A Father's Legacy

by Michael Fischer

This is a Father's Day message. Its title is, "A Father's Day Message." So, for all of you who are not fathers, or whose children are already grown up, don't you dare tune me out! This message applies to grandfathers and to uncles, and it applies to mothers, and to grandmothers, and to aunts. And even to some of you older cousins. So listen up! I'll be referring to fathers throughout this message, because it is a Father's Day message, but the principles I'm telling you about apply to anyone and everyone who has regular contact with the young people in his or her family.

The real title of this message is, "A Father's Legacy." Most fathers want to leave a legacy to their children. Some want to leave an inheritance, or to pass on the family business. But most men don't have a family business anymore, and inheritances aren't what they used to be. I fully sympathize with the old man who passed away and whose children eagerly gathered to hear the reading of his will, and all the will said was, "Being of sound mind, I spent every red cent!" The legacy that most fathers leave to their children is some aspect of their character. The trouble is, all too often, it's not the aspect they would have chosen to leave.

We have a saying - "Like father, like son." We say, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." We kind of pay lip service to these sayings, as a coincidence that happens now and then. Sometimes it's amusing, sometimes it's dismaying, but it's nothing to get worked up about, is it? After all, our children have minds of their own, and they'll become the people they want to be. Right? I'm here this morning to tell you that it's no coincidence, and it's definitely something to be concerned about, especially if your own life hasn't been all it could be. I say this because the Bible says it's so. In some significant way, your children will probably turn out just like you. Does that bless your heart, or does it make you break out in a cold sweat?

I wouldn't say this if I couldn't prove it from the Bible, and prove it I shall. We don't have to go far into Scripture to see this principle in action. My first example of a son turning out like his father is in chapters three and four of Genesis. Yes, I'm talking about our universal ancestor, Adam, the very first father. There's no denying that he left a legacy to every person descended from him, and that includes us. That's the legacy of sin. He made the choice to disobey God, and we've all been disobeying God ever since. Think for a moment how Adam must feel, up there in Heaven now, looking down on the earth. With every person who gets sick, with every child born with a handicap, with every marriage that ends in divorce, with every violent crime that occurs, with every war that breaks out, and with every single funeral, Adam knows it's because of him and that one irreversible act of sin. Jesus promised to wipe away every tear from our eyes, and that's one man who must have a lot of tears to wipe away.

But Adam also left a specific legacy to his firstborn son, Cain. That was a legacy of disbelief. (to a young person in the congregation) What's your favorite fruit? Suppose I offer you a [fruit], right now, freshly picked, perfectly ripe, perfectly formed, juicy, just the right color, and, oh, by the way, somebody just injected it full of poison. Do you want it? Why not? Because I told you that, if you eat it, you will die. And - here is the point - you believe me. You think I'm not the kind of person who always tells lies, or exaggerates, or makes jokes about serious things. If you thought I wasn't telling the truth, you'd probably enjoy this [fruit]. But you think you should believe me when I warn you about something important, and that changes everything.

God told Adam in Genesis 2:16-17,

And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
If Adam had really believed that he would die when he ate the forbidden fruit, there's no way he would have eaten it. Satan put the doubt in his mind, and he took it and ran with it. Adam was the ancestor of all those who think God is a God of love who couldn't ever do anything harsh. He didn't really believe God meant what He said - his actions prove it. But he found out. And then he handed that disbelief on to his son Cain.

We read in Genesis 4:3-5 that Cain brought the firstfruits of his crops as an offering to the Lord, and his little brother Abel offered fat from the firstborn of his flocks. God accepted Abel's offering, but rejected Cain's offering. Cain got mad at God, and took it out on his brother - these are things we all know. But where did Cain and Abel get this idea of making an offering to the Lord? They didn't have a Bible, they didn't have the Law of Moses, and they didn't have a church doctrinal statement that talks about tithing and giving. They had to have gotten the idea from somebody else, and there were only two "somebody else's" on the entire planet. They had to have been told by their parents, specifically by their father, because that's part of the father's job. And Adam must have told them right, or Cain would have gotten angry at his father for misleading him, instead of at his brother. Abel certainly got the message from his dad. But Cain's face fell when the Lord rejected his offering. Cain was stunned - amazed - shocked that his offering of produce was not acceptable to God. Why? Because he didn't really believe what he was told. His father told him exactly what God required, but Cain didn't take it seriously. Like father, like son.

