|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
18:9-14 This parable was to convince some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. God sees with what disposition and design we come to him in holy ordinances. What the Pharisee said, shows that he trusted to himself that he was righteous. We may suppose he was free from gross and scandalous sins. All this was very well and commendable. Miserable is the condition of those who come short of the righteousness of this Pharisee, yet he was not accepted; and why not? He went up to the temple to pray, but was full of himself and his own goodness; the favour and grace of God he did not think worth asking. Let us beware of presenting proud devotions to the Lord, and of despising others. The publican's address to God was full of humility, and of repentance for sin, and desire toward God. His prayer was short, but to the purpose; God be merciful to me a sinner. Blessed be God, that we have this short prayer upon record, as an answered prayer; and that we are sure that he who prayed it, went to his house justified; for so shall we be, if we pray it, as he did, through Jesus Christ. He owned himself a sinner by nature, by practice, guilty before God. He had no dependence but upon the mercy of God; upon that alone he relied. And God's glory is to resist the proud, and give grace to the humble. Justification is of God in Christ; therefore the self-condemned, and not the self-righteous, are justified before God.
Verse 10. - Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. This parable constitutes an important chapter in Jesus' apology or defence - if we may dare use the word - for loving the sinful, for consorting with publicans and sinners. It tells men, in very simple language, how they are saved; not by works of righteousness which they have done, but of grace; in other words, by God's free mercy. Jewish religious society in the time of our Lord, as represented by the great Pharisee sect, totally misunderstood this Divine truth. They claimed salvation as a right on two grounds:
(1) because they belonged to the chosen race;
(2) because they rigidly and minutely obeyed the precepts of a singular code of laws, many of them devised by themselves and their fathers.
Upon these two grounds they claimed salvation, that is, eternal blissful life. Not content with this claim of their own, they condemned, with a sweeping, harsh condemnation, all other peoples, and even those of their own race who neglected rigidly to observe the ordinances and ritual of a law framed in great measure in the schools of their own rabbis. Two extreme instances are here chosen - a rigid, exclusive, self-satisfied member of the religious society of Israel; and a Jewish officer of the hated Roman government, who knew little or nothing of the Law, but yet who longed after a higher life, and craved for an inward peace which he evidently was far from possessing. These two, the Pharisee and the publican, both went up to God's holy house, the temple, with a view of drawing near to the eternal King.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Two men went up into the temple to pray, Which is called an house of prayer, Isaiah 56:7 the Jews had a mighty notion of praying in a place of religious worship, as in the temple, or in a synagogue; imagining that their prayers were more acceptable to God, and sooner heard by him in such a place than in private:
"the prayers of the congregation, they say (u), are heard always; and though there are sinners among them, the holy; blessed God, does not despise the prayer of many; wherefore, a man ought to join himself with the congregation, and not pray alone, whenever he can pray with that: and let a man go always, morning and evening, to the synagogue; for there is no prayer heard at all times but in the synagogue; and whoever has a synagogue in his city, and does not pray in it with the congregation, is called an ill neighbour. ---A divinity school is greater than a synagogue; and the great wise men, though they had many synagogues in their cities, did not pray but where they studied in the law.''
And they say (w), that
"he that prays (in the synagogue) is as if he offered a pure offering. ---Says R. Abhu, in the name of R. Abhu, "seek the Lard where he may be found"; where is he to be found? in the synagogues, and in the schools.''
These two men had, doubtless, both of them a notion of the sanctity of the place, and acted according to the prevailing sense of the people. They went up hither, not by consultation, agreement, and appointment; for they were of a different cast from each other; but so it happened. Had they went by consent, there was a rule for them (x):
"two men that go to a synagogue to pray, and one has finished his prayer before his neighbour, if he stays for him, his reward is double; and if he does not stay for him, his prayer is not heard.''
And they had rules also for the manner of their going to, and from the place of prayer: when they went thither, they were to go nimbly, in haste, and even run; but when they came back, they were to go very slowly and gently (y).
"The commandment (they say (z)) is to run to a synagogue; for it is said, Hosea 6:3 "we shall know, we shall follow on to know the Lord": but when a man comes out of the synagogue, let him not take large steps; but let him walk, little by little, or take short steps.''
How far these rules were complied with by these men, is of no great moment to know; who they were follows:
the one a Pharisee; one of those that trusted in themselves, as righteous, and despised all others, especially publicans and sinners; of these See Gill on Matthew 3:7. This was the strictest sect among the Jews; they were men that prayed, and fasted much, and were great sticklers for the ceremonies of the law, and the traditions of the elders, and did all they did to be seen of men:
and the other a publican; a gatherer of the Roman tax, though by nation a Jew; and therefore such were had in great contempt by the Jews in general; nor would they eat and drink and converse with them; See Gill on Matthew 9:10 and See Gill on Matthew 9:11.
(u) Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 8. sect. 1, 3. Piske Harosh Beracot, c. 1. art. 7. (w) T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 8. 4. (x) Piske Harosh, ib. (y) Piske Harosh, & T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 9. 1.((z) Maimon. ib. sect. 2.
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