Monday, December 17, 2012

Unrighteous Judge (part 1 of 2)

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.” – Luke 18:6  (ESV)

What did the unrighteous judge say?  Backing up a couple verses, we find the judge saying, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (18:4-5).  Not only does the judge say this of himself, but this is what is reported of him in the second verse, which tells us that “he neither feared God nor respected man” (18:2b).  The widow in this parable was one that kept coming to him and saying “Give me justice against my adversary” (18:3b).  After reporting the words of both the widow and the judge, we find Jesus saying, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says” (18:6).  From there, He goes on to say, “And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night?  Will He delay long over them?” (18:7). 

When we look at the verses of this parable, it is natural for us to see Jesus shifting His focus following His statement about what the unrighteous judge has said.  It is natural, because believers tend to think of themselves as God’s elect and the ultimate recipients and beneficiaries of God’s justice.  However, it is possible to reframe the statement in a way that finds Him continuing along the same path without a shift in the focus of His message.  Before doing that, it is necessary to consider the context of the setting.  The context is His being asked by the Pharisees a question concerning the kingdom of God, and when it would come.  In response, Jesus told them that “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (17:21b).  Based on the wider perspective of Luke’s Gospel and its kingdom movement, we know that with this statement, Jesus was talking about His kingdom.

With that as the context, and with Jesus’ antagonism of the Pharisees and the rulers of the people a recurring theme throughout the Gospels, it is possible to see Jesus casting the nation of Israel itself in the role of the “unrighteous judge.”  How can this be?  Israel had been charged with extending the blessings of God’s covenant to all peoples.  This was to be done, at least partially, through their keeping of the law, which would bring them untold blessings, and cause the Gentiles to come to Israel to find the source of their blessings, through which they would receive the knowledge of God.  Israel had not done this.  They had forsaken their Creator God.  Repeatedly, their history informs us that they had turned to idols.  They had been destroyed and exiled, and even though a portion of the people had been returned to their land, they were still under the heel of oppressive rulers, which was what God had promised to them if they forsook His covenant.  In this, it could be said that they neither feared God nor respected man, because they did not keep their God’s laws and they did not care to be a light to the Gentiles for the glory of their God. 

So if Israel is the unjust judge, then the widow is all of the Gentile nations, coming to Israel that they may know Israel’s Lord.  If we frame the parable in this way, we can see that any keeping of the covenant that extended God’s blessings beyond the people of Israel, so that they might be bestowed on Gentile nations (the families of the earth), was done reluctantly and with an eye towards nothing more than self-preservation, rather than the glorification of God. 

Keeping in mind the Pharisees’ question about the Kingdom of God, and our positioning of Israel as the unjust judge, we can then move on to the questioning statements “And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night?  Will He delay long over them?” (18:7).  We can hear this as a question concerning Israel’s total restoration from their cursing and what was really a continuing exile, since the land of promise was not truly their own.  The words of the unjust judge represent Israel’s expectation of triumph over its oppressors and rulers, through their messiah, as they presume on their God, speaking of themselves in haughty terms as God’s elect, declaring that they are crying to Him day and night, and imploring God to cease His delay and return power to national Israel.    

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