4.2.10 Widows / Orphans: People in Need
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 2.10
Widows and Orphans: People in Need
But then we read, “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.” (Psalm 68:5) And we realize that God is talking about the same thing. The male in the family—the husband and father—metaphorically represents God in our human-divine relationships. Widows and the fatherless, then, symbolically represent those who do not have the benefit of God’s protection and provision. They’re like sheep without a shepherd—“in want.”
Being a widow is seen in scripture as “as bad as it gets.” In the wake of Judah’s conquest and exile by the Babylonians, Jeremiah compares Jerusalem to a widow: alone, betrayed, fallen from grace, and impoverished in every way. “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave! She weeps bitterly in the night. Her tears are on her cheeks. Among all her lovers she has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her. They have become her enemies.” (Lamentations 1:1-2) No one wants to be in this position. It’s the antithesis of being in the center of God’s blessing.
If these various symbolic roles don’t look terribly familiar in these Last Days, it is because Satan has been working overtime to obfuscate and obscure the wonderful lessons Yahweh has left for us in His Word. Our adversary does whatever he can to destroy families (or make sure they never form in the first place). Husbands and fathers (if they’re there at all) are too often culturally emasculated these days, for if men acted as men are designed to be, women and children would see in them reflections of God in everything they do. So sons today are encouraged to become more effeminate, while wives and daughters are expected to usurp traditionally male roles in the name of “liberation” (as if they were formerly oppressed). If the devil had his way, all of our firstborn children would be murdered in the womb, for they are reminders of the hope and promise that Yahshua brought into the world with Him, and it is to Satan’s advantage if parents (separately or together) carry with them a load of guilt and shame throughout their entire lives—even if abortion is legal.
As much as the devil likes the idea of dead children, he’s willing to settle for letting them grow up in the total absence of godly family structure, for this sort of “normal” home life—with fathers and mothers and siblings all playing their God-appointed roles (as outlined above)—is an object lesson designed to teach us all about how Yahweh interacts with people. Every shred of scripture conspires to inform us that “God so loved the world….” That is, we spirit-enabled human beings (unlike angels and animals) were the whole point of physical creation: we are unique beings made with the privilege of free will. Our purpose, in the final analysis, is to choose to reciprocate the love our Creator Yahweh has showered upon us. If we ignore or deny this love, we have made ourselves the very picture of orphans.
That is, even if the father is present in body, if he is absent in function (refusing to provide for, protect, or lead his family—to “wear the pants in the family” as the saying goes) his children will be, for all intents and purposes, fatherless. And if mother fails to nurture, defend, and admonish her children, even if her failure is due to her need to compensate for the shortcomings of her husband, her children might as well be orphans. But since it took (by God’s design) biological contributions from both father and mother to make the children in the first place, it should not be surprising that God’s idea of “parenting” extends far beyond the mere act of procreation. It’s a “hands-on” role—for both of them—at least until the children are ready to leave the nest and raise children of their own. Anything short of this is a violation of the divine order.
God’s Concern for Widows and Orphans
Scripture is quite clear about Yahweh’s protective attitude toward people who are in need through no fault of their own. Typical is this reminder from the Torah: “You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Yahweh your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deuteronomy 24:17-18) Yahweh compares the unfortunate circumstance of being a widow or fatherless child to being a slave in Egypt—one in need of redemption, something He Himself provided through the Passover experience. Passover, in turn, is prophetic of the ultimate atoning sacrifice Yahweh made on our behalf, when Yahshua laid down His life for ours at Golgotha.
Although it’s true of most of the Torah’s precepts, Yahweh here specifically ties His own actions to Israel’s (and our) compliance with His Instructions. Seldom is the principle stated so clearly: My Laws are prophetic. Because I am doing this for you, you are to do this for your fellow man, because you, My people, are My representatives—My reflection—in the world. And lest it should escape us, the most oft-repeated commandment in the Torah is “Keep My commandments.”
Let us take a closer look at a few of the key words here:
(1) “Justice” is the Hebrew noun mishpat (from the verb shaphat: to judge or govern). Technically, it is the act of deciding a legal case, the process or procedure of litigation before judges. Thus the word is also used of the decision, verdict, or sentence of such a judgment, or even the execution of this sentence. Since God’s judgments are always right, true, and fact-based (though tempered with mercy), our decisions are to have the same attributes.
(2) To “pervert” such justice (Hebrew: natah—to stretch out, extend, incline, or bend) is to distort or push aside what is right and fair, just because the poor defendant has no particular legal standing before the court and his vindication might diminish his privileged opponent in some way. It is a twisting or denial of justice—and an indication of pride (which in turn is the antithesis of love).
Three classes of people are mentioned here as being under God’s protection because they are particularly vulnerable to oppression:
(3) A “stranger” or foreigner (Hebrew: ger) is an alien, an immigrant, a sojourner dwelling among the Israelite population. If you’ll recall, we covered this group in detail above (Volume 4, Unit 2, Chapter 6), characterizing them as “invited guests” in Israel, potentially prophetic of future gentile believers in Christ—the church. But because there is no “broken family” connotation with strangers, we will not be discussing them specifically in this chapter.
Aliens had no legal status or inheritance rights in Theocratic Israel, but they were welcome as long as they aligned themselves with the interests of the nation (and especially Israel’s God Yahweh). They are often mentioned in the same breath with widows and orphans, for they too were defenseless, being bereft of “citizen” status. Yahweh went out of His way to protect outsiders who sought refuge among His people—at the same time He was evicting idolatrous foreigners from the Land. The distinction is important to any nation today who is faced with an inundation of immigrants: it is one thing to enter a country lawfully, hoping to contribute and join in the life of the host nation. It is something else entirely to sneak in illegally, hoping to receive sanctuary and free stuff without assimilating into the host country’s culture or national spirit. To the immigrant, there is a world of difference between seeing potential neighbors and countrymen, and perceiving a “target-rich environment.”
(4) The word translated “fatherless” is the Hebrew yathom—also rendered “orphan” in some versions. In scriptural usage, it is never clear that both parents are dead, so calling the child an “orphan” in the modern sense may be an unwarranted extrapolation. The basic meaning is one who is alone, helpless, and exposed to injury. Because of what being a “father” denotes symbolically in scripture (authority and provider—the one who deals with challenges external to the family), “fatherless” is probably a more accurate translation.
In the broader (symbolic) sense, a “fatherless child” represents anyone who does not enjoy the security, provision, or guidance provided by Father Yahweh. We are singularly ill-equipped to deal with the world in our own strength or by our own wits. The description “orphan” applies as well, if we realize that our “Heavenly Mother” is ultimately the Holy Spirit who dwells within every believer. If “she” is not within us, we are not really being nurtured, admonished, or defended within the home. Of course, in spiritual reality, the Father (Yahweh) and the Mother (the Holy Spirit) are a package deal: you can’t have one without the other, because as in a real marriage, they are one entity—one “person” in two different roles. (After half a century of marriage, it really annoys me when people treat my wife and I as if we were two different people. The reality is, she speaks for me, and I for her, in perfect sync, with a single agenda.)
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes on ytm (the presumed consonant root of yathom), “The orphan, generally associated with the sojourner and the widow, is the object of special concern. The quality of one’s devotion is measured by how one treats the widow and the orphan. Justice is especially due them; if not, the curse of God comes on the congregation. Although they have occasion to mourn, they are not excluded from the pilgrim festivals. They are invited to join and rejoice as are all the sons of Israel. A corrupt society extorts the sojourner, wrongs the orphan and the widow, and expresses contempt for father and mother. E.g. they drive away the orphan’s donkey and take the widow’s ox in pledge. Those who mistreat the orphan and the widow are paralleled with adulterers, sorcerers, and perjurers in Malachi 3:5. But God Himself provides for the basic needs of these unfortunates….”
(5) Widows (Hebrew: almanah) are also under God’s protection. The word also means “a desolate house.” The word is derived (through alman—widowed) from ’alam, meaning forsaken, bereaved, or discarded (as a divorced person)—Strong’s. It would appear that as far as a woman’s inability to fulfill her God-appointed place in the family is concerned, it doesn’t much matter whether her husband is dead or merely gone—she is a widow, functionally anyway. She is bereft of his leadership and protection, forced by adverse circumstances to try to “do his job” in his absence.
Our passage warns against “taking a widow’s garment as a pledge,” which sounds like an odd concept to us today. It’s a reference to requiring collateral for a short-term loan—something widows were apt to need from time to time. The “garment” being spoken of here was an outer cloak, something someone might need to sleep in on cold nights—it might be the only thing of value a widow owned. All Israelites were prohibited from charging interest on loans to one another, but requiring collateral was allowed, within reason. The lender, after all, was entitled to some assurance that the loan would be paid back. But lending to poor widows was to be considered a special case: their debts were to be considered secured by God Himself. As Moses had said a bit earlier, “Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18) The implication is that Yahweh pledged to perform the role of the widow’s “husband,” providing for her needs. If that meant the lender didn’t get his money back directly from the widow, he could take it as a promise from Yahweh Himself that his kindness would be repaid anyway—from heaven.
