And said to them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)It is written.—The words which our Lord quotes are a free combination of two prophetic utterances: one from Isaiah’s vision of the future glory of the Temple, as visited both by Jew and Gentile (Isaiah 56:7); one from Jeremiah’s condemnation of evils like in nature, if not in form, to those against which our Lord protested (Jeremiah 7:11).
A den of thieves.—The pictorial vividness of the words must not be passed over. Palestine was then swarming with bands of outlaw brigands, who, as David of old in Adullam (1Samuel 22:1), haunted the lime-stone caverns of Judæa. The wranglings of such a company over the booty they had carried off were reproduced in the Temple, and mingled with the Hallelujahs of the Levites and the Hosannas of the crowds. We ask, as we read the narrative, how it was that the work of expulsion was done so effectively, and with so little resistance. The answer is found (1) in the personal greatness and intensity of will that showed itself in our Lord’s look and word and tone; (2) in the presence of the crowd that had followed Him from the Mount of Olives, and had probably filled the courts of the Temple; and (3) in the secret consciousness of the offenders that they were desecrating the Temple, and that the Prophet of Nazareth, in His zeal for His Father’s house, was the witness of a divine truth.Isaiah 56:7. The first part of this verse only is quoted from Isaiah. The rest - "but ye have made it a den of thieves" - was added by Jesus, denoting their abuse of the temple. Thieves and robbers live in dens and caves. Judea was then much infested with them. In their dens thieves devise and practice iniquity. These buyers and sellers imitated them. They made the temple a place of gain; they cheated and defrauded; they took advantage of the poor, and, by their being under a necessity of purchasing these articles for sacrifice, they "robbed" them by selling what they had at an enormous price.
The following reasons may be given why this company of buyers and sellers obeyed Christ:
1. They were overawed by his authority, and struck with the consciousness that he had a right to command,
2. Their own consciences reproved them; they knew they were guilty, and they dared make no resistance.
3. The people generally were then on the side of Jesus, believing him to be the Messiah.
4. It had always been the belief of the Jews that a "prophet" had a right to change, regulate, and order the various affairs relating to external worship. They supposed Jesus to be such, and they did not dare to resist him.
Mark and Luke add, that in consequence of this, the scribes and chief priests attempted to put him to death, Mark 11:18-19; Luke 19:47-48. This they did from "envy," Matthew 27:18. He drew off the people from them, and they envied and hated him. They were "restrained," then, for the fear of the people; and this was the reason why they plotted "secretly" to put him to death, and why they afterward so gladly heard the proposals of the traitor, Matthew 26:14-15.
For the exposition, see on Lu 19:45-48; and Mr 11:12-26.See Poole on "Matthew 21:14". Isaiah 56:7.
My house shall be called the house of prayer. These are the, words of God, calling the temple his house, which was built according to the plan he gave; and was the place of his worship, and where he dwelt, and vouchsafed his presence to his people; and signifying, that in time to come, it should be an house of prayer; not for the Jews only, but for the Gentiles also: "for all people", as it is expressed by the prophet, and cited by Mark; and particularly this part of it, in which were the money changers and sellers of doves; for that was the court of the Gentiles, where they were admitted to pray, and perform other parts of worship. These words are rightly applied by Christ to the temple; nor can the Jews themselves deny it; for their own Targum paraphrases it thus, , "the house of my sanctuary shall be called an house of prayer"; or shall be one; for the meaning is not that it should go by such a name, but should be for such use, and not for buying and selling, and merchandise, to which use the Jews now put it: hence it follows,
but ye have made it a den of thieves. These are the words of Christ, affirming what is complained of in Jeremiah 7:11 and applying it to the present case, on account of the wicked merchandise, unlawful gain, avarice and extortion, of the priests and other officers of the temple, who had a considerable share in these things; and to whom the temple was, and by them used, as a den is to and by thieves and robbers, where they shelter themselves; for these persons robbed both God and man, and the temple was a sanctuary to them: here they screened themselves, and, under the appearance of religion and devotion, devoured widows' houses, plundered persons of their substance, and were full of extortion and excess.And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 21:13. Free combination of Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, and taken from the Sept.
κληθής.] how sacred the purpose for which it was intended, but ye, etc.
ποιεῖτε (see critical notes) censures this desecration of the temple as a thing in which they are still persisting.
σπήλαιον λῃστῶν] The strong language of the prophet (otherwise in John) was in keeping with the emotion that was awakened in Jesus. The use of such language is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that avarice had taken up its abode in those sacred precincts to carry on its huckstering and money-changing: τὸ γὰρ φιλοκερδὲς λῃστρικὸν πάθος ἐστι, Theophylact. Differently Fritzsche: “Vos undequaque pecuniam, animalia hue congerere sustinetis, ut latrones praedam comportant in speluncam,”—where, however, due prominence is not given to the distinctive point of comparison, viz. the robbery.
