Wisdom, Orphan Care, and the Fatherless

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

NB: This sermon was preached on Orphan Care Sunday 2019 at Morningview Baptist Church (11/10/2019).

Good evening. Please turn with me in your bibles to the 23rd chapter of the book of Proverbs. Proverbs chapter 23.

We continue tonight in our study of the book of Proverbs, the bible’s preeminent source for practical, real-life, nitty gritty application of the law. This book answers the question of what the wise life looks like, what righteousness looks like, what a just life looks like.

And tonight, being the end of Orphan care Sunday, I thought we’d jump ahead in the book. We were originally scheduled to be in chapter 3, but I want to preach tonight on the intersection of wisdom and orphan care. What does the bible’s book of wisdom say about caring for orphans? Does a wise person act any differently toward orphans than a fool does? And what does Godly wisdom tell us about God’s disposition towards the helpless, the fatherless, the widow, and the oppressed?

Tonight we will examine the one text in proverbs that explicitly mentions the fatherless, but, as you will see, the bible speaks much of this topic, and even if we aren’t directly caring for orphans, the topic is relevant for each and every one of us.

Let’s begin by reading proverbs chapter 23, verses 10-11. Proverbs 23:10-11:

10Do not move an ancient landmark
or enter the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Redeemer is strong;
he will plead their cause against you.

Let’s begin by looking at the general prohibition in verse 10. The general prohibition. Verse 10 begins with what sounds to us as a strange prohibition “10Do not move an ancient landmark.” Or “Do not move an ancient boundary stone.” In old testament times, and even today in some more rural areas, the property lines between different parties were often marked by using natural features, like a big tree or a boulder. My property land at home marked by a creek on one side of the property. But, when there was no natural feature to mark the boundary between two different pieces of property, then it was customary to leave a big, conspicuous stone as a marker. It would serve as a sign that this was where one person’s property stopped, and another person’s property began.

Furthermore, these boundary lines are here called ancient, referring back to the time that God himself divided up the promised land among the different tribes, and clans, and families.

And the immediate application from beginning of verse10 not to move the boundary markers. Don’t move the rocks. You don’t have the right or authority to do that.

It would have been easy to do. It’s likely that nobody would notice if you moved one of them, and even if you did, there would not really be any way for somebody to prove that you had done it. You could even move the markers over time. Slowly. Gradually. Each little bit slowly increasing the size of your land, and thus slowly increasing your wealth.

This exact sin of moving boundary stones may not be something that we have to struggle with today, but the underlying motivation is alive and well in us today. Greed motivated theft is something that was real for the Israelite farmers, and is real for us.

There is a vivid story of stealing motivated by greed in the old testament that clearly illustrates the temptation and dangers associated with such sins. Remember back in the book of Joshua chapter 7 we have the story of Achan and his hidden sin. The Israelites were making their way through the promised land, slowly purging the land of pagan idolaters. God had ordered the Israelites to empty the land of everything: all the Canaanites, the livestock, the plunder, the gold, the silver, everything. And they had been faithful to do that. But then the army came to the city of Ai, which was reported to be of little threat. The spies came back to Joshua and said just take a few thousand men, its not even worth the whole army being bothered to march up there. So they did. But Joshua’s men were defeated, humiliated, and many died.

The text says that Joshua tore his clothes and asked God, “Why?” God responded that it was because somebody in the camp had sinned, they had transgressed God’s covenant, and thus brought a curse upon the people.

So Joshua obeyed God’s instruction to find the sinner. He had the people of God march in front of him until it was made clear to him who the sinner was. And Joshua then spoke in chapter 7 verse 19, and said to Achan:

“My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise[b] to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels,[c] then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones.26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.[d]

Achan saw the spoils, he coveted them in his heart. He thought that he could steal them and nobody would notice. He thought he could hide the silver and gold and the cloak, and nobody would miss them. His covetous heart drove him to directly violoate God’s covenant, led him to steal something that didn’t belong to him, and ultimately led him to be killed outside of the camp.

If we aren’t careful we can find ourselves in the same place as Achan. It may not be plunder from Canaanites that tempts us to steal or moving an ancient rock on somebody else’s land, but we still suffer from covetous hearts that tempt us to steal from others.