The converse was also true: “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:22-24) In other words, Yahweh promised to proactively act on behalf of Israel’s widows and orphans. He would both reward them who came to their aid, and punish those who treated them unjustly.
In fact, failure to plead the cause of the fatherless was a punishable offense, in God’s eyes: “‘For among My people are found wicked men. They lie in wait as one who sets snares. They set a trap; they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have become great and grown rich. They have grown fat, they are sleek. Yes, they surpass the deeds of the wicked. They do not plead the cause, the cause of the fatherless. Yet they prosper, and the right of the needy they do not defend. Shall I not punish them for these things?’ says Yahweh. ‘Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?’” (Jeremiah 5:26-29)
Several times in the Torah, lists are presented enumerating blessings contrasted with cursings, depending on Israel’s compliance with, or disobedience of, Yahweh’s Instructions. Usually, these are national in character (e.g. Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28). But once, as Israel was getting ready to enter the Land, instructions were issued for half the tribes to stand on Mount Gerizim, facing the other tribes as they stood on Mount Ebal (two neighboring hills with a small valley separating them). Here, no specific blessings were pronounced, but a list of twelve curses was read. The formula was, “Cursed is the one who does such and such,” followed by all the people saying “Amen.” The thing to notice here is that the curses were pronounced upon individuals—not the whole nation. And in the middle of the list, we read, “Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.” (Deuteronomy 27:19)
Nothing about God’s attitude or agenda had changed when Christ showed up, pointing out who had brought a curse upon himself. “Then, in the hearing of all the people, [Yahshua] said to His disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.’” (Luke 20:45-47; cf. Mark 12:38-40) The surprise, of course, was that those who were cursed by “perverting the justice due the widows” were the most religious guys in town—the scribes and Pharisees. Vincent’s Word Studies notes: “People often left their whole fortune to the temple, and a good deal of the temple-money went, in the end, to the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes were universally employed in making wills and conveyances of property. They may have abused their influence with widows.” It is clear that the scribes were far more interested in pride of position and personal profit than in showing mercy. (See my previous chapter, on The Sanhedrin—the Wisdom of Man.)
The idea of being merciful to widows and the fatherless was not a new innovation with the Torah. Godly men had always known Yahweh’s heart on the matter, even without the Law to instruct them. Job was a rough contemporary of Abraham—living in present-day Syria about half a millennium before Moses.
We all know the story: to make a point, Yahweh allowed Satan to attack His faithful servant Job, taking away his wealth, family, and health—everything but his life. When Job’s friends showed up, they “comforted” him by trying to figure out what terrible sin Job had committed that had prompted Yahweh to curse him like this, so he could repent. They completely missed the fact that we all sin before God; we all die in the end, whether we’re relatively good people, or relatively bad. Nor does God ordinarily punish exceptionally evil people by afflicting them with curses like Job’s, at least not in this life. Starting from the same mindset, Job had pleaded, “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue. Cause me to understand wherein I have erred.” (Job 6:24-30) Job wanted to repent—he just couldn’t figure out what he had done to have made God so angry with him. So at one point, Job’s old friend Eliphaz came up with this theory: “[Perhaps] You have sent widows away empty, and the strength of the fatherless was crushed.” (Job 22:9)
But Job knew that wasn’t true. His rebuttal: “Since times are not hidden from the Almighty, why do those who know Him see not His days? Some remove landmarks; they seize flocks violently and feed on them. They drive away the donkey of the fatherless; they take the widow’s ox as a pledge…. Some snatch the fatherless from the breast, and take a pledge from the poor. They cause the poor to go naked, without clothing; and they take away the sheaves from the hungry…. There are those who rebel against the light. They do not know its ways nor abide in its paths…. For he preys on the barren who do not bear, and does no good for the widow. But God draws the mighty away with His power. He rises up, but no man is sure of life.” (Job 24:1-3, 9-10, 13, 21-22) His point is that people oppress widows and orphans all the time, but they don’t seem to get punished any more than anybody else. So why me? All have sinned.
Besides, later he points out that he is actually innocent of these charges: “I delivered the poor who cried out, the fatherless and the one who had no helper. The blessing of a perishing man came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me. My justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind, and I was feet to the lame. I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the case that I did not know.” (Job 29:12-16) Though there was no “Law” to follow, Job fully realized that assisting widows and the fatherless was the right thing to do, and he did not fail in his moral obligations.
Job had been a wealthy, successful man. And yet he testifies that he had used his wealth to do good to the oppressed: his conscience was clear. “Have I refused to help the poor, or crushed the hopes of widows? Have I been stingy with my food and refused to share it with orphans? No, from childhood I have cared for orphans like a father, and all my life I have cared for widows. Whenever I saw the homeless without clothes and the needy with nothing to wear, did they not praise me for providing wool clothing to keep them warm? If I raised my hand against an orphan, knowing the judges would take my side, then let my shoulder be wrenched out of place! Let my arm be torn from its socket! That would be better than facing God’s judgment. For if the majesty of God opposes me, what hope is there?” (Job 31:16-23 NLT) Job freely admits that if he had neglected or abused those who were in need, God would be perfectly justified in punishing him. But he again insists that he’s innocent of the charges.
In truth, Job was doubtless the most innocent man on the planet at the time, though we all live under the curse of Adam. It wasn’t until later that he came to realize that God wasn’t punishing him at all, but his very faithfulness had singled him out for testing and ordeal at the hands of the Adversary (see Job 1:8). At the risk of wandering off our present subject, I should point out the lesson Yahweh wanted Job to take home with him, revealed in the closing chapters of the book, where He and His servant Job chatted face to face, so to speak. The bottom line, in so many words, was that Yahweh is God Almighty, and Job (the very best of us) is not. There is therefore (one might think) no particular reason He should protect us, or for that matter, refrain from punishing us for violating His standard of holiness—but for one thing: Yahweh’s character is Love, causing His unfathomable mercy to override his perfect justice, at least temporarily. We cannot save ourselves, but He is willing, even eager, to restore us to fellowship. As Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
James, the half-brother of Yahshua and leader of the early church at Jerusalem, would have found Job a kindred spirit. He began his epistle to the scattered saints, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2) James was a practical man; he didn’t have much use for “religion” (Greek threskeia: worship as expressed in ritual acts and ceremonial observance of religious restrictions—from a word meaning trembling or fearful). And yet, living in Jerusalem (the very epicenter of ostentatious Jewish religious display due to the presence of the temple, a powerful yet apostate priesthood, and the Sanhedrin), he had to deal with “religious” people all the time, those trying to impress God (and man) through public piety and dutiful devotion. “You really want to be religious?” he asks. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) Do something practical: take care of people in need.
Practicality was at the heart of Yahweh’s primary strategy for taking care of widows and the fatherless in Israel. God’s “welfare system” consisted of two parts—actually, two sides of the same coin. First, to provide for the poor, the landowner-farmer was to be downright lackadaisical in his approach to “agribusiness.” “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22) A quick once-over when harvesting the crop (no matter what it was) would suffice. The farmer wasn’t supposed to run his operation “lean and mean,” even if it might put a few extra shekels in his pocket.
The other half of the equation was that whatever the farmer left behind was intended for the poor—widows, the fatherless, and strangers—to come and collect. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10; cf. Leviticus 23:22) The poor couldn’t just sit around waiting for somebody to attend to their needs—to bring them free stuff on a silver platter. They had to go out and work for it, just as if they were field hands working for the landowner. That way, the farmer didn’t have to pay extra wages to his workers in order to feed the poor, but the widows were provided for anyway, directly from the hand of God. The story of Ruth illustrates how the system worked in practice. God made sure that (1) the farmer had as few worries as possible (because he was relying on Yahweh’s bounty, not his own skill or labor); and (2) the widows and orphans of Israel would not starve for lack of resources (again, because they were relying on Yahweh to provide for them). Everyone in the loop was given reason to praise Yahweh.
The system didn’t stop there, however. There was one tribe, the Levites (of whom the priests were a subset), who were not given any land as an inheritance, but whose portion was rather divided among the other eleven tribes (actually twelve, because the tribe of Joseph was doubled, becoming Ephraim and Manasseh). The produce of what would have been the Levites’ land—now held in trust by the other tribes—was to be returned to them in the form of the tithe (which means “a tenth”). If you do the math, you’ll notice that their “fair share” only comes out to be about 9%. So were the Levites getting an unwarranted bonus? No. That extra one percent was to take care of the needs of the poor—especially those who couldn’t (for reasons of age or infirmity) take full advantage of the “gleaning” provision of the Torah that we reviewed above.
The tithe was administered by the Levites, spread throughout Israel. Symbolically, the Levites might represent those today who are precluded from earning a living in the ordinary fashion, due to the calling of God upon their lives. “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) The ordinary Levites, in turn, tithed to the priests out of the tithes they received from the other tribes, as well as distributing what was needed to the widows, orphans, and strangers. No one was to go hungry for lack of resources, opportunity, or ability in Israel.
