[They love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corner of the streets.] 1. They prayed standing, Luk_18:11; Luk_18:13; Mar_11:25. “It is written, ‘And Abraham rose early in the morning at the place where he had stood before the Lord.’ But to stand was nothing else than to pray; as it is said, And Phineas stood and judged.”
“One entereth into the synagogue, and found them standing in prayer.” “Let scholar of the wise men look downwards, when he stands praying.” And to name no more, the same Maimonides asserts these things are required in prayer; that he that prayeth, stand; that he turn his face towards Jerusalem; that he cover his head; and that he fix his eyes downwards.
II. They loved to pray in the synagogues. “He goes to the synagogue to pray.”
“Why do they recite their phylacteries in the synagogue, when they are not bound to do it? R. Josi saith, They do not recite them in the synagogue for that end, that so the whole office of the phylacteries may be performed, but to persevere in prayer. For this recitation was to be said over again, when they came home.”
Rabbenu Asher hath these words: “When any returns home in the evening from the field, let him not say, ‘I will go into my house’; but first let him betake himself to the synagogue: and if he can read, let him read something; if he can recite the traditions, let him recite them. And then let him say over the phylacteries, and pray.”
But that we be not too tedious, even from this very opinion, they were wont to betake themselves to the synagogues, because they were persuaded that the prayers of the synagogue were certainly heard.
III. They prayed in the streets. So Maimonides; “They prayed in the streets on the feasts and public fasts.” “What are the rites of the fasts? They brought out the ark into the streets of the city, and sprinkled ashes upon the ark, and upon the head of the president of the Sanhedrim, and the vice-president; and every one put ashes upon his own head. One of the elders makes this exhortation; ‘It is not said, O brethren, of the Ninevites, that God saw their sackcloth, or their fastings; but, that he saw their works,’ etc. They stand praying, and they set some fit elder before the ark, and he prays four-and-twenty prayers before them.”
But doth our Saviour condemn all prayers in the synagogue? By no means. For he himself prayed in and with the synagogue. Nor did he barely reprove those public prayers in the streets, made by the whole multitude in those great solemnities, but prayers everywhere, both in the synagogues, and the streets, that were made privately, but yet publicly also, and in the sight of all, that thereby he that prayed might get some name and reputation from those that saw him.
I. While public prayers were uttered in the synagogue, it was customary also for those that hunted after vainglory, to mutter private prayers, and such as were different from those of the synagogue, whereby the eyes of all might be the more fixed upon him that prayed.
“Hath not a man prayed his morning prayers? When he goes into the synagogue, does he find them praying the additionary prayer? If he is sure he shall begin and end, so that he may answer ‘Amen’ after the angel of the church, let him say his prayers.”
II. They prayed also by themselves in the streets. “R. Jochanan said, I saw R. Jannai standing and praying in the streets of Tsippor, and going four cubits, and then praying the additionary prayer.”
Two things especially shew their hypocrisy here:
1. That so much provision is made concerning reciting the phylacteries, and the prayers added (that it might be done within the just time), that wheresoever a man had been, when the set time was come, he presently betakes himself to prayers: “A workman, or he that is upon the top of a tree, he that rides on an ass, must immediately come down, and say his prayers,” etc. These are the very instances that the canonists give, which, with more of them, you may find in the tract Beracoth. Hence, therefore, those vainglorious hypocrites got an occasion of boasting themselves. For the hour of the phylacterical prayers being come, their care and endeavour was, to be taken in the streets: whereby the canonical hour compelling them to their prayers in that place, they might be the more seen by all persons, and that the ordinary people might admire and applaud both their zeal and religion. To which hypocritical pride they often added this also, that they used very long pauses, both before they began their prayers, and after they had done them: so that very usually, for three hours together, they were seen in a praying habit and posture. See the Babylonian Talmud. So that the Canonists played the madmen with some reason, when they allowed the space, from the rising of the morning to the third hour of the day, for the phylacterical prayers; because those three-hour praying men scarcely despatched them within less space, pausing one hour before they began prayer, and as much after they were ended.
2. They addicted themselves to ejaculations, prayers, and blessings, upon the sight almost of any thing meeting them either in the streets or in the way. “When one saw a place, wherein some miracle was done for Israel; a place, from whence idolatry was rooted out; or a place, where an idol now was, a short prayer was to be used. When any saw a blackamoor, a dwarf, a crooked, a maimed person, etc. they were to bless. Let him that sees a fair tree, or a beautiful face, bless thus, Blessed be He, who created the beauty of the creature,” etc.
