|Widow – Konstantin Makovsky, 1865|
The Bible speaks so often of the widow, the landless stranger (or alien) and the orphan. This is because in tie social hierarchy of Israel and environs, these three struggled the most in poverty at the lowest of the lowest of stations. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament outline the expectations for the Israelites to take care of the people who unfortunately fell into one of these three classes.
Bible Study Tools/Bakers Evangelical Dictionary describes the plight of the widow.
Married woman whose husband has died and who remains unmarried. The Hebrew word translated “widow” is almana, and it occurs fifty-six times in the Old Testament. … The Septaugint virtually always translates almana with the Greek term for widow, chera (cf. Job 24:21 ). The same Greek word occurs twenty-six times in the New Testament.
Words that occur in the general semantic field of the term “widow” in the Bible shed light on both her personal experience and social plight. Weeping (Job 27:15; Psalm 78:64), mourning (2 Sam 14:2), and desolation (Lam 1:1) describe her personal experience after the loss of her spouse. Poverty (Ruth 1:21; 1 Kings 17:7-12; Job 22:9) and indebtedness (2 Kings 4:1) were all too often descriptive of her financial situation, when the main source of her economic support, her husband, had perished.
Indeed, she was frequently placed alongside the orphan and the landless immigrant (Exodus 22:21-22; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 24:19; Deuteronomy 24:20-21) as representative of the poorest of the poor (Job 24:4; 29:12; 31:16; Isa 10:2) in the social structure of ancient Israel, as well as in the ancient Near East. With minimal, if any, inheritance rights, she was often in a “no-man’s land.” She had left her family, and with her husband’s death the bond between her and his family was tenuous.
The New Testament. Widows were prominent in the New Testament. It was no accident that one of the poorest of the poor, Anna, was privileged to greet the infant Messiah (Luke 2:36-38). The adult Jesus followed in the footsteps of his prophetic predecessors with his concern for the plight of the widow. He healed a widow’s son because of compassion for his mother (Luke 7:11-17); he protested the exploitation of widows (Mark 12:40). He reversed the standards by which people were judged with the parable of the widow’s tithe: the widow gave from her poverty while the wealthy merely offered from their abundance (Mark 12:41-42). In another parable, the church was compared with an importunate widow who kept demanding that her case be heard. Similarly, the church must persistently pray for eschatological justice, the redressing of all wrongs against her (Luke 18:1-8).
There is much more at the link. It seems that if the widow had no able bodied or willing sons, it often happened that she could not work the land well enough to retain it, which is why she is often classed with the landless immigrant.
Things are not so different now. From the US Social Security Office of Policy, we learn
Despite increased labor force participation rates among women and reforms under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, widowhood remains an important risk factor for transition into poverty, although somewhat less so than 20 years ago. Women widowed at younger ages are at greatest risk for economic hardship after widowhood, and their situation declines with the duration of widowhood. We also find that women in households that are least prepared financially for widowhood are at greatest risk of a husband’s death, because of the strong relationship between mortality and wealth.
|James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Widow’s Mite|
It’s worse for most women who divorce or are divorced from their husbands. They endure an immediate and often permanent plunge in their socio-economic status.
Divorce makes men – and particularly fathers – significantly richer. When a father separates from the mother of his children, according to new research, his available income increases by around one third. Women, in contrast, suffer severe financial penalties. Regardless of whether she has children, the average woman’s income falls by more than a fifth and remains low for many years. (Source: The Guardian, Men Become Richer after Divorce)
In one of the most tender scenes in the Bible, Jesus cared for His mother while He was suffering on the cross. He knew He was going to die of course. Presumably His foster father Joseph had already passed on. At the opening of the essay I’d shared the verse from John 19:26-27, when Jesus committed His mother to John the disciple and John took her in “that very hour.”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus did not speak to one of His brothers? He had brothers and sisters, that is a biblical fact.
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)
So why, then, did Jesus arrange for His mother to be housed with John, and not immediate family of James, Joses, Judas, or Simon? Likely it was because his half-brothers did not yet believe in Him. (John 7:5). In His agony, every breath a struggle, He commanded John to take in His mother, whom He addressed with an honorific of “Woman.”
MacArthur’s Commentary on John states,
Even as He was dying, bearing man’s sin and God’s wrath, Jesus selflessly cared for those whom He loved. (cf. 13:1, 34, 15:9, 13) Evidently His earthly father, Joseph, was already dead. The Lord could not commit Mary into the care of His half brothers, the children of Mary and Joseph, since they were not yet believers (7:5). They did not become believers in Jesus until after His resurrection (Acts 1:14, cf.1 Cor. 15:7, thought he James referred to in that verse may be the Apostle James).
Therefore He entrusted her to John, he became as a son to her in His place, and from that hour he took her into his own household. This may seem a very mundane thing to be concerned about in His hour of greatest sacrifice, but the beauty of the Savior’s love and compassion for His widowed mother, in the face of His own excruciating pain, reflects His love for His own.
|Widow’s Walk, by Maja Lindberg Source|
There are many tender scenes in the Bible where women are honored, cared for, healed, loved, and honored. Hagar, badly mistreated, received a visit from a pre-incarnate Jesus who gently spoke to her in her hour of need. The Woman at the Well, a sinner shunned by her townsmen, was given the privilege of a personal evangelistic moment with Jesus one-on-one. He did not rail at her for her sins, not like He did the Pharisees, but instead simply told her everything she ever did, revealed Himself to her as Messiah, and offered Living Water. After Eve sinned along with Adam, we read in Genesis 3:21 that God personally made skins from animals and clothed her (and Adam). And once again I refer to the quote above from the Bible Dictionary about the Lord’s extolling of widows such as Anna, the persistent widow, and the widow with the mite.
His eye is on the sparrow. (Matthew 10:29). It is on the actual tiny, insignificant sparrow but it is also on the metaphorical sparrow, the small and insignificant widow dwelling in poverty and hanging on to the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. We have a good and gracious God whose eye sees all, knows all, and cares for those who love Him.
Exalt His mighty name today, His care is unparalleled. If you are grieving a lost, widowed and feeling marginalized, insignificant, sad and hidden, fear not. Our wonderful Lord is watching out for you. If His pain on the cross did not stop Him from arranging care for Mary, His mother, you can be sure He is arranging good and gracious care for you at this moment.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. (Luke 12:6)
I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. (Psalm 37:25)