Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Den of Robbers

Travis Burkhalter had a great post the other day about the familiar Passion Week story of Jesus clearing the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple. He asks: Who is Robbing Who?

Here's the story as found in the Gospel of Mark:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written:
" 'My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations'?
But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching (Mark 11:15-18).

What is Jesus really upset about here? Is it that the merchants are cheating the Israelites--"robbing" them as they buy animals to sacrifice? To understand this better, Travis studied some OT passages about the Temple. He writes:

While looking at the inauguration prayer and speech of Solomon in I Kings, I noticed a curious reoccurrence. The Temple was undoubtedly to be a place of prayer...go back and look at this if you have time...the word prayer is found over at least 9 times. And interestingly and most relevant, the Temple was to be a house of prayer for not only the Israelites, but also the Gentiles (check out I Kings 8:41-43). If you can see the picture above, you will notice that the Temple had a place of prayer for the was called the court of the Gentiles and is on the outer edge. Even more relevant is the fact that this is where Jesus walked in and saw the "money changers"...that is, in the court of the Gentiles...

At the core of this story are Jesus' words "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations"--quoting Isaiah 56:7. In Isaiah 56, God speaks of bringing people from all nations to Himself. He will not exclude those outside the nation of Israel from His Kingdom; He will welcome all foreigners who seek to worship Him.

As the study note in my Bible puts it, "Isaiah 56:7 assured godly non-Jews that they would be allowed to worship God in the temple. By allowing the court of the Gentiles to become a noisy, smelly marketplace, the Jewish religious leaders were interfering with God's provision."

Travis summarizes:

1) The court of the Gentiles was to be a place of prayer for the Gentiles
2) The court of Gentiles was now a place of business
3) The One being robbed in this passage is God
4) The ones robbing God of His due worship were those allowing this "business" to occur and the ones performing business.

In other words, Jesus wasn't just upset because there were "shady business deals" going on in the Temple (though there could have been). He was angry because the businessmen and the religious leaders who allowed it were robbing God of the worship and prayer due Him--and they were robbing the Gentiles of the opportunity to reverently worship the one true God.

I'll leave you with Travis's closing questions:

"So, how do you 'rob' God of worship? What 'tables' would Jesus overturn in your life?"

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