Care, for the Lord Is Listening

22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

Exodus 22:22-24 (ESV)

The textile mills of the American South were cruel places in the early days of the twentieth century. Tens of thousands of children were employed in these factories, with appalling work schedules. In 1901, pastor Edgar Gardner Murphy founded the Alabama Child Labor Committee to ameliorate the situation. At his prodding, in 1907, the state passed its first restrictions on child labor.[1] And it should be no surprise that a Christian led the way, for from the days of Moses, God has insisted that helpless children be protected.

Beginning at Exodus 20:22, immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments, Moses presented a collection of laws extending for over three chapters—the “Book of the Covenant” (24:7). These God-given stipulations covered everything from accidental injury to a pregnant woman (21:22), to restitution for property damage (22:14), to bribes (23:8), to the schedule of religious festivals (23:14). Against the backdrop of a pagan world, the Lord insisted that His people, who enjoyed His blessings, would be holy.

If there was any doubt that God meant these as firm rules instead of warm ideals, He prescribed punishments and announced judgments. For instance, those who stole sheep had to repay the owner fourfold (22:1), and those who battered slaves must set them free (21:26-27). When, though, the issue was abuse of widows and children, God, in holy anger, declared a promise of death (22:24).

While the Book of the Covenant addressed relationships within the Israelite community (20:22), it would be a mistake to suppose that the principles embedded in this body of rules concern only His chosen people. For in such New Testament teachings as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:3-25:46), Jesus demanded that compassion be extended to the innocent, helpless of every race and creed.

In Moses’ day, the Israelites had their hands full caring for their own and for the strangers in peril in their midst. Today, the West enjoys such affluence that it can extend care to the widows and orphans of other lands. Through modern communications and transportation, the plight of overseas victims is immediately compelling. Consequently, God’s people are to bestow care with a reach the patriarchs could not imagine.

Damascus (Maryland) Wesleyan Church is a case in point. In the mid-1990s, they collected $287,000 to lease 10,000 acres for an orphanage in Zambia. Though church crowding at Damascus had pushed them to multiple services, they chose to raise money to address the scourge of AIDS in Africa, which has left millions of children without parents. Instead of a new building for themselves, they provided a first building, and subsequent buildings and ministries, for desperate Zambian children.[2]

No one would deny that rescuing children and widows from ruin and abuse is a good thing, but relatively few make this a priority. Even among Christians in the wealthy West, most churches are more concerned with their own facilities than with the cries of victims around the world—victims of AIDS, human trafficking, famine, and other evils. The Church has failed to extend the life-giving and life-preserving teachings of Christ to every corner of the world, and she has stood by idly while error and horror have crushed the spirits and health of countless children. It is, then, time to once again take up the cry of Moses, and to inform the brethren that the ruin of children and widows makes God very angry.

[1] Gary A. Haugen, Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 55-57.

[2] Marvin and Susan Olasky, “The Other Venue,” World, July 16, 2005, http://www.worldmag.com/articles/10818 (accessed September 5, 2006).