“Plead for the widow”! Isaiah directs the people of Judah to vigorously defend these women. As with the orphan or fatherless, the leader of their family no longer exists. However, their defense differs. Unlike the fatherless, the widow typically does not need to be trained and guided to know how to follow the laws of God. Without dismissing the need for the spiritual, the more immediate concern for widows centers on provision of their material needs and protection from those would take advantage of them (Isaiah 10:1-3). Sadly, neglected widows existed before the time of Isaiah and continue to exist today.
The country a widow lives in can greatly affect her treatment. In the country of India, tens of millions of widows exist. Socially and economically, the widows endure rejection. They experience neglect and suffer hardship. (1) In Mali, a woman widow often loses her right to the land upon which she lived. (2) Reports of Muslim widows in Bangladesh list the frequent experience of violence, robbery, and eviction. Pakistani widows may suffer imprisonment or death based on whether they receive accusation of shaming their family. The sex trade often forces itself upon Cambodian widows. The world over, widowed women often suffer from poverty, malnutrition, failing health, no inheritance rights, and the list goes on. Even though national or international laws exist, corruption and inaction often prevail. (3) During the time of Judah, judicial neglect ruled (Isaiah 1:23).
When Jesus walked upon the earth, He made comment about the Pharisees treatment of the widows of Jerusalem (Matthew 12:40). According to the writings of commentator Albert Barnes, the Pharisees would take advantage of the widows by encouraging them to hand over management of their property or by causing them to give large sums for “religious purposes”. (4) How could those wonderfully pious Pharisees with their heartfelt prayers to God act in such a manner? Jesus called them hypocrites (Matthew 15:8-9). In reality, Pharisees deceived these women in the name of God. The Pharisees aware of God’s Old Law instruction from ages before (Deuteronomy 27:19) chose to rebelliously take advantage of the widows. They did not make a plea for the widows and their welfare.
Evil takes many forms. Sometimes, no criminal intent exists, but it develops out of partiality as with the widows of Acts 6:1-4. In that situation, the apostles addressed the disciples in regard to Grecian widows not receiving the proper daily aid scheduled for the Christian widows at that time. The text infers the Hebrews saw to their widows, but overlooked the Greeks. This harkens back to the physical Israel seeing themselves as the only people of God. This barrier came down in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Caring for widows greatly concerns the teachings of the New Testament. The Apostles made a plea on their behalf based on the Word of God. Christ did not teach partiality. Paul makes this clear when he talks to the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20:35 reminding them of his teaching: care for the weak and focus on giving rather than receiving.
The Words imparted by Christ through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles established a pattern for the care of widows. James 1:27 states the following:
“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.”
The term “visit” in this passage does not mean to drop by, say “Hi! Be warmed and filled!”, and then after doing nothing go on down the road (James 2:15-17). It means to inspect or examine with the intention of relieving. This command points to every individual. This passage speaks to physical, spiritual, financial, judicial, and any other needs regarding the widow.
Responsibility for widows first comes from their families (I Timothy 5:8). However, in the case of widows sixty years or older, righteous and active for God, with no one to care for them, God commanded the Church to take special care for them (I Timothy 5:3-16). The action of a Church does not remove the responsibility of mankind to watch over and care for widows. The Church’s responsibility only reaffirms God’s love for His faithful. The letter to Timothy states clearly what God desires of the family, Christian, Church, and widow.
Some believe the Church should go beyond God’s direction and hand out food, finances, clothing, and more, not only to God’s faithful, but to all mankind. This role of the Church cannot be found in scripture. The Church’s predominant role in scripture reflects the dissemination of the Word of God for the teaching, reproving, correction, and instruction of man. Benevolence beyond the individual and family comes only after one last entity performs its role. The government performs a role as an agent of good on behalf of the people it oversees (Romans 13:4). When the individual and family performs its role properly, the government if acting according to the plan of God (which sadly it rarely does, either going behind or ignoring God’s Word) makes the occurrence of the Church having to “wait tables” for the truly needy a rare occurrence. When the government receives the call to take up the plea of the widow, God expects justice.
One final and important aspect of taking up the plea of the widow shows God didn’t build a hedge around the sinful in the first century or in the time of Isaiah. The following passage shows this:
Isaiah 9:17 – Therefore the Lord will not rejoice over their young men, neither will he have compassion on their fatherless and widows; for every one is profane and an evil-doer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
God never provides aid for the need of those practicing sin and keeping their back to Him, even if they are fatherless or widowed. He does not expect the government to take care of the lazy or those with access to care for themselves. He doesn’t expect the government to enable those who would take advantage of the widow or anyone else, but rather to punish them. He does not see the Church as a financial institution set up to provide gas bill money and soup for the public. Even with the widow, one of the weakest members of society, God requires a lifetime of faithfulness with absence of other means of care before the Church is to play the role of provider. Saints who can care for themselves are to do so (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). When saints work as commanded, they can better fulfill their duties to plea for the widow and do good. In doing so the saints will more readily possess the means to aid others (Ephesians 4:28). God’s plan for mankind and his needy faithful represents perfection and useless hardship occurs only when man steps away from God’s plan. Unfortunately, such hardship became commonplace in Judah and commonplace today because man closes his ears to God.
This concludes this series examining Isaiah’s instruction for Judah to cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow. If heeded by any person, these six examinations result in righteousness. The individual and society strengthen exponentially when they listen to God. The encouragement of the oppressor fails and the oppressed enjoy the comfort of a caring society. Such lessons do not target any particular region or timeframe, but apply universally to the entire generation of men. In not heeding the warnings, only ruin and destruction result. As seen by the history of Judah and other sinful people, God blesses based upon obedience to these principles and punishes when they are not observed.
(1) Jill McGivering, BBC News; “India’s Neglected Widows”; 2002
(2) Dominique van De Walle, World Bank; “Neglected and poor widows in Mali”; 2011
(3) United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affiars. Women 2000: “Widowhood: Invisible Women, secluded or excluded”
(4) Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible; Albert Barnes (1798-1870)