From the Category, “The Eastern Eye”
[The Bible is an “Eastern” book. It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.” As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.]
Jesus Christ taught about prayer many times. On one occasion, he was making a very important point about prayer. In doing so, he asked three rhetorical questions. One question would have been sufficient, but in asking three questions how could one ever miss the point?
However, without understanding the eastern culture, one could not only miss the point, but also wonder what in the world Jesus was talking about. Once again, having an understanding of customs and idioms of that culture makes many puzzling verses very clear.
This is true in any culture. Suppose someone was completely unfamiliar with the culture here in the United States and they heard expressions like, “I sat down in the recliner for awhile because my dogs were really barking,” or, “For supper I had a hot dog,” or, “It was hard to sleep because it was raining cats and dogs.”
For readers who may not be familiar with the culture and language here in the United States, “my dogs were barking” is referring to one’s feet being very tired and achy. Eating a hot dog has nothing to do with a canine, but rather is a sausage that contains beef. “Raining cats and dogs” simply indicates a very, very heavy rain storm.
Jesus asked those who were listening three questions. They were questions about a son asking something of his father. The first was, if a son asked the father for bread, would a father instead give his son a stone?
The second question was, if a son asked his father for a fish, would his dad then give him a serpent instead? And the final question was, if a son asked his father for an egg would the father in turn give the son a scorpion?
To the eastern mind, this is easily understood. But to our western minds it seems rather odd. We might think, “What dad could either be that stupid, or that cruel, to give his child those items instead of what the child asked for?” But once we understand the culture, the meaning unfolds.
In the eastern culture, in the times of the Bible, their bread was round and thin, and it was cooked on both sides. They then placed the cooked bread on a stone which was about the same size as the bread. They would then stack the bread one on top of the other. Then another stone would be placed on top to protect the bread.
The butter-like substance used in cooking the bread would soak into the stones and over a period of time, at a glance, the stones might even look like the bread. But no father would ever be that stupid to mistake a stone for bread and give it to his son who asked him for bread.
In the eastern lands there are some water serpents that look similar to fish. A person who was unfamiliar with both fish and water serpents could easily mistake one for the other. But a father who would be concerned about his family would certainly make sure that there was no mistake. If his son asked for a fish, then that is what a good father would give him.
The body of a scorpion is shaped very similar to an egg. The white scorpion in the east could be mistaken for an egg. I read somewhere that if you were to cut open the body of a white scorpion, the inside is white and yellow. I have never tried that, though, and I don’t plan to try it!
Perhaps a young child might not recognize the difference between the body of a scorpion and an egg. But what father would not know? What father, whose son asked for an egg, would ever mistakenly or even intentionally give his son a scorpion instead?
The answer to all three of these rhetorical questions is obviously a very loud, “No, of course not!”
Here’s The Point
Jesus Christ went on to say, in the Gospel of Luke, that “…if you “then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” In Matthew’s Gospel, which is similar, it says, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
The reference to “being evil” simply means that we are not perfect. God is perfect. We don’t always do the right things. But, even though we are not perfect, we would never give our child a stone instead of bread; a serpent instead of a fish; or a scorpion instead of an egg. And so, if we, being imperfect, can still give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give us good things including the holy spirit, when we ask Him?
In our culture perhaps we could understand this if the question would have been about candy. If our child asked us for some candy, would we give them marbles instead? If they asked for some marshmallows, would we give them a cotton ball instead? Would we? Well of course not!
A Great Lesson On Prayer
Jesus Christ was teaching about prayer. He was trying to communicate to them that God our Father will answer our prayers. And in asking those rhetorical questions it became very clear to the listeners that God is not going to respond to our requests with a counterfeit or something inferior. He is not going to answer our request with something that would be harmful to us.
Jesus Christ was saying that if you as a dad who is not perfect can still give good gifts, then HOW MUCH MORE shall your heavenly Father give good things, including the holy spirit, to them that ask him? God our Father is more concerned about His children than earthly fathers are for theirs.
With this understanding we can confidently go to God in prayer. We can be assured knowing that He wants to answer our prayers. We can truly have confidence in our heavenly Father because He goes way beyond any human dad – much more!
If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
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There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written. The best I know of were written by by Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to recorded teaching by him.
He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced. But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window
Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)