We never know the end of the story, but God does:
In the climax of Ruth, Boaz agrees to redeem the fortunes of two widows, Naomi and Ruth, and to also marry Ruth, an impoverished foreigner. This act of Boaz makes no sense in terms of his personal well-being: it is a sheer act of grace (just as Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi comes at great personal cost and also demonstrates great grace). How are we to understand this action?
What reading did the author put on this act of redemption by Boaz ? Did he realize that if a mere man, a creature of God, could behave in the manner described, and had indeed by his action exhibited the power to redeem an outcast and bring her into fellowship with the living God, then two things could be said of the creator of Boaz? (1) God must feel at least as compassionate towards all the Ruths of Moab and of Babylon and of every other land as his creature Boaz felt towards Ruth; (2) God must actually be a God of redemption with the desire and the power to redeem all outcasts into fellowship with himself.
G. A.F. Knight, quoted in Leon Morris, Ruth
Most preachers and Bible teachers have great difficulty when presented with a historical narrative. The sermon often becomes an extended set of historical observations about the text and perhaps bootstrapping it into a strange illustration (five hints for slaying the Goliath in your life).
Daniel Block provides a set of five questions which can help direct one’s understanding and use of narrative texts:
In the Scriptures historiographic compositions are primarily ideological in purpose. The authoritative meaning of the author is not found in the event described but in the author’s interpretation of the event, that is, his understanding of their causes, nature, and consequences. But that interpretation must be deduced from the telling. How is this achieved? By asking the right questions of the text: (1) What does this account tell us about God? (2) What does it tell us about the human condition? (3) What does it tell us of the world? (4) What does it tell us of the people of God—their collective relationship with him? (5) What does it tell us of the individual believer’s life of faith? These questions may be answered by careful attention to the words employed and the syntax exploited to tell the story. But they also require a cautious and disciplined reading between the lines, for what is left unstated also reflects an ideological perspective. Having described the problem and set the agenda, we may proceed to answer the questions raised.
Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 604–605.
1 John 3:13-17, 1 Kings 2:26, 2 Kings 17:20, 2 Samuel 7:10, adoption, Affliction, Boaz, Deut 24:6–25:16, Deuteronomy 14:29, Deuteronomy 16:9–12, Deuteronomy 22:29, Deuteronomy 24:17–22, Deuteronomy 26:12–15, Deuteronomy 8:2-3, Exodus 10:3, Exodus 1:11-12, Exodus 22:22-24, fatherless, Genesis 15:13, Genesis 16:6, Isaiah 31:4, James, James 1:27, Jesus, Joseph, Judges 16:5-6, judgment, Justice, Leviticus 16:29, Leviticus 4:2, Luke 24:27, Matthew 25:45, orphan, Philippians 2:3-4, Preuss, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 23:1, Psalm 105:18, Psalm 132:1, Russell Moore, Ruth, Service, stranger, widow, Wisdom, Zephaniah 3:19
[This is a more extensive version of a prior post]
Part One: The Requirements of the Old Testament
While the entire Old Testament does testify to Christ (Luke 24:27), the instruction concerning the fatherless holds an emphatic position. As will be shown below, the core of the New Covenant promise and obligation flows from the understanding of fatherless set forth in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament instruction falls into four categories: First, the covenant obligations: 1) do not afflict; 2) do not twist judgment; and 3) do care for. Second, the covenant curses. Third, prophetic indictments. Fourth, teaching on the character of God.
I. Consider the Fatherless as More Important Than Oneself
A. Do Not Mistreat the Fatherless
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.
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.
1. Do not mistreat them. Exodus 22:22-24.
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. Exodus 22:21–24 (ESV)
The command here has some unique aspects. First, a point not to be pressed, but the the verb “mistreat” ends with a paragogic nun. “This usually expresses marked emphasis, and consequently occurs most commonly at the end of sentences (in the principal pause), in which case also the (pausal) vowel of the second syllable is generally retained.” (Gesenius Hebrew Grammar, section 47.4, p. 129). Second, the verb translated “mistreat” (NRSV, “abuse”) is quite broad and covers any sort pain or humiliation.
a. Any mistreatment violates the commandment
Verse 23 contains a strikingly emphatic structure which cannot easily be reproduced in English. In Hebrew, an infinitive can be coupled with a finite verb to create an emphasis. Often, if noted, the infinitive is translated into English as a participle (ending with -ing). Rendered thus, the passage reads, If mistreating you mistreat them, crying out they will cry out, and hearing I will hear their crying.
