Holman Bible Dictionary
Poor, Orphan, Widow
Three groups of people of the lower social classes in need of legal protection from the rich and powerful who sometimes abused them (Job 24:3-4 ). God's promise of care for the poor, the orphans, and the widows was a tremendous source of hope during times of severe difficulty.
1. Condition and Hope of the Poor The words used to describe the poor have the underlying meaning of “humble, oppressed, needy, weak, dependent.” The contexts where these words are used suggest that the poor were those who had been wrongfully oppressed and impoverished (Job 24:14; Job 29:12; Psalm 10:9; Isaiah 3:14 ); those who begged for food (Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Job 31:16-21 ); or those who had no economic or social status (2 Samuel 12:1-4; Proverbs 14:20; Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 ). Ideally, there should be no poor people among the covenant people of God because of the blessings of God and the generosity of the people toward those in need (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 ). In actuality, God's blessings did not always come to His sinful people, and the rich did not always share with the poor. To provide for the poor, God allowed them to glean the remains of the fields and vineyards and harvest the corners (Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 23:22 ). If a poor person was forced into slavery, they were to be treated like a hired servant (Leviticus 25:39-43 ). The courts were to see that the poor received just, not favorable or unfavorable treatment (Exodus 23:3 ,Exodus 23:3,23:6-7 ).
The hope of the poor was based on their status before God. Because they were part of the people God redeemed from the slavery of Egypt, they inherited God's blessings of freedom, protection, and a portion of the land (Leviticus 25:38 ,Leviticus 25:38,25:42 ,Leviticus 25:42,25:55 ). The Psalms picture God as the refuge and deliverer of the poor (Psalm 12:5; Psalm 14:6; Psalm 70:5 ). In some passages, the poor are identified as the righteous (Psalm 14:5-6 ). The prophets predicted the destruction of Judah and Israel in part because of the oppression of the poor by fellow Israelites (Amos 2:6-8; Amos 4:1-3; Amos 5:10-13; Amos 8:4-6 ). The prophets encouraged the people to defend the poor and instructed the kings to rule with equity (Proverbs 29:7 ,Proverbs 29:7,29:14; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3 ). God brought judgment on Sodom (Genesis 18:16-19:29 ) and on Judah because she did not care for the poor (Ezekiel 16:46-50 ).
Jesus was particularly concerned with the poor. A poor man, He preached a message of good news to the poor (Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:18 ) and told parables that encouraged generosity toward the poor (Luke 14:13-24 ). The first Christians provided for the needs of poor widows (Acts 6:1-6 ), and Paul exerted great effort to collect funds for the poor in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26 ). This positive attitude toward the poor was not present among all the early believers (James 2:1-6 ).
2. The Condition and Hope of the Orphan and Widow Among the poor, the orphan and the widow were the most vulnerable. The orphan was a fatherlesschild (the mother could still be alive), while the widow was husbandless. In both cases, no mature male figure could defend against unscrupulous persons who would wish to defraud these individuals out of their inheritance. Consequently, biblical (and nonbiblical) legal codes provide for the protection of the rights of the orphan and the widow (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 24:17-22 ). The prophets were particularly concerned with the injustice done to the orphan and widow (Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 5:28; Micah 2:9; Malachi 3:5 ). God declared that He would be a Father to the fatherless and provide justice for the widow (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5 ).
The New Testament measured true religious character by a person's care for the orphan and the widow (James 1:27 ). The early Christians cared for the widows (Acts 6:1-8 ), but Paul limited these provisions because of abuses on the part of some (1 Timothy 5:3-16 ). Jesus condemned the Pharisees for devouring widows' houses (Matthew 23:40 ). See Ethics; Family; Fatherless; Humble; Inheritance; Oppressed.
Gary V. Smith
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