, the cycle of falling away-bondage-repentance-redemption, and the kinsman redeemer (which is inheritance law…), but I think this may be the first time I’ve considered the emphasis on inheritance, the practice of jubilee, as connected to that discussion of our human birthright and quite directly related to the central narrative.
(I’ve always heard jubilee discussed as a reminder that we are but stewards of God’s creation, it’s all his, and our place in it, in this world, is temporary. Pretty sure it can be both.)