Dear Mishpocha (Family),
Orphans and Widows
The Lord is reminding us this month that He has not forgotten anyone—especially orphans and widows. King David gave us the most quoted psalm about these beloved ones of God: “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5). The Hebrew word for “fatherless” is yeh-toe-MEEM, and the word for “widows” is ahl-mah-NOTE. The Hebrew word for “defender” is da-YAHN, literally, judge. The Lord makes it clear that He insists on justice for the fatherless and widows: “…Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow…” (Deut. 27:19). “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child” (Ex. 22:22).
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob highlights two of the His major roles: He is a Father, and He is a Husband. In traditional Hebrew biblical thought, a child who has a mother but no father is considered an orphan. (See Lamentations 5:3, 7.) The actual word “orphan” is only used four times in the New King James Version of the Bible, while the word “fatherless” is used 40 times. Having no father defines what an orphan is. Many years ago, Jewish Jewels sponsored the wedding of an “orphan bride” in Israel. Micaela has a mother, but her father died in an accident when she was little. It was considered a great “mitzvah” to provide for her wedding. We are still in touch and Micaela has taught her children to call us Safta (Grandma) and Saba (Grandpa)! We met with them on our last Mercy Mission and showered the five of them (three children) with “mah-tah-NOTE,” gifts from YOU!
The New Covenant continues emphasizing the heart of God for the fatherless and widows. James 1:27 is perhaps the most well-known verse on this theme, “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.” Why would this type of religion be pure and undefiled? Perhaps because orphans and widows cannot repay kindnesses done. The love demonstrated has to be unconditional, with no thought of reciprocity nor recompense.
God’s “Father heart” mandated that caring for the fatherless be an important act of charity and a holy duty. There is repeated mention in the Torah of providing for orphans and including them in the Feasts, making sure that they were always treated justly. “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” (Deut. 16:14). The Lord also provided for the fatherless in the harvests, “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 the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deut. 24:19).
God always watches out for those, like the fatherless, who are “the least.” He chose Israel because she was “the least of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7). He chose Bethlehem, the “least among the rulers of Judah,” to be the birthplace of the Messiah (Matt. 2:6). He chose the mustard seed, “the least of all the seeds,” to symbolize His Kingdom (Matt. 13:32). The Messiah Yeshua assured His talmidim that when they ministered to the “least of these,” they were ministering to Him (Matt. 25:35-40).
God as Father is often overlooked in the Old Covenant Scriptures. Yet, there are many verses that highlight His father nature. “Doubtless You are our Father, though Abraham was ignorant of us, and Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O LORD, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name” (Isaiah 63:16). “But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You are the potter; and all we are the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). “They shall come with weeping, and with supplications. I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:9). “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?…” (Malachi 2:10).
Yes, God is a Father, and He longs to reveal Himself to the fatherless. Even those of us who have grown up with fathers in the home eventually lose them—through death. The Bible says in Psalm 27:10, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me.” Jamie vividly remembers what the Lord said to her on the day of her beloved father’s funeral: “Now I am the only Father you have, and you don’t need to divide your affection any longer. I will take his place, with even more love.” He surely has done that!
God has a way of watching over and using orphans for His glory. He not only provided for Esther in the Bible, but used this female orphan to save an entire people. What about Moses? When he was placed in the basket, it was as if he were orphaned and thrown upon the mercy of God. Moses became the deliverer of God’s People Israel.
When we searched the Internet for “famous orphans,” we were surprised at what we found. It made us wonder if God had indeed been “Father” to some of the following orphans: Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Ingrid Bergman, Ray Charles, Johann Sebastian Bach, Cyrus the Great, Aristotle, Nelson Mandela, William Bradford, Frederick Douglass, Herbert Hoover, Edgar Allen Poe, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman, Scott Hamilton, Vidal Sassoon, L.L. Bean, William Boeing, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Colonel Sanders, Levi Strauss, Dave Thomas, and Raoul Wallenberg, to name a few!
According to the New Covenant Scriptures, we all begin as spiritual orphans. God becomes our “Father” when we receive Yeshua, His Son, as our Savior and Messiah. It is then that we become part of God’s family. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). God becomes our Father in a very intimate way—as a “Daddy,” “Abba” in Hebrew. “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!‘” (Galatians 4:6). Spiritual orphans no more! Sons. Daughters. Adopted into a spiritual family. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father‘” (Romans 8:15).
God chose us. We did not choose Him. We were all spiritual orphans, and He reached out in love and said, “I want him. I want her.” We are sad to say that we have known believers in the Messiah Yeshua who still live as if they are spiritual orphans, unable to rest in the Father’s unconditional love for them. His love is always reaching out to us, waiting for us, looking for ways to bless us. We were created to find a place in the heart of our Father God. Believe it! Receive this truth. God is a Good God.
Embrace the “spirit of sonship” which was purchased for you on the tree of Calvary. Reject the “orphan spirit” that would try to keep you captive and oppressed. God loves you for who you are, not for what you do. Be rooted in that truth, and rest in the Father’s Love. That love is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, promised to us by our Messiah right before His death. He said, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—” (John 14:16). “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). He has come to us in the person of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit.