Mat_6:6. Into thy closet, εἰς τὸ ταμεῖόν σου.—The room specially used for prayer was called ὑπερῷον, the Alijah, on the house-top. Vitringa, Syn. 151. Although this apartment is not exclusively here referred to, there is evidently an allusion to it, as being pre-eminently “the closet” of a Jew when engaged in devotional exercises. The antithesis between “the closet,” and “the synagogue and corners of streets,” is manifest. Of course, the passage is not aimed against public prayer. As Theophylact has it: ὁ τόπος οὐ βλάπτει, ἀλλ’ ὁ τρόπος, καὶ ὁ σκόπος [it is not the place which hurts, but the manner and the aim]. All display should be avoided in devotion: He who addresses God must be wholly engrossed with thoughts of his own wants, and of Him whose grace he entreats. Such abstraction will convert the most public place into a ταμεῖον. The metaphorical expression, κλείσας τὴν θύραν, also refers to the latent desire of gaining the applause of men.
Use not vain repetitions (mē battalogēsēte). Used of stammerers who repeat the words, then mere babbling or chattering, empty repetition. The etymology is uncertain, but it is probably onomatopoetic like “babble.” The worshippers of Baal on Mount Carmel (1Ki_18:26) and of Diana in the amphitheatre at Ephesus who yelled for two hours (Act_19:34) are examples. The Mohammedans may also be cited who seem to think that they “will be heard for their much speaking” (en tēi polulogiāi). Vincent adds “and the Romanists with their paternosters and avast.” The Syriac Sinaitic has it: “Do not be saying idle things.” Certainly Jesus does not mean to condemn all repetition in prayer since he himself prayed three times in Gethsemane “saying the same words again” (Mat_26:44). “As the Gentiles do,” says Jesus. “The Pagans thought that by endless repetitions and many words they would inform their gods as to their needs and weary them (‘fatigare deos’) into granting their requests” (Bruce).
Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of – Prayer is not designed to inform God, but to give man a sight of his misery; to humble his heart, to excite his desire, to inflame his faith, to animate his hope, to raise his soul from earth to heaven, and to put him in mind that There is his Father, his country, and inheritance.
In the preceding verses we may see three faults, which our Lord commands us to avoid in prayer: –
1st. Hypocrisy. Be not as the hypocrites. Mat_6:5.
2ndly. Dissipation. Enter into thy closet. Mat_6:6.
3rdly. Much Speaking, or Unmeaning Repetition, Be not like the heathens. Mat_6:7.
After this manner therefore pray ye – Forms of prayer were frequent among the Jews; and every public teacher gave one to his disciples. Some forms were drawn out to a considerable length, and from these abridgments were made: to the latter sort the following prayer properly belongs, and consequently, besides its own very important use, it is a plan for a more extended devotion. What satisfaction must it be to learn from God himself, with what words, and in what manner, he would have us pray to him, so as not to pray in vain! A king, who draws up the petition which he allows to be presented to himself, has doubtless the fullest determination to grant the request. We do not sufficiently consider the value of this prayer; the respect and attention which it requires; the preference to be given to it; its fullness and perfection: the frequent use we should make of it; and the spirit which we should bring with it. “Lord, teach us how to pray!” is a prayer necessary to prayer; for unless we are divinely instructed in the manner, and influenced by the spirit of true devotion, even the prayer taught us by Jesus Christ may be repeated without profit to our souls.
Our Father – It was a maxim of the Jews, that a man should not pray alone, but join with the Church; by which they particularly meant that he should, whether alone or with the synagogue, use the plural number as comprehending all the followers of God. Hence, they say, Let none pray the short prayer, i.e. as the gloss expounds it, the prayer in the singular, but in the plural number. See Lightfoot on this place.
This prayer was evidently made in a peculiar manner for the children of God. And hence we are taught to say, not My Father, but Our Father.
The heart, says one, of a child of God, is a brotherly heart, in respect of all other Christians: it asks nothing but in the spirit of unity, fellowship, and Christian charity; desiring that for its brethren which it desires for itself.
The word Father, placed here at the beginning of this prayer, includes two grand ideas, which should serve as a foundation to all our petitions:
1st. That tender and respectful love which we should feel for God, such as that which children feel for their fathers.
2dly. That strong confidence in God’s love to us, such as fathers have for their children.
Thus all the petitions in this prayer stand in strictest reference to the word Father; the first three referring to the love we have for God; and the three last, to that confidence which we have in the love he bears to us.
The relation we stand in to this first and best of beings dictates to us reverence for his person, zeal for his honor, obedience to his will, submission to his dispensations and chastisements, and resemblance to his nature.
