33But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.Joshua 13:33
Joshua 13:8-33 describes a point in Israel’s redemptive history where almost all of their enemies were defeated in Canaan – the Promised Land. Israel now had rest from war and was dividing up the land for each tribe to dwell in. As Israel was granted the land of Canaan and its resources as their inheritance (or “portion”), the tribe of Levi could only watch. Any rejoicing on the part of the Levites was a rejoicing of the heart that God was blessing his people and fulfilling his promises, because by comparison to the rest of Israel, their hands were still “empty.” What the Levites received could only be received by faith, because it was YHWH himself. It took genuine faith (a belief that God is who he says he is and he will do what he has said he will do) for the Levites to still rejoice in God as their inheritance while the rest of Israel got land in addition to the God who provided the land.
The concept of “genuine faith” vs. superficial faith is worthy of consideration in this story because anybody can claim they have faith when they’re receiving material blessings from God. However, that faith is put to the test (and sometimes exposed as false) when it must wait in humble silence while material things are withheld, given to others, or—more difficult still—stripped away. We don’t know if every Levite possessed this genuine faith or if theirs was merely superficial, an outward act to conform to social expectations. Because we know man is naturally sinful, we can presume there were Levites on both sides of the fence. Genuine faith isn’t something we do, but a work that God initiates in every one of us and refines each time we’re faced with trials that force us to consider whether He is enough. We ought to rejoice when we see evidences of genuine faith and pray for it when we see it lacking.
For YHWH alone to be one’s inheritance requires a special kind of faith, a humble trust that what we receive on this side of heaven is enough and that the greater reward when God brings us to himself will far surpass any earthly blessing. This type of faith satisfies down to the bone. It drives out pride, greed, self-righteousness, and bitterness from the heart. This type of faith imparts wisdom to those who embrace it. It helps us rightly interpret the blessings and burdens of this life for what they are— temporary signs pointing to a greater reality.
Watching others acquire wealth, land, and earthly blessings is a direct assault on the selfish tendencies rooted in the heart of every man. For many, the effect is either self-righteous anger—a bitterness at not getting what we clearly deserve (in the court of our own opinion). For others the effect is self-pitying sadness—an all out war on ourselves that criticizes every fiber of our identity and existence in the attempt to provide concrete reasoning for why we aren’t getting what we want.
To live faithfully as a Levite during the journey into the Promised Land required this genuine faith to remain glad in God and his service. For us today, genuine faith expresses itself as gladness in God in every circumstance, because the Lord is our inheritance. He is the inheritance of all who place their faith in Jesus, the Living Water to our thirsty souls, the Bread of Life to our spiritual hunger, the Good Shepherd who leads us into green pastures, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, the Head of the Church who nourishes and cherishes his body. All our needs are met in Christ. In him, we can stand firm (and happily) in genuine faith like the Levites, saying together as they did, “the LORD is our inheritance.”