Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

130. The Woman bound by Satan (Luke 13:10-17)*

It would appear that during most of the last year in the Lord's ministry there was a concerted move to deny Jesus any opportunity of preaching in the synagogues. In the gospel record of this period the Lord's synagogue preaching is mentioned only this once. And in this instance the ruler of the synagogue and a number of the congregation were hostile. So perhaps this occasion was deliberately laid on so that they might have occasion against him (cp. 14:1 ff). And so it transpired.

A fine character

There was present an afflicted woman who for eighteen long years had suffered from serious curvature of the spine, brought on probably by collapse of several vertebrae. For all this time the poor woman was scarcely mobile. Bent nearly double, she could look straight forward only with extreme difficulty. To lift her gaze to heaven was a stark impossibility. "She was completely bent—to the limit—and could not lift herself up."

Yet she was present in the synagogue. It was a mark of her unflagging piety that she should attend for worship and instruction in spite of all' the discouragement and difficulty of her disability. Yet, since she must have heard of the marvels wrought by Jesus, it is impossible that she was present without some hope that his compassion and power might be exercised on her behalf.

This hope was speedily realised. Although in her bent posture she was less than ordinarily conspicuous in the crowded synagogue, Jesus caught sight of her and, interrupting his discourse, he called out to her to come to him. It was not easy for her to do this, and she doubtless felt very self-conscious, but Jesus waited patiently, whilst in complete silence all the multitude fastened eyes on the two of them.


"Woman," he said in that tone of compassion the twelve had heard so often, "thou hast been loosed from thine infirmity." But she remained there in a compulsory posture of obeisance before him. Why should Jesus speak thus in the past tense when it was evident for all to see that she was still in the grip of her terrible affliction? Was it because he had in mind certain prophetic Scriptures which had told beforehand that he would do such a wondrous thing?: "I will make the crooked straight." So from the Lord's viewpoint the miracle was as good as accomplished.

Then he laid his hands on her, and forthwith the wonder happened, in the sight of them all. Slowly but certainly the bent frame came erect. A pair of excited eyes now looked for the first time into the eyes of Jesus and spoke her thanks. Then, with head uplifted as not before for many a year, she uttered her spontaneous prayer of praise and gratitude to heaven. And kept on, so the Greek implies. Rather remarkably, the Hebrew word for "crooked" (ls.45 :2) also means "glorify" (v.13). "The Lord raiseth them that are bowed down." She openly acknowledged that it was through Jesus that God had worked in her.


Then came sharp anticlimax. The ruler of the synagogue, too much in awe of Jesus to reprove him directly, administered his snub through the multitude. Addressing them, he said roughly: 'There are six days in the week suitable for this kind of thing. If you want to be healed, leave it for one of those days, instead of desecrating the sabbath.' This was not only blatant insincerity, but also rank insolence, directed very obviously at Jesus.

The Lord promptly exposed the falsity of the criticism. Even their extreme Sabbatarianism allowed them to unloose an animal and lead it to watering On the holy day, when it had been tethered for only a few hours. Here was no animal but a daughter of Abraham, with the faith of Abraham; and she suffering grievously, not just for a few hours but for eighteen long years. Then how wrong if the sabbath could help the beast but not such as herself! The Lord’s "ought not-?" is really "is it not necessary that—?". He was arguing that this healing was not just normally permissible but a more imperative.

In advancing this counter argument, Jesus-according to some manuscripts—used the plural: "Hypocrites!" And this seems to be supported by the added comment: "All his adversaries were put to shame." This suggests that Jesus had been given use of the synagogue in the expectation that in his discourse his critics would soon be given more than enough grounds for sweeping censure of him. In other words, the ruler of the synagogue had been party to an arrangement which, it was hoped, would end in the Lord's undoing. Instead, the official and those of his kidney were discomfited (according to the prophecy of Messiah in Isaiah 41 :11), but "all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things (more healings) that wen done by him."

