Matthew 6:5
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
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(5) Standing in the synagogues.—The Jewish custom, more or less prevalent throughout the East, and for a time retained at certain seasons in the Christian Church, was to pray standing, with outstretched, uplifted hands, and there was nothing in the attitude as such that made it an act of ostentatious devotion; nor would there have been any ostentation in thus joining in the common prayer of the congregation assembled in the synagogue. What our Lord’s words point to, was the custom of going into the synagogue, as men go now into the churches of Latin Christendom, to offer private devotion (as, e.g., in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican), and of doing this so as to attract notice, the worshipper standing apart as if absorbed in prayer, while secretly glancing round to watch the impression which he might be making on others who were looking on.

In the corners of the streets.—Not the same word as in Matthew 6:3, but the broad, open places of the city. There, too, the Pharisees might be seen, reciting their appointed prayers—probably the well-known eighteen acts of devotion which were appointed for the use of devout Israelites—and with the tallith or veil of prayer over their head.

Matthew 6:5-6. When thou prayest — Which, if thou art my disciple indeed, thou wilt often do: thou shalt not be as the hypocrites — Praying out of vain ostentation. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues — In the sight of numbers of people. Of the synagogues see note on Matthew 4:23. And in the corners of the streets — Where several ways meet, that they may be seen of men — May be beheld by many, and admired as persons of singular piety. Verily, they have their reward

This admiration of those that observe them, is all the reward they ever shall have. But thou, when thou prayest — And dost not intend to use a social, but a private means of grace, enter into thy closet — Or any other retired apartment; and when thou hast shut thy door — To prevent interruption, and to exclude spectators, pray to thy Father which is in secret — Perform the duty without noise or show, by which it will appear that thou art influenced by a principle of true piety, by the fear or love of God, and a regard to his will and glory. It must be observed, that Christ does not here condemn all prayer made in places of public worship, seeing both he and his disciples often prayed with the Jews in the synagogues, Luke 4:16; nor any public devotions in the house of God; but, speaking only here of private prayer, he would have that performed agreeably to the nature of it, and so in secret; and condemns them only who affected to do that duty in public places, that others might take notice of them, and regard them as devout religious persons for so doing.

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.And when thou prayest ... - Hypocrites manifested the same spirit about prayer as almsgiving; it was done in public places. The word "synagogues," here, clearly means, not the place of worship of that name, but places where many were accustomed to assemble - near the markets or courts, where they could be seen of many. Our Lord evidently could not mean to condemn prayers in the synagogues. It might be said that he condemned ostentatious prayer there, while they neglected secret prayer; but this does not appear to be his design. The Jews were much in the habit of praying in public places. At certain times of the day they always offered their prayers. Wherever they were, they suspended their employment and paid their devotions. This is also practiced now everywhere by Muslims, and in many places by Roman Catholics. It seems, also, that they sought publicity, and regarded it as proof of great piety. 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 [1227]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.

Our Saviour here cautions them against the same thing in prayer, as he had done before in giving alms, viz. hypocrisy and ostentation, doing this duty upon that design, merely to be taken notice of and applauded by men; it was lawful to pray

standing in the synagogues, but not to do it merely to be taken notice of by men for devout persons, nor yet to confine themselves to praying in the synagogues. If they chose to pray standing, that they might be more conspicuous, and in the synagogues, because those places were more holy, (as they might dream), or, which seems rather to be here meant, because there most people would see them, for which purpose only they chose corners of streets, as was the old popish custom upon which account they set up crosses at three way leets?, &c., these things were sinful: but to pray standing was usual, Mark 11:25; and to pray in the synagogues and in the temple standing was usual, Luke 18:13. But those who do it merely for vain glory

have their reward, and must expect none from God.

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.''

Again (x),

"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).''

Again (c),


{2} And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

(2) He rebukes two revolting faults in prayer, ambition, and vain babbling.

Matthew 6:5. Οὐκ ἔσεσθε] See the critical remarks. The future, as in Matthew 5:48.

ὅτι] as in Matthew 5:45.

φιλοῦσιν] they have pleasure in it, they love to do it,—a usage frequently met with in classical writers (Ellendt, Lex. Soph. II. p. 910 f.), though in the New Testament occurring only here and in Matthew 23:6 f.

ἑστῶτες] The Jew stood, while praying, with the face turned toward the temple or the holy of holies, 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Kings 8:22; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11; Lightfoot, p. 292 f.; at other times, however, also in a kneeling posture, or prostrate on the ground. Therefore the notion of fixi, immobiles (Maldonatus), is not implied in the simple ἑστῶτ., which, however, forms a feature in the picture; they love to stand there and pray.

ἐν ταῖς γονίαις τ. πλ.] not merely when they happen to be surprised, or intentionally allow themselves to be surprised (de Wette), by the hour for prayer, but also at other times besides the regular hours of devotion, turning the most sacred duty of man into an occasion for hypocritical ostentation.

Matthew 6:5-6. Prayer. ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταί, as the actors. We shrink from the harshness of the term “hypocrite”. Jesus is in the act of creating the new meaning by the use of an old word in a new connection.—φιλοῦσι stands in place of an adverb. They love to, are wont, do it with pleasure. This construction is common in classics, even in reference to inanimate objects, but here only and in Matthew 23:6-7 in N. T.—ἑστῶτες, ordinary attitude in prayer. στῆναι and καθῆσθαι seem to be used sometimes without emphasis to denote simply presence in a place (so Pricaeus).—συναγωγαῖς, γωνίαις τ. πλατ.: usual places of prayer, especially for the “actors,” where men do congregate, in the synagogue for worship, at the corners of the broad streets for talk of business; plenty of observers in both cases. Prayer had been reduced to system among the Jews. Methodising, with stated hours and forms, began after Ezra, and grew in the Judaistic period; traces of it even in the later books of O. T., e.g., Daniel 6:10-11 (vide Schultz, Alt. Theol.). The hour of prayer might overtake a man anywhere. The “actors” might, as De Wette suggests, be glad to be overtaken, or even arrange for it, in some well-frequented place.—ὅπως φανῶσιν τ. α. in order that they may appear to men, and have it remarked: how devout!

(b) Prayer, Matthew 6:5-15.

5. pray standing] The posture of standing was as closely associated with prayer as that of sitting was with teaching.

Matthew 6:5. Φιλοῦσιν, κ.τ.λ., they love, etc.) and, therefore, make a practice of doing so.—ἐν ταῖς γωνίαις, in the corners) sc. where the streets meet.—ἑστῶτες, standing) in order that they may be the more conspicuous.

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). Matthew 6:5
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