A Widow's Plea

by: Ronald L. Dart

Not so long ago, I got a letter from a widow that I knew I would have to respond to sooner or later. She wrote this:

"Dear Mr. Dart,

Could you possibly preach a sermon on the following lines for widows that are treated unfairly, so we could have a bit of encouragement?"

What followed was a list of a more than a dozen scriptures that she wished and hoped that people would consider in their dealings with widows and with the poor. And what sobered me more than a little is that she wanted this as a sermon presumably because whoever it was that she was concerned about would hear the sermon. And since I know that there is a finite number of people who actually hear these sermons, and they are by and large in church somewhere (or at least meant to be in church) that makes me stop and think. It suggests not merely encouragement for the widows, but some admonition to those who might take advantage of a widow or of a poor person.

Now, this resonated with me for a curious reason: For some 15 years or so while my wife Allie was in real estate, she would oftentimes be bending over backwards really pressing hard-for one of her customers. And I would inquire about it, and she would tell me that this woman is a widow, and that she was very careful to take care of the widows. And oftentimes she would cite the scriptures to me involved with taking care of widows. It seemed like, during a great deal of her time in real estate, she had almost all the time at least one widow somewhere in the group of people that she was working with. And she always felt that whatever it took to take care of them was something she had to do.

God’s Law About Widows

I'm going to fulfill this widow's request. I'm going to go over everyone-every single one-of the scriptures that she listed with you. But she neglected to cite the one particular passage that, I think, Allie quoted most often. And it's the basis, in the Law, for all the other scriptures that this lady quoted. It actually forms the foundation for it, in the Law, the principle that's involved in it. It's found in the 22nd chapter of the Book of Exodus. It's in that section of the Law that follows right on the heels of the Ten Commandments-when God starts handing down the things that He thinks are important.

Exodus 22 verse 21 "You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

You know you've been a foreigner. You know how you've been treated. I don't want to ever hear of you treating other people that way. Got it? Good.

Then He goes on to say next in Exodus 22 verse 22, "You shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. {23} If you afflict them in any way, [. ..]"

Notice there's no slack in here. He said, "If you afflict them in any way."

Exodus 22 verse 23, " [... and if they cry at all unto me, [...]"

That means to me that, if you do one thing to her, and she makes one prayer to me about it:

Exodus 22 verse 23, " [...] I will surely hear their cry; {24} And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless."

Now, I don't know about you, but that gets my attention. God says there's not going to be any messing around on this thing. The way you treat widows ...that's what's going to happen to you. And your wives and your kids may be without a husband and without a daddy.

Exodus 22 verse 25, "If you lend money to any of my people that is poor, you shall not be to him as an usurer, neither shall you lay on him usury. {26} If you at all take your neighbor's raiment to pledge, [...]"

If you say, "Okay, I'll tell you what: I'll lend you the money until next week, but I've got to have your coat. Give me your coat so that I know you'll come back and pay me back this money, okay?" If you do that, even though it's a week-long loan, when the sun goes down you have to go give him his coat.

Exodus 22 verse 26, " [. , .] you shall deliver it to him when the sun goes down: {27} For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? [What's he going to sleep in?] and it shall come to pass, when he cries to me, that I will hear; [...]"

Now, these are illustrations taken out of that time, that place, that circumstance, and they resonate down through all these generations to us today-that there are certain categories of people that, if you take advantage of them and they cry at all to God about it, God will avenge them. He'll take care of them, and will "take care" of you in the process. God says:

Exodus 22 verse 27, " [...] I will hear; for I am gracious." And I can hear the echo, "whether you are or not."

What Is Religion?

I have to say, I've been astonished in my lifetime at what some people seem to think that religion is.

Religion, for some, is knowing the truth-getting all the doctrines right. For others, it's ritual; it's ceremony. For other people, it's going to church. For some people, it's talk-and they can talk religion all the way into the wee, small hours of the night. That's religion.

For others, well, it's the sacrifices that they make. In ancient times, it was animals. It was calves and goats and all the blood that they sacrificed. For some people, it's perhaps a sacrifice to keep the Sabbath and the holy days. "I lost my job over the Sabbath, and then I lost another job to go to the Feast of Tabernacles." (And they were happy to tell you about it.) Or they sacrifice in terms of the offerings they give, and maybe it's tithes that they've sacrificed for.

You know, there's a funny thing about this. In most of these things, their religion focuses on the self: It's what I had to give up. It was the sacrifice that 1 made. It was the things that I know that you don't I know. It's the ceremony or the ritual that I do. It's the church that I go to. In other words, it's "I", and everything seems to focus in, on the self.

