Received Into the Number: A Theology of Adoption Part II – Adoption in the Old Testament

In this series, we are looking at what God’s Word says about adoption as both an earthly call to care for orphans and as a picture of how He saves undeserving sinners in need of a right relationship with Him. You can read Part I here. In this article, we will see how God’s concern for the orphan or “fatherless” was first revealed in the Old Testament. It is common to hear that the God of the Old Testament was harsh and unforgiving while the New Testament is all about the grace and love of a Nice Guy Jesus. We will see that is not at all the case.

The Fatherless in the Law

In the second giving of God’s law found in the Book of Deuteronomy, we learn that “(God) executes justice for the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19). Later in the same book, the Israelites are commanded to tithe so that those in need, including the fatherless, can eat (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). The reason for this is given in the second part of verse 29. It was so that “the Lord your God may bless you.” (Deuteronomy 14:29b). This was not some sort of promise that God would financially bless the Israelites, but a call to reflect the character of God who is the Father to the fatherless.

Remember that as a baby, Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:10). We are not told exactly what life was like for Moses growing up in Egypt, but the Bible does tell us that ultimately, he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Hebrews 11:24). Moses rejected the sinful pleasures that came with being a member of Pharaoh’s court for something much greater (Hebrews 11:24-26). I think it is safe to assume that not only had Pharaoh failed to reflect the character of God in his treatment of God’s people, he also failed to reflect God’s character in his role as a father (or grandfather) to the fatherless.

Israel was called to care for the fatherless because Israel had already been adopted by the LORD. Back in Exodus, the LORD commands Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let His people go, partly because of the incredible news that “Israel is (God’s) firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). In the Exodus, God freed his people from slavery. In adoption, God does something even more miraculous when he frees his people from spiritual fatherlessness.

The Fatherless in the Prophets

The prophet Jeremiah related how God pronounced judgment on Edom, but grace for the fatherless by preserving and keeping them (Jeremiah 49:7-12). Ezekiel also saw the LORD’s care for the fatherless and His righteous anger when they are wronged (Ezekiel 22:6-8; 29-31). The princes of national Israel are judged by God to have wronged the fatherless and the widow, while the people of the land “practiced extortion and committed robbery” and “oppressed the poor and needy.” To be clear, this is not an excuse for professing Christians to see every situation through the modern lens of oppressed and oppressor. Also, keep in mind that Ezekiel does not list oppression of the fatherless as the only sin God condemned in that situation. The people were also guilty of sexual sin (vs. 9-11), and the priests violated God’s law and profaned His holiness (vs. 26). Again, this is ultimately about God’s character and the sinfulness of people throughout history in failing to reflect Him as the perfect standard of fatherhood.

Oh, and remember how Moses delivers the message to Pharaoh that God is father to Israel? Jeremiah is also told that the LORD will save his people because he is “father to Israel” (Jeremiah 31:9). But how can that be? Israel failed and dishonored the LORD over and over again. As the LORD would later ask his beloved Israel, “If then I am a father, where is my honor?” (Malachi 1:6).

The Fatherless in the Writings

In the Psalms, the theme of the fatherless and God’s special concern for them shows up several times. The psalmist calls on the LORD not to forget the afflicted and remembers that God has been “the helper to the fatherless” (Psalm 10:12-14). In one of the many Psalms attributed to David, we are told that God is “father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). Later, we read that the LORD “upholds the widow and the fatherless” (Psalm 146:9). Charles Spurgeon could look at texts like these and say that at least in some sense, “God is the parent of all orphans. When the earthly parent sleeps beneath the sod, a heavenly Father smiles from above. By some means or other, orphan children are fed, and well they may when they have such a Father.” [1]

Finally, the Psalms give us a hint to the question of exactly how a sinful rebellious people could ever appropriately call out to God as their father. Psalm 89 tells of a “godly one” who is “chosen from the people”, who serves as the LORD’s servant (Psalm 89:19-20). This one will have the right to call God his “Father” because he is God’s “firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:26-27). By now, it should be obvious whom the Holy Spirit was pointing us to. As Spurgeon puts it, “Among the kings the seed of David was to be most favored and indulged with most love and paternal regard from God: but in Jesus we see this in the highest degree verified, for he has preeminence in all things, inasmuch as by inheritance he has a more glorious name than any other and is higher than the kings of the earth. Who can rival Heaven’s Firstborn?”[2]

Spiritual Adoption is about Christ as our Elder Brother

The great Puritan William Perkins recognized that spiritual adoption by God beats out any earthly status or privilege as “the child or heir or any earthly Prince (because) the son of the greatest Potentate may be the child of (God’s) wrath: but the child of God by grace, has Christ Jesus to be his eldest brother, with whom he is fellow heir of heaven; he has the (Holy Spirit) also for his comforter, and the kingdom of heaven for his everlasting inheritance.”[3]

You can have a perfect Father who loves and cares for you in all the ways that ultimately matter, but only by adoption into his family. And you will experience that adoption by repenting of your sin and placing your faith in the finished work of his perfect Son as your elder brother.

[1] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David. (Kindle Edition: Chios Classics, 2015), loc. 3508-3509 of 84622.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David. (Kindle Edition: Chios Classics, 2015), loc. 41984-41986 of 84622.

[3] cited by Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 15. Language updated for spelling and clarity.


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