God’s Instructions to His People When it Comes to the Orphans and the Fatherless (Part 1)

Wayne Stocks —  In Theology November 7, 2011 — 9 Comments

Welcome to part 3 of our five part series called “Caring for Modern Day Orphans (A Bible Study on Caring for Orphans and the Fatherless).” The Bible speaks extensively about caring for orphans and the fatherless. What started as a quick survey of verses about orphans and the fatherless quickly turned into a 6,000 word study which I’ve split into five parts for purposes of this blog. In this study, we will examine what the Bible has to say about orphans and widows, how it applies to children of divorce and children from single parents homes and offer a word of encouragement to children of divorce. A complete pdf file with all five parts will be included with the last installment. The five parts of the series will include:

  1. The Bible and Children of Divorce
  2. God Cares for Orphans and the Fatherless
  3. God’s Instructions to His People When it Comes to the Orphans and the Fatherless (Part 1)
  4. God’s Instructions to His People When it Comes to the Orphans and the Fatherless (Part 2)
  5. A Word for Children of Divorce and Children from Single Parent Families

So, let’s get started.

So far, we’ve examined why verses about orphans and the fatherless are applicable to modern day orphans (i.e., children of divorce and children from single parent families).  We also looked at a series of verses that laid out God’s attitude towards these kids.  Today, we want to turn our attention to what God commanded His people regarding these children.  In fact, there is so much to cover, that we have split this section into two parts and will cover the second half in the next installment.

God’s Instructions to His People When It Comes to Orphans and the Fatherless (Part 1)

As a result of God’s feelings about, and actions towards the fatherless, there are a number of references and commands in scripture directly related to how God intends His people to treat orphans. I believe these verses merit significant consideration when it comes to how the modern day church should respond to children of divorce and children from single parent families.

 

God Commands His People Not to Mistreat Orphans

The Bible is clear that God calls His people to care for orphans and widows. Following the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, and on their journey to the Promised Land, God lays out the mandate to care for orphans and widows from the very beginning. Exodus 22:22 tells us:

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. [Exodus 22:22 ESV]

God calls on his people to provide for the needs of the widow and the orphan throughout scripture. How does this apply to children of divorce? Well, when we actively harm a child of divorce or a child from a single parent home (as in cases of abuse or neglect), that would clearly violate this command. I would argue though that the church often violates this command in much more subtle ways.

When we do nothing to minister specifically to these hurt and broken children, I believe that rises to the level of mistreatment. When we refuse to admit the problem and take steps in our churches to correct it that constitutes mistreatment. When we subtly drive these children away from church by making them feel unwelcome or that their families are not real families at all, that is a form of mistreatment. When we discourage their involvement in certain programs by promoting father-son activities or mother-daughter activity without regard to their particular circumstances that is a subtle form of mistreatment. When we fail to be intentional about ministering to the specific needs and circumstances of children of divorce, we are doing them a disservice.

Lest you think this command is an isolated example in scripture, consider the following verses as well:

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 22:3 ESV]

And,

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. [Zechariah 7:9-11 ESV]

God does not suggest that His people be kind to the orphans, He commands it! As the church, we would do well to understand that command as applying to modern-day orphans, including children of divorce and children living in single parent families, as well!

Strong Words for those who Oppress the Fatherless

The Bible is also clear that God’s judgment will be swift against those who oppress the fatherless. Listen to these sobering words from the book of Malachi:

“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]

Take a second to reflect and notice who the oppressors of the fatherless are grouped with in this passage. They are included in a list that includes sorcerers, adulterers and liars. These people are called those who do not fear the Lord. God clearly commands the protection of orphans and the fatherless, amongst others, and a failure or refusal to do that constitutes a lack of fearing the Lord! As the church, our fear of the Lord and desire for His heart should mandate that we do something for these lost and hurting children.

Mistreatment of Orphans is Consistently Reflected as Evil in Scripture

Further evidence of God’s high view of orphans and the fatherless is evident in how the Bible portrays the mistreatment of this group. The Bible is full of passages which include oppression of orphans amongst the evilest of deeds. Here are some examples,

“‘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]

“Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days? Some move landmarks; they seize flocks and pasture them. They drive away the donkey of the fatherless; they take the widow’s ox for a pledge. [Job 24:1-3 ESV]

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.” [Psalms 94:5-7 ESV]

Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?” [Jeremiah 5:27-29 ESV]

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. [Isaiah 1:23 ESV]

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, 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! 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? [Isaiah 10:1-3 ESV]

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. You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. [Ezekiel 22:7-8 ESV]

The people of the Old Testament clearly understood God’s protection of the orphans and fatherless and invoked it frequently in prayers asking God to judge such evil. God himself, in rebuking His people, points to their failure to care for orphans. Will we be judged similarly for failing to take care of, and protect, the modern day orphans in our society? It is time that we, as the hands and feet of Jesus, found specific ways to care for this often overlooked segment of our congregations.

