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The following is a rough draft set of notes concerning the matter of the “fatherless” in the OT.



There are three basic commands concerning the fatherless: First, do not mistreat the fatherless. Second, do not twist judgments due to the fatherless. Three, do affirmative good to the fatherless.

Mistreatment: Mistreatment entails more than just beating, causing physical injury or stealing from (although it certainly entails that). Anything which causes the other to bow down, to crouch, to suffer; anything which humbles the fatherless constitutes mistreatment. The care to be taken is measured by the vulnerability of the fatherless.  If it hurts this particular person, then it has caused injury – even if it would not have hurt someone else.

An analogous principle exists in civil law: The “egg shell” plaintiff is the peculiarly vulnerable person who suffers injury in manner which exceeds that of the general population.[1]

Therefore, the primary analysis must consider (1) did the fatherless suffer an injury; and (2) did the conduct of another person bring about that injury (Is action X the proximate cause of injury Y?). If the answer to both questions is “yes”, then mistreatment has taken place.

Note that such a sin may be unintentional – that is the actor did not commence the action with the hope and intention of causing the injury suffered – and yet be a “real” sin. Leviticus 4:2.


Perverting judgment:  Justice/judgment entails decisions made as to a situation or person irrespective of whether the judgment takes place in a formal legal proceeding.  To pervert or twist judgment means to make a decision based upon the benefit or detriment to the one making judgment.  That is, the judge cannot consider whether this decision will help or hurt the judge. The decision made must reflect an objective measure: the fact that the decision may cause the judge to suffer a detriment is not a basis for the judge making a different decision.


Positive obligations: The OT lays out affirmative obligations which must be given to the fatherless – including the provision of food. These principles find their correspondence in the NT descriptions of faith (James 2) and love (1 John 3).

The command that one is not  to  “wrong” the orphan is tied to the concept of treating the one with whom a relationship exists the same as the one with whom there is no standing relationship – and thus includes a positive obligation or love.



Failure to abide by such obligations invokes the covenant curse.



Mistreatment of the weak – particularly the widow and orphan – constitute a primary charge against Israel (along with the charge of idolatry).



God characterizes himself as the one who cares for, protects and vindicates the fatherless.



The wicked are peculiarly marked by their mistreatment of the fatherless.


DETAILS: (the following references track the order of occurrence and are not categorized by topic):


Exodus 22:21–24 (ESV)

21 You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

Command: Do not mistreat.[2]  The NASB 95 translates  the first clause of verse 23 as “If you afflict him at all ….” There is no acceptable level of mistreatment: it is a binary proposition: If it is done, it violates the command.

Response: 1) God will personally respond. 2) God will make your children fatherless

Vers. 22–24.—Law against oppressing widows and orphans. With the stranger are naturally placed the widow and orphan; like him, weak and defenceless; like him, special objects of God’s care. The negative precept here given was followed up by numerous positive enactments in favour of the widow and the orphan, which much ameliorated their sad lot. (See ch. 23:11; Lev. 19:9, 10; Deut. 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:19–21; 26:12, 13.) On the whole, these laws appear to have been fairly well observed by the Israelites; but there were times when, in spite of them, poor widows suffered much oppression. (See Ps. 94:6; Is. 1:23; 10:2; Jer. 7:3–6; 22:3; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5; Matt. 23:14.) The prophets denounce this backsliding in the strongest terms.

Ver. 22.—Ye shall not afflict. The word translated “afflict” is of wide signification, including ill-usage of all kinds. “Oppress,” and even “vex,” are stronger terms.

Ver. 23.—And they cry at all unto me Rather, “Surely, if they cry unto me.” Compare Gen. 31:42.

Ver. 24.—I will kill you with the sword. It was, in large measure, on account of the neglect of this precept, that the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and destruction of its inhabitants, was allowed to take place (Jer. 22:3–5). Your wives shall be widows, etc. A quasi-retaliation. They shall be exposed to the same sort of ill-usage as you have dealt out to other widows.

Exodus Vol. II, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 191.

Deuteronomy 10:16–20 (ESV)

16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.