To capture this emphasis, the NASB translates the first clause, “If you afflict him at all ….” The NET has “If you afflict him in any way ….”
b. Do not consider one’s own interests first.
Hebrew, ani (afflict, humble, mistreat): The word can best be understood as the precise opposite of the command of Philippians 2:3-4:
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.
In each instance, one person places the other into a subordinate position. The interest of the dominate person takes precedent over the weaker. The precise manner in which the stronger acts depends upon the circumstances.
In the most extreme cases, the oppression can entail violence, slavery (Genesis 15:13; Exodus 1:11-12); or military conquest (2 Samuel 7:10; 2 Kings 17:20); or rape (of Tamar, 2 Samuel 13:12; Deuteronomy 22:24; Judges 19:24, 20:5). It refers Delilah humbling Sampson (Judges 16:5-6, 19). It refers to David’s trial brought about by Absalom (1 Kings 2:26; Psalm 132:1). It can refer to lesser, similar actions such as Sarah’s mistreatment of Hagar (Genesis 16:6). It refers to sexual conduct between even apparently consenting non-married persons (Deuteronomy 22:29). It refers generally to all oppression (Zephaniah 3:19).
It refers to injury or pain (Psalm 105:18).
It used positively as one’s submission to God. It can refer to God enforcing submission (Exodus 10:3; Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 16). It also refers to the voluntary submission to God required on festival days (Leviticus 16:29, 31; 23:27; Psalm 35:13). Thus, the affliction of Psalm 119:67, 71, 75 would refer to being brought into submission to God.
Subjectively, not being afflicted would refer to courage — X did not frighten me: Isaiah 31:4, 89:23.
Lexicons: BDB, be bowed down, afflicted. The noun designates, “the poor, humble, afflicted, meed”. HAL be wretched, emaciated; cringe; be crouched, hunched up, wretched, suffering; bend, submit; be (become) bowed; become weak. TWOT: The primary meaning of ʿānâ III is “to force,” or “to try to force submission,” and “to punish or inflict pain upon,” mostly in the Piel. Birke-land (see Bibliography) defines the verb “to find oneself in a stunted, humble, lowly position.” ….Ugaritic attests this root with the meaning “cowed, humbled” (active) and “was humbled, punished” (passive).
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.
2. Widows and fatherless must not be abused (v. 22): You shall not afflict them, that is, “You shall comfort and assist them, and be ready upon all occasions to show them kindness.’ ’ In making just demands from them, their condition must be considered, who have lost those that should deal for them, and protect them; they are supposed to be unversed in business, destitute of advice, timorous, and of a tender spirit, and therefore must be treated with kindness and compassion; no advantage must be taken against them, nor any hardship put upon them, from which a husband or a father would have sheltered them. For, (1.) God takes particular cognizance of their case, v. 23. Having no one else to complain and appeal to, they will cry unto God, and he will be sure to hear them; for his law and his providence are guardians to the widows and fatherless, and if men do not pity them, and will not hear them, he will. Note, It is a great comfort to those who are injured and oppressed by men that they have a God to go to who will do more than give them the hearing; and it ought to be a terror to those who are oppressive that they have the cry of the poor against them, which God will hear. Nay, (2.) He will severely reckon with those that do oppress them. Though they escape punishments from men, God’s righteous judgments will pursue and overtake them, v. 24. Men that have a sense of justice and honour will espouse the injured cause of the weak and helpless; and shall not the righteous God do it? Observe the equity of the sentence here passed upon those that oppress the widows and fatherless: their wives shall become widows, and their children fatherless; and the Lord is known by these judgments, which he sometimes executes still.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Ex 22:16–24.
B. Do not Twist 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.
1. The Justice Due
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. 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. In fact, one must not only give right justice, but even give good to the weak:
Vers. 19–22.—(Cf. Lev. 19:9, 10; 23:23.) Not only was no injustice to be done to the poor, but, out of the abundance of those in better estate, were they to be helped.
