Christ’s parable of the importunate, insistent widow demanding relief from an unjust judge who fears neither God nor man teaches us about equity, prayer and the power of persistent pleading before those in authority.
It tells us how even a wicked judge might be pressed to rendering justice — and that by persistent pleading even in places outside of the bar or the courtroom.
The following is the full treatment of the passage by Matthew Henry at https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/luke/18.html.
Matthew Henry on the unjust judge
Verses 1-8 This parable has its key hanging at the door; the drift and design of it are prefixed. Christ spoke it with this intent, to teach us that men ought always to pray and not to faint, v. 1. It supposes that all God’s people are praying people; all God’s children keep up both a constant and an occasional correspondence with him, send to him statedly, and upon every emergency. It is our privilege and honour that we may pray. It is our duty; we ought to pray, we sin if we neglect it. It is to be our constant work; we ought always to pray, it is that which the duty of every day requires.
We must pray, and never grow weary of praying, nor think of leaving it off till it comes to be swallowed up in everlasting praise. But that which seems particularly designed here is to teach us constancy and perseverance in our requests for some spiritual mercies that we are in pursuit of, relating either to ourselves or to the church of God. When we are praying for strength against our spiritual enemies, our lusts and corruptions, which are our worst enemies, we must continue instant in prayer, must pray and not faint, for we shall not seek God’s face in vain. So we must likewise in our prayers for the deliverance of the people of God out of the hands of their persecutors and oppressors.
I. Christ shows, by a parable, the power of importunity among men, who will be swayed by that, when nothing else will influence, to do what is just and right. He gives you an instance of an honest cause that succeeded before an unjust judge, not by the equity or compassionableness of it, but purely by dint of importunity.
Observe here, 1. The bad character of the judge that was in a certain city. He neither feared God nor regarded man; he had no manner of concern either for his conscience or for his reputation; he stood in no awe either of the wrath of God against him or of the censures of men concerning him: or, he took no care to do his duty either to God or man; he was a perfect stranger both to godliness and honour, and had no notion of either. It is not strange if those that have cast off the fear of their Creator be altogether regardless of their fellow-creatures; where no fear of God is no good is to be expected.
Such a prevalency of irreligion and inhumanity is bad in any, but very bad in a judge, who has power in his hand, in the use of which he ought to be guided by the principles of religion and justice, and, if he be not, instead of doing good with his power he will be in danger of doing hurt. Wickedness in the place of judgment was one of the sorest evils Solomon saw under the sun, Eccl. 3:16 . The distressed case of a poor widow that was necessitated to make her appeal to him, being wronged by some one that thought to bear her down with power and terror.
She had manifestly right on her side; but, it should seem, in soliciting to have right done her, she tied not herself to the formalities of the law, but made personal application to the judge from day to day at his own house, still crying, Avenge me of mine adversary; that is, Do me justice against mine adversary; not that she desired to be revenged on him for any thing he had done against her, but that he might be obliged to restore what effects he had of hers in his hands, and might be disabled any more to oppress her. Note, Poor widows have often many adversaries, who barbarously take advantage of their weak and helpless state to invade their rights, and defraud them of what little they have; and magistrates are particularly charged, not only not to do violence to the widow (Jer. 21:3 ), but to judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow (Isa. 1:17 ), to be their patrons and protectors; then they are as gods, for God is so, Ps. 68:5 .
The difficulty and discouragement she met with in her cause: He would not for awhile. According to his usual practice, he frowned upon her, took no notice of her cause, but connived at all the wrong her adversary did her; for she had no bribe to give him, no great man whom he stood in any awe of to speak for her, so that he did not at all incline to redress her grievances; and he himself was conscience of the reason of his dilatoriness, and could not but own within himself that he neither feared God nor regarded man. It is sad that a man should know so much amiss of himself, and be in no care to amend it.
The gaining of her point by continually dunning this unjust judge (v. 5): “Because this widow troubleth me, gives me a continual toil, I will hear her cause, and do her justice; not so much lest by her clamour against me she bring me into an ill name, as lest by her clamour to me she weary me; for she is resolved that she will give me no rest till it is done, and therefore I will do it, to save myself further trouble; as good at first as at last.’’
Thus she got justice done her by continual craving; she begged it at his door, followed him in the streets, solicited him in open court, and still her cry was, Avenge me of mine adversary, which he was forced to do, to get rid of her; for his conscience, bad as he was, would not suffer him to send her to prison for an affront upon the court.
II. He applies this for the encouragement of God’s praying people to pray with faith and fervency, and to persevere therein.
1. He assures them that God will at length be gracious to them (v. 6): Hear what the unjust judge saith, how he owns himself quite overcome by a constant importunity, and shall not God avenge his own elect? Observe,
(1.) What it is that they desire and expect: that God would avenge his own elect. Note, [1.] There are a people in the world that are God’s people, his elect, his own elect, a choice people, a chosen people. And this he has an eye to in all he does for them; it is because they are his chosen, and in pursuance of the choice he has made of them.
[2.] God’s own elect meet with a great deal of trouble and opposition in this world; there are many adversaries that fight against them; Satan is their great adversary.
[3.] That which is wanted and waited for is God’s preserving and protecting them, and the work of his hands in them; his securing the interest of the church in the world and his grace in the heart.
