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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Inherit

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A. Verb.

Nâchal (נָחַל, Strong's #5157), “to inherit, get possession of, take as a possession.” This term is found in both ancient and modern Hebrew, as well as in ancient Ugaritic. It is found around 60 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. The first time nâchal is used in the Old Testament text is in Exod. 23:30: “inherit the land.” The RSV “possess” translates more appropriately here, since the land of Canaan was not literally an inheritance in the usual sense of the word, but a possession, that which was due her, through God’s direct intervention. In fact, in most cases of the use of nâchal in the Old Testament, the word has the basic sense of “to possess” rather than “to inherit” by means of a last will and testament. One of the few instances of “to inherit” by last will and testament is in Deut. 21:16: “… when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath.…” This clause is more literally translated “in the day he causes his sons to inherit that which is his.”

When Moses prayed: “… O Lord, … take us for thine inheritance” (Exod. 34:9), he did not mean that God should “inherit” through a will, but that He should “take possession of” Israel. The meaning “to get as a possession” is seen in its figurative use. Thus, “the wise shall inherit [possess as their due] glory” (Prov. 3:35); “the upright shall have good things in possession” (Prov. 28:10); “our fathers have inherited lies” (Jer. 16:19); “he that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind” (Prov. 11:29).

B. Noun.

Nachălâh (נַחֲלָה, Strong's #5159), “possession; property; inheritance.” This noun is used frequently (220 times), but mainly in the Pentateuch and Joshua. It is rare in the historical books. The first occurrence of the word is in Gen. 31:14: “And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?”

The basic translation of nachălâh is “inheritance”: “And Naboth said to Ahab, The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee” (1 Kings 21:3). The word more appropriately refers to a “possession” to which one has received the legal claim. The usage of nachălâh in the Pentateuch and Joshua indicates that the word often denotes that “possession” which all of Israel or a tribe or a clan received as their share in the Promised Land. The share was determined by lot (Num. 26:56) shortly before Moses’ death, and it fell upon Joshua to execute the division of the “possession”: “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). After the Conquest the term “inheritance” is no longer used to refer to newly gained territory by warfare. Once “possession” had been taken of the land, the legal process came into operation by which the hereditary property was supposed to stay within the family. For this reason Naboth could not give his rights over to Ahab (1 Kings 21:3-4). One could redeem the property, whenever it had come into other hands, as did Boaz, in order to maintain the name of the deceased: “Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place” (Ruth 4:10).

Metaphorically, Israel is said to be God’s “possession”: “But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day” (Deut. 4:20).

Within the special covenantal status Israel experienced the blessing that its children were a special gift from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). However, the Lord abandoned Israel as His “possession” to the nations (cf. Isa. 47:6), and permitted a remnant of the “possession” to return: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy” (Mic. 7:18).

On the other hand, it can even be said that the Lord is the “possession” of His people. The priests and the Levites, whose earthly “possessions” were limited, were assured that their “possession” is the Lord: “Wherefore Levi hath no part nor inheritance with his brethren; the Lord is his inheritance, according as the Lord thy God promised him” (Deut. 10:9; cf. 12:22; Num. 18:23).

The Septuagint gives the following translations: kleronomia (“inheritance; possession; property”), and kleros (“lot; position; share”). The KJV gives these senses: “inheritance, heritage.”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Inherit'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/i/inherit.html. 1940.

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