Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134
Beginning the Journey (for new Christians).
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
Conquering Lamb of Revelation
David, Life of
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Holy Spirit, Disciple's Guide
Jesus and the Kingdom
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Listening for God's Voice
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Sermon on the Mount
77. The Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8)
John Everett Millais, 'The Unjust Judge and the Importunate Widow' (1864), wood engraving on paper, Tate Museum, London.
"1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, "Grant me justice against my adversary." 4 For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, "Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!"' 6 And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?'" (Luke 18:1-8, KJV)
For now we've left Jesus' teaching on the Coming of the Son of Man (except for 18:8b), and are beginning a new block of teaching on faith and the quality of those disciples who please God.
- 18:1-8. Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge teaches persistence, faith, and prayer, with a promise of God's ultimate justice
- 18:9-14. Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector contrasts pride and humility in prayer, and demonstrates the bold faith possible to the humble and penitent believer.
- 18:15-17. Jesus and the Little Children gives a further example on the humility necessary to approach God and enter the Kingdom.
Four closely related passages finish out the section, emphasizing as do the first three passages, the quality of faith necessary in a disciple.
- 18:18-30. The Rich Young Ruler is a negative example of how greed or love of money can keep even earnest people from following Jesus fully.
- 18:35-42. Blind Bartimaeus illustrates the simple faith of a believer.
- 19:1-10. Zacchaeus illustrates faith that is willing to give away money to follow Jesus.
- 19:11-27. The Parable of the Minas illustrates how servants are to serve faithfully and productively.
"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." (18:1)
Verse 1 starts with "Then." Notice that this teaching on prayer follows directly on Jesus' teaching on the coming of the Son of Man. Indeed, verse 8 ends with that theme. So we should think of verse 1 as an exhortation to disciples who may be undergoing a struggle just prior to the coming of the Son of Man not to give up hope, but to pray, expecting a speedy answer.
Characteristically, Jesus instructs his disciples with a parable, a story to make a spiritual point. Luke reveals the point of the parable in advance: "that they should always pray and not give up" (18:1b). The word translated "always" is Greek pantote, "always, at all times."733 The word "prayer" is the common Greek word proscheuomai, "to petition deity, pray."734 Jesus is teaching continual prayer, again and again, rather than continuous, non-stop prayer. To "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13; 5:17; 2 Timothy 1:3) is to pray repeatedly, time and again.
I've heard Bible teachers say that once you've asked God for something that it displays lack of faith to ask for it again, since you ought to believe you already have received it (Mark 11:24). But Jesus teaches clearly that we are to continue to pray until we receive the answer. That continued prayer is not a sign of little faith, but of persistent faith.
The danger is that we get discouraged and quit praying. The word translated "give up" (NIV) or "faint" (KJV) in 18:1 is Greek enkakeō, "to lose one's motivation in continuing a desirable pattern of conduct or activity, lose enthusiasm, be discouraged,"735 from en, "into, entering into" + kakos, "base, wrong, wicked."
Now Jesus introduces the characters in his story.
"He said: 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.'" (18:2)
The phrase "feared God" refers to piety, faith in God, and recognition that God will judge the sons of men. The judge had no regard for God's justice. The phrase "cared about" (NIV) or "respected" (KJV) is Greek entrepō, "to show deference to a person in recognition of special status, 'turn toward something/someone, have regard for, respect,'" in this context "who showed deference to no human."736 The judge is not a a man-pleaser. Neither does he respect the special needs of the poor and oppressed. He is independent or thinks he is. He isn't overly concerned about public opinion.
He was concerned with himself -- his own opinions, his own comfort, his own income. In verse 6, Jesus calls him "unjust," Greek adikia, "wrongdoing, unrighteousness, wickedness, injustice."737 Though it isn't explicit, there was probably a reason that the judge wouldn't give the widow justice -- it probably had to do with money. I consider it likely that the judge was either taking bribes to fatten his purse or had an "arrangement" with a wealthy citizen who stood to lose if the widow won her case. The judge was arrogant, self-absorbed, and unjust, a powerful man facing down one of the weakest members of society -- a widow.
