|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
6:5-8 It is taken for granted that all who are disciples of Christ pray. You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray. If prayerless, then graceless. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of two great faults in prayer, vain-glory and vain repetitions. Verily they have their reward; if in so great a matter as is between us and God, when we are at prayer, we can look to so poor a thing as the praise of men, it is just that it should be all our reward. Yet there is not a secret, sudden breathing after God, but he observes it. It is called a reward, but it is of grace, not of debt; what merit can there be in begging? If he does not give his people what they ask, it is because he knows they do not need it, and that it is not for their good. So far is God from being wrought upon by the length or words of our prayers, that the most powerful intercessions are those which are made with groanings that cannot be uttered. Let us well study what is shown of the frame of mind in which our prayers should be offered, and learn daily from Christ how to pray.
Verses 5-15. - Prayer. Verses 5-8. - Matthew only. Verse 5. - And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be, etc.; Revised Version, plural. Ver. 5 is addressed to the disciples generally, ver. 6 to them individually. (For the future, cf. Matthew 5:48, note.) As the hypocrites are (ver. 2, note). The 'Didache,' § 8, following this passage, says, "Neither pray ye as the hypocrites," referring, like our Lord, to practices affected chiefly by the Pharisees. For they love (ὅτι φιλοῦσι). Not to be translated "they are wont." Our Lord points out the cause of this their custom. It was not that the synagogue was more convenient (he is, of course, thinking of their private prayers), or that they were accidentally overtaken by the prayer-hour when in the street, but their innate love of display made them choose these places "that they may be seen of men" (cf. ver. 16, and contrast ver. 2). To pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets; to stand and pray, etc. (Revised Version), giving, however, slightly more emphasis on "stand" than its position warrants. The emphasis is really on the place, not on the posture, which was only what was usual among Jews (cf. Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11, 13). There is no thought of taking up their position, standing still (σταθέντες, Acts 5:20; cf. Luke 18:11, 40). (For the practice here condemned by our Lord, cf. Lightfoot, 'Hor. Hebr.,' "R. Jochauau said, I saw R. Jannai standing and praying in the streets of Tsippor, and going four cubits, and then praying the Additionary Prayer.") They have, etc. (ver. 2, note).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites,.... As the Scribes and Pharisees; whose posture in prayer, the places they chose to pray in, and the view they had therein, are particularly taken notice of:
for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. It was their usual custom to pray "standing"; nay, it is established by their canons.
"There are eight things, (says Maimonides (u),) that a man that prays ought to take heed to do; and the first he mentions is "standing"; for, says he, no man may pray , "but standing"; if he is sitting in a ship, or in a cart, if he can stand, he must stand; if not, he may sit in his place and pray.''
Several hints of this custom there are in the Misna (w).
"On their fast days they used to bring out the ark into the streets-- , "and they stood in prayer", or praying; and caused an old man to go down before the ark, who was used to recite prayers, and he said them.''
"whoever , "stood praying", and remembered that any uncleanness attended him, he might not break off, but he might shorten.''
Yea, standing itself is interpreted of praying; for it is said (y),
"and Abraham rose up early in the morning to the place, where he stood, , "and there is no prayer but standing";''
though sometimes they prayed sitting, as David did, 2 Samuel 7:18 so it is said of R. Jose, and R. Eleazar, that , "they sat and prayed", and afterwards rose up and went on their way (z). So it was likewise customary to go to the synagogues, and there pray; and indeed they were places built and appointed for this purpose.
"Wherever there were ten Israelites, a house ought to be provided, in which they may go to prayer at every time of prayer; and this place is called a synagogue (a).''
Hence some have thought, that not such places are here designed, but any assembly, or concourse of people gathered together upon any occasion; but such an interpretation will find no place, when the following things are observed.
"For ever let a man go, morning and evening, to the synagogue; for no prayer is heard at any time, but in the synagogue; and everyone that hath a synagogue in his city, and does not pray in it with the congregation, is called a bad neighbour (b).''
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt—or, preferably, "when ye pray ye shall."
not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets—(See on Mt 6:2).
that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have, &c.—The standing posture in prayer was the ancient practice, alike in the Jewish and in the early Christian Church. But of course this conspicuous posture opened the way for the ostentatious.
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