International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
fa'-ther-les (yathom; orphanos): The fatherless are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, generally in association with the widow and the stranger, as typical instances of the unprotected and necessitous, who are, specially subject to oppression, and also to God's special protection. Great philanthropic regard is bestowed on this class throughout. In early legislation there is a special clause to guard them against affliction (Exodus 22:22-24). They have a still more prominent place in the Deuteronomic legislation, which gives instructions that a charitable fund be formed out of the tithe, once every three years, for the relief of the destitute (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; Deuteronomy 26:12-14), and that gleanings be left in the cornfield, the olive garden, and the vineyard for the benefit of this class (Deuteronomy 24:19-22; compare Leviticus 19:9; 23:22, where, however, the "fatherless" are not specially mentioned). The Deuteronomist declares that God is on their side (Deuteronomy 10:18), and strongly condemns those who would oppress them (Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19). The prophets and psalmists are equally emphatic in pleading for mercy and justice to the fatherless, and in declaring that God is their special guardian (Isaiah 1:17 Jeremiah 7:6; Jeremiah 22:3 Hosea 14:3 Zechariah 7:10 Psalm 10:14; Psalm 68:5; Psalm 82:3; 146:09:00; compare Proverbs 23:10). Oppressing the fatherless is frequently mentioned as a typical act of cruelty and injustice (compare Job 6:27; Job 22:9; Job 24:3, 1; 29:12; 31:16, 17, 21; Psalm 94:6 Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2 Jeremiah 5:28 Ezekiel 22:7 Malachi 3:5). Here we have instances of the prophetic passion for righteousness and compassion for the helpless, inspired by a profound sense of the value of human life. Passages in the Apocrypha reflect the same spirit (2 Esdras 2:20; Ecclesiasticus 4:10).