“Orphans and widows” were the most helpless people in Jewish society, their “distress” (literally “pressure”) coming from their desperate need of food and clothing. James uses them as representative of all who is in need. No matter how perfectly observed and appropriately reverent, religious observances are empty if there is no concern for the needy. We may participate in an elegant call to worship and prayer, heartily sing the Gloria Patri, solemnly repeat the Apostles’ Creed, join together on a grand hymn, reverently pray the Lord’s Prayer, and listen attentively to the Word preached, but if we ignore the needy our worship is ashes on the altar. As the book of Psalms reminds us:
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him — his name is the Lord.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalm 68:4-5)
HE SHALL TURN THE HEART OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN
The Old Testament opens with an account of God creating order from chaos to provide earth on which His children could dwell. Through disobedience, however, the children of Adam and Eve turned their hearts away from the Father. Because of this, they became separated from God, and God cursed the ground periodically.
The Old Testament ends with the Lord telling the world through the prophet Malachi that if there is no return of children’s hearts to the fathers, and of fathers’ hearts to the children, the earth would again be cursed or destroyed:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Malachi’s prophecy is one of the most profound and far-reaching prophecies in the Scriptures. Although the prophet Malachi uses the term fathers, and the Scriptures, in general, use male gender terms such as father, son, and his when referring to both men and women, perhaps the prophet was using the specific masculine term father because the connections of fathers to their children are generally weaker than that of mothers.
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