The things that you do, that you think are religious, are not the things that count with me," God said. "You can't do all those things and then violate other commandments, like the one against murder, and expect me to turn a blind eye to it.

Isaiah 1 verse 16, "Wash, make yourself clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; {17} Learn to do well; seek judgment, [and listen to this] relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."

Look after the helpless people in your society, and stop stomping all over them in your haste to take care of the rich people and the people who've got money to come to court." It's clear, isn't it.

Then he says this in Isaiah 1 verse 18, ""Come now, and let us reason together," said the LORD: "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.""

Now, I know that you have heard this last verse many times. "Come now, let's reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." (I think we may even have a hymn in our hymnal that sings that very verse [Jesus Paid It All].) But how often have you heard it as a part of the same paragraph as the verse immediately before it?

Isaiah 1 verse 17, "Learn to do well; seek judgment, [and listen to this] relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. {18} [...T]hough your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

"Now, I thought all I had to do was confess Christ and be baptized, and all my sins were washed away and I never had to deal with them anymore." Well there is a certain amount of truth involved in that. But if you think that confessing Christ, and being baptized, and then going out to live the Christian life, and then oppressing the widows, oppressing fatherless children, failing to take care of the needy and the hungry who come to your door ...if you think that that's going to cut it with God, you're on another planet. You're somewhere else. You're not paying attention to the things that God says in his Word.

The Widow’s Scriptures

Now, let me take you through the scriptures this widow-scriptures that a widow oppressed-wants us to hear. She used The Living Bible, so for the most part, I will too.

Be Fair, Just and Good

Psalm 106 verse three, "Happiness comes to those who are fair to others and are always just and good."

You know, to be "just" means to do the right thing by people. It means to treat people fairly. And she cites this scripture here: "Happiness comes to those who are fair to others and are always just and good." You know, take just a minute to stop and think about how the powerless feel when they are violated. This woman, interestingly enough ...and none of the scriptures that she cites in here really amount to a request for any kind of favoritism. They are requests for fairness.

Scripture after scripture... you don't get it so much in the King James version, but in her Living Bible it's all staring at her just jumping off the page every time she reads through the Psalms and the Proverbs. All she wants is - to not be taken advantage of because she is powerless and doesn't have what it takes to protect herself from that.

I mean, there are a lot of powerless people in the world. There are people who are powerless because they are sick. There are people who are powerless because they're mentally ill. There are people who are powerless because they're old and poor. There are all kinds of people. There are people who are powerless because they are children. And they are taken advantage of every time they turn around by people in this world. And she wanted me to preach a sermon to people in the church about this, so at least all of us can maybe get it straight about how we are supposed to treat people like her.

Psalm 112 verse four, "Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man."

I love that combination: upright and gracious and compassionate person.

Continuing in verse 5, "Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.

The Living Bible that she was using says: Psalm 112 verse 5 "[...] who conducts his business fairly."

I don't know what happened to her. I don't know who took advantage of her and what way he did it. But it's very evident, in reading through the scriptures that she chose to cite back and wanted them preached in a sermon sometime, that somebody had not conducted his business fairly and had taken unfair advantage of her. And folks, it's going on all the time. Not necessarily a matter of the church (I don't think there's that much of it in the church), but in society as a whole there are people out there who are earning their living-day-in day-out, by scams against poor people and elderly people in this country. It's going on all the time. So don't think that she's talking about things here that don't happen.

Give Me Common Sense

Coming down to Psalm 119 verse 124, "Lord, deal with me in loving-kindness, and teach me, your servant, to obey; {125} for I am your servant; therefore give me common sense to apply your rules to everything I do."

That's a prayer. "Give me the common sense to apply your rules in everything that I do, and to at least treat the weak the same way I would treat the strong." You know, we'll treat the strong, the well-to-do people ...we'll be careful about them because we know they can make us pay. They can hurt us back. But there's a temptation sometimes to hurt the people who can't hurt you back.

Honesty and Fairness

Proverbs 11 verse 1, "The Lord hates cheating and delights in honesty. [...] {3} A good man is guided by his honesty; the evil man is destroyed by his dishonesty."

And again, it makes you wonder what went on, to cause her to choose that one.

Proverbs 16 verse 11, "The Lord demands fairness in every business deal. He established this principle."