The character of God as set forth in this passage – and the required response – directly correspond to the understanding and demonstration of life in Christ: our love toward God precisely corresponds to our love toward – especially as demonstrated in our love toward the weak (1 John 3:11-18; James 2:14-17; Matthew 25:31-46):

10:17 Such a spirit of indifference is incomprehensible in light of who God is, the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome” (v. 17). Such a description does not admit to the reality of other gods but simply emphasizes the absolute uniqueness and incomparability of the Lord and his exclusive right to sovereignty over his people (cf. Deut 3:24; 4:35, 39). As Lord over all he cannot be enticed or coerced into any kind of partiality through influence peddling (v. 17) and, in fact, is the special advocate of defenseless persons who are so often victims of such unscrupulous behavior (v. 18).

10:18–19 What God does in the social realm his people are to imitate (cf. Exod 22:22–24).179 They must be especially sensitive to aliens living among them, particularly since they also had been aliens in Egypt (v. 19). The word for alien here (gēr) is the same as appears in Lev 19:34: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.” Exactly the same sentiment (but with “neighbor,” rēʿa) is expressed in Lev 19:18, the verse Jesus quoted when he was quizzed about the greatest of the commandments (Matt 19:19). Jesus attached this to the command to “love the LORD” with all one’s being (cf. Deut 6:5), thus joining love for God with love for others. This is precisely what the present passage is teaching as the enveloping structure makes clear.

Eugene H. Merrill, vol. 4, Deuteronomy, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 203-04.

Blessing from God is directly tied into the matter of blessing the fatherless. At this point, it is interesting to note that the Levite (who roughly corresponds to the pastorate in the new covenant) is joined:

29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. Deuteronomy 14:29 (ESV)

Care for the fatherless is here tied to the generosity enjoined upon God’s people as the means of  rejoicing for the rescue from Egypt:

 “You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. 10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. 11 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. 12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. Deuteronomy 16:9–12 (ESV)


Justice for the Fatherless

17 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, 18 but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

19 “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 sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. Deuteronomy 24:17–22 (ESV)

v. 17: twist, pervert the justice for the fatherless

The verb in most of its usage has the idea of movement.[3] Thus, when coupled with the idea of justice, there is the idea of moving the decision implicitly to obtain a favorable end (Exodus 23:2) or because one obtains a benefit for the decision (such as  a bribe) (Proverb 17:23). The idea is that the decision is right or wrong without respect to the affect, whether good or bad, upon the judge. It specifically contravenes situational ethics:

You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Deuteronomy 16:19 (ESV)

Therefore, when making a decision concerning the orphan, the judgment cannot look to the effect upon the judge, whether good or bad. The justice exists objectively and independently of the judge. This of course corresponds to the nature of love enjoined upon the Christian. Philippians 2 states that love is measure by sacrifice of Christ and entails counting the other (and thus the other’s interest) as more important than my own:

2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1–11 (ESV)

The degree of justice to be afforded to the weak is positively measured by placing an affirmative cost upon the one who possesses more: one must give of property for the fatherless.  This precise rule is demonstrated in the story of Ruth and Boaz, and thus was instrumental in the existence of our Savior’s line. Since we by adoption become members of this line, this is the story of our grandparents.

The command is then completed by referencing to the grace which God shows in rescuing – as in the example given by Paul in Philippians, the duty owed to others is measured by the grace given to us:

Remembering Egypt (vv. 17–22)

The last two provisions in this chapter have the same motivation: ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this’ (vv. 18, 22). The attitude that the Israelites were to have towards those in need, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow, was to be based on their experience as needy sojourners in Egypt. It is the principle that Jesus gave us in Matthew 7:12: ‘So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ The people of Israel are to remember, and to act as they would have wished the Egyptians acted towards them. If they do, they will give everyone justice, and at harvest time they will leave sufficient for the poor to glean from their fields. This section underlines these two things. The chapter is about moulding the attitudes of Israel more than looking for formal obedience to law. And, as Jesus said, this was the purpose of the law: to bring people to do to others what they would wish to be done to them.

Paul E. Brown, Deuteronomy: An Expositional Commentary, Exploring the Bible Commentary (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 2008), 185.

The entire passage must be read as a unity to be fully understood:

The concentric structural design of 24:17–22 as a whole may be outlined as follows:


    A      Do not pervert justice to the alien, orphan, and widow . . .      24:17–18

     B      Leave some of your grain for the alien, orphan, and widow      24:19a

      X      So that YHWH may bless you in all you do      24:19b

     B´      Leave some of your olives for the alien, orphan, and widow      24:20

    A´      Leave some of your grapes for the alien, orphan, and widow . . .      24:21–22


There is a great deal of repetition in these verses. Both sections of both the inner and outer frames make specific reference to the alien, the orphan, and the widow (vv 17, 19, 20, 22). Moreover, the statement “and you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt . . . therefore I command you to do this thing” appears in both parts of the inner frame (vv 18, 22). The source of God’s blessing is clear in this structure. It comes from protecting the aliens, orphans, and widows in our midst. As Jesus once put it, the second greatest commandment is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). That is the substance of the law, especially in Deut 24:6–25:16.

