12.03.16 Lk. 18:1-8
THE PERSISTENT WIDOW AND UNRIGHTEOUS JUDGE
1 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged:
A 2 “There was a judge in a certain town
who didn’t fear God
or respect man.
B 3 And a widow in that town
kept coming to him saying,
‘Give me justice against my adversary.’
A’ 4 For a while he was unwilling,
but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God
or respect man,
B’ 5 yet because this widow keeps pestering me,
I will give her justice,
so she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming.’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? 8 I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”
Literary Style. In this poetic parable, stanzas A and A’ each focus on a judge, God, and man, while the other stanzas focus on the widow and her vindication.
In this narrative Jesus taught the importance of persistence prayer. The lesson is that if an unrighteous judge will make a favorable decision, how much more will God provide for those whom He loves? Historically, according to the Talmud, in the larger villages there were two stipendiary magistrates, known as Dayyaney Gezeloth. They were constantly on duty and had become known for their arbitrariness and covetousness. They were not beyond bribery, and so “for a dish of meat, they would pervert justice.” They were employed by the Herodian family and, as such, they were not permitted to have any other occupation. They had to be available to the public at a moment’s notice. When anyone had a problem that needed a scholarly decision, he would highly prefer to ask a rabbi, and if none could be found, then ask a carpenter. However, if in a desperate situation, he could also go to a magistrate, appointed by Herod, who was, most likely, a despised Roman sympathizer. This points to two interesting features concerning the Babylonian Talmud:
- It presents interesting insights into Jewish social life (in this case the legal system) in the Holy Land, not Babylon, prior to the destruction of the temple, and
- It discredits the argument that since it was written at a late date, it should be not be considered as a source for biblical study on Jewish life and culture.
“There was a judge … who didn’t fear God.” The literal phrase reads “He felt no shame before the people.” The phrase does not mean that the judge was not afraid of God, but he had no respect for God’s authority. A similar statement is found in Exodus 1:8 where Moses wrote that a new king did not know about Joseph. The fact is that Joseph, who was the second highest ruler of Egypt for eighty years, helped the Egyptians survive a terrible drought and became a national hero. Of course the new king certainly had heard of him, but he had no respect or regard for him. The same is true of the judge in this parable. It was to a Dayyaney Gezeloth judge who didn’t fear God that the persistent woman came for justice. Some scholars believe that this judge was not a Jew, but a Roman and this was a Roman court, not a Jewish one. That is possible, or he could have been a Hellenistic Jew. Nonetheless, the persistence of the widow eventually resulted in her receiving due justice. This parable clearly reflected the passage in Psalm,
The Lord protects foreigners and helps the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.
“His elect.” (Gk. eklekton) The chosen ones are those who will be in the victorious army of Jesus at the end of history. The parable Jesus told was reflective of a well-known parable that was written some two centuries earlier in a book known as The Wisdom of Ben Sirach. Again, Jesus taught from the known to the unknown; teaching from what the people were already familiar with to what He wanted them to learn. Since they did not have notepads, iPads, or books, all instruction was memorized – a skill that was well developed in the Jewish culture. Note the words of this Inter-Testamental wisdom book,
Do not the tears run down her cheek
as she cries out against him who has caused them to fall?
He whose service is pleasing to the Lord will be accepted,
and his prayer will reach to the clouds.
The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord;
he will not desist until the Most High visits him,
and does justice for the righteous and exercises judgment.
And the Lord will not delay, neither will he be patient with them,
till he crushes the loins of the unmerciful and repays vengeance on the nations;
till he takes away the multitude of the insolent,
and breaks the scepters of the unrighteous;
till he repays man according to his deeds,
and the works of men according to their devices;
till he judges the case of his people
and makes them rejoice in his mercy.
Ben Sirach 35:15-19
In the poetic writings of Ben Sirach was a popular and similar motif that reflects the prayers of the humble and the rewards that will fall upon the righteous. In this narrative, the judgment of God is portrayed as being brutal on the Gentiles, but in response by Jesus, no judgment was mentioned. Yet there is an unmistakable awareness that all will one day give an account before the Judge of the Universe. At this point in His ministry, and at this time in church history, mercy and forgiveness is extended to those who repent, place their faith in Christ Jesus, and live according to biblical principles. This narrative underscores an important point: Jesus told stories in various forms to explain His theology. Therefore, understanding the language and culture of the Storyteller is critical.
“Will He find that faith on earth?” The essential question of Jesus can easily be overlooked. When He returns, will He find people of faith – people who live their daily lives being focused on obediently doing His will knowing that He will care and provide for them?
. Bailey, Poet and Peasant. Part II, 131; Fleming, The Parables of Jesus. 72.
. See Dayyaney Gezeloth in Appendix 26.
. Babylonian Talmud, Kethub 104b.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 674.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:53.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 263.
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 351; Barclay, “Luke.” 221-22.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 93-94.
. Mt. 24:31; Mk. 13:27; Rev. 17:14; See also Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:1000.
. A/k/a Ben Sirach, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus.
. Metzger, The Apocrypha of the Old Testament. 174.