“And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” Matthew 21:12, 13 (Part one)
The statement by Jesus as recorded by saint Matthew is a quote from two separate Old Testament passages.
“Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Isa. 56:7 NAS); and Jer. 7:11: “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the LORD. Our Lord had a strong concern for the physical temple, the house of God, even as it served as a type of the true temple to come, the church communally and the Christian individually. The problem Jesus was addressing appeared to have been this, the Temple of God had become a place of business and convenience rather than a place where the people were to come with an honest heart before God in prayer, seeking to fulfill the great purpose for which the LORD had set apart the nation of Israel as His people from the very beginning. “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44a) Let’s first consider the context of Jeremiah chapter seven. In the preceding verses (to verse 11 which Jesus quoted) the prophet Jeremiah writes, “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!’” Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say,’ We are delivered!’– that you may do all these abominations?” (Jer. 7:2-10) The people had successfully put aside the Baals due to the lesson learned from the Babylonian captivity, however, they still had not learned the lesson of trusting in deceptive words. The self-righteous rulers of Jesus’ day had obviously let the merchants set up shop in the temple for a reason-a share in the profits-and weren’t concerned about the condition of the peoples’ hearts. A perfunctory offering here and there and hey, all’s well between you and Yahweh. And we’ll even make it easier for you. Don’t worry about bringing your own offering, we’ll sell you whatever you need right at the temple so you can go through the motions, look good outwardly, assuage your conscience and gain the approval of the religious leadership. Sound vaguely familiar? Jesus did say this type of leadership in Israel had produced a people who “honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me” (Mark 7:6b, 7a) Now if you’ll consider the context of Jeremiah 7 verses 2-11 together, you will note that Jeremiah was talking about all the people as a whole. The people’s hearts were still far away from the LORD. Externally they (both the religious leadership and the people) thought they looked good but from the LORD’s viewpoint they were robbers by going through the motion of outward conformity believing their sacrifices were acceptable. The heart is what was the matter. If the heart isn’t in it, the sacrifices don’t matter! The merchandising of God (and His word) has to stop and the heart needs to be reached, then His house will become what the LORD wants, a joyful house of prayer for all nations! More on that next week.