By Stephen Green (Original to the Web: September 2005)
Over ten years ago, the American Reconstructionist author John Rousas Rushdoony spoke of his shock at a bumper sticker he saw on a car. The car, an upmarket model, was being driven by an elderly man, who had an elderly woman passenger. The bumper sticker did not attack Jesus Christ, nor was it campaigning for abortion or homosexuality, nor was it supporting any of the other fashionable liberal sacred cows. Nevertheless, it struck at the heart of God's institution of the family and hence at God Himself. It said, "We're spending our children's inheritance."
THE SKI GENERATION Rushdoony, a strong Armenian family man, said he could not think of anything more irresponsible, or anything with a more cavalier attitude to Godly living, than setting out deliberately to deprive one's children of their inheritance. Eighteen months ago, in their Walk Across America, Pastors Philip 'Flip' Benham and Rusty Thomas reached Las Vegas. They, too, were shocked to see pensioner couples in the casinos, gambling away the money they had saved all their life, money which should have been going to their children. Now the same trend has reached these shores. There is even an acronym for it: they are the 'SKI' generation: "Spending Kids' Inheritance."
The fact that intelligent middle-class people think that it is just fine to be spending their children's inheritance is a true sign of the depth of our national rebellion from God. Abortion on demand and sodomy were by Acts of Parliament both legalised in Great Britain in 1967. No-fault divorce on demand was enacted in 1969. It has taken until now for the irresponsibility inherent in those acts of rebellion against God to come full circle and parade itself in precisely the generation in whose childbearing prime those measures were passed. How God must weep as rebellion is added to judgment.
THE PRINCIPLE OF INHERITANCE Inheritance is a strong theme in the Bible. The land of Canaan became the inheritance of the children of Israel, divided by tribe (Numb 26:53-55). The Jubilee system, in which every family returned to its inheritance (Lev 25:10) and the decision about what to do where a man had daughters but no sons (Numb 27:1-11), show how seriously God takes inheritance and family. It could be argued that inheritance was therefore only to do with land, and the fact that it was based on the principle that the Israelites were mere leaseholders in a land owned by God (Lev 25:23) makes it irrelevant to our society. Nevertheless, the wealth of inheritance is more than land, it is money and goods as well, and these remain within the family even after the Jubilee.
That makes it impossible to argue that the emphasis on inheritance which we find within the Biblical witness is a cultural construct of no relevance to today. The Bible speaks timelessly as it says: "A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children" (Prov 13:22). When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in gentile Corinth, he said as their father in the faith he would not take anything from them on the same principle of inheritance: "the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children" (2Cor 12:14).
INHERITANCE SACROSANCT The principle of inheritance is sacred in the Bible. King Ahab, an idolatrous, not a God-fearing man, was rebuffed for trying to exercise a compulsory purchase order on Naboth's vineyard (1 Kgs 21). "Naboth said to Ahab, 'The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee'" (vs 3). It was impossible for the king to force Naboth to give up his family's inheritance and Ahab sulked because of that (vs4). It was only when Jezebel had Naboth framed for blasphemy and stoned to death that Ahab could take the vineyard, and it must be that Naboth had no living relatives to claim it, or none with sufficient courage to stand up to Ahab. The prophet Elijah had the courage, and he cursed Ahab to his face for killing Naboth and for taking his possession (1Kgs 21:19).
The Prophet Ezekiel says that in the righteous kingdom, "The prince shall not take of the people's inheritance by oppression to thrust them out of their possession, but he shall give his sons inheritance out of his own possession" (Ezek 46:18). Micah says: "And they covet fields and take them by violence; and houses and take them away. So they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage" (Mic 2:2). Paul tells Timothy, "If any provide not for his own and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel" (1Tim 5:8).
FAMILY MUST CARE FOR ITS OWN The family, of course, is God's first social institution, for it was 'not good that the man should be alone' (Gen 2:18) and the heart of God is to set the solitary in families (Ps 68:6). The fact that children are described in the Psalms as a heritage of the Lord (Ps 127:3) gives additional weight to the whole principle of inheritance.
