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“The Fatherless”

Deuteronomy 24:17-22
Bob DeGray
August 7, 2016

Key Sentence

Remember your own rescue as you consider the needs of others.


I. Remember your redemption from slavery (Deuteronomy 24:18, 22)
II. Remember the fatherless (Deuteronomy 24:17, 19-21)
III. Remember your adoption (Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 8:12-17)


A great moment in the up and down story of adoption and foster care is when a child comes home. One group that makes that possible, both domestically and overseas is the agency founded by Stephen Curtiss Chapman, Shoanna’s Hope or Show Hope: “I’m Sam Morgan, and this is my wife Stacy Morgan. We have two daughters and we’ve adopted a son Gage, who we adopted late last year. And we are waiting on our son Gunner to come home with us in October, 2014. We saw Gunner on a child advocacy site. He was abandoned at one day old. He’s been waiting for four years for a forever family. We really feel like Gunner is our family. He’s our son. When we learned how much it cost . . . we thought about putting it on hold. We were like, wow, really. Knowing that you had to come up with essentially paying for a car in less than a year was just mind-blowing.” “Hello, I’m Stephen Curtis Chapman. No, get out of here. With Show Hope and we are here to surprise you.” “God has shown up once again. It’s so great to be a part of what God’s doing.” “Gunner is one more step to come home, and this helps so much.” Music, etc. for 40 seconds or so.

On some level we all have a heart for the fatherless, for the abandoned. I believe we inherit that from the heart of God and it is catalyzed by God’s behavior in rescuing and adopting us. So today I want to look at one key passage that shows the heart of God for the fatherless, then at another which shows that he expresses his heart for orphans by adoption.

Let me read the whole main passage, Deuteronomy 24:17-22. “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, 18but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. 19“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.

The first thing I’d ask you to notice is that God rescues and redeems us from slavery. This is foundational to the way Moses thinks in Deuteronomy. We saw it two weeks ago in chapter 10: “Love the sojourner, the refugee, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

Eight times in Deuteronomy the people are told to behave certain ways because they remember their slavery. 37 times they are reminded of their rescue from Egypt. A huge motivation for right behavior is that they are a redeemed and rescued people who don’t want anyone to suffer the way they suffered, and a thankful people who want others to know the gracious hand of God’s rescue.

The key word in verse 18 is, of course, redeemed, an incredibly rich word. In the Old Testament it’s used of buying back a slave, buying back a prisoner of war, and ultimately buying back a life. It assumes that a payment is made. After the Exodus, the firstborn animals of Israel had to be redeemed by a payment to the priests, or given as sacrifices. Firstborn sons had to be redeemed by a payment. In Psalm 130 this ransom is linked directly to the forgiveness of sins: “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love, with him is full redemption. 8He himself will redeem Israel from their sins.”

In the New Testament we learn that the firstborn of God, Jesus, is given to pay the price to redeem all of God’s other children. Like a firstborn lamb, his blood is shed to redeem his brothers and sisters. Ephesians 1:7 captures this “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. Paul says it more fully in Romans 3: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement through his blood, to be received by faith.”

Don’t miss that last phrase. This redemption is a gift, given to us freely at great cost to God and it is received by faith, trusting in Christ and in his work alone for our rescue. There is no merit involved in it, no works that earn it, no character that makes one deserving. It is a free gift to unworthy people. That’s important because as in so many other places, the fact of this gracious redemption and rescue is given as the motivation for gracious behavior toward those who cannot repay, those in need and even toward those who are unworthy.

So, verse 17: “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge.” That triplet, sojourners, the fatherless and widows, along with poor, needy and oppressed is used over and over in the Old Testament to encompass all those who are powerless. They have no way to defend themselves, and often no way to provide for themselves. The fatherless were orphans in that society because their mothers, if still alive, had no property rights and virtually no ability to earn a living. The poor could be abused by the rich, the needy oppressed by the well-to-do. But God loves and cares for these people, so as early as Exodus chapter 22 he begins to make explicit provision for their care.

The first part of that care is justice. I’m going to focus on orphans here, the fatherless, because we talked about sojourners in a previous message. In almost all cultures worldwide and in our culture today, orphans face a great deal of injustice. In many cultures orphans are often poorest of the poor, hungriest of the hungry, the most exploited of the trafficked. Whether it is babies lined up in crib after crib with no possibility of bonding, or children forced to make bricks in labor slavery in Pakistan, or adults dying of AIDS, leaving behind whole nations of orphans, there is no justice for those with no voice.

