Matthew 23:6
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(6) The uppermost rooms.—Better, the first places, the word “room,” which had that meaning at the time when the English version was made, having now become identical with “chamber.” Strictly speaking, they would be the first places, nearest to the host, on the couches or ottomans (as we have learnt to call them from their modern Eastern use) on which the guests reclined, these being assigned (as in the case of “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” in John 13:23) to the most favoured guests.

The chief seats in the synagogues.—These were at the upper or Jerusalem end of the synagogue (corresponding to the east end of most Christian churches), where was the ark, or chest that contained the Law. These were given, either by common consent or by the elders of the synagogue, to those who were most conspicuous for their devotion to the Law, and as such, were coveted as a mark of religious reputation.

23:1-12 The scribes and Pharisees explained the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in religion. We can only judge according to outward appearance; but God searches the heart. They made phylacteries. These were scrolls of paper or parchment, wherein were written four paragraphs of the law, to be worn on their foreheads and left arms, Ex 13:2-10; 13:11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They made these phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more zealous for the law than others. God appointed the Jews to make fringes upon their garments, Nu 15:38, to remind them of their being a peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than common, as if they were thereby more religious than others. Pride was the darling, reigning sin of the Pharisees, the sin that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful. How much is all this against the spirit of Christianity! The consistent disciple of Christ is pained by being put into chief places. But who that looks around on the visible church, would think this was the spirit required? It is plain that some measure of this antichristian spirit prevails in every religious society, and in every one of our hearts.The uppermost rooms at feasts - The word "rooms," here, by no means expresses the meaning of the original. It would be correctly rendered the uppermost "places or couches" at feasts. To understand this, it is necessary to remark that the custom among the Jews was not to eat sitting, as we do, but reclining on couches. The table was made by "three" tables, raised like ours and placed so as to form a square, with a clear space in the midst, and one end quite open. Around these tables were placed cushions capable of containing three or more persons. On these the guests reclined, leaning on their left side, with their feet extended from the table, and so lying that the head of one naturally reclined on the bosom of another. To recline near to one in this manner denoted intimacy, and was what was meant by lying "in the bosom" of another, John 13:23; Luke 16:22-23. As the feet were extended "from" the table, and as they reclined instead of sitting, it was easy to approach the feet behind, and even unperceived. Thus, in Luke 7:37-38, while Jesus reclined in this manner, a woman that had been a sinner came to his feet "behind him," and washed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. She stood on the outside of the couches. So our Saviour washed the feet of his disciples as they reclined on a couch in this manner, John 13:4-12. Whenever we read in the New Testament of "sitting" at meals, it always means reclining in this manner, and never sitting as we do. The chief seat, or the "uppermost" one, was the middle couch at the upper end of the table. This the Pharisees loved, as a post of honor or distinction.

Chief seats in the synagogues - The seats usually occupied by the elders of the synagogue, near the pulpit. The meaning is, they love a place of distinction. See the notes at Matthew 4:23.

6. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts—The word "room" is now obsolete in the sense here intended. It should be "the uppermost place," that is, the place of highest honor.

and the chief seats in the synagogues. See on [1345]Lu 14:7, 8.

See Poole on "Matthew 23:7". And love the uppermost rooms at feasts,.... Or the first and chief places to sit, or lie down on, at ordinary meals, and especially at large entertainments, where the great ones sat, as in 1 Samuel 9:22 where Jarchi on the place observes, that by the manner of their sitting, it was known who was the greatest; and this the Scribes and Pharisees affected. With the Romans, the most honourable place was at the upper end of the table: some think it was more honourable to sit in the middle, but the master of the feast sat at the lower end; and to senior men, and who were venerable with age, or excelled in prudence and authority, the first sitting down, and the more honourable place, were given; and when the table was taken away, they used to rise first (a): the middle place was the more honourable with the Numidians (b), and so it seems to be with the Romans (c), and also with the Jews; and this the Scribes and Pharisees loved, desired, sought for, and were pleased if they had not it. It is said (d) of Simeon ben Shetach, a noted Pharisee, about, or rather before the time of Christ, that having fled upon a certain account from king Jannai, he sent for him, and when he came,