In Matthew 21:12-13, Jesus acts with higher authority than that of a mere zealot (Numbers 25:11): He addresses Himself to the purifying of the temple and its worship with such a reforming energy as, according to Malachi 3:1-3, befitted the Messiah. Comp. Bertholdt, Christol. p. 163; Ullmann, Sündl. p. 177. And the acquiescence of the astonished multitude is all the more intelligible on the occasion of this cleansing, that the indignant reformer had just celebrated His triumphal march into the city in the character of Messiah. But even on the first occasion, John 2, their acquiescence is sufficiently explicable from the sudden and decided nature of the proceeding, taken in connection with the spiritually-imposing character of the Lord’s person and bearing (“divinitatis majestas lucebat in facie,” Jerome), so that it is quite needless to resort to the hypothesis of a miracle (Origen, Jerome).Matthew 21:13. γέγραπται, it stands written, in Isaiah 56:7; from the Sept but with omission of πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, retained in Mk., and a peculiarly appropriate expression in the circumstances, the abuse condemned having for its scene the court of the Gentiles.—σπήλαιον λῃστῶν, a den of robbers, a strong expression borrowed from another prophet (Jeremiah 7:11), pointing probably to the avarice and fraud of the traders (τὸ γὰρ φιλοκερδὲς ληστρικὸν πάθος ἐστί, Theophy.), taking advantage of simple provincials. This act of Jesus has been justified by the supposed right of the zealot (Numbers 25:6; Numbers 25:13), which is an imaginary right: “ein unfindbar Artikel” (Holtz., H. C.), or by the reforming energy befitting the Messiah (Meyer). It needed no other justification than the indignation of a noble soul at sight of shameless deeds. Jesus was the only person in Israel who could do such a thing. All others had become accustomed to the evil.
 Septuagint.13. My house shall be called the house of prayer] Isaiah 56:7, “Mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,” or for all nations, not of all nations (Mark).
a den of thieves] Rather, a cave of robbers or bandits. Cp. Jeremiah 7:11, “Is this house which is called by my name become a den of robbers in your eyes?” The context of these words is strikingly suggestive: “if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings … and shed not innocent blood in this place … then will I cause you to dwell in this place in the land that I gave to your fathers for ever and ever.” The caves of Palestine had always been refuges for the lawless, and in the reign of Herod the Great the robbers dwelling in caves had rebelled against him and resisted his power, Jos. Ant. i. 12. Possibly this thought may be present here: “Ye have made my house a stronghold of rebels against God and the Messiah, when it ought to be a garrison of loyal subjects.” Also the disputes of the traffickers resembled the wrangling of bandits in their caves.Matthew 21:13. Ὁ οἶκός Μου οἶκος προσευχῆς κληθήσεται· ὑμεῖς δὲ αὐτὸν ἐποιήσατε σπήλαιον λῃστῶν, My house shall be called ( or the) house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.—The LXX., in Isaiah 56:7, have—ὁ γὰρ οἶκός Μου, οἶκος προσευχῆς κληθήσεται πᾶσι τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, My house shall be called ( or the) house of prayer for all nations; and in Jeremiah 7:11, μὴ σπηλαιον λῃστῶν ὁ οἶκός Μου; is My house become a den of thieves?—προσευκῆς, of prayer) Prayer is the principal part of public worship; see 1 Kings 8; therefore prayer is put before the apostolic ministry of the Word in Acts 6:4. The synagogues also were places for teaching and houses of prayer as well. In the temple there was more prayer, in the synagogues more teaching.—σπήλαιο λῃστῶν, a den of thieves) A severe and proverbial expression, used of a place which admits all infamous characters and all profane things. He does not say, A market-place. in a den, thieves do not so much attack others, as house themselves.
 Vercellensis of the old ‘Itala,’ or Latin Version before Jerome’s, probably made in Africa, in the second century: the Gospels.
 Vercellensis of the old ‘Itala,’ or Latin Version before Jerome’s, probably made in Africa, in the second century: the Gospels.Verse 13. - It is written. Jesus confirms his action by the word of Scripture. He combines in one severe sentence a passage from Isaiah 56:7 ("Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all peoples"), and one from Jeremiah 7:11 ("Is this house, which is called by my Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?"). He brings out in strong contrast the high design and use of the house of God (an allusion specially appropriate at the coming festival), and the vile and profane purposes to which the greed and impiety of men had subjected it. Ye have made it; Revised Version, ye make it; and so many modern editors on good manuscript authority. These base traffickers had turned the hallowed courts into a cavern where robbers stored their ill-gotten plunder. It may also be said that to make the place of prayer for all the nations a market for boasts was a robbery of the rights of the Gentiles (Lange). And Christ here vindicated the sanctity of the house of God: the Lord, according to the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 3:1-3), had suddenly come to his temple to refine and purify, to show that none can profane what is dedicated to the service of God without most certain loss and punishment.
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