Now, I don't have a problem with understanding exactly what that means--in The Living Bible or the King James. The Lord demands fairness - which means justice, equity, and balance in every business deal. He established this principle; and He demands it. Now, what's interesting to me is that in her citation of this, as she wrote all of this out in longhand in her letter, she underlined four words in that verse. The words are "demands fairness", and the second two are, "Every business deal" which, again, makes me wonder what had happened to her sometime prior to this letter being written, as to someone who had been unfair with her in a business dealing, and had probably cost her quite a bit of money. And, you know, when you're old and poor, having somebody steal something from you really, really hurts.

Proverbs 20 and verse 21, "A fortune can be made from cheating but there is a curse that goes with it."

A fortune can be made with cheating." You can make a lot of money out there by lying to people and cheating people, but there's a curse that comes along with it.

Proverbs 20 verse 22, "Don't repay evil for evil-wait for the Lord of the universe to handle the matter."

Now, I don't really know this lady, and I don't know exactly what happened to her, but if I were a person who had taken advantage of her and I read this scripture it would scare the life out of me. Because what I see is a woman who has said to herself, "Okay, somebody's made some money off of me, but there's a curse that goes with it. I'm not going to repay evil for evil, for the Lord Of The Universe will handle the matter." And what's really chilling about it (if you're ever in the position of having taken advantage of someone like that) is that it's right there in the Law. "I will see it", God says, "and I'll pay it back. Don't make any mistake about it." I don't know who cheated her, but God does, and that man ought to tremble because she has obviously decided to wait for God to do whatever it is that needs to be done.

Proverbs 21 verse 3, "God is more pleased when we are just and fair than when we give him gifts."

I think that's fascinating. You think in terms of, "Well, you know, I brought an animal down to the temple, and I made this sacrifice before God, and I know that's pleasing in his sight, and it went up as a sweet savor before God." Or, "You know, I made a generous offering. I gave a holy day offering last year that must have really bumped the whole average up for everybody, because I put a lot of money in that holy day offering." And what the scripture says to us is that God is more pleased when we are just and fair than with any gift that we can give to Him.

Now, I think that's a very revealing statement because what it is talking about is that, in our minds, religion gets confused with the things that we do where God is concerned. Whereas, in the Bible, religion seems to be very much concerned with what we do to, with, and for one another - with the way we actually conduct our affairs in the world; with how we treat one another, day by day, in the things that we do, isn't it? The Bible is a very down-to-earth book, and it's concerned about how you live your life, and how you treat one another, how you talk to people, how you answer people, what demands you make of people, whether you are fair with people, whether you cheat people, whether you take things that don't belong to you.

Dishonest Gain

People are even prone to think of stealing in selfish terms. They think in terns of, "Well, I shouldn't steal. Because if I steal, God will get me." They don't think in terms of the fact, "If I steal, it's going to hurt like everything the person that I stole from." And there's something about being stolen from that makes you feel violated. It's a terrible thing. It isn't just the property. It isn't just the money. It isn't just the item that somebody took from you. It's the feeling of violation-that somebody has invaded your home and burgled something that you have, or they've looked in your purse and taken money from you, or that in some way they have actually taken something that belongs to you. It's a very discouraging experience to have someone steal from you.

Well, God says giving him gifts is one thing. What He really wants to see out of us-what he's impressed with, what pleases Him - is the way we treat one another and the way we are just and fair in our dealings.

Proverbs 21, verse six. (I told you, she had a lot of scriptures in here), "Dishonest gain will never last, so why take the risk?"

Because the wicked are unfair, their violence boomerangs and destroys them.

Yes, it does. And we have a saying, don't we: "What goes around, comes around." You keep on doing evil to other people and, sooner or later, it's going to come down on your head and you're going to pay for it. So, it isn't worth it. You really ought to get right in the first place.

What Leads a Man to Riches, Honor, and a Long Life

Proverbs 22 verse four, "True humility and respect for the Lord lead a man to riches, honor, and long life."

Now, it's interesting that she should say that. And I take it as an admonition coming from an elderly lady, who is a widow in God's church, who says to me and to you and to all of us, "True humility, respect for the Lord, lead you to riches and honor and a long life." Which suggests, maybe, that the way in which we go about attempting to achieve our riches leaves somewhat to be desired. Especially, if we do so in the process of taking advantage of another person. That seems to be her thrust.

Don't Rob the Poor

Proverbs 22 verse 22, "Don't rob the poor and sick! {23} For the Lord is their defender. If you injure them, he will punish you."

Now, I'll tell you what got me when I read that, and that is the fact that God doesn't do a lot of punishing - for the most part, God is content to let the Law exact its own penalty. I mean, if you lie to people you're going to lose your reputation, people are going to distrust you, and you will wreck your business dealings, you'll wreck your relationships with other people, and you're going to be a miserable person, and God doesn't have to lift a finger to punish you for your lies. The Law will make you pay. But there are a few things in the Bible that God says, "I'm not going to stand for this. I'm not going to sit back and wait for the Law to take care of you. I'm going to punish you." And here's one of them: someone who would rob the poor and the sick, for the Lord is their defender.

