July 13, 2020

The Widow of Nain



In the New Testament, we read of the miracle Jesus performed in Nain—raising a widow’s son from the dead. As we study this story’s historical context, we’ll discover she had stood to lose far more than just her beloved son. She would lose her financial security, her property and inheritance, and even her legacy and name. Christ’s miracle of restoring the son also restored her. Like the widow of Nain, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we too can be restored to all that the Father has promised us.

The story begins just following the miracle of the Savior healing a centurion’s servant while at Capernaum (Luke 7:1-10). Nain is located about 20 miles south of Capernaum and well off the main road. The village was just a small farming community with probably no more than a few hundred people. As Jesus arrives with a large group, he sees the procession of mourners carrying the dead body of a widow’s only son. According to Jewish custom, if someone died, the body was to be prepared and buried on the same day. The fact that this woman had already lost her husband, and now her only son, would have significant implications on her future life.

Bearing many children today is often almost seen as a novelty in many societies. However, in ancient times, raising a large family, especially sons, was critical for a prosperous life. A bride and groom would marry while still in their teens and begin having as many children as soon as possible. Adult sons were seen as a form of Social Security so to speak. They would care for their parents and support them as they aged and became unable to farm and care for their land. Typically, only about half of a woman’s offspring would make it to adulthood. As a result, a couple would need to start young to bear as many children as possible ensuring financial security in their old age. Losing her only son meant this woman has lost hope for future prosperity.

In addition, women were not allowed to own property, meaning if a woman lost her husband, the property could only be transferred to a male descendant. Because of this, the law of Moses provided a way to ensure seed to the deceased husband through what is called the Levirate Law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). In essence, if a man’s widow has no children, it is the duty of the deceased’s brother or nearest kin to marry her so that she might bear a child who would then belong to her first husband. The Levirate Law would thus preserve her claim on her inheritance of her husband’s land. Luke describes the dead son as a young man, which the original Greek word implies that he is probably in his mid-twenties. Unfortunately, this means that even if she took advantage of the Levirate law, the widow is now most likely too old to bear more children. Having lost her husband and now her only son, this woman has lost hope for posterity and thus any right to property.

With no sons to inherit her husband’s estate, her situation is desperate. She will now most likely become homeless and forced to live in poverty. Begging for her very survival, she will be at the mercy of the tiny town of Nain. In Deuteronomy, we read that widows are to be cared for according to the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 27:19). While those living in Nain would have been well aware of this obligation, it is not a given such a small community could adequately provide for her needs. But even if they could, they may still not choose to come to her aid. The widow has now lost all hope for a financially secure future.

Many of her townspeople also likely saw such a devastating loss of both husband and son as a curse from God for having sinned in some way. Due to the judgment of others, her reputation potentially would now be sullied as well. Even more tragic, with no one to carry on the family’s name, she will not be remembered in future generations; her story is now cut off from the story of Israel. The widow has lost hope for a legacy.

Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain by Anton Robert Leinweber
It is at this very moment—in her time of greatest sorrow—Jesus comes to her. He has left the main road, traveling off the beaten path precisely when the widow needed him most (Luke 7:11-12). Jesus had to have known precisely when the son would die in order to arrive at the exact time of his burial, occurring the same day as his death. With great compassion, Jesus walks up to the grieving widow and says simply “Weep not.” (Luke 7:13). What he does next most likely would have surprised all who witnessed the loving act. He touches the funeral bier, what the dead son was resting on. By touching the bier, Jesus becomes ritually unclean. He then says to the dead son, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” (Luke 7:14). The son’s life, once lost, is now restored, and so too is restored everything the widow had lost. She can now once more enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, her future is secure, her name will be known for generations.

This miracle occurred just on the other side of the mountain where another miracle was performed long ago by Elisha, known as one of the great prophets (2 Kings 4:32-37). He too had raised a widow’s son from the dead. This similarity may have been recognized by the people in Nain, for they say, “…a great prophet is risen up among us.” (Luke 7:16).

Elisha raising the son of the Shunamite by Frederic Leighton
But an even greater similarity is yet to come. For Christ, the only begotten Son, whose mother is also likely a widow, will die and yet live again. Just as the widow’s son’s raising of the dead restored her inheritance, Jesus Christ’s resurrection restores our inheritance. The Savior comes not just to the widows and the orphans, the sick and the lame, and the homeless and the oppressed but to each of us. He comes despite our uncleanliness because of our sins. He says compassionately the same words spoken in the widow’s ear, “Weep not” lifting us up from our despair and sorrow. Through him, we can enjoy all the blessings our Heavenly Father has promised.

Likewise, we can follow the Savior’s example and do the same for others who need our help. Just as Jesus knew precisely when the widow needed him most, we can be in tune with the needs of those around us and rush to their aid. We can serve others not just with kind words, but with action. We can sacrifice comfort, or even reputation, for the safety and healing of others. Sometimes those who need our help are not easily seen from the main road. We too may need to travel off the beaten path to find those who are suffering.

The story of the widow of Nain teaches us a powerful lesson about restoration. The loving Master compassionately restored the widow’s financial security, inheritance, and her name and legacy. Because of our sins, we each have lost our inheritance in the kingdom of God. In our fallen state, we too have a need of restoration—a redemption from our sins. Thankfully, just as the Savior was able to restore all that the widow had lost, the Savior can restore us to our rightful place as heirs of the kingdom. Just as he did for the widow, Jesus is eager to come to us in our moment of greatest despair. Not because we are deserving, but because of his great love for us. All that is asked of us is to accept him, repent, and strive to follow his example.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

2 comments:

  1. Always, always am educated and uplifted by your posts.
    Thank you for all your efforts.

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    1. Glad you have enjoyed them! Always nice to know people appreciate them.

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