Sounds like: al’manAW
As of yesterday I have been a widow for one year. It’s a heavy title to bear, and I will carry it for the rest of my life. I recall reading about widows in the Bible, but now the word pops out to me like never before.
In one instance, after being attacked by the Babylonians, Jerusalem was described as a grieving widow:
How lonely sits the city that once had many people! She has become like a widow [k-al’manah] who was once great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces has become a forced labourer! She weeps bitterly in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has no one to comfort her…
Those of us who have lost a spouse know the feeling. There are copious tears, and it feels like our cultural identity has been stripped away and we’re forced to rebuild… and the rebuild never feels as glorious as it was before. When you loose a spouse, you loose a little bit of yourself too.
Justice for the Widow
However, what’s beautiful is the great and compassionate love YHWH had for widows. He repeatedly commanded that His people care for the poor, foreigners, orphans and widows. He recognized the help that widows would need. This was an ancient culture where most women were dependent on spouses for survival. Besides being a wife and mother there were very few acceptable professions for women. Without a husband, or providing adult children, there would be no income.
So God put in special provisions to make sure widows were provided for:
[YHWH:] “You shall not pervert the justice due a stranger or an orphan, nor seize a widow’s garment [al’manah] as a pledge. But you are to 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 forget a sheaf in the field, you are not to go back to get it; it shall belong to the stranger, the orphan, and to the widow [w-la-al’manah], in order that YHWH your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
When you beat the olives off your olive tree, you are not to search through the branches again; that shall be left for the stranger, the orphan, and for the widow [w-la-al’manah].
When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you are not to go over it again; that shall be left for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow [w-la-al’manah]. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.”
God commanded that we provide for the needy, but He did more than that, He gave instructions on how to provide. The people were to intentionally leave part of their grain, olive, and grape harvest for the needy. God also instituted that all the tithing of every third year should go to the needy in the town, including the widows:
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 (see also Deuteronomy 26:12-15)
“At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and you shall deposit it in your town. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the stranger, the orphan, and the widow [w-ha-al’manah] 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.”
Even during the Festivals YHWH made special provisions for the widows:
Deuteronomy 16:11 (see also Deuteronomy 16:14)
[YHWH, regarding the celebration of the Feasts:] …you shall rejoice before YHWH your God, you, your son and your daughter, and your male and female slaves, and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger, the orphan, and the widow [w-ha-al’manah] who are in your midst.
God expected His people to feed and care for the widows. But what made God really angry was when we oppressed the needy:
“This is what YHWH of armies has said: ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow [w-al’manah] or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’
God reminded the people who they were. They were once needy, suffering refugees in Egypt. They knew what it felt like to be dependant on others for sustenance and so they had no excuse for not offering help in their time of prosperity:
So circumcise your heart, and do not stiffen your neck any 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 and the widow [w-al’manah], and shows His love for the stranger by giving him food and clothing.
So show your love for the stranger, for you were strangers 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 glory 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.
This commandment to care for the needy even became part of the curses at Mount Ebal:
‘Cursed is one who distorts the justice due a stranger, an orphan, or a widow [w-al’manah].’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
There were also warnings of what God’s reaction would be if they did not follow His commandment:
[YHWH:] “You shall not oppress a stranger nor torment him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not oppress any widow [kal al’manah] or orphan. If you oppress him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will assuredly hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled.”
The Strength of Widows
There are quite a few widows who get mentioned in the Bible, including:
- Tamar, who was a widow who fought for the widow’s rights that she had been denied (Genesis 38).
- Ruth, who was a Moabite who refused to abandon her own widowed mother-in-law, Naomi (Book of Ruth).
- Widow of Zarephath, who was a poor Gentile widow who willingly fed the prophet Elijah, even though she had only enough to provide one last meal for her and her son before starvation took them. Jesus highlighted her as a woman of great (yet humble) faith (1 Kings 17 & Luke 4:23-30).
- Anna the Prophetess, who was an elderly woman who had been widowed for most of her life. She “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:36-38).
These women held onto their faith despite their adversity. YHWH was their protector:
Sing to God, sing praises to His name; exalt Him who rides through the deserts, whose name is YHWH, and be jubilant before Him.
A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows [al’manowt], is God in His holy dwelling.
God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, only the rebellious live in parched lands.
Off the Mark
God is a compassionate God and He has a soft-spot for widows. But humans sometimes forget compassion. Sometimes they can’t relate to widows. Until they had lost a loved one, they could not understand grief; until they felt the pain of destitution, they could not understand poverty; and until they were forced into exile, they could not understand the plight of the refugee.
It’s interesting that some of the Bible’s great “heroes” didn’t really act heroically when it came to the topic of widows. They may have had empathy for widows within their community, but they wished for widowhood on their enemies.
Because their enemies had made widows out of their people, and they wanted to “repay” the favour:
How long, YHWH, shall the wicked— How long shall the wicked triumph? They pour out words, they speak arrogantly; all who do injustice boast. They crush Your people, YHWH, and afflict Your inheritance. They kill the widow [al’manah] and the stranger and murder the orphans.
David wanted revenge against these murderous enemies by giving them a taste of their own medicine:
[David, regarding his enemies:] May his days be few; may another take his office. May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow [al’manah].
