“Father of the fatherless”
One of the less well known titles of God. But a very important idea in scripture.
In the law, we are commanded not to take advantage of the widow or the fatherless – Ex 22:22,24. Why? Because (Deut 10:18,19 – a very relevant reminder!). Deut 14:29 reminds us that we have to make proper provision for the widow and the fatherless; social security thousands of years before we got round to it! Deut 27:19 puts it as strongly as you could imagine.
In the Psalms, not caring for the fatherless is a mark of the wicked (94:6) and looking after them a mark of the righteous character of God – here, and e.g.68:5
There are a few notable examples. There’s Mephibosheth – 2 Sam 9:3; a son of Jonathan. There’s Esther, who is raised by Mordecai. There are the daughters of Zelophehad, who encourage Moses to make a change in the law of Israel: The daughters of Zelophehad belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They came forward and stood before Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” So Moses brought their case before the LORD, and the LORD said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them. Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter’”
In the prophets, the people of God are reminded of their responsibilities – Isaiah 1:17 – and once again the reason is because God cares about the fatherless: Hosea 14:3 – “in you the fatherless find compassion.”
To be fatherless or a widow in OT times was to be without a protector, without a provider.
And in our day, there are thousands – millions, even – who are just this.
Unaccompanied children adrift on the sea as refugees
The Nigerian schoolgirls, and their children.
Children in ISIS dominated lands given up to the terrorists for training as suicide bombers
Children who are functionally fatherless – who do not receive the love they should from one parent or the other.
We must pause to pray; we must lift before God these folk.
What is it that the widow and the fatherless are in need of? In the OT, it was protection and provision; to be cared for. But there was one more important idea that really mattered. Deut 16:14 – “Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.” Justice for the fatherless was showing the love of God – the everlasting father – to those who would not otherwise see it.
The NT also mentions the fatherless – two powerful verses. John 14:18 – I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. And James 1:27 – Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.
I’ve said this so many times – the test which God applies to any society is the measure of justice which is extended to the weakest and most vulnerable. Because He is a father to the fatherless.
But remember why, and that will help with what. We are called to care for the fatherless because that’s God’s heart. So to care for the fatherless is not just to feed and protect, but to introduce them to the loving father they have in heaven.