Why Would an Unjust Judge Give in to an Incessant Widow?

Because, in this parable, the "beat down" is literal.

Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This parable is pretty straightforward. Luke even gives us the interpretation up front. They (we) ought always to pray and not lose heart.

If an unjust judge who couldn’t care less about his people can be pestered into doing the right thing, then so would a righteous and loving God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night.

But the portrait of the judge caving in to the widow’s incessant nagging doesn’t seem quite right. It’s easy to see the unjust judge not caving in, or even slapping her with a contempt of court charge. Why doesn’t he do that?

The answer’s in the Greek. The colloquialism that’s translated here as, “beat me down,” literally means to have visible bruises.

In other words, he’s worried about his image. The widow’s pleadings are public; everyone is witnessing what he’s doing. So his giving her justice is in his own interest.

Note also that this comes right after Jesus’ teaching about the second coming. This passage is to be understood in that context. He’s hinting that the timing of His return will test their patience. Then He reiterates that theme with, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

We ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Is there something you had been praying for that has dropped off your screen, even though it’s still unanswered? Did you change your mind about what you were asking for, or did you just give up?

If it’s the latter, bring it back. Ask the Lord to direct you and to clarify your heart on this issue. If it was a great passion (and you don’t feel led to revise your stance) rekindle that passion.

If it’s painful to want something that much and not get it, offer your heart on the altar by praying hard anyway.

That is a supreme form of worship.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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