You know, in these days when a lot of people who are widows, living alone, are getting quite old, they have a lot of health problems; they oftentimes can't drive their own cars anymore; they have trouble getting around; they have lots of trips to the doctors; they are sickly; they're living on Social Security and their medical bills are being paid by Medicare. They don't have a lot. You have to stop and ask: What kind of a person does it take to take advantage of, or to step on, or to be unfair in a business dealing with someone in that category? They are beneath contempt. God says it's more than contempt where he's concerned. He says, "I am going to punish for that." It's a sobering thought.

Better to be Poor and Honest

Proverbs 28, verse six, "Better to be poor and honest than rich and a cheater. [...] {13} A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance."

This is a really poignant appeal to me, coming from the woman it came from-from someone who has been taken advantage of, been stepped on, who has suffered loss because she is a widow. And she has prayed to God that he would avenge her in this situation. But she is still willing to say that "whoever refuses to admit mistakes could never be successful, but if he will confess and forsake them, he'll get another chance." I think that's a wonderful spirit, and I think God looks upon that, and it may make the punishment of the person involved in this even more severe as a result of her willingness to let him off.

Get Rich Quick and Fail

Proverbs 28 verse 20, "The man who wants to do right will get a rich reward. But the man who wants to get rich quick will quickly fail."

The man who wants to do right "will get a rich reward," she says (and Proverbs says), "but the man who is out to be rich, well ...he will quickly fail." And then she came back, and what's interesting about this is (and this is the last one that she listed in all of her scriptures that were here) she had it in there twice. I think it was sort of accidental. I don't know if she realized she had it in there twice. But since she's got it in there twice, I'll read it twice.

Fairness in Every Business Deal

It's Proverbs 16 verse 11, "The Lord demands fairness in every business deal. He establishes this principle."

Now, I don't know about you, but I think I can live with that. I think that's something that I can take to heart. It's something I can keep in mind, make it a point never to forget that God demands fairness in every business deal I'm involved in, and I can't afford to take advantage of anyone, much less a widow or someone who is helpless. Now, I don't know about you, but she had me thinking over all my business deals to be sure that I'm not taking unfair- advantage of people-especially any dealings that involve widows and fatherless children. You know, if I get a little careless and take advantage of some person who's doing just fine ...well, I'll be sorry for that, I'll put it right with him, we'll go on from there. But I'm really concerned about any possibility of taking advantage of a widow or fatherless children in any deal that I have.

Now, we have a little time left today, so let's take a few minutes to drive this lesson home so that we don't forget it, so we don't let it slip, so we don't get careless in our dealings with one another. Turn back to Deuteronomy, chapter 10, and verse 17. There are several passages of scripture, I think, that we need to hear read to us over and over and over again-need to mark them in our Bibles and go back and remind ourselves of them, maybe make some notes in the margins and what have you, so that you can always find them and come back to them.

Deuteronomy 10 verse 17, "For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, mighty, and terrible, which regards not persons, nor takes a bribe:"

You cannot, because of who you are or how much of a bribe you could give, buy yourself off with God.

Deuteronomy 10 verse 18, "He does execute judgment for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, in giving him food and raiment."

Okay? This is what God does. He'll execute judgment for the fatherless and for the widow and he loves the stranger in giving him food and raiment.

Deuteronomy 10 verse 19 "Love you therefore the stranger: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

You and I were never in Egypt. We were never slaves in Egypt. We were never in bondage in that sense, but we were in bondage in sin in the world. We all have our little unfortunate things in our past lives. We've all made our mistakes. We've all been through these things. And what God is saying is: "Think of all the patience I have had with you. Think of all I have put up with from you. Think of all the mercy that I have shown toward you. Think of all the love that I have given to you. Now you go and do likewise. I execute judgment for the fatherless and the widow, and I expect you to be my agent in the world to go out and do likewise." We have a chance to be God's agent in the world-to judge and be fair with the fatherless children and with widows.

Try Deuteronomy 24 verse 17, "You shall not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge[.]"

Now, some big-ol', burly working guy out here - young fella - you can take his raiment to pledge, but you have to give it back to him every night so he can sleep in it. You're not even allowed to take a widow's raiment to pledge. If she needs a loan, you lend it to her and don't take anything from her in terms of a pledge that she'll pay you back at sometime. Not allowed. No collateral. Now, that's really pretty strenuous business. We're talking about people who are in need here. We're not talking about a widow somewhere who's got a business that she's trying to make a lot of money out of. That's not the point. What we're talking about is a poor widow, who needs the money.

