Common culture tends to believe that an orphan is a child that has no parents, i.e., father or mother, but is this Biblical?
In exploring this topic, the first consideration one should have is, ‘to whom do the children belong?’ Again, common culture tends to believe that children are jointly the possession of father and mother, but, is this Biblical?
In fact, when one understands proper Biblical authority structure, it becomes evident that the head of the house and the final authority in all matters is the husband. As is often reminded here on 113Restoration.com, 1 Corinthians 11:3 says,
3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
The larger context of the chapter makes plain that man is created in the image of God, for God, while woman is created in the image of man, for man.
1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
Much has already been written detailing this from Scripture on 113Restoration, so it is not necessary to explain it all here. The major points that must be recognized in the context of understanding the definition of ‘orphan’ is to recognize the role specialization that the Father gives to men and women.
Man has a responsibility to ‘be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth’ and woman is given to him as a helpmeet to accomplish his assigned task. In that light, and affirmed in many places in Scripture, she is an asset that he is to use in the fulfilling of his purpose. Her purpose is bound up in his and he is to be the head and lead her in the creation and building of his ‘house’ or family.
As explained in previous articles, Hebrew has no word for ‘wife.’ Typically, the Scriptures, when describing the relational connection between a man and his woman, it will state just that! “Abraham’s woman, Sarah….” Or, “the woman of Abraham, Sarah…” The point clearly made throughout the Tanak is that the woman belongs to the man. Western post-Christian culture hates this thought as it flies in the face of ‘enlightened feminism,’ but God is unapologetic and unfazed by cultural rebellion. It is what it is and in His economy, the woman belongs to the man. Now, to be clear, Scripture is very clear that the man is to love and protect her, provide for her needs, etc, but Scripture is even more clearly patriarchal in structure from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation. One ignores or avoids this obvious thread to their own peril.
Once one understands and recognizes the patriarchal undergirding of Scripture and the fact that the woman belongs to the man, then it is quite an easy task to figure out who the children belong to. They belong to the father. Here are a few verses in Exodus that illustrate both,
Exodus 21:22 “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.
Both the woman and the child belong to the man. This is further illustrated in,
Exodus 22:16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.
The dowry is paid to the father, indicating his ownership. Further, for the injured wife in the above verses, because the husband presumably paid a dowry for her, we see between these two verses the transfer of ownership and authority over her from father to husband.
It is very challenging to the western mind to consider women and children as ‘property,’ however we need to slow down and consider what is going on here. God, in instituting His Word at Sinai could very well have outlawed even the idea, nevermind the practice of male authority over his woman and his children, but God does not do that. He could have instituted caveats giving her an ‘out’ or freedoms that were not in (what we regard as) the culture, but He did not. Rather, God placed guardrails precisely because He intended for woman and child to belong to and be under the authority of the man. We must take Scripture for what it says and not try to explain it away with excuses declaring that God was so impotent that He had to deal within their culture.
Here is still another passage from these same chapters in Exodus that demonstrate that a widow can have orphans who are regarded as fatherless.
Exodus 22:22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
In fact, the Hebrew word יָתוֹם H3490, ‘yathom’ is used twice in the above passage, once translated as ‘orphan’ and the second as ‘fatherless.’ Brown-Driver-Briggs and Strongs agree that this word means ‘orphan, fatherless’ thus equating fatherlessness with being an orphan. Nearly every one of the forty-two uses of the word is in a phrase mentioning both widow and orphan implying that they are in an equal state of bereavement, danger, and exposure. Lamentations 5:3 may express the connection most poignantly,
Lamentations 5:3 We have become orphans without a father, our mothers are like widows.
Notice, the orphans have mothers!
Verses from Psalm 127 and 128 also point to the protection by, and blessing of, children to the father,
Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
Psalm 128 How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
2 When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you.
3 Your wife (woman) shall be like a fruitful vine
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants
Around your table.
4 Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the Lord.
Again, it is important to understand that these point to the headship, ownership, and authority of the husband/father. Other passages further demonstrate that it is to the father to whom the children belong;
Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 2:11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
1 Timothy 3:4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
American Law and the US Supreme Court have long agreed that children belong to the father, a standing that has only recently begun to change in the face of no fault divorce.
Sons and daughters are the natural property rights of their Father which is an unalienable right endowed upon the father by the Creator. We see this in Prather v. Prather, 4 S.C. Eq. 33 (1809) when the court wrote;
“With respect to the children, I do not feel myself at liberty to take them out of the care and custody of the FATHER. He is the natural guardian, invested by God and the law of the country, with reasonable power over them.”
