God Is: Merciful and Caring to Those Who Are Weak
by Jonathan Hamilton
As the first “normal” installment in the long-term “God Is:” series (the first one was an introduction, the second was correspondence), I want to focus here on some additional observations from Deuteronomy that clearly demonstrate, among other things, God’s mercy and personal care for the weak and lowly of this world. While we are all weak and lowly compared to Him, these passages show God’s heart towards those that we would consider weak even compared to ourselves. Widows. Orphans. The poor. Foreigners residing within Old Testament Israel. Levites who had no inheritance among the other tribes due to their status of being set apart for God’s use. Many of these we still have with us today. Some we don’t. Nevertheless, these were the weakest of humanity with whom Israel interacted.
And God cared for them.
Observe His words in Deuteronomy 26:12-13 (NASB):
12 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 You shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments.
Being a bit slow on the uptake at times, it took me until Chapter 26 to start thinking, “You know, this care for the weak sounds familiar. I think it’s been mentioned before at least once or twice.” Doing some simple cross-referencing revealed several mentions prior. While not exhaustive, here are some sample passages dealing with the same theme:
From Chapter 14:
28 “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. 29 The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
From Chapter 15:
7 “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.9 Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10 You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11 For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’
10 Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the Lord your God blesses you; 11 and you shall rejoice before the Lord 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 and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name. 12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. 13 “You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; 14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns.
And finally, Chapter 24 (think of the story of Ruth and Boaz here):
19 “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, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.
It’s interesting to observe some of the reasons the Lord gives for this care for the weak. First, because He commanded it. It’s simple, really. Do this, Israel, to observe the Lord’s commandment. But the secondary reasons, and what would seem to be, from a human perspective, the impetus for the first become clear also. Namely these: the Levites had no specific inheritance in the Israel (i.e. lands to grow their own crops and herds) due to the nature of their service, they were supported by the tithes of the people; additionally, the weakest of the land needed help in order to survive; that is, orphans, widows, aliens, and other legitimately poor members of society. Naturally, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for these to adequately provide for themselves given the economic realities of that era. I would imagine the fact that they were nomads on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and would need time to get some semblance of an organized agricultural and economic system up and running, initially contributed to the importance of caring for each other in these ways. As a matter of fact, God reminds them that they were strangers in the land of Egypt, and gives this as another reason for them to engage in care for the weakest among them. Don’t forget where I brought you from. Remember Me, remember My care and compassion for you, and do likewise as you enter the land of promise.
This theme is not limited to Deuteronomy. In Psalm 94:6, the Psalmist cries out to God with a fierce indictment against the wicked who, according to verse 6, “slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans.” In Isaiah 1:16-17 God reproves the nation of Israel for their failure in this area, even referring to them as Sodom and Gomorrah a few verses earlier, a shocking label for His people:
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”
To be clear, my goal today is not to draw distinct comparisons between how Israel was to handle these groups and how we ought to. That’s not my point at all. My goal is to focus us on what these passages reveal to us about the nature and character of God Himself. Among other things, the mercy of God displayed through His care for the weakest members of His chosen nation is on display here. Our primary responses ought to include reverential worship, praise, thanksgiving, adoration and all associated thoughts and actions that show our love for God, which is properly and necessarily shaped by our knowledge of His character as revealed in His Word.
God is a merciful God, and for that we ought to be very thankful. Glory in His name today.