Deuteronomy, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 382.
God specifically forbids decisions made upon the basis of the effect upon the judge:
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. In this respect, the wrong captured by the command to not pervert justice covers the same space as the command to not mistreat the fatherless.
This also corresponds to the matter of “righteousness” in the Proverbs. As Waltke explains (lecture), the matter of “righteousness” is the matter of disadvantaging oneself for the good of another. In his commentary on the Proverbs, Waltke explains that “righteousness is a pattern of life, not merely specific acts” (Proverbs, vol. 1, 97). He explains how the matter of righteousness interacts with the question of judgment: “Since “righteousness” refers to the moral quality that establishes right order and “justice” refers to the moral quality that restores order when disturbed, they frequently go together” (98). The purpose of the judgment is the restoration of community order (98) which has been disordered by sin.
The command to not mistreat concerns the subjective injury to the fatherless. The command to not pervert justice concerns the decisions made which will result in the injury to the fatherless.
a. 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.
Marking the requirement as parallel to their own status ties the rule to the Golden Rule: If I were the fatherless one, what would I desire/need? What would the “right” look like from that position?
b. A Command to Love
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. “The forgotten sheaf the sheaf of the Lord”.
2. Do not Move Landmarks
“Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless,” Proverbs 23:10 (ESV)
Waltke explains that the “fatherless” refers to one who lost the protection of his father. Therefore, those with power (such as kings) where seen to have a peculiar obligation to care for the fatherless:
The king’s caring for the widows, the orphans, and the poor (Prov. 31:8f) is a prevalent ancient Near Eastern topos. In Israel, this topos was “democratized” through the corresponding commandments of YHWH. The God that obligated the people to follow these commandments addressed them to each Israelite.
Preuss, Old Testament Theology, vol. II, 32; see, 199.
This proverb prohibits any action which would deprive the fatherless of land (this was heightened for Israel, in that all land belonged to God was effectively leased to the people. Therefore, the stealing would be directly from God. This element is reiterated in Matthew 25:45). The affirmative is likewise true, that in lending (and caring for) the poor, one lends to God (Proverbs 19:17).
C. Affirmative Obligations of Love and Worship
An affirmative command of love and care is placed upon everyone in the society, “Further, orphans … as social classes are expressly commanded to be recipients of public assistance from everyone, not only from the King ….” (Preuss, 192).
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)
Structurally, care for the poor lies between two longer sections which formal worship: “In so doing he reminds his hearers of the relationship between life as worship and formal cultic service. True worship is not limited to the latter; in fact, if the former is lacking, the latter is of no positive consequence for the worshiper” (Block, NIV Application Commentary, Deuteronomy). Craigie notes that the tithe required was owed to God and yet was distributed to the poor, “In receiving it [their sustenance] from the tithe, which properly belonged to God, their needs were met” (Deuteronomy, 234). Thus, to fail to care for the poor was to steal from God.
The matter of a tithe for the fatherless was repeated in Deuteronomy 26:
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.
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)
Thus, again, tying the matter to love for the other “as oneself” and the matter of the Golden Rule.
To understand what is sought by the positive and negative commands we must look to the story of Ruth. First, Ruth subverts her life for the widow Naomi. Second, Boaz takes in the widow Ruth. At the time of their transactions, one cannot say that either receives a good. Yet both express the profound love which God seeks:
The story portrays in the dramatic and concrete form of the words and deeds of its protagonists what in the sphere of interpersonal and family obligations constitutes ḥesed while focusing sharply on the element of the imitabile, “go thou and do likewise.” Hence, one of its major theological emphases is that the reader should emulate such a style of life. What such a lifestyle involves becomes clear from Sakenfeld’s examination of this concept when used between human beings in both the secular and religious spheres of life (see The Meaning of Hesed, 233–34; Faithfulness in Action, 39–42). Two aspects of an act of ḥesed are of particular importance. First, there is the emphasis that such an act is, as Sakenfeld terms it, a “free act”; i.e., the one performing the act may have a privately or publicly recognized responsibility in the matter because of the relationship in which he or she stands to the one in need, but there is no binding legal obligation; he or she is free not to act without incurring serious repercussions. That is, to put it positively, the act is one of gracious and loving kindness. Second, equally important is the fact that such an act involves an extraordinary element of mercy or generosity, a “going beyond the call of duty.”
