Matthew 23:14
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
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(14) Ye devour widows’ houses.—The avarice thus described may have attained its end either (1) by using the advantages which they possessed, as the jurists and notaries of the time, to press unjust claims against wealthy widows, or to become their heirs, or (2) by leading devout women, under the show of piety, to bestow on them their estates or houses. To minister to the maintenance of a scribe was, they taught, the best use of wealth. The “long prayer” refers probably to the well-known Eighteen Prayers, which formed the standard of the Pharisee’s devotion. The whole verse, it may be noted, is wanting in many MSS., and may have been inserted here from Mark 12:40 or Luke 20:47.

23:13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.Devour widows' houses - The word "houses" is used here to denote "property" or possessions of any kind. You take away or get possession of the property of widows by improper arts and pretences. This was done in two ways:

1. They claimed a very exact knowledge of the law and a perfect observance of it. They pretended to extraordinary justice toward the poor, friendship for the distressed, and willingness to aid those who were in embarrassed circumstances. They thus induced "widows" and poor people to commit the management of their property to them as guardians and executors, and then took advantage of them and defrauded them.

2. They put on the appearance of great sanctity, and induced many conscientious but credulous women to give them much, under pretence of devoting it to religious purposes.

Long prayer - Their prayers are said to have been often three hours in length. One rule among them, says Lightfoot, was to meditate an hour, then pray an hour, and then meditate another hour - all of which was included in their "long prayers or devotions."

Damnation - Condemnation. The word here probably refers to future punishment. It does not always, however. It means, frequently, no more than "condemnation," or the divine disapprobation of a certain course of conduct, as in 1 Corinthians 11:29; "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh "damnation" to himself;" that is, he that eateth and drinketh in an unworthy manner disorderly, not with reverence - is guilty, and his conduct will be disapproved or condemned by God referring solely to the impropriety of the manner of partaking of the Lord's supper, and not at all to the worthiness or unworthiness of the person. See the notes at that place. Compare Romans 14:23.

For a pretence - For appearance or show; in order that they might the better defraud poor people. They would not be condemned for "making" long prayers, but because they did it with an evil design. Public prayers should, however, be short, and always to the point. A man praying in a Sunday school should pray for the school, and, usually, not for everything else.

14. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, &c.—Taking advantage of the helpless condition and confiding character of "widows," they contrived to obtain possession of their property, while by their "long prayers" they made them believe they were raised far above "filthy lucre." So much "the greater damnation" awaits them. What a lifelike description of the Romish clergy, the true successors of those scribes! Mark hath the same, Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. If any should think that long prayers are here condemned, he will be confuted by Luke 6:12, where he will find that our Saviour continued all night in prayer to God. It is the end of their long prayers which alone our Saviour blames, their making them a pretence to devour widows’ houses; which whether they did as interested in the civil power, (in which it is certain the Pharisees amongst the Jews were employed), or by virtue of their ecclesiastical power or influence, persuading silly women to give them their estates, or at least to give them a great part of them, to the service of the tabernacle, that they might pray for their souls, was an abomination to God, not only for the hypocrisy of such prayers, designed for another end than they pretended, but because God had taken upon him the special care and protection of the widows. As our Saviour had before blamed their religious acts for the ostentation in them, seeking only their own honour and applause, so he here blames them for their covetous design in them.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,.... The same character is given as before, and the same woe denounced, and a fresh reason given of it:

for ye devour widows' houses; that is, the goods in the houses of such as were left with fatherless children, and but little to support them; who being left alone, and none to advise them, and being weak, and prone to superstition; these greedy dogs, as Isaiah calls them, who could never have enough, easily imposed upon them, wormed them out of all their substance, stripped them bare of the necessaries of life, prevailed on them to sell their houses and goods, and bestow them on them; or got their little estates into their hands, pretending to take care, and dispose of them for them, to their advantage:

and for a pretence make long prayers: as if they were very holy, good men; or pretended that the substance of these widows, which they got into their hands, was for their long prayers for them; or they made long prayers for them in return for their substance. Maimonides (x) says, that

"the ancient saints, or good men, used to stay an hour before prayer, and an hour after prayer, and "prolonged", or "held an hour in prayer":''

and this being three times a day, nine hours every day, as is observed in the Talmud (y), were spent in this manner; and on this account they got the character of very devout and religious men, and hereby covered all their avarice, rapine, and oppression of the poor: but God will not be mocked;

therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation; both on account of their plundering and distressing the poor, the widows, and the fatherless; and also because of their hypocrisy in doing this under the cover of religion and holiness. Hence it appears, that there are degrees of punishment in hell, and that hypocrites, and all such who oppress the poor, under the mask of godliness, supposing gain to be that, will be partakers of the greatest degree of it. In Munster's Hebrew Gospel it is called , "a long judgment", or "damnation", in allusion to their long prayers: and is the very reverse of what they expect on account of them: they say (z).