There was even a little ritual involved, the recital of a statement one would make as he delivered his tithe, to remind him that this was not simply a tax, but an opportunity to serve Yahweh by obeying His specific commandment to provide for the poor. “When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before Yahweh your God: ‘I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of Yahweh my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (Deuteronomy 26:12-15) Note that national blessings—to the point that there would be very few in Israel who even needed the relief the tithe would provide—were contingent upon keeping Yahweh’s instructions in this regard.
The Torah also mentions widows and orphans in the context of the “Feasts of Yahweh,” two of them in particular. First, the Feast of Weeks: “You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to Yahweh your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as Yahweh your God blesses you….” This convocation was placed seven weeks to the day (that is, forty-nine days) after the Feast of Firstfruits; it is also called Pentecost, because this is coterminous with fifty days (Greek: pente = fifty) after the beginning of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, of which Firstfruits was Day #2. In historical fulfillment, this convocation fell ten days after Yahshua’s ascension: it marks the indwelling of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the believers in Christ (see Acts 2).
The widows and fatherless are included in a list of people who are commanded to rejoice on this auspicious day. “You shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where Yahweh your God chooses to make His name abide. And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.” (Deuteronomy 16:9-12) The precept and its prophetic fulfillment converge when we consider the reason for rejoicing. Yahweh’s Holy Spirit has come to indwell those of us who choose to receive God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice—without regard to our temporal circumstances or station in life. Free or slave, male or female, rich or poor, powerful or disenfranchised—all of us are eligible to host the Spirit of God within our individual souls.
This is the very definition of what it means for a person to live: it is the means and mechanism of eternal life. As Yahshua told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again [literally, from above].’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8) The Feast of Weeks is when that “new birth” in the Holy Spirit first became a tangible reality to us believers. No wonder we were all commanded to rejoice—even the widows and fatherless.
If our spiritual life commenced (according to Yahweh’s ritual calendar) on the Feast of Weeks, it will come to fruition during the Feast of Tabernacles (the seventh and last convocation on God’s list), that is, what it represents. And again, we see that even the widows and orphans were commanded to rejoice during this Feast. “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to Yahweh your God in the place which Yahweh chooses, because Yahweh your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)
The seven days of the Feast prophetically represent the Millennial reign of Yahshua the Messiah. If you’ll recall, the unique feature of the holiday was that, when everyone had gathered in “the place where Yahweh your God chooses to make His name abide” (literally, Jerusalem—metaphorically, our hearts), they were to build “tabernacles”—booths or shelters—in which to live in for the whole week. The picture is obvious: the festival symbolizes “God camping out with men.”
But there is also an “eighth day,” sometimes called the “great day” of the feast—Shemini Atzeret in Hebrew. Eight is the number of “new beginnings.” This therefore represents the eternal state that will follow the earthly reign of Christ—in which death has finally been swallowed up in life and we all (including the believers born during the Millennium) will receive our promised immortal bodies. God will introduce a “new heavens and new earth.” He will no longer “camp out” among us: rather, we will dwell with Him—forever. It’s the ultimate reason for rejoicing, no matter how humble our circumstances, or how dire our straits, during our brief mortal lives.
It has become apparent that to whatever extent, or for whatever reason, that we find ourselves separated from Yahweh our Heavenly Father (or in another metaphor, from Yahshua our Husband) we have become fatherless and widows. That is, we have become estranged from what the male role models in God’s ordained family structure were designed to provide: leadership, protection, sustenance, security, and shelter. This separation leaves us vulnerable, oppressed, and hungry, not to mention confused, depressed, and afraid.
While human men all too often fail their wives and children, the God they were meant to represent and emulate never does. If it seems He is “not there,” it is because the “wife” has left Him for someone else, and the “children” have hidden under the bed, aware of their own disobedience and afraid of being punished for it. But Yahweh craves an intimate relationship with His bride; He aches to provide good things for His children, beginning with forgiveness. If we will but turn to Him, admit the obvious truth that we’re not deserving, and thank Him for making a path for reconciliation open to us, He will restore us to fellowship.
In the meantime, we believers (not just Israel, but all of us) are instructed to act out that which He is doing on our behalf: “Defend the poor and fatherless. Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy. Free them from the hand of the wicked. They do not know, nor do they understand. They walk about in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are unstable.” (Psalm 82:3-5) In this life, in the age of free will, darkness and instability can conspire to obscure God’s love to those who do not yet know Him. So we who revere Yahweh and honor His Son are to show the “widows and orphans” of the world what our God is like by doing what He does: defend them; provide justice for them; and deliver them from the hand of oppressors, whether human or circumstantial.
Israel was warned incessantly to follow God’s heart in this matter: “Execute true justice; show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.” (Zechariah 7:9-10) Jeremiah warned the kings of Judah: “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3) He also proclaimed, “For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” (Jeremiah 7:5-7) Alas, Judah did not repent, and were subsequently hauled off into captivity, where the same prophet described their plight: “Remember, O Yahweh, what has come upon us. Look, and behold our reproach! Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, and our houses to foreigners. We have become orphans and waifs; our mothers are like widows.” (Lamentations 5:1-3)
In their distress, the widows and fatherless can’t yet see that “Yahweh is King forever and ever. The nations have perished out of His land. Yahweh, You have heard the desire of the humble. You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more.” (Psalm 10:16-18) As I said, we are all “widows and orphans” in effect, as long as we are estranged from our divine Lover, our Creator and God. Yahweh is willing and eager to prepare our hearts to return to Him, but in the end, the choice of whether or not to be reconciled to Him is ours alone. It’s all because of the nature of love: if we cannot refuse to love, then choosing to love is a meaningless concept. God has given us feet, but it is up to us to use them to cross the threshold into His presence. Ironically enough, the desire to do so is hard wired into our species: we have only to act upon it.
More insight from the Psalms: “God [Hebrew: Elohim] stands in the congregation of the mighty. He judges among the gods [also Elohim]. How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Selah [that is, pause and reflect on this].” Okay, let’s do that. Elohim is both the plural and emphatic form of the Hebrew Eloah, which means “god” or “mighty one.” It’s not a name; it’s more of a job description. The premise here is that Yahweh, whose “job” it is to be the Almighty One, sets the standard for people who find themselves in positions of relative power in this life. Yahweh judges fairly, and the “great men” of the earth are required to do likewise. So the Psalmist provides the ultimate example: “Defend the poor and fatherless. Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy. Free them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:1-4)
The “poor and fatherless” are metaphorical of people who have no active familial relationship with Yahweh. Some “mighty ones” would oppress them, on the theory that if they are estranged from God—if they are not currently dwelling under His protection—then they must be His enemies. But Peter reminds us of the truth of the matter: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [of coming judgment], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9) The point is, while time remains between now and the Day of Judgment, we are to treat the lost as if they were merely “yet-to-be-found,” not as implacable enemies of God. After all, that is where we all began this journey.
Perhaps it would be helpful to review what part the “father” was to play in God’s family structure, for these attributes are precisely what the “fatherless” are missing. We covered this subject a few chapters back (The Torah Code 4.1.2—“Father: Authority and Provider”): “It is the father’s role and responsibility to (1) defend and protect his children; (2) Seek assistance from God in the face of his own inadequacies; (3) teach, instruct, and mentor his offspring; (4) pass on a legacy of truth, honor, and righteousness; and (5) Chasten and discipline his children when appropriate. (6) pity his children—show mercy and forgiveness toward them; (7) seek his children’s well-being, sheltering them from the world’s evil and defending them from harm; (8) provide for their needs—feed them, clothe them, and reward them for a job well done; and (9) be perfect—complete and consistent—in his expression of love.” In other words, a father is to be a reflection—a picture or microcosm—of God Himself, teaching the family through example and practice what it means to rely on Yahweh. To be “fatherless,” consequently, is to be bereft of a practical example of what God is in your life.
The parallel truth is expressed in the case of widows: a “widow” is someone without the benefit of whatever God defines as the symbolic role of a husband in the family. He is the leader, lover, protector, and provider, the one who shares and participates in his bride’s happiness, who instigates fruitfulness, and even overrules her poor decisions. In case you missed it, these are all roles Christ Himself plays in the life of His bride, the church.
Paul, while speaking of literal widows in the church, supports the idea that for most women, having a husband is preferable to living alone. “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (I Corinthians 7:8-9) For a believer to remain successfully unmarried, he says, is a gift reserved for the rare individual—a life of service, solitude, and celibacy. The idea of cloistered nuns is not in view here: we are never to retreat from reality or responsibility. But the vast majority of women receive the converse gift—the ability to convert a mere house into a home. “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” (I Timothy 5:14)
There is a caveat, however: Christian widows are not to remarry outside the faith. As Paul says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.” (II Corinthians 6:14-16) There is no “yoke” quite as personal as marriage.
But this is where the thing gets theologically sticky, if you’re thinking symbolically. Let’s look at a widow’s remarriage from the other direction—from the husband’s point of view. Some husbands are prohibited from marrying widows. In the Torah, ordinary priests were given some restrictions as to who they couldn’t marry, though widows were not on the list: “They [the priests] shall not take a wife who is a harlot or a defiled woman, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God.” (Leviticus 21:7) However, when we get to the requirements of the Millennial temple (yet future), some widows are prohibited as “wife material.” “They [the priests serving in the Millennial temple] shall not take as wife a widow or a divorced woman, but take virgins of the descendants of the house of Israel, or widows of priests.” (Ezekiel 44:22) Ordinary widows are out, while the widows of priests are acceptable.