How many of us are tempted to steal time from our employers by not working diligently when we should? We play around on line or kill time on our phones, and thus steal from our boss the wages and time that ought to have been devoted to working faithfully. We would never actually reach into the cash register to steal so blatantly, but we don’t think twice about stealing time because we’re deceived like Achan to think that nobody will ever know.

Or maybe you’ve felt the temptation to skim some numbers on your tax return and steal from the government what is due to him. Nobody will know, you can just pocket this, under-report that, and with just a little bit of shuffling around, you’re able to have a little thicker wallet. We think that no one will see, just like the man that slowly slides the boundary marker a little further toward someone else’s land.

A lack of human witnesses and a lack of immediate consequences, combined with our covetous hearts, tempts us to think that we can get what we want, that we can violate the clearly revealed will of God, and that nobody will ever know. But the problem is that God knows. God sees. God remembers. And God will act.

There is another story in the old testament where someone stole from God. In the garden Adam stole the fruit that didn’t belong to him. He coveted the fruit and the knowledge that was forbidden of him. He denied the clearly revealed will of God, violated God’s covenant, and thought that he could get away with it. But in the end it brought him only death. That fruit which promised him satisfaction, brought only the fruit of death. The tree that promised life, became a tree of death. And because of his disobedience, he was kicked out of the Garden, out of God’s camp, where he eventually died.

But the good news of the gospel is that there is another son and another tree. IN the fullness of time, the New Testament tells us, God sent his very own Son. This son never once coveted what didn’t belong to him. He never once looked greedlily upon that which was prohibited for him. IN fact, he was not only not greedy, but he was perfectly generous. He perfectly fulfilled the terms of God’s covenant. He gave to any and all in genuine need. He was so generous in his disposition that he gave his very life for sinners like you and me.

And He freely gave his blood for a sinful people that had done nothing but steal from him. He gave his body to be broken for thieves like us who coveted what we didn’t need. He, like Achan, was taken outside of the camp, outside of Jerusalem, and was killed in the place of sinners.

And He is willing to give to us his righteousness to be counted as our own, if we but believe in him.

Adam’s coveting brought the fruit of death from his tree, but Christ’s generosity brought about the fruit of life from his tree on Calvary. Remember that exchange the next time you’re tempted to steal. Remember the cost that Christ paid for your forgiveness. Remember the price of your freedom. Remember that you deserved to be stoned outside of the camp like Achan, but Christ went outside of the camp in your place, to bore the wrath of God. And remember that, in Christ, you are promised everything you need, and that your good father will not leave you or forsake you, so there is no need for you to steal to find satisfaction.

Forsake the lies of the devil that want you to believe that stolen bread will taste sweet, or that stolen land will satisfy. Because, as Proverbs tells us, that stole bread will turn to rocks in your mouth, and that moved boundry stone will never satisfy. God alone can satisfy your needs. Stay near to him, and trust in his sufficient provision.

Next, we’ve looked at the general prohibition (don’t be greedy and steal), now let’s look at the particular prohibition. The particular prohibition, found in the latter half of verse 10: 10Do not move an ancient landmark, or enter the fields of the fatherless”.

The prohibition here is not merely to avoid moving their landmarks, thereby stealing from them, but not even to enter into the fields of the fatherless. Don’t move their boundary stones, don’t try and take bits of their land, don’t lay claim to their property, don’t even take some of their crops. Don’t even go near. Avoid the temptation to take what appears can be taken without reprisal or fuss. It’s like the reminders we’ve heard throughout our study of proverbs: don’t even let your foot go near temptation. Don’t even enter the field of the fatherless.

This command is there because just like today, but especially back in old testament times, the helpless orphan is particularly vulnerable to exploitation, particularly defenseless and prone to fall for the deceitful plots. The orphan, like the widow, has no father to protect and provide. They are defenseless, they are without guard, they are vulnerable.

Furthermore, being children, they do not understand that they are being wronged. They can be easily deceived, easily duped, easily led astray. We must take care not to exploit those that are ignorant or unaware, or incapable of understanding, the injustices happening to them. This includes the elderly and especially widows, the naïve or simple-minded, those with intellectual disabilities, foreigners who may not understand our language or our laws, and anyone else who might be easily manipulated or deceived.