Then, we have Abraham. "Father" Abraham, we call him - the father of our faith, because "he believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness." But what kind of father was he? What great gift did he pass on to his son Isaac? Certainly, he handed on to his son his faith in God. But if you look at the life of Isaac, you see what Abraham's real legacy was. His gift to Isaac was a legacy of lying.

In Genesis 12:10-20, Abraham lied to the Pharaoh of Egypt and said his wife was his sister, to save his own skin - he was afraid the king would kill him so he (Pharaoh) could take Sarah as his own wife. God kept Pharaoh from doing anything immoral, but Pharaoh was so angry at being lied to that he kicked Abraham out of the country. In Genesis 20:2-18, Abraham told the very same lie to Abimelech king of Gerar. Although Abimelech was also angry at being lied to, he didn't give Abraham the boot because he knew that God was blessing Abraham, and he wanted his land to enjoy the effects of having Abraham living there. You've heard of second-hand smoke; Abimelech wanted second-hand blessings.

I'm sure that Abraham and Sarah mentioned these incidents to each other now and then as their son Isaac was growing up. How can I be sure of this? Because Isaac did the exact same thing in Genesis 26:7-11 - he lied to the king of the Philistines and said his wife, Rebekah, was his sister. Coincidence? Uh-uh. A cultural thing? No, in that case, the various kings wouldn't have gotten so angry. He was just being like dear old Dad.

So much for Abraham and Isaac; now what about the next in line, Jacob? Jacob is infamous for the scams he pulled on those around him. He tricked his twin brother, Esau, out of his birthright. When his mother told him to deceive his own father, Isaac, and steal the blessing of the firstborn, Jacob's only qualm was, "How am I going to get away with it?" And he repeatedly arranged things with his father-in-law, Laban, so that Jacob got the biggest portion of all the new livestock. Should we be in the slightest bit surprised that Jacob gave his twelve sons a legacy of deception?

When one of their neighbors, Shechem, dishonored their sister Dinah, in Genesis 34:13, they handled it the way Dad would have handled it:

"Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob's sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor."
They told Shechem he could marry their sister if everyone in his village was circumcised, which the men of that village promptly did. And while they were recovering from that, two of Jacob's sons entered Shechem's village with swords drawn and slew every man there, and the rest of Jacob's sons plundered the village of everything of value. Nice upstanding young men. The spitting image of their father.

But they weren't done deceiving people. They had another scam to pull. And who better to deceive than their own father, the master trickster? It was part of their plan for their little brother Joseph. We read in Genesis 37 that they sold him into slavery in Egypt, and in verses 31-33, they deceived their father Jacob, in a way that he would have been proud of, under other circumstances:

Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, "We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son's robe." 33 He recognized it and said, "It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces."
I've often wondered how Joseph's brothers explained themselves to their father once he learned that Joseph was really alive. I'm sure their best defense would have been, "Like father, like sons."

And what about Joseph? Was he immune to his father's legacy? Did you ever wonder why he pretended to be angry at his brothers when he met them, left them shaking with fear, made them come back twice, and set them up for a false accusation of theft, before he revealed his secret identity to them? Wouldn't it have been a more Godly decision to tell them who he was, right off the bat, instead of messing with their minds the way he did? Why did he do what he did? I think it was just his father's influence shining through. He deceived his brothers. It was in the blood.

Next, we come to a high priest of the Tabernacle in the time of the judges. Israel's high priest - now there's a role model for us! Surely someone who entered into the physical presence of God once a year would know a thing or two about how to live rightly, wouldn't he? Wouldn't he? Hmm.