Duane L. Christensen, vol. 6B, Deuteronomy 21:10–34:12, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 596.

A tithe for the fatherless:

12 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13 then you shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. 14 I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me. 15 Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ Deuteronomy 26:12–15 (ESV)

Here, positive blessing is tied to the way in which one treats the weak.

A curse:

The command to measure and give right judgment to the fatherless (Dt. 24:17) is here made the matter of a curse:

19 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:19 (ESV)

This curse is preceded by one’s obligations to the blind and followed by a list of sexual perversions and violent crimes.

The charges against Israel:

Isaiah 1:14–17 (ESV)

                14     Your new moons and your appointed feasts

my soul hates;

                        they have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

                15     When you spread out your hands,

I will hide my eyes from you;

                        even though you make many prayers,

I will not listen;

your hands are full of blood.

                16     Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;

                        cease to do evil,

                17     learn to do good;

                        seek justice,

correct oppression;

                        bring justice to the fatherless,

plead the widow’s cause.


Note that the manner of one’s life supersedes care in temple practice: There can be no true worship without a corresponding life. Young notes that the “justice” owed to the fatherless entails more than formal judicial proceedings  and means “the orphan should always be treated justly” (Young, Isaiah, vol. 1, 74).

The charge is then repeated in a slightly different format

Isaiah 1:21–23 (ESV)

            21       How the faithful city

      has become a whore,

      she who was full of justice!

                  Righteousness lodged in her,

      but now murderers.

            22       Your silver has become dross,

      your best wine mixed with water.

            23       Your princes are rebels

      and companions of thieves.

                  Everyone loves a bribe

      and runs after gifts.

                  They do not bring justice to the fatherless,

      and the widow’s cause does not come to them.


Here the perversion of justice is specifically linked to making judgment based upon the outcome upon the judge – as opposed to making an objectively appropriate decision. Calvin explains this point in his commentary:

Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. The Prophet here selects two classes, by means of which the wickedness of men is more fully exposed; for it seldom happens that the causes of the fatherless and widows are defended, because men do not expect from them any rewards. To such an extent are they exposed to every kind of injustice, that no man comes forward in defense of them, because there is no man who follows justice on its own account; and not only so, but there is a very great number of persons who are ready to plunder the poor and needy. This proves that there is no one who cares about exercising judgment; for we need not at all wonder that men of wealth and influence have friends to assist them, who are excited and allured by the expectation of reward. But the Lord declares that he takes charge of the fatherless and widows, and will avenge them if they shall sustain any injury.

  “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict then in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry: and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:22-24.)

The same declaration is now extended to all others, who are oppressed and groan under the violence and lawless passions of men of rank and influence.

John Calvin, Isaiah, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Is 1:17. Note that this negative command is affirmatively stated by the Lord as requiring doing good those who cannot do us good in return:

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12–14 (ESV)

The matter of “judgment” is also linked to the concept of mercy:

The five positive demands proceed from the general to the particular. For in advance stands the quite general “learn to do well.” Then follows the exhortation to “seek judgment,” (the phrase is found again only 16:5). The Old Test. צְדָקָה, “righteousness,” consists essentially in conformity to מִשְׁפָּט, “judgment.” Whoever, under all circumstances, does what is right, even when he has the power to leave it undone, is a צַדִּיק, “righteous one.” When the powerful, then, spite of his power, suffers the poor, the wretched, the widow and the orphan to enjoy their rights, then this justice appears subjectively as gentleness and goodness, objectively as salvation. Hence צַדִּיק has so often the secondary meaning of “kindness, mercy” (comp. Ps. 37:21; Prov. 12:10; 21:26) and צֶדֶק or צְדָקָה that of “salvation” (Ps. 24:5; 132:9, 16; Isa. 41:10; 45:8, etc.). The Old Test. צְדָקָה contrasts, therefore, on the one hand with grace, that gives more than can justly be demanded, on the other hand, with oppressive unrighteousness, (comp. מְרֵצֵּחַ ,חָמוֹץ ,עָרִיץ and others) that gives less. Comp. my comment, on Jer. 7:5.—Whoever exercises strict justice will quite as much restrain the oppressor from doing injustice, as aid those seeking their rights to the enjoyment of them. The prophet expresses the former by the words אַשְּׁרוּחָמוֹץ, “righten [marg. Eng. vers.] the oppressor.”