Thus behooves us to look closely at what it means to be a priest of God. In an earlier chapter in this volume, we learned that the priest’s symbolic role is that of intercession, one who makes the sacrifice of Christ accessible to those who choose to receive it. A priest, then, is symbolic of a praying believer, one who comes before Yahweh with the issues of the lost world, relying on Him to address them in His own time and authority. So if a priest in Yahshua’s temple is symbolic of a believer, then his wife (being one flesh with him) is by definition also a believer. Meanwhile, an ordinary widow is merely “in need,” specifically symbolic of someone who does not (yet) have a relationship with Christ.
And what about the High Priest? He is metaphorical of the Messiah—who cannot be yoked with unbelievers (see Hebrews 4:14). So we read the Torah’s instructions concerning His marriage prospects: “And [the High Priest] shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot—these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife. Nor shall he profane his posterity among his people, for I, Yahweh, sanctify him.” (Leviticus 21:13-15) Since we are all (let’s face it) sinners, not remotely fit for “wife” status for the High Priest, how can we become the bride of Christ? Again, it is Paul who provides the answer: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (II Corinthians 5:17-19)
As a practical matter, then, we are to fulfill, to whatever extent we can, the symbolic roles God assigned to us, for they reveal how He relates to us, the “members of His family.” This puts on the shoulders of godly men the heavy responsibility to “be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.” (I Timothy 3:2-4) Yes, these are the qualifications Paul listed for being an overseer, a leader in a Christian assembly, but I ask you: is being a godly husband any less demanding an endeavor? A family is like a congregation, just more compact.
The bottom line: men are to act like fathers and husbands, for in so doing, they reflect the attributes of Yahweh to their families: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor. Defend the fatherless. Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17) Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.
Widows as Examples in Scripture
Here and there in Scripture, examples and illustrations employ widows and/or the fatherless to punctuate how God operates in seemingly hopeless situations. One of them was even mentioned by Christ.
Early in His ministry, Yahshua returned to His boyhood home, Nazareth, where the folks among whom He had grown up didn’t quite know what to think of Him. “So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘You will surely say this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country….”’” He had left town a devout carpenter’s apprentice, and had returned with the reputation of a miracle-working prophet—or at the very least, a brilliant young rabbi (though they knew He had never formally studied with the “great men” of the day). Having known Joseph, and having witnessed the devotion and respect young Yahshua had shown him, it never would have occurred to them that this Man was actually the son of God. Growing up among them, Yahshua had been known as “a good kid—obedient, loyal, hard-working, and pious.” It never dawned on them that He was also sinless, though (come to think of it) nobody had actually seen Him sin—ever.
He knew, then, that the home-folks were just curious. If He could do “signs and wonders,” they’d like to see one—not because of a thirst for the truth or as confirmation of His Messianic credentials, but more as a circus side-show—something amazing and mysterious to see. “Then He said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land. But to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.’” (Luke 4:22-26) For the geographically challenged, this is gentile territory. We’ll follow the scriptural trail in a moment, but let us look first at some of the telling little details.
“Zarephath” means “a place of smelting or refining metals.” This is a common Biblical metaphor for testing or trial, resulting in greater purity. Although a different word is used, the concept is reminiscent of Revelation 3:18, where the Laodiceans (the post-rapture church) are advised to acquire from Christ “gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich.” The idea is to trade what you thought was valuable for something that actually is—a personal relationship with Christ. The “crucible” here will be the Tribulation, through which the Laodiceans (those who will come to faith after the rapture) must pass, whether they live through it or die trying, in their belated pursuit of immutable purity.
That makes Yahshua’s “three years and six months” reference particularly interesting. That’s a time frame that pops up time and again in Last-Days prophetic texts. It is specifically predicted to be the length of (1) the second half of Daniel’s 70th week—a.k.a. the “Great Tribulation,” (2) the length of the Antichrist’s reign on the earth (that is, between the abomination of desolation and the end of his ability to rule), (3) the ministry of the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11, (4) The Jews’ last exile from the Land (cf. Matthew 24:15-22; Revelation 12:6), and (5) the remainder of the time the gentiles will be able to tread Jerusalem under-foot. Not all of these things are perfectly coterminous, I might add. It’s worth noting that Christ’s own earthly ministry, culminating in His death, burial, and resurrection, also lasted three and a half years. The time duration is also expressed in prophetic texts as forty-two months and 1,260 days, tying it to the 360-day prophetic-schematic “years” introduced in the Daniel 9:24-27 prophecy defining Israel’s destiny. It seems to indicate a period of testing, trial, famine, or hardship designed to change things in some significant way, bringing things to a spiritual conclusion.
Sidon, the city or region to which the village of Zerephath was attached, means “fishery.” If you’ll recall our study of the symbolic meaning of “fish” (Volume 3, Unit 2, Chapter 16), it signifies the lost, God’s quarry. Together, then, the two place names indicate that Yahweh wants to find us and make us pure—even if the road to this goal entails testing or trial, whether ours or His.
Elijah (whose name means “Yahweh is God”) prophesied in Israel in the dark days (circa 9th century BC) of apostasy and decline a few generations after the glories of Solomon’s reign. The nation had split in two, and the northern kingdom had become totally idolatrous, precipitating “Deuteronomy-28-style” divine punishment, including a three and a half-year drought throughout the land. We pick up the story in I Kings 17: “Then the word of Yahweh came to [Elijah], saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’ So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks….” It’s interesting to note how often God places women in the path of destiny while they’re just going about their ordinary chores. Other examples that come to mind: Rebekah (Genesis 24); Zipporah (Moses’ wife—Exodus 2); the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), etc. It’s like steering a ship: God uses us most readily when we’re already in motion, not tied up at the dock getting loaded.
“And he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.’” The drought was already underway, and it was going to get far worse before it was over. Yet she was happy to do a simple kindness for this complete stranger. “And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ So she said, ‘As Yahweh your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’” The widow observed that as much as she would like to have helped the stranger, she didn’t have the resources. Bear in mind that Yahweh wasn’t ordinarily worshiped in Sidonian territory at this time. Ba’al was the primary deity of record in these parts—the god being promoted by the Sidonian Princess Jezebel, who married Israel’s King Ahab during Elijah’s lifetime. But the widow had heard of Yahweh’s reputation, just as Elijah was familiar with Ba’al. She knew that Yahweh “lives,” as surely as Elijah knew that Ba’al did not. “And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says Yahweh, God of Israel: “The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day Yahweh sends rain on the earth….”’” At this point, she had a decision to make. Only at the word of Yahweh did she feel like she could comply, but despite His reputation, she (being a gentile) didn’t really know Him.
Perhaps she thought, in fatalistic resignation, “What do I have to lose? My son and I will surely die of starvation no matter what I do.” In any case, she wisely chose to trust Yahweh and His prophet. “So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of Yahweh which He spoke by Elijah.” (I Kings 17:8-16) Like so many others in scripture (Naaman comes readily to mind), the widow’s faith was created by her obedience. We may safely infer that when the episode began, she did not consider Yahweh her God, but He certainly was afterward. (Note that the famous “prophets’ duel” on Mt. Carmel, pitting Ba’al against Yahweh, had not yet taken place: it is recorded in the very next chapter.)
There are several lessons to be gleaned from this story. First, even if you’re not currently a follower of Yahweh, you have surely heard of His reputation, whether as “the Lord,” or Jehovah, or Jesus. The lesson is, “It can’t hurt to give Him the benefit of the doubt, because you’re dying anyway, and you know it.” In my experience, this God never turns away an honest searcher. But you have to be just that: honest—willing to receive Him on His own terms, not yours. Ironically, it helps to be desperate, frustrated, or in despair, as was the widow. He doesn’t feed you if you refuse to admit you’re hungry; He won’t heal you if you don’t acknowledge you’re sick.
The second lesson is for believers (represented here by Elijah). Our message of salvation must travel beyond the walls of the church, beyond the earshot of those already redeemed, if we want to fulfill the Great Commission. Remember what Yahshua said: “Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah… But to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” We must be willing to step outside our comfort zone to reach out to the lost. (I’m preaching to the mirror here.) It may seem simplistic to say it like this, but those who need the Word are those without it. It’s our job to “plant and water.” But we need to bear in mind that we can’t save them. God alone provides the increase.
Symbolically speaking, there’s one thing worse than being a widow—being a widow with no son who will eventually grow up and look after you. Elijah’s widow-landlady had a son, so as long as they had something to eat (thanks to Yahweh’s provision), there was hope for the future. But our story isn’t quite over, I’m afraid. “Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him….” The concept of “breath” is closely tied in scripture to life itself. The word used here is neshamah, literal breath to be sure, but also a code-word (first used in Genesis 2:7) for the unique capacity for spiritual indwelling that separates Adam’s race from mere animals—who have “souls” (nephesh) like we do, but not the “breath of life” (neshamah chay) that is the essence of having been created in the image and likeness of God.
