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Holman Bible Dictionary


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A person without a male parent, often rendered orphan by modern translations. Orphans are often mentioned with widows as representatives of the most helpless members of society (Exodus 22:22 ; Deuteronomy 10:18 ; Psalm 146:9 ). In societies where the basic social unit was the clan headed by a father (the eldest male relative, perhaps a grandfather or uncle), those without a father or husband were social misfits without one to provide for their material needs and represent their interests in the court (Job 31:21 ). Life for the fatherless was harsh. Orphans were often forced to beg for food (Psalm 109:9-10 ). They suffered loss of their homes (Psalm 109:10 ), land rights (Proverbs 23:10 ), and livestock (Job 24:3 ). The fatherless were subject to acts of violence (Job 22:9 ), were treated as property to be gambled for (Job 6:27 TEV, NRSV, NAS, NIV), and were even murdered ( Psalm 94:6 ).

God, however, has a special concern for orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 10:18 ; Psalm 10:14-18 ; Psalm 146:9 ; Hosea 14:3 ) evidenced in the title “a father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5 ). Old Testament law provided for the material needs of orphans and widows who were to be fed from the third year's tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 ; Deuteronomy 26:12-13 ), from sheaves left forgotten in the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19 ), and from fruit God commanded to be left on the trees and vines (Deuteronomy 24:20-21 ). Orphans and widows were to be included in the celebrations of the worshiping community (Deuteronomy 16:11 ,Deuteronomy 16:11,16:14 ). God's people were repeatedly warned not to take advantage of orphans and widows (Exodus 22:22 ; Deuteronomy 24:17 ; Deuteronomy 27:19 ; Psalm 82:3 ; Isaiah 1:17 ). In the New Testament, James defined worship acceptable to God as meeting the needs of orphans and widows (Isaiah 1:27 ).

God's exiled people were described as orphans without home or inheritance (Lamentations 5:2-3 ). The Old Testament image of the orphan without a helper at the court perhaps forms the background for Jesus' promise that His disciples would not be left orphans (John 14:18 , NAS, NIV, NRSV; “comfortless”, KJV; “bereft”, REB). They would not be defenseless since the Holy Spirit would act as their advocate (John 14:16 ). Paul described his painful separation from the Thessalonian Christians as being orphaned (1 Thessalonians 2:17 , NRSV).

Chris Church

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Fatherless'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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