Which art in heaven – The phrase אבינו שבשמים, abinu sheboshemayim, our Father who art in heaven, was very common among the ancient Jews; and was used by them precisely in the same sense as it is used here by our Lord.
This phrase in the Scriptures seems used to express:
1st. His Omnipresence. The heaven of heavens cannot contain thee. 1Ki_8:27 : that is, Thou fillest immensity.
2dly. His Majesty and Dominion over his creatures. Art thou not God in heaven, and rulest thou not over all the kingdoms of the heathen? 2Ch_20:6.
3dly. His Power and Might. Art thou not God in heaven, and in thy hand is there not power and might, so that no creature is able to withstand thee! 2Ch_20:6. Our God is in heaven, and hath done whatsoever he pleased. Psa_115:3.
4thly. His Omniscience. The Lord’s throne is in heaven, his eyes behold, his eye-lids try the children of men. Psa_11:4. The Lord looketh down from heaven, he beholdeth all the sons of men. Psa_33:13-15.
5thly. His infinite Purity and Holiness. Look down from thy holy habitation, etc. Deu_26:15. Thou art the high and lofty One, who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy. Isa_57:15.
Hallowed – Αγιασθητω. Αγιαζω· from α negative, and γη, the earth, a thing separated from the earth, or from earthly purposes and employments. As the word sanctified, or hallowed, in Scripture, is frequently used for the consecration of a thing or person to a holy use or office, as the Levites, first-born, tabernacle, temple, and their utensils, which were all set apart from every earthly, common, or profane use, and employed wholly in the service of God, so the Divine Majesty may be said to be sanctified by us, in analogy to those things, viz. when, we separate him from, and in our conceptions and desires exalt him above, earth and all things.
Thy name – That is, God himself, with all the attributes of his Divine nature – his power, wisdom, justice, mercy, etc.
We hallow God’s name,
1st. With our lips, when all our conversation is holy, and we speak of those things which are meet to minister grace to the hearers.
2dly. In our thoughts, when we suppress every rising evil, and have our tempers regulated by his grace and Spirit.
3dly. In our lives, when we begin, continue, and end our works to his glory. If we have an eye to God in all we perform, then every act of our common employment will be an act of religious worship.
4thly. In our families, when we endeavor to bring up our children in the discipline and admonition or the Lord; instructing also our servants in the way of righteousness.
5thly. In a particular calling or business, when we separate the falsity, deception, and lying, commonly practised, from it; buying and selling as in the sight of the holy and just God.
Thy kingdom come – The ancient Jews scrupled not to say: He prays not at all, in whose prayers there is no mention of the kingdom of God. Hence, they were accustomed to say, “Let him cause his kingdom to reign, and his redemption to flourish: and let the Messiah speedily come and deliver his people.”
The universal sway of the scepter of Christ: – God has promised that the kingdom of Christ shall be exalted above all kingdoms. Dan_7:14-27. That it shall overcome all others, and be at last the universal empire. Isa_9:7. Connect this with the explanation given of this phrase, Mat_3:2.
Thy will be done – This petition is properly added to the preceding; for when the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy, in the Holy Spirit, is established in the heart, there is then an ample provision made for the fulfillment of the Divine will.
The will of God is infinitely good, wise, and holy; to have it fulfilled in and among men, is to have infinite goodness, wisdom, and holiness diffused throughout the universe; and earth made the counterpart of heaven.
As it is in heaven – The Jews maintained, that they were the angels of God upon earth, as these pure spirits were angels of God in heaven; hence they said, “As the angels sanctify the Divine name in heaven, so the Israelites sanctify the Divine name, upon earth.” See Schoettgen.
1st. The salvation of the soul is the result of two wills conjoined: the will of God, and the will of man. If God will not the salvation of man, he cannot be saved: If, man will not the salvation God has prepared for him, he cannot be delivered from his sins.
2dly. This petition certainly points out a deliverance from all sin; for nothing that is unholy can consist with the Divine will, and if this be fulfilled in man, surely sin shall be banished from his soul.
3dly. This is farther evident from these words, as it is in heaven; i.e. as the angels do it: viz. with all zeal, diligence, love, delight, and perseverance.
4thly. Does not the petition plainly imply, we may live without sinning against God? Surely the holy angels never mingle iniquity with their loving obedience; and as our Lord teaches us to pray, that we do his will here as they do it in heaven, can it be thought he would put a petition in our mouths, the fulfillment of which was impossible?
5thly. This certainly destroys the assertion: “There is no such state of purification, to be attained here, in which it may be said, the soul is redeemed from sinful passions and desires;” for it is on Earth that we are commanded to pray that this will, which is our sanctification, may be done.
