God has a special love for widows, orphans and strangers. How do we know this? When the divine law was given to Moses there were specific provisions made for the care of these vulnerable and needy members of society. For example, when the reapers were bringing in the harvest and a sheaf was forgotten in the field, God had said, ‘Thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow’. The same principle applied to the olive and grape harvests, Deut. 24. 19-21.
God is the defender and helper of those who are widowed and orphaned, as we read in the Psalms, ‘A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation’, 68. 5; ‘The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow’, 146. 9.
The vulnerable are often exploited, but God has said, ‘Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child’, Exod. 22. 22; Jer. 22. 3; ‘Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge’, Deut. 24. 17. To treat such groups unfairly is to risk divine judgement. In Isaiah’s day the neglect of widows was a sign of the spiritual and moral decline of the nation, Isa. 1. 23.
The Greek word for widow is chera which means ‘bereft’; it carries the thought of suffering loss and being left alone. A widow is one who has been bereaved of her husband. The loss of a spouse is recognized as one of the most stressful and painful life events that a person can endure. God’s perfect plan for marriage has always been that a husband should love and support his wife physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He is to protect her and provide for her. When all of this is suddenly snatched away, as it were, by death, there is a feeling of great emptiness and loneliness.
People grieve in different ways but there are usually elements of pain and regret, or even anger and doubt. Personal faith in God is put to the test and many unanswered questions remain. In the goodness of God, time is a great healer, and with the loving support and prayers of family and friends, the pain can begin to ease. It may still require many months or even years for some to adjust to their loss. Of course, life must go on, but it can never be quite the same again with one’s closest earthly companion no longer by one’s side.
We recall that Naomi lost her husband and two sons. The experience left its mark upon her, Ruth 1. 20-21, but God was merciful and the bitterness was eventually replaced by joy and pleasantness (as her name indicates). After her daughter-in-law Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, she became a proud grandmother in the line of the coming Messiah. God had not forgotten her.
We are not surprised to learn of our Lord’s tenderness and kindness in dealing with the widow of Nain; she was dependent upon her only son but tragedy struck when the young man died. He was being carried to his burial when the Saviour intervened. Fully aware of the helplessness and hopelessness of the widow, the Lord was moved with compassion and told her, ‘Weep not’, Luke 7. 13. He then addressed the lifeless body of her son and said, ‘Young man, I say unto thee, Arise’. With those words the young man sat up and began to speak. After being returned to his mother, those who witnessed the miracle gave God the glory.
In His own hour of deepest woe upon the cross, the Lord still cared for others, and His mother, Mary, in particular. Her life had taken many unusual turns since the day the angel had spoken to her and announced that she, a virgin, was to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her child would be called ‘the Son of God’, Luke 1. 35. But on that dark day, Mary remained standing beside the cross – faithful right to the end. Christ spoke words of comfort when He indicated that He would entrust her care to the apostle John, John 19. 26-27; in this way He made provision for her future needs.
Godly widows bring spiritual maturity and strength to any company of Christians. In fact, in many parts of the world they are the backbone of the assembly, attending the meetings faithfully as long as they are able. They are sensitive to the spiritual needs of others, including those who are still outside of Christ, and prayerful about those needs. Even when they have limited financial resources, they are often kinder than those with much more to spare.
In Elijah’s time, God chose a poor widow to provide hospitality for him during a severe famine. If Elijah’s faith was being tested by the word from the Lord, how much more was the faith of the widow being tried by the arrival of a visitor who not only asked for water but also requested bread to eat! The details are poignant: the prophet’s request seemed modest – ‘a little water’ and ‘a morsel of bread’ – but the widow’s resources were even more hard pressed than that. She spoke of the very little she had: ‘a handful of meal … a little oil … two sticks’. Her intention was to make a final meal for her son and herself before they succumbed to the famine and died. She must have been perplexed. Did the prophet not hear or understand what she had just told him? He was still insisting on having his cake of bread first. He was asking the impossible, but with that Elijah brought a wonderful word to her – ‘Fear not’ – and spoke of the God of the impossible, 1 Kgs. 17. 13-14. As we know, the widow proved the truth that God’s name remains Jehovah-jireh, and He can provide for every need.
In the New Testament we read of another selfless. unnamed widow. After referring to the pride and avarice of the scribes who often misappropriated widows’ property, Christ visited the temple and observed how people gave their freewill offerings. The rich cast in much, but ‘there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites’, Mark 12. 42. Amazing as it might seem, the Lord explained that her offering was greater than all of the rest, the reason being that she gave all and had nothing left over for herself. This foreshadowed His own sacrificial love when He gave His all at the cross for us.
Luke tells us of a godly elderly woman called Anna, one of a small remnant who continued to hope for the coming of the Messiah. She had been widowed after seven years of marriage, and from then had continued faithfully serving God in the temple, ‘with fastings and prayers night and day’, Luke 2. 37. When she first saw the infant Jesus, she added her praises to those of Simeon, and witnessed to all concerning the Saviour’s coming into the world. Many other widows have followed her example, being women of prayer and praise, and always ready to speak of Him.
Many countries in the western world have a social security network that provides a basic level of financial support for widows. In the developing world, however, there may be little or no governmental assistance. The fact remains that widows everywhere need to be encouraged and assisted in different ways.
In the early church the Christians took their social responsibilities seriously and did not shy away from doing good and supporting the widows in their midst. As we learn from Acts chapter 6, a problem of racial discrimination came to light: the Hebrew widows were being given preferential treatment over the Greek-speaking widows. This matter was not swept under the carpet but dealt with promptly, and in a transparent manner.
Dorcas was a Christian lady who was known for her personal kindness to the widows of Joppa: she made clothing for them by her own hand. At her death the widows were consumed with grief. Peter was called for, and, after praying to God, he was enabled to restore her to life. As a result of this miracle, many others also believed, Acts 9. 36-42.
Further instruction concerning the care of widows is found in Paul’s letter to Timothy, 1 Tim. 5. 3-16. The main points are these: a widow with no living relatives and limited resources should be cared for by the Christians; a widow with family should be provided for by her own relatives, thus relieving the assembly of this burden. There were also other stipulations regarding the widow’s age: a young woman with children was encouraged to remarry; an older woman with a good testimony became the responsibility of the local church. Paul was also aware of the dangers of a widow slipping back spiritually and morally, and bringing dishonour upon the Lord and His people.
It may be that in the assembly where you meet, there are a number of widows in the fellowship. Those with families and a measure of financial support are fortunate, but what about those who no longer have close family? They may not necessarily need monetary assistance but would benefit from friendship and a helping hand from time to time.
When the Christians gather together it is important to greet and converse with older believers, including those who are widows. Then there may be opportunities to call by their home for a short visit. Often an offer of help with transport to the shops, or the clinic, or the post office, is appreciated, as well as a lift to the assembly meetings. An afternoon outing to the seaside or a local park might be welcomed. There may be odd jobs that need doing around the widow’s house or in her garden. The possibilities for such avenues of service are endless – they only require the eyes to see them and the heart to do them.
James reminds us, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world’, Jas. 1. 27. The lesson for us all is plain: do no neglect the widow.