We know that perseverance in prayer is a rare and difficult attainment; and it is a manifestation of our unbelief that, when our first prayers are not successful, we immediately throw away not only hope, but all the ardor of prayer. But it is an undoubted evidence of our Faith, if we are disappointed of our wish, and yet do not lose courage. Most properly, therefore, does Christ recommend to his disciples to persevere in praying.
The parable which he employs, though apparently harsh, was admirably fitted to instruct his disciples, that they ought to be importunate in their prayers to God the Father, till they at length draw from him what He would otherwise appear to be unwilling to give. Not that by our prayers we gain a victory over God, and bend him slowly and reluctantly to compassion, but because the actual facts do not all at once make it evident that he graciously listens to our prayers. In the parable Christ describes to us a widow, who obtained what she wanted from an unjust and cruel judge, because she did not cease to make earnest demands. The leading truth conveyed is, that God does not all at once grant assistance to his people, because he chooses to be, as it were, wearied out by prayers; and that, however wretched and despicable may be the condition of those who pray to him, yet if they do not desist from the uninterrupted exercise of prayer, he will at length regard them and relieve their necessities.
The parties between whom the comparison is drawn are, indeed, by no means equal; for there is a wide difference between a wicked and cruel man and God, who is naturally inclined to mercy. But Christ intended to assure believers that they have no reason to fear lest their persevering entreaties to the Father of mercy should be refused, since by importunate supplication they prevail on men who are given to cruelty. The wicked and iron-hearted judge could not avoid yielding at length, though reluctantly, to the earnest solicitations of the widow: how then shall the prayers of believers, when perseveringly maintained, be without effect? If exhaustion and weakness are felt by us when we give way after a slight exertion, or if the ardor of prayer languishes because God appears to lend a deaf ear, let us rest assured of our ultimate success, though it may not be immediately apparent. Entertaining this conviction, let us contend against our impatience, so that the long delay may not induce us to discontinue our prayers.
Cambridge Bible:Lk Farrar
1. that men ought always to pray] Rather, that they ought always to pray, since the true reading adds αὐτούς. It is only here and in vs. 9 that the explanation or point of a parable is given before the parable itself. Both parables are peculiar to St Luke. The duty inculcated is rather urgent prayer (as in 11:5-13) than that spirit of unflagging prayer which is elsewhere enforced, 21:36; 1Th_5:17; Eph_6:18.
and not to faint] The word used is a late word meaning to give in through cowardice, or give up from faint-heartedness. It is a Pauline word, 2Co_4:1, 2Co_4:16; Gal_6:9.
18:1-8. § The Parable of the Unrighteous Judge. Comp. 15:8-10, 11-32, 16:1-9, 19-31, 17:7-10. The connexion with what precedes is close, and is implied in the opening clause; for αὐτοῖς naturally refers to the same audience as before. Had there been no connexion, αὐτοῖς would have been omitted: comp. 13:6. Godet appeals also to the formula ἔλεγεν δὲ καί; but here the καί is not genuine. The connexion is, that, although the time of Christ’s return to deliver His people is hidden from them, yet they must not cease to pray for deliverance. Both here and 21:36 we ve the command to be unremitting in prayer immediately after a declaration that the hour of Christ’s coming is unknown; and the same connexion is found Mar_13:33. See Resch, Agrapha, p. 297.
1. Ἔλεγεν δὲ παραβολήν. See on 5:36.
πρὸς τὸ δεῖν. Not merely the duty, but the necessity of perseverance in prayer is expressed; and prayer in general is meant, not merely prayer in reference to the Second Advent and the troubles which precede it. Only here and ver. 9 is the meaning of a parable put as the preface to it; and in each case it is given as the Evangelist’s preface, not as Christ’s.
πάντοτε προσεύχεσθαι. Comp. πάντοτε χαίρετε. ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε (1Th_5:17). Grotius quotes Proclus ad Timæum χρὴ ἀδιαλείπτως εὔχεσθαι τῆς περὶ τὸ θεῖον θρησκείας. See Origen, περὶ εὐχῆς, 12.; Tert. De Orat. 29.; Lft. Epp. p. 81. On the other hand, we have the Jewish doctrine that God must not be wearied with incessant prayer. Tanchuma, fol. 15:3. A man ought not to pray more than three times a day. Hourly prayers are forbidden. Si quis singulis horis ad te salutandum accedit, hunc dicis te contemtui habere: idem ergo quoque Valet de Deo, quem nemo hominum singulis horis defatigare debet (Schœttgen, 1:305).
The form ἐνκακεῖν is right here, and perhaps Gal_6:9; Eph_3:13; 2Th_3:13; ἐγκακεῖν 2Co_4:1, 2Co_4:16; but in six places some texts have ἐκκακεῖν. See Gregory, Proleg. p. 78. Ellicott makes ἐγκακεῖν mean “to lose heart in a course of action,” and ἐκκακεῖν “to retire through fear out of it”; but authority for any such word as ἐκκακεῖν seems to be wanting. Perhaps ἐγκακεῖν is not found earlier than Polybius. See Suicer.
Vers. 1-14. The Lord speaks the two parables on prayer the importunate widow, and the Pharisee and publican.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The formula elege de kai , literally, “and he spake also,” calls attention to the fact that the parable-teaching immediately to follow was a continuation of what had preceded. Indeed, the connection between the first of the two parables, which urges restless continued prayer, and the picture which the Lord had just drawn of men”s state of utter forgetfulness of God, is obvious. “The Son of man has been rejected; he has gone from view; the masses are plunged in gross worldliness; men of God are become as rare as, in the days of Abraham, they were in Sodom. What, then, is the position of the Church? That of a widow whose only weapon is incessant prayer. It is only by means of this intense concentration that faith will be preserved. But such is precisely the disposition which Jesus fears may not be found even in the Church at his return” (Godet).
Vers. 1-8. The importunate widow.
The importance which Christ attaches to prayer is evidenced by the frequency with which he recurs to it in his teaching, and the variety of his illustration of its duty and blessedness. The sermon on the mount enforces it as one of the cardinal virtues of the perfect disciple. In the eleventh chapter of this Gospel both the manner after which we are to pray, and the assurance on which faith should rest, are presented. Again, towards the close of the ministry we are introduced to two parables bearing on it, each with the lesson which the Master would teach clearly defined. The former of these two has this as its object (ver. 1), “that men ought always,” i.e. unremittingly, “to pray, and not to faint;” i.e. not to be scared by hindrances, or induced to desist by the sickness which comes through hope deferred. The structure of the parable is very simple. There is a judge who neither fears God nor regards man. A poor widow, who has been wronged, claims his interposition. He pays no regard to her suit. But she importunes him; day by day she presents herself, until, though he has no regard to the justice of her case, he listens to her pleading in order that he may be relieved of her solicitations. If man, unjust and selfish, thus yields to unceasing prayer, how much more, argues Jesus, will he, who is the Absolutely Just and the Infinitely Loving, yield to the cry, day and night, of his own people! Notice three features in the delineation.
I GOD IN CONTRAST WITH THE HUMAN AVENGER. The latter consults his own ease. He acts in mere selfishness. The Eternal Righteousness is ever consistent with itself. “To this man will I look, even to him that is humble and contrite in spirit.
II GOD”S PEOPLE IN CONTRAST WITH THE WIDOW. They resemble her in one thing in the sense of need, of helplessness. But the widow stands in no special relation to the judge. God”s people are his own elect. They are part of the blood-bought, ransomed family. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God;” and “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” Each of them is in the most intimate relation to the Eternal. “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh on me.
III THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD IN CONTRAST WITH THE LONG-SUFFERING OF MAN. The long-suffering of man is in consequence of the indisposition to act; if in the end. it is dispelled, if the action after a lengthened interval follows, it is only that repose may be purchased by the effort, and that the mind may be free to carry out its unloving projects. God bears long with his elect, not because he is unwilling to bless, but that he may draw them closer to himself, that he may prepare them for fuller measures of blessing, that he may chasten their wills into completer union with his will, and so ultimately bestow the higher gifts of his Fatherhood. When they cry, there is much that needs to be corrected; they desire only what they regard as the best or what will relieve them from some pressure. There is still a distance between their will and his; he delays the answer that they may be brought in true self-emptiness to his heart, and that, their faith being purified, they may be enriched out of his exceeding abundance. So the Lord bore long with Job; in him patience had its perfect work; he learned to “abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes;” he was “attuned also to finer issues” by the charity which led him to pray for his friends. And the Lord turned his captivity when his prayer was thus disciplined and enlarged, and he received “twice as much as he had before.” So, too, the woman of Canaan cried, and “the Lord answered her not a word” (Matthew 15). Then came she “and worshipped him.” She bowed her whole soul before him, and she received the reward of the “great faith.” “Therefore,” says the Lord, faint not. ” “Pray without ceasing.” The heavens above are not brass. There is a flexibility in the ordering of the universe which admits of the answer, direct and real, to prayer. “More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of.” “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.” The Lord anticipates a decadence in the belief as to the efficacy of prayer, for he adds a “nevertheless” (ver. 8). Is this loss of faith true of the Church and of Christians in this day?
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON Vers. 1-7. Continuance in prayer: Divine delay.
We have first to consider what is
I THE ARGUMENT IN THE TEXT. It is one from the less to the greater, or rather from the unworthy to the worthy. If a bad man will, for a poor reason, accede to the request of one for whom he cares nothing, how much more certainly will the Righteous One himself, for a good reason, espouse the cause of those who are so dear to him! The reasons for confidence in God”s faithfulness and interposition are therefore threefold.
1. If an unprincipled judge amongst men will finally do justice, assuredly the righteous Judge of all the earth will do so. His character is something which cannot fail; we may build on that as on the most solid rock.
2. If justice is granted by us for so poor a reason as that of fearing vexatious annoyance, surely God will listen and will respond to reverent and believing prayer. He is far more certain to be won by that in us which pleases him than is an unjust judge by that in his appellant which annoys him. And our approach to him in prayer, our reverent attitude, our faith in his goodness, our trust in his Word, all this is very pleasing unto our Father.
3. If a man will yield a demand made by one to whom he does not feel himself related, and in whom he is absolutely uninterested, how confident we may be that God will interpose on behalf of those who, as his own sons and daughters, are dear to his parental heart, and who, collectively, constitute “his own elect those who are most tenderly and intimately related to him in Jesus Christ his Son!
II THE SERIOUS FACT OF THE DIVINE DELAY. “Though he bear long with them” (ver. 7), or, “and he delays to interpose in their cause” (Dr. Bruce). It is certain that, from our point of view, God does delay to vindicate his people; his answer does not come as soon as we expect it; it is held back so long that we are ready “to faint” (Lose heart). Thus was it many times in the history of Israel; thus has it been frequently in the history of the Church of Christ. How many times have suffering bands of noble martyrs looked up piteously and despondently to heaven as they cried, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood?” Thus has it been in multitudes of individual instances; men have been oppressed, or they have been embarrassed, or they have been disappointed, or they have been otherwise afflicted; they have appealed to God for his delivering grace; and they have looked long in vain for the Divine response. They say, “O my God, I cry,… but thou hearest not”. (Psa_22:2)
III THE EXPLANATION THAT WILL BE FOUND. The time will come when we shall understand why God did delay to answer us. But we may be quite sure that when it comes it will be seen:
1. That it was not in him not in his absence from us, nor his indifference to us, nor his unreadiness to help us.
2. That it, was in us in our unreadiness to receive his interposition, or in the misuse we should make of it, or in the greater and truer good to be gained by our patience than by our relief; and thus in the ultimate gain to our own well-being by his withholding.
