Walter Brueggemann on the protection of vulnerable children

Walter Brueggemann is always worth reading, especially when he is connecting the ancient texts of the Bible with contemporary societal concerns. Buried away at the end of Marcia Bunge’s edited volume, ‘The Child in the Bible’, is a chapter by Brueggemann entitle, ‘Vulnerable Children, Divine Passion, and Human Obligation’. It is worth several posts in its own right but here is a passageĀ to get us started:

Psalm 68

Psalm 68 is a vigorous, extended doxology that alludes to YHWH as the powerful creator who gives rain and as the God who shook Mt. Sinai. In the midst of such sweeping motifs, however, the psalm pauses to notice the core passion of this she-bear God [the she-bear image is one Brueggemann explores previously in the chapter]:

Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land. (vv. 5-6 [his italics])

This is the father – the masculine protector in a patriarchal society – of orphans and widows. The phrase “father of orphans” is odd and worth noting, because orphans are exactly those without a father. Thus the very character of God contradicts the social definition of orphan. These are not the children “without a father,” for this father assures that none will be without a male protector in a patriarchal society. One may imagine orphans to be homeless, but the father gives the desolate a home, a home with many rooms!

This unit of poetry concludes in verse 10:

Your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. (v. 10)

The needy are cared for. The vulnerable are given prosperity. The orphans are given a home. No wonder the church prays “Our Father” to the one who contradicts the identity of all those labelled as “orphans.”

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About timjdavy

I teach and research on Bible and Mission at Redcliffe College and lead the 'Bible and Mission' and 'Scripture Engagement' streams of our MA in Contemporary Missiology. I am the Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission, and also lead Redcliffe's 'Fostering, Adoption and the Church' research project, .
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