Now a bit of a look at the central figure of the pattern. Jesus lets in a flood of light on Satan's relation to prayer in one of His prayer parables. There are two parables dealing distinctively with prayer: "the friend at midnight" (Luk_11:5-13) and "the unjust judge" (Luk_18:1-8). The second of these deals directly with this Satan phase of prayer. It is Luke through whom we learn most of Jesus' own praying who preserves for us this remarkable prayer picture.
It comes along towards the end. The swing has been made from plain talking to the less direct, parable-form of teaching. The issue with the national leaders has reached its acutest stage. The culmination of their hatred, short of the cross, found vent in charging Him with being inspired by the spirit of Satan. He felt their charge keenly and answered it directly and fully. His parable of the strong man being bound before his house can be rifled comes in here. They had no question as to what that meant. That is the setting of this prayer parable. The setting is a partial interpretation. Let us look at this parable rather closely, for it is full of help for those who would become skilled in helping God win His world back home again.
Jesus seems so eager that they shall not miss the meaning here that He departs from His usual habit and says plainly what this parable is meant to teach:—"that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." The great essential, He says, is prayer. The great essential in prayer is persistence. The temptation in prayer is that one may lose heart, and give up, or give in. "Not-to-faint" tells how keen the contest is.
There are three persons in the parable; a judge, a widow, and an adversary. The judge is utterly selfish, unjust, godless, and reckless of anybody's opinion. The worst sort of man, indeed, the last sort of man to be a judge. Inferentially he knows that the right of the case before him is with the widow. The widow—well, she is a widow. Can more be said to make the thing vivid and pathetic! A very picture of friendlessness and helplessness is a widow. A woman needs a friend. This woman has lost her nearest, dearest friend; her protector. She is alone. There is an adversary, an opponent at law, who has unrighteously or illegally gotten an advantage over the widow and is ruthlessly pushing her to the wall. She is seeking to get the judge to join with her against her adversary. Her urgent, oft repeated request is, "avenge me of mine adversary." That is Jesus' pictorial illustration of persistent prayer.
Let us look into it a little further. "Adversary" is a common word in scripture for Satan. He is the accuser, the hater, the enemy, the adversary. Its meaning technically is "an opponent in a suit at law." It is the same word as used later by Peter, "Your adversary the devil as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour" (1Pe_5:8). The word "avenge" used four times really means, "do me justice." It suggests that the widow has the facts on her side to win a clear case, and that the adversary has been bully-ragging his case through by sheer force.
There is a strange feature to this parable, which must have a meaning. An utterly godless unscrupulous man is put in to represent God! This is startling. In any other than Jesus it would seem an overstepping of the bounds. But there is keenness of a rare sort here. Such a man is chosen for judge to bring out most sharply this:—the sort of thing required to win this judge is certainly not required with God. The widow must persist and plead because of the sort of man she has to deal with. But God is utterly different in character. Therefore while persistence is urged in prayer plainly it is not for the reason that required the widow to persist. And if that reason be cut out it leaves only one other, namely, that represented by the adversary.
Having purposely put such a man in the parable for God, Jesus takes pains to speak of the real character of God. "And He is long-suffering over them." That is God. That word "long-suffering" and its equivalent on Jesus' lips suggests at once the strong side of love, namely, patience, gentle, fine patience. It has bothered the scholars in this phrase to know with whom or over what the long-suffering is exercised. "Over them" is the doubtful phrase. Long-suffering over these praying ones? Or, long-suffering in dealing righteously with some stubborn adversary—which? The next sentence has a word set in sharpest contrast with this one, namely "speedily." "Long-suffering" yet "speedily."
Here are gleams of bright light on a dark subject with apparently more light obscured than is allowed to shine through. Jesus always spoke thoughtfully. He chooses His words. Remembering the adversary against whom the persistence is directed the whole story seems to suggest this: that there is a great conflict on in the upper spirit world. Concerning it our patient God is long-suffering. He is a just and righteous God. These beings in the conflict are all His creatures. He is just in His dealings with the devil and this splendid host of evil spirits even as with all His creation. He is long-suffering that no unfairness shall be done in His dealings with these creatures of His. Yet at the same time He is doing His best to bring the conflict to a speedy end, for the sake of His loyal loved ones, and that right may prevail.
The upshot of the parable is very plain. It contains for us two tremendous, intense truths. First is this: prayer concerns three, not two but three. God to whom we pray, the man on the contested earth who prays, and the evil one against whom we pray. And the purpose of the prayer is not to persuade or influence God, but to join forces with Him against the enemy. Not towards God, but with God against Satan—that is the main thing to keep in mind in prayer. The real pitch is not Godward but Satanward.
The second intense truth is this:—the winning quality in prayer is persistence. The final test is here. This is the last ditch. Many who fight well up to this point lose their grip here, and so lose all. Many who are well equipped for prayer fail here, and doubtless fail because they have not rightly understood. With clear, ringing tones the Master's voice sounds in our ears again to-day, "always to pray, and not to faint."