IV THE BLESSED FACT THAT IT IS ONLY A DELAY. “I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
1. It is probable that when God does manifest his power he will work speedy and overwhelming destruction to the guilty; he will avenge “speedily, i.e. quickly, instantaneously. “How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image”. (Psa_73:19, Psa_73:20)
2. It is certain that in his own time and way God will defend his people, that he will relieve his children, that he will redeem and bless his “own elect.” His faithfulness to his Word; his love for them that love him; his intimacy of relation to those who are “in Jesus Christ; this is a sure and absolute pledge that the appeal to him cannot be and will not be in vain. Men ought continuously, perseveringly, to pray, and never to lose heart. The day of Divine appearing is entered in the books of God. C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR Vers. 1-14. Lessons in prayer.
Our Lord, in the two parables composing the present passage, gives the disciples encouragement to pray. The one brings out the need of perseverance and importunity in prayer; the other brings out the spirit of self-abasement which should be cultivated in prayer. They are thus linked together as twin lessons in the art of prayer.
I LET US NOTICE THE NEEDFUL IMPORTUNITY OF GOD”S ELECT AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW. (Vers. 1-8) The story is about an earthly judge of unscrupulous character, to whom a widow in her weakness, but with a deep sense of injury, appeals for redress. The weak woman is able by her importunity to extort from the heartless judge the redress which he would give on no other conditions. He even becomes facetious and humorous over it, and declares that he will avenge her, lest “by her continual coming she strike me” Having related this story, our Lord makes certain deductions from it. And:
1. He declares that at his coming there will little faith in his advent. (Ver. 8) Now, this unbelief about his advent can be accounted for on several grounds.
(1) The procession of nature is so uniform. All things seem to continue as they were from the creation. Nature is on so largo and grand a scale that we do not appreciate the real progress, and imagine that we are in the midst of a standstill. Uniformity, however, is not standstill.
(2) Hope deferred will make many hearts sick. And so what has been so long talked of and yet has never appeared will be thought at last as never to appear. And
(3) stoicism will lead many just to take things as they are, and entertain no concern about any change. It is astonishing how easy-going people tolerate manifest wrongs rather than take the trouble either to pray about them or to work for their removal. But:
2. Our Lord acknowledges the wrong to which his elect ones have been exposed. Their cry is for justice, for redress, like the widow. Now, our Lord admits that his people have not got justice from the world. The world has not been worthy of them. The world has made them time after time martyrs. It is a great assurance that the Lord acknowledges his servants” wrongs.
3. He intimates at the same time that, like the widow, they will need importunity. The one weapon must be wielded and wielded incessantly. He keeps us waiting doubtless for our good. If we got all the moment we asked it, how should we ever learn patience? But:
4. He promises a sudden redress. The idea seems to be not “speedily” but “suddenly” he will avenge them. It will be a sharp and decisive deliverance when it comes. We thus see that all life”s discipline is planned to stimulate prayer. And when we have least taste for it, we should, like Luther, pray on. This is the importunity the Lord loves and will answer.
II LET US NOTICE THE SPIRIT OF SELF-ABASEMENT WHICH SHOULD CHARACTERIZE OUR PRAYER AS ILLUSTRATED IN THE PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN. (Vers. 9-14) And in this second story we have a Pharisee first presented whose prayer is an outburst of self-confidence. He thanks God that he is so much better than his neighbours. For in these he recognizes extortioners, unjust men, and adulterers. A self-righteous spirit is censorious; its prayer is a criticism; even a publican”s modesty in standing afar off, and his contrition in smiting on his breast, are set down to his disparagement. Then the Pharisee can congratulate himself on fasting twice a week, and on giving tithes of all he possesses. But he was not a bit the better for all tiffs so-called prayer, this bit of blatant self-praise. On the other hand, the publican, though he remained afar off and hardly ventured to look up, but smote on his breast and cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” went down to his house a happier and better man. For the important point is not their consciousness, but God”s attitude towards their respective spirits. To the one spirit God responds by justification and a sense of acceptance. The other is sent empty away. Hence the principles Jesus deduces are twofold.
1. Self-exaltation always precedes abasement. The proud will sooner or later get his fall. The Pharisaic spirit is always humiliated in the end. The man who is filled with self-satisfaction is only demonstrating his own self-ignorance and distance from God and his great ideal.
2. Self-abasement always leads to exaltation. It is when we feel “as a beast” before God, like Asaph in the seventy-third psalm, that we are on the way to spiritual rapture. For God has provided for the abased sinner the pardon he needs, and, besides the pardon, sanctification and everlasting progress. Let us, then, pray in the penitential key continually, and let us pray determined not to be deified; and heights of spiritual exaltation and rapture will be seen rising from our very feet, and inviting us to sit down on them with Jesus. R.M.E.
Expositor’s Greek NT
Ver. 1. παραβολὴν: the story is a parable in so far as it teaches by an incident in natural life the power of perseverance with reference to the spiritual life.—πρὸς, in reference to, indicating the subject or aim of the parable—de (so Kypke, with examples).—πάντοτε: not continuously, but persistently in spite of temptation to cease praying through delayed answer = keep praying, notwithstanding delay. The whole raison d’être of the parable is the existence of such delay. Some fail to see this and think that the difference between God and the judge is that He does not delay. It is not so. God is like the judge in this, only His delay has not the same cause or motive. The judge represents God as He appears in Providence to tried faith—ἐκκακεῖν: a Pauline word (Gal_6:9; 2Th_3:13, etc.). This introduction to the parable is probably due to Lk., who, it will be observed, takes care to make the lesson of general application, though the δὲ after ἔλεγε and the concluding reflection in ver. 8 imply that the special subject of prayer contemplated both by Lk. and by our Lord was the advent referred to in the previous context.
Cambridge Bible:Lk Farrar
2. a judge] Rather, a certain Judge. The little story is not improbably taken from life, and doubtless the inferior judges under such a sovereignty as that of the Herods might afford many instances of carelessness and venality.
which feared not God, neither regarded man] The description of a character perfectly abandoned. He is living in violation of both of the two great commandments; in contradiction to the spirit of both Tables of the Decalogue. His conduct is the reverse of the noble advice of Jehoshaphat to his judges, 2Ch_19:6, 2Ch_19:7; (2Co_8:21).
a widow] See Exo_22:22; Deu_10:18; Isa_1:17, Isa_1:23; Mal_3:5; 2Sa_14:2, 2Sa_14:5. The necessity for special justice and kindness to them rose from the fact that in the East they were of all classes the most defenceless and oppressed. Hence the prominent place which they occupy in the arrangements of the early Church (Act_6:1, Act_6:9:41; 1Ti_5:3, &c.).
2. Κριτής τις ἦν ἔν τινι πόλει. We are probably to understand a Gentile official. He had no respect for either the vox Dei or the vox populi, consciously (ver. 4) defying Divine commands and public opinion. See numerous parallels in Wetst., and contrast 2Co_8:21. The Talmud speaks of frequent oppression and venality on the part of Gentile magistrates; and for a striking illustration of the parable witnessed by himself see Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands, p. 228. Note the τις.
The idea of ἐντρέπομαι seems to be that of “turning. towards” a person, and so “paying respect” (20:13; Mat_21:37; Mar_12:6; 2Th_3:14; Heb_12:9). But as ἐντρέπω means “I put to shame” (1Co_4:14), ἐντρέπομαι may possibly have the notion of “being abashed, having a felling of awe,” before a person. In class. Grk. it is commonly followed by a gen.
Cambridge Bible:Lk Plummer
3. she came unto him] Rather, she kept coming to him. The widow woman is a representative alike of the Christian Church and of the Christian soul.
Avenge me of mine adversary] Rather, Do me Justice. The word ‘avenge’ is a little too strong. The technical term ekdikeson implies ‘settle my case (so as to free me) from my adversary.’ The same word is found in Rom_12:19; Rev_6:10. There is again a curious parallel in Sir_35:14-17, “He will not despise … the widow when she poureth out her complaint. Do not the tears run down the widow’s cheeks? and is not her cry against him that causeth them to fall?… The prayer of the humble pierceth the clouds, and … he will not depart till the Most High shall behold to judge righteously and execute judgment.”
3. χήρα δὲ ἦν. Typical of defencelessness: she had neither a protector to coerce, nor money to bribe the unrighteous magistrate. The O.T. abounds in denunciations of those who oppress widows: Exo_22:22; Deu_10:18, 24:17, 27:19; Job_22:9, Job_22:24:3; Jer_22:3; Eze_22:7, etc. Comp. Non, ita me dii ament, auderet facere hæc viduæ mulieri, quæ in me facit (Ter. Heaut. v. 1:80).
ἤρχετο. “Continued coming, came often,” ventitabat. The imperf. indicates her persistence.
Ἐκδίκησόν με ἀπό. “Give me a sentence of protection from; vindicate my right (and so protect me) from.” Assere me jure dicundo ab injuriâ adversarii mei (Schleusn.). For the ἀπό comp. 12:15, 58, 13:16, 20:46: it does not express the penalty exacted from the adversary, but the protection afforded from him, as in π̔ῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ. The meaning is “preserve me against his attacks” rather than “deliver me out of his power,” which wo require ἐκ. For ἀντίδικος comp. 12:58; Mat_5:25.
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. The petitioner was a woman and a widow, the latter being in the East a synonym for helplessness. With no one to defend her or plead her cause, this widow was ever a prey to the covetous. Not once nor twice in the noble generous words of the chivalrous Hebrew prophets we find this readiness on the part of those in power to neglect, if not to oppress these helpless widow-women, sternly commented upon. So in Isaiah we read, (Isa_1:23) “They judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.” While Jesus (Mat_23:14) includes this cowardly sin among the evil deeds of the rulers of the Israel of his day: “Ye devour widows” houses, and for a pretence make long prayer.” A more desperate situation, as regards any hope of obtaining the object of her earnest prayer, could not well be pictured a careless, corrupt judge of the lawless Herod period for the tribunal in Israel, and a poor helpless widow for the suppliant. The forlorn woman of the parable represents the Church or people of God in dire straits, overborne by an unbelieving world and seemingly forgotten even of their God. The story is a reminder that there is hope even in that extreme situation sketched in the parable, if the petitioner only continues persistent in her prayer. The argument which lies on the surface of the parable, teaching is obvious: if such a judge will in the end listen to the prayer of a suppliant for whom he cares nothing, will not God surely listen to the repeated prayer of a suppliant whom he loves with a deep, enduring love? Such is the argument of the story. Importunity, it seems to say, must inevitably triumph. But underlying this there is much deep teaching, of which, perhaps, the most important item is that it insists upon the urgent necessity for us all to continue in prayer, never fainting in this exercise though no answer seems to come. “The whole limb of the faithful,” as Origen once grandly said, “should be one great connected prayer.” That is the real moral of the story; but there are a number of minor bits of Divine teaching contained in this curious parable setting, as we shall see. Avenge me of mine adversary. We must not suppose that mere vengeance in the vulgar sense is what the widow prayed for; that would be of no use to her; all she wanted was that the judge should deliver her from the oppression which her adversary exercised over her, no doubt in keeping from her the heritage to which she was lawfully entitled. Of course, the granting her prayer would revolve loss and possibly punishment to her fraudulent oppressor.