But layered under the sin are other sins as well. Stealing from the fatherless was a form of partiality, a sin clearly condemned in the bible. Think about it. Would you dare to steal from someone that was powerful or rich? Only a fool would try and be so brazen. But many might be tempted to exploit someone that was weak, someone that couldn’t defend themselves.

We see this kind of behavior all the time. People try every day to scam senior citizens over the phone, to deceive them into giving away their money in some scheme.

Additionally, stealing land from the fatherless is also a violation of the 6th commandment, you shall not murder. This is so because you are treating the fatherless child as if they were dead, and grabbing their inheritance was yours for the taking.

In short, the clearest application for this proverb is a negative application of law: don’t take advantage of the powerless/weak/helpless. And I think that most reasonable human beings can affirm that principle.

But the harder principle for us is the positive application of the law: We may not be actively exploiting the needy, but how many of us are positively being generous to those that are helpless? How many of us are overflowing with love for the widows and orphans around us?

When you see a person asking for money on the side of the off-ramp, is your first disposition one of compassion and generosity? Or is your first thought: “man, you bum, go get a job”?

When you hear of a need in the church, or at work, or in your neighborhood, or in your family, is your first impulse to try and helpfully meet that need? Or do you ignore or hide from those needs, greedily clinging to your time, or your energy, or your money? I don’t want to go help with that, that’s going to take up my whole day. I’ll have to miss the big game. That will be costly. I don’t want to give my money to help them with that. I’ll have to give up something: I can’t buy that thing I wanted, or I’ll have to take an extra couple of shifts to cover that. I don’t want to do that.

Even if we aren’t the one actively caring for the orphan and the widow, serving on the front lines, we’re called to have a general disposition of compassion for those in need. Think of the story of the good Samaritan. We’re called to have compassion on those that need help, called to serve, to inconvenience ourselves, called to assist where we are able.

Praise God that that is exactly what Christ has done for us. He saw us when we were floundering in our sin, when we had orphaned ourselves by rebelling against our heavenly father, when we had forfeited our inheritance and given up our birth rights.

His disposition is to have tender mercy on the helpless, and he is moved to act on behalf of the needy and exploited. And We see that in the very next verse. Look at verse 11:

 10Do not move an ancient landmark
or enter the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Redeemer is strong;
he will plead their cause against you.

Why do we not exploit the needy? Well a First motivation is because God is a strong redeemer.

The word for Redeemer is used elsewhere to describe the next closest relative who is responsible to buy back lost family land (Lev 25:25-28; Ruth 4:1-12). The word is also translated as the avenger, the one who would avenge the blood of a family member (Num. 35:12, 19).

Boaz is the clearest example of a redeemer. In the story of Ruth we have a woman who was without a provider, without a protector. She has no source of real income, no land to provide for herself, no real hope of a future. She was vulnerable, helpless, and liable to exploitation. But Boaz was willing to help her, to redeem her, to give her a future and to support her. He had little to nothing to gain from her, but because of his generous and compassionate disposition, she was given life and satisfaction. She was given a hope and a future.

But it is not just Boaz who is called a redeemer. The same word is also used of God and his care for otherwise helpless or defenseless people. In Gen 48, Israel describes God as the one who has redeemed him from ALL EVIL. In Exodus 6:6 God promises deliverance through Moses, when he says, “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” Isaiah calls God the redeemer who helps, who will save Israel from Babylon, and the creator redeemer, who formed you in your mother’s womb, and who stretched out the heavens (Is 41:14; 43:14; 44:24). Job calls God the living redeemer (Job 19:25-27). And Jeremiah says, that God has “has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him” and that Jacob’s “Redeemer is strong; the Lord of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon.”(Jer 31:11; 50:34).

God is the might redeemer of his people, who buys them out of poverty, protects them with his might arm, adopts them into his household, and gives them an inheritance.

But not only are we called to not exploit the weak because God is a strong redeemer. A Second Motivation given against exploitation is in the end of Verse 11:

11 for their Redeemer is strong;
    he will plead their cause against you.

