In the tenth chapter of Deuteronomy, Israel’s Creator God speaks to those that He intends to bear His image in the world, thereby communicating what is expected of them, saying “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you except to revere Him, to obey all His commandments, to love Him, to serve Him with all your mind and being” (10:12). Having said this, He continues to describe Himself, while also informing those hearing these words how they are to perform in and for the world, saying that He “justly treats the orphan and the widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing” (10:18).
Of course, the theme of the need to care for the orphan and the widow, along with the resident foreigner and the poor, is a theme that is taken up on page after page of that through which the Creator God has revealed Himself. Deuteronomy twenty-four is particularly focused in this area. In the seventeenth verse the text reads “You must not pervert justice due to a resident foreigner or an orphan, or take a widow’s garment as security for a loan” (24:17). Additionally, “Whenever you reap your harvest in your field and leave some unraked grain there, you must not return to get it; it should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow so that the Lord your God may bless all the work you do” (24:19).
Likewise, “When you beat your olive tree you must not repeat the procedure; the remaining olives,” treasure, if you will, “belong to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard you must not do so a second time; they should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow. In the twenty-seventh chapter, just before God outlines His program of blessing or cursing, based upon His people’s handling of their covenant responsibilities (chapter twenty-eight), we find, along with a number of curses, “Cursed is the one who perverts justice for the resident foreigner, the orphan, and the widow” (27:19a).
Turning to Exodus, there one finds “You must not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict them in any way and they cry to me, I will surely hear their cry, and My anger will burn and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children will be fatherless. Most certainly, though it is far from purity of heart, those that do such things will see God, but clearly in a way which is less than desirable. If we look to the prophets, such as Isaiah, we hear him speaking on behalf of God, delivering a judgmental cry and saying “Learn to do what is right! Promote justice! Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! Take up the cause of the orphan! Defend the rights of the widow!” (1:17).
The corollary to this is “Your officials are rebels, they associate with thieves. All of them love bribery, and look for payoffs. They do not take up the cause of the orphan, or defend the rights of the widow” (1:23). Ezekiel sounds a similar note, saying “They have treated father and mother with contempt within you; they have oppressed the foreigner among you; they have wronged the orphan and the widow within you” (22:7).
Ostensibly, because the Creator God delivered His judgment against His people, as announced and explained by these prophets in connection with their idolatry, their mis-treatment of the resident foreigner, the orphan, and the widow could be said to have stemmed from their idolatry. Had they been pure of heart, it would have been demonstrated in their care for these groups, though one should not pretend to insist that such care created a purity of heart. Their lack of purity of heart was revealed in their treatment of the ones to whom the Creator God directs so much of His attention and concern. Owing to this, the covenant God’s people saw Him in a way that they did not want to see Him, but that He had certainly promised. In the big picture, Jesus’ talk of being “pure of heart” is set against idolatry, be it ever so subtle.