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Exegesis of a Parable – Luke 18:1-8 Kevin Hampton – CHR 502
Prelim Exegetical Statement: God will answer our prayers in a way that is so much more personal and protective than some worldly judge merely giving in to a nagging annoyance.
Literary Context - Micro: Jesus was traveling towards Jerusalem, and was between Samaria and Galilee. He had just healed ten lepers, of which only one, a Samaritan, had returned to thank him. He then told a parable to His disciples while responding to a Pharisee’s question on the timing of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus finished this parable of the persistent widow, He told another parable regarding the heart of a person praying. He also corrected the disciples with regard to children’s access to Him.
Micro Context--Read Luke 17, especially beginning in verse 22. Notice how Jesus is speaking about his return. Now notice his statement at the end of the parable in 18:8.
Literary Context - Macro: This parable is a twin to a parable Jesus told earlier in Luke 11:5-8, where Jesus explained the value of persistence in asking, and immediately followed that parable with his ASK (ask, seek, and knock) directive with prayer. This was a time where Jesus was traveling and He was using opportunities along the way as teachable moments for those listening, as evidenced by the back-to-back parables recorded in Luke 17:11 - 18:34.
Macro Context--good. However, also interpret the parable in light of the overall purpose of Luke's Gospel. What is the overall purpose of Luke's Gospel? See your New Testament Antiquity book for help.
Widows - Widows were, under the law, deemed to be the most helpless and oppressed of all, as they had no way to support themselves. In Luke’s gospel he gives us examples of four other widows, (2:36-38, 4:25-26, 7:12-15, and 21:2-3) and in each case they find favor or compassion from Jesus. In chapter 2, Anna was able to meet baby Jesus after constantly serving in the Temple. In chapter 4, Elijah visited Zarephath. In chapter 7, Jesus saw a widow who had just lost her son and in His compassion, He raised the dead son to life and in chapter 21, Jesus told them that the poor widow gave more than anyone else, because she gave from her poverty, not her abundance.
Praying - Certainly the audience would be familiar with the act of prayer, both public and private prayer. Luke talks about prayer nine different times in his book, and it was such an important discipline, Luke recorded Jesus teaching His followers (in Luke 11) the perfect prayer.
Lexical--What resources are using to analyze these terms? You cannot simply use 21st century understanding of these terms. The terms are historically conditioned by the 1st century.
Cities - Cities were large, busy places where commerce was conducted and the city walls offered protection from invaders. Cities were also the center of government, including the courts. Judges also sat at the city gates to hear day-to-day cases, as evidenced by Genesis 19:1, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, and Ruth 4:1-11.
Judges - Hebrew judges were supposed to fear God and respect men. They were to protect the most vulnerable ones, and not having their interests forefront and certainly not being "on the take" by the most wealthy or powerful. Moses set up judges to hear cases in Exodus 18 and Jehoshaphat appointed judges in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7. Psalms 68:5 says that God himself is “a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows”.
Widows – The image of a widow was used multiple times in the Bible. Jesus uses the example of a widow to emphasize not only their seemingly helplessness but also their tenacity. Deuteronomy 10:18 says that God “executes justice for the orphan and the widow”.
Legal Protection - Legal protection would have been something of importance to those seeking any trial before a judge. While as 21st century Americans we might impose our own sense of equal protection under the law, this was not necessarily the case in first century Israel. This case most likely centered on an aggressor trying to take something of value from the widow, but the widow had a case against their claim, and therefore was requesting legal protection. Her claim is assumed to be valid, because she was only requesting justice from the judge.
Adversary - The idea of an “adversary” or “oppressor” would have been understood by the hearers. Adversaries could come in many forms, from cheaters in the market place (Ezekiel 22:13) to the money changers in the temple (Matthew 21:12). Jesus even gave a specific example later in Luke 20:45-47 about people who “devour widows' houses”.
Justice - This first century audience would have been familiar with the idea of justice. Even though little is known about the judicial system at the village level, they would have been familiar with the justice system, as evidenced by Paul using his citizenship in Acts 22 to his advantage.
Crying out to God - The Hebrew audience would certainly be familiar with crying out to God, as their history is rife with examples that they would have been taught at young ages. During their enslavement in Egypt in Exodus 2 and 3, they repeatedly cried out to God for Him to release them from slavery.
Son of Man – The Jewish crowd would have also been familiar with the term Son of Man because during their education it would have appeared repeatedly in Ezekiel, Numbers, Daniel, and Psalms. Stock Imagery--nice job on this step
It would have been brazen for someone to publicly call attention to unjust judges. Although it was probably common knowledge, calling attention to one publicly might have seemed strange to some in the audience. Given the Roman occupation of Israel during the 1st century, judges would not have been placed because of their ability but because of their political clout with regard to the Roman government. Further, during the parable, if the hearer was trying to connect the dots, they might have assumed the judge was being compared to God, even though at the end Jesus explained that the judge was being contrasted to God.
It would have been unexpected that the widow would be so persistent. Judges were separate and enjoyed a higher status than commoners, and to consistently hound the judge with her petition could have ended in her being found in contempt and put in jail.
Also, it is surprising that the judge relented and gave in to her requests. Given the context from both the parable and history, for a judge that "neither feared God nor regarded man" to change his mind would have been a surprise.
Potential Over-Interpreted Elements: This parable should not be construed to mean that if you are guilty of an infraction of the law, that any judge will merely commute your sentence because you nag them. Forgiveness does not necessarily prevent the consequences of our actions.
Jesus’ Exegesis: Jesus gives his Exegesis in verse 1 and again in verses 7-8. Jesus was explaining that God wants to give us things that are for our good, He wants to protect us, but God is ultimately concerned with our hearts. God does not want us to cease in our communication with Him. He desires our constant attention. He desires us to spend time with him in prayer. His parable points out that the time we spend in prayer is a litmus test to where our heart’s desire is.
Jesus' Exegesis--see 18:8. It is here that we see Jesus is discussing prayer in light of his return. In other words, the ultimate answer to the widow's request/prayer for vindication against here enemies is found in the return of Jesus.
Synoptic Context: This parable does not show up in other synoptic gospels.
Kingdom Point: The Kingdom point is that God wants us to beseech His throne with our prayers, to be persistent, unyielding, and have Him on our hearts and in our minds constantly.
Final Exegetical Statement: The persistent prayer of a believer, not their persuasive words, yields benefits because of God’s partiality to His people.
Final Exegetical Statement--Given the micro context with Luke 17:22ff and 18:8, the final exegetical statement should definitely focus on the relationship between prayer and the return of Jesus.
Keener. 1993. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
Clinton. 2002. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary
1952. The Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Vol 8, The Gospel According to St. Luke - the Gospel According to St. John
Burge, Green, and Cohick. 2009. The New Testament in Antiquity