Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:9-10 “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?”
Chris Bolick, one of our members, used verses 9-11 in a eulogy at his dad’s funeral. This was appropriate, for they are a wonderful portrayal of parenting. The passage serves as a means of helping us better understand God as our Father.
The concept of God, by itself, is too abstract to grasp. We require comparisons from human relationships, plus familiar metaphors and similitudes, to build on.
Jesus knew we would have trouble fathoming His tender remarks about His generous Father’s liberality. Thus, our Master in essence asks here, “Do you think My Father would be a less loving parent than your fathers are?”
Parenting, a relationship universal and universally revered, is the most naturally unselfish relationship among people. We will usually sacrifice for our sons and daughters. Even the stingiest among us often make exceptions for their children.
Little ones, being dependent, help fulfill an adult’s basic desire to be needed, and add to a parent’s sense of personal importance. A child’s well-being is vitally important to parents. The result is one of the most sincere and steadiest loves of all.
Any who pervert this instinct are more monster than human, for God has put into parents a natural inclination to help their children. Parental love and tenderness are “not from nature but from the God of nature” (Henry).
God made parenting one of human being’s most powerful traits, knowing He would later use it as the most endearing similitude to describe His own dealings with us. The particular image of God being portrayed in our current text is His inability to mock our prayers. The issue is not willingness to give, but rather whether or not the parent will cruelly give something harmful.
By the Sea of Galilee, bread and fish were staples, the two basic food groups. Thus, the child’s request is not outlandish. Will a parent respond to a reasonable request with cruel and heartless malice, thereby mocking a child’s hunger? Instead of food, will a parent give a stone to break teeth on or a serpent to sting the child? No.
Similarly, God never taunts us or mocks our prayers. God is compassionate, considerate, and consistent, never cruel or capricious. Aurora, goddess of the dawn, fell in love with mortal Tithonus and asked Zeus to let her lover live forever. Cruel, capricious Zeus consented, but also doomed Tithonus to an eternity of perpetual aging. He grew older and older without ever dying. The gift thus became a curse.
The living God, the Father of Jesus Christ, never acts in this way. Satan, in sins, gives stones for bread, and serpents for fish, but God our Father never does.
Matt. 7:11a “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your
children,. . .”
Use of the second person pronoun unpretentiously separated our Master from the common lot of humanity. We are sinful, He sinless. We are human, He divine.
The inherent goodness of people is a myth, a fable. If it were true, history would be inexplicable. Jesus had no illusions or delusions about human nature. He understood us. We are frail and sinful, resulting in our having many imperfections which do not picture our heavenly Father. Thus, even the best parents are marred. Children, do not expect your parents to be perfect. They aren’t, and you won’t be.
Fortunately, not every vestige of what we were originally created to be is gone. Despite our sins and shortcomings, we still are able, by our dealings with our own children, to foreshadow in at least some limited measure God’s goodness to us.
Matt. 7:11b “. . .how much more shall your Father which is in heaven. . .”
If the little drops of God’s own goodness which remain in a parent’s heart “produce such an amount of beneficence, what ought we to expect from the inexhaustible ocean?” (Calvin). Our perseverance in asking, seeking, and knocking is never needed to overcome unwillingness in God. He takes no joy in watching us squirm. His desire to help us is always there. We do not have to squeeze gifts from God or coerce them from His hand. It is never necessary to pry His fingers open.
We do not love ourselves nearly as much as God loves us. His parental love for us is so great that two human relationships had to be created just to begin to picture it. The combined roles of fathers and mothers are both needed to portray Him.
“As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth we are dust” (PS 103:13-14). “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. . . .As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you” (IS 49:15; 66:13a). God is a loving parent. He does not hurl gifts at us, like flinging a bone to a dog. He is the best of a father and the best of a mother, plus “how much more,” all rolled into one loving parent.
Matt. 7:11c “. . .give good things to them that ask him?”
Carefully note the ultimate issue here. It is not a matter of willingness to give indiscriminately, but of ability to discern how to give judiciously and wisely, how to grant only those things that are truly “good” gifts.
”Who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life?” (EC 6:12 NAS). The only answer to this question is God.
We do not know what is best for us. We often ask for things that would do us harm. We request stones and serpents, thinking they are bread and fish. Our lives would have been ruined long ago had God given us all we have asked for.
Monica, fearing Rome would further corrupt her pagan son, prayed he would not go there. God told Monica no. Augustine’s trip to Italy led to his conversion.
God knows we cannot know all or see everything. He realizes we ask from a limited or skewed perspective. Thus, because He loves us, our heavenly Father often says no to our request. “Denials in love are better than grants in anger” (Henry).
Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. Bring requests aplenty. As John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” says in another of his songs:
Come, my soul, thy suit prepare;
Jesus loves to answer prayer;
He Himself has bid thee pray,
Therefore will not say thee nay.
Thou art coming to a King;
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.
As we come, though, always pray, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (LK 22:42b). Leave results to God. Be grateful for a heavenly Father who listens to our prayers with a wise love, and a loving wisdom. A part of the privilege of prayer is knowing God will withhold what is not best, and not withhold what is best.
His gifts are “good,” meeting our real needs, not our perceived needs. Realizing our prayers are filtered through this safety net should make us bolder to ask for more, and cause us to be more eager to spend larger amounts of time in prayer.