We read, in I Samuel 2:12, that the sons of the high priest Eli were wicked men. They profaned the offerings that the Israelites brought to the altar, and they acted very inappropriately toward the women who served at the tabernacle gates. What did Eli, that great man of God, do about this evil situation? He gave his sons a good scolding, that's what he did. In verses 23 and 24, he said to them,

"Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD's people."
Oooh, he slapped their wrists so hard! We read that God put those two wicked sons to death in battle, and Eli himself fell over and died when he heard the news. So Eli didn't leave any kind of legacy to his sons, did he? Here is a message for any of you older men who spend a lot of time with your grandchildren or your nephews.

Samuel is one of the very few people in the Bible who never committed any sins that God wanted us to know about. We know that everyone sins, but as far as the Biblical account is concerned, Samuel had it all together. As a prophet, as a judge, as a military leader, it seems like everything he ever did turned out well. Well, almost everything.

You may recall that his mother, Hannah, was childless, and she promised God that if He gave her a child, she would dedicate that child to the Lord. Samuel was that child, and he didn't grow up with his parents. His mother brought him to the tabernacle, and Eli raised him. And there is where we see Eli's legacy being passed on. Because we read in I Samuel 8:3 that when Samuel was old, his two sons were just as wild and out-of-control and sinful as Eli's sons were. Even though neither he nor his own sons lived to see it, Eli had successfully passed on his legacy of neglecting his family to Samuel. Samuel, like Eli, was so busy being a man of God, he did a lousy job of being a father to his children.

He probably wasn't the first man to make that mistake, and he certainly wasn't the last. I know that many of the great preacher Billy Sunday's children became slaves to alcohol, and I'm sure there have been others. It's a hard line to walk when a man has a successful ministry and a family at the same time. Ask anyone who knows, and he'll tell you what the priorities are supposed to be: God first, family second, ministry third. The problem comes when you confuse your relationship with God with your ministry to God. I could give up preaching, stop teaching in junior church, resign as head of Christian education, and never sing another special song again, and it wouldn't affect how close I could grow to my Lord. Those ministries are the results of maturing in Christ, but they aren't maturity in Christ by themselves. And if you're a family man, you may well have to lay aside some time-consuming ministry so you can spend more time with your family. I can just about guarantee that if that's your motive for giving up a ministry, God will bless you for it.

Our next questionable father was a man after God's own heart. Yes, King David made it into this sermon, too. And I could leave him out, if I were so inclined, because his legacy to his sons was the same as Eli's - the legacy of family neglect. We see this in his reactions to the domestic disturbances that rocked his household; you can read about them if you want to, starting in 2 Samuel 11. I include him because of what his legacy wasn't. Through neglect, David failed to pass on to his children that which was most important.

As I said, David was called a man after God's own heart, in I Samuel 13:14. Now that would be a legacy to leave to your children, wouldn't it! Did David leave that legacy to his children? Let's look at the evidence:

I don't see much of God's own heart in David's sons, do you? I don't think David managed to pass on his greatest positive trait to the next generation. But he did manage to give Solomon, as a legacy, that same inability to pass on that which was most important.

What was Solomon noted for? His wisdom. Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived - Scripture tells us so in I Kings 4:31. Did he pass any of that wisdom on to his sons? We only know about one son, Rehoboam. And Rehoboam's first act as king was to reject the wise advice of his counselors, heed the reckless advice of his young friends, and wind up losing most of his kingdom as a result, and the kingdom went downhill from there. This, you call wisdom? No, my friends. David and Solomon are proof that, just because there's some great Godly trait in your life, there's no guarantee your children will inherit it from you. Not if you aren't around for them, so they can see that trait in action as you interact with them.

We can see that same principle at work throughout the line of the kings of Judah, in the books of I and II Kings. Judah would get a godly king who loved and served the Lord, and the nation would come back to God and destroy all their idols, and then what happened? The next king would take the throne and plunge Judah right back into the depths of sin and idolatry. And that wicked king was the son of the righteous king just before him! Did those sons learn nothing from their fathers? Not as far as godliness, they didn't.

