There have always been poor people in the world. Jesus told his followers that in Mark 14:7. Orphans and widows are a special class of the poor. The Bible gives believers guidance in looking after these unfortunate souls. A multitude of Scriptures in the New and Old Testaments paint a clear picture of God’s intentions for these people. This article will present and explain several of these Scriptures.
Before discussing God’s commands for caring for these souls, it is important to ask the question, “Why is it so important for God’s people to care for the downtrodden in this world?” God will provide the answer to the reader who completes this article.
Jesus instructed His followers in His Sermon on the Mount and quoted in the book of Mt. 5:3-4: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Jesus reached out to the poor and disenfranchised of this world with a wonderful message of hope. The poor and those who mourn will one day be comforted. God sees their plight and He will provide from His heavenly riches. But in this world, He has provided the Body of Christ, His representative, to reach out and apply soothing ointment to the wounds of the poor, orphans and widows.
The brother of Jesus, James, instructed the believing church in Chapter 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Religions of this world are defiled in God’s eyes. Many are simply false teachings that do not promote or glorify the One God of creation. But the piercing gaze of our God even exposes the nakedness and darkness of Judaism and the Christian religion. These religions abound with rules, regulations, dress codes, idol worship and a drive to impress the world. Jesus repeatedly castigated the Pharisees for their religious practices. Jesus implored them to examine their hearts and remove the filth of their ways. James subsequently defined what simple, pure and undefiled religion is in the mind of God. He explained that God desires His followers to remain unstained from the worldly religious system and simply visit the orphans and widows—ministering to their needs. Why strive for complex laws and regulations? That is the worldly system.
Early in the history of mankind—even before God gave the law to Moses and His people—God instructed His followers to give special attention to the orphans and widows. The Book of Job was written before Moses lived and possibly even before Abraham was called by God. Several Scriptures recorded there suggest God was very interested in providing for the poor orphans and widows. “You have sent widows away empty, and the strength of the orphans has been crushed. Therefore snares surround you, and sudden dread terrifies you…. (Job 22:9)” Job asserts his integrity and pleads his case:
If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not shared it (But from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, and from infancy I guided her); If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering; If his loins have not thanked me, and if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep; If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate, let my shoulder fall from the socket, and my arm be broken off at the elbow. For calamity from God is a terror to me….(Job 31:16-23)
The Bible explains Job attempted to please God by extending his hand to orphans and widows.
Hundreds of years later God delivered His people, Israel, from a wicked worldly oppressor, Egypt. He gave them the Law through his servant, Moses. He instructed His children that His ways were different and distinct from those of Egypt and the world. He commanded them:
You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless (Ex. 22:22-24).
The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do (Deut. 14:29).
The blessings of God follow the obedience of His children—especially when the orphans, widows, and aliens are cared for. It is noteworthy that God defines aliens as those who dwell in a foreign land without hope, without promises, of which the world is not worthy. (Eph. 2:19, 1 Peter 2:11; Heb. 11: 9, 37-38) All Christian believers are aliens in a foreign land – previously without hope and without promises.
You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge … When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands (Deut. 24:17,19).
He (God) executes justice for the orphans and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing (Deut. 10:18).
God clearly intends that His people care for the orphans and widows, or His justice and consequences will prevail.
One thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, King David wrote about the orphans and widows:
God is “helper of the orphans.” (Ps. 10:14)… a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows is God in His holy habitation. (Ps. 68:5)… Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness. (Ps. 82:3)…The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow. (Ps. 146:9)
King Solomon wrote: “Do not move the ancient boundary or go into the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case against you.” (Pr. 23:10)
Once again, the Scripture implies consequences and God’s judgment for His people who do not minister to the orphans in their midst.
God later used the prophets as His mouthpiece to castigate Israel for not reaching out to the orphans and widows living among them. They heaped God’s judgment upon their heads. Ultimately, God made them orphans and widows. He banished them from their own land.
Jer. 5:28, 29 reads:
“They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?” Declares the Lord, “on a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?”
Is. 1:17 reads: Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Jeremiah goes on to say:
“If you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” (Jer. 7:6)… “Leave your orphans behind, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in Me.” (Jer. 49:11)
Then God poured out His judgment upon His people. He allowed other nations to destroy their homes, ravage their wives and children and kill many. They were carried off into foreign lands. Then they cried and mourned like the orphans and widows they had previous ignored.
Lam. 5:3 reads:
“Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; Look, and see our reproach! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our houses to aliens. We have become orphans without a father, our mothers are like widows.
Generations later, God allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple and the walls around Jerusalem. Once again, God used His prophets to command them to look after the poor:
Zech. 7:9-12 reads:
Thus has the Lord of hosts said, “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing….therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts.
Mal. 3:5 reads:
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.”
God’s people did not hearken to His commands. Over and over again they disobeyed Him. His judgment fell and they were nearly destroyed by their enemies. God dispersed the remaining Jews far from their homeland into the wicked nations of the world. Their “promised land” lay uninhabitable in ruins, malaria infested swamps, and controlled by their enemies.
Human nature is selfish and sinful – as before. Today, we are God’s people – the Body of Christ in this world. God’s command to care for the poor and orphans is no different. God does not change. He is immutable—unchangeable. Yet the poor are ignored, and the orphans remain homeless. They have little hope in this wicked world.
When Jesus came into this world, He was born to a poor couple from Nazareth. They had no home, no hospital, and no help to birth their infant son. People of the world paid no attention. The Son of God was born in a cow’s feed trough and clothed in burial cloths—in abject poverty. Jesus had the riches of the universe at His fingertips prior to His incarnation, yet He chose to come into this world through a poor, insignificant family with virtually no material possessions. He lived His entire life as a poor person and died without possessions.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich.”
Every human soul born into this wicked world is born with a sinful nature and in spiritual poverty – an orphan, without a Father God. The child’s spiritual father is Satan, God’s enemy. Given to his natural inclination, the child will grow and embrace the worldly system of his father. Then someday he will die and his spiritual father will drag him into an eternal abode—hell. Father God intervened in this hopeless situation. He sent His only Son into this world as a poor helpless human infant—at the mercy of a wicked, worldly system. Jesus, as God’s human extension, reached out to all the fatherless children who have lived since the beginning of time. He ministered hope to them. He redeemed them from the crooked fingers of His enemy, Satan. We are those orphan children.
The Apostle Paul, once again, exhorts believers to look to Jesus as their role model in Phil. 2:4-11:
Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God’s adopted children, believers in the Body of Christ on this earth, must continue living the example of Jesus. This is God’s command. Christ’s followers must reach beyond their personal interests and grasp the needs of the widows, orphans and poor of this world to provide food, clothing and spiritual hope. As this calling is heeded, the poor of this world will become spiritually rich in Christ.
All believers were once poor, downtrodden, and without hope—without a Father in Heaven. But, thanks be to God, He has adopted them as His children! Jesus became poor that we might become rich. We must reach out to the poor in like manner.