“So she said to Elijah, ‘What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?’…” She had tasted of Yahweh’s sweet provision, but (not surprisingly) didn’t understand the mechanism of atonement for sins that God had instituted in the Torah—the sacrifice of the innocent to cover the sins of the guilty. The ultimate Sacrifice, of course, was to be Yahshua’s; in the meantime, this was to be rehearsed prophetically through the animal sacrifices performed by the priests at Israel’s temple.
But this wasn’t Israel, and she understood none of it. Satan’s local forgeries—the worship of Ba’al or Molech or Chemosh—had counterfeited Yahweh’s plan: pagans hoping to receive their gods’ blessing were required to sacrifice their own children as burnt offerings. Thus the distraught widow mistakenly equated her son’s untimely death with the penalty for her own sins. What she didn’t realize was that although her son was relatively innocent, he too was a fallen creature, a son of Adam’s race—thus unqualified to atone for anyone’s sins—even his own. Although Yahweh was planning to manifest Himself as the perfectly innocent “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” human sacrifice as such was the furthest thing from His mind (See Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5, 32:35, etc.).
Alas, we have fallen a long way from the widow’s simple misunderstanding. At least she knew that there was such a thing as right and wrong, and that she had violated the standard of her own conscience, if not that of God. Today, “widows” (metaphorically, people who are in need of a personal relationship with Yahweh) typically refuse to believe He even exists, because they don’t want to accept that there is a God-ordained standard of good and evil—called sin when you violate it—that governs us. Ironically, though many modern “widows” refuse to believe in the concept of sin, they still offer up their children to the outstretched arms of the false god Molech some 45 million times every year, worldwide—about one child out of every four conceived. It’s called abortion, and Satan’s latest ploy is to compel brainwashed women to act as if they’re happy with having murdered their children in the womb. It’s a tragedy of unprecedented proportions—one I expect Yahweh to address with righteous wrath when humanity’s iniquity has at last reached its boiling point.
Back in Zarephath, neither Yahweh nor Elijah were willing to let Molech (Satan) get away with this. “And he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed.” Time for prayer. “Then he cried out to Yahweh and said, ‘O Yahweh my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?’ And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to Yahweh and said, ‘O Yahweh my God, I pray, let this child’s soul [nephesh] come back to him.…’” The lad wasn’t merely unconscious: the body without the soul is dead. This is a Biblical instance (one of several in scripture) of what we today call a “near-death experience.” Make no mistake: the son’s death was real, and it would have been permanent if the soul had not returned.
I get the feeling that Yahweh had orchestrated the whole episode to make a point. He had been miraculously providing food for Elijah, the widow, and her fatherless son for many months now. Had they grown used to it? A bit complacent? I look at my own life, and realize that I have been blessed beyond measure for so long it has begun to feel “normal.” May I never reach the point where I forget Who is providing those blessings, day by day. May my sense of wonder at the mercy of God never grow old.
“Then Yahweh heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, ‘See, your son lives!’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of Yahweh in your mouth is the truth.’” (I Kings 17:17-24) The widow drew a contrast here between her belief due to the ongoing provision of flour and oil they had all been enjoying, and her belief due to the restored life of her son. She had long ago come to the conclusion that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the One True God. But the impact of her son’s resurrection had enhanced Elijah’s reputation as His prophet.
What had opened her eyes in this regard? I believe it was the prophet’s unabashed willingness to ask the “impossible” of Yahweh his God on behalf of the widow. The Apostle Paul alluded to the same thing: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21) The power of the Spirit that is ours to wield in prayer is a largely untapped resource today, because we too often assume limitations to Yahweh’s willingness to defend “widows and the fatherless.” Yes, there are limits to what we can accomplish on their behalf. But we serve a God of unlimited power who has pledged to be a Husband to the widows and a Father to the fatherless. We believers have the ability to facilitate that power residing within us. If we only knew.
In my own case, I didn’t know—until long after the fact. My wife and I adopted nine of our eleven children. At first, it seemed selfish on our part: we had two fine sons, but couldn’t bring any more biological life into the world. So we adopted an infant daughter from Korea, and then another. Any rational couple would have stopped there, but God was whispering in our ear: continue. So the next one was our first “hard-to-place” child—too old, and laboring with mild learning disabilities. And so it continued: kids nobody else wanted—fatherless in every sense of the word: older orphanage kids, some abused or neglected, even four out-and-out handicapped children, three of whom eventually succumbed to their various debilitating conditions.
My wife and I kept adopting kids until we were considered too old by the folks who did the home-studies—our mid-forties. She took care of the kids while I worked to hold the whole thing together financially. It was always a struggle—adoption (or simply raising kids, for that matter) has never been cheap. But somehow, we always had a roof over our heads and food on the table. I held down a job, but also worked a side business for ten years or so—until the “real” job got “downsized,” and I was forced to turn the side gig into a full-time enterprise. To all appearances, it couldn’t have come at a worse time: we had just hired a contractor to build a new two-story bedroom wing onto our house to accommodate our growing family. I got the news of my “dismissal” the same day they tore the back wall off the house. We cashed in part of my IRA and plowed ahead: our twelve-year-old post-polio daughter from India was due to arrive soon, and we needed that first-floor bedroom for her.
It was not until about a year later that we realized that God had “gotten me fired” because we were going to need a lot more money than I was currently making to support our “adoption habit.” I ran that prosperous little business for nine years, and then left it behind to co-found a promising dot-com on the other side of the country. Most of our kids were grown and gone (or had passed away) by this time—we were down to a “skeleton crew” of four—two of whom were handicapped. Now in our fifties, we had never set aside one dime for retirement or college funds. But the dot-com business grew explosively, and it went public in April, 1999. But the corrupt, incompetent, and short-sighted managers we had hired to run the place proceeded to run it into the ground—edging out the founders, the people who actually knew how the thing was supposed to work. Disgusted, I sold my stock and left that December. The company was bankrupt by the following August. I was one of very few who had gotten out relatively unscathed—though my shares were worth only 1/25 of what they had been valued at their peak.
I dragged you through all that to make a point. At every turn, God blessed us because we were willing to be a blessing to others—in this case, a bunch of fatherless kids. Even the “disasters” along the way proved in the end to be shortcuts to His mercy, though they may not have seemed like it in the moment. Like Naaman the Syrian or the widow of Zarepath, our faith was created by our obedience. We never asked God for miracles (like Elijah did), but knowing His heart, we just assumed that He would take care of our kids—with or without our participation. So we simply made ourselves useful as conduits for His unfathomable mercies. Who knew so much of that mercy would stick to the delivery vehicle?
Perhaps the most famous widow in scripture is Ruth, the Moabite woman who married an expatriate Hebrew man, was widowed, and then selflessly took it upon herself to care for her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. This story is particularly significant because it is the primary example of how the law of levirate marriage (which we’ll cover shortly) revealed the concept of the “kinsman redeemer.” The idea was, a widow with no children would marry her deceased husband’s brother or a close relative in order to raise up a family for the dead man, so his name would live on. The close relative would also buy back (or “redeem”) his dead brother’s estate or inheritance, paying off his debts. The whole process is a poignant metaphor for Christ sacrificially “buying back” our debt to sin—the thing that had made us “widows” in the first place.
Naomi’s husband’s kinsman (and Ruth’s as well through her marriage to Naomi’s son) was a man named Boaz, of the tribe of Judah. Ruth’s good deeds had made her known to Boaz, making him happy (though she was a foreigner) to perform the duty of kinsman-redeemer for her. Their subsequent marriage eventually made Ruth and Boaz the great-grandparents of King David—from whose line would come Yahshua the Messiah. It was as if (choke, cough) Yahweh had engineered the whole thing.
A New Testament example of blessing widows by blessing those who minister to them is recorded in the Book of Acts. “At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas.” The name means “gazelle,” linguistically related (in the Greek) to a verb meaning “to see clearly.” “This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room….” As Job had discovered, death and disaster can befall both evil and good people in this world. That is, the bad things that find us in this life are not (necessarily) punishments for specific wicked deeds we have done. The fact is, we’re mortal, even the best of us. We’re not designed to live forever, not in these temporal bodies anyway. Death was no particular inconvenience to Tabitha, for it brought her into the presence of her Redeemer, who no doubt greeted her with those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But her death was going to be hard on the unfortunates whom Tabitha had served so faithfully.
“And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them.” It is not clear what they expected Peter to do. I’m pretty sure nobody said, “Hey, I’m sorry to bother you, Pete, but could you come and raise this nice lady from the dead?” That being said, consulting with people who have walked intimately with Christ is never a bad idea. “When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them….” As promised, God had been taking care of these devout widows—not directly, but through the loving service of His daughter Tabitha. For their part, the widows were not thinking, “Who’s going to take care of us now?” but they were crushed by the loss of their dear friend. It was her loving kindness, not her sewing ability, that would be missed.
