Week 1 – Lessons from the Law
Day 1 – The Initial Command: Exodus 22:22-24
“Ye shall not afflict any widow, nor fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows and your children fatherless.”
Didn’t expect to get hit with a sword right off the bat, did you?
I think most of us, when we think of orphan care, think of snuggling with precious babies, playing with toddlers, teaching little girls to grow into amazing women, and guiding young boys into godly manhood.
Not God. God’s first thought is protection. We get all ooey-gooey, and googlie-eyed. God gets out His sword.
These verses leave no room to doubt how seriously God regards the matter of afflicting the widow and the orphan, nor how jealously He guards them. In essence, God is saying, if you afflict them, I will turn around, kill you in my wrath and leave your wife and children a widow and fatherless.
So what does it mean to “afflict” a widow or fatherless child? What actions might this include in today’s world? We will find out more about this as we go along in our study, but let’s start with the basics.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of affliction I think of pain, in this case, inflicted by someone else. I usually think of something pretty severe. In fact, Webster’s 1828 dictionary (which I use in Bible study because it was written so much closer to time of the translation of the Bible and is just plain an awesome dictionary) links affliction to the suffering of gout! Ouch! It has to do with some mental or physical pain that continues on and on. In fact, the primary meaning of the word is to “flog” or “flail” – TO BEAT!
The Hebrew word, however, doesn’t isolate it to the most violent among us. It has the idea of being occupied with someone by “looking down or browbeating”. So, looking down on someone is afflicting them? It can be. This specifically carries the idea of oppressing, depressing and afflicting.
When I think of browbeating, I suddenly see a set of overly bushy eyebrows and an amazingly intimidating glower – turns out that’s pretty much what the word means. It means to “domineer someone”. Can you imagine being the child who continually faces someone who is “Overbearing with severe brows, stern looks, or positive assertions.” [Webster] I CAN! I’ve been there! And according to God – THAT is affliction: Flogging and flailing others with our disdain.
But, what about looking down on someone? Usually, this brings to mind the picture of someone arrogantly daring to glance at someone of lesser import; chin and nose up, shoulders turned away, eyes slightly narrowed. I recently saw a different aspect of this – laughter, uncontrollable, giddy laughter. As if to say, “I can’t believe I am wasting my time talking to you, what a joke!” Every comment the other person made was subject to smirking, wide disbelieving or disconnected grins, snorting, and blatant disregard. Over and over. It was unmistakably and uncomfortably obvious to everyone watching. In this instance, it was between grown men, but I have seen it in other situations between women, between men and women, between children and sadly from the mouth (or, face) of an adult toward a child. I’ve always hated those situations, but I’ve never had a word to stick onto the action that I was observing. Now I do. Affliction. And God hates it with a passion, especially when it is geared toward widows or the fatherless.
He hates it so much that He promises death by the sword to the man who afflicts them. That is pretty serious wrath. We often want to make words like affliction apply to only the worst of us, but by stepping back and using a word such as the Hebrew word that God chose, He shows us that we are more likely to be guilty in this area than we ever would have imagined. Yes, there are “worse” forms of affliction, but God didn’t delineate between them. He said, “If thou afflict them in anywise” the smallest form to the worst. We want to get all up in arms about what others are doing – and believe me, I agree physical abuse, human trafficking, the sex trade are horrible – but God starts small, because He wants His people to avoid the small downfalls that lead to the repulsive, and because sin is sin. I am reminded of God’s definition of adultery – if any man lust after a woman in his heart. It’s all about the heart.
God is listening for the cry of the fatherless. He has promised to act upon it.
Up next: Day 2: Our Terrible God – The Basis of the Command