Helping Orphans Is Consistently Viewed Favorably in Scripture

On the flip side, fair treatment and support of orphans and widows is consistently viewed favorably in scripture. Consider the following two verses from the book of Job.

When the ear heard, it called me blessed, and when the eye saw, it approved, because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him. [Job 29:11-12 ESV]

In asserting his righteous acts, Job is quick to include taking care of the fatherless. In this next verse, we find out a little bit more about Job’s care of the fatherless.

“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow), [Job 31:16-18 ESV]

There is a valuable lesson in this last verse for those of us with children. Job states that the fatherless grew up with him as a father “from my youth.” Job’s care for the fatherless started early in his life. As parents, we would do will to let our children see us ministering to today’s modern day orphans. Allow them to see you pour out your hearts and give your time to these kids. Particularly for fathers, let your children see the grace of God in the fact that they have an involved earthly father by exposing them to these children who do not. Use your ministry to children of divorce and single parent families as an opportunity for your kids to minister as well.

In the next installment, we will continue our examination of verses in which God commanded His people about orphans and the fatherless.

Don says:

Also, please let’s not forget that children of divorced parents don’t all come from Christian homes. Hindus get divorced. Jews get divorced. Buddhists get divorced. Muslims get divorced. Are we saying that children from non-Christian families whose parents divorce are somehow outside the scope of God’s compassion? The Jesus I meet in the Gospels is a man who crosses customary racial, ethnic, and social boundaries, sometimes in shocking ways, as when he heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman, when he commends a Roman centurion for his faith, when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, and when he reveals himself as Messiah to an adulterous Samaritan woman.

Wayne Stocks says:

Don,

No doubt that this issue crosses all geographic, racial, religious and ethnic lines. I don’t think any of us are outside of God’s compassion, and I’ve not doubt that God has a heart for all children. Jesus clearly reached out to those outside of Judaism. He is not interested in religion. He is interested in people willing to have a relationship with himself.

That all said, Divorce Ministry 4 Kids is a Christian ministry. One of our our primary missions (as reflected in our mission statement) is the call the church to minister to children of divorce. That will, hopefully, include ALL children. I believe, in all things, that ultimate healing comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Accordingly, our ministry, while it can certainly be to ALL people, must be done from a Christian worldview.

So, do we forget children of divorce from non-Christian homes? By no means! Do we in ministering to children of divorce teach them all methods and means of dealing with and overcoming the issues associated with being a child of divorce? Of course! Is one of those primary means a relationship with Jesus Christ? Absolutely! Our goal in all things is to reflect the love of Christ to all people, and ultimately to bring glory to His name.

Thank you for insights.

Don says:

It would be cool to see a section devoted to peer support group programs. These are rare, but they do exist. Names that spring to mind right away include Rollercoasters, Rainbows, Kids’ Turn, CODIP, and Banana Splits. Let me know if you’d like more info.

Wayne Stocks says:

Don,

I would add Divorce Care 4 Kids to that list. You are clearly passionate about this issue. I’d love to correspond more with you on it. Please e-mail me at wayne@divorceministry4kids.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Don says:

Again, regarding the bookstore:

Titles to add to your colleciton:

For the adult section:

“The Adult Child of Divorce: A Recovery Handbook” by Robert Burns and Michael Brissett Jr. Oliver/Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 1991

For the teen section:

“Broken Hearts…Healing: Young Poets Speak Out on Divorce” Edited by Tom Worthen. Poet Tree Press, Logan, Utah, 2001,

Don says:

Don’t forget Isaiah 58:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen, to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? … If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will be like the noonday…Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins, and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

Don says:

Don’t forget Isaiah 61: “The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me…to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners….to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Wayne Stocks says:

Both very good verses to add to the discussion!

Don says:

Don’t forget the Psalms, esp Psalm 82 “Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.”