The importance and special place of God’s compassion in this world of miseries and calamities due to sin, cannot be overemphasised. Taking a study on God’s special compassion for widows and orphans helps us to understand and appreciate that God’s compassion is a perfection ascribed to him in the Scriptures. We are also helped to see how this should affect and transform our lives as his image bearers and how it also directly applies to widows and orphans in particular. As rainfall brings crop out of a dry parched land, God’s compassion brings life and deliverance, joy and relief to the oppressed.

Moreover, it is a humbling topic because God’s compassion comes to us in our times of weakness and helplessness, while its end is our great need in crisis—peace and comfort! You cannot delve into the depth of this amiable life cheering perfection of the divine Majesty without being amazed at his goodness from whence his compassion flows. As we take a glimpse at God’s special compassion for widows and orphans, we see how far-reaching God’s goodness is, permeating the whole of creation, particularly the weak.

We will consider:

  1. The definition of compassion as an attribute of God.
  2. The exercise of God’s compassion for widows and orphans.
  3. Compassion in God’s image bearers as an application to us. 
  1. Definition of compassion as an attribute of God

Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines compassion – Greek, oikteiro – as “to have pity, a feeling of distress through the ills of others.” The application of the term varies. Sometimes it is applied in the salvation to sinners, and rightly so because there is no condition in which the human race has been as miserable and pitiable as sin has made us to be. Hence, the Bible speaks of our salvation as a sovereign act of God’s compassion and mercy. In Rom. 9:15-16, the apostle Paul quotes God as saying, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ It does not therefore depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

Again, Isaiah says in Isaiah 54: 7-8, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger, I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines mercy – Greek, eleos – as “the outward manifestation of pity; … used (a) of God, who is rich in mercy, Eph. 2:4, and who has provided salvation for all men.”

There is a great interplay in the Scriptures between mercy and compassion. Where there is a compassionate heart, there mercy flows like a perennial stream. Compassion is a pitiful feeling because of the misery or suffering of others. As a saying goes, it is wearing another person’s shoes.

Now, God is often pictured as having such emotional feeling that he is moved to rescue the weak and the perishing. A graphic illustration of this is seen in his dealings with his beloved Israel. In Ex. 3:7-8 we read, “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So, I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

It is interesting to see how Isaiah puts it in Isa. 63:9. “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” God saw and heard their cry and he was concerned about their misery. He is not a God who remains indifferent or unmoved at the suffering of his people. He came down to bring deliverance to them. A picture of our deliverance in Christ who also came down from heaven to save us.

A W Pink wrote, “The sovereign exercise of God’s mercy—pity shown to the wretched—was displayed when Jehovah became flesh and tabernacled among men.”

It is this nature or perfection of the divine Supreme Being that captures widows and orphans that they too despite their status and vulnerability may enjoy their right to life and social liberty. There is compassion in God for which he is known as, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” It is his attribute.

  1. The exercise of God’s compassion for widows and orphans

It is the order of the day in this sinful world that the weak are marginalised and suffer neglect, and oppression. The burden of misery the world bears rarely finds its equivalent relief. This echoes the significance of this discussion.

A widow is a woman whose husband is dead, one who would have been there to stand with and for her, to defend and provide for her in all her social, physical and emotional needs. An orphan is one who is without both parents. He is left without what would have been his support in every way. Children look up to their parents, but an orphan has nowhere to look. An orphaned child is in a desperately vulnerable position. As far as the normal structure of society is concerned, an orphan is at the mercy of other.

However, what is fascinating and soothing to the soul is what God says and does for widows and orphans, and indeed for all the weak. In Ex. 22:22–25, God said, “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” In Hos. 14:3 we read, “Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.”

Among the grievous sins the prophets in Israel raised their voices against were fomenting oppression, injustice, and neglecting the poor. In Isa. 10:1–4 we read, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain.”

The Scripture quotations above are very explicit about God’s special care for widows and orphans. The message is that the weak are under God’s defence. He is their advocate. Nothing escapes God’s notice. He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth and works justice in all the earth. If we do not pay attention to the plight of the poor, he does. And he will not endure the oppression of the weak. It only invites God’s judgment. He is watching!

Therefore, all who are in a state of vulnerability, e.g. widows, orphans, and indeed any person who is in a position of weakness, should not consider themselves as a hopeless case. Even if there is apparently no one to help there is one who is greater than everybody. In God, “the fatherless find compassion.” The court of heaven is not a court for the strong. It is a court for the weak. In pity, God comes down to help the weak so that they too can stand tall knowing that they are cared for and protected. Joseph in Egypt was as good as an orphan especially while he was in prison, but God’s special intervention rescued and exalted him.

This should inspire all of us and strengthen our faith in God when we are in a state of weakness. Moreover, we should be helped in this article to think of the weak as being under God’s special protection and hold ourselves accountable to him for neglecting and oppressing the vulnerable.

The positive direction is that of applying the golden rule to do to others as we would have them do to us (Matt. 7:12). Their position can be ours tomorrow. It pleases the Lord when we show compassion to those in need. This brings us to our third point on a very practical note. 

  1. Compassion in God’s image bearers as an application to us

Providentially, God has arranged things in such a way that the poor find refuge among the strong and are helped by those around them, e.g. the good neighbour that was praised by the Lord Jesus Christ. In Luke 10:33–34 we read, “But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.” The Matthew Henry Commentary says on this story, “It is the duty of every one of us, in our places, and according to our ability to help all that are in distress and necessity.”

In short, we are vessels whom God would use in any given locality he assigns us. He is a compassionate God, creating a truly compassionate people in Christ—to be like Christ. Compassion is the fruit of his saving grace. And in reading Colossians. 3:12 we find this charge, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

The Lord Jesus made the point that you cannot be a righteous man and survive his final judgment without a compassionate heart. In Matt. 5:7 he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Again, in Matt. 25:34–39 he said, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and not feed you….’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

  1. H. Spurgeon, made a comment about God’s ministry to orphans through his people: “The God who answereth by orphanages, let him be God.”

This issue is not only a reminder; it is also a rebuke to us in view of our selfishness and pride. We should look again at Calvary where perfect love and compassion led Christ to lay down his life for our redemption. We were once in a desperate state as spiritually fatherless children. All was lost on account of sin. Surely, there can be no better motivation for putting on compassion than God’s mercy towards us in Christ.

Bibliography

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 1985. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the whole Bible

Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Baker Book House, 2007

Dallimore, Arnold, 1985. Spurgeon, A New Biography, Banner of Truth.