The widow and the fatherless

Generally when I’m starting to go do a study of the scriptures again, I often have a hard time picking where to begin, especially if it’s been a while since doing a more detailed, academic study. Sometimes I just default to Isaiah because I like it for a lot of reasons.

So I started in Isaiah 1, and verse 17 caught my eye.

Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

I’m a big fan of any of the scriptures that talk about practical approaches to helping people. I noticed a couple of patterns in the reference to the fatherless and the widow in other scriptures, and also a pattern in myself.

Mine first, I realized that I read these verses sometimes and think of them as flowery proclamations, in the sense of, “yeah, that’s a nice way to put it.” A warm fuzzy, in a sense.

A pattern that the Lord uses is he describes things in different ways. The book of Isaiah itself is highly poetic, but across all the scriptures, he often refers to something in another manner. It’s the same as if two people were inspired to give a talk on the same principle, and each one explains it in their own manner, as directed by the Holy Ghost. It also lends credence to the fact that the scriptures are written by different authors with different backgrounds. 

I was looking more into the topic of the fatherless, and the first time it appears in the Bible is in the Old Testament. It’s designated as law in the book of Exodus. Verses 22 to 24 in chapter 22 read this:

22 ¶Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;

24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

The punishment for not taking care of these two social classes is pretty extreme. It’s reason for the Lord to bring war against his nation, and leave the covenant people themselves in the same situation that they were oppressing and ignoring. To keep it more simple, I personally interpret as effectively destroying the nation.

Now this is the part where I realized hat the Lord has a pattern that he uses – he references his own law. In the same chapter of Isaiah, three verses later, the judgement is pronounced:

But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Just as I sometimes write off fancy verses as just that, I also will pass over the relationship between a warning and a promise as a general association. The danger in that is that some of the pronouncements may seem arbitrary. That’s not the case at all, though. And that’s where the pattern is illuminated.

In the case of Isaiah 1 and Exodus 22, “the sword” is used in both settings, which makes the connection between the two unmistakable.

As I poked around some more, I saw that similar judgements — destroying the nation, or at least the severity of the problem — is associated elsewhere as well (I won’t quote them here since I want to move onto another part, but see Jeremiah 5:28-29 and Zechariah 7:8-14 as two more examples).

In my life, I have a really hard time shifting from the concrete to the abstract sometimes, which is why having the Holy Ghost with me while studying the scriptures is so helpful — it helps me look at things differently. 

That applies in this case here, I’m reading “widows” and “fatherless” as specific relationship statuses? But wouldn’t it be more fair to consider that these are really just words to indicate those that don’t fit in the basic family unit that is defined by the Lord? (I find it interesting as well that these two groups are referenced by the relationships they have. What is it about titling people in that way that it’s so important that the Lord uses it often? Our Father in heaven. The Son of God. Children of Abraham. House of Israel. There’s got to be some reason to for it. I have no idea what it is, though.)

In the Old Testament, the verses that talk about the fatherless and widows also mentions “the stranger”as well. This term is used to define those who are not of the covenant faith but are living with or are under the jurisdiction of the Israelite nations.

I think, though, that that’s the point I want to dwell on. That the way that we treat those who stand out from our own social norms is used as a measurement when judged according to our works. “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” (Matthew 25:35)

I wish I had my own flowery statement or verse that would illuminate the point more dramatically, but I don’t. I’m just reading and studying for now, and it was a cool find. 😃