7.And shall not God avenge his elect? That judge, whom Christ has described to us as altogether desperate, as not only hardened against the contemplation of God, but so entirely devoid of shame, that he had no anxiety about his reputation, at length opened his eyes to the distresses of the widow We have no reason to doubt that believers will derive, at least, equal advantage from their prayers, provided they do not cease to plead earnestly with God. Yet it must be observed that, while Christ applies the parable to his subject, he does not make God to resemble a wicked and cruel judge, but points out a very different reason why those who believe in him are kept long in suspense, and why he does not actually and at once stretch out his hand to them: it is because he forbears If at any time God winks at the injuries done to us longer than we would wish, let us know that this is done with a fatherly intention—to train us to patience. A temporary overlooking of crimes is very different from allowing them to remain for ever unpunished. The promise which he makes, that God will speedily avenge them, must be referred to his providence; for our hasty tempers and carnal apprehension lead us to conclude that he does not come quickly enough to grant relief. But if we could penetrate into his design, we would learn that his assistance is always ready and seasonable, as the case demands, and is not delayed for a single moment, but comes at the exact time.
But it is asked, How does Christ instruct his disciples to seek vengeance, while he exhorts them on another occasion, pray for those who injure and persecute you, (Mat_5:44.) I reply: what Christ says here about vengeance does not at all interfere with his former doctrine. God declares that he will avenge believers, not for the purpose of giving a loose rein to their carnal affections, but in order to convince them that their salvation is dear and precious in his sight, and in this manner to induce them to rely on his protection. If, laying aside hatred, pure and free from every wicked desire of revenge, and influenced by proper and well-regulated dispositions, they implore divine assistance, it will be a lawful and holy wish, and God himself will listen to it. But as nothing is more difficult than to divest ourselves of sinful affections, if we would offer pure and sincere prayers, we must ask the Lord to guide and direct our hearts by his Spirit. Then shall we lawfully call on God to be our avenger, and he will answer our prayers.
Cambridge Bible:Lk Farrar
7. And shall not God] The argument is simply a fortiori. Even an unjust and abandoned judge grants a just petition at last out of base motives when it is often urged, to a defenceless person for whom he cares nothing; how much more shall a just and merciful God hear the cry and avenge the cause of those whom He loves?
avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him] The best comment is furnished by Rev_6:9-11. But the ‘avenging’ is rather the ‘vindication,’ i. e. the deliverance from the oppressor.
which cry] Literally, shout. It is “strong crying,” comp. Jam_5:4, ‘the shouts of the reapers of your fields.’
though he bear long with them] Literally, “though being longsuffering in their case.” Here the longsuffering of God is shewn not to His elect (though they too need and receive it, 2Pe_3:9), but to their enemies. See Sir_35:17-18—another close parallel, probably an interpolated plagiarism from this Gospel. The elect are far more eager not only for deliverance, but even for vengeance, than God is. They shew too much of the spirit which God reproves in Jonah. But God knows man’s weakness and “therefore is He patient with them and poureth His mercy upon them.” Sir_18:11. But the best supported reading is καὶ μακροθυμεῖ ἐπʼ αὐτούς. This would denote that the longsuffering is shewn toward the elect. He is pitiful to them, in the midst of their impatience.
7. οὐ μὴ ποιήσῃ. This intensive form of the simple negative may be used in questions as well as in statements, and expresses the confidence with which an affirmative answer is expected: comp. Joh_18:11.Rev_15:4 is not quite parallel. The argument here is à forliori, or (as Augustine, Quæst. Evang. ii. 45) ex dissimilitudine, and has many points. If an unjust judge would yield to the importunity of an unknown widow, who came and spoke to him at intervals, how much more will a just God be ready to reward the perseverance of His own elect, who cry to Him day and night ? comp. the very similar passage Eccles. 35:13-18 [32:18-22], and the similar argument Luk_11:13. The treatment of the Syrophenician woman (Mat_15:22-28 ||) is an illustration of the text. With τῶν βοώντων αὐῷ comp. the souls of the saints under the altar (Rev_6:9-11, ). In both cases it is deliverance from oppression that is prayed for.
καὶ μακροθυμεῖ ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς. “And He is long-suffering over them” (RV.). This, and not μαλροθυμῶν (E), is the reading of almost all uncials and of other important authorities: et patiens est in illis (d e), et patientiam habebit in illis (Vulg.).
The exact meaning of the different parts of the clause cannot be determined with certainty; but the general sense is clear enough, viz. that, however long the answer to prayer may seem to be delayed, constant faithful prayer always is answered.
The chief points of doubt are (1) the construction of καὶ μακροθυμεῖ, (2) the meaning of μακροθυμεῖ, (3) the meaning of ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς.
(1) We need not join καὶ μακροθυμεῖ to οὐ μὴ ποιήσῃ, but may take it with τῶν βοώντων, which is equivalent to of οἳ βοῶσιν: the elect cry and He μακροθυμεῖ ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς.
(2) We need not give μακροθυμεῖ its very common meaning of “is slow to anger”: it sometimes means “to be slow, be backward, tarry,” and is almost synonymous with βραδύνω. Comp. Heb_6:15; Jam_5:7; Job_7:16; Jer_15:15; and the remarkably parallel passage Eccles. 35 [32.] 22, καὶ ὁ Κύριος οὐ μὴ βραδύνῃ οὐδὲ μὴ μακροθυμήσει ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς. So also μακροθυμία may mean “slow persistency” as well as “slowness to anger.” Comp. 1 Mac. 8:4, and see Trench, Syn. liii.
(3) This being so, there is no need to make ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς refer to the enemies of the elect, although such loose wording is not impossible, especially if Lk. had the passage in Ecclus. in his mind. The words naturally, and in strict grammar necessarily, refer to the elect, and indicate the persons in respect of whom the slowness of action takes place. Comp. μακροθυμῶν ἐπʼ αὐτῷ (Jam_5:7). The meaning, then, seems to be, “And shall not Clod deliver His elect who cry day and n ht to Him, while He is slow to act for them?” That is, to them in their need the μακροθυμία of God seems to be βραδύτης (Rev_6:10), just as it does to the ungodly, when they see no judgment overtaking them (2Pe_3:1-10). But it is possible that μακροθυμεῖ means “is not impatient.” The unjust judge heard the widow’s frequent request with impatience and dislike. God listens to the ceaseless crying of His is saints with willingness and pleasure. In this sense μακροθυμεῖν is the opposite of ὀξυθυμεῖν, “to be quick-tempered.”
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him? The Master tells us that God permits suffering among his servants, long after they have begun to pray for deliverance. But we are counselled here to cry day and night unto him, and, though there be no signor reply, our prayers shall be treasured up before him, and in his own good time they will be answered. Though he bear long with them. With whom does God bear long? With the wrong-doers, whose works and words oppress and make life heavy and grievous to the servants of God; with these who have no claim to consideration will God bear long. And this announcement gives us some clue to the meaning of the delay we often experience before we get an answer to many of our prayers. The prayer is heard, but God, in the exercise of mercy and forbearance, has dealings with the oppressors. It were easy for the Almighty to grant an immediate answer, but only at the cost often of visiting some of the oppressors with immediate punishment, and this is not his way of working. God bears long before his judgments swift and terrible are sent forth. This has ever been his way of working with individuals as with nations. Was it not thus, for instance, that he acted towards Egypt and her Pharaohs during the long period of the bitter Hebrew bondage? We who would he God”s servants must be content to wait God”s time, and, while waiting, patiently go on pleading, sure that in the end “God will avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him.”
Shall not God avenge … – We are not to suppose that the character of God is at all represented by this judge, or that “his” principles of conduct are at all like those of the judge. This parable shows us conclusively that many “circumstances” of a parable are not to be interpreted closely: they are mere appendages to the narrative. The great truth which our Saviour “designed” to teach is what we ought to endeavor to find. In this case there can be no doubt what that truth is. He has himself told us that it is, that “men ought always to pray and not to faint.” This he teaches by the example in the parable; and the argument which it implies is this:
1. A poor widow, by her perseverance only, obtained from an unjust man what otherwise she would “not” have obtained.
2. God is not unjust. He is good, and disposed to do justice and to bestow mercy. If, therefore, this “wicked man” by persevering prayer was induced to do justice, how much more shall “God,” who is good, and who is not actuated by any such selfish and base principles, do justice to them who apply to him!
Avenge – Do justice to or vindicate them. This may have a twofold reference.
1. To the disciples in the time of Jesus, who were about to be oppressed and persecuted, and over whom calamities were about to come, “as if” God did not regard their cries and had forsaken them. To them Jesus gives the assurance that God “would” hear their petitions and come forth to vindicate them; and that, notwithstanding all these calamities, he would yet appear for their deliverance.
2. It may have a more “general” meaning. The people of God are often oppressed, calumniated, persecuted. They are few in number and feeble. They seem to be almost forsaken and cast down, and their enemies triumph. Yet in due time God will hear their prayers, and will come forth for their vindication. And even if it should not be “in this life,” yet he will do it in the day of judgment, when he will pronounce them blessed, and receive them forever to himself.
His own elect – People of God, saints, Christians; so called because God has “chosen” them to be his. The term is usually given in the Scriptures to the true followers of God, and is a term of affection, denoting his great and special love in choosing them out of a world of sinners, and conferring on them grace, and mercy, and eternal life. See 1Th_1:4; Col_3:12; 1Pe_1:2; Eph_1:4. It signifies here that they are especially dear to him; that he feels a deep interest in their welfare, and that he will, therefore, be ready to come forth to their aid. The judge felt no special interest in that widow, yet he heard her; God feels a particular regard, a tender love for his elect, and, therefore, he will hear and save.
Which cry day and night – This expresses one striking characteristic of the elect of God; they pray, and pray constantly. No one can have evidence that he is chosen of God who is not a man of prayer. One of the best marks by which the electing love of God is known is that it disposes us to pray. This passage supposes that when the elect of God are in trouble and pressed down with calamities, they “will” cry unto him; and it affirms that if they do, he will hear their cries and answer their requests.
Though he bear long with them – This passage has been variously interpreted, and there is some variety of reading in the manuscripts. Some read, “Will not God avenge his elect? Will he linger in their cause?” But the most natural meaning is, “Although he defers long to avenge them, and greatly tries their patience, yet he will avenge them.” He tries their faith; he suffers their persecutions and trials to continue a long time; and it almost “appears” as if he would not interpose. Yet he will do it, and will save them.
8.When the Son of man shall come. By these words Christ informs us that there will be no reason to wonder if men shall afterwards sink under their calamities: it will be because they neglect the true remedy. He intended to obviate an offense which we are daily apt to take, when we see all things in shameful confusion. Treachery, cruelty, imposture, deceit, and violence, abound on every hand; there is no regard to justice, and no shame; the poor groan under their oppressors; the innocent are abused or insulted; while God appears to be asleep in heaven. This is the reason why the flesh imagines that the government of fortune is blind. But Christ here reminds us that men are justly deprived of heavenly aid, on which they have neither knowledge nor inclination to place reliance. They who do nothing but murmur against the Lord in their hearts, and who allow no place for his providence, cannot reasonably expect that the Lord will assist them.
Shall he find faith on the earth? Christ expressly foretells that, from his ascension to heaven till his return, unbelievers will abound; meaning by these words that, if the Redeemer does not so speedily appear, the blame of the delay will attach to men, because there will be almost none to look for him. Would that we did not behold so manifest a fulfillment of this prediction! But experience proves that though the world is oppressed and overwhelmed by a huge mass of calamities, there are few indeed in whom the least spark of faith can be discerned. Others understand the wordfaith to denote uprightness, but the former meaning is more agreeable to the context.
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. “Non bientot, mais bien rite” (Godet). It means that God will act in accordance with his servant”s prayer, not soon, but suddenly; sure and sudden at the crisis the action of Divine providence comes at the last “as a thief in the night.
