Many have heard and quoted the second half of Proverbs 13:22 which says, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” What does that actually look like when the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the just? Are there examples of this in the Bible? In the Old Testament, we can see a wealth transfer in the form of reparations given to the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. There is also a long-promised wealth transfer of Canaan (the land of milk and honey) to Abraham’s descendants. This milk and honey clause from Ex 3:8 implies that the people in the land were rich, but throughout the Torah, we are also told of their sinfulness. And some of Jesus’ parables allude to this transfer as well like the Parable of the 3 Servants (Matt 25:14-30) or the 10 Servants (Luke 19:11-27).
In Genesis 15:13-16, God foretells to Abraham that his seed will be persecuted and enslaved. The persecution includes Isaac (by Ishmael [Gen 21] and Abimelech [Gen 26]) and Jacob (by Esau [Gen 27-28] and Laban [Gen 30-31]) in Canaan. Then Jacob moves to Egypt and sometime after Joseph dies 71 years later they are enslaved (Ex 1:8). God promised that Egypt will be punished and they will let Israel go and the Israelites will be enriched on the way out (Gen 15:14). Furthermore, in Gen 15:16 God says this will happen 4 generations from the time Israel (Jacob) and his family left Canaan for Egypt in Genesis 46. The first generation is Kohath, then Amram, then Moses (the 40-year wilderness generation), then Joshua who leads them into the promised land. Then God tells Abraham he won’t be around for any of this and will be long dead, and explains that he can’t do it now because the sins of the Amorites (people living in Canaan) have not warranted their destruction yet.
God allowed these sinful people to prosper, in order to first show mercy for the few righteous in the land, and secondly prepare the land for Abraham’s descendants, so that it will be a blessing and not a burden. On the first point, the Amorites were likely considered righteous enough in the time of Abraham since they allied with him to rescue Lot (Abraham’s nephew) from Chedorlaomer’s army in Genesis 14. However, most of the righteous Canaanites were gone around 430 years later when Moses brought Israel out of Egypt. There are a few people like Rahab that ended up joining the Israelites when they conquered Jericho (Joshua 2), and she is in the lineage of Jesus (Matt 1:5). On the second point, when the Israelites are leaving Egypt, God promises to drive out the Canaanites with terror, but he won’t do it all at once because the land will become desolate and inhabited by wild animals. In other words, that milk and honey aren’t going to sustain and produce themselves. The people of Canaan have to be blessed and favored by God in taking care of the land, despite their wicked behaviors so that the righteous will have something of value to inherit. That is why God says in Deut 6:10-11, “I will give you, cities that you did not build, houses richly stocked with goods you did not produce, water from cisterns you did not dig, and food from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” These things were stored up for his people, which means that rather than an immediate punishment for all of Canaan (like Sodom and Gomorrah), he blessed them in their planting so that the Israelites would inherit their harvest.
Exodus 12:34-36 showcases the wealth transfer via reparations that God promised to Moses back in Exodus 3:21 and to Abraham in Gen 15:14. God gave the Israelites favor with the Egyptians, and the Egyptians gave them anything they asked (clothes, gold, silver, etc) as they left after the Passover plague. In other words, they were scared of all of the plagues, so they wanted to be done with the Hebrews. The Israelites went to Egypt as refugees because of a famine in Canaan. They were taken care of because of Joseph’s status but then became slaves after he died. Three generations after entering Egypt they were persecuted and enslaved by the Nationalist Egyptians, and it even got worse when Moses first intervened (Exodus 5). God stepped in and fulfilled his promise to free Israel from Egypt and he made them rich along the way. God made a covenant promise to bless them completely if they kept their end of the covenant. However, God warned them that their sins would cause a curse instead of a blessing and the Israelites did not entirely heed that warning. The third generation (including Moses) was prohibited from entering for 40 years because of their stubbornness and lack of faith in God, in addition to constant failure to follow God’s instructions in the wilderness (Numbers 14:20-24, Deut 32:48-52). Meanwhile, the fourth generation led by Joshua and Caleb entered Canaan “the land of milk and honey” to take the wealth (Numbers 13:27) of the wicked Canaanites, that was stored up for them.
