What is a legacy? Its primary meaning is money or property left in a will, but in its usage, it often goes beyond physical things. Proverbs is concerned about a Father’s legacy: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22 ESV).
The primary meaning of this proverb deals with property. Their world was one in which the land had been divided among the tribes. It was important to pass the land to sons so that it could be passed to grandsons. The proverb acknowledges that this process will not necessarily go right for the sinner, and the context acknowledges that things can sometimes go wrong for the good because of oppression (Proverbs 13:23). Leaving a well-managed farm will be a benefit to more than one generation — “to his children’s children.”
The Legacy of Moral Example and Instruction. Many view Proverbs 13:21-25 as a unit, so I don’t think it is unfair for us to consider other legacies. We read in verse 24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24 ESV)
This verse is difficult in our current cultural climate. It definitely refers to corporal punishment, but not abusive punishment. As parents, we used it for rebellious behavior. Jordan Peterson suggests a flick in the palm as a solution to inflict enough pain to gain attention and correction. But the proverb is about correction. The ESV’s “diligently” could also be “to be early or prompt in disciplining.” As James Smith notes, “This emphatic form suggests that the discipline would come either (1) in the morning of life before the bad habits are firmly fixed; (2) immediately after the offense; or (3) diligently.*” Fathers must model morality, instruct in morality, and discipline for morality in their children.
The Legacy of Work and Preparation for Work. Proverbs commends being industrious so that we can take care of our needs. But this also means preparing out children to do the same. In the ancient world, it would be teaching the sons to farm or do a trade. Daughters would have learned about food, clothing, and domestic duties necessary for survival. We raise children to leave home. We’ve even coined a verb out of the noun, adult. A son or daughter who adults has learned to behave in a responsible way and live on their own.
The Legacy of Faith and Spiritual Life. The daily wisdom of Proverbs is in fact the wisdom of God. It is spiritual. It involves a life lived for God. The greatest legacy I’ve received has been a spiritual one. Faith was modeled for me. Faith was instructed to me. As a father, I want my children, grandchildren, and descendants to have the salvation that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Fathers, what is your legacy?
— Russ Holden
*James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 562.