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? These difficult words seem to point at least to a fear lest, the second coming being long delayed, true faith would have died out of the hearts even of the godly. Such a fear might be Jesus”; for we know, from his own lips, that to him, while on earth and wearing the body of humiliation, the day and hour of the second advent was not known. Was not our Lord speaking with the same sad onlook in his parable of the virgins, when he said, “they all slumbered and slept,” wise virgins as well as foolish? (Mat_25:5) “It is often the case that God”s action as a Deliverer is delayed until his people have ceased to hope for deliverance. So it was with Israel in Egypt; so was it with her again in Babylon. “Grief was calm and hope was dead” among the exiles when the word came that they were to return to their own land; and then the news seemed too good to be true. They were “like them that dream” when they heard the good tidings. This method of Divine action long delay followed by a sudden crisis so frankly recognized by Christ, is one to which we find it hard to reconcile ourselves. These parables help us so far, but they do not settle everything. They contain no philosophy of Divine delay, but simply a proclamation of the fact, and an assurance that, in spite of delay, all will go well at the last with those who trust in God” (Professor Bruce).
“Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” These words have no special reference, if they have any at all, to the condition of the world at the “second coming” of Christ. In order to understand and appreciate them, we must consider
I WHAT IS THE FORCE AND RANGE OF THIS EXPRESSION, “the coming of the Son of man.” And it will be found on investigation that it signifies any special manifestation of God”s power or any special appearance of Christ either in Person or in providence. This may be:
1. In mercy; including the Incarnation, when the Son of man came “not to destroy but to save” the world; the Resurrection, when he came in power and triumph from the other world; the Day of Pentecost, when he came in marvellous outpouring of Divine influence upon the world.
2. In judgment; including the destruction of Jerusalem; the day of death to each human being; the day of judgment itself, when “before him shall be gathered all nations.
II WHAT IS THE APPLICATION OF IT IN THE TEXT. A widow appeals for redress against “her adversary” (the defendant) to an unprincipled judge. He puts her off until her importunity makes him listen and respond in order to save himself from annoyance. Arguing a fortiori, our Lord contends that God, the righteous Judge, will most certainly grant to his own people (children) the requests they make of him (see previous homily). But, continues the great Teacher, who had such a perfect insight into our nature, when he does that, and “comes” in judgment to his foes and in mercy to his friends, will he find his friends expecting him? will they be looking for his appearing? will their attitude be one of holy expectation, of instant recognition, and of devout thankfulness? or will they not, after all their asking, be positively surprised and even incredulous at his manifestation? He will come most assuredly, but when he comes, will he find faith on the earth?
III WHAT ILLUSTRATIONS WE HAVE OF THE TRUTH OF IT.
1. We have two striking scriptural illustrations.
(1) Christ”s own coming, after his resurrection, to his disciples. Instead of looking for him and welcoming him, according to his word (ver. 33), they were astounded and incredulous. (Luk_24:11, Luk_24:22, Luk_24:23, Luk_24:37) He did not “find faith” in them.
(2) His coming in providential deliverance to Peter. When the Church had been praying without ceasing for him, they should have been hoping for a Divine visitation in response to their prayer. Nevertheless, when it came, were they not found unbelieving and astonished? (Act_12:5, Act_12:15) Are we much better than they?
2. Christ”s coming in judgment. Such narrow and false interpretations as the Jews were apt to put upon sudden and sad calamities (Luk_13:1-4) we must scrupulously avoid. But when we see a man who has defied all laws, human and Divine, brought down into shame and ruin, or when we see a guilty empire which was founded on violence, sustained by force, and nourished in corruption, stricken down by defeat and reduced to dishonour and disaster, shall we be surprised as if a strange thing had happened? or shall we not rather feel that this is precisely what we had every reason to expect from the righteousness of the Divine Ruler?
3. Christ”s coming in grace and mercy. When the Christian family, in answer to earnest and continued prayer, is just saved from serious embarrassment and perhaps from disgrace; when the Christian Church, after much pleading for God”s Spirit, receives marked and manifest tokens of the presence and power of God in the midst of it; when the Christian teacher or preacher, as the issue of much devout and faithful work, finds many souls to be seeking the life which is of God; is the attitude of that family, that Church, that teacher, one of calm expectation and devout acquiescence? or is it not rather one of surprise, if not even of incredulity? When we have been imploring the Son of man to come, and he comes at our appeal, does he find us awaiting and expecting him? Surely, with fuller and deeper faith on our part, there would be a more frequent coming on the part of our gracious Lord in life-giving power and blessing. C.
Speedily – Suddenly, unexpectedly. He will surely vindicate them, and that at a time, perhaps, when they were nearly ready to give over and to sink into despair. This may refer to the deliverance of the disciples from their approaching trials and persecutions among the Jews; or, in general, to the fact that God will interpose and aid his people.
Nevertheless – But. Notwithstanding this. Though this is true that God will avenge his elect, yet will he find his elect “faithful?” The danger is not that “God” will be unfaithful – he will surely be true to his promises; but the danger is that his elect – his afflicted people – will be discouraged; will not persevere in prayer; will not continue to have confidence in him; and will, under heavy trials, sink into despondency. The sole meaning of this phrase, therefore, is, that “there is more danger that his people would grow weary, than that God would be found unfaithful and fail to avenge his elect.” For this cause Christ spoke the parable, and by the “design” of the parable this passage is to be interpreted.
Son of man cometh – This probably refers to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem – the coming of the Messiah, by his mighty power, to abolish the ancient dispensation and to set up the new.
Faith – The word “faith” is sometimes taken to denote the “whole” of religion, and it has been understood in this sense here; but there is a close connection in what Christ says, and it should be understood as referring to what he said before. The truth that he had been teaching was, that God would deliver his people from their calamities and save them, though he suffered them to be long tried. He asks them here whether, when he came, he should find “this faith,” or a belief of “this truth,” among his followers? Would they be found persevering in prayer, and “believing” that God would yet avenge them; or would they cease to pray “always, and faint?” This is not to be understood, therefore, as affirming that when Christ comes to judgment there will be few Christians on the earth, and that the world will be overrun with wickedness. That “may be” true, but it is not the truth taught here.
The earth – The land referring particularly to the land of Judea. The discussion had particular reference to their trials and persecutions in that land. This question implies that “in” those trials many professed disciples might faint and turn back, and many of his “real” followers almost lose sight of this great truth, and begin to inquire whether God would interpose to save them. The same question may be asked respecting any other remarkable visitation of the Son of God in affliction. When tried and persecuted, do “we” believe that God will avenge us? Do “we” pray always and not faint? Have “we” faith to believe that, though clouds and darkness are round about him, yet righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne? And when storms of persecution assail us, can “we” go to God and confidently commit our cause to him, and believe that he will bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noon-day?
Christ now gives directions about another virtue, which is necessary to acceptable prayer. Believers must not come into the presence of God but with humility and abasement. No disease is more dangerous than arrogance; and yet all have it so deeply fixed in the marrow of their bones, that it can scarcely be removed or extirpated by any remedy. It is no doubt strange that men should be so mad as to venture to raise their crests against God, and to plead their own merits before him. Though men are carried away by their ambition, yet when we come into the presence of God, all presumption ought to be laid aside; and yet every man thinks that he has sufficiently humbled himself, if he only presents a hypocritical prayer for forgiveness. Hence we infer that this warning which our Lord gives was far from being unnecessary.
There are two faults at which Christ glances, and which he intended to condemn, — wicked confidence in ourselves, and the pride of despising brethren, the one of which springs out of the other. It is impossible that he who deceives himself with vain confidence should not lift himself up above his brethren. Nor is it wonderful that it should be so; for how should that man not despise his equals, who vaunts against God himself? Every man that is puffed up with self-confidence carries on open war with God, to whom we cannot be reconciled in any other way than by denial of ourselves; that is, by laying aside all confidence in our own virtue and righteousness, and relying on his mercy alone.
Cambridge Bible:Lk Farrar
9. which trusted in themselves that they were righteous] See 16:15; Php_3:4; 2Co_1:9. The Jewish words ‘Jashar,’ ‘the upright man,’ and ‘Tsaddik,’ ‘just,’ expressed their highest moral ideal; but they made their uprightness and justice consist so much in attention to the ceremonial minutiae of the Levitic Law, and rigid externalism so engrossed their thoughts, that they had lost sight of those loftier and truer ideals of charity which the Prophets had continually set before them. This fetish-worship of the letter, this scrupulosity about trifles, tended only to self-confidence and pride. It had long been denounced in Scripture. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness,” Pro_30:12; “which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day,” Isa_65:5. This is the sort of ‘faith’ which the Son of Man shall find on the earth,—men’s faith in themselves!
and despised other] Rather, the rest. The word ‘despise’ means ‘treat as nothing,’ ‘regard as mere cyphers,’ Rom_14:3, Rom_14:10. The Rabbis invented the most highflown designations for each other, such as ‘Light of Israel,’ ‘Uprooter of Mountains,’ ‘The Glory of the Law,’ ‘The Holy,’ &c.; but they described the vast mass of their fellow-countrymen as “accursed” for not knowing the law (Joh_7:49), and spoke of them as ‘empty cisterns,’ ‘people of the earth,’ &c. See on 5:32, 7:34, &c. This Pharisee regards with perfect self-complacency the assumed ruin and degradation of all the rest of mankind. In one sense the Parable represents the mutual relations of Jew and Gentile.
9-14. Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. This s no connexion either with the parable which precedes it or with the narrative which follows it. The two parables were evidently spoken on different occasions and addressed to different audiences, the first to the disciples on a specified occasion, the second to the persons described in ver. 9 on some occasion not specified. They are placed in juxtaposition, probably because tradition assigned them to the same portion of Christ’s ministry (Hahn); or possibly because they both (but in very different ways) treat of prayer (Keil). That Lk. brackets the two parables for some reason is shown by the καί. But note the δέ also, and see on 3:9.
The καί is genuine (A.aleph; B D L M Q R X L, Vulg.) although A etc. with several Versions omit.
9. As in ver. 1, this preface to the parable is the Evangelist’s: εἶπεν δέ, δὲ καί, εἶπεν πρός, and εἶπεν παραβολήν are all marks of his style. It is possible to take πρός here as meaning “with a view to,” as in ver. 1, or “against,” as in 20:19. But it is much more likely that it means “unto” after εἶπεν because (1) this construction is specially common in Lk. and (2) we here have persons and not the substantial infinitive after πρός: dixit autem et ad quosdam qui (vulg.). Syr-Sin. has “against.”
τοὺς πεποιθότας ἐφʼ ἑαυτοῖς ὅτι. They themselves were the foundation on which their confidence was built: 11:22; 2Co_1:9; Heb_2:13; Deu_28:52; 2Sa_22:3; Isa_8:17, Isa_12:2, etc. The Constructions ἔν τινι, ἐπί τινα, and εἴς τινα are less common. Grotius and others render ὅτι “because,” making the righteousness a fact and the ground of their self-confidence; which is incredible. Comp. Pro_30:12; Isa_65:5. The Talmud inveighs against the Pharisaism of those “who implore you to mention some more duties which they might perform.”
ἐξουθενοῦντας. A strong word, common to Lk. and Paul: “utterly despised, treated as of no account,” 23:11; Act_4:11; Rom_14:3, Rom_14:10. Comp. Ps. Son_2:5.
τοὺς λοιπούς. “The rest, all others” (RV.): comp. οἱ λοιποί (ver. 11). The “other” of AV. and most English Versions has been silently altered into “others” by the printers: “other” means “other folk,” but τοὺς λοιπούς means “all other folk.”