God will please the case of the helpless. That expression “Please their case” (also found in Proverbs 22:23) is a translation of a Hebrew euphemism describing fighting, strife, quarreling between two people, and came to mean the bringing of a lawsuit. God, because of his great love and compassion for the needy, has voluntarily chosen to fight for the weak and needy.

As one commentator says, “God will stand beside His people when they are unjustly taken advantage of and [are] out-manned, out-gunned, and out-numbered.”[1]

He will defend the widow and the orphan. He will take the side of the exploited and the oppressed.

Deuteronomy 10:17-18 says “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

And in the Psalms God appoints himself “a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows” (Ps 68:5a).

In short, God will act, he will judge, he will be the advocate on behalf of the orphan. And his justice will be sure.

And do you know what the penalty for mistreating a widow and orphan is under God’s law? Listen to the words of Exodus 22:22-24:

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 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.”

In short, if you mistreat the widow or the orphan, God will put you to death. If you exploit the needy, you will become needy. If you harass the widow, your wife will become a widow. If you abuse the fatherless, your children will become fatherless. God will be the avenger. God will be your judge and jury. He will act, his vengeance will be true, and his verdict will be righteous. Death is the penalty for sin, and an extra-terrible sentence will be executed upon those that exploit the needy.

But the good news of Jesus Christ is that even though we don’t care for the needy like we should, even though we’re tempted to steal, even though we’re tempted to neglect, even though we have hard hearts devoid of compassion, God in Christ showed us compassion. He came and walked on the earth, showing us what compassion looked like. He came and rejected the temptation to covet, even when Satan himself offered him the whole world.

But even more than that, he bore the wrath that we deserved. He was treated as worthless and weak so that we might be made strong. He was robbed of all his earthly possessions so that we might have God’s provision. He was made poor so that we might be made rich in God’s kingdom.

He was treated like an exploited orphan so that we might be treated as adopted sons and daughters in the household of God. He became nothing, so that by his humiliation we might receive everything.

Do you hear that good news? Doesn’t it warm your heart, to hear that even though we deserved death and alienation, we deserved to be abandoned in our sin, but Christ took our place and earned for us acceptance in his name.

That’s the gospel, that’s the good news that propels us into a world full of orphans and widows that need our care. They need to hear the good news of Jesus, they need to experience Christian compassion and love, they need to be held with tenderness and protected, they need to have someone to advocate for them and be their voice. They need a faithful Boaz that will give them a hope and a future, and they need a strong redeemer who will break the teeth of the wolves that encircle them.

And if you find yourself feeling like a helpless widow, or like a powerless orphan, feel like you’re being taken advantage of and you have no way of redress, then I want to encourage you to hear the words of God’s promise I this text. Find strength in God’s promise that he will plead the case against the exploiter, and he is a strong avenger. (Psalm 12:5)

God sees the injustice. God sees the lies and the deceit and the greed and the hatred. He will not let the injustice go unpunished. Either in this life or the next, God will hear your cries and will act on your behalf, he will plead your case. Trust in that God, our great redeemer, and know that he will make all wrongs right.

And for all of us, we all stand vulnerable before Satan’s attempts to have us cast away and exploited. But like Job, we have an advocate who pleads on our behalf, and he pleads his own righteousness.[2]

And it is that pleading that we have before us tonight on the table. We see before us again the picture of Christ’s blood and body that are pleading for us. His blood pleads for us that we might be forgiven for our sins, and his body pleads for us that the punishment we had earned has now been atoned.

This table is for any and all that believe and have followed Christ’s commands for baptism. If you find yourself, like the Christians in acts 2, being devoted to the apostolic teaching found in God’s word, devoted to prayer, to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, then we invite you to join us at the table. But if you have not yet come to Christ, then I warn you to first repent of your sin and believe in Jesus, come to him by faith and be baptized, and then you may join us around Christ’s table. I’ll pray, and then our table servants will come.


[1] Kitchen, John A. Proverbs. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2006, page 523.


[2] Adapted from: Eric Lane, Proverbs, Focus on the Bible Series (Christian Focus, Fearn: 2017), 303.


You might also like...