"And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'" (18:3)
Widows had a difficult place in Palestine -- around the world, in fact. Normally, the wife of a deceased husband had no legal right to inherit her husband's estate, so when her husband died, she couldn't take for granted living in his house on his land. If her deceased husband had no children, the estate reverted to her husband's male relatives on his father's side -- his brothers, his father's brothers, and then the nearest family kinsman. If she had grown children things, would be easier; they would take care of Mom. But a widow with small children might just as well have to contend for property rights with her in-laws, and if they didn't happen to like her, things could be difficult. In some cases, she might manage the estate to be inherited by her young children as a trustee, but that was by no means a sure thing.738
We don't know how the widow was being cheated, but her judge was on her opponent's side. She didn't have money for lawyers. She was probably holding on by a hair. But there is one thing we know about her -- she was persistent.
The phrase "kept coming" is the common Greek verb erchomai, "come." Here it is in the imperfect tense, indicating repeated or continued action in the past. She hadn't come just once, but many times. The word translated "grant me justice" (NIV) or "avenge me" (KJV), here and in verse 5, is Greek ekdikeō, "to procure justice for someone, grant justice."739
She didn't take "no" for an answer. Instead, every time court was in session, here would be the widow, asking for -- no, demanding -- the justice to which she was entitled. Everyone in town knew about her case. If she had kept quiet, things would have died down. But since she kept on demanding justice, vocally, publicly, time after time, the inevitable questions would begin. "Maybe she is being cheated." "Maybe she does have a case." The judge's credibility may have been called into question. She was a squeaky wheel demanding oil.
"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'" (Luke 18:4-5)
The phrase "keeps bothering" translates two Greek words. Parechō, "to cause to happen or be brought about, cause, make happen,"740 is in the present tense, which here indicates continued action in the present. The second word is Greek kopos, "a state of discomfort or distress, trouble, difficulty," originally "a beating". The idea here is "cause trouble for someone, bother someone."741
This weak little widow is starting to make the powerful judge feel some heat. The phrase "wear me out" is Greek hypopiazō, literally, "give a black eye to, strike in the face." The judge may have been speaking in hyperbole or exaggeration -- she wasn't threatening him with bodily harm. But a figurative meaning of the word is "to bring someone to submission by constant annoyance, wear down, browbeat," or perhaps "slander, besmirch."742 This widow's constant appeals were hurting the judge's reputation. Whatever he had been paid wasn't worth the hassle she was causing. He decided to grant her what she was due just to get rid of her.
This wasn't a real widow, of course, nor a real judge, but Jesus' hearers had met widows like her, and had experience with judges like him. All over the audience you could see people nodding their heads. They'd met people like that. The story was true-to-life.
Now that Jesus has is audience with him, he brings the application:
"And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?'" (18:6-8)
Now, for the unjust judge and the widow, Jesus substitutes God and his elect (eklektos, "chosen ones"). Wait a minute, you say. God isn't unjust! No, and that's just the point. Jesus' argument is from the lesser to the greater: If an unjust, selfish judge will see that justice is done in response to persistent requests, how much more will the just God bring justice to his own beloved people who pray constantly for relief.
The phrase "bring about justice" (NIV) or "avenge" (KJV) is the noun form, ekdikēsis (found here and in verse 8), of the verb ekdikeō used in verses 3 and 5 above. It means "giving of justice, see to it that justice is done."743
I think of a poignant passage in the book of Revelation:
"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?' Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." (Revelation 6:9-11)
Sometimes we cry, "How long, Lord?" Sometimes it seems that God will never answer. In the sentence, " Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly" (18:7), the phrase "keep putting them off" (NIV) or "bear long" (KJV) is Greek makrothumeō, "delay." This is the only place in the New Testament where this meaning occurs. Usually it is translated "have patience" or "be patient."744
Jesus' answer is firm: "He will see that they get justice, and quickly" (18:8). The word "quickly" is Greek tachos, "speed, quickness, swiftness, haste" or, with the preposition en as an adverbial unit, "soon, in a short time."745 Our word "tachometer" (measuring speed of rotation) comes from this Greek word.
But it's easy to get discouraged, disappointed. When I was a young man I was sure I would see Christ's Return in my lifetime. But now I am several decades older and he still hasn't come. How long, Lord? How long until your will is done on earth as it is in heaven? How can you let evil go on so long?
If you read carefully Jesus' words to his disciples, you see that his message is consistent: Stay spiritually awake and be ready, for I come in an hour that you do not expect. When we try to put his Second Coming on a calendar, we get disappointed. We're not the only ones. In the latter part of the first century, Peter wrote:
"First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation....
