Widow's Garment as a Pledge
Moses says in Deuteronomy 24:17 and 18,
17 You shall not pervert justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.
God’s law is very concerned about equal justice for all. And so, when men pervert justice toward those who are vulnerable or weak, God takes it very seriously and personally. A similar passage is found in Exodus 22:21-24,
21 And you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
God’s Role as a Kinsman Redeemer
Aliens, widows, and orphans all have one thing in common. They have no covering, no “redeemer of blood(line)” (or kinsman redeemer) to defend their rights. In such cases, God says, “I will surely hear his cry.” In other words, God becomes their covering. God is their redeemer, commonly misnamed the “avenger of blood.”
Israel itself was an alien in the land of Egypt, vulnerable to oppression, so God became their Redeemer. Israel was supposed to learn from their own history and from observing the acts of God, so that they themselves would not oppress aliens, widows, and orphans.
There are many Christians today who have no church covering. They are spiritual widows and orphans. Some insist that they must join a church and come under some covering of man, not realizing that God is perfectly capable of becoming their covering. God does not leave them defenseless outside of a church organization. The law says, “if he does cry out to me, I will surely hear his cry.”
In Deut. 24:17 the law forbids taking a widow’s garment as a pledge for a debt. Under normal circumstances, one could take a man’s garment, as long as it was returned at the end of the day. As we have seen, this law was practical, because that garment (or mantel) was used to keep him warm and give him rest. But in the case of a widow, a creditor was not allowed to take the widow’s garment at all.
Israel as a Widow
Beyond the earthly side of this law, there is a spiritual and prophetic side to this law. In Isaiah 53 the prophet tells us of the Suffering Servant, which prophesies of Christ’s death “like a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). In the next chapter the prophet calls Israel a widow, saying in Isaiah 54:4 and 5,
4 Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; neither feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the same of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. 5 For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.
Israel could be a widow only if her husband died. Who was her husband? He is identified as Yahweh Sabaoth, “the Lord of Hosts.” Even so, He is more than the God of Israel, for as the Creator He is also “the God of all the earth.”
How is it that Israel became a widow? When Jesus Christ died on the cross, Israel became a widow. This identifies her Husband as Jesus, the God of Israel and the God of all the earth.
So how does this relate to the law regarding pledges? The law says that a widow’s garment could not be taken in pledge.
Prior to Christ’s death on the cross, Israel was a prophetic woman, but not yet recognized by the law as a widow. Since the time of Adam, the glorified body (“garment” or mantle) had been taken as pledge on the debt for Adam’s sin. After the cross, when Israel became a widow, the pledge had to be returned in order to fulfill the law.
However, the glorified body was not actually returned, as we have seen. We had not yet arrived at the fulfillment of Tabernacles, for we were only then coming into the Age of Pentecost. So the tables were turned, and God became the debtor, for by law He owed the widow her garment.
Hence, as a Debtor, God gave the Holy Spirit as a pledge on His debt. The Holy Spirit was a promise to give the glorified body back to the widow.
It is most amazing to me that Jesus Christ paid the debt for Adam’s sin, so that we would no longer be debtors to the law; and that by doing this, He made Himself a debtor to us!
Israel was God’s wife. God had only one wife, for He did not marry the other nations. If anyone of another nation wanted to come under that marriage covenant, he or she had to join the community of Israel and obtain legal citizenship. Isaiah 56:6, 7 extended that right to those of other nations, but all were barred unless they joined themselves to His covenant with Israel.
When a foreigner did so, he became part of the bride, God’s wife, with citizenship rights equal to that of any other citizen of Israel.
And so, when Christ died, only Israel became a widow, for God did not marry the other nations. This means that the law in Deut. 24:17 applied only to those who were under the marriage covenant.
Nonetheless, His death has been beneficial to the whole earth, because the concept of the garment as a pledge goes back to Adam and his entire estate that was sold in payment of debt (Matt. 18:25).
An Important Rabbit Trail
When Israel was divorced from God and sent out of His house (Jer. 3:8), she became just one of the nations, legally speaking. The divorce ended the marriage covenant and put Israel into the same category as all of the other nations.
But the promise of God prophesied that Israel would return under a New Covenant. With them would come others (Isaiah 56:8) who had joined themselves to this New Covenant, which, like the Old Covenant, was to be extended to them.
The divine plan said that all men, whether ethnic Israelites or aliens, had to come under the New Covenant by faith in Jesus Christ. It was a level playing field. All were required to come in by faith in Jesus Christ and believe in the work He accomplished at the cross.
Jesus Christ came the first time as the King of Judah to claim His scepter. Those who followed Him remained in the tribe of Judah, for they were in unity with the King of that tribe. The rest were “cut off” from the tribe for rebellion and for violating the law of sacrifice (Lev. 17:8, 9). Only believers in Christ obtained citizenship in Judah, and thus Paul calls those with heart circumcision “Jews” (Greek: Judeans) in Rom. 2:29. In the previous verse, he tells us that those with a mere outward circumcision (i.e., ethnic Jews) were NOT Jews.
Paul obviously understood God’s definition of a Jew, or Judean. God’s definition differed from man’s definition, for men continued to call ethnic unbelieving Jews by that name.