And he spake this parable. With this parable, “the Pharisee and the publican,” St. Luke concludes his memories of the last journeyings toward Jerusalem. The incidents which directly follow took place close to Jerusalem; and here St. Luke”s narrative rejoins that of SS. Matthew and Mark. No note of time or place assists us in defining exactly the period when the Master spoke this teaching; some time, however, in these last journeyings, that is, in the closing months of the public ministry, the parable in question was certainly spoken.
Vers. 9-14. The Pharisee and the publican.
The lesson as to prayer is continued. The parable which follows exhibits the spirit and conditions of effectual prayer. Mark the two features of the audience specially addressed. He speaks to certain
(1) who trusted in themselves as being righteous;
(2) who, as the outcome of this trust, despised others.
He spoke in the previous parable of “God”s own elect.” Now, the Pharisees accounted themselves the elect of God. They were puffed up by this confidence. They regarded themselves as the righteous, who kept the Law, both oral and written. And, indeed, they were most scrupulous as to every requirement; nay, they were willing to burden themselves with minute and vexatious observances. And the sin which beset them was the pride shadowed forth in one of the two who went up to pray. As the illustration of the elect, the Lord chooses a tax-gatherer, one of a hated class, for whom, in Pharisee-thought, there was no place in the kingdom of heaven. The instruction is suitable to every time. Pharisee separation and pride are features to be recognized in the Church of this day, as they were prominent in the Jewish Church of our Lord”s day. Ever to be studied is the antithesisrespectability in the Pharisee, non-respectability in the publican. See the two. The one, with his broad phylactery, his supercilious bearing, his Pharisaism reflected in every feature of his sallow countenance, as with measured step he proceeds to the temple. In its inner court he stands erect; he arranges his prayer-robe, he looks around, the face darkened by a scowl as he observes the publican in a distant corner of the sacred building. And then he lifts his eye. No prayer trembles in any tone; no pleading escapes through any word; he “speaks with himself” rather than with God. It is a soliloquy, a self-gratified recital of his own piety. If he says, “God, I thank thee” (vers. 11, 12), it is not for any grace that he has received, it is not in acknowledging that only through a higher mercy and strength he is what he is; nay, with something of familiarity in the address, he bids the Almighty join him in admiration of his virtues, on account of which he is lifted above other men. Only by certain averages of his own striking does he measure his excellence, the climax being reached, when there comes the contemptuous “even as this publican.” Oh, what a superior person, to be sure! With what satisfaction must highest Heaven regard one who fasted twice in the week, and gave tithes of all he possessed! The other, with hurried gait, as one intent only on pouring out his heart before God, takes his place far off. He has no wish to disturb the complacency of his fellow-worshipper. He claims nothing; self-assertion in every form is absent from his heart. The only presence with him is the Holy One of Israel. Beneath the vision of his holiness all that is of the earth must keep silence. He wilt not even lift up his eyes. He has not much to record; human righteousness even is but a filthy rag when held up to the light of that Perfect Holiness. And as for him, oh, there can be only the one prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (ver. 13). He is overpowered with the conviction of sin. His only refuge is the mercy of the eternal. “I tell you” (Ver. 14). concludes Christ, “this man is manifested to be one of God”s elect. He, not the other, returns to his house the one accepted and justified.” The parable is most suggestive.
I IT IS THE EXPOSURE OF SPIRITUAL PRIDE IN ITS ROOT AND FRUIT. Its root, the measurement of self by “other men.” God is not in the thought. The song of the seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,” sounds faintly in the ear. The mind is not occupied with him and his holiness. It looks around rather than above. The standard is a social one. There is “a zeal for the law, but not according to knowledge. Having settled the constituents of righteousness, and having in conduct realized these constituents, it looks from the legal vantage-ground on others. And, seeing the many below the elected level, it whispers within itself, “I thank thee that I am not as they.” The I struts abroad with a distinct sense of superiority. This pride is the parasite of religiosity. And religiosity is the whole religion of many. Religiosity means the performance, punctilious and sincere, of acts and offices, functions and services. It may comprehend a wide area of the existence. It may fill up much of time and much of thought, and he who abounds in it is held to be a religious man. But it is a morality untouched by the motion of the broken and contrite spirit. There is no distinctively evangelical motive force. On an earlier occasion the contrast between the routine religiosity and the warm religion of the heart was presented at the dinner-table where Simon the Pharisee presided, and the woman washed the Lord”s feet with her tears. Of her he said, “She hath loved much.” Here the Pharisee is in opposition to the publican, who had the inner spirit of poverty. Now, one who has the religiosity, not the religion, is apt to rest on the duties which he discharges, on the zeal which he manifests. He trusts in himself as being righteous, and, whenever there is this trust, there creeps around it a feeling of superiority. “I am not as other men are.” It engenders the separatist”s haughty spirit. It brings in the sentiment of a caste. The “I” belongs to the religious world, “others” are without. Let us beware lest we rest satisfied with a righteousness like that of the Pharisee, lest we substitute the outward for the inward what we do for what we are. Let us beware of that which always develops with this tendency the habit of comparison of self with others on levels lower than our own, instead of realizing “the vision splendid” of that righteousness which demands the entire self. It is this trust, this self-elevation, this pride of righteousness, which vitiates the sacrifice of many who go up to the temple to pray.
II IT IS THE COMMENDATION OF HUMILITY, IN ITS ESSENTIAL NATURE AND BLESSEDNESS. What is humility? It is not so much a self-consciousness as a God-consciousness; not so much a mean thinking of ourselves as a thrilling, penetrating consciousness of him who is perfect holiness and truth. There is a self-abhorrence, but that follows the seeing of God with the opened inner eye. The Pharisee had no conviction of sin, because he had no discernment of the Eternal. His god was the property of his caste, one on whom he had a claim because of his belonging to the caste and doing what was required by it. The publican felt God at his heart; and the sight awoke the longing to be holy as God is, and the longing to be holy called out the sense of wrongness. Oh, how he had offended! how selfish and grasping and wicked he had been! All else fades into indistinctness; in that temple there are to him but the first cry of the soul which God has appropriated. There is no real prayer until that cry. A genuine earnest pleading is evoked. The beginning of all prayer, Christ reminds us, is the taking of the sinner”s place, and the simple appeal to mercy. And as it is the first, so it is the cry ever pulsing through prayer. It is never wanting from the justified. The pardon has been received. The blood cleanses from all sin; but not the less, all the more, is the knowledge of sin and the need of the ever-renewed application of mercy. This is humility sinful self cast on Divine mercy, and, forgiven much, loving much. There is no measurement with other men, for God is all in all. And this is blessed. The Pharisee returns his pride more deeply written into his nature, its blight and curse; no spring in the heart, no spring in the heart, no visitation of any day-spring from on high. Remaining in his pride, he was truly abased. The publican returns a burden rolled off from his heart, a new elasticity in his step, a new light in his countenance. “The winter is past,… the flowers appear on the earth.” He is at peace with God, justified, sanctified, righteous in the communion of the Righteous One. “I, yet not I, for he lives in me.” In his humility he was exalted.
Ver. 9-14. The Pharisee and the publican.
The scene indicated by our Lord”s opening sentences is easily realized. We readily picture to our minds the place and the two persons in whom we are interested the haughty Pharisee and the humble-minded publican. We readily imagine their demeanor as they enter, their posture as they pray, their reception as they pass through the courts going and returning. But we ask how and why was it that the Pharisee was rejected and the publican accepted. And in reply we say:
1. In some respects the two men stood on the same ground. Both were free from the taint of idolatry and were worshipping God; both appreciated the privilege of prayer; both came to the same building, and, using the same invocation, each uttered the uppermost thought in his mind.
2. In some aspects the Pharisee seemed to have the advantage.
(1) He had the respect of the public, the good and God-fearing public, of the respectable people of his day;
(2) he had lived the worthiest life in all social and political relations;
(3) he was much the more “religious ” of the two, in the sense that his habit of life Was devout and charitable, while that of the publican had been godless and avaricious.
3. The terms of their respective prayers are not decisive of their acceptableness in the sight of God.
(1) A truly humble man might speak to God in the strain, though not in the spirit, of the Pharisee. It is quite right to thank God for being preserved from presumptuous sins and being kept in the path of rectitude and devotion. (see Psa_41:12, Psa_41:13)
(2) A thoroughly formal worshipper might present the petition of the publican. How often, since then, have these or very similar words been used by “penitents” who have been impenitent, by those who have taken the language of humility on their lip while they “have regarded iniquity in their heart”! A modern writer (T. T. Lynch) represents these two men as going up again to the temple; but this time the Pharisee, adopting the publican”s form of words in hope of acceptance, is again rejected; while the publican, giving thanks to God for his reconciliation and renewal, is again accepted”For sometimes tears and sometimes thanks, But only truth can please.
How, then, do we explain the fact that “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other”?
I THE PHARISEE HAD FORMED A RADICALLY FALSE ESTIMATE of his own character, and the publican a true one of his. The Pharisee thought he was everything God wished him to be, and was miserably wrong in his estimate; he was reckoning that God cared chiefly if not exclusively for the outside in religion, that his favour was secured by ceremonies, by proprieties, by punctualities, by utterances of prescribed forms. He failed to understand that this was only the shell and not the kernel, and that the shell of correct behaviour is nothing without the kernel of a reverent and loving spirit. The publican, on the other hand, believed that he was very far from right with God; that he had been living a guilty life, and was condemned of God for so doing; and his thought was true.
II THE PHARISEE”S FALSE ESTIMATE LED HIM INTO SELFFLATTERY; the publican”s true estimate into frank, penitential acknowledgment. Under the cover of gratitude, the one man paid himself handsome compliments, and held on high his great meritoriousness, thus confirming in his own mind the delusion that he was a favourite of Heaven; the other, moved by a deep sense of personal unworthiness, made honest confession of sin, and sought the mercy he knew he needed.
III GOD HATES THE PROUD, AND HONOURS THE HUMBLEHEARTED. Old and New Testaments may be said to be full of this truth. God has said and has repeated, he has most plainly and emphatically declared, that pride is odious and unpardonable in his sight; but that humility shall live before him. (ver. 14; see also Psa_32:5 Psa_138:6 Pro_28:13 Isa_57:15 Mat_5:3 1Pe_5:6 1Jn_1:8, 1Jn_1:9) Here is:
1. A message of solemn warning. It concerns those who are the spiritual descendants of the Pharisee; who are satisfied with their spiritual condition but have no right to be so; who are building the hope of their hearts on things which are external, but in whom the love of God does not dwell. And here is:
2. A message of gracious encouragement. It concerns those who are burdened with a sense of sin and need not remain so. The way of mercy is open to every penitent soul. Jesus Christ is the “Propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” and the grace of God in him far more than suffices for every guilty heart. In him we have forgiveness of sins; in him we have peace and hope and joy, even eternal life. C.
Unto certain – Unto some.
Which trusted in themselves – Who confided in themselves, or who supposed that they were righteous. They did not trust to God or the Messiah for righteousness, but to their own works. They vainly supposed they had themselves complied with the demands of the law of God.
Despised others – Others who were not as externally righteous as themselves. This was the character of the Pharisees. They trusted in their outward conformity to the ceremonies of the law. They considered all who did not do that as sinners. This, moreover, is the true character of self-righteousness. Men of that stamp always despise all others. They think they are far above them in holiness, and are disposed to say to them, Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou, Isa_65:5. True religion, on the contrary, is humble. Those who trust in Christ for righteousness feel that “they” are, in themselves, poor, and miserable, and guilty, and they are willing to admit that others may be much better than themselves. Certain it is, they “despise” no one. They love all people; they regard them, however vile, as the creatures of God and as going to eternity, and are disposed to treat them well, and to aid them in their journey toward another world.