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare." (2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-10)
When Jesus comes it will be at the right time. Not our time or our preference, but God's -- the right time.
During the American Civil War on May 5, 1864, General A.P. Hill's Confederate forces have been mauled by General Hancock's Union troops in The Wilderness Campaign, but dark has fallen. Hold out until morning, General Lee tells Hill; General Longstreet will be here to relieve you. But dawn has broken and Longstreet is late. Hill's thin lines break in panic as the Union forces push forward once again. Where is Longstreet? Where is he?
Finally, Longstreet arrives. He is late according to Lee's plan, but just at the right time to flank Hancock's Union troops and turn the tide. Had he gotten there too early, his troops may have panicked along with Hill's. But Longstreet arrives just in time to turn the battle, and Lee's army survives to fight another day.
When Jesus comes, he will come at just the right time. His coming is sure, but Jesus wonders aloud at the faithfulness of his troops.
"However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (18:8b)
Jesus has told a parable of persistence, of a widow -- weak in the world's estimation -- who has won a victory because she didn't give up hope, she doesn't give up her plea, and finally wins the day. But what about you and me? We sometimes become so worn down and discouraged by our lives that we stop praying, stop hoping, stop expecting God to intervene. Will we be religious, church-going unbelievers, who have given up expecting an answer, whose prayers are just going through the motions? Jesus wonders. "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (18:8b)
My dear friend, Jesus told this story to us disciples so that we might be encouraged. None of you is weaker than the widow. None of you is facing longer odds than she. But because of her persistence and faith, even the unjust judge gave her what was hers by right.
How much more you can expect God to intervene on your behalf! How much more will God bring justice to you, since you are his beloved, chosen child! Yes, we become discouraged. Paul did (2 Corinthians 1:8; 4:8-12). But we must not quit, not give up praying.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:58, RSV)
Lord, I know what it's like to come to a place of discouragement so deep that it's hard to pray any longer, hard to hold out hope. Some of my brothers and sisters are there right now and you are speaking to their hearts. Lift them, today, I pray. Turn their eyes to you afresh. Strengthen their faith, freshen their hope, enliven their prayers -- until you come. Come soon, Lord Jesus! Amen.
"And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7-8)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- Describe the judge in this parable. What do we know about his motivations? (18:2, 4-5)
- Describe the widow. What makes her tick? Why do you think she is so persistent? (18:3)
- What is the stated purpose why Jesus told this parable? (18:1)
- What kinds of things can happen that cause us to lose hope, and lose any heart to pray consistent and believing prayers? How can we get out of these "pits"?
- How can we believe in swift justice from God when he hasn't brought it yet?
- Do YOU think Jesus will find faith on the earth when he returns? Why or why not?
- What is this parable saying to you personally? What disciple-lesson are you taking away from this?
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 Pantote, BDAG 755.
 Proscheuomai, BDAG 879.
 Enkakeō, BDAG 272.
 Entrepō, BDAG 341.
 Adikia, BDAG 20-21.
 Gerhard F. Hasel, "Heir," ISBE 2:673-676.
 Ekdikeō, BDAG 300-301.
 Parechō, BDAG 776-777.
 Kopos, BDAG 558.
 Hypopiazō, BDAG 1043.
 Ekdikēsis BDAG 301.
 Makrothymeō, BDAG 612.
 Tachos, BDAG 992-993.
In-depth Bible study books
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- Songs of Ascent (Ps 120-134)
- 1, 2, and 3 John
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter & Jude
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- Apostle Paul
- Abraham, Faith of
- Christ Powered Life (Romans 5-8)
- Christmas Incarnation
- Colossians and Philemon
- Conquering Lamb of Revelation
- David, Life of
- Glorious Kingdom, The
- Great Prayers of the Bible
- Holy Spirit, Disciple's Guide
- Jacob, Life of
- Jesus and the Kingdom of God
- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
- John's Gospel
- Lamb of God
- Listening for God's Voice
- Lord's Supper
- Luke's Gospel
- Moses the Reluctant Leader
- Names and Titles of God
- Names and Titles of Jesus
- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
- Resurrection and Easter Faith
- Sermon on the Mount
- Seven Last Words of Christ