When it comes to laws concerning widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22-24), God breaks protocol. The ten words from the fire came directly from God to the people and were written by Him in stone (Deuteronomy 10:12–13). The Book of the Covenant runs from 20:22–23:33 and came to the people through the mediation of Moses and were written by him on parchment (Exodus 24:4, 7). This means most of the Book of the Covenant is in the second person, but when it comes the fatherless and husbandless, the first person is resumed.
“If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless (Exodus 22:23–24).”
The cry of the oppressed orphans and widows would rise to God the same way Israel’s cries came to God under their Egyptian oppressors. God is telling them there could be an Israel within Israel and they might find themselves to be Egyptians. In the prophets a frequent reason given for the exile is their treatment of orphans and widows.
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever (Jeremiah 7:5–7).”
When father’s are absent, God is a father to the fatherless in a special sense. This is patriarchy, which is to say this is fatherhood. We style ourselves complementarian contra egalitarians, and that’s all well and good, but there is an older term, a more descriptive term, though a more offensive one: patriarchalism. Patriarchalism doesn’t men that women are used and abused but protected and provided for. It means that there are fathers.
The reason why widows and orphans were so vulnerable is because they were fatherless (also meaning hudsband-less).Why do so many women and children tremble behind locked doors? Because there are too few men inside as protectors and too many men outside as predators. The problem isn’t patriarchy. The problem isn’t fatherhood. That’s the solution. The problem is the absence of patriarchy. A father-ful society is the best one for widows and orphans. Father famine abounds, but to the hungry we say there is a Father feast above. The only hope of impacting father famine on the ground is for men to be transformed by the Father in the Son through the Spirit so that they show forth His image in the world.
“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).”