John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Carl Wilhelm Eduard Nägelsbach et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Isaiah (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 43.

Isaiah 10:1–4 (ESV)

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,

      and the writers who keep writing oppression,

            2       to turn aside the needy from justice

      and to rob the poor of my people of their right,

                  that widows may be their spoil,

      and that they may make the fatherless their prey!

            3       What will you do on the day of punishment,

      in the ruin that will come from afar?

                  To whom will you flee for help,

      and where will you leave your wealth?

            4       Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners

      or fall among the slain.

                  For all this his anger has not turned away,

      and his hand is stretched out still.


Here the failure to do justice incurs the responsive wrath of God.


“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:5–7 (ESV)

Thus says the Lord: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. Jeremiah 22:1–3 (ESV)

The concept of “doing wrong” is contrasted in Leviticus 19:33-34 as (1) treating the sojourner the same as the native and (2) showing positive love to the sojourner:


33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33–34 (ESV)


 By ending the command with the reminder of God being God, we have a hint of the doctrine of God’s lack or partiality:

Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. Ephesians 6:9 (ESV)

This also again parallels the commands of love:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43–48 (ESV)

This reference bears another interesting parallel, because the love which one must show to even the enemy demonstrates that one has been adopted by God.  That is, the measure of love required to be shown to another is the love shown to us by God. This duty is so great that love must be extended to even the enemy.

6 “Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. 7 Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. 8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. Ezekiel 22:6–8 (ESV)

Here again the mistreatment of fatherless is coupled to disregard of liturgical worship.

Hosea 14:4, “In you the orphan finds mercy”:

The precise form of Hosea’s prayer is important: “For280 in you the orphan receives compassion.” It is not simply that God is compassionate to orphans but that the orphan seeks and finds compassion in God. The point of Hosea’s prayer is that the people of Israel have become orphans. When the nation, along with its shrines, priests, kings, and military forces, is destroyed, then the general populace will be left as orphans. They will be Lo-Ammi, not my people. Their adulterous mother, the institutions of Israel, will be dead; their father, Baal, will have given them no help. But this fatherless people will turn back to their one true father, the refuge of orphans, and find shelter in him. The dispirited Diaspora of Israel must accept its position of orphan and return to Yahweh in that role and not come back as the people who proudly wear the title of the “elect of God.” When that happens, Not-my-people will become the sons and daughters of the living God.

 Duane A. Garrett, vol. 19A, Hosea, Joel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 272.

9 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zechariah 7:9–10 (ESV)

Again the matter of mistreatment  is explicated by contrasting it with affirmative acts of kindness and mercy. The implication here is that mere indifference does not satisfy the demands of not doing wrong – rather, affirmative obligations of love must be shown and action must be rendered.

The command for mercy is half of a two-part obligation, “show mercy and compassion.” Like the Hebrew word for “mercy,” the word for “compassion” (reḥem) also evokes strong connotations.Related etymologically to the Hebrew word for “womb,” reḥem expresses tenderness toward another like a mother manifests gentle, devoted feelings toward the fruit of her womb. Theologically, reḥem signifies “something that goes beyond what ought to be given.”68 In this spirit, Jacob sent Benjamin and his other sons back to Joseph with the prayer that “God Almighty will grant you mercy before the man” (Gen 43:14). Speaking of the Lord, Exod 34:6–7 portrays God as, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Thus, the Lord charges the community to treat each other with this same spirit of compassion.

Verse 10 mirrors the two positive admonitions in v. 9 with two requirements stated in the negative. As the first requirement, Zechariah warned his audience never to “oppress” a fellow Israelite who might not enjoy equal social protection, such as a widow or an orphan. This was not intended to limit God’s admonition to widows and orphans. Rather, these groups represent everyone who does not have a defender. The Mosaic law governs the way these constituencies should be treated (Exod 22:22; 23:6–9; Lev 19:15–18; Deut 10:18–19; 24:14). The theme of protecting the vulnerable in society occurs often in the prophets as well (see Isa 1:17; Jer 7:6; Amos 2:6–7; 4:1; 5:11–12; 8:4).