May his children wander about and beg; and may they seek sustenance far from their ruined homes. May the creditor seize everything that he has, and may strangers plunder the product of his labour. May there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to be gracious to his fatherless children.
That’s pretty harsh… and it went against everything YHWH said about showing kindness to foreigners and widows. Jeremiah also expressed similar feelings:
[Jeremiah:] Therefore, give their [the enemy’s] children over to famine and turn them over to the power of the sword; and let their wives become childless and widowed [w-al’manowt]. Let their men also be slaughtered to death, their young men struck and killed by the sword in battle.
Thankfully we have a God who is not motivated by vengeance. We have a God who wants, first and foremost, to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. God gets does angry, but His nature is to build, not to destroy. However, in this instance, God recognized that His own people were acting like His enemies and so they became a product of their own wishes:
Isaiah 1:16b-17, 23-24 (See also Ezekiel 22:6-8, 23-30)
[YHWH:] Stop doing evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, obtain justice for the orphan, plead for the widow’s [al’manah] case…
…Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after gifts.
They do not obtain justice for the orphan, nor does the widow’s [al’manah] case come before them. Therefore the Lord YHWH of armies, the Mighty One of Israel, declares,
“Ah, I will have satisfaction against My adversaries, and avenge Myself on My enemies.”
They wanted the “enemy” to suffer, but they had become the enemy themselves, and so their wish was granted. God stepped aside and let the Assyrians strike Israel, and later He let the Babylonians strike Judah.
Widows in Exile
Once they had been stricken by death, destruction, and chaos they understood the plight of the widow:
Remember, YHWH, what has come upon us; look, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our houses to foreigners. We have become orphans, without a father; our mothers are like widows [k-al’manowt].
God had given so many warnings to His people, but they did not listen:
[YHWH:] Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and to those who constantly record harmful decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor among My people of their rights, so that widows [al’manowt] may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans.
Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among those killed.
In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out.
We can spit in God’s face and yet still His hand is stretched out towards us. We just have to reach out, grab His hand, and He will embrace us. This is a God who wants more than anything to save us, comfort us, and bring us Home… but we have to want it.
Yeshua and the Widows
Yeshua (Jesus) saw that the same bad behaviour in His own time. People were treating widows horribly:
And in His [Jesus’] teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like personal greetings in the marketplaces, and seats of honour in the synagogues, and places of honour at banquets, who devour widows’ [Greek: cheron] houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive all the more condemnation.”
Immediately after making the proclamation, Yeshua saw a widow in the Temple’s treasury:
And Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and began watching how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large amounts. And a poor widow [Greek: chera] came and put in two lepta coins, which amount to a quadrans. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow [Greek: chera] put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
Yeshua was touched by the overwhelming generosity and faith of this widow. He admired her. In a similar way He also admired the historical Widow of Zarephath, who gave food to Elijah despite barely having any food to feed herself and her son. In his hometown Synagogue in Nazareth, Yeshua put a spotlight on the Gentile widow in Elijah’s life:
“But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a severe famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow [Greek: cheran].”
Yeshua highlighted the humble faith of this Gentile woman but the message was not well received in the Synagogue. Yeshua made a Gentile woman look more faithful than the average Jewish man, and that didn’t win Yeshua any favours:
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and brought Him to the crest of the hill on which their city had been built, so that they could throw Him down from the cliff. But He passed through their midst and went on His way.
Regardless of the reception, Yeshua continued to draw attention to faithful widowed women. And in one instant He felt a strong emotional connection that would lead Him to do an incredible miracle:
Soon afterward Jesus went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow [Greek: chera]; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her and said to her, “Do not go on weeping.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” And the dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has appeared among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” And this report about Him spread throughout Judea and in all the surrounding region.
Notice that “when the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her”. Why would that be?
This was not long before Yeshua, Himself, would die on the cross. By this time His mother Mary had become a widow. He knew His widowed mother would have to bury Him and, out of empathy, He immediately connected with the grief that this mother in Nain bore as she followed her son to the grave.
By raising up this only son of a widow He was giving a sneak peek into what He was about to do for all humanity. Yeshua was the son of a widow who would die and yet rise up again. It was the cosmic turning point that would free us from the chains of death.
But even on the cross, Yeshua ached for His widowed mother:
Now beside the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. So when Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
Widows who had lost their husbands and their children did not have the protection they needed. We know that Mary had at least some step-children (as Yeshua was described as having brothers), but Yeshua made sure that His mother was provided for by a son who would be genuine to her in her grief. He chose John to be the provider for His widowed mother. Even on the cross He put others before Himself.
In fact, Yeshua fulfilled perfectly the character of God described in Psalm 146:
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in YHWH his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and everything that is in them.
Who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
YHWH frees the prisoners. YHWH opens the eyes of those who are blind; YHWH raises up those who are bowed down; YHWH loves the righteous.
YHWH watches over strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow [w-al’manah], but He thwarts the way of the wicked.
YHWH will reign forever, Your God, Zion, to all generations. Praise YHWH!
YHWH wants to support His widowed children. He wants to lift us up and carry our burden. The faith of a widow who relies on the support and love of their Saviour is a beautiful testament to others.
To my widowed sisters and brothers, hold onto your faith. We can be shining examples that death does not hold us back from love. Shalom, to each and everyone of you.
Next week: QUEEN