It is important for us to understand that the terms Jew and Israelite are only ethnic terms according to men’s definitions. By God’s definitions, a Jew is defined according to one’s heart circumcision, while an Israelite is defined as an overcomer.
One did not have to be an ethnic Judahite to qualify for heart circumcision. Neither does one have to be an ethnic Ephraimite to qualify as an overcomer.
Even so, Revelation 21 tells us that the New Jerusalem has twelve gates through which all men must enter. No one is allowed to go over the wall (law). The wall was not meant to keep people out of the city, but rather to channel all men through one of the gates. The gates were the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, all men have access to the New Jerusalem, but they must come in through the proper gates—through one of the tribes of Israel.
This does not mean that only ethnic Israelites were allowed entrance. It means that all men had to come in as Israelites. All believers are citizens of Judah. Overcomers come in through the gate of Ephraim, spiritually speaking. To be a citizen of the Kingdom, one must adhere to Jesus Christ by faith in His Judah calling. To be an overcomer, one must adhere to Jesus Chris by faith in His Joseph-Ephraim calling.
One must first become a Judahite before one can become an Israelite. It is a two-step legal process, and the path is open to all men.
The problem comes when men do not see the broader meaning of the term Israel. There were ethnic Israelites, and there were legal Israelites. Some use the term “spiritual Israelites.” I prefer the term “legal Israelites,” because many try to be spiritual apart from the law. Paul says that “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14), so in the end, if we define “spiritual” in a lawful manner, the two terms are synonymous.
It is only when we try to be spiritual apart from the law that we achieve pseudo-spirituality, falling into the spirit of anomia, “lawlessness,” which is condemned by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John.
And so, when I use the term legal Israelites, I am trying to distinguish between lawlessness and lawful spirituality.
And so I believe that any man can enter the New Jerusalem, either as a citizen or as an overcomer, depending upon which lawful tribe he has joined. One does not have to be an ethnic Ephraimite in order to be an overcomer. If that were the case, then men of Dan and Naphtali and Judah would be disqualified as well. The only way that men of other tribes are able to enjoy the blessings of Joseph is if they are in association (fellowship) with Ephraim—specifically, its King.
Likewise, by the same legal principle, men of all other ethnic groups must adhere to the King of Israel-Joseph-Ephraim in order to be an overcomer.
As I have said, one must have faith in the work that Jesus did in His first coming in order to be a citizen of the Kingdom. The conflict in the first century was over the scepter of Judah. Those priests who usurped His throne and scepter convinced the majority of the people of Judah to follow them, even as Absalom had convinced the people to follow him when he overthrew David a thousand years earlier. But those who followed Jesus—or came to follow Him later—obtained the divine right to be called Judahites.
In the second coming of Christ, He comes as Joseph to obtain the Birthright. Once again, there are others contending for the Birthright, attempting to usurp by fleshly means something that is not theirs. It is important to understand the nature of the present conflict, so that we can know which side to take in this dispute.
The main political dispute is between the Zionist Jews and Jesus Christ. The Zionist Jews have called the name of their state “Israel,” and they have succeeded in gaining legal recognition from other nations. But they are neither ethnic Israelites nor spiritual Israelites. Some Jews might trace their ancestry to Judah, but Judah was not Israel. And apart from heart circumcision, “Jews” are not of Judah.
In the spiritual conflict, which is really a legal matter, they are not Israelites either. Instead, they are attempting to usurp the Birthright of Jesus Christ in His calling as Joseph. Many support the Zionist agenda, rather than Jesus Christ’s right to rule. It is difficult to see how a Christian Zionist can be an overcomer, when he supports the opposition. Is this not like the Jews of the first century who supported the chief priests as they usurped the scepter of Judah?
The parallel is found in the attempt by some Jewish Christians in the first century to add Jesus to the Old Covenant and its Old Jerusalem temple and system of worship. Today Christian Zionists attempt to do largely the same, as if Jesus Christ is called to be the King of the Old Jerusalem ("Hagar" in Gal. 4:25). This attempt to mix the two was unsuccessful in the first century, and it will not succeed in our time either.
Of course, repentance can change this very quickly. Christian Zionists need to repent and support the true Inheritor of the Birthright. For a full history of this conflict over the Birthright, see my book, The Struggle for the Birthright.
To be an overcomer (Israelite) one must support Jesus Christ as the true Inheritor of the Birthright. This is not a matter of ethnicity, nor is it in any way based on the flesh asserting itself in any way. It is, however, a matter of legal citizenship in Israel, and the way to fulfill the legal requirements are spiritual in nature.
The Widow’s Garment
The law made it unlawful to take a widow’s garment as a pledge for a debt. Seen prophetically, Israel became a widow the moment Christ died (even though she was just God’s ex-wife). That, then, was the moment in history when it became unlawful even for God to retain the woman’s garment as a pledge.
This law coincides with the general law of pledges. When Christ died, God suddenly owed mankind the garment which had been taken as pledge in Gen. 3:7. The widow, too, was owed her garment, but by the time Jesus died, Israel had long been divorced by God (Jer. 3:8). Hence, God was under no obligation to return her garment until the remarriage. At that time, she will be given a new garment as described in Isaiah 61:10.