10.Two men went up. Christ makes a comparison between the two men, both of whom, by going up to pray, seem to manifest the same ardor of piety, while yet they are exceedingly unlike. The Pharisee, possessing outward sanctity, approaches to God with a commendation which he pronounces on his whole life, and as if he had an undoubted right to offer the sacrifice of praise. The publican, on the other hand, as if he had been some outcast, and knew that he was unworthy to approach, presents himself with trembling and with humble confession. Christ affirms that the Pharisee was rejected, and that the prayers of the publican were acceptable to God. The reasons why the Pharisee was rejected are stated to be these two: he trusted in himself that he was righteous, and despised others
10. ἀνέβησαν. “They went up” from the lower city to Mount Moriah, the “Hill of the House,” on which the temple stood. We are probably to understand one of the usual hours of prayer (1:10; Act_2:15, Act_3:1, Act_10:9).
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. This parable constitutes an important chapter in Jesus” apology or defence if we may dare use the word for loving the sinful, for consorting with publicans and sinners. It tells men, in very simple language, how they are saved; not by works of righteousness which they have done, but of grace; in other words, by God”s free mercy. Jewish religious society in the time of our Lord, as represented by the great Pharisee sect, totally misunderstood this Divine truth. They claimed salvation as a right on two grounds:
(1) because they belonged to the chosen race;
(2) because they rigidly and minutely obeyed the precepts of a singular code of laws, many of them devised by themselves and their fathers.
Upon these two grounds they claimed salvation, that is, eternal blissful life. Not content with this claim of their own, they condemned, with a sweeping, harsh condemnation, all other peoples, and even those of their own race who neglected rigidly to observe the ordinances and ritual of a law framed in great measure in the schools of their own rabbis. Two extreme instances are here chosen a rigid, exclusive, self-satisfied member of the religious society of Israel; and a Jewish officer of the hated Roman government, who knew little or nothing of the Law, but yet who longed after a higher life, and craved for an inward peace which he evidently was far from possessing. These two, the Pharisee and the publican, both went up to God”s holy house, the temple, with a view of drawing near to the eternal King.
Stood (statheis). First aorist passive participle of histēmi. Struck an attitude ostentatiously where he could be seen. Standing was the common Jewish posture in prayer (Mat_6:5; Mar_11:25).
Prayed thus (tauta prosēucheto). Imperfect middle, was praying these things (given following).
With himself (pros heauton). A soliloquy with his own soul, a complacent recital of his own virtues for his own self-satisfaction, not fellowship with God, though he addresses God.
I thank thee (eucharistō soi). But his gratitude to God is for his own virtues, not for God’s mercies to him. One of the rabbis offers a prayer like this of gratitude that he was in a class by himself because he was a Jew and not a Gentile, because he was a Pharisee and not of the am-haaretz or common people, because he was a man and not a woman.
Extortioners (harpages). An old word, harpax from same root as harpazō, to plunder. An adjective of only one gender, used of robbers and plunderers, grafters, like the publicans (Luk_3:13), whether wolves (Mat_7:15) or men (1Co_5:10.). The Pharisee cites the crimes of which he is not guilty.
Or even (ē kai). As the climax of iniquity (Bruce), he points to “this publican.” Zaccheus will admit robbery (Luk_19:8).
God (ho theos). Nominative form with the article as common with the vocative use of theos (so Luk_18:13; Joh_20:28).
Pharisees – The Jews were divided into three great sects – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. In addition to these, some smaller sects are mentioned in the New Testament and by Josephus: the Herodians, probably political friends of Herod; the Galileans, a branch of the Pharisees; and the Therapeutae, a branch of the Essenes, but converts from the Greeks. The three principal sects are supposed to have originated about 150 years before Christ, as they are mentioned by Josephus at that time in his history. Of course nothing is said of them in the Old Testament, as that was finished about 400 years before the Christian era.
I. The Pharisees were the most numerous and wealthy sect of the Jews. They derived their name from the Hebrew word Pharash, which signifies to set apart, or to separate, because they separated themselves from the rest of their countrymen, and professedly devoted themselves to special strictness in religion. Their leading tenets were the following: that the world was governed by fate, or by a fixed decree of God; that the souls of men were immortal, and were either eternally happy or miserable beyond the grave; that the dead would be raised; that there were angels, good and bad; that God was under obligation to bestow special favor on the Jews; and that they were justified by their own conformity to the law. They were proud, haughty, self-righteous, and held the common people in great disrespect, Joh_7:49. They sought the offices of the state, and affected great dignity. They were ostentatious in their religious worship, praying in the corners of the streets, and seeking publicity in the bestowment of alms. They sought principally external cleanliness, and dealt much in ceremonial ablutions and washing.
They maintained some of the laws of Moses very strictly. In addition to the written laws, they held to a multitude which they maintained had come down from Moses by tradition. These they felt themselves as much bound to observe as the written Law. Under the influence of these laws they washed themselves before meals with great scrupulousness; they fasted twice a week – on Thursday, when they supposed that Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and on Monday, when he descended; they wore broad phylacteries, and enlarged the fringe or borders of their garments; they loved the chief rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. In general, they were a corrupt, hypocritical, office-seeking, haughty class of men. There are, however, some honorable exceptions recorded, Act_5:34; perhaps, also, Mar_15:43; Luk_2:25; Luk_23:51; Joh_19:38-42; Joh_3:1; Joh_7:50.
The publicans – That is, tax-gatherers, τελωναι, from τελος a tax, and ωνεομαι I buy or farm. A farmer or collector of the taxes or public revenues. Of these there were two classes; the superior, who were Romans of the equestrian order; and the inferior, those mentioned in the Gospels, who it appears were mostly Jews.
This class of men was detestable among the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews, for their intolerable rapacity and avarice. They were abhorred in an especial manner by the Jews, to whom the Roman government was odious: these, assisting in collecting the Roman tribute, were considered as betrayers of the liberties of their country, and abettors of those who enslaved it. They were something like the tythe-farmers of certain college-livings in some counties of England, as Lancashire, etc. – a principal cause of the public burthens and discontent. One quotation, of the many produced by Kypke, will amply show in what detestation they were held among the Greeks. Theocritus being asked, Which of the wild beasts were the most cruel? answered, Εν μεν τοις ορεσιν αρκτοι και λεοντες· εν δε ταις πολεσιν, ΤΕΛΩΝΑΙ και συκοφανται. Bears and lions, in the mountains; and Tax-Gatherers and calumniators, in cities.
11.God, I thank thee. And yet he is not blamed for boasting of the strength of his free-will, but for trusting that God was reconciled to him by the merits of his works. For this thanksgiving, which is presented exclusively in his own name, does not at all imply that he boasted of his own virtue, as if he had obtained righteousness from himself, or merited any thing by his own industry. On the contrary, he ascribes it to the grace of God that he is righteous. Now though his thanksgiving to God implies an acknowledgment, that all the good works which he possessed were purely the gift of God, yet as he places reliance on works, and prefers himself to others, himself and his prayer are alike rejected. Hence we infer that men are not truly and properly humbled, though they are convinced that they can do nothing, unless they likewise distrust the merits of works, and learn to place their salvation in the undeserved goodness of God, so as to rest upon it all their confidence.
This is a remarkable passage; for some think it enough if they take from man the glory of good works, so far as they are the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and accordingly they admit that we are justified freely, because God finds in us no righteousness but what he bestowed. But Christ goes farther, not only ascribing to the grace of the Spirit the power of acting aright, but stripping us of all confidence in works; for the Pharisee is not blamed on the ground of claiming for himself what belongs to God, but because he trusts to his works, that God will be reconciled to him, because he deserves it. Let us therefore know that, though a man may ascribe to God the praise of works, yet if he imagines the righteousness of those works to be the cause of his salvation, or rests upon it, he is condemned for wicked arrogance. And observe, that he is not charged with the vainglorious ambition of those who indulge in boasting before men, while they are inwardly conscious of their own wickedness, but is charged with concealed hypocrisy; for he is not said to have been the herald of his own praises, but to have prayed silently within himself. Though he did not proclaim aloud the honor of his own righteousness, his internal pride was abominable in the sight of God. His boasting consists of two parts: first, he acquits himself of that guilt in which all men are involved; and, secondly, he brings forward his virtues. He asserts that he is not as other men, because he is not chargeable with crimes which everywhere prevail in the world.
Cambridge Bible: Lk Farrar
11. stood and prayed thus with himself] Standing was the ordinary Jewish attitude of prayer (1 K. 8:22; Mar_11:25), but the word statheis (which is not used of the Tax-gatherer) seems to imply that he stood by himself to avoid the contaminating contact of the ‘people of the earth,’ and posed himself in a conspicuous attitude (Mat_6:5), as well as ‘prayed with himself’ as the words are perhaps rightly rendered. He was “a separatist in spirit as in name,” Trench. (Pharisee from Pharash ‘to separate.’)
God, I thank thee] Rather, O God. His prayer is no prayer at all; not even a thanksgiving, only a boast. See the strong denunciation of such insolent self-sufficiency in Rev_3:17, Rev_3:18.
as other men] Rather, as the rest of mankind.
extortioners, unjust, adulterers] Could he, in any real sense, have made out even this claim to be free from glaring crimes? His class at any rate are charged by Christ with being “full of extortion” (Mat_23:25); and they were unjust, seeing that they ‘omitted judgment’ (id. 23). They are not indeed charged by Jesus with adultery either in the metaphorical or literal sense, but they are spoken of as being prominent members of an adulterous generation, and on several occasions our Lord sternly rebuked their shameful laxity in the matter of divorce (Mat_19:3-9). And not only does Josephus charge them with this crime also, but their Talmud, with perfect self-complacency, shews how the flagrant immorality, of even their most eminent Rabbis found a way to shelter itself, with barefaced and cynical casuistry, under legal forms. See Joh_8:1-11, and Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc.; Life of Christ, ii. 152. It appears from the tract Sotah in the Mishnah, that the ordeal of the ‘water of jealousy’ had been abolished by Jochanan Ben Zakkai, the greatest Rabbi of this age, because the crime had grown so common.
or even as this publican] He thus makes the Publican a foil to his own virtues. “This,” says St Augustine, “is no longer to exult, but to insult.”
Stood and prayed thus with himself – Or, stood by himself and prayed, as some would translate the words. He probably supposed it disgraceful to appear to have any connection with this penitent publican: therefore his conduct seemed to say, “Stand by thyself; I am more holy than thou.” He seems not only to have stood by himself, but also to have prayed by himself; neither associating in person nor in petitions with his poor guilty neighbor.
God, I thank thee, etc. – In Mat_5:20, our Lord says, Unless your righteousness abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God: see the note there. Now, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is described here by a Pharisee himself. We find it was twofold:
1. It consisted in doing no harm to others.
2. In attending all the ordinances of God, then established in the Jewish economy; and in these things they were not like other men, the bulk of the inhabitants of the land paying little or no attention to them.
That the Pharisees were in their origin a pure and holy people can admit of little doubt; but that they had awfully degenerated before our Lord’s time is sufficiently evident. They had lost the spirit of their institution, and retained nothing else than its external regulations. See on Mat_16:1 (note).
1. This Pharisee did no harm to others – I am not rapacious, nor unjust, nor an adulterer. I seize no man’s property through false pretences. I take the advantage of no man’s ignorance in buying or selling. I avoid every species of uncleanness. In a word, I do to others as I wish them to do to me. How many of those called Christians are not half as good as this Pharisee! And, yet, he was far from the kingdom of God.