It is of course true that a portion of the inheritance in the Biblical model would contribute towards the care of mother and father in their old age. The duty of the care of the elderly fell on the eldest son. For this reason, when inheritance was divided, the first-born son was given a double portion, a principle we see referred to in Deut 21:17. The pension and social security system we have in Britain today has to some extent atrophied the Biblical concept that children should care for their elderly parents and that inheritance is laid up partially to provide for old age. People today object strongly when the state says that those with savings should pay towards long-term nursing-home care. Indeed at both ends of life we expect the state to care for those we should be caring for ourselves. The very young are dumped in day-nurseries, and the very old in nursing homes. True, as we are living longer, we are more subject to senility than perhaps in Bible times, and our elderly parents may be impossible to look after without nursing care. Even then, having someone come in to look after an elderly person in their home is a lot less expensive than paying for accommodation and care in a nursing home run as a business, and retains more of the inheritance. It is just that too often we think it ought to be somebody else's responsibility.
CONTRACT BETWEEN GENERATIONS But let us return to the principle at stake. We need to remember that God places a kind of contract between the generations. Honour thy father and thy mother is indeed the first commandment with a promise: "that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exod 20:12). Father and mother includes grandfathers and grandmothers and all a person's ancestors. "Our fathers went down into Egypt" say the Israelites to the king of Edom (Numb 20:15). The Rechabites in Jeremiah 35 speak of Jonadab the son of Rechab as their 'father', although he was some generations earlier, and they respect his commandment not to drink wine, 'nor your sons forever.' I have a feeling that today's children as they are growing up would say, "I'll make up my own mind about that, thank you very much." But Jaazaniah says, "Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our father" (Jer 35:8).
So the contract between the generations does not just look back, it also looks forward. Statutes were given to Israel for all generations (Exod 3:15) looking forward, and they were given to 'the children of Israel' as if to remind the Israelites of their common parentage, looking back. God's covenant with Noah was 'for perpetual generations' (Gen 9:12). God sent Joseph into Egypt to preserve his brothers' posterity (Gen 45:7). Aaron's pot of manna was to be laid up 'to be kept for your generations.' It is said by God to be important that the Israelites "teach their children" (Deut 4:10; 6:7; 11:19).
GRANDPARENTS AND GRANDCHILDREN We have seen that parents and ancestors are honoured in the Biblical system, and that there is a looking forward to the generations to come. In addition, the Bible has a special place for the role of grandparents and the blessing of grandchildren. Psalm 78:5-7 picks up on the teaching motif, and says that 'the children which should be born should arise and declare (the testimony and the law) to their children'. Psalm 128 says: "Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, and peace upon Israel" (Ps 128:6). There is a sense in which one can have children, and that is well and good, but it is only when grandchildren arrive that there can be a true feeling of contentment that the generations are indeed continuing. In Proverbs it is written: "Children's children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers" (Prov 17:6).
So we have not just children honouring their parents in the Bible, but parents having great care and regard for their children and their grandchildren and what is being handed down to them. That is what is absent from the SKI generation, where it is not so much a case of the children not honouring the parents as the parents not honouring their children in any sense at all. When we started looking at this subject it was all around the subject of material wealth, but we are coming to see that inheritance is much wider than that. Parents in the Biblical model are custodians of a wealth which is much more than material. Land, money, material possessions, information, history, customs, laws, heritage, religion and, not least, wisdom are what parents are supposed to pass on to children and grandchildren.
THE ELDERLY AS A RESOURCE The grey-haired people in the gambling casinos of Las Vegas are not simply indulging the selfishness of denying their children money. They are also denying their children and grandchildren the benefit of all their wisdom - although those who think it is perfectly acceptable to gamble their children's inheritance away are clearly short of the latter quality in any case.
Perhaps we have all become so 'statist' that we believe the government should look after inheritance. The Treasury of the United Kingdom takes, after all, 40% of a man or woman's inheritance (over the threshold) for itself. Presumably the deceased has already paid tax on that money, and yet the State comes back for another slice. As another example, there is a quango called 'English Heritage.' The State looks after our architectural heritage. In a way, that is a welcome recognition by the State that at least one form of heritage is important, the depth of the heritage of our history having been all but discarded in our education system.
So we see that the elderly hold everything they have in trust for their children and their children's children. Christian people should be at the forefront of having respect for parents and the elderly, and the elderly should regard themselves as the resource they are for the young. Going out to spend away any part of their kids' inheritance, financial or spiritual, is a sin against the whole character of God. And He has given us the richest inheritance of all: that of the Kingdom of Heaven.