“But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive.” (Acts 9:36-41) This was not the first time that Peter had been called upon to sort out a difficult situation. Previously, he had been forced to confront Ananias and Sapphira about their self-serving lies. And following shortly after the raising of Tabitha, he would be called upon by the Holy Spirit to introduce the Risen Christ to some devout gentiles (horrors!) in the house of the Roman centurion, Cornelius. We’re all familiar with Peter’s penchant for putting his foot in his mouth. And yet, we’re reminded here (again) of God’s mercy: He was willing to use Peter to do what seemed “impossible.” My guess is that Peter’s failures had had their intended effect: he had learned to trust God, even if he didn’t have a clue as to what He would do, or how.
It probably never would have occurred to us today that God might raise Tabitha from her death bed. But Peter had witnessed Yahshua doing something very much like that. In an echo of the plight of Elijah’s widowed landlady, Christ and His disciples encountered the funeral procession of the only son of a widow in the city of Nain. As I said before, they only thing worse than being a widow (bereft of your husband) was to be a widow without children who would grow up as you grew old. “Now it happened that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her….” Friends and sympathizers are nice to have, of course, but they aren’t family. We must never forget that Yahweh isn’t primarily our “Lord” or our “Master” (though He is those things). His principal self-characterization is that of being our Father, and Christ our Husband. God is our family, not just our Friend.
“When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” She, of all people, had reason to weep. But God promises to wipe every tear from our eyes—except perhaps for tears of joy: “Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother….” Put aside for a moment the literal relationships presented here, and step back to view the whole scene symbolically. Christ invites all of us dead, fatherless children to “arise.” He provides the means to bring all of us back to spiritual life from our previous state, dead in our sins. And what does He do then? He presents us to our Mother—metaphorically, the Holy Spirit—who wants desperately to fulfill “Her” role as our “Heavenly Mother”—nurturing, teaching, comforting, and helping us as we grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. But be not deceived: we cannot do any of that as long as we lay in our coffins, dead to the power of God.
The crowd’s reaction was predictable: “Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen up among us’ and ‘God has visited His people.’ And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.” (Luke 7:11-17) I have no idea what would happen if someone stopped a funeral procession today and brought the deceased back to life. The healer would probably get arrested for “disturbing the peace.” And I’m wondering what will happen on rapture day (coming soon to a world near you), when hundreds of millions of mortal believers are instantly made immortal, while the graves of the faithful dead from centuries past are emptied. Will those left behind “glorify God”? Will they admit that “God has visited His people”? Whatever else happens, I’m pretty sure “this report about Yahshua will go throughout all Judea and the surrounding region.” That is, the world’s Jews will get the message, even if nobody else does.
Another widow Christ encountered impressed Him with her faithfulness in the face of dire poverty. “Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.’” (Mark 12:41-44; cf. Luke 21:1-4) God’s arithmetic doesn’t work like ours does. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with rich people giving a lot to God’s work. But there is a difference between doing what is normal and customary as believers, and “picking up one’s cross and following Christ.” Are we willing to incur risk, to go out on a limb to spread the Gospel? It’s not a question of resources; it’s a matter of the heart’s attitude.
Widows as Recipients of our Charity
In both theocratic Israel and in the early church, rules concerning widows had to be established, both to implement the practical outworking of love in the community of believers, and to support and clarify the symbolic aspects of what “being a widow” meant.
For example, “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution….” This is still very early in the history of the church. Virtually all of the believers were Jewish. The “Hellenists” here were not necessarily Greeks—gentiles racially—but Jews of the diaspora: Greek-speaking believers. Ellicott’s Commentary notes: “They were becoming a prominent section of the Church, perhaps more numerous than the Hebrews, or Jews of Palestine [sic. The Land was properly called “Palestine” in Ellicott’s day, but it was still called Judea when Luke wrote the Book of Acts]. They, as their name implies, spoke Greek habitually, and as a rule did not read the older Hebrew or speak the current Aramaic. They read the [Greek] Septuagint (LXX) version of the Old Testament. They were commonly more zealous, with the zeal of pilgrims, for the sanctity of the holy places, than the Jews of Jerusalem itself, who had been familiar with them from infancy.”
So mean-spirited prejudices against gentiles—a mainstay of rabbinical opinion—had been applied to Jews whose culture and speech no longer matched those of the proud Jerusalemites. While the Christian widows were being taken care of by the church (as we’d expect), the Hellenists among them were being neglected—“falling through the cracks,” as the saying goes. Christ’s disciples (all of whom were still in Jerusalem at this early date) knew that the problem needed to be addressed, but there were not enough hours in the day for them to attend to every little detail of church life: folks were still relying on them to sort out the broader, trickier issues that arose (such as the one they dealt with in Acts 15).
The solution was to institute the office of “deacon.” “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” This wasn’t an issue of pride, but of time management. The original disciples had walked with Yahshua for three years: they were thus in a unique position to relay His teachings—not to mention the significance of His sacrifice—to the people. “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” (Acts 6:1-4)
Remember the distinction I drew between widows and widows with children? Paul addressed that very issue in his instructional epistle to young Pastor Timothy. “Honor widows who are really widows….” This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to dishonor widows who aren’t destitute, of course. But a distinction is to be made. The word “honor” here is the Greek timao—literally, to prize, to fix a value, to set a price for something. Helps Word-studies defines it: “properly, assign value (give honor), as it reflects the personal esteem (value, preciousness) attached to it by the beholder).” So, if a widow is really in dire need, we believers are to recognize this condition and do what it takes to alleviate or minimize her poverty. Most churches with which I am acquainted maintain a “mercy fund” for this very purpose.
“But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.” Here is where the distinction is drawn. A widow’s children (and even grandchildren) bear the primary responsibility for their mother’s or grandmother’s welfare—the job that fell to her husband while he lived. But what if she has no children? “Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” If the widow trusts in God, then the church—God’s people—are to be ready to come to her assistance. “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. And these things command, that they may be blameless….”
At the risk of wandering off topic, let us consider the case of the unbelieving “widow” who finds herself alone because of her own ungodly life choices. This woman is becoming increasingly common in today’s society, I’m afraid. She divorced her husband—or never married him in the first place. Her poor taste in men has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the saying goes, “all the good ones have been taken,” but she didn’t really want a “good one” anyway: bad boys were far more exciting. Nor does she trust in God, but has rather bought into the lie that her feminist ideals will sustain her against any obstacle—it’s Eve’s curse from Genesis 3:16. In the interests of pleasure or the pursuit of her career, she has aborted her children. And now, past menopause and with her looks fading fast despite her obsession with eternal youth, she is beginning to realize that she is utterly alone—as Paul put it, “dead while she lives.” Rich or poor, she is, in the end, destitute of everything that makes mortal life worth living. And her eternal prospects are just as bleak. She is the prototypical “self-made widow.”
But God would spare us this fate. Symbolism aside, He designed us to form families—husbands and wives living their entire adult lives together in love, faith, and fruitfulness. Yes, we’re mortal. And sometimes, husbands and fathers predecease wives and mothers, making them widows and their children fatherless. But Paul lays down several practical guidelines concerning which widows the church should support. The “deal-breakers” are as follows:
(1) The widow’s own extended family should step up first: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever….”
(2) The widow must be beyond the age where remarriage is the usual option: “Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number…”
(3) She has been the faithful wife of her husband’s youth: “And not unless she has been the wife of one man…”
(4) She must have been “well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work….” In other words, her support by the church is repayment in kind for the good works she did for others while her husband was alive and providing for her.
(5) Recapping several previous points, Paul sums up: “But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not….”
Liberal/Socialist governments run into the same sorts of problem: people who are able to work tend not to if they are welfare recipients. Rather, they become dependent on the “free lunch” being offered by power-hungry politicians. Of course, in their case, the idea is to replace Christ in the eyes of the welfare beneficiaries—making them little better off than poorly paid slaves in the process. The whole process drains governments of the resources needed to help those who are in genuine need—just as in the church. “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some have already turned aside after Satan. If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.” (I Timothy 5:3-16) As I said, the responsibility falls on families first, and only then on the church.
Elsewhere, Paul reiterated his advice for young widows to remarry. Though a bachelor himself, he realized that the unresolved human sex drive is a potential impediment to ministry for the vast majority of us. “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (I Corinthians 7:8) God “wired” most of us to raise families. A husband’s premature death does not change that fact for his widow.
God’s family symbols are there to teach us about our ideal relationship with Him: He is the Father, pictured as Israel’s “husband” and the family’s (i.e., the world’s) protector and provider. Alternatively, Yahshua the Messiah is characterized as the Bridegroom, while the church is His bride. Some have taken this to mean that men are somehow “better” than women—a disastrous error that misses the entire point. They like to point out that in the Torah, a girl’s father or a wife’s husband had the option of disallowing any vow she had made on the day he learned of it—mirroring God’s role as our shield and defender, our protector even against our own foolishness—while his own vows were held inviolable, and must be kept (because God never breaks His word). But the whole “females-are-inferior” theory is proven wrong in the “fine print.” “Also any vow of a widow or a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.” (Numbers 30:9) That is, a woman who found herself “man-less” for whatever reason was held to exactly the same standard as a male was in the matter of vows. She is not “naturally inferior” to a man at all, but is symbolic of we—all of us—who are better off living under the protection of our loving God.
