It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of thieves. Matthew 21:13
Den – Jesus quotes Jeremiah. No doubt about it. “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers?” (Jeremiah 7:11) The metaphor underlines the fact that the people come to God’s house with deceptive words on their lips. They speak eloquent praises while their lives are filled with lies, adultery, stealing and murder. Jesus recognizes that the people in His day fit the times of Jeremiah. They come saying, “the temple of the Lord,” but their disobedience disrobes them. They pray with protective coverings, hoping that God will not see their naked hypocrisy.
The word in Greek really doesn’t matter. The word from Jeremiah is me’arah. Do you see something familiar here? Remember the word for “naked”? ‘arah was connected to being naked, poured out, exposed. Here we have a possible derivation of the word. It means “cave” or “den.” Scholars debate if this word is derived from ‘arah or ‘ur (they both mean naked), but we shouldn’t miss the phonetic beauty. It helps us remember that God’s house is a place of exposure, even when it is turned into something profane. If prayer is ultimately about walking naked in the Garden in conversation with the Lord, then how disturbing must it be to God when we attempt to converse with Him while we are clothed in deceit and disobedience. It’s enough to make Him walk away.
Notice that Jesus considers this outer court a “house of prayer.” That was a particularly unusual sentiment. The outer court was specifically for Gentile believers. The “real” temple was for Jews. Did it really matter what happened in the courtyard of the outsiders? Obviously, Jesus thought that it did. What disgusts Jesus is the fact that merchants have turned the outer court of the temple into an emporium. It was the place for those who came to the Holy One of Israel by faith, not by lineage. To turn this court into a big display scandalized God’s plan of evangelism. A place of prayer was for pouring out my soul, for kneeling naked before my Lord. A place of prayer allowed me to speak with God in the cool of the evening. How could that happen when I was surrounded with the big show?
There is a reason why the prayer of Hannah is considered the epitome of prayer by the rabbis. Hannah’s prayer is so emotionally taxing, so completely a pouring out of her souls, that she can’t even vocalize it. How different this prayer is from the ones we are used to. How different are our surroundings, filled with performers, technology, orators and programmed sequences. Even when we embrace “moment of silence,” the musical interludes never stop. We might not be selling sheep and turtle doves, but our houses of prayer are just as much an emporium as that outer court. We Gentiles know what it takes to do business, even if it is the business of the church. We seem to have learned a lot from our Jewish merchant brothers.
It’s time to let Hannah be the model. It’s time for God’s house to truly be a house of pouring out, of nakedness, of emptying. Then it will become a house of glorifying.
Topical Index: Prayer