Fredric W. Bush, vol. 9, Ruth, Esther, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 53.
IV. God enforces the command by means of peculiar warnings:
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. Exodus 22:23-24.
This curse is interesting in that there are curses which apply to the entire covenant. Yet, in the case of the fatherless, God appends a specific curse. The implications being: 1) he has especial care for the fatherless; and 2) the Israelites would be inclined to overlook the rights (granted by God) of the fatherless.
In the final covenant curses, God specifically iterates the curse for those who abuse the fatherless: 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.
Fulfilment of the curse is noted in Lamentations 5:3, “We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows.”
The curse upon Judas was that his own children should be fatherless, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! Psalm 109:9 (ESV)
V. Prophetic Charges
Mistreatment of the widow and orphan resulted in multiple specific charges against Israel. It is important to note that 1) proper temple worship was not acceptable when not accompanied by proper treatment of the fatherless; and 2) treatment of the fatherless was at least as important as temple worship – indeed, neither was acceptable without the other:
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;
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.
5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 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, 7 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, 2 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. 3 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.
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)
Smith’s comment at this point is most telling: What one does when not required by force of law tells most of the heart:
There is a group of people in every society that requires special care. They are the unfortunate, the helpless, the disenfranchised ones. They are identified by Zechariah as the widow, orphan, alien, and poor (7:10). Isaiah admonished his hearers “to seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (1:17). Amos spoke of those who “trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end” (2:6–7; 8:4). D. R. Jones observes that the widow had no husband to speak for her, orphans had no parents to love and care for them, the alien had no country to protect and sustain them, and no shopkeeper had a legal responsibility to provide food and clothes to those without money to pay for them. Then Jones (100) says, “It is exactly in this area of life, beyond the limits of legal duty, that men and women sort themselves out, as to what they are in their innermost being, and in the sight of God.”
Ralph L. Smith, vol. 32, Micah–Malachi, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 226.
Zechariah explicitly contrasts oppression 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.
5 “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)
This uncovers the real fault of misusing the fatherless: a failure to fear the Lord. The Lord had given more than sufficient ground to induce fear with respect to the matter of the fatherless. Yet in the mistreatment of the fatherless, one showed that he believed God would overlook the matter:
And this reproof ought to be a warning to us in the present day, that we may not call forth God’s judgement on others, while we flatter ourselves as being innocent. Whenever then we flee to God for help, and ask him to succor us, let us remember that he is a just judge who has no respect of persons. Let then every one, who implores God’s judgement, be his own judge, and anticipate the correction which he has reason to fear. That God therefore may not be armed for our destruction, let us carefully examine our own life, and follow the rule prescribed here by the Prophet; let us begin with the worship of God, then let us come to fornications and adulteries, and whatever is contrary to a chaste conduct, and afterwards let us pass to frauds and plunder; for if we are free from all superstition, if we keep ourselves chaste and pure, and if we also abstain from all plunders and all cruelty, our life is doubtless approved by God. And hence it is that the Prophet adds at the end of the verse, They feared not me; for when lusts, and plunder, and frauds and the corruptions which vitiate God’s worship, prevail, it is evident that there is no fear of God, but that men, having shaken off the yoke, as it were run mad, though they may a thousand times profess the name of God.
By mentioning the orphan, the widow, and the stranger, he amplifies the atrocity of their crimes; for the orphans, widows, and strangers, we know, are under the guardianship and protection of God, inasmuch as they are exposed to the wrongs of men. Hence every one who plunders orphans, or harasses widows, or oppresses strangers, seems to carry on open war, as it were, with God himself, who has promised that these should be safe under the shadow of his hand. With regard to the expressions, it seems not suitable to say that the hire of the widow and of the orphan is suppressed; there may therefore be an inversion of the words — they oppressed the widows, the orphans, strangers.
John Calvin, Malachi, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).
