What does the Bible say about…
God loves widows and demands they be treated with honor, kindness, inclusion and even support (when truly needed). If this was not done, God’s blessing would be withdrawn from the people.
“…let your widows trust in Me.” —Jeremiah 49:11 NASB
Care for widows in the Old Testament
Here are the words of the literal translations provided by the New American Standard Bible (NASB)…
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. …If you afflict… My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” —Exodus 22:22-24 NASB
They should not go hungry.
Allow them to work for the food by gleaning from all your crops.
When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
The people were to make a special tithe to benefit the widows and others in need…
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. —Deuteronomy 26:12 NASB
God’s chosen people were to help the widows rejoice in the LORD…
and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. —Deuteronomy 16:11-14 NASB
You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. …‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ —Deuteronomy 24:17-19
If the widow was an Israelite, her fellow Hebrews were to freely loan her the money she needed, with NO interest charged, as was to be done with all their brethern. And if the debt could not be fully paid back after 7 years, the debtor was freely forgiven and the debt cancelled with no penalty. (See: LOANS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT)
New Testament instructions
In the New Testament, the same tender regard for widows is instilled and exhibited.
The early Church quickly set up a system to make sure destitute widows were fed and cared for.
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “…brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task…”
The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. —Acts 6:1-6 NASB
These Christian men who looked after the needs of widows were called deacons.
The God-inspired Apostle Paul gave the following practical instructions to 1st century Christians (rarely wealthy themselves) regarding how to properly handle widows, both young and old, those who were honorable and righteous and those who were involved in scandalous behavior and false teachings.
The term “widows indeed” (below) means widows who are truly destitute and lack anyone to support them—especially able family members. Being included on the church’s special support list meant the widow would be helped by the community of Christians.
Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they [their offspring] must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.
How to discern honorable widows from those who were not…
Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach.
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
A widow is to be put on the [special support] list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.
But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.
Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.
The Message Bible of NavPress explains it this way…
Take care of widows who are destitute. If a widow has family members to take care of her, let them learn that religion begins at their own doorstep and that they should pay back with gratitude some of what they have received. This pleases God immensely.
You can tell a legitimate widow by the way she has put all her hope in God, praying to him constantly for the needs of others as well as her own. But a widow who exploits people’s emotions and pocketbooks—well, there’s nothing to her. Tell these things to the people so that they will do the right thing in their extended family. Anyone who neglects to care for family members in need repudiates the faith. That’s worse than refusing to believe in the first place.
Specific widows recorded in Scripture
- Anna—the prophetess and daughter of Phanuel
- Mary, mother of Jesus
- an unnamed widow in Zarephath of Sidon who fed Elijah her last food (1 Kings 17:8-24; Luke 4:25-26)
- an unnamed widow in Nain, whose son died and Jesus resurrected (Luke 7:11-17)
- an unnamed widow who cried out for help to the prophet Elisha and was saved in her distress by a miracle of God involving oil (2 Kings 4:1-7)
- an unnamed woman in a parable who persistently pleaded with a judge for legal protection (Luke 18:1-8)
- an unnamed woman who gave her last cent to the ungodly, deceivers of the Temple (see the widow’s 2 mites)