Godly Jehoshaphat was followed by wicked Jehoram. Godly Jotham was followed by wicked Ahaz. Godly Hezekiah was followed by wicked Manasseh, and when Manasseh repented and became a godly king, he was followed by wicked Amon. King after righteous king brought spiritual revival to Judah, and every one of those king's sons dropped the baton. Every one of those wicked kings grew up in a godly home, but reached maturity without the idea that God was to be feared. And who is responsible for teaching the fear of God to his children? The father. Those righteous kings of Judah brought the fear of God to the entire land, except their own households. Good kings, bad dads.

Okay, we've heard a lot about the bad dads in the Bible. Were there any good fathers? Yes, there were a few who did it right. We can learn from their examples, too.

Our first good father was good old Noah. You can read about him in Genesis 6 through 9. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. We don't know specifically how Noah handled fatherhood. But we can see the results, plain as the skin on my head: when God searched the earth for men and women who loved Him and served Him, who did He find? Just Noah, his wife, Joan of Ark, all three of Noah's sons, and all three of Noah's daughters-in-law. Noah had successfully passed on to his entire family a legacy of Godliness, which is why they were spared when the flood came.

You might say, "The Bible never comes out and says Noah's sons were righteous, it only says that about Noah - God must have spared his sons to repopulate the earth, since Noah and his wife were too old." Too old? Tell that to Abraham and Sarah. Tell that to Zachariah and Elizabeth. God doesn't need to use the unrighteous to fulfill His design. The ones on the ark were the ones who loved the Lord. And I seriously doubt that Shem, Ham, or Japheth would have been on that ark if it weren't for their father's Godly example, set clearly before their eyes, day in and day out. Same for their wives, especially since Noah almost certainly had a hand in choosing wives for his sons. When you see three godly sons, you won't have to look far to find a godly father. Noah did it right.

After Noah, our next good example of a father is Manoah. Who? The father of Samson. The similarity in names between Noah and Manoah is a coincidence. But good fatherhood is never a coincidence. We see Manoah's priorities from the moment he appears in the pages of Scripture, which is in Judges 13. An angel appears to Manoah's wife and tells her that, although she has been childless up to now, she's going to have a son. In verse 6,

"Then the woman went to her husband and told him, "A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn't ask him where he came from, and he didn't tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, 'You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'"
That's quite a story to be greeted with when you come in from the fields. But Manoah showed his heart instantly, in verse 8:
Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: "O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born." 9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again...
Manoah's first reaction was to pray. God heard his prayer and answered it, which means Manoah was keeping short accounts with God - he wasn't letting his sins pile up, but he was keeping the lines of communication to Heaven open. Manoah was a man of prayer. And, in spite of Samson's many moral and spiritual failings, he received from his father that legacy of prayer.

We see it in action at the end of Samson's life. He's played games with an ungodly woman once too often, his strength has been taken away, he's been blinded by the Philistines, and he's been condemned to the life of a slave, but he gets one last chance to do something for the Lord. In Judges 16:23, he is brought into the Philistine temple, where the Philistines are praising their god for delivering Samson into their hands. Did Samson just knock the temple down, all by himself, with no help? Verse 28:

Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
The last words that left Samson's mouth were prayers to God. I think his father, Manoah, would have been pleased.

Finally, we come to one of the most overlooked fathers in the Bible. Joseph. Not Joseph the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt by his brothers. I mean Joseph the carpenter, the husband of Mary, the stepfather of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the father of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Now, Jesus didn't need an earthly father to show him how to live right. He had perfect fellowship with the perfect father, our heavenly Father. But what about Joseph's other sons? In Mark 4:31, they were ready to take Jesus away as a crazy man. In John 7:3-5, they mocked Him, and it says point-blank that they did not believe in Him. And this was while it was popular and safe to be one of Jesus' disciples.