This list of sins builds to a climax in contempt for the Lord. As failure to fear the Lord had resulted in religious activity that actually insulted him (1:6–14), so here it resulted in wickedness and injustice toward the helpless. In fact, according to Isaiah, if Israel’s temple worship had been meticulous, it would still have been meaningless and even detestable in view of the absence of the essential ethical component that included justice for the fatherless and the widow (Isa 1:13–17; cf. Isa 10:1–3; Jer 7:11). The widow, the fatherless, and the stranger are also treated together in such passages as Exod 22:21–22 (in whose context the sin of sorcery is also listed, 22:18).330 The Mosaic law included the stranger with the poor as those who should not be harmed in any way but deserved gracious provision and even “love.” Israel was to consider and treat them with kindness, remembering that they themselves had been strangers in Egypt before the Lord freed them and that they remained strangers in that the land continued to belong not to them but to the Lord (Lev 19:10, 33–34; 23:22).
Richard A. Taylor and E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 21A, Haggai, Malachi, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 398.
VI. To Fail to Care for the Fatherless was to Deny God
For the prophets, social justice was not a theological abstraction or a passive activity; it was a way of being rooted in Israel’s covenant identity, one that had consequences for how the nation lived and ordered its life. Within Israelite society, values and hence behaviour were governed by roles and responsibilities laid out in covenant that bound members of society to each other and to God. …This covenant identity taksed Israel with the responsibility of living in a way that reflected Yahweh’s character to the nations.
Boda & McConville, Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, “Social Justice”, 721. Therefore, to fail in respect of social justice was to represent God. “YHWH is the defender and father of widows and orphans (Ps. 68:6) and their protector who requires their preservation” (Preuss, 192). Thus, all of Israel were “brothers” bound to God in such care.
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. Deuteronomy 10:16–20 (ESV)
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.
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.
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!
2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
3 O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
4 They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
5 They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
6 They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
7 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.
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.
THE NEW COVENANT
The teaching concerning the fatherless becomes directly applicable to the New Covenant.
I. One Must Care for the Orphan:
The command of James could not be clearer:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)
This command specifically picks up on the substantial OT teaching concerning the fatherless and is implicit in James’ command (Moo, James, 97). Accordingly, at the very least, the OT commands have been brought forward by James. “James echoes not only the approach of the Hebrew prophets to these issues, he also reflects his brother’s vital concerns, with the poor (here represented by ‘orphans and widows’) being the ones in 2:5 who are rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Varner, James, 82).
Doriani sets forth the rationale for the command. First, “it is pure kindness. It is mercy for the sake of mercy” (James, 59). Such mercy is expressly enjoined by the Lord:
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 14:13–14 (ESV)
Second, such mercy is God-like, “We sustain aliens, widows, and orphans because he sustains aliens, widows and orphans (Ps. 146:9)” (59). Charnock commenting on Psalm 10:14: writes:
Ver. 14. Thou art the helper of the fatherless. God doth exercise a more special province over men, as clothed with miserable circumstances; and therefore among his other titles this is one, to be a “helper of the fatherless.” It is the argument the church used to express her return to God; Hosea 14:3, “For in thee the fatherless find mercy.” Now what greater comfort is there than this, that there is one presides in the world who is so wise he cannot be mistaken, so faithful he cannot deceive, so pitiful he cannot neglect his people, and so powerful that he can make stones even to be turned into bread if he please!… God doth not govern the world only by his will as an absolute monarch, but by his wisdom and goodness as a tender father. It is not his greatest pleasure to show his sovereign power, or his inconceivable wisdom, but his immense goodness, to which he makes the other attributes subservient. Stephen Charnock. (Quoted in Treasury of David).
We should care for orphans because the gospel teaches that we once were and still are poor….By faith in Jesus, we are adopted into God’s family. We should care for widows and orphans, thereby living out the gospel principle of adoption of the needy” (59).
Bauckham (James) (addressing the same matter as Smith, Micah – Malachi, supra) writes:
For the community whose life is characterized not by competitive ambition, self-seeking and greed, but by peaceableness and selfless consideration fo others (3:13-17), attitudes to the poor expressed in concrete economic and social relationships are the litmus test, the diving line between friendship with God and friendship with the world (4:4). Visiting orphans and widows – implying compassionate practical involvement, — is an essential characteristic of the true worship of God untained by the values of the world (1:27) (195-196).
