Echoes of the Old Testament in the New (Guest Post)
I recently went to an Intervarsity meeting where we read the first half of Luke 18—the parable of the widow, and the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector. While everyone else read Luke, I was searching for the Old Testament parallel: what is Luke intending to echo in this story?
The use of the “Son of Man” imagery at the end of Luke 17 and even Luke 18:8 naturally took me back to Daniel 7. But then I kept reading, eventually reaching Daniel 9. So here is an exercise: slowly and carefully read the prayer of Daniel 9:1-19.
1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8 To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. 12 He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us,[a] by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. 14 Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. 15 And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. 16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
Now read the parable of the widow in Luke 18:
1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
What about the widow’s persistence can be found in Daniel’s prayer? Did you also catch a sense of repetition in Daniel that is almost “bothersome”?
Finally, read the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector and their respective prayers:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Which of them is praying the prayer of Daniel? Note especially Daniel 9:18b.
So the irony of this pericope (as I see it) is that the Pharisees fail to comprehend that they are not princes awaiting a coming kingdom, but widows mourning for a bridegroom lost. Their god has abandoned them; they are alone. But having not ears to hear, they pray for the kingdom on the basis of their own keeping of the law. In so doing, they miss the point of the law and particularly their election (Deuteronomy 7:6–7). So the kingdom of God will come against them and not to their rescue. Insiders become outsiders and outsiders become insiders.
What do you think?
Jonathan Baker is currently a Ph.D. student in geology and holds M.S./B.S. degrees in the same. The focus of his dissertation research is the use of stable-isotope geochemistry to characterize mid-Holocene climate change and modern climate dynamics of the Volga Basin and Izhora Plateau (Russia). Twelve years ago, he developed a passion for the Earth sciences while studying scientific questions raised by proponents of Young-Earth Creationism. His academic journey is recounted by his blog, Questioning Answers in Genesis, wherein he discusses geological and science/faith topics in light of the Young-Earth movement. In his spare time, he enjoys studying theology, literary criticism, and Russian language. He currently lives with his wife and two ferrets in Las Vegas, Nevada, but is looking forward to moving to St. Petersburg, Russia this May.