Yatohm: Bringing the ORPHAN Home

ORPHAN: yathom. Masculine noun. (Strong’s 3490). 

Original word: יָתוֹם

Sounds like: ya-tohm.

My friend, Bishop Gerald Kwitegereza, is the founder of Alpha Orphanage Project. It started after he had moved to Uganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo; he had felt that God had sent him there to do something, but he didn’t yet know what that was. Gerald didn’t know anyone in Uganda, he didn’t speak English (Uganda’s official language) or any of the other local dialects, and he found himself a stranger in a land, facing discrimination and religious intolerance. At one point Gerald was attacked and beaten; later he was jailed for 17 days for preaching the Gospel. A month after his release from jail he was feeling like a stranger in a lost land, until a little girl, who had lost both of her parents to the AIDS crisis, came to him out of the blue. He felt a strong conviction that he was to care for this little child and went to the authorities, asking to take responsibility for her. He was allowed to become her guardian. A month later a little boy, who had also lost both of his parents, came to Gerald and the process was repeated. The need for fostering these orphaned children was great and Gerald encouraged friends to take children into their own homes, but the need kept growing. Eventually they were able to procure a small amount of land to build a home and school for orphans of the area. 

Today the Alpha Orphanage Project cares for 115 orphans in the Kagadi District of Uganda and also has foster homes for more children in the region. YHWH not only provided for the little girl who had the courage to go up to Gerald and introduce herself as a child in need, but He also provided for Gerald… He provided hope and a purpose. Now generations of lives will change for the better because one foreigner listened to God’s voice and one little orphaned girl was led to meet him.

But the plight of children in great need is not so removed from us. Here in Prince Edward Island, Canada, children (orphans, abandoned children and those with parents unable to care for them) are yearning for our help. There are five group homes on the Island and they are filled to capacity with children. Ideally children are placed in foster homes but, according to my friend Janine who fosters here on the Island, along with her husband Mike, there are only about 65 foster families for almost 200 children in need of a safe and inviting place to be a kid. That’s a crisis.

YHWH’s Command: Care for the Orphan, the Foreigner, the Widow

It’s our responsibility to be accountable for the children in our communities. We need to pray for them and provide for them. YHWH loves His children, and the commandment to care for the orphan is repeated over and over and over. Considering the emphasis, this is a high priority commission from God, and as His hand and feet on this planet we must actively help:

Psalm 82:3-4 

Vindicate the weak and fatherless [w-yatohm]; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. 

According to the Torah, every third year ALL the tithing from produce was to go directly to the factions of society that needed social assistance:

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan [w-hay-yatohm] and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that YHWH your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Part of helping those in need was sharing their feasts (specifically the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths) with servants, Levites, foreigners, orphans and widows… those who had little of their own means.

Deuteronomy 16:11-12 (see also Deuteronomy 16:14 & Deuteronomy 26:12-15)

“And you shall rejoice [during the Feasts] before YHWH your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan [w-hai-yatohm] and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where YHWH your God chooses to establish His name. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.”

Sharing a feast with the less fortunate was a way to foster community and also a way to reflect on your own heritage of desperation. The people were to remember their days of slavery. God had saved them, and that was the only reason they were free to celebrate the Feasts. Without YHWH they would still be living in servitude in Egypt.

A slave owned nothing and at the same time he constantly owed someone else everything. An orphan should never feel that way. We should always give freely from what God has provided us, because no child should grow up feeling indebted to anyone.

Although these commandments were really valuable and a great way to establish good living, eventually people grew complacent. The feasts and the offerings became monotonously ritualistic and people’s hearts became indifferent. YHWH saw their hearts and called them out. Life wasn’t about bringing the right offerings, submitting to the same rituals, walking through repeated religious celebrations… it was about community and respect and joy and those things were severely lacking in the hearts of the people:

Isaiah 1:13-16

YHWH: “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.

So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.

Instead of all these heartless rituals, here’s what God wanted them to do:

Isaiah 1:17

Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan [shif’tu yatohm], plead for the widow.”

