October 19, 2006

A Widow's Might

2006 1530 page24 capIDOWS ARE MENTIONED numerous times in the Scriptures. The word conjures up a helpless, poverty-stricken woman on the margins of the biblical culture. Every time she identified herself as a widow, she revealed her distress. (The Hebrew word for widow means “a silent one”; the Greek word means “one bereaved,” “the silent one.”)
At times widowhood produced other problems besides the loss of a loved one. If she had no close adult male relative to serve as her legal protector, she was truly abandoned and helpless before the law. Not many options were open for her financial security. She could return to the parental home; or if the levirate system functioned, a close kin might marry her (if he chose). Or she could decide to brave life as a single person.
God declared Himself the protector of the widow. “Do not take advantage of a widow. . . . If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry” (Ex. 22:22, 23).* But unfortunately, widows were often exploited and their rights denied. “They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless. They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed’” (Ps. 94:6, 7). It was the same in Jesus’ time.
In spite of their humble status in ancient societies, some widows exerted a strong influence.

In Announcing the Messiah

Her father, Phanuel, named his baby girl “Grace” (Anna is a transliteration of the Hebrew Hannah into Greek. The Hebrew means “Grace.”). The family traced their lineage to the tribe of Asher, whose women were famous for their beauty. Grace grew up in the closing years of the Maccabean state. As a young woman she witnessed the subjugation of the Jews by the Roman general Pompey (63 B.C.).

2006 1530 page24Traditionally, Hebrew girls married early. Grace may have been 15 or 16 when she married. But seven years later tragedy struck the couple; her beloved husband died, and Grace became a helpless widow. Seeking solace, she turned to her God and to His Word. At some point in her lonely years of widowhood, God spoke directly to Grace, bestowing upon her the prophetic gift. Perhaps this opened the doors of the Temple complex for a place to live. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37).
As Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus to the Lord, Grace entered the court, and recognized the babe as the long-looked-for Messiah. Immediately giving thanks to her prayer-hearing God, she began to speak about the child “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
This was her shining hour. This, so to speak, symbolized her might for God’s cause!

In Witnessing for God in Tough Times

In our society a mother-in-law is often the butt of cruel jokes, accused of interfering in the lives of her married children. It’s said that the world would have never known about Naomi, had not Ruth been so famous. But in reality, it is the other way around. Naomi is the true heroine in the book of Ruth.

Naomi met Ruth in Moab, a tableland 3,000 feet above the Mediterranean Sea, east of the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea. The Moabites were blood-related to Israel through Lot. Both nations spoke the same language, but the Moabites were pagans. Ruth worshipped the god Chemosh, which at times accepted human sacrifices. Naomi’s family had taken up temporary residence in Moab because of famine conditions in Judah. The years rolled on, and the boys Mahlon and Chilion matured and married, drawing Ruth and Orpah into the family circle. The girls daily witnessed Naomi’s genuine love for them and her kindness—the atmosphere of her home was so different from their parental homes!
Then death struck, and she was left a widow. When disease struck again and both sons succumbed, Naomi decided to return to Judah. And the three widows started out.Doubting that her young daughters-in-law could ever find a future in Judah, Naomi, as they arrived at the border between their two countries, insisted they return to their homes.
Orpah left. But Ruth had seen something in Naomi’s character that drew her. Her mother-in-law’s faithful lifestyle had revealed the true God to her pagan-darkened mind. The characteristics of the true Lord shone even through Naomi’s bitter tears, and Ruth earnestly begged: “Don’t urge me to leave you. . . . Where you go I will go. . . .Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth became not only a convert to the true faith but also an ancestress of the Lord Jesus. And all because of Naomi’s unconscious witness—another example of a widow’s might!

In Protecting Her Family

The funeral is over. The mourners are gone. The widow sits alone drawing two sobbing sons to her side. Through an open window a gentle breeze causes the oil lamp to sputter. The Bible doesn’t record her identity, but we will name her Joanna. We can only imagine her soft comforting words. Probably she reminds them of their father’s God-fearing life. How he studied in Elisha’s school of the prophets to become a leader in the nation. Maybe she encourages them to follow in his steps.

Suddenly a knock at the door. One of the boys jumps down and opens it. Two men enter. “Joanna,” says one, “we are sorry to disturb you at this hour, but we thought it best to tell you as soon as possible. Your husband left some unpaid debts we must settle.”
2006 1530 page24“But, . . . but, I am not prepared to pay these debts you say I owe.”
“Sorry, Joanna,” replies the creditor, “if you can’t, we will take your sons for slaves. That’s the law.”
“Give me some time,” Joanna pleads, “you just can’t take my boys.”
“Business is business, Joanna, but we’ll give you a few days.”
The next morning Joanna unburdens her heart to Elisha.
“Tell me what do you have in your house?” the prophet inquires.
“Nothing, except a little oil.”
Then he instructs her to gather from the neighbors as many empty jars as she can possibly obtain. Behind shut doors she is to pour the oil into these containers.
Joanna and her boys hold their breath as she begins to pour. The oil flows, filling every jar. In amazement she returns to tell Elisha the miracle. “Go sell the oil and pay your debts,” Elisha says. “You and your sons can live on what is left.”
God had heard her prayer. In the secret place of her house a saving miracle occurred. And once again we see another example of a widow’s might.

In Giving All She’s Got

The nameless widow who deposited “two very small copper coins” into the Temple treasury that day probably has had more references to her action than any other woman in Scripture. The amount was insignificant, but her motive priceless. Jesus said: She “out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on” (see Mark 12:42-44).

Ellen White wrote: “The influence of that little gift has been like a stream. . . . In a thousand ways it has contributed to the relief of the poor and the spread of the gospel. Her example of self-sacrifice has acted and reacted upon thousands of hearts in every land and in every age.”†
Here we see the financial influence of a widow’s might.
In Serving Nameless
Scattered throughout the world church of Seventh-day Adventists are thousands of widows who faithfully serve God. Some, as writers or with other gifts that place them in the public eye, may be well known. But most of them will never see their names in print. They are the unsung heroines of the local churches at the grassroots of the movement—heroines of the small congregations.
I think of one widow who suffers with diabetes, arthritis, and an unsuccessful cataract operation. Yet she cares for the children of several working mothers and brings them to Sabbath school and church, if the parents permit. She usually is the first person at the Sabbath morning services, praying and meditating before the regulars and visitors arrive. Her official office is head deaconess. As community service director, she stores in her shed used clothing for the less fortunate. Faithfully she visits sick neighbors, often nursing, sewing, shopping, and cooking for those in need. At committee meetings she seldom speaks unless addressed, but her actions in the church and community reveal God’s love in her heart.
We may think that a humble life like hers—and that of thousands of widows like her—is beneath our notice. Wrong! She is an example of one widow’s might, the influence of which continues from Bible times to now. They are part of the glue that holds the world church together. Their collective might is awesome.
*All Scripture references are from NIV.
The Desire of Ages, p. 616.
The late Frank Holbrook was a former associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.