2. He observed the ordinances of religion – I fast twice in the week. The Jewish days of fasting, in each week, were the second and fifth; what we call Monday and Thursday. These were instituted in remembrance of Moses’ going up to the mount to give the law, which they suppose to have been on the fifth day; and of his descent, after he had received the two tables, which they suppose was on the second day of the week.
11. Σταθεὶς, standing) confidently, in his wonted place. This reciprocal form [having taken his stand, having stationed himself] denotes more than the neuter ἑστὼς, used of the publican presently after, in ver. 13.—πρὸς ἑαυτόν) praying as one dependent on himself (“penes se ipsum,” at his own disposal), giving ear to himself, as though he could bear no man to be next him. Comp. in ver. 9, πεποιθότας ἐφʼ ἑαυτοῖς, “who trusted in themselves.”—εὐχαριστῶ, I give thee thanks) By using this formula the Pharisee seems indeed to praise God [For it is with good reason, and deservedly, that thanks are rendered to God for deliverance from natural (temporal) destruction, if indeed that be done with truth and humility.—V. g.], but in reality he congratulates (prides) himself alone on his felicity: it is of himself alone that he speaks.—οἱ λοιποὶ, the rest of men) The Pharisee divides mankind into two classes: in the one class he groups together the whole human race; the second, that is the better class, he seems to himself alone to constitute.—ἅρπαγες, rapacious [extortioners]) He takes it as an established certainty, that the first and foremost class of sinners is that one under which he thinks the publican is included; in order that he may stigmatize him both in general with the rest of the class and also individually. The saving of the old poet accords with this: πάντες τελῶναι, πάντες εἰσὶν ἅρπαγες, all publicans (tax-gatherers) are all extortioners. See Gataker, Misc. posth. c. x.—οὗτος, this) Such language is indeed “the putting forth of the finger” [to point at in supercilious contempt and self-righteousness]: Isa_58:9.
12.I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. This is equivalent to saying that he performed more than the law required; just as the Popish monks talk loftily of their works of supererogation, as if they found no great difficulty in fulfilling the law of God. It must be admitted that each of us, according to the measure of the virtues which God has bestowed upon him, is the more strongly bound to thank the Author of them; and that it is an exercise of holy meditation for each of us to ponder on the benefits which he has received, so as not to bury in ingratitude the kindness of God. But there are two things here that must be observed: we must not swell with confidence, as if we had satisfied God; and, next, we must not look down with disdainful contempt upon our brethren. In both respects the Pharisee erred; for, by falsely claiming righteousness for himself, he left nothing to the mercy of God; and, next, he despised all others in comparison of himself. And, indeed, that thanksgiving would not have been disapproved by Christ, if it had not labored under these two defects; but as the proud hypocrite, by winking at his sins, met the justice of God with a pretense of complete and perfect righteousness, his wicked and detestable hardihood could not but make him fall. For the only hope of the godly, so long as they labor under the weakness of the flesh, is, after acknowledging what is good in them, to betake themselves to the mercy of God alone, and to rest their salvation on prayer for forgiveness.
But it may be asked, how did this man, who was blinded by wicked pride, maintain such sanctity of life; for such integrity proceeds only from the Spirit of God, who, we are certain, does not reign in hypocrites? I reply: he trusted only to outward appearance, as if the hidden and inward uncleanness of the heart would not be taken into the account. Though he was full of wicked desires within, yet as he looks only at the appearance, he boldly maintains his innocence.
Our Lord does not, indeed, accuse him of vanity, in falsely claiming for himself what he does not possess; but it ought to be believed that no man is pure from extortion, injustice, uncleanness, and other vices, unless he is governed by the Spirit of God.
The word Sabbath ( σάββατον) denotes in this passage, as in many others, a week But God never enjoined in the Law that his servants should fast every week; so that this fasting and the tithes were voluntary exercises beyond the prescriptions of the Law.
Cambridge Bible:Lk Farrar
12. I fast twice in the week] This practice had no divine sanction. The Law appointed only a single fast-day in the year, the Day of Atonement (Lev_16:29). By the time of Zechariah there seem to have been four yearly fasts (Zec_8:19). The bi-weekly fast of the Pharisees was a mere burden imposed by the oral Law. The days chosen were Thursday and Monday, because on those days Moses was believed to have ascended and descended from Sinai, Babha Kama, f. 82, 1. The man boasts of his empty ceremonialism.
I give tithes of all that I possess] Rather, of all that I acquire. As though he were another Jacob! (Gen_28:22; comp. Tob_1:7-8). Here too he exceeds the Written Law, which only commanded tithes of corn, wine, oil, and cattle (Deu_14:22, Deu_14:23), and not of mint, anise, and cummin (Mat_23:23). The fact that he does not say a word about his sins shews how low was his standard. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper,” Pro_28:13. He was clothed with phylacteries and fringes, not with humility, 1Pe_5:5. A Talmudic treatise, the Berachôth (Schwab, p. 336), furnishes us with a close analogy to the prayer of the Pharisee in that of Rabbi Nechounia Ben Hakana, who on leaving his school used to say, ‘I thank thee, O Eternal, my God, for having given me part with those who attend this school instead of running through the shops. I rise early like them, but it is to study the Law, not for futile ends. I take trouble as they do, but I shall be rewarded, and they will not; we run alike, but I for the future life, while they will only arrive at the pit of destruction.’
12. He cites these good works as instances of the ways in which he is still further superior to other men. He is superior not only in what he avoids, but in what he performs. Characteristically he names just those things on which Pharisees prided themselves (Mat_9:14, Mat_23:23).
δὶς τοῦ σαββάτου. Mondays and Thursdays. Moses was supposed to have ascended the mount on the fifth day, and to have come down on the second. For the sing. of σάββατον in the sense of “a week” comp. Mar_16:9; 1Co_16:2. It is amazing that any should have taken this as meaning “I fast twice on the sabbath,” which would be unintelligible. The jejuno bis in sabbato of the Vulg. might mislead those who knew no Greek. The frequent statement that the Pharisees observed the second and fifth days as fasts all through the year (D. B.2 1:2. p. 1054), and held that this was enjoined by the oral Law, is without foundation: and those who make it are inconsistent in saying that this Pharisee boasts of works of supererogation. In that case he merely States that he keeps the Law in its entirety. The Mosaic Law enjoins only one fast in the year, the Day of Atonement. Other annuaj fasts were gradually established in memory of national calainities (Zec_8:19). Occasional fasts were from time to time ordered in seasons of drought and other public calamities, and these additional fasts were always held on Mondays and Thursdays. Thus, a five days’ fast would not last from Monday to Friday inclusive, but would be held on all Mondays and Thursdays until the five days were made up (see the Didache, 8:1; Apost. const. vii. 23, 1). But many individuals imposed extra fasts on themselves, and there were some who fasted on Mondays and Thursdays all the year round. Such cases would be commonest among the Pharisees, and the Pharisee in the parable is one of them: but there is no evidence that all Pharisees adopted this practice or tried to make it a general obligation (Schülrer, Jewish People in the T. of J. C. II. 2. p. 118; Edersh. L. & T. 2. p. 291; Wetstein and Lightfoot, ad loc.). The man, therefore, is boasting of a work of supererogation. What is told us about Jewish fasting in the N.T. (5:33; Mat_6:16, Mat_6:9:14; Mar_2:18; Act_27:9) is confirmed by the Mishna. Note that the Pharisee has dropped even the form of thanksgiving.
With δὶς τοῦ σαββάτου comp. ἑπτάκις τῆς ἡέρας (17:4). The genitives in 24:1; Mat_2:14, 25:6, 28:13; Gal_6:17 are not parallel.
ἀποδεκατεύω πάντα. Here again, in paying tithe of everything, he seems to boast of doing more than the Law required. Tithe was due (Num_18:21; Deu_24:22), but not of small garden herbs (Mat_23:23). There is something for which God owes thanks to him.
The rare form ἀποδεκατεύω is found in B א* here in place of the not very common ἀποδεκατόω or ἀποδεκατῶ. WH. 2. App. p. 171. The simple δεκατεύω is more usual.
ὅσα κτῶμαι. “All that I get” (RV.): quæcunque adquiro (i q), quæ adquiro (d). It was on what he acquired, not on what he possessed, that he paid tithe; on his income, not on his capital. All English Versions prior to RV. go wrong here with Vulg. (quæ possideo), Luth. (das ich habe), and Beta. “Possess” would be κέκτημαι. There is a similar error 21:19. Excepting Mat_10:9 and 1Th_4:4, the verb is peculiar to Lk. in N.T. (Act_1:18, Act_8:20, Act_22:28): it is freq. in LXX.
I fast twice in the week. There was no such precept in the Law of Moses. There only a single fast-day in the year was enjoined, the Day of Atonement. (Lev_16:29) By the time of Zechariah the prophet (Zec_8:19) the one fast-day had grown into four. But this fasting twice every week was a burthensome observance imposed in the later oral Law. Thursday and Monday were the appointed fasting-days, because tradition related how, on those days, Moses ascended and descended from Sinai. Compare the Talmud (treatise “Bava Khama,” fol. 82. 1). I give tithes of all that I possess. Here, again, the Mosaic ordinance only enjoined tithes of corn, wine, oil, and cattle. The later rabbinic schools directed that everything should be tithed, down to the mint and anise and cummin. And so this poor deluded Pharisee dreamed he had earned his eternal salvation, forgetting that the tithes he so prided himself on paying were merely tithes of goods of which he was steward for a little time, tithes, too, given back to their real Owner God. Could this be counted a claim upon God? He boasted, too, that he was no extortioner: did he forget how often he had coveted? He was no adulterer: what of those wicked thoughts which so often found a home in his heart? He rejoiced that he was not like the publican and others of that same class: did he think of the sore temptations to which these and the like were exposed, and from which he was free? He gloried in his miserable tithes and offerings: did he remember how really mean and selfish he was? did he think of his luxury and abundance, and of the want and misery of thousands round him? did his poor pitiful generosity constitute a claim to salvation? All this and more is shrined in the exquisite story of Jesus, who shows men that salvation if it be given to men at all must be given entirely as a free gift of God.
I fast twice … – This was probably the Jewish custom. The Pharisees are said to have fasted regularly on the second and fifth days of every week in private. This was “in addition” to the public days of fasting required in the law of Moses, and they, therefore, made more a matter of “merit” of it because it was voluntary.
I give tithes – A tithe means the tenth part of a thing. A tenth part of the possessions of the Jews was required for the support of the Levites, Num_18:21. In addition to the tithes required strictly by law, the Pharisees had tithed everything which they possessed even the smallest matters – as mint, anise, cummin, etc., Luk_11:42. It was “this,” probably, on which he so particularly prided himself. As this could not be proved to be strictly “required” in the law, it had more the “appearance” of great piety, and, therefore, he particularly dwelt on it.
I possess – This may mean either all which I “have,” or all which I “gain” or acquire. It is not material which meaning be considered the true one.
