THE FRIEND AT MIDNIGHT
Luke 11:5-13
Mark Walker

Setting

Luke 11:1-13 deals with the topic of prayer. It is not likely that Jesus said all of these things at once, but rather that they have been grouped together by Luke or his source because of the common topic. Luke 11:1-4, 9-13 are paralleled by Matthew 6:9-13 and 7:7-11. The parable of the friend at midnight is unique to Luke. This suggests that it came from Luke’s independent source, which is known as "L." If friends come through for us despite the inconveniences that they face (as one does in the parable), how much more will God come through for us when we bring our requests to Him.


Exegetical Analysis

First, it is important that we have a proper understanding of the setting of the parable. The parable takes place in a village. There are no shops, and the baking takes place by families. In the parable we are told that the man asks for three loaves (verse 5). Many commentators suggest that three loaves were the standard amount of bread for a meal, but this may not be so. Kenneth Bailey suggests that "Rhibany may be responsible for the idea found in many modern works that three loaves are a meal for one person. This is true of the very small Syrian loaves; it is not true of the bread eaten in the rest of the Middle East" (121). One of the larger loaves is usually much more than one person would eat in a meal. Therefore, the host is simply showing hospitality by giving the guest more loaves than what is needed for a meal (Bailey 122).

Village life in the Middle East is much more communal than what we (in the West) are familiar with. In the Middle East bread is not baked every day. The village women cooperate in baking the bread, and it would likely be known who has baked recently. It is possible that there is still bread left in the host’s house, but the host cannot offer the guest a broken loaf. Bread is a significant part of the meal, and it is essential in eating the rest of the meal. A piece of bread is broken from the loaf, dipped into the common dish, and then eaten. Another aspect of village life involves guests. A guest is not just a guest of the individual, but a guest of the entire village (Bailey 122-123).

As the parable starts, Jesus asks the question "Which of you . . .?" The reply to this type of a question is "No one!" If a guest would come in the middle of the night, eastern hospitality says to welcome them in and give them something to eat. It was considered common courtesy, possibly similar to shaking one’s hand when you are introduced. The man says that his house is empty of food (verse 6). The house is probably not totally empty of food, just empty of the kind of food that needs to be served to the guest (Nolland 624).

When asked for bread, the man inside the house quickly responds with excuses. The entire family is asleep on the mat in the raised part of the room, and the door is bolted and locked. If he gets up and opens the door then the children will surely be woken up, so he says, "I can’t." Many of us have answered our parents with those same words when, in reality we just don’t want to do something. It is not that the man can’t get up and open the door, he just does not want to (Jeremias 157-158). These excuses would seem almost humorous to Jesus’ audience (Bailey 124).

Even if the man will not grant the request out of friendship, he will surely grant the request out of "importunity." This is where the biggest problem with this parable occurs; how should the word anaideia (importunity) be translated? There have been many suggested interpretations. Some interpret it as "shameless" or "shameless persistence." The host is shameless in coming at night to ask for bread, and he is persistent in asking until his request is answered. In a positive turn on things, the host makes his request "boldly." Another possibility is that the one who is petitioned acts so that he will avoid the quality of shamelessness that he does not have. Similar to this is the idea that the one who is petitioned acts so that he can preserve his honor that he does have. According to Baily, this last suggestion is the most likely interpretation (129-131).

The message from verses 5-8 is this: If our friends will come through for us despite the inconveniences that they face, how much more will God come through for us when we bring our requests to Him. Verses 9-10 convey the thrust of the parable, which is to pray confidently to God. In verse 9 we are commanded to ask, seek, and knock, and when we do we will receive, find, and have the door opened (verse 10). These commands of verse 9 are in the present imperative mood. "The force of the present imperatives here is not to encourage persistence in prayer (as it might have been if v 8 had, as is often thought, been about persistence), but rather to suggest that such appeal to God will work again and again" (Nolland 630).

Once again we are given the same message, although this time a parent-child relationship is used. "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?" (Verses 11-12). There is an obvious resemblance between an eel and a serpent, and there is also a resemblance between an egg and a scorpion that is rolled up. In either scenario, what father would not give his son what he asks for? The same answer as before – No one! If this is true with earthly parents, how much more true will it be with our heavenly Father? Matthew 7:11 says, "good things." This is probably more original than the "Holy Spirit" that we find in Luke (verse 13). However,

It will be best to see that, since from a post-Pentecost early church perspective, the greatest gift that God can bestow is the Spirit, Luke wants it to be seen that God’s parental bounty applies not just to everyday needs (already well represented in the text in Lord’s Prayer) but even reaches so far as to this his greatest possible gift (Nolland 632).

If God will give us the Holy Spirit, His highest gift, He will not withhold anything from us.


Statement of Teaching

In this part of Luke’s discussion on prayer there are two major items. The first deals with the nature of God. Just as the neighbor had integrity in the middle of the night, God has integrity that He follows. Secondly we can have assurance. As Christians we can be assured when we bring our requests to our heavenly Father.


Application

Jeremias’ commentary of the Luke 11:5-13 sums up this section well. He says,

If the friend, roused from his sleep in the middle of the night, without a moment’s delay hastens to fulfil the request of a neighbour in distress, even though the whole family must be disturbed by the drawing of the bolt, how much more will God! He is a God who hearkens to the cry of the needy and comes to their help. He does more than they ask. Hence you may in all confidence leave everything to him" (Jeremias 159).

If human beings respond to our requests, how much more will God respond to us when we come to Him in need.