George L. Klein, vol. 21B, Zechariah, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 223-24.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:5 (ESV)


Psalm 10:12–15 (ESV)


            12       Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;

      forget not the afflicted.

            13       Why does the wicked renounce God

      and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

            14       But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,

      that you may take it into your hands;

                  to you the helpless commits himself;

      you have been the helper of the fatherless.

            15       Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;

      call his wickedness to account till you find none.


The prayer seeks to end oppression and it is based upon the characteristic of God as the helper of the fatherless.

Psalm 68:4–6 (ESV)


            4       Sing to God, sing praises to his name;

      lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;

                  his name is the LORD;

      exult before him!

            5       Father of the fatherless and protector of widows

      is God in his holy habitation.

            6       God settles the solitary in a home;

      he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,

      but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Here Calvin again ties the character of doing good to orphans to the concept that we must particular good to those who cannot do us good in return:


David would have them draw near to him with cheerfulness and alacrity; and, accordingly, proceeds to insist upon his transcendent goodness shown in condescending to the orphans and widows. The incomprehensible glory of God does not induce him to remove himself to a distance from us, or prevent him from stooping to us in our lowest depths of wretchedness. There can be no doubt that orphans and widows are named to indicate in general all such as the world are disposed to overlook as unworthy of their regard. Generally we distribute our attentions where we expect some return. We give the preference to rank and splendour, and despise or neglect the poor.

 John Calvin and James Anderson, vol. 3, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 10-11.


Psalm 82:1–4 (ESV)


            1       God has taken his place in the divine council;

      in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

            2       “How long will you judge unjustly

      and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

            3       Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;

      maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

            4       Rescue the weak and the needy;

      deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”


Psalm 94:1–7 (ESV)

94 O Lord, God of vengeance,

O God of vengeance, shine forth!

                       Rise up, O judge of the earth;

repay to the proud what they deserve!

                       O Lord, how long shall the wicked,

how long shall the wicked exult?

                       They pour out their arrogant words;

all the evildoers boast.

                       They crush your people, O Lord,

and afflict your heritage.

                       They kill the widow and the sojourner,

and murder the fatherless;

                       and they say, “The Lord does not see;

the God of Jacob does not perceive.”


In this instance, the mistreatment of the orphan is tied to the concept that God does not care what happens. 


The curse upon Judas was that his own children should be fatherless:

            9       May his children be fatherless

      and his wife a widow! Psalm 109:9 (ESV)


Which in fact took place.


Psalm 146:9 (ESV)


            9       The LORD watches over the sojourners;

      he upholds the widow and the fatherless,

      but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.


Job makes four references to the “fatherless” all of presume peculiar vulnerability on their part and need for special care and concern:


Job 24:9 (ESV)

            9       (There are those who snatch the fatherless child from the breast,

      and they take a pledge against the poor.)


Job’s defense of his innocence proceeds in part on his treatment of the fatherless:

Job 29:7–13 (ESV)

            7       When I went out to the gate of the city,

      when I prepared my seat in the square,

            8       the young men saw me and withdrew,

      and the aged rose and stood;

            9       the princes refrained from talking

      and laid their hand on their mouth;

            10       the voice of the nobles was hushed,

      and their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.

            11       When the ear heard, it called me blessed,

      and when the eye saw, it approved,

            12       because I delivered the poor who cried for help,

      and the fatherless who had none to help him.

            13       The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me,

      and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.


Job 31:17–19 (ESV)

            17       or have eaten my morsel alone,

      and the fatherless has not eaten of it

            18       (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,

      and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),

            19       if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,

      or the needy without covering,


Here Job states his defense in a negative fashion, listing what he has not done.  He in particular notes that he has not failed to care for the fatherless.


Proverbs 23:10 (ESV)

10    Do not move an ancient landmark

or enter the fields of the fatherless,

Lamentations 5:3 (ESV)

    We have become orphans, fatherless;

our mothers are like widows.



Two boys, Pete and Victor, were sitting across from each other in their classroom at school.  Pete kicked Victor on his shin so lightly that Victor did not immediately feel it.  However, minutes later Victor was crying out in pain due to the injury.  Over the next week, the wound swelled and surgery was performed on Victor’s shin.  The surgeons found that Victor’s shin bone was damaged from an earlier sledding accident and the kick that Pete delivered to Victor’s shin exacerbated the injury, causing bone degradation and irreparable harm to the leg.  Due to these events, Victor would never use the leg again.


