“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
He leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”
Psalms 68:5-6 NIVUK
In this Psalm, the author, David, puts his finger on two people groups who were social outcasts in his day. Orphans and widows. In a society without a social security safety net, these people were vulnerable to abuse and injustice. In His time spent with God up the mountain, Moses particularly highlighted and wrote about those people in his society who were in need (Deuteronomy 10:18), and David repeats the principle in these verses. The verses we are reading today declare that God would provide for the orphans and widows. In those days, begging was a common way of receiving provision, as well as the expectation that friends, neighbours and the wealthy, would show favour to those in need. But as we read from Jesus’ words in the Gospels, caring for the disadvantaged was an aspiration rather than a realisation.
Today there are still orphans and widows. But the responsibility for looking after them has shifted from members of society to the state, with the provision of benefits for those in need, or foster homes for the orphaned. Progress? Perhaps. But we still have a responsibility, as Christians, to look out for those people in our society who are disadvantaged. Being a friend to the lonely. Keeping an eye on that elderly widow lady next door, doing her shopping or cutting her grass. And through us, God will look after those in social need. But is this an aspiration rather than a realisation? It’s up to us to turn it into a reality.
But what about the prisoners? From what were they being set free? We are all prisoners of something, to a greater or lesser extent. Many things can imprison us. Lack of finance. Mental and physical illness. Disabilities. Loneliness. Abusive neighbours. Lack of education. Substance abuse. The list is endless. But David says that through God we can be set free from the incarceration we experience. We can rise above our cells of misery and want. We can look up through the bars and see our loving Heavenly Father, and be filled with a new song of joy and freedom. One of my favourite Scriptures is Isaiah 40, and the last verse reads, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Through God we can soar into Heavenly places, elevated from our bi-dimensional existence.
Finally, there is a sad side to these verses. The last part of verse 6 mourns the fact that those who have rebelled against God, by rejecting or ignoring Him, will have to live in a dry and hot place. Is this a prophetic muse about the time to come, when those who have rejected God will spend eternity in the place of their default choice?
But back to the message in these verses. As God’s servants on this planet we have a responsibility to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. And when we do so we too will have song in our hearts.