"he sat himself between the king and the queen: the king said to him, why dost thou mock me? he replied to him, I do not mock thee, thou hast riches and I have learning, as it is written, "Wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence", Ecclesiastes 7:12. He said to him, but why dost thou "sit between the king and queen?" He replied, in the book of Ben Sira, it is written, "Exalt her and she shall promote thee, and cause thee to sit among princes." He ordered to give him a cup, that he might ask a blessing; he took the cup and said, blessed be the food that Jannai and his friends eat.''

Thus on account of their wisdom and learning, they thought they had a right to take the upper hand of kings themselves:

and the chief seats in the synagogues; for these were different; the seats of the senior men were turned towards the people, and the backs of them were towards the ark or chest, in which the holy books were put; and these seem to be what the Scribes and Pharisees coveted, that they might be in the full view of the people. And so says Maimonides (e), "How do the people sit in the synagogues?"

"The elders sit, i.e. first, and their faces are towards the people, and their backs are to the temple, or holy place; and all the people sit in rows, and the faces of one row are to the backs of the row that is before them; so that the faces of all the people are to the holy place, and to the elders, and to the ark.''

(a) Alex. ab Alex. Genial Dier. l. 5. c. 21. (b) Sallust. Bell. Jugurth. p. 45. (c) Vid. Alstorph. de lect. vet. p. 117. Minut. Felix, p. 3, 4. (d) T. Hieros. Betacot, fol. 11. 2. Beresh. Rabba, sect. 91. fol. 78. 4. (e) Hilchot Tephilla, c. 11. sect. 4.

And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the {e} synagogues,

(e) When assemblies and councils are gathered together.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 23:6. πρωτοκλισίαν: with religious ostentation goes social vanity, love of the first place at feasts, and first seats (πρωτοκαθεδρίας) in synagogues; an insatiable hunger for prominence.6. the uppermost rooms] i. e. “the most honourable seats.” The Jews, like the Romans, reclined at meals on couches, called triclinia—each containing three seats—and each seat having its special dignity. The seats on the triclinia are here called “rooms.”Matthew 23:6. Φιλοῦσι, κ.τ.λ., they love, etc.) Both individually and for their order.Verse 6. - The uppermost rooms; τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν: primos recubitus; chief place (Luke 14:7). The custom of reclining on cushions set in horseshoe fashion at three sides of the table was now prevalent, the old custom of squatting round a low table, as at present practised in the East, having been long abandoned. The place of honour is said to have been at the upper end of the right side, the president being placed, not in the centre of that end of the table which faced the opening, but at the side. The most honoured guest would be at his right hand (but see on Matthew 26:23). There was often much manoeuvring to obtain this post, and many petty squabbles about precedence arose on every festal occasion (see Luke 14:1, 7, etc.). The chief seats in the synagogues. The usual arrangement of the synagogue is given by Dr. Edersheim ('Life and Times of Jesus,' 1. pp. 434, etc.). It was built of stone, with an entrance generally on the south, and so arranged that the worshippers might direct their prayers towards Jerusalem. In the centre was placed the lectern of the reader; the women's gallery was at the north end. "The inside plan is generally that of two double colonnades, which seem to have formed the body of the synagogue, the aisles east and west being probably used as passages. At the south end, facing north, is a movable ark, containing the sacred rolls of the Law and the prophets. Right before the ark, and facing the people, are the seats of honour, for the rulers of the synagogue and the honourable." These were the places for which the Pharisees contended, thinking more of gaining these, where they could sit enthroned in the sight of the congregation, than of the Divine worship which nominally they came to offer (comp. James 2:2, 3). The uppermost rooms (πρωτοκλισίαν)

Rev., more correctly, the chief place, the foremost couch or uppermost place on the divan.

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