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Written by: C. W. Booth

Monday, September 03, 2012

Our Earthly Inheritance

Time to Write a Will

It is time for me to write what will probably be my “last will and testament.” No, I am not dying, at least not that I know of. But at my age (they call it “middle age” but there is nothing middle about it) certainly it seems prudent to take care of such concerns now.

As I studied out the right thing to do with regard to distributing my meager resources as an inheritance (assuming any of it remains by the time I pass) I turned to Scripture for guidance. Though we are no longer under the Old Testament Law we can find in it principles that God considered hallmarks of righteous behavior for any era.

Inheritance Defined

What is an inheritance? It is an undeserved and unearned gift of love that a parent leaves to his or her children. By passing on one’s inheritance to the next generation one is leaving a legacy that perpetuates the family name and (hopefully) the family’s prosperity.

Receiving an inheritance signifies to a person that they are legitimately “in the family,” “and if [we really] are children then [we really] are heirs also…” (Romans 8:17a). By common understanding Paul assumed that every child is an heir as a matter of common sense and community civility. Paul’s sense that all children expect to be heirs of their fathers is confirmed empirically by us today when we feel shock and horror inside whenever we hear on the news of a child being intentionally excluded by a will or literally disinherited by their parents; our internal sense of justice tells us that such things are not proper and just ought not to happen.

For those who were not bloodline family members but still receive part of an inheritance it demonstrates that the parent(s) look on them with such love that they were treated as being part of the family--what higher esteem could be shown them than to be included in the will and the inheritance?

Old Testament Law

Hebrew Law (from the Old Testament) had a number of inheritance statutes. Again, we are not bound by these laws today but they are interesting and informative. In no particular order they were:

Law One: The son born first to a father (whether he is the son of the current wife or of a former wife) is to receive a double portion of the total inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17-17). In other words, if a man had two sons he would divide the inheritance into thirds and the eldest son would receive two-thirds and the youngest one-third. In this way no son was utterly excluded but the eldest son was always honored more highly.

Law Two: Daughters were given full inheritance only when there were no living sons (Numbers 36:6-9). In no instance was the inheritance of land to be transferred outside the family or tribal domain, even if the daughter had married outside the family or tribe.

Law Three: Non-family members could receive a part of the inheritance, but not a perpetual slice of the family land (Ezekiel 46:16-18), the land being sacred as part of the Promised Land.

Law Four: Political and civil rulers may not lay claim to their subjects’ inherited land (Ezekiel 46:16-18) thus preventing it from becoming part of the ruling family’s own inheritance.

Law Five: First born sons could lose their first born inheritance rights via outrageously foolish actions, such as intentionally selling those rights away to another family member (Hebrews 12:16) or subjecting the family to enormous public disgrace via horribly gross sin such as when Reuben committed incest with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:4; 1 Chronicles 5:1).

Principles for Today’s Will

Of course, those laws no longer apply since they were designed to protect the Promised Land for the bloodline descendants of Abraham prior to the coming of the Messiah. Today, however, we can identify some principles of righteous behavior that may help us draft more God-honoring wills and documents of last-testimony.

Principle One: A righteous man will leave what wealth he can to all his children to keep them from the ravages of poverty and he will not spend all his wealth for his own amusement, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children…” (Proverbs 13:22a).

Principle Two: A son who lays claim to or places legal hold on the family inheritance for himself before his father has even died is a shameful individual, “An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end” (Proverbs 20:21).

Principle Three: Inheritances are to be shared across the surviving children and not horded to one survivor (Deuteronomy 21:17-17).

Principle Four: Governments should not snatch away inheritances from the survivors (Ezekiel 46:16-18).

Principle Five: Gifts of inheritances should be distributed wisely and not necessarily be lavished on those who bring the family name public disgrace due to their gross and widely known flagrant violations of God’s Word and community mores and who will thus squander the inheritance on riotous and selfish living (Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:4; 1 Chronicles 5:1).

Conclusion

Wills and inheritances can become contentious things. Greed can compel one family member to scheme to horde the wealth all to himself leading to all kinds of gloating, power struggles, ill feelings, and fractured relationships among the relatives.

By way of contrast, wills and inheritances were meant by God to provide a gift, a living legacy, from the father to his spouse and children for their ongoing care and welfare. When approached with biblical principles in mind the will and inheritance can be a loving final act of charity to the grieving survivors who carry on the family name for the duration that life exists on this planet. For that reason parents must plan generously and wisely, following the principles of God‘s Word, and bearing in mind to Whom they will give account one day.

So it is that I begin to plan and write. Of course, I do fear that by the time I pass there will be nothing left to distribute. Indeed, I am keeping in mind to Whom I will give an accounting and am trying live in accord with that eventuality.


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