I remember an old online game, where teams of players would battle for control of regions in a map. There was a fortified unit, whose armor would block all but the strongest attacks. Based on a certain game mechanic, many attacks on that unit resulted in just 1 hit-point of damage being done (the minimum damage that an attack would inflict), and it could take the entire match to defeat one of these units.
However, there was a second unit that did almost no damage, but it would attack extremely quickly. As a result, since it could always do 1 HP of damage, a small group of these fast units could simultaneously attack the fortified one, and wear down the latter’s health fairly quickly. These smaller units weren’t strong or powerful, but they could keep up their attacks until the opponents’ unit was defeated.
Here’s the context of the parable we’re looking at in the current series of articles:
He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
Luke 18:2-3 NIV
Now, when we talk about a widow in first-century Israel, I’m pretty sure that this group already knows that widows were one of the groups who didn’t have a lot of standing. In a culture dominated by adult males, someone without a husband or father was missing a key advocate and authority. A commentator suggests that this role was “one of the most unfortunate and helpless people in that society” [Black, p.296].
To be clear, God cares about people who are oppressed. James 1:26-27 makes it clear that taking care of orphans and widows is the right kind of religion. (That seems to be the only positive definition of religion in the entire Bible, by the way.) God expects His people to also provide for the poor, the sick, and others who need help.
(However, while God’s love for people needing help continues to this day, we don’t have to interpret this parable in terms of how women who have lost their husbands would interact with judges today. In the first century, the judge is like a fortified emplacement, and the widow – in terms of cultural clout – is like a lone Zergling in the game Starcraft.)
Note that the judge isn’t God-fearing, and it sounds like he’s kind of a jerk. A commentator describes him as “having neither conviction nor compassion” [Black, p.296] We might read the NIV translation here and try to cut him some slack, thinking that judges should – in fact – always apply the law impartially, without worrying about what others think of them. However, other translations suggest something more like he didn’t respect people. That’s not cool.
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
Luke 18:4-5 NIV
One teaching of this section is something that toddlers and young children seem to know instinctively: If they badger a parent, teacher, or other adult for something long enough, the grown-up is likely to eventually get tired and cave in.
Now, part of the translation here seems to be a little bit unclear in the details. The NIV suggests that the judge feared that the woman would attack him. The NASB says, “by continually coming she will wear me out”, but has a footnote with an alternate reading that says, “she may come and give me a black eye”!
So, I’m not sure what this judge’s exact motivation was, but it seems to revolve around the woman’s consistency. The woman got what she was asking for – what she needed, it seems – as a result of her persistence, not her meager societal power. Even the judge’s self-perceived immunity to human and divine principles wasn’t enough to overcome the power of persistence.
In the next article, we’ll take a look at more about what this means (and how God is different from this unjust judge), but this is a good time to remember Luke 18:1, and use this parable as a reminder that we should continue to pray.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for May 29, 2022
- The Lookout, May 29, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.