In both temporal and spiritual realms, God is vitally interested in seeing us pass on our life to the next generation. A husband and wife bearing children, for that matter, is a picture of the Great Commission—of us believers “making disciples of all the nations, baptizing them (i.e., demonstrating their new life) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe the things Christ commanded of us.” Note that this process requires both parents, in spiritual matters as in biology: God the Father (represented by Christ the Son) must interact with his bride/wife, the church, who is indwelled with the Holy Spirit, if new life is to become a reality.
In our present context, however, it is obvious that a widow cannot conceive children with her deceased husband, nor can a non-believer bring new spiritual life into being without the Heavenly Father’s involvement. So the Torah dealt with the symbology of the thing in the “Law of Levirate Marriage.” “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel….” Who is the “brother” of God? In Matthew 12:48-50, Yahshua identified His disciples—those who do the will of His Father in Heaven—as His brothers, His sisters, and His mother. So the lesson in the Law of Levirate Marriage is that the “brother” of the crucified Christ (the one who is supposed to raise up spiritual children in the name of Yahshua) is a disciple, a believer. In other words, we are the ones who are charged with carrying on the spiritual “bloodline” of Christ in the world. Like I said, it’s the Great Commission revisited.
But wait: there’s a warning attached. What if we refuse to do the work, and accept the responsibility, of evangelism? “But if the man does not want to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, ‘I do not want to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’ And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal removed.’” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) Ouch.
I don’t know if that stings you like is does me, but this (symbolically, anyway) is a picture of Christian believers who are so complacent and ingrown in their lukewarm religiosity, it never occurs to them to reach out to the lost, saying piously, “They’ve made their choice—to hell with them.” Or perhaps it’s just an error of omission, remaining silent when God places opportunities to witness right in front of them. The “sandal” reference is interesting: in Paul’s discussion of “the whole armor of God,” he mentions having our feet shod “with preparation of the gospel of peace.” In other words, if we get spit in the face by needy unbelievers and are asked to take off our shoes (as if to say, “You aren’t going anywhere with me”), it means that we were not prepared to share the Good News of Christ’s love with those who needed it most. If that is the case, shame on us.
This is a theme that, one way or another, is repeated many times in scripture: (1) God wants to bless people in need (symbolized by widows and the fatherless). (2) He has ordained that we, His people, are to be the means and mechanism by which their needs are to be met. (3) The most fundamental of those needs is a trusting relationship with Yahweh Himself—something we alone are in a position to communicate. (4) If we fail in our duty of extending these mercies, we will find ourselves being chastised by God.
God’s Anger with the Unmerciful
The apostate Israel of Isaiah’s day found themselves in this very position. He writes, “For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, nor do they seek Yahweh of hosts.” That is, Israel was not responding to Yahweh’s discipline, which was designed to encourage them to repent. “Therefore Yahweh will cut off head and tail from Israel, palm branch and bulrush in one day. The elder and honorable, he is the head; the prophet who teaches lies, he is the tail.” Read: “If you do not repent, Assyrian exile is in your future.” And who is primarily at fault for this apostasy? The elites at the top: the kings, elders, and false prophets. (Apparently, some things never change.) “For the leaders of this people cause them to err, and those who are led by them are destroyed….” We all know what Yahshua had to say about the blind leading the blind: they both fall into the ditch.
The hard lesson for us is that God has chosen us, His people, to be the channel of blessing He wishes to bestow on our nation. But if enough of us abandon His word, we will all suffer—including the widows and fatherless He so wants to reach. “Therefore Yahweh will have no joy in their young men, nor have mercy on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is a hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 9:13-17) God will not cram blessings (beginning with a close relationship with Himself) down our throats. If we abandon Him, He will abandon us—along with those to whom we were supposed to be showing His love.
Three times in this one chapter, that ominous phrase, “For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still,” is repeated. And note: the “hewn stones” and “sycamores” mentioned in verse 10 are referred to by Messianic Rabbi Jonathan Cahn in his bestselling book, The Harbinger, to indict post-9/11 America for our arrogant apostasy. I can’t say I disagree with Him. God’s judgment will naturally fall on those who have forsaken Him; but widows and fatherless (metaphorical of the lost and needy) will also suffer because of our nation’s unwillingness to repent—and that makes God angry.
A few verses later (in the next chapter), Isaiah is even more blunt in his indictment of those who have forsaken God’s ways. “Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune, which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of My people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless. What will you do in the day of punishment, and in the desolation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your glory? Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners, and they shall fall among the slain.” And again, he repeats the familiar (and terrifying) refrain: “For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still….” This was written to Ephraim (a.k.a. Samaria, a.k.a. Israel’s northern kingdom). They possessed, but had abandoned, God’s Law, and the needy were suffering as a result.
The penalty for Samaria’s injustice—particularly against widows and the fatherless—would be God’s permission for the cruel and aggressive nation of Assyria to come in and haul them off in chains. So Isaiah deals with them as well: “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, to seize the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.” (Isaiah 10:1-6) Just because Assyria was chosen as God’s tool to chastise Ephraim, it doesn’t make them guiltless for doing so. Woe is pronounced upon them as well, for they too were evil. This sort of thing—one evil being employed to eradicate another—has been one of God’s most commonly employed “implements of wrath” throughout man’s history, on the national level, at least.
It all makes me wonder what horrible enemy lurks in America’s End-Time future—now that half of our nation has turned its back on the God who called us for His glory and purpose. Is it Islam? Socialism? Secular humanism? Which of these vultures will gleefully pick at America’s bones in the days following the rapture of the church? Or is it all of them? My reading of Last-Days prophecy has led me to the conclusion that Yahweh will use Satan’s Antichrist—the ultimate malevolence—to absorb, betray, and destroy every previous permutation of systemic evil in the world (known collectively in scripture by their symbolic title: “Babylon”). Only when that job is done will Christ return and remove Satan and his meat puppet. (For the full story, I would suggest reading The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website. It is a comprehensive study of Bible prophecy, attempting to explore every yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy in all of scripture.)
One might assume that the widows and orphans left behind when the church is raptured will be worse off than ever. But with God’s people gone from the earth, Yahweh will once again step into the breach on their behalf: “I will strip bare the land of Edom, and there will be no place left to hide. Its children, its brothers, and its neighbors will all be destroyed, and Edom itself will be no more.” Edom (the offspring of Esau) is symbolic of those who dishonor God by despising their birthright—something true to some extent of everyone left behind. “But I will protect the orphans who remain among you. Your widows, too, can depend on me for help.” (Jeremiah 49:10-11, NLT) The terror of the times will drive multitudes of the poor and needy into the loving arms of their Creator. As I said, desperation and despair can be great motivators. Better late than never. Literal Edom, by the way, is in modern Jordan. Its “neighbors” (doomed to destruction in the text) include Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. I can only presume that their “widows and orphans” represent those among them who have not sold their souls to Allah (a.k.a. Satan).
An unidentified Psalmist prays to Yahweh that He will take vengeance (which is His prerogative alone) against the proud: “O Yahweh, God, to whom vengeance belongs—O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render punishment to the proud. Yahweh, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked triumph?” And who are these proud, wicked ones? They are known by their words and deeds—especially by their oppressive attitude toward those they feel are beneath them, the defenseless widows and fatherless. “They utter speech, and speak insolent things; all the workers of iniquity boast in themselves. They break in pieces Your people, O Yahweh, and afflict Your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.” Note that Yahweh generally “identifies” with the poor and afflicted, not with the rich and powerful. “Yet they say, ‘Yahweh does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand.’” (Psalm 94:1-7) These “workers of iniquity” have made the classic blunder—mistaking God’s patience for disinterest, or even non-existence.
It’s a theme that gets repeated over and over again in scripture: “Yahweh watches over the strangers. He relieves the fatherless and widow. But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.” (Psalm 146:9) Or, “Yahweh will destroy the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow.” (Proverbs 15:25) Or, “Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword. Let their wives become widows and bereaved of their children. Let their men be put to death, their young men be slain by the sword in battle.” (Jeremiah 18:21) Or, “Do not remove the ancient landmark, nor enter the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is mighty: He will plead their cause against you.” (Proverbs 23:10-11) Yahshua didn’t shy away from the ugly truth, either. He called out the rich and powerful of His day for mistreating those in need: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (Matthew 23:14) It’s pretty clear where God’s heart is. We are to defend and support those in need, and our responsibility increases with our resources.
Ezekiel agrees: “Look, the princes of Israel: each one has used his power to shed blood in you. In you they have made light of father and mother; in your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” (Ezekiel 22:6-7) And Isaiah voices the same complaint: “Your [i.e., Judah’s] princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves. Everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them.” (Isaiah 1:23) Note that you don’t have to proactively attack or oppress widows and orphans to make God angry. All you have to do is fail to defend them when given the chance. And don’t kid yourself: we all have the chance. If we stop to consider that widows and the fatherless symbolize “people in need” (whether there is a literal male provider and protector in their lives or not) then anyone without God’s saving grace is, for all practical purposes, a widow or a fatherless child. Does their “cause come before us”? Do we “defend” them against Satan’s schemes?