In the United States, where those who come into foster care are already victims of violence, abuse and neglect, there is often little help, sometimes downright exploitation. There is an ongoing study, called the Midwest Study which seeks to document outcomes for a special class of orphan, those left in foster care until age 18. These orphans are now 26 or 27. When compared with the life outcomes for typical adolescents of the same generation, this study finds that Midwest Study participants were three times more likely not to have a high school diploma or GED. Only 2.5 percent of foster care kids completed a four-year college compared to 23.5 percent of the general population.

"Equally troubling," the researchers explain, is that "fewer than half of the 26 year olds were currently employed, most of those who were employed were not earning a living wage, nearly one-quarter had had no income from employment during the past year, and the median earnings of those had worked was a mere $8,000. Their lack of economic well-being is also reflected in the economic hardship they reported, the food insecurity they had experienced, and the government benefits they had received. In addition, nearly 40 percent of these young people have been homeless or couch surfed since leaving foster care." Being an orphan has always meant being disadvantaged, having an unfair shot at life. Often it has meant much worse.

But God offers very practical help for the refugee, the widow and the orphan. Verse 19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” You have to remember that Israel was an agricultural society. Most of the people were involved in agriculture. So if each farmer actually left behind a fraction of his crop, that would provide significantly for the needs of these people. We see that in the book of Ruth, where the Moabite Ruth, a foreigner and a widow, is sent by her mother-in-law to glean at the edges of the field. And God intervened through Boaz’s righteous obedience to make that field not only her provision, but to make Boaz her redeemer, who rescued her from widowhood and poverty.

When a similar command is given in Leviticus, the edge of the field is mentioned explicitly. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” And it is not only in the grain field that you leave something for the orphans, but also “When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” So you are to leave for the orphan every kind of crop. You are to provide for them from part of what you have.

But the larger principle is that you are to care for widows and orphans and refugees. Just a couple of chapters along, in Deuteronomy 26, Moses puts it this way: “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to your commandment that you have commanded me.” Job, in the verses that Doug used a few weeks ago says I deserve this grief if “I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it. 18But from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow.” James says it well: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Each of us gets to imitate God’s heart for orphans.

Let me just give you a quick list of ways you can care for orphans. We’re hoping to do many of these things together in the coming months, through a ministry to foster and adoptive families. First, pray. Pray for the international and national orphan crisis. Pray for every child you know who is in foster care or adopted. Pray for yourself, that you would be open and responsive to the things God might have you do. Second, consider adoption or foster care. Not every person is called to do this, but it is certainly something in harmony with God’s heart for orphans. So don’t dismiss it. Consider it, pray about it and explore it. Third, learn about the challenges of foster care and adoption. You may not realize that every child in foster care or adopted, even if adopted at birth has trauma, has brokenness that well bonded birth children often don’t have. Here’s a video that makes this point. “All children need to know they are precious, unique and special. But a child that comes from a hard place needs to know it more desperately.”

“This is the child who’s tapping the pen, thumping his leg, touching the child.” “One of the most respected child advocates and leaders in the field of post adoption care today is Dr. Karyn Purvis, director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University.” “For several decades we have understood what is called the attachment cycle. What it says is that a baby cries and a caregiver comes. A baby cries and a caregiver comes. It happens, if you think about it, hundreds of thousands of times in the earliest years of life. This baby cries and the caregiver comes and the child learns that these needs are going to be met, so they learn trust, which is the lesson of the first year of life. I can trust. Attachment is an affectionate bond between a caregiver and a youngster or child, an infant. It’s the bond that tells that child they’re safe, that their needs matter, that they are precious. The attachment bond is about optimal development for every child. While it’s essential for every child, the child who has come from a hard place, with a history of trauma or loss or abuse has no hope of healing without a nurturing, caring, attachment relationship.”

So, fourth, care for foster or adoptive families. The needs are real. Families working to create that attachment where it has been broken or destroyed need care from others. It might be respite care. It might be meals. It might be care for their other children, or for their house, anything that will free up mom and dad to bond with whatever little or big person has moved into their lives. But also purpose to care for their adopted kids, even when they may be difficult. No kid can have too many aunts or uncles to come along side and help parent.