Victor sued Pete for the damages he incurred.  The eggshell skull rule says that a tortfeasor must take his victim as he finds him.  Damages are not mitigated because the victim is more susceptible to injury than an average person.  Therefore, the court ruled against Pete for the full amount of damages incurred by Victor even though the kick would not have normally caused the extent of injury he sustained.


Vosburg v. Putney, 78 Wis. 84 (1890)


[2] The verb “mistreat”  ‘anah’: the verb covers a series of actions, all of which involve causing distress or pain to another, whether physical or emotional/psychological/spiritual.


The 215 occurrences of this verb, excluding derivatives, are translated some thirty-five different ways in the KJV alone. The ASV and RSV add other renderings to this wide range of English expressions.

The root meaning of “extend,” “stretch out,” is especially common in the Qal stem. Exodus records that Moses “stretched out” his hand (usually his rod is also mentioned) over the waters of Egypt (Ex 7:19), over the land of Egypt (Ex 10:13), toward heaven (Ex 9:23; 10:21–22) and over the Red Sea (Ex 14:16, 21, 26–27). A javelin (Josh 8:18, 26) or a sword (Ezk 30:25) is “stretched out” in the hand. A woman displays her haughtiness with an “outstretched neck” (Isa 3:16). A measuring line is “stretched over” a city (II Kgs 21:13; Zech 1:16; cf. Isa 44:13).

Although a man may defiantly “stretch forth” his hand against God (Job 15:25), anthropomorphically, it is ultimately God’s hand which “stretches out” in judgment against man (Isa 5:25; 23:11; 31:3; Jer 6:12; 15:6; 51:25 et al.). Likewise, it is by an “outstretched” arm that God redeems and delivers man (Ex 6:6; Deut 4:34; 5:15; 11:2 et al.).

nāṭâ is often used for both “spreading out” (i.e. “pitching”) one’s own tent (Gen 12:8; 26:25; 35:21; Jud 4:11; II Sam 16:22) and the tabernacle of the religious community (Ex 33:7; II Sam 6:17; I Chr 16:1). “To spread” a tent, figuratively, is to be established as a people (Jer 10:20). “To stretch out” the curtains of a tent, is symbolic of growth (Isa 54:2). nāṭâ is also figuratively used of Yahweh, the Creator, whose hands “stretched out” the heavens as a tent (Isa 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12 et al.). In addition, the root is used of the “extending” (i.e. growing long) of shadows (II Kgs 20:10; Ps 109:23; 102:11 [H 12]; Jer 6:4] and the “stretching out” of a valley (Num 24:6). The root also occurs with the basic meaning of “to bend.” A wadi “bends” (i.e. slopes, Num 21:15), the shoulder of an ass “bends down” with a load (Gen 49:15), and one “bends down” (i.e. tilts) a pitcher of water to pour a drink (Gen 24:14). The term is also used figuratively of the “perverting” or “warping” of justice, the condemnation of which lies at the heart of Israel’s law code (see Ex 23:6; Deut 16:19; 24:17; 27:19; I Sam 8:3; Isa 10:2; 29:21; Lam 3:35; Amos 2:7; 5:12; Mal 3:5).

A large number of other references employing nāṭâ carry the nuance of “turn,” “incline,” or “decline.” It is used in the literal sense of “turning aside” or “away,” or “diverting” from the path (Num 20:17; 21:22; 22:23, 26, 33; II Sam 6:10) or “turning toward” something (Gen 38:1, 16).

But most usages are figurative. One’s heart may “turn away” (i.e. shift its loyalty, apostatize; cf. I Kgs 11:2–4, 9) or “be swayed” (II Sam 19:14 [H 15]). On the other hand, one’s heart may be “inclined” to God and his commands (Josh 24:23; I Kgs 8:58; Ps 119:36). Also common is the expression “to incline the ear” (i.e. listen obediently) in reference to men paying heed to God (Jer 7:24, 26; 11:8; 17:23 et al.), God toward men (II Kgs 19:16; Isa 37:17; Dan 9:18), and men to the words of a sage (Prov 4:20; 5:1, 13; 22:17). The word nāṭâ is used with the meaning “decline” in reference to a shadow (II Kgs 20:10), day (Jud 19:8–9), and figuratively, of one’s rapid physical decline in life (Ps 102:11 [H 12]; 109:23).



Marvin R. Wilson, “1352 נָטָה” In , in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 573-74.