What is the meaning of Matthew 7:10?
This short verse is part of a supporting argument Jesus is making during the Sermon on the Mount. This part of the sermon runs from Matthew 7:7-11. Jesus tells us as his disciples that we can ask, seek, and knock, and God will answer, respond to us.
He seeks to clarify that God does not keep things from his children. He always answers when we ask, seek, and knock. All of these are approaches to God. God is open to his children and answers them immediately. He is not vindictive in his answers.
To show this, Jesus presents two illustrations that every parent in the audience would have understood clearly. The premise is that parents want to give their children the very best. They want to answer their children’s questions or give them exactly what they want.
The two examples he gives are local to Galilee where he preached this sermon. Every person in the audience would understand each illustration. Because we are over 2000 years removed from this teaching of Jesus, we must understand the historical and cultural references.
Illustrations show images of the point Jesus is making. In the first one, he asks if any parent would give to their child a stone instead of the bread the child asks for (Matthew 7:9). No parent wants to see their child go hungry. It would be cruel and evil to give the child a stone to eat instead of bread.
Why would Jesus refer to bread as a stone? When a loaf of bread was made in Israel, it resembled the stones. It was about the same size. It also looked like a stone in color. We see this happen elsewhere in the New Testament.
When Jesus is tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) Satan tempts him after he is very hungry to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3). Because stones resemble bread, but are not bright at all, this is a perfect illustration to use in his sermon.
The second illustration comes to the verse you cited in your question. Jesus says, “Or if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent? (Matthew 7:10). As many of the fishermen in the crowd would have known, fish in the Sea of Galilee had a longer body than most.
The fish resembled in look an eel than they did the fish we think of today. They looked like smaller sized snakes. So when Jesus says a serpent instead of fish, you get the impression that it is a look like, something designed to look like a true gift but will let the child down upon further examination.
These illustrations feed into Jesus’ point that when the Father in heaven gives gifts to his children, they are not look-alikes, mirages, or any other sort of illusion. They are good gifts, the real deal, and he gives them to us freely. When we ask God for this or that, he gives us when we ask for, and nothing else.
Jesus says that all human beings, even parents, have evil motives and intentions (Matthew 7:11). Parents want to give their children the world. But even their best intentions may not be enough. We give gifts expecting a certain response, but getting a different one.
Everyone at Christmas expects to see the gift they have given have positive effect on the one who receives it. But it doesn’t always happen in reality the way that the person or parent wants to see. The desired effect may not happen at all. There could even be a negative effect. We do the best we can, but even we can’t get it right every time when we give gifts.
We do our very best. Most of the time, our efforts are met with our desired outcome. But despite our disability at times to give the good gifts we want to give to children, God is not like that at all. Every gift he gives is a good gift that hits the target.
That’s what makes God a good Father. He gives the good gifts that we ask for, seek him for, and knock on his door to receive. Because we are his children and because he is a good God, he gives the gift we seek.
You will never receive from got something other than what you ask him for. Luke also records this saying of Jesus during his sermon (Luke 11:9-13). He only mentions that God gives what we ask for.
In Matthew, the request is general, speaking of parents giving good gifts to their children (Matthew 7:11). But in Luke Jesus becomes even more specific, saying that the gift the Father gives is the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).