A woman who has lost her husband in death and has not remarried. Death of the husband severs the marriage bond, leaving the widow free to remarry if she chooses to do so. (Ru 1:8-13; Ro 7:2, 3; 1Co 7:8, 9) Under the patriarchal arrangement, and later under the Mosaic Law, the brother of a man who had died childless was to take his brother’s widow as his wife and have a child by her, to carry on the line of her deceased husband.—Ge 38:8; De 25:5-10; Ru 4:3-10; see BROTHER-IN-LAW MARRIAGE.
Upon the death of their mate, widows could return to the house of their father. (Ge 38:11) In the Law, specific provision to this effect was made for the daughter of a priest who became widowed or was divorced. Since the priest received tithes for his household’s sustenance, the daughter could share in this provision. This assured that she would not face poverty, and thus averted reproach that might otherwise have come upon the priesthood. (Le 22:13) For those widows who had no such support or protection, provisions were made in God’s law for them to enjoy gleaner’s rights in the fields, olive groves, and vineyards (De 24:19-21); to participate in the bounteous celebration each year at festivals (De 16:10-14); and, every third year, to share in the tithes that were contributed by the nation (De 14:28, 29; 26:12, 13).
Concern of Jehovah and Christ for Widows. Jehovah spoke of himself as the One “executing judgment for the fatherless boy and the widow.” (De 10:18) Strong injunctions are given in the Law as to the administration of full and equal justice to widows. (Ex 22:22-24; De 24:17) A curse was pronounced upon those perverting the judgment of widows (De 27:19), and proper treatment of widows was urged in the writings of the prophets.—Isa 1:17, 23; 10:1, 2; Jer 22:3; Eze 22:7; Zec 7:9, 10; Mal 3:5.
Christian Assistance to Widows. During the emergency that arose in the Christian congregation shortly after the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., the Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. When this was brought to the attention of the apostles, they considered the matter so important that they appointed “seven certified men . . . full of spirit and wisdom” to supervise the distribution of food with equity.—Ac 6:1-6.
The apostle Paul, at 1 Timothy 5:3-16, gave complete instructions for the loving care of widows in the Christian congregation. The congregation was to care for destitute widows. But if the widow had children or grandchildren, they should assume the responsibility of providing for her needs, or, as Paul instructed, “if any believing woman has widows [that is, widows related to her], let her relieve them, and let the congregation not be under the burden. Then it can relieve those who are actually widows [that is, actually bereaved, without help].” A widow put on the list for material help by the congregation was one “who has become not less than sixty years old,” having a good record of morality, of faithful and loving devotion to Jehovah, and of hospitality and love toward others. On the other hand, the apostle recommends that young widows remarry, bear children, and manage a household, thereby avoiding a snare because of sexual impulses and the danger of being “unoccupied, . . . gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs.”
Jesus’ half brother James highlighted the importance of looking after orphans and widows in their tribulation when, as a requisite for worship that is clean and undefiled from God’s standpoint, he set it parallel with keeping oneself without spot from the world.—Jas 1:27.
Among the widows of notable faith are Tamar (Ge 38:6, 7), Naomi and Ruth (Ru 1:3-5), Abigail (1Sa 25:37, 38, 42), the widow of Zarephath (1Ki 17:8-24), and Anna the prophetess (Lu 2:36, 37; compare Luke’s description of Anna with the qualifications of a worthy widow as outlined by Paul at 1Ti 5:3-16). Also, an unnamed widow was highly commended by Jesus because she contributed all of what she had to the temple.—Mr 12:41-44.
Figurative Use. Cities, when cast off and desolated, are symbolically likened to widows. (La 1:1; compare Jer 51:5.) Babylon the Great, “the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth,” boasts, like her type, ancient Babylon, that she will never become a widow. Nevertheless, just as ancient Babylon did indeed become a “widow,” so will modern Babylon the Great.—Isa 47:8, 9; Re 17:18; 18:7, 8.