A century and a half later, God’s patience with Judah had run out. Because Jerusalem had not pleaded the cause of the widow and fatherless, there would now be a lot more of them in Judah, for their husbands and fathers would be slain in battle: “‘You have forsaken Me,’ says Yahweh, ‘You have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you. I am weary of relenting! And I will winnow them with a winnowing fan in the gates of the land. I will bereave them of children. I will destroy My people, since they do not return from their ways. Their widows will be increased to Me more than the sand of the seas. I will bring against them, against the mother of the young men, a plunderer at noonday. I will cause anguish and terror to fall on them suddenly.” (Jeremiah 15:6-8) If you refuse to take care of the widows among you, Yahweh says, I will make your wives widows. If you neglect the fatherless, your own children just might become orphans.
God is longsuffering toward us because He wants to give us all the time we need to repent of our evil deeds. But although His love is boundless and His kindness everlasting, His patience has limits. First, we are made as mortals: our deaths mark the end of our opportunity to turn in faith to Yahweh—and express that faith by showing mercy to those in need. Second, He is on a self-imposed schedule, expressed most often in the Law of the Sabbath: we must make our choices and do the works that reveal our spiritual condition before the sun sets on the “sixth day.” And of what does a “day” consist in God’s plan?” Since the Millennial reign of Christ is by definition our Sabbath rest, then it follows that each of the other six “weekdays” are also a thousand years in duration. (See II Peter 3:8 or Psalm 90:4 for confirmation.) If the countdown began at the fall of Adam, then any way you slice it, the Millennial Sabbath is very, very close. If my observations are correct, the Seventh Day—our Sabbath Rest—will commence on the Feast of Tabernacles, 2033. The God of Jacob knows exactly what’s going on (even if you and I don’t). You don’t have to agree with me, but only a fool would underestimate Him.
If you know what to look for, Last Days prophetic realities show up in several of these passages that speak of the treatment of widows and orphans. We have already seen a few. This one is from King David, who is heard speaking in the voice of His physical descendant, Yahshua the Messiah: “The mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful have opened against me. They have spoken against me with a lying tongue. They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause. In return for my love they are my accusers, but I give myself to prayer. Thus they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love….”
Since the fall of Adam, there have always been evil people in the world. On some level, we all answer to that description. They crucified our Savior, but we share in their culpability. Godless people have been persecuting His faithful ever since Cain picked up a rock or stick and slew his brother. Normally, God in His patience gives us our whole lives in which to repent—refraining from punishing evil behavior on an individual basis. But here, in this remarkable prayer, David asks that garden variety evil people, those who have fought against God from the beginning, finally be given a taste of their own medicine.
On a national level, Yahweh’s usual modus operandi is to allow one evil to eradicate another when their iniquity is full (e.g., Israel taking the Amorites; Assyria taking Israel; Babylon taking Assyria; Persia taking Babylon; Greece taking Persia, Rome taking Greece, etc.). But this cycle of evil-devouring-evil cannot last forever. A while back, I noted that the culmination of all this appears to be that the Antichrist of the Last Days will “absorb, betray, and destroy every previous permutation of systemic evil in the world.” So David prays, “Set a wicked man [i.e., the Antichrist—the ultimate “wicked man”] over him [the “ordinary” evil man in the world], and let an accuser [ultimately, Satan] stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” And here is where widows and orphans enter the picture: “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children continually be vagabonds, and beg. Let them seek their bread also from their desolate places. Let the creditor seize all that he has, and let strangers plunder his labor. Let there be none to extend mercy to him, nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off, and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.” (Psalm 109:2-13) David prays that the widows and orphans left behind in the wake of God’s long-overdue vengeance will suffer the same fate as the wicked men’s former victims. It’s not karma—it’s justice (or at least, irony).
I realize this may sound harsh and unmerciful. But remember: God’s mercy was provided up front, in the redeeming sacrifice of Yahshua. All the human race had to do was believe it, receive it, and leave it to God to achieve our restoration. But no. Most chose another path: rebellion, religion, hedonism, denial, or mindless spiritual suicide. In the end, such things tend to turn our wives into widows, and make our children fatherless, just as David predicts. But as I said, the cycle of evil building upon evil cannot go on forever: there must come a time when Yahweh says, “Enough.”
And the vast body of prophetic scripture reveals how He intends to bring it about. In particular, see Revelation 18, where the complete and sudden destruction of financial-commercial Babylon—the home of the “ordinary-evil” people in the world who prey upon the weak and needy—is prophesied. The irony is summed up in this prophetic prayer: “Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works.” This “doubling up” of punishment hearkens back to the Torah, where a thief was required to pay back double what he had stolen. This equates Babylon’s oppression to theft: the rich and powerful of the world owed mercy to those in need, and yet withheld it. “In the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’ Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.” (Revelation 18:6-8)
This evil woman had been introduced to John in the previous chapter, where she was described as “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:5-6) She has been making wives widows and children fatherless for as long as anybody could remember. Now, finally, Babylon is going to learn what “no mercy” feels like.
As I said, “Babylon” is Biblical shorthand for any and every systemic permutation of false worship found upon the earth. It includes every godless religion (including atheism), every government that uses military might or sneaky subterfuge to oppress its citizens and neighbors, and every commercial or financial enterprise that puts Mammon before mercy. Historically, Babylon was the point of origin of the system of false gods and pagan worship practices that permeates organized religion to this very day. A later permutation was also the city-state that hauled Judah off into exile for its sins and apostasy.
So we should not be surprised that the prophet Isaiah (writing well before neo-Babylon’s rise) predicted—just as John had of Last-Days “Babylon”—the sudden destruction of this all-pervasive system of evil: “Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasures, who dwell securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else besides me. I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know the loss of children.’ But these two things shall come to you, in a moment, in one day: the loss of children, and widowhood. They shall come upon you in their fullness because of the multitude of your sorceries, for the great abundance of your enchantments.” (Isaiah 47:8-9) Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
This ubiquitous malevolence has been creating widows and making children fatherless for eons, not only symbolically—preventing people from having a relationship with Yahweh—but also literally. One example: Islam is a component of religious Babylon that plagues the world to this day. The Hadith (Muhammad’s biography, considered “holy scripture” by Muslims) states: “During the battle the people heard our exhortations to fight and the smashing of skulls by swords that sent heads flying. We severed necks with a warrior’s blow. Often we have left the slain cut to pieces and a widow crying ‘alas’ over her mutilated husband. ’Tis Allah, not man we seek to please.” (Ibn Ishaq: 580) Yahweh seeks to comfort widows; Allah wants to crush them. This may provide a little insight into who Allah actually is. Hint: they are not the same god.
Babylon (in all its forms) is now so well entrenched, she boasts that she can never be shaken from her position of privilege and pride. So I would remind present-day Babylon that her predecessor (the one against whom Isaiah spoke, who also boasted of her invulnerability) was defeated in a single day, October 13, 539 B.C., by the Medes and Persians. The story is recounted, somewhat anticlimactically, in Daniel 5. The prophecy was a “down payment” on Babylon’s ultimate demise. The whore of Babylon—the ultimate widow maker—will herself become a widow (and then a corpse) in the space of a single day. And her children—described in Revelation 17 as “harlots” and “abominations”—will become fatherless. The God who judges her may be patient, but He is also just. This will happen.
In another Last Days passage, the prophet Malachi speaks once again of Jerusalem’s ultimate repentance and restoration, noting that a distinction (i.e., “judgment”) will be made between the contrite and the unrepentant: “‘And I will come near you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien—because they do not fear Me,’ says Yahweh of hosts. ‘For I am Yahweh, I do not change. Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5-7) The “return” (or not) of Israel to Yahweh is evidenced by their individual actions—notably (in our present context) by their attitude toward and treatment of widows and the fatherless—those in need—among them. Their renewed fear of God is demonstrated by showing mercy and justice to the oppressed as much as it is in repentance from sorcery (or drug use—the concepts are related), sexual immorality, and falsehood. As usual, the caution stands: these things do not, in themselves, “save” a person. Rather, they are compelling evidence that one has already become saved—something that only faith in the atoning blood of Christ can achieve.
Israel today is like a widow, in effect—separated from her Husband Yahweh as if He were dead to her. But I am happy to report that her national restoration is a prophetic fait accompli—in fact, it is by far the most oft-repeated prophetic theme in the entire Tanakh. So Isaiah says, “‘Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed. Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore….” For the past couple of millennia, Israel has been functioning as a widow: her Husband Yahweh has been “missing and presumed dead.” But God is not dead. He has merely gone on a long journey, waiting patiently for Israel to return to Him—as Yahshua, her Messiah and King.
“For your Maker is your husband: Yahweh of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” Redemption requires sacrifice, expenditure: Yahweh has paid the price for Israel’s restoration (and ours) with the most precious substance on the face of the earth: His own blood. “He is called the God of the whole earth. For Yahweh has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,’ says your God. ‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says Yahweh, your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:4-8)
In the end, Israel will no longer be a widow, nor will her children (the called-out assembly of Christ—the true church) be fatherless. We will at last stand upon the earth in the long-anticipated presence of our Messiah, our King, our Husband, and our Father. And we will all be able to say, “Yahweh is my Shepherd. I shall not want.”