"three things prolong a man's days and years, "he that is long in his prayer"''

is the first mentioned; and he that is long at his prayer, it is an excellency, they say; but instead of a long and happy life, he shall have a long damnation. This verse is left out in some copies, and in others it stands before the former; in which order it is read in the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions.

(x) Hilch. Tephillah, c. 4. sect. 16. (y) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 32. 2.((z) Ib. fol. 54. 2.

{6} Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and {o} for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

(6) It is a common thing among hypocrites to abuse the pretence of zeal when in reality they are exercising covetousness and extortion.

(o) Literally, under a colour of long praying; and the word and signifies a double wickedness in them: the one, that they devoured widows goods: the other that they did it under a pretence of godliness.

Matthew 23:14. ὑποκριταί. Vide at Matthew 6:2. This epithet is applied to the scribes and Pharisees in each of the woes with terrific iteration.—κλείετε, ye shut the gates or the doors of the Kingdom of God, conceived as a city or palace. This the real effect of their action, not the ostensible. They claimed to be opening the Kingdom while really shutting it, and therein lay their hypocrisy.—ἔμπροσθεν τ. .: as it were in men’s faces, when they are in the act of entering.—ὑμεῖς γὰρ, etc. Cf. Matthew 5:20. They thought themselves certainly within, but in the judgment of Jesus, with all their parade of piety, they were without.—τ. εἰσερχομένους, those in the mood to enter, in the act of entering; the reference is to sincere seekers after God, and the statement is that the scribes were the worst advisers such persons could go to: the effect of their teaching would be to keep them out. This is the position implied throughout the Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew 11:28-30.

14. ye devour widows’ houses] i. e. “consume their substance,” by illegal exaction or by working upon their religious feelings; a common form of rapacity. The Vatican and Sinaitic MSS. omit this verse, which occurs Mark 12:40, and Luke 20:47.

Matthew 23:14. Κατεσθὶετε, κ.τ.λ., ye devour, etc.) The extreme of avarice. To devour widows’ houses[997] is the most atrocious species, which is put for the whole class of rapacious actions.—καὶ, even)—μακρἀ, long) The word has here the force of an adverb.[998] Some MSS. also read suitably enough, μακρᾷ, in which case it must be construed with ΠΡΟΦΆΣΕΙ, sc. with a long, or great pretence—i.e. they made of their prayers a great pretence, pretext, or plea for devouring widows’ houses. Herodian uses the expressions, πρόφασις ὀλίγη, εὐτελὴς, μικρά, sc. a small, useful, little pretext or plea.—λήψεσθε, κ.τ.λ., ye shall receive, etc.) sc. as the reward of such prayers.—περισσύτερον κρίμα, more abundant damnation) He who acts ill is condemned; he who abuses that which is good, to adorn that which is bad, is condemned to sorer punishment.

[997] Who of all persons ought especially to be spared, but who, as being liable to be easily acted on by persuasion, are most open to oppression.—V. g.

[998] According to this reading, which is that of EM, it must be construed with προσευχόμενοι, praying; and the words must be rendered, “who pray long”—i.e.who spend a long time in prayer”—(I. B.)

Verse 14. - Second woe - against rapacity and hypocrisy. There is some doubt about the genuineness of this verse, and our Revisers have expunged it from their text, relegating it to the margin. It is omitted by א, B, D, L, Z, some copies of the Vulgate and some versions; on the other hand, it is found in E, F, G, H, K, M, and other later uncials, and in the received Vulgate and Syriac Versions. Critics reject it as a supposed interpolation from Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47. At any rate, whether spoken now or at another time, it is undoubtedly an utterance of Christ, and to be received with all reverence. Ye devour widows' houses. Women who have lost their natural protector become their prey. To these they attach themselves, winning them over by flattery and fraud, and persuading them to assist them with their substance to the ruin of their fortunes. God had always defended the cause of widows, and had urged his people to deal gently and mercifully with them (see Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalm 68:5; Isaiah 1:17; Luke 18:3-7). This woe is followed in St. Luke by the episode of the widow's mite (Luke 20:47; Luke 21:1-4). And for a pretence make long prayer; or, and that, making long prayers for a pretence. They put on an appearance of extraordinary devotion, that they might more easily secure the favour of the widows; or else they exacted large sums of money, engaging to offer continual prayers for the donors (compare St. Paul's words in 2 Timothy 3:6). Thus these hypocrites made a gain of godliness at the expense of the most helpless members of the community. Greater (περισσότερον, more abundant) damnation. No condemnation in this world or the next can be more justly awarded than to him who adds hypocrisy to covetousness, and makes religion a cloke for cruel rapacity. The comparative may refer to "the lengthened hypocritical prayers which went before" (Lange). Matthew 23:14
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