Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Is 1:17, ESV)
The other day I was talking to a colleague about what the best expression of God’s heart for the orphan in Egypt. I mentioned Isaiah 1:17, “bring justice to the fatherless.” My colleague intrigued me by replying, “It’s just that justice sounds so harsh, like a courtroom. But when you hear “orphan,” it brings up a caring kind of feeling.” Orphans from the poorest households in Egypt surely can find themselves in desperate need of basic help and care, but what does justice have to do with it? She really hit on a sense that I realized many share.
So what does justice have to do with being orphaned?
We can find one clue to the answer when we learn why the Bible seems to have a broader definition of justice than we do today, just as it also seems to have a broader definition of “orphan.”
When it comes to the most important people to God in Scripture, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger up time and time again. What do these three groups have in common? “Orphan” usually means a paternal orphan in the Bible, or a child who has lost a father. A widow, too, has lost her protector and provider. And the stranger does not have a protector in the strange new culture they must make home. All three, in other words, become vulnerable to exploitation and injustice.
I even found this interesting collection of Scriptures on this subject, from the site of a ministry among the poor of rural Appalacia, America.
But that didn’t quite connect the dots to the orphaned in Egypt for me.
I continued to think about it over the last week. This morning, I got my answer in a prayer request a field worker in Egypt sent me. Let me share it here:
“During my last series of home visits [among orphaned households who have children participating in Not Alone] with the Rep Mariam, I was shocked to learn that the child Grace* (grade 8) had got engaged.”
Grace’s grandfather and extended family were shocked, too. Here’s how it happened.
Her paternal uncle apparently had a dream where he saw his late brother. He dreamt that his brother, Grace’s father, told him to pull Grace out of school and get her married as soon as possible. The image in his dream told the uncle that Grace was getting fat and wouldn’t be desirable in the marriage market for much longer.
Grace’s uncle took his dream very seriously.
Come back next week for Part II to hear what happened next, and learn how Grace’s story gives us an answer to what justice has to do with fatherlessness.