The concern of James here implicitly returns in the matter of true, saving faith
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14–16 (ESV)
Seen in context, one must immediately consider the widow and the orphan mentioned a few verses earlier, as well as the poor mentioned in 2:6. Moreover, the tie between demonstrative love for the weak as a necessary element of true piety is something repeatedly insisted upon by the prophets.
2:15 Much like the example of the poor man visiting the local church (2:2–3) is that of the brother or sister who is lacking food and clothing.44 Within the fellowship of believers are those who lack the necessities of daily life. These members of the church are easily overlooked because of their constant neediness. The context for the encounter is not limited to a particular assembly of Christians. A fellow Christian is simply encountered who is needy. What is to be done in this encounter is all-important. What was at stake for James’s hearers was much akin to what was at issue in John’s first epistle: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18). Also evident here is the close connection between mercy (pity) and helpful actions for the poor.
Kurt A. Richardson, vol. 36, James, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 129-30. Here, Richardson ties the matter of faith to the matter of true love in 1 John:
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16–18 (ESV)
This matter of true faith and love brings us back to the standard for care of the orphan in the OT: “Mistreatment” and perverted judgment were both measured as the opposite of true love required of the people of God. The OT and NT commands form a comprehensive picture which works in both directions: Love is to be sacrificial – it is to favor the other over one’s self. To fail to do so is to mistreat and pervert judgment for the orphan.
II. Failure to Care for the Orphan is to Court God’s Justice
The chilling words of Matthew 25:45 without question encompass the favourite of God:
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41–46 (ESV)
This takes up the extensive OT teaching on the treatment of the weak and God’s special concern and willingness to help and transfers it to the final judgment.
III. Joseph as the Demonstration of the Love Required
Joseph, the putative father of Jesus demonstrates the love required for the fatherless. From all human appearance, Jesus was “fatherless”. Fatherless never means without a biological parent; but rather a child without a father who protects him. Joseph had no legal obligation to proceed. He was within his legal rights to divorce Mary.
By agreeing to take Mary and Jesus, Joseph was subjected to life-long hardship. He became a refuge (Matthew 2:14-15). On his return to Nazareth, everyone would have known Jesus to be Mary’s “bastard”. Joseph would have been the schmuck who married the girl who got pregnant by someone else while they were engaged.
Russel Moore’s sermon “Joseph as a Single Issue Evangelical Voter” writes of Joseph:
Brothers and sisters, with the tumult and rage that is all around us, we must insist that a just government recognize the personhood of unborn children. We must not flinch in insisting that this is the case, but that itself is not enough. The protection that Joseph images here is a personal and familial kind of provision. It is like the kind of fatherhood our heavenly Father displays—a fighting fatherhood. This kind of fatherhood rips open seas, drowns armies, and fights for the vulnerable and the orphans. Please do not miss how countercultural Joseph’s act is here. His betrothed comes to him and says, “I am pregnant.” And Joseph’s response isn’t, “Well, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Rather, Joseph responds like any good country song: “I’ve been cheated on/She did me wrong.” And when Joseph moves to Egypt he is doing something extremely significant. That’s because you don’t just move to Egypt like someone today might move to London or Little Rock. When Joseph moves to Egypt he his foregoing all of his economic security. He is walking away from the carpentry business that has been handed down, perhaps from generations back. He is walking away from all his relationships. And had he simply done what he initially wanted to do—quietly divorce this woman and allow the child to be slaughtered by Herod—he could have lived to ripe old age as a father of that city, revered by everyone. Instead, Joseph ended his life with his neighbors saying, “Joseph, he’s the one who got into trouble with that young woman way back when. What a shame.” But instead of seeking praise at his funeral, Joseph does something unusual: he protects the orphans and the widows; he sees the task of fatherhood as more important than the self. That is immensely difficult for all of us to see.