Essentially: Stop what you’re doing… Now do what is right! 

This idea of being socially responsible to all of your human neighbours was at the top of Job’s mind when he was defending himself to his (so-called) friends, who accused him of some sort of unexplainable misdeed against God. They figured he must have done some great sin to experience such hardship in his life. But Job disagreed… he had lived the kind of life that God called him to live:

Job 29:11-16 (see also Job 31:16-23)

“…I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the orphan [w-yatohm] who had no helper. The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me, and I made the widow’s heart sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I investigated the case which I did not know.”

It wasn’t sin that caused Job to suffer, suffering was part of life. Alleviating the suffering of others would give your own life more purpose and it would enrich the lives of others and bring them back to YHWH. A persons life story was not meant to be about their individual strive for perfection, it was meant to be about collective, cooperative, community… raising each other up as a family of humans created by YHWH.

In the B’rit Chadashah (the New Testament) the apostle James declared what pure religion looked like from God the Father’s perspective:

James 1:26-27

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans [Greek: orphanous] and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

You Shall Not…

Many think of the Bible as a book of religion, of rules and regulations: you shalls and you shall not. And although it’s much more than that, the laws do put emphasis on what’s important to YHWH:

Exodus 22:21-24

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan [w-yatohm]. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless [u-v’nekem y’tomim].”

Certainly YHWH lived up to His promise of hearing an orphan’s cry when Hagar was left without a husband and Ishmael was left without his father. Abraham, on Sarah’s insistence, sent Hagar, his concubine, and Ishmael, his son, out into the wilderness and abandoned them. Although Abraham was greatly concerned about this, God told him to go ahead and obey his wife; He would provide for Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:11-13). So Abraham took Hagar and Ishmael to the desert, gave them a meagre supply of food and drink, and left them as a widow and an orphan in a desperate situation:

Genesis 21:15-18

When the water in the skin was used up, she [Hagar] left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. 

God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 

YHWH did not tell Abraham to abandon Hagar and Ishmael, He only told him to listen to his wife. He already knew He would save Hagar and her son. YHWH promised to hear the voice of a child who cried out, and He did. In the same regard we are also called to listen and respond. When we hear the crying children we need to react!

YHWH called on many to look after orphans. He called on the farming communities to feed them:

Deuteronomy 24:17-22

You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan [yatohm], nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that YHWH your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing:

When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan [lai-yatohm], and for the widow, in order that YHWH your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan [lai-yatohm], and for the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan [lai-yatohm], and for the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.”

In our prosperity, we are never to forget where we came from. The Hebrew people were once slaves, and so they were never to be involved with enslaving others! If they didn’t give freely of the extra that they had to give, then they were essentially turning orphans into slaves, always owing others. We have to be careful not to do the same.

How the wicked treat orphans

Consistently Biblical descriptions of the wicked included their horrible treatment of orphans:

Jeremiah 5:26-31 (see also Isaiah 1:23)

‘For wicked men are found among My people, they watch like fowlers lying in wait; they set a trap, they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich. They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan [yatohm], that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor.

Shall I not punish these people?’ declares YHWH, ‘On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?’

An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!  But what will you do at the end of it?

The Psalmist lamented about the status of orphans. When would the terrible treatment of children end?

Psalm 94:3-7

How long shall the wicked, O YHWH, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; all who do wickedness vaunt themselves.

They crush Your people, O YHWH, and afflict Your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans [wi-tohmim]. They have said, “YHWH does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed.”

But God was watching, and according to the Torah anyone who twisted justice against an orphan, alien and widow was to be cursed:

Deuteronomy 27:19

“Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan [yatohm], and widow. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

David understood what the worst punishment would be for his enemies… it would very much involve their children. In his curse against his enemies he wished that their children would become orphans:

Psalm 109:7-13 

David: When he [the enemy] is judged, let him come forth guilty, and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless [banaw y’tohmim] and his wife a widow. Let his children wander about and beg; and let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes. Let the creditor seize all that he has, and let strangers plunder the product of his labour.