I want you to turn back to Deuteronomy 27, because this one is really, I think, fascinating. It's a part of a list of blessings and cursings. And they were read to the people, and all the people were expected to respond, step-by-step in this, with an "Amen". Now, you think about this: You're going to read it to them and they're going to say, "Amen." They're going to say, "Okay. Fine. I agree to that."

Deuteronomy 27 verse 16, "'Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.' [. ..]"

Alright? "'Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.'"" Come on. Amen? "Amen." All right.

Deuteronomy 27 verse 17, " Cursed be he that removes his neighbor's landmark. [...]"

"Amen." (Boy, that's feeble.) "Amen!" Alright.

Deuteronomy 27 verse 17, " Cursed be he that makes the blind to wander out of the way. [...]"


How Is Your Religion?

Then there's this scripture that you probably knew was coming.

James 1, verse 26, "If any man among you seem to be religious [...]"

That's what we've been talking about, right? All the things we do which are religious.

Continuing in verse 26 "[„.] and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain."

If he can't shut up, he's got troubles.

Verse 27, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

Now, I want to tell you something: Visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction does not mean going by and knocking on the door and sitting down and talking to them and drinking their coffee. To visit someone in their affliction is to go and help that person. There's a widow out there somewhere right now, that I know about, who is ...she's not poor; she's not downtrodden; she's "okay" in her life; she's not particularly well-to-do. But she's old-very old and can't do certain things. Her house needs painting in the worst possible way. Sure would be wonderful if the people of the church who know her-out there, somewhere would go down there on a work party some day and paint her house. It's not as though she couldn't afford the paint (she probably could) but just that someone cared enough to follow through and help her. Because old people-as they no longer are able to see to certain things, they're no longer able to follow through on some of the maintenance things in their homes, and their homes tend to go to rack and ruin sometimes because they just can't do it-it would really be nice if someone, somewhere would help people like that.

Maybe we should all give a little more attention to our religion. Is it possible that we are so otherworldly-so spiritual-that we've forgotten all this stuff? I know all of us know the scripture: "Faith without works is dead." Right? We all know that. Look at the context of it, though.

It's in James 2, and verse 14. Remember: "Faith without works is dead."

James 2:14 "What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?"

Now listen to the illustration he gives you.

James 1 verse 15, "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, {16} And one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? [What good have you done?]

This is really strange, and it's an extreme example, but let's just understand what he's saying here. Somebody comes to you, and they're in trouble, and you say, "Well, the Lord bless you, brother. May the Lord bless you and keep you. Be warm and filled. I hope everything works out for you downstream." And you close the door in his face and leave him naked, cold, and hungry, you have not done anything.

James 1 verse 17 "Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. {18} Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. {19} You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble. {20} But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

And guess what the works were he was talking about? Food, clothing, and shelter for someone who needed it. I don't know what it is about religion. This is true from one end of Christianity to the other end of Christianity-and probably Judaism, as well. That it is so much easier to be very religious-in ceremony, in ritual, in the keeping of days, in the avoidance of certain types of food. All the things that are selfishly oriented, all the things that meet our needs; to be very religious in all of these things is so obvious. And it is really a mystery how it cannot be so obvious that, day by day, week by week, month by month-as we encounter in our walk in the world the needy, the poor, and the downtrodden not only that we don't take advantage of them, but that we try the best to help.

Is it possible that we spend so much time in doctrinal and prophetic studies, so much time in spiritual pursuit, so much time contemplating the next life in the world to come that we don't have anything left for this life, and the world here, and the world now? Is it possible that we have forgotten that we have to run this race before we can even start the next one? The religion of the Bible is very down-to-earth as I said earlier. It is about this world and how we live in it. And more than anything it has to do with how we treat our fellow man. That's the bottom line. You say you love God. Well, if you can't love your brother whom you see, how can we imagine that you love God whom you cannot see?

And finally, 1 John, chapter four, verse 16, "And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. {17} Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is; so are we in this world."

Notice it? As he is gracious, compassionate - and all these things-so are we in the world. Don't forget that last phrase. We have to actually somehow get out there and touch it.

1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. {19} We love him, because he first loved us. {20} If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? {21} And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also."

Especially the weak, and the poor, and the widows, and the fatherless.

This article was transcribed with minor editing from a

Sermon by Ronald L. Dart

Titled: "A Widow’s Plea"

#9922 - 052399

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