How "bound by Satan?"

To some readers of this incident there is difficulty in the description of this woman’s disability as "having a spirit of infirmity" and as being "bound by Satan". The explanation advanced earlier (in Studies 30 and 84) regarding the casting out of unclean spirit seems to be adequate in this case also. The suggestion was that Jesus acquiesced in the use of demoniac phraseology because it came fairly near to the real truth. Not only the good that men experience but also that which they readily describe as "evil" is under the control of the angels of God; hence the Psalmist's phrase: "angels of evil" (78:49).

Thus this woman's affliction had been brought about by such an angel, called by Jesus: "Satan", because—like Job's angel Satan - he was apparently her adversary. And the phrase "spirit of infirmity" signified "the angel who had caused her infirmity". From this point of view, this and similar miracles become tremendously significant, for they are now seen as open demonstrations of the ultimate authority of Jesus over the angels and also as tokens of his ultimate removal of all need for the kind of activity which these "angels of evil" have been occupied with through human history.

An acted parable

There may be yet further symbolism behind this power, wonder and sign wrought in the synagogue. The poor woman, bowed down under her affliction, is readily seen as a picture of the people of Israel suffering under the burden and bondage of the Law. As she could in no wise lift up herself, so also Israel found salvation by their own efforts to be an impossibility. And this continued all through the long period Messiah was coming to open manifestation (the hidden years, 12-30). Yet those in Israel who were called to Jesus and responded were made free from the Law and glorified God for the blessing they now experienced. Corresponding to the laying on of hands by Jesus is the direction of the Holy Spirit in the early church. The woman was called by Jesus "a daughter of Abraham." How well this phrase fills out her character! (cp. 19 :9; and contrast 13: 25d, 28). She was in the synagogue to be instructed by Jesus; called by him, she came at once, in spite of difficulty; healed, she immediately gave God thanks. Hers was a justification by Abrahamic faith such as all Jewry needed to learn. The criticism by the ruler of the synagogue has its counterpart in the bitter opposition of the Jewish leaders to the early church. And the miracle happened on the sabbath day because "he that is entered into God's rest hath ceased from his own works" (Heb. 4 :10), that is, from all attempts to work out his own justification. Other details, such as the fact that the woman did not, could not, see Jesus in person until after being healed, and the glorifying of God by the multitude, are also worth considering.

As a parable it is complete in most essentials.

In harmony with this, there seem to be remarkable similarities of idea and phrasing between this episode and Isaiah 45, as though bidding the reader of that prophecy see it as an anticipation of the gospel.

Isaiah 45

Luke 13
The crooked straight.
Every knee shall bow (and 46:2).
Bowed together.
World without end.
To the uttermost.
LXX: ekluo (perf).
apoluo (perf.).
Glorified God.
LXX: Shall glorify.
Glorious things.
My captives (Heb: my bound ones).
Whom Satan hath bound.
Put to shame.
Put to shame.
The work of my hands.
Laid hands on her.
My sons.
Daughter of Abraham
Look unto me, and be ye saved
Made straight.
To him shall they come
Come and be healed.
Assemble yourselves (LXX: sunago).
The synagogue.

Notes: Lk.l 3:1 0-1 7

On the sabbath. Verse 10 could mean "for several sabbaths". The word is plural in v.10, but singular in v. 14, 15, 16.
Bowed together. This Gk. word conies in only one place in LXX: "Being bowed down in the face, I groan" (Job 9: 27 LXX). It was a Satan-angel who brought this on Job.
His ox or his ass. The rabbis said that on the sabbath a man might draw water but not carry it to the beast.
A daughter of Abraham. Cp. v. 25, 28; 19:9; Jn. 8:33,39.

Lo. The force of this is: "for 18 years, don't forget!"
Glorious things Cp. Jn.2:11; 11:40; Mk 2:12; s.w. Ex.15:l.

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