(2.) What it is that is required of God’s people in order to the obtaining of this: they must cry day and night to him; not that he needs their remonstrances, or can be moved by their pleadings, but this he has made their duty, and to this he has promised mercy. We ought to be particular in praying against our spiritual enemies, as St. Paul was: For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me; like this importunate widow. Lord, mortify this corruption. Lord, arm me against this temptation. We ought to concern ourselves for the persecuted and oppressed churches, and to pray that God would do them justice, and set them in safety. And herein we must be very urgent; we must cry with earnestness: we must cry day and night, as those that believe prayer will be heard at last; we must wrestle with God, as those that know how to value the blessing, and will have no nay. God’s praying people are told to give him no rest, Isa. 62:6, Isa. 62:7 .
(3.) What discouragements they may perhaps meet with in their prayers and expectations. He may bear long with them, and may not presently appear for them, in answer to their prayers. He is makrothymon ep’ autois —he exercises patience towards the adversaries of his people, and does not take vengeance on them; and he exercises the patience of his people, and does not plead for them. He bore long with the cry of the sin of the Egyptians that oppressed Israel, and with the cry of the sorrows of those that were oppressed.
(4.) What assurance they have that mercy will come at last, though it be delayed, and how it is supported by what the unjust judge saith: If this widow prevail by being importunate, much more shall God’s elect prevail.
For, [1.] This widow was a stranger, nothing related to the judge; but God’s praying people are his own elect, whom he knows, and loves, and delights in, and has always concerned himself for.
[2.] She was but one, but the praying people of God are many, all of whom come to him on the same errand, and agree to ask what they need, Mt. 18:19 . As the saints of heaven surround the throne of glory with their united praises, so saints on earth besiege the throne of grace with their united prayers.
[3.] She came to a judge that bade her keep her distance; we come to a Father that bids us come boldly to him, and teaches us to cry, Abba, Father.
[4.] She came to an unjust judge; we come to a righteous Father (Jn. 17:25), one that regards his own glory and the comforts of his poor creatures, especially those in distress, as widows and fatherless.
[5.] She came to this judge purely upon her own account; but God is himself engaged in the cause which we are soliciting; and we can say, Arise, O Lord, plead thine own cause; and what wilt thou do to thy great name?
[6.] She had no friend to speak for her, to add force to her petition, and to use interest for her more than her own; but we have an Advocate with the Father, his own Son, who ever lives to make intercession for us, and has a powerful prevailing interest in heaven.
[7.] She had no promise off speeding, no, nor any encouragement given her to ask; but we have the golden sceptre held out to us, are told to ask, with a promise that it shall be given to us.
[8.] She could have access to the judge only at some certain times; but we may cry to God day and night, at all hours, and therefore may the rather hope to prevail by importunity.
[9.] Her importunity was provoking to the judge, and she might fear lest it should set him more against her; but our importunity is pleasing to God; the prayer of the upright is his delight, and therefore, we may hope, shall avail much, if it be an effectual fervent prayer.
2. He intimates to them that, notwithstanding this, they will begin to be weary of waiting for him (v. 8): “Nevertheless, though such assurances are given that God will avenge his own elect, yet, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’’ The Son of man will come to avenge his own elect, to plead the cause of persecuted Christians against the persecuting Jews; he will come in his providence to plead the cause of his injured people in every age, and at the great day he will come finally to determine the controversies of Zion. Now, when he comes, will he find faith on the earth? The question implies a strong negation: No, he will not; he himself foresees it.
(1.) This supposes that it is on earth only that there is occasion for faith; for sinners in hell are feeling that which they would not believe, and saints in heaven are enjoying that which they did believe.
(2.) It supposes that faith is the great thing that Jesus Christ looks for. He looks down upon the children of men, and does not ask, Is there innocency? but, Is there faith? He enquired concerning the faith of those who applied themselves to him for cures.
(3.) It supposes that if there were faith, though ever so little, he would discover it, and find it out. His eye is upon the weakest and most obscure believer.
(4.) It is foretold that, when Christ comes to plead his people’s cause, he will find but little faith in comparison with what one might expect.
That is, [1.] In general, he will find but few good people, few that are really and truly good. Many that have the form and fashion of godliness, but few that have faith, that are sincere and honest: nay, he will find little fidelity among men; the faithful fail, Ps. 12:1, Ps. 12:2 . Even to the end of time there will still be occasion for the same complaint. The world will grow no better, no, not when it is drawing towards its period. Bad it is, and bad it will be, and worst of all just before Christ’s coming; the last times will be the most perilous.
[2.] In particular, he will find few that have faith concerning his coming. When he comes to avenge his own elect he looks if there be any faith to help and to uphold, and wonders that there is none, Isa. 59:16 Isa. 63:5 . It intimates that Christ, both in his particular comings for the relief of his people, and in his general coming at the end of time, may, and will, delay his coming so long as that, First, Wicked people will begin to defy it, and to say, Where is the promise of his coming? 2 Pt. 3:4 . They will challenge him to come (Isa. 5:10 ; Amos. 5:19 ); and his delay will harden them in their wickedness, Mt. 24:48 . Secondly, Even his own people will begin to despair of it, and to conclude he will never come, because he has passed their reckoning. God’s time to appear for his people is when things are brought to the last extremity, and when Zion begins to say, The Lord has forsaken me. See Isa. 49:14 Isa. 40:27 . But this is our comfort, that, when the time appointed comes, it will appear that the unbelief of man has not made the promise of God of no effect.
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.
3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”