And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Luke 10:25
To Inherit – The lawyer opened the test with a mistake. He asked the wrong question. If we overlook this mistake, we won’t understand why Yeshua answers a different question and ignores the lawyer’s test. We must proceed slowly and carefully. What’s wrong with the lawyer’s question? When you think about it, it’s obvious. He asks “What must I do to inherit?” But, of course, there is nothing I can do to inherit anything. Inheritance is not based on what I do. It is based on who I am. A son does nothing to be granted an inheritance. Inheritance is a gift given to those who are in the proper relationship. This is why Sarah commands Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert to die. “No son of a slave girl will inherit along with my son!” Sarah knows that as long as Ismael is alive, he is eligible to inherit. He doesn’t have to do anything to gain his inheritance. He just has to be there.
The Hebrew word (yarash) stands behind the Greek word (kleronomeo). The Greek word combines two thoughts – “to have in one’s power” and “a lot.” This word recalls the division of the land by lots when Israel inherited Canaan. This event established the paradigm case of inheritance for the Jews. Taking the land required action. That’s why yarash also means “to take possession, to dispossess, to drive out and to inherit.” Yarash is about conquering the land, but this action did not create the inheritance. God gave the land to Israel. The inheritance was His alone to give. Israel did nothing to earn it, but Israel still needed to take possession of what God had already given.
Do you see now why the lawyer’s question is so terribly wrong? There is nothing he can do to inherit eternal life. There are actions he must take to possess this inheritance, but these actions do not affect the status of God’s gift. These actions only personally appropriate what has already been given. No wonder Yeshua doesn’t answer this question. The assumption behind the question completely undermines the character of a compassionate God. The lawyer’s question implies that God has not given eternal life as a gift. Instead, his question implies that by some actions we can obligate God to reward us with eternal life. Yeshua doesn’t even bother which such a mistaken view.
Christians will nearly universally agree that this question is the wrong question. Christians will assert, along with Yeshua, that eternal life is a gift and that there is nothing we can do to inherit it. In spite of this agreement, we still tend to make two drastic mistakes. First, we go right on acting as if our behavior actually obligates God. We act as if our good deeds require God to bless us. We act as if our mistakes and sins erase God’s good gift. We have the right theology, but too many times our behavior looks like the lawyer’s assumptions.
The second mistake we make is the failure to understand the full sense of yarash. We think that because eternal life is a gift, we have no obligation at all. But yarash is an active verb, not a passive acceptance. It means “to take possession, to drive out, to dispossess” the enemy. The gift is there, thanks only to God, but we have to go to battle to possess it. We have to displace the enemy who occupies the territory. We have to drive out those who would prevent our full enjoyment of God’s goodness. We have to make the gift our own. The land will wait, dormant, until His people arrive and take control of their inheritance. It will not be given to any others. But it waits until we step up and do what He asks. “Go into the inheritance I have given you and occupy it.”
Topical Index: inheritance, kleronomeo, yarash, Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25