IV. The Teaching on Orphans Sets Up the Doctrine of Adoption
Adoption is a peculiar benefit of God’s people
Outside of Christ, we are slaves & orphans
We are adopted
Into the family of God
The difficulty the of the adoption
We are dead
We are slaves of sin
Therefore we must be redeemed to be adopted
To redeem us, God
Sends his Son who dies in our place
Pours love into us, which love must be expressed by us
The effect of this adoption
In this age, it shows itself as a new identity
In this age, it shows itself as love
Love to one’s brother
Love to one’s neighbor
Love to one’s enemy
In short, the love of God in our adoption causes us to show love to those — like us — who have no claim on our love
In the age to come,
The Fall of Adam brought injury to the entire creation
The redemption of our bodies will bring the redemption of creation
The redemption of our bodies will complete our adoption
Along with marriage, adoption is a principle image of the Gospel
The love which flows from the adoption
The bonds created by the adoption supersede all other relationships; all other relationships must be evaluated in terms of the adoption.
 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)
 The root meaning of “extend,” “stretch out,” is especially common in the Qal stem. …
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).…
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.
To be careful of the orphans and widows.—We translate thus because it brings out the antithesis to be careful of worldly affairs, which James has doubtless before his mind’s eye, like Peter in his ἀλλοτριοεπίσκοπος 1 Pet. 4:15. Although the verb is frequently applied to visiting the distressed (Huther: Matth. 25:36, 43; Jer. 23:2 etc.), it has also in this form a wider meaning (Theile: the species pro genere). The wider sense: to be careful of, to care for, to protect one, is directly brought out in Acts. 15:14; Heb. 2:6 and elsewhere; Philo calls ἐπίσκεψις providentia. “The ὀρφανοί are named first as those in want of help, as in Deut. 10:18; Job 29:12, 13 etc.” Huther. This Divine service answers to the fatherhood of God; those who engage in it do His work in love and compassion, because He is a Father of the orphans and a Judge (a Protector of the rights of) the widows, Ps. 68:6 and other passages. Now according to the book of Tobit it was the ideal of a true Israelite to protect the distressed among the captives of his people and Tobit 1:6, 7 we read that it was an integral part of the religious service of Tobit that every third year he gave the tithe to the strangers, the widows and the fatherless. In this manner the Israelite of the New Testament was called upon to help his poor people especially the distressed in their affliction. The state of affliction in its concrete form is most frequently and most touchingly exhibited in the distress of widows and orphans. In this direction we may have to seek the sense of keeping oneself unspotted from the world; and this probably explains the asyndeton of the two sentences (cf. Huther). They are not strictly coördinate, but the second is the reverse or the sequence of the first, its pure antithesis. Hence ἄσπιλον comes emphatically first. Cf. 1 Pet. 1:19; 2 Pet. 3:14. The expression ought really to be resolved into two ideas, firstly, to keep oneself from the world, secondly to keep oneself unspotted from the world, that is, from the world is connected with the two elements of the sentence: to keep oneself unspotted. The ethical idea of κόσμος is everywhere the personal totality of life converted into the Impersonal, i.e. mankind as to its ungodly bias. The peculiarity of this idea in James comes out more clearly in ch. 4:4. What heathenism was to the Jew, the antithesis of the holy people, to which it might apostatize by spiritual idolatry, such was to the apostolical mind, the ungodly doing of the world, whether manifested in Judaistic visionariness or in a heathen form. Oecumenius’s idea of the δημώδης καὶ συρφετὸς ὄχλος, ὁ κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τῆς ἀπάτης αὑτοῦ φθειρόμενος was consequently not far from the image of the excited condition of the world, which was floating before the Apostle’s imagination; but the Judaistic ὄχλος assumed a prouder and more spiritual shape. This specific reference, of course does not exclude the more general. [Alford: “The whole earthly creation, separated from God and lying in the sin, which, whether considered as consisting in the men who serve it, or the enticements which it holds out to evil lust (ἐπιθυμία) is to Christians a source of continual defilement.”—M.]
John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, J. J. van Oosterzee and J. Isidor Mombert, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: James (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 67-68.
In contrast to this empty religious practice (v 26), which indeed has the proper ritual and doctrine but fails in ethical results, the author places a correct religious practice, which also assumes ritual and doctrine (these are neither questioned nor discussed but rather assumed in the whole of the epistle) yet leads to the proper ethical action as well.
Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 102.