It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of thieves. Matthew 21:13
Prayer – David danced naked before the ark. Although Scripture doesn’t comment on it, I am quite sure that David also prayed naked. I don’t mean that he fell to his face without clothes. I mean that David understood the connection between “house of prayer” and “nakedness.” I’ll bet that Jesus did too. In order to see why prayer is barrenness, we have to dig into Hebrew.
Jesus actually quotes two prophets in this verse. The first is obvious. “House of prayer” comes from Isaiah 56:7. The second comes from Jeremiah (more about that later). Isaiah uses the Hebrew word tefillah (prayer). It’s a fairly standard Hebrew word describing a cry or plea to God. That much is easily discerned. But when we examine the idea of a cry to God, we run across Psalm 141:8 – “But my eyes are on You, O Lord, my Lord, in You I take refuge; do not make my soul naked”. David cries out in prayer. He is exposed to the searching eyes of the Lord. More than anything else, he feels naked. Nothing is hidden because his prayer invites the Lord’s inspection. In the house of prayer, we stand without covering. That is one of the aspects of prayer woven into tefillah, our pleading cry. David’s word for “naked” is ‘arah. In the vocabulary of prayer tefillah and ‘arah are connected. In the fallen world, naked prayer frightens us. But, of course, in the Garden of Eden, naked conversation with God was gloriously unashamed. Perhaps prayer should be the place where we return to Garden dialogue.
tefillah and ‘arah are connected in other ways.
‘arah is also found in Isaiah 32:15. “Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field is considered a forest.” When Isaiah describes the day of justice, he uses ‘arah (“poured out”). My nakedness, my uncovering is connected with the idea of being poured out. Prayer should empty me. Just as the Spirit is poured out when justice arrives, so my very soul is poured out when I come to the house of prayer for in the house of prayer I meet the holy God. Isaiah had it right. “Woe is me.”
There is one more connection. “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). ‘arah is associated with dying. In the house of prayer, you and I must be sacrificed. The house of prayer is no place for posturing. Eloquence means nothing. Drama is deceptive. In the house of prayer, we are naked, poured out and dying until the Spirit speaks justice into our lives. It’s hard to imagine that Jesus, Old Testament scholar that He was, would have been unfamiliar with these connections. He is the poured out One. He is the epitome of ‘arah, and in Gethsemane we see just how naked one can be before the Father.
Why is Jesus so angry when He discovers what has happened in His Father’s house? Perhaps it has something to do with the hypocrisy of praying covered. Until you are spiritually undressed, you really have nothing to say to God. Pray like you are walking naked in the cool of the evening.
Topical Index: Prayer