The religion of the Pharisee, therefore, consisted in:
1. Abstaining from injustice to others; in pretending to live a harmless, innocent, and upright life; and,
2. A regular observance of all the external duties of religion.
His “fault” consisted in relying on this kind of righteousness; in not feeling and acknowledging that he was a sinner; in not seeking a religion that should dwell in the “heart” and regulate the feelings; and in making public and ostentatious professions of his own goodness. Most of all was this abominable in the sight of God, who “looks into the heart,” and who sees wickedness there when the external actions may be blameless. We may learn from the case of the Pharisee:
1. That it is not the man who has the most orthodox belief that has, of course, the most piety;
2. That people may be externally moral, and not be righteous in the sight of God;
3. That they may be very exact in the external duties of religion, and even go beyond the strict letter of the law; that they may assume a great appearance of sanctity, and still be strangers to true piety; and,
4. That ostentation in religion, or a “boasting” before God of what we are and of what we have done, is abominable in his sight. This spoils everything, even if the life “should be” tolerably blameless, and if there should be real piety.
13.The publican standing at a distance. Here Christ did not intend to lay down a general rule, as if it were necessary, whenever we pray, to cast down our eyes to the ground. He merely describes the tokens of humility, which alone he recommends to his disciples. Now humility lies in not refusing to acknowledge our sins, but condemning ourselves, and thus anticipating the judgment of God; and, with the view of being reconciled to God, in making an honest confession of guilt. Such, too, is the cause of that shame which always accompanies repentance; for Christ insists chiefly on this point, that the publican sincerely acknowledged himself to be miserable and lost, and fled to the mercy of God. Though he is a sinner, he trusts to a free pardon, and hopes that God will be gracious to him. In a word, in order to obtain favor, he owns that he does not deserve it. And, certainly, since it is the forgiveness of sins that alone reconciles God to us, we must begin with this, if we desire that he would accept our prayers. He who acknowledges that he is guilty and convicted, and then proceeds to implore pardon, disavows all confidence in works; and Christ’s object was to show that God will not be gracious to any but those who betake themselves with trembling to his mercy alone.
Cambridge Bible:Lk Farrar
13. standing afar off] The word for standing is not statheis as in the case of the Pharisee, but merely hestōs. It is not certain whether the “afar off” means ‘afar off from the Pharisee,’ or (as is more probable) afar off from the Holy Place to which the Pharisee would thrust himself, as of right, into closest proximity.
would not lift up so much as his eyes] The Jew usually stood with arms outspread, the palms turned upwards, as though to receive the gifts of heaven, and the eyes raised. “Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes,” Psa_123:1, Psa_123:2; but on the other hand, “Mine iniquities have taken such hold upon me that I am not able to look up,” Psa_40:12; “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens,” Ezr_9:6.
smote upon his breast] For this custom of expressing grief, see 23:48; Nah_2:7; Jer_31:19. “Pectus, conscientiae sedem,” Bengel.
God be merciful to me a sinner] Rather, O God, be merciful to me the sinner. The word for ‘be merciful’ means ‘be propitiated’ as in Heb_2:17. He speaks of himself as the chief of sinners, 1Ti_1:15.
The publican, standing afar off – Not because he was a heathen, and dared not approach the holy place; (for it is likely he was a Jew); but because he was a true penitent, and felt himself utterly unworthy to appear before God.
Would not lift up – his eyes – Holding down the head, with the eyes fixed upon the earth, was,
1. A sign of deep distress.
2. Of a consciousness and confession of guilt. And,
3. It was the very posture that the Jewish rabbins required in those who prayed to God.
See Ezr_9:6; and Mishna, in Berachoth, chap. v.; and Kypke’s note here. So the Pharisee appears to have forgotten one of his own precepts.
But smote upon his breast – Smiting the breast was a token of excessive grief, commonly practised in all nations. It seems to intimate a desire, in the penitent, to punish that heart through the evil propensities of which the sin deplored had been committed. It is still used among the Roman Catholics in their general confessions.
God be merciful to me – Ἱλασθητι μοι – Be propitious toward me through sacrifice – or, let an atonement be made for me. I am a sinner, and cannot be saved but in this way. The Greek word ἱλασκω, or ἱλασκομαι, often signifies to make expiation for sin; and is used by the Septuagint, Psa_65:4; Psa_78:38; Psa_79:9, for כפר kipper, he made an atonement. So ἱλασμος a propitiation, is used by the same, for חטאה chataah, a sacrifice for sin, Eze_44:27; and ἱλαστηριον, the mercy seat, is, in the above version, the translation of כפרת kapporeth, the lid of the ark of the covenant, on and before which the blood of the expiatory victim was sprinkled, on the great day of atonement. The verb is used in exactly the same sense by the best Greek writers. The following from Herodotus, lib. i. p. 19, edit. Gale, is full in point. Θυσιῃσι μεγαλῃσι τον εν Δελφοισι θεον ἹΛΑΣΚΕΤΟ, Croesus appeased, or made an atonement to, the Delphic god by immense sacrifices. We see then, at once, the reason why our blessed Lord said that the tax-gatherer went down to his house justified rather than the other: – he sought for mercy through an atonement for sin, which was the only way in which God had from the beginning purposed to save sinners. As the Pharisee depended on his doing no harm, and observing the ordinances of religion for his acceptance with God, according to the economy of grace and justice, he must be rejected: for as all had sinned and come short of the glory of God, and no man could make an atonement for his sins, so he who did not take refuge in that which God’s mercy had provided must be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. This was no new doctrine: it was the doctrine publicly and solemnly preached by every sacrifice offered under the Jewish law. Without shedding of blood there is no remission, was the loud and constant cry of the whole Mosaic economy. From this we may see what it is to have a righteousness superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees. We must humble ourselves before God, which they did not: we must take refuge in the blood of the cross, which they would not; and be meek and humble of heart, which they were not.
Many suppose that the Pharisees thought they could acquire righteousness of themselves, independently of God, and that they did not depend on him for grace or power: but let us not make them worse than they were – for this is disclaimed by the Pharisee in the text, who attributes all the good he had to God: O God, I thank thee, that I am not as others – it is thou who hast made me to differ. But this was not sufficient: restraining grace must not be put in the place of the great atonement. Guilt he had contracted – and this guilt must be blotted out; and that there was no way of doing this, but through an atonement, the whole Jewish law declared. See the note on Mat_5:20.
13. μακρόθεν ἑστώς. Far from the Pharisee: nothing else is indicated. In his self-depreciation he thinks himself unworthy to come now in worship to one who must be a favoured servant of God. But we need not suppose that he remained in the Court of the Gentiles (Grot.), in which case the Pharisee in the Court of Israel would hardly have seen him. Comp. 23:49. The change from σταθείς (ver 11) to ἑστώς perhaps implies less of a set, prominent position in this case. Vulg. has stans in both places; but Cyprian has cum stetisset for σταθείς and stabat et for ἑστώς (De Dom. Orat. 6.). Comp. Tac. Hist. iv. 72, 4.
οὑκ ἤθελεν οὐδὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐπᾶραι. The common explana “would not lift up even his eyes, ” much less his hands and his face (1Ti_2:8; 1Ki_8:22; Psa_28:2, Psa_63:4, Psa_134:2), does not seem to be satisfactory. The οὐδέ strengthens the previous οὐκ and need not be taken exclusively with, τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς; “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, ” much less adopt any confident or familiar attitude towards God. See Maldonatus, ad loc. Some Rabbis taught that it was necessary to keep the eyes down or to close them in praying (Schœttgen, 1: p. 307).
ἔτυπτε. “He continued to smite”; tundebat (d), percutiebat (Vulg Comp. 8:52, 23:48. Om. εἰς after ἔτυπτε א B L.
ἱλάσθητί μοι τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ. “Be merciful (Dan_9:19) to me the sinner.” He also places himself in a class by himself; but he makes no comparisons. Consciousness of his own sin is supreme; de nemine alio homine cogitat (Beng.). For similar self-accusation comp. Psa_25:11, 40:12, 51:3; Ezr_9:6; Dan_9:8; 1Ti_1:15. The verb occurs elsewhere in N.T. only Heb_2:17, with acc. of the sin. In LXX it is not common. Psa_64:3, with acc. of the sin. Ps. 24:11, 77:38, Psa_78:9, with dat. of the sin. 2Ki_5:18, with dat, of the person, as here. The compound ἐξιλάσκομαι is the more usual word. The classical construction with acc. of the person propitiated is not found in bibl. Grk., because the idea of “propitiating God” is not to be encouraged. “The ‘propitiation’ acts on that which alienates God and not on God, whose love is unchanged throughout” (Wsctt. on Heb_2:17, and Additional Note on 1Jn_2:2, Epp. of S. John, p. 83).
The Latin Versions have propitiare (c ff2 1), repropitiare (b), miserere (d), propitius esto (Vulg.). See Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 224.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner! Utterly sad and heart-broken, the publican neither recounts nor thinks of good kind deeds done, or special sins committed; no thoughts came into that poor heart, such as, “I have done some fair deeds; I am not altogether vile and sinful.” He felt that with him evil so far overbalanced good that he could make no plea for himself, and yet he, too, longed for salvation, so he threw himself wholly upon God”s mercy and love in his sad prayer, “God be merciful to me the sinner!” for so the words should be rendered. Different to the Pharisee, who thought himself better than his neighbours, this man, in his sad humility, evidently thought other men better than himself, but still he so trusted in God that he felt even for him, the sinner, there might be mercy.
Standing afar off (makrothen hestōs). Second perfect active participle of histēmi, intransitive like statheis above. But no ostentation as with the Pharisee in Luk_18:11. At a distance from the Pharisee, not from the sanctuary.
Would not lift (ouk ēthelen oude epārai). Negatives (double) imperfect of thelō, was not willing even to lift up, refused to lift (epārai, first aorist active infinitive of the liquid compound verb, ep-airō). Smote (etupte). Imperfect active of tuptō, old verb, kept on smiting or beating. Worshippers usually lifted up their closed eyes to God.
Be merciful (hilasthēti). First aorist passive imperative of hilaskomai, an old verb, found also in lxx and inscriptions (exhilaskomai, Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 224).
A sinner (tōi hamartōlōi). The sinner, not a sinner. It is curious how modern scholars ignore this Greek article. The main point in the contrast lies in this article. The Pharisee thought of others as sinners. The publican thinks of himself alone as the sinner, not of others at all.
14.This man went down justified. The comparison is not exact; for Christ does not merely assign to the publican a certain degree of superiority, as if righteousness had belonged alike to both, but means thatthe publican was accepted by God, while the Pharisee was totally rejected. And this passage shows plainly what is the strict meaning of the word justified: it means, to stand before God as if we were righteous. For it is not said that the publican was justified, because he suddenly acquired some new quality, but that he obtained grace, because his guilt was blotted out, and his sins were washed away. Hence it follows, that righteousness consists in the forgiveness of sins. As the virtues of the Pharisee were defiled and polluted by unfounded confidence, so that his integrity, which deserved commendation before the world, was of no value in the sight of God; so the publican, relying on no merits of works, obtained righteousness solely by imploring pardon, (334) because he had no other ground of hope than the pure mercy of God.
But it may be thought absurd, that all should be reduced to the same level, since the purity of saints is widely different from that of the publican I reply: whatever proficiency any man may have made in the worship of God and in true holiness, yet if he consider how far he is still deficient, there is no other form of prayer which he can properly use than to begin with the acknowledgment of guilt; for though some are more, and others less, yet all are universally guilty. We cannot doubt, therefore, that Christ now lays down a rule for all to this effect, that God will not be pacified towards us, unless we distrust works, and pray that we may be freely reconciled. And, indeed, the Papists are compelled to acknowledge this in part, but immediately afterwards they debase this doctrine by a wicked invention. They admit that all need the remedy of forgiveness, because no man is perfect; but they first intoxicate wretched men with reliance on what they call imperfect righteousness, and next add satisfactions, in order to blot out their guilt. But our faith needs no other support than this, that God has accepted us, not because we deserved it, but because he does not impute our sins.