The Supreme Court continued to uphold this liberty right of the Father, in Meyer v. Nebraska 262 U.S. 390 (1923) and in Pierce v. Soc’y of the Sisters of Holy Name of Jesus and Mary 268 U.S. 512 (1925) when the court wrote;
“Fathers have a fundamental constitutional right to raise their children without state interference.”
Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000) observed that
“the liberty interests at issue in this case [the interest of the Father in care, custody and control over his children] is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this court”
William Blackstone stated in “Commentaries on the Law of England” 3d ed. (New York 1900) that the English common law was extremely clear when it stated;
”The father had natural rights to his children and the mother was entitled to no power over her children.”
James Kent added to the confirmation that this common law carried over into American Law by stating in his “Commentaries on American Law” 2d. ed., 4 vol (Boston 1826-1830)
“That because of the Father’s obligation to provide for the maintenance, and in some qualified degree, for the education of his infant children, he is entitled to the custody of the children and to the value of their labor and services.”
It has long been established that the custody of a Father’s natural and legitimate sons and daughters are the sole custody of the father alone and such a liberty is an unalienable right endowed upon the father by God Himself in which must be protected constitutionally.
Having firmly established from Scripture and exampled in American legal code that children belong solely to the father, it is quite easy to determine that the Biblical definition of an orphan is different than the common definition of a parentless child.
Biblically, an orphan is a fatherless child!
Psalm 68:5 A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
6 God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
Scripturally, even if a child’s mother is living, if the child is fatherless, he/she is an orphan. The reason is because in a patriarchal (Biblical) structure, protection comes from the father. He is the one who could conduct business in the city gates, own land, and insure proper training and inheritance. (And, it is for this reason that in Israel there were almost zero widows, divorcees and single moms. They would marry/remarry for protection!)
Consider Numbers 30. Daughters and women only had legal protection when under the authority of their father or husband. Widows and divorcees had no such protection. Here are select verses, however the read should consider the whole chapter,
2 If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
3 “Also if a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself by an obligation in her father’s house in her youth, 4 and her father hears her vow and her obligation by which she has bound herself, and her father says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if her father should forbid her on the day he hears of it, none of her vows or her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her because her father had forbidden her.
8 But if on the day her husband hears of it, he forbids her, then he shall annul her vow which she is under and the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself; and the Lord will forgive her.
9 “But the vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, everything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. 10 However, if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an obligation with an oath, 11 and her husband heard it, but said nothing to her and did not forbid her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she bound herself shall stand. 12 But if her husband indeed annuls them on the day he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning the obligation of herself shall not stand; her husband has annulled them, and the Lord will forgive her.
13 “Every vow and every binding oath to humble herself, her husband may confirm it or her husband may annul it.
16 These are the statutes which the Lord commanded Moses, as between a man and his wife, and as between a father and his daughter, while she is in her youth in her father’s house.
Notice, both the daughter and the married woman receive their protection from the father/husband. A fatherless daughter is an orphan and receives no protection from her mother who is a widow or divorcee. Even if she has a mother, the fatherless daughter is unprotected as is any orphan.
One might ask, ‘Why does this matter?’
First, one must understand and recognize what God thinks about the care and wellbeing of a child and the state of the family in Israel. As with women, God’s desire is that children be under the headship of a man, i.e., father.
Second, because children belong to the father, they should remain with him if the woman chooses to go out or leave by divorce.
Third, the restoration of kol Israel, if according to Torah, will require that men be heads of their houses and that children remain in the care of their fathers, thus significantly reducing the destruction of families through divorce or absentee fathers. In fact, the ownership of the children by the father will motivate most women to stay and work things out.
[As a caveat, there may be rare circumstances wherein the woman has a Biblical/serious reason to go out that is not just emotional. In a patriarchal community of restored Israel, if the man is mistreating his family or acting unrighteously, the men in the community would come together to handle the situation and bring corrective measures. Detailed thought on how this might work, however, is out of the scope of this article.]
Fourth, single moms in kol Israel need to actively seek being covered by a righteous man. This is not only for her own sake, but for that of her fatherless, or orphan, children.
In conclusion, the importance of headship and covering extends well beyond the woman to the man’s children. According to Scripture, a man is of utmost importance in the lives of both women and children. A fatherless child is uncovered and therefore unprotected in multiple ways in God’s economy of authority and relationships. The role of the father in the life of both a child and a woman is to give physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial provision and protection.
Desiring the restoration of kol Israel and desiring to walk in the ways of Torah demands that one take a hard look at what God wants for children and both how He desires that they be protected and by whom.