Fifth, support orphan ministries. There are many, but the two that I’m most familiar with are Hope for Orphans and Show Hope. We’ve already seen a brief video from Show Hope, and financially supporting them in these grants that allow families to do adoption is a great way to be involved. The other organization I like is “Hope for Orphans.” They do some things that are similar to Show Hope, but their main focus is on connecting the local church to the orphan crisis. One of their video courses is about going through the thought process of adoption, and another is designed to help adoptive parents.

That one is called ‘Rooted.’ It begins “Hi, I’m Paul Pennington with Hope for Orphans and we’re excited to welcome you to Rooted. You know we’ve been working with families for twelve years all over the United States and other parts of the world, with families called by God to take kids from very dark places, many of them from trauma, abuse and neglect.” “If you’re a parent that is facing challenges, if you’re a parent that struggles to parent and love your child well, if you’re a parent that’s looking to develop a Gospel driven focus to the way you raise your child, Rooted has been designed for you.” The second is called “If you were mine, a workshop for those exploring adoption.”

“And when he restores all things to himself, when his kingdom is fulfilled, we’ll be reunited with our Father in Heaven who adopted us, and on that day there is not going to be any more sin. There won’t be any more death, and as a result there will be no more orphans.” “When followers of Christ go near those who have no voice, and no family and no one to protect them, I think they sense the heart of God, that he wants to do something very special, very personal, and he wants to care for the needs of the orphan.” “Over the last ten years God has place seven children in our home through adoption, in addition to our two biological children, and we’ll never be the same. It’s something that has helped us to understand parenting better. It’s something that has helped us to understand the Gospel better. It’s something that has helped me understand being a pastor and a shepherd better, and it’s something that has helped me understand my personal relationship with my heavenly father who has adopted me in a better way than I ever could have understood it before.”

So even as you consider how to respond to God’s heart in this area, don’t forget what we saw at the beginning, that in a real sense we do these things out of gratitude for our own redemption, for the fact that we have been rescued from slavery to sin. And Scripture teaches that redeemed means we are also adopted and cared for. If you really want to know the heart of God for orphans, get to know God’s heart for you, that once you were a slave to sin, but now, by adoption, you have become a son or daughter of God and a member of God’s family.

Galatians 4 captures this beautifully. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. We are redeemed from the burden of the law, from the need for works and the doomed effort to please God by them. We are redeemed, verse 5, so that we might receive the adoption as sons and daughters. Don’t miss this. Except for Jesus, all of God’s kids are adopted. We all come from places of tremendous brokenness and sin, but we are brought home to where we should be, and told that we are safe, that our needs matter, that we are precious.

Notice the emphasis on attachment. God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so we are attached to Him, and now we cry “Abba, Father,” which is the cry of an attached person, the bond to a parent. Once we were alienated from God, but now we are brought near, into family. We are made sons. God has a heart for the fatherless from the beginning of Scripture, because he himself will become the rescuer of all the fatherless. And we have a heart for orphans because God has such a heart to rescue orphans and make them his sons.

Paul Pennington, founder of Hope for Orphans tells the story of going to China to meet his son, and as you listen to this, I think you see how this all fits together: God’s heart for us as orphans and the response of our hearts to orphans merge together for His glory. “You know, what I like to think is that when we look at adoption from a Biblical world view what we’re really seeing is the visible Gospel. That on one level it’s meeting the very physical and human needs of a child, and a family wanting to be used for God’s glory in the life of a child, but it’s also a picture of grace, it’s a picture of the story of the Bible, and God’s plan for dealing with sin and hurt that’s been in this world for many, many centuries.”

“You know I remember in 1994, that’s when we were adopting our son Ethan, he was the first child that God gave us from Korea, and when it was time to go and get Ethan, it all happened very quickly, and my wife stayed home in Texas with our three children who were at home and I flew over by myself to get Ethan. And eventually the day came that I was supposed to meet Ethan for the first time. His Korean name was Daeyung, and they said you’re going to be meeting Daeyung today. His foster mom will be coming around 12:30. And eventually a lady walked through the door, and she was holding his little boy. First thing I noticed he was a lot bigger than I expected. He was a big boy. And she walked towards me, and I think I experienced God’s reality that day alone in that room in a way unlike almost any day I can remember. And it was wonderful because with the other children it was the whole family receiving them, but in this case I was there alone, on the other side of the world, and they brought this little boy and they put him in my arms, and I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew that before God had made the world, that just like with my other children, this was my son. He was my real son.”

That’s how God feels about you. And when we remember that heart, remember our own rescue and adoption, it makes us sensitive and hopefully responsive to the needs of others.