Was there a supernatural power in the staff or in his arms? If we read the text in an overly literal fashion it is hard to escape that conclusion, but it is rather uncomfortably close to what can be classified as magic. If we have a grasp of ancient concepts of divinity and supernatural power, the story becomes a little less puzzling. For armies of all ages fighting spirit and personal courage have been extremely important. Often a numerically inferior force has defeated a stronger adversary because of team spirit and fighting zeal. This was especially true in the ancient world when most fighting was up close and personal. The first army to lose heart and give in to fatigue and fear was chased from the battlefield and slaughtered.
A great source of this courage and spirit was the commander, usually a charismatic figure very visible on the battlefield. His job was to co-ordinate the fight, exhort and encourage the troops, and provide assurance through courageous example. It must have been very heartening for the Israelites to see Moses on the hill holding the staff of God aloft. Since God and His emissary Moses were on their side, there was no reason for fear — the day was theirs. Seeing the weary hands of Moses and the staff drooping towards the ground would probably have been a worrisome sight. Was God deserting them?
On the battlefield but also in all walks of life symbolic behaviour and personal example on the part of leaders are very important. Inspiring acts and words can put new energy and courage in flagging hearts and spirits, and can even overcome great obstacles. The ability to inspire is the difference between a real leader and merely an office holder or ruler. Moses was truly able to inspire, but one needn’t be Moses to be a good leader. Unfortunately, examples of true leadership are rather scarce these days and people are in grave danger of losing heart. We need those who can metaphorically hold the staff of God aloft for us with inspiring words and deeds.
All Scripture is inspired by God, but we know that the Scriptures are sometimes mistaken in scientific or historical matters. Inspiration does not mean literal inerrancy, and inspiration is mediated through human culture and consciousness. When Timothy was written, the Scripture referred to was what we call the Old Testament. The author was insisting that the Scriptures were still valid and in force, useful for teaching as well as moral and spiritual formation. They are a source of wisdom, both human and divine, and can inspire us and illuminate our path through life.
Corruption in high places is nothing new and many in Jesus’ audience had probably been victims of judicial injustice. Jesus knew that His audience would respond to the example of the corrupt judge in His story. Luke the master storyteller indulged his habit of using questionable characters to illustrate spiritual principles. Jesus was talking about prayer and the need for persistence. He made it very clear that anemic and half-hearted prayers would just not do. One has to have the persistence bordering on aggressiveness of the widow in the story. Pray as if you are going to wear God down — never let up! The corrupt judge gave in out of exasperation and a desire to get the widow off his back. Again, this was intended to be a humourous story with a very serious intention.
God is certainly not a corrupt judge and we do not wear God down or alter the divine mind. We do join our own spiritual energy to God’s and make an opening through which God can help us. We are in need of those who will pray fiercely and persistently for the redemption of our world.