Let there be none to extend lovingkindness to him, nor any to be gracious to his fatherless children [lytohmah]. Let his posterity be cut off; in a following generation let their name be blotted out.

Yikes! David was angry and reactionary, and this kind of shock-talk was a cry for God’s attention. But knowing YHWH’s unwavering commandments to care for the orphans, David’s request appears startling and inconsistent with God’s love for the fatherless.  Sometimes YHWH did annihilate entire, multi-generational, communities of wickedness… but, consistently, held His hand out to the orphans:

Jeremiah 49:10-11

YHWH: “But I have stripped Esau bare, I have uncovered his hiding places so that he will not be able to conceal himself; His offspring has been destroyed along with his relatives and his neighbours, and he is no more. Leave your orphans [y’tomeka] behind, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in Me.”

YHWH: a Champion to those in need

YHWH loyally showed Himself to be a champion of orphans. He was a rescuer from oppression. The wicked held onto chaos and condemnation but YHWH was a freedom giver: 

Psalm 146:7b-10

YHWH sets the prisoners free. YHWH opens the eyes of the blind; YHWH raises up those who are bowed down; YHWH loves the righteous; YHWH protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless [yatohm] and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked. YHWH will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise YHWH!

We have certainly made a mess of this planet. We have thrown our garbage into its oceans, we have filled the sky with poison, we have abused its animals, and as humans we have treated each other with very little respect. We have become a scourge and a terror on this beautiful planet created by God. How shameful that we treat each other with such cruelty and derision. We divide ourselves by race, religion, sex, and political leanings… lifting ourselves up and tearing others down… and we throw our children into the middle of it all. Despite all of this, YHWH has been a helper to the oppressed in order to counteract our corruption:

Psalm 10:14b-18

The unfortunate commits himself to You [YHWH]; You have been the helper of the orphan [yatohm]. Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer, seek out his wickedness until You find none. YHWH is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land. O YHWH, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear to vindicate the orphan [yatohm] and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror.

Although YHWH protected the orphan, He frequently used humans, as His Image-bearers on earth, to do it. We are His sent ones, His hands and feet on this planet to help those in need:

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

“Now, Israel, what does YHWH your God require from you, but to fear YHWH your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep YHWH’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? 

Behold, to YHWH your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did YHWH set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For YHWH your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. 

He executes justice for the orphan [yatohm] and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear YHWH your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now YHWH your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

Bishop Gerald Kwitegereza (centre) with children and staff of the Alpha Orphanage Project

Orphans and the Return to the Promised Land

During the Babylonian conquest, YHWH outlined, through His prophets, what it would take to regain His favour and dwell in the land where they were meant to be:

Jeremiah 7:1-7 (see also Jeremiah 22:1-5)

The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH, saying, “Stand in the gate of YHWH’s house and proclaim there this word and say, ‘Hear the word of YHWH, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship YHWH!’” 

Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of YHWH, the temple of YHWH, the temple of YHWH.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbour, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan [yatohm], or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.

But the Israelites did not listen to Jeremiah and they were ripped out of Jerusalem and dragged away as captives and war refugees to Babylon.  The writer of Lamentations mourned their fate:

Lamentations 5:1-5

Remember, O YHWH, what has befallen us; look, and see our reproach! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our houses to aliens.

We have become orphans [y’tohmim] without a father, our mothers are like widows. We have to pay for our drinking water, our wood comes to us at a price. Our pursuers are at our necks; we are worn out, there is no rest for us.

Once again they were slaves, always owing, but YHWH kept His promise to, someday, gather them, bring them back and restore their fortunes. They would have a future in His presence:

Jeremiah 20:10-14

“For thus says YHWH, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares YHWH, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares YHWH, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares YHWH, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

And so seventy years after their exile, they returned to Jerusalem, just as God promised. 

