Proverbs 13:20 ESV
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.
The wealthiest people on earth, at least in modern times, tend to be incredibly sinful. Whether it’s Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or George Soros or Xi Jinping or any of a thousand other dubious fellows, they are, to the point of invariability, beacons of dishonesty and filth. It seems obvious, then, that if they wanted to, they could leave their (often hypothetical) children oodles of cash, whereas the vast majority of us can at best leave ‘something substantial’, certainly not an inheritance so impressive that it can last our children’s entire lives and pass on to the grandkids. This proverb, though, seems to disagree. Apparently, the righteous have an enduring inheritance to pass down, in contravention of apparent reality.
Now, this verse does have application to the material. The righteous man will build for the long term and thereby preserve a legacy for his children’s children, if God wills his efforts to be successful, while the sinner will self-destruct, losing his legacy through his sin and leaving it to the righteous, whose hand endures (Ex. 20:12). The important bit for today, though, lies in a different province, in a different inheritance which the good man leaves to his children and through his children, to their children: wisdom.
The responsibility of the son to heed his father, that he may gain wisdom, (and the corresponding responsibility of the father to convey wisdom to his son) is a constant theme in Proverbs. Proverbs 1:8, 3:21, 4:1, 6:20, and 13:1, not to mention many more, all testify to this truth, enjoining attendance, that, in the words of 10:1, “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.”
Two questions, though, will arise: cannot the sinful man pass down wisdom? What is the value of wisdom as compared to the wealth which sinners seem so often to be wallowing in (Ps. 73:4-5)?
Thankfully for us, James effectively answers the first question in the book which bears his name. In the contrast between verses 15 and 17 of chapter 3, he opposes earthly (daemonic) wisdom to heavenly wisdom, describing the evil of the first as opposed to the righteousness of the second, very clearly approving of the heavenly wisdom rather than the earthly. The definitions of the two versions of wisdom given here have two important implications for our discussion today: first, they differ in moral character; second, they differ in origin. That they differ morally matters because it assures us that the wisdom which Proverbs and the rest of the Bible consistently commends (explicitly or implicitly) is the heavenly wisdom. That they differ in origin matters because it tells us who can possibly possess each. The sinful man, after all, does not have the “wisdom from above” (17); he is not a son of God to be so blessed (Prov. 2:6). Instead, he has at best a simulacrum of true wisdom like that which Paul references in 2 Corinthians 2:23 and more often an inversion of it, the earthly wisdom condemned in James 3:15. The righteous man, who has wisdom from God (James 1:5), can pass that wisdom down; the sinful man, who does not, cannot.
What, then, is the value of wisdom? A few choice verses should elucidate.
Proverbs 4:7 – “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”
Proverbs 7:4 – “Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend….”
2 Chronicles 1:11-12 – “God answered Solomon, ‘Because [you]… have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.’” [parentheses and ellipsis mine]
Not only is wisdom so highly commended, here and in a myriad other places throughout Scripture (James 3, for instance), the attribute is so highly valued as to be used as a name for Christ, as in Proverbs 8 and Luke 11:49. All in all it would be impudence of the highest order to call wisdom unimportant, near blasphemous. That which God has assigned so high a place by His Word and through His character is not to be held lightly.
In summary, the inheritance of the righteous is precious beyond the daydreams of the world’s rulers (Ps. 2). The righteous man, who, as Deuteronomy 4:9 and 6:7 urge, passes this wisdom down, by God’s grace, to his children, this righteous man leaves an inheritance which will not whither or rot (Matt. 6:19-21), which cannot be lost (Rom. 8:38-39), which is of a value beyond all upon earth.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.