But something changed after He had died, rose from the dead, and returned to heaven. Acts 1:14 says that Jesus' brothers were among those who were praying in the upper room, waiting for the Spirit to be given. It doesn't say "some of Jesus' brothers." It says, "Jesus' brothers." That means all of them, all four of them. Now that Jesus had been condemned and executed as a blasphemer, now that being a follower of Christ wasn't quite so safe anymore, now His brothers are following Him? And not in the shadows about it, either - they were being right up front with their faith in Jesus. I Corinthians 9:5 says they all married Christian women. And it's commonly believed that the epistle of James was written by James, the Lord's brother, and that the epistle of Jude was written by Judas, the Lord's brother. These are the same men who, a couple of years before, were mocking Him and thought He was insane. What happened to turn these guys around?

We all know Proverbs 22:6 -

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
We all know, from experience, that a child who's been trained in the right way may wander off the path for a while, but they tend to come back, because that's what God promised. Right, Harold, Pam? Joseph's sons had to have been trained in the way they should go. If they had been raised in any other way, they would not have been able to put their faith in a Savior whom they'd grown up with. They would never have been able to call their big brother "Master" and "Lord." They knew the Old Testament Scriptures, they knew what Messiah would be like, because it was their father's job, Joseph's job, to teach them. And when Jesus gave that great infallible proof of His divinity by rising from the dead, His brothers knew Him for who He was, and all four of them put their faith in Him. It would not have been surprising if one or two of them had repented at the preaching of the Gospel, but all four of them? When all of a man's children do the same thing, when they all turn out a certain way, it has to be because they were raised that way. Joseph didn't live to see his sons walking in righteousness, but they all made the right decision in the end. Like father, like sons.

Okay, there are some bad examples to put the fear of God in you, and some good examples to encourage you. What's the difference between a bad example and a good example? How do you make sure your children are going to look back someday and think of you as a good example? Here are five basic principles of doing it right, which you can see reflected in the lives of these Biblical fathers and their offspring:

  1. The heavenly Father is our model. In the realm of fatherhood, whatever He does, we should do. If you don't know what that is, then you need to spend more time in your Bible.

  2. Your children will copy what they see in you. It doesn't matter whether you think they see it or not. It doesn't even matter whether you see it or not. Children are the greatest camcorders and VCR's ever invented. What they see and hear, they will play back perfectly. Use a word that you shouldn't use in front of them, and you've added that word to their vocabulary. Show disrespect for their mother, and don't be amazed if the kids start disrespecting her. And don't expect them to love the Lord if they can't see you loving Him. They can't copy what they can't see.

  3. Children need your time and your attention. Lots of it. "Quality time" is a myth that the world made up as a Band-aid for their consciences, for spending too much time at work and not enough time with their families. Would we be as close to God if we had to schedule time to get His attention, if He wasn't always listening for our prayers, if He wasn't always ready to receive our worship? Buying your children fancy gifts and sending them on expensive vacations is a poor substitute for your time and your attention.

  4. No matter what great things you do in life, if your own children don't love the Lord, you'll look back on your life with only bitterness of spirit. It doesn't matter if you're a successful businessman or a successful evangelist. You'll get no satisfaction in the long run if you come home to a house full of ungodly young scoffers every day. And if your children see you constantly giving your best to everyone but them, not only will their relationship with God suffer, but they won't have much of a relationship with you, either.

  5. If your children are trained to obey, and if they know you love them unconditionally, the rest is details. Ephesians 6:4 tells us to bring up our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Nurture has to do with love. Admonition is what happens just before disciplinary action; they're both aimed at obedience. If the love and the obedience are firmly laid as cornerstones of your children's lives, you'll be able to weather the other storms of parenthood, knowing that your children will turn out all right in the end.

Fathers, what legacy are you leaving your children? Grandfathers, uncles, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, what impact is your life having on the young people in your family? It can be good or it can be not-so-good, but it is entirely up to you.

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