Zechariah was a prophet during the time when the Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. Although much had happened over the seventy years, YHWH’s message remained constant:

Zechariah 7:8-10

Then the word of YHWH came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has YHWH of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan [w-yatohm], the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’”

When the Israelites began to flourish in the newly rebuilt Jerusalem, the prophet known as “My messenger” (Malachi) spoke the words of YHWH and offered further glimpses into the YHWH’s plan. Just as the people had returned to the place of the Temple, YHWH would also, someday, return to the Temple:

Malachi 3:1

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says YHWH of hosts…

Do you recall when YHWH had expressed disdain for the offerings and feasts given by humans (“Bring your worthless offerings no longer… I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me(see Isaiah 1:13-14))? At His return YHWH would find pleasure in these things again:

Malachi 3:4-7

Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to YHWH as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan [w-yatohm], and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says YHWH of hosts.

“For I, YHWH, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says YHWH of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’”

This is a beautiful image: YHWH will return to the Temple to dwell among His people. He had promised to bring the people back from Babylon and that had happened, but humans had also been exiled out of the Garden of Eden and, ultimately, that was where we were meant to go. God promised to return to the Temple, but He wants to return us to the Garden, where we can see Him, face to face. 

To get there we have to seek out our Creator. He will return to us, if we return to Him. We do not have to be orphans on this earth. We are YHWH’s children and He is welcoming us home.

God’s Children are not Orphans

The apostle John identified that we are God’s children:

1 John 3:1

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 

Hosea understood that there was another layer to the word orphan… it wasn’t just being without an earthly father, it was also about a lost connection with our Creator Father. We have orphaned ourselves from our Maker. 

Hosea 14:1-3

Return, O Israel, to YHWH your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to YHWH. Say to Him, 

“Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan [yatohm] finds mercy.”

Sin may have caused us to drift away from our Creator, but that does not make us orphans. If your children walk away from you, they are still your children, no matter how far they go. YHWH is merciful, He will welcome any child (of any age) who comes to Him, with the open arms of a loving Father.

Yeshua knew it, and believed it, and expressed it well in his parable of the prodigal son. In the parable there were two sons: one who left and squandered his inheritance, and one son who loyally stayed home with his father. Eventually the errant son realized his great mistake and returned home:

Luke 15:20-21

“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

But his father did not agree, (once a son, always a son), and he joyously celebrated his return. When the remorseful son returned, the son who had faithfully stayed with his father was indignant. Why should they celebrate the return of the one who had abandoned them? But his father responded:

Luke 15:31-31

“Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.

YHWH is our Great and Loving father,  waiting for us… for the day we can be reunited, face to face, in the Garden of heaven. Some of us have been faithful children of God all of our lives and some of us need to find our way back. No matter what spiritual state we are in, all are equally worthy of God’s kingdom.

Yeshua dwelt among us… He had returned to the Temple, was sacrificed for the iniquity of humanity, and brought YHWH’s plan of Salvation to fruition. He redeemed us; He set us free. We are not orphans on this planet, we are daughters and sons of YHWH, redeemed by the power of His love.

Yeshua’s days on the planet were limited, but He did not want His disciples to feel like orphaned children when He had to leave, so He gave them a promise:

John 14:16-20

Jesus: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans [Greek: orphanous]; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.

You are not alone; you are not abandoned; you are not an orphan. You are a child of God, embedded with His Spirit, never alone, always connected to YHWH, if you allow yourself to be. Remember that YHWH said, You shall not afflict any widow or orphan [w-yatohm]. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry(Exodus 22:22). When we feel alone, orphaned on this planet, we can also cry out to YHWH and He will hear us:

Isaiah 30:19-21a

O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it.

Orphan’s on earth have a Father waiting in Heaven to see them face to face, but without YHWH we are all spiritually Fatherless. We can celebrate knowing that we have a Great Father awaiting our arrival in the home we were always meant to live in:

Psalm 68:3-5

But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; yes, let them rejoice with gladness. Sing to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, whose name is YHWH, and exult before Him. A Father of the fatherless [a’vi y’tohmim] and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation.

Wherever, or whatever, your relationship with YHWH is, He loves you unconditionally. He doesn’t want you to be an orphan anymore. He wants to bring you home.

Next week: Father

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