Where we live in Fort Lauderdale, we are surrounded by widows, ahl-mah-NOTE. They live in our building, they exercise at the gym with us, and we minister to them every Friday morning from 10-11 a.m. at an independent living facility. We try to help them embrace the truth and reality of Isaiah 54:5, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is the God of the whole earth.” Imagine having the God of the whole earth as your husband. What a promise and blessing! However, it is not an easy revelation to receive when a loved one of many years is no longer present. Some widows cope better than others. Ruth, one of our Friday widows, always has a smile on her face. She has a lovely singing voice, and enjoys singing Jamie’s Righteous Rhymes version of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” along with all the other widows and widowers! We were delightfully surprised when Ruth’s daughter, who lives in New Jersey, came to visit her mother recently and also visited our Jewish Jewels store. She uses Righteous Rhymes with her Shabbat school pupils at her local Messianic Synagogue. Ruth’s daughter had no idea that we are the ones who minister to her mother, or that her mother sings the songs from Righteous Rhymes too. Quite a God-incidence! Ruth has a Good, Faithful Husband, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who obviously answered the prayers of her Messianic Jewish daughter.
Widows in Bible times were in a very vulnerable position. They were often the forgotten members of the community. A widow had no means of providing for herself. She was dependent on her sons, if she had any, and then the general community. That is the background of the story of the widow in Nain. “And when He [Yeshua] 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” (Luke 7:12). When Yeshua saw her, He had compassion on her, touched the open coffin, and raised the widow’s only son from the dead. God cared about that one desperate, suffering widow!
The Scriptures seem to indicate that disgrace was often associated with widowhood. “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” (Isaiah 54:4) A widow had no man in the household to be the head, or the strength. But God stood ready to meet her needs.
Victorious Widows in the Tanach
We read in the Tanach about a number of widows who triumph over tragedy. In the Book of Ruth, we see Naomi, who lost a husband and two sons in a foreign land, go from great bitterness to great joy in her native land, as she held a future descendant of the Messiah in her arms. Her daughter-inlaw Ruth, a Moabite widow, went from abject poverty as a foreigner in the Land of Israel to marriage, motherhood, and becoming part of the Messianic legacy.
The widow of Zarephath is an excellent example of God’s provision for widows who have faith, are obedient, and make room for their miracles (1 Kings 17:8-24). This widow was not a Jew, but a Phoenician, who had a young son. She lived during a time of famine and was facing starvation. A “stranger” (the Prophet Elijah) asked her for a drink of water and a piece of bread. The widow was about to use the last of her flour and oil to fix the final meal for her and her son before they would die. But—she showed hospitality to Elijah. When Elijah said, “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says…” (1 Kings 17:14), the widow of Zarephath heard the Word of God, believed it, and obeyed it. God gave her a miracle of provision. Her faith was tested again a later time when her son died. She gave her son to Elijah, who prayed over his body, and God raised the child from the dead. The widow of Zarephath went from starvation to abundant provision, and from death to resurrection life. She was not even an Israelite, again showing God’s care for “the least.”
Widows in the Brit Hadasha
There is one major verse concerning widows in the Brit Hadasha, found in 1 Timothy 5:3-5, “Honor widows who are really widows. 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. Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” And again, becoming more specific, “Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works…” (1 Timothy 5:9-10). The passage continues with an admonition for younger widows to marry, bear children, and manage their households well.
In Luke 2:36-38 we see Anna, a widow and prophetess, who had only lived with a husband for seven years before he died. She was 84 years old and served God day and night in the Temple, with fasting and prayers. God rewarded her by allowing her to see the infant Yeshua at his dedication in the Temple. She was then able to speak of Him to all those who looked for the redemption of Israel.
The Widow with the Two Coins (Luke 21:1-4; Mark 12:41-44) is a parable preceded in both Gospels by a rebuke from Yeshua aimed at the scribes who, among other sins, devoured widow’s houses! They were shamelessly cheating widows out of their property. Instead of taking care of widows, the spiritual leaders were taking away what little they had. In the parable that follows, Yeshua praises the faith of a poor widow. “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all of these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had’” (Luke 21:1-4).
Yeshua noticed this widow. He always sees the “one.” He saw her absolute trust and dependence on God. He marveled at her total abandonment to Him. She was poor in this world, but rich in faith. Did God need her two coins, her small offering? Most of us would say, “No.” We love what the authors of Women of the Bible say about that: “Maybe God, in a manner of speaking, did need what she had to offer. Perhaps her gesture consoled Jesus a short time before his passion and death. She had given everything she had to live on. Soon, He would give everything too, His very life.”
Finally, there is another parable about a widow that bears mentioning: The Parable of the Corrupt Judge. This parable, found in Luke 18:1-8, is about a widow who perseveres in faith and prayer as she presents her case before an unjust judge. She reflects the reality of the widows of her time to whom justice was often denied. But this widow overcomes by repeatedly going back to the judge, never giving up, and not losing heart. The parable shows the contrast between the ungodly judge and God, the Righteous Judge. If the former finally hearkened to the cry of the defenseless widow, how much more will God, who is Righteous and Fair, hear and answer the cry of one widow’s heart. Two main points are made in this parable. First, God is Good, Righteous, and Just. Second, God honors persistent, persevering prayer. We must never give up hope, but have tenacious faith with what we like to call “holy chutzpah.” Brad Young comments on this in his book The Parables: “True faith, however, in its proper context can be linked to chutzpah. Prayer with expected faith in the nature of God may be expressed with bold persistence or brazen tenacity.” Amen.
Let us follow the example of the widow of Luke 18 this month, and persevere in faith with persistent prayer and “holy chutzpah.” We are no longer orphans. Our Father will hear and answer the cry of our hearts.
P.S. This month we are collecting funds to feed and clothe widows and orphans in Israel. For your extra gift, we will send you a replica of the “Widow’s Mite” of Luke 21:1-4. Please see the section of the mailback entitled “Widows and Orphans Offering” to donate to this special cause.