B’Midbar/Numbers 34:29 These [are the ones whom] the L-rd commanded to apportion [to] the Children of Israel in the land of Canaan.
This is one of those verses where the English text is much longer that the Hebrew text: twenty words from ten in this particular case. It’s straight-off-the-page translation also makes no sense, since it would appear to be dividing out the Children of Israel in the Land – read the translation above without the ‘to’ in square brackets – not totally inaccurate from a literal point of view, but not really what the author intended to say. Let’s start at the beginning and see what is going on.
The first two words אֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר, are a noun phrase, assuming an appropriate part of the verb “to be”, forming the object of the first verb, צִוָּה, the Pi’el 3ms affix form of the root צוה most commonly to command. יהוה is the subject, the tetragrammaton name of G-d, spoken as ‘Adonai’ in a worship context and ‘HaShem’ otherwise. ‘These’ are the ten tribal chief – the twelve tribes of Israel, less Rueben and Gad who have elected to have their inheritance east of the Jordan – listed in verses 19-28 who are going to take possession of the tribal areas on behalf of their respective tribes and then apportion out the individual portions for each family to hold and possess as their ancestral inheritance.
The next word, לְנַחֵל is what HaShem has commanded the chieftains to do. The root נחל in its Qal stem, it means “to obtain or acquire a possession”, or “to divide or apportion.” This is how is used when HaShem instructs Moshe: “You shall take one chief from every tribe לִנְחֹל to divide the land for inheritance” (v. 18, ESV). This is the Qal infinitive: the chieftains are to accept the tribal areas on behalf of their tribes. However, in our text above, לְנַחֵל is the Pi’el infinitive, the emphatic stem; Davidson explains its meaning as “to give or distribute for a possession”. It is this that makes possession possible. Imagine that you have a tasty round apple pie; it is sitting on the plate in front of you and you take a knife and divide it into ten pieces. The people who are waiting for a slice of the pie can see the portions, but as long as the pieces stay on the plate in front of you, it doesn’t do them any good. They could always start a futures market to buy and sell their expectations in the pieces of pie that they anticipate receiving, but that’s beyond the scope of this drash! For anyone to be able to take possession of their piece of apple pie – and actually eat it – you have to go further than just dividing the pie into pieces; you have to give each person their piece and they have to receive it from you.
The next few words in our text, held together with the maqqef character, אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל form the object of the verb, which makes it look as if the Children of Israel are being divided בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן “in the land of Canaan”. While in one sense, that is sort of true, since the people will in time disperse to their ancestral holdings around the Land, that isn’t what is meant. In its Pi’el stem, נחל takes a double accusative, the first of which – the inheritances that the chieftains have accepted on behalf of each of their tribes – is carried forward from verse 18, and the second – the Children of Israel, here – is who is given those individual inheritance portions to hold or possess for themselves. Rashi simply explains that “they should apportion it to you by its sections.” That is why we added the word ‘to’ in square brackets in our translation above.
In the process of allocating the Land to the people, three steps need to take place. The first two are outlined in this chapter of the Torah: the first is that the chieftains take possession of the tribal areas on behalf of their tribes; the second is that each chieftain then apportions – redivides, if you like – his tribal area out between the families in his tribe, so that every individual family – including himself – is allocated their ancestral portion which will be theirs to pass down to their children or descendants for their generations. Each of these first two steps will be carried out by lot, based upon the size of the family and the quality and productiveness of the landholdings under the supervision of Joshua once the people have entered and taken possession of the Land as a whole. The people are also required to set apart cities of refuge and other cities in which the Levites are to live. The third step, which isn’t explicitly spelled out by the Torah is that the people have to accept their inheritance, they have to take individual possession of it, set boundary markers in place, build houses in which to live and start farming their land to support themselves and their dependents. We can see all three steps in the book of Joshua; here’s the first two: “Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the L-RD, the G-d of Israel” (Joshua 14:13-14, ESV). Joshua gave the city of Hebron to Caleb and it became his inheritance. The third follows in the next chapter: “According to the commandment of the L-RD to Joshua, he gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh a portion among the people of Judah, Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron (Arba was the father of Anak). And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak” (15:13-14, ESV). Now it was his in reality, not just in name.
We have to ‘receive’ the inheritance we have been given; we have to take possession of and actualise that inheritance. We can see this working out in the gospel. When the disciples of John the Immerser came to Yeshua to ask about who He was, Yeshua replied, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me” (Matthew 11:4-6, ESV). There were visible signs of Yeshua’s ministry and the power of the kingdom of G-d breaking through. To take an example, consider the man who was lowered down to Yeshua through a hole in the roof, in front of a whole house full of people. Yeshua forgives the man’s sins, then challenges the crowd who are questioning Him, “‘… in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ — then He said to the paralytic — ‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose, and went home” (9:6-7, NASB). What would have happened if he had just lain there and not moved? He might have been frightened of it not working, or of how the people in the room might react? But he chose to get up and take his bed home – and he received the blessing. Mark is more definite: “And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all” (Mark 2:12, NASB); he did it now, right away!
John tells a similar story set in Jerusalem, the man lying and waiting for the water to be stirred at the Pool of Bethesda: “Yeshua said to him, ‘Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.’ And immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day” (John 5:8-9, NASB). John has included a built-in conflict: instead of a room full of people, the man has to walk through Jerusalem carrying his bed on Shabbat. Sure enough, the man got into trouble with the religious authorities, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He wanted to be healed – John tells us that he had been waiting at the pool for thirty eight years! – he didn’t hesitate, he took what Yeshua gave him and grasped it in both hands.
Yeshua specifically uses the word ‘receive’ in His explanation of the parable of the Sower: “And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:16-17, ESV). Here, although people receive, they do not hold on and allow their blessing to take firm root; under pressure, they let go. In Luke’s gospel, Yeshua tells the disciples, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17, ESV). Have you ever tried to get something away from a determined toddler? They have amazing tenacity and endurance! Yeshua then says it again to the disciples after the resurrection: “when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22, ESV). Yeshua has given; they need to receive. The lesson seems clear: if you want to receive something from G-d, then as well as asking, you have to take it, make it yours and hang on tight!
Application: Have you received everything that G-d wants to give you? Do you ask and receive, or do you wait to have it pushed down your throat? Perhaps it is time to put faith into practice and act on the promises we have been given to see the kingdom of G-d at work in our lives!