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The Hebrew word for portion occurs frequently in the Old Testament. The concept behind the word is that of division. Certain possessions may be divided up, with portions being given to various people (for example, Genesis 14:24). Or, someone may divide off a piece of land and give a portion to someone else. It is the last of these thoughts on which we focus our attention.
When God established the Old Covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai, the matter of tribal inheritance became an essential part of their lives (consider Numbers 1). As bearers of the Promise, the heritage of the twelve sons of Jacob was linked to the Messiah.
The physical heritage was in the land of Canaan. In the days of Joshua, Canaan was divided by lot among the twelve tribes (Numbers 26:52 and following). Each tribe received its portion. The maintenance of these tribal territories was provided for by law (Numbers 36:6-7). In fact, every fifty years, land that was sold to a different tribe was to return to the original tribe (Leviticus 25). Each tribe was supposed to retain its portion. Within that portion, the integrity of the tribal identity remained constant.
The purpose of this reached far beyond the nation of Israel. It was not merely a matter of tribal pride. God had declared that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. God had declared that He would be a descendant of David. The eyes of the faithful were fixed on Judah and on David’s home town of Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4; Matthew 2:4-6). Even the great disruption caused by the Babylonian exile would not disrupt God’s purpose. After the return from exile, it was the tribe of Judah that reestablished its portion in the Promised Land. All of this and more would have become obscured if the allotted portions of the tribes (especially Judah) had not been maintained.
The outcome is seen in the arrival of the Promised One. His identity as the Messiah was verified, in part, by His lineage. Consider Matthew 1, which presents the legal lineage of Jesus through Joseph, and Luke 3:23 and following, which presents Jesus’ biological lineage through Mary.
However, we live in the year 2020 and we are the chosen Israel (see Galatians 3:7-9) under the New Covenant. Everything about this Israel is spiritual, including our portion. Since we are “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-18), our portion is His portion. Although He was the rightful heir to the throne of David, He claimed no portion in this world (John 18:36). His thoughts are revealed in prophecy: “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6) As He faced death, Jesus knew that He had nothing in this world. His portion, the inheritance plotted out to Him by measuring lines, was Jehovah. Rising from the dead, Jesus secured that inheritance for us.
Even so, we do not maintain a perpetual, earthly plot of land. Our citizenship and our portion is with God. Therefore, we join Christ in His confidence (see Psalm 73:26; 142:5; Lamentations 3:24). His portion is our portion, for He has redeemed us and made us His own. Truly, the measuring lines have fallen unto us in pleasant places, for we have a good inheritance, eternal in the heavens.
“I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:24-26)
John Pfeiffer is retired from the pastoral and teaching ministry. He is a former president of Immanuel Lutheran College.