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.
In understanding the Scriptures it is important for us to understand the culture, but it doesn’t mean that we should necessarily follow that culture. Rather, it is in the understanding of the Eastern culture that we gain light and understanding about many things in the Bible.]
Today, if someone from far away visits you, whether by car or plane, you generally have a pretty good idea when they will arrive. But in Bible times, especially with their mode of transportation, you never really knew. Someone could arrive any time, even late at night.
Understanding their culture helps us understand a parable from Luke 11 Jesus taught about a man waking up his neighbor at midnight because a guest of his just arrived and he had no bread. Taking proper care of guests in that culture was extremely important. So much so you would even wake your neighbor at midnight!
First, let’s consider why he asked for three loaves. In our culture, we picture a loaf of bread as either about 14 inches long, sliced and rectangular, or an oblong loaf about 18 to 20 inches long. In Bible times their bread was much different.
The bread in the Bible was round and flat, like a pancake, about the size and thickness of a plate. Most people could only eat one of those “loaves,” while a man coming in from a hard days work might eat two. Then why did the man in the parable ask for three?
The custom was to always serve three; to serve fewer was considered rude. It reminds me of my grandmother who always, always had more food set out on the table than anyone could possibly eat. This display of abundance certainly encourages the guest to eat as much as they want and that’s the whole idea.
The man who was awakened out of sleep refused to help because he said that his children were in bed with him. In other words, he did not want to wake the sleeping children. Some might conjecture that the man was so poor he only had one bed.
In the Bible culture, after children are five or six years old, they sleep with their grandfather. Prior to that they sleep with their mother. “My children are with me in bed,” is referring to their culture of the children sleeping with their grandfather, and those hearing the parable would have understood it.
In that culture, grandfathers taught the children about God and spiritual truths. At night, he taught them until they fell asleep, and then in the morning, upon waking, he asked them questions about what he taught them the night before. He was kind of like the priest of the family.
The reason the man did get up and give his friend the three loaves is often overlooked or misunderstood. Keep in mind the context in this passage is about prayer and as such this parable Jesus spoke was concerning prayer.
It says very plainly that the man did not get up and give him the three requested loaves because of friendship, but rather because of his friends’ importunity. Many misread that word, assuming it says, “opportunity.”
Importunity means shameless persistence in making a request. In other words, even though it was midnight, and even though his friend refused, he continued to ask. That’s why right after he spoke the parable, Jesus said, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
Here’s The Point
The point Jesus was making in that parable was that we ought to continue to ask, continue to seek, continue to knock. We ought to continue going to God in prayer with our requests with persistence.
Later in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shared another parable about prayer, saying that we should “always pray, and faint not.” In other words, keep on persistently praying. Jesus taught people about prayer, encouraging us to pray to our heavenly Father.
Once again, understanding the culture helps us gain greater insight in understanding this record about prayer.
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?
And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
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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 Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to many 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)