THE LORD’S CARE FOR WIDOWS UNDER THE OLD COVENANT

The Lord God loves every single person. There are some specific humans, though, whom He mentions numerous times, exhorting His people to take care of them. One group of such special folks are widows. The Old Testament contains extensive instructions about God’s care for them.

At times, we read that Jehovah personally took care of widows. In other cases, His care for them would be carried out through the Israelite people.

From a biblical perspective, for a woman to be a widow is not an indication that she is wicked. There may have been specific instances in the Old Testament era when one lost her husband due to someone’s sin, but for one to be a widow did not mean that the woman was being punished.

We also should note that the Lord does not look at widows as if they were pitiful, helpless beings. Abigail was not pitiful or helpless. Nor was Ruth. Ruth worked diligently to provide for herself and Naomi, did she not? There have been and continue to be, however, those women who, after the death of their husband, find themselves in a difficult situation because they depended on their husband’s power to work and have an income. In some instances, widows have been in a vulnerable position. God made it plain that His judgment would be on those Jews who exploited widows (Malachi 3:5). Despite that, in the days of Jesus, some Pharisees took advantage of widows, devouring their houses (Matthew 23:14).

How did the Lord get His message across about how He wanted the Israelites living under the law of Moses to deal with widows? He gave Israel His example, His warnings, and His guidelines.

God’s personal approach set an example for His people. God’s attitude and action showed them the right way to treat widows. It was written in the old law, “For the LORD your God . . . shows no partiality . . . He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17,18). Jehovah treated widows justly, seeing to their material needs: “The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow” (Psalm 146:9). In short, God looked after and protected the widows. His example basically said to the Jews, “Treat widows like I do.”

In addition to God’s own model, He gave the Israelites warnings about mistreating, abusing, or taking advantage of widows. The old law stated, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child” (Exodus 22:22). Another warning under the old law: “Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19). Jehovah also warned Israel against taking a widow’s garment as a pledge (Deuteronomy 24:17).

While the Lord made it plain that abusing or taking advantage of widows was unacceptable, He also set forth positive guidelines which showed that there was more to dealing properly with widows than refraining from doing them evil. God wanted Israel to step up and take action that would benefit widows!

In Deuteronomy 24:19-21, it was written, “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 stranger, the fatherless, and the widow . . . When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.” So, during the time of harvest, the Lord made provision for the widows among His people. Giving this type of assistance to the widows was a blessing to both the receivers and the givers.

The new covenant is better than the old one. The Bible says so (Hebrews 8:6,7). With more revelation from God and more blessings, more is expected of us. If there were high expectations for how those living under the old law were to treat widows, the bar is raised even higher for those of us blessed to live under Jesus’ covenant.

When some widows were being neglected in the first century, the Jerusalem church took special action to meet their needs (Acts 6:1-6). God calls on all Christians to, “Honor widows who are really widows” (1 Timothy 5:3). When Christians have family members who are widows, the first line of duty is for the Christians themselves to try and care for their widows. When the saints are unable to do so, then it is the church’s responsibility to step up and “relieve those who are really widows” (1 Timothy 5:16).

Under the new covenant, the Lord wants His children to “visit” widows (James 1:27). Based on what we see in other Bible passages, what do we conclude it means to “visit” widows? It is not simply to make a social visit, but rather to supply their needs, whether they be financial, physical, or mental.

Eliphaz wrongly accused Job of misconduct, telling him, “You have sent widows away empty . . .” (Job 22:9). Sending widows away empty, that is, not providing for their needs, was not part of Job’s makeup. May you and I never be guilty of failing widows. Surely we understand that widowers should receive the same kindness and care that widows do.

Roger D. Campbell

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