In Ezekiel 18:23-28, God says, he doesn’t enjoy punishing the wicked and he wants them to repent so that he can show them mercy. In contrast, he will forget the good deeds of the righteous if they turn to sin and don’t repent and come back. The Israelites were exiled from the land by foreign empires (Assyria and Babylon) because they failed to keep God’s instructions (Lev 18:28 and Lev 20:22). This is a just punishment since God used them to execute justice against the Canaanites in the same way. Abraham pleads with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 if there were at least 10 righteous people in them. However, in Genesis 19 we see that only Lot and his two daughters were considered righteous since Lot rebelled against the rape hazing ritual that the Sodomites were engaged in, by attempting to rescue the angels. Similarly in the story of Jonah, the prophet is sent to Nineveh and told to warn them to repent for their sins, and much to his surprise they did and were spared judgment. Jesus references both these stories in the Gospel when trying to get the Israelites of his time to repent (Matt 10:11-15, Matt 11:23-24, and Matt 12:41).
We can see the wealth transfer in the gospels laid out in some parables, like the parable of the 3 servants in Matt 25:14-30. In this parable, a wicked servant fails to invest his master’s money and buries it, while the faithful servants invest and multiply the master’s money. The wicked servant is fired, and his money is handed over to the highest servant. Luke 19:11-27 has a similar parable of 10 servants that displays the same scenario. Luke’s recorded parable includes some people that hate the master because he was being crowned king over them. The rebels call the master unjust for taking the wicked servant’s one coin and giving it to the righteous servant who had 10 coins, instead of the middle servant who had only 5. The master treated the wicked servant like one of the rebels and has them all executed. Jesus concludes by saying, “…and to those who use well what they are given, even more, will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.” This shows that God expects his people to use what he gives them for his purposes (Rom 8:28-30), and in doing so they will store up treasures in heaven (Mat 6:19-21, Luke 14:12-14). Meanwhile, those who don’t live to serve God, are in sin and will lose what they have on earth, and it will be given to those who are doing what is right.
With that being said God’s word makes promises to prosper his people, but we are warned not to let the wealth replace God, that would be sinful and that wealth can be taken away and given to someone else. In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, in response to a greedy man in the audience asking Jesus to tell his brother to hand over his inheritance. Jesus responds by telling him to watch out for his greed because life is bigger than what a person owns, then tells them a parable. In the parable, a rich man brags about his wealth and plans on building bigger barns to store up more. God tells the rich man that he will die that night and no one will inherit his wealth. Jesus concludes with the point of the parable, we should focus on storing up heavenly treasures more so than earthly ones. Jesus said you cannot serve two masters when talking about wealth (mammon) vs God in Matt 6:24. In Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 12:33-34, he says your treasures are where your heart is and so store up treasures in heaven by loving your neighbor and keeping God’s commands, rather than just earthy treasures which will fade away or can be stolen.
Lastly, who is “the just”? Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11, and Heb 10:38 all quote Habakkuk 2:4 which says, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith”. If “the just”, are those that live by faith, then what is faith?
Heb 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In both Luke 12:22-34 and Matt 6:25-29, Jesus points out how God provides food for the birds and clothing for flowers. He continues that we are not to worry about what we eat or wear because God will provide for us since we are worth more than lilies and sparrows. He says these worries dominate the thoughts of unbelievers (the unrighteous), but believers (the righteous) are to first seek the Kingdom of God (Mat 6:31-33, Luke 12:30). Those who are God’s children, which means they have his spirit (John 1:10-13, 1 John 3:9-10, Rom 8:7-17), can expect him to provide for them because they are in covenant. Jesus says in Matt 7:9-11 “if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” All we need to do is get in covenant with God, follow his instructions, and trust him to keep his covenant promises and he will take care of those who seek him (the faithful righteous), even if that means transferring the wealth of rebels.