6thly. Our souls can never be truly happy, till our Wills be entirely subjected to, and become one with, the will of God.
7thly. How can any person offer this petition to his Maker, who thinks of nothing less than the performance of the will of God, and of nothing more than doing his own?
Some see the mystery of the Trinity in the three preceding petitions. The first being, addressed to the Father, as the source of all holiness. The second, to the Son, who establishes the kingdom of God upon earth. The third, to the Holy Spirit, who by his energy works in men to will and to perform.
To offer these three petitions with success at the throne of God, three graces, essential to our salvation, must be brought into exercise; and, indeed, the petitions themselves necessarily suppose them.
Faith, Our Father – for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is.
Hope, Thy kingdom come – For this grace has for its object good things to come.
Love, Thy will be done – For love is the incentive to and principle of all obedience to God, and beneficence to man.
this day] In Luke, “day by day.”
our daily bread] The Greek word translated “daily” occurs only in the Lord’s Prayer here and Luk_11:3, it is not found in any classical author. The rendering of the E. V. “daily” as nearly as possible represents the probable force of the word, which is strictly (bread) “for the coming day,” i. e. for the day now beginning. Others render “bread for the future,” taking bread in a spiritual sense; others, following a different etymology, translate “bread of subsistence.” Bread, primarily the bread on which we subsist (see Prof. Lightfoot in appendix to his work On a Fresh Revision of the N. T.); subsistence as distinct from luxury; but the spiritual meaning cannot be excluded, Christ the Bread of Life is the Christian’s daily food.
Our debts (ta opheilēmata hēmōn). Luke (Luk_11:4) has “sins” (hamartias). In the ancient Greek opheilēma is common for actual legal debts as in Rom_4:4, but here it is used of moral and spiritual debts to God. “Trespasses” is a mistranslation made common by the Church of England Prayer Book. It is correct in Rom_4:14 in Christ’s argument about prayer, but it is not in the Model Prayer itself. See Mat_18:28, Mat_18:30 for sin pictured again by Christ “as debt and the sinner as a debtor” (Vincent). We are thus described as having wronged God. The word opheilē for moral obligation was once supposed to be peculiar to the New Testament. But it is common in that sense in the papyri (Deismann, Bible Studies, p. 221; Light from the Ancient East, New ed., p. 331). We ask forgiveness “in proportion as” (hōs) we also have forgiven those in debt to us, a most solemn reflection. Aphēkamen is one of the three k aorists (ethēka, edōka, hēka). It means to send away, to dismiss, to wipe off.
And bring us not into temptation (kai mē eisenegkēis eis peirasmon). “Bring” or “lead” bothers many people. It seems to present God as an active agent in subjecting us to temptation, a thing specifically denied in Jam_1:13. The word here translated “temptation” (peirasmon) means originally “trial” or “test” as in Jam_1:2 and Vincent so takes it here. Braid Scots has it: “And lat us no be siftit.” But God does test or sift us, though he does not tempt us to evil. No one understood temptation so well as Jesus for the devil tempted him by every avenue of approach to all kinds of sin, but without success. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus will say to Peter, James, and John: “Pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Luk_22:40). That is the idea here. Here we have a “Permissive imperative” as grammarians term it. The idea is then: “Do not allow us to be led into temptation.” There is a way out (1Co_10:13), but it is a terrible risk.
From the evil one (apo tou ponērou). The ablative case in the Greek obscures the gender. We have no way of knowing whether it is ho ponēros (the evil one) or to ponēron (the evil thing). And if it is masculine and so ho ponēros, it can either refer to the devil as the Evil One par excellence or the evil man whoever he may be who seeks to do us ill. The word ponēros has a curious history coming from ponos (toil) and poneō (to work). It reflects the idea either that work is bad or that this particular work is bad and so the bad idea drives out the good in work or toil, an example of human depravity surely.
The Doxology is placed in the margin of the Revised Version. It is wanting in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts. The earliest forms vary very much, some shorter, some longer than the one in the Authorized Version. The use of a doxology arose when this prayer began to be used as a liturgy to be recited or to be chanted in public worship. It was not an original part of the Model Prayer as given by Jesus.
The Lord here uses another word for sins, and still another (ἁμαρτιας) appears in Luke’s version of the prayer, though he also says, “every one that is indebted to us.” There is no difficulty in supposing that Christ, contemplating sins in general, should represent them by different terms expressive of different aspects of wrong-doing (see on Mat_1:21). This word is derived from παραπίπτω, to fall or throw one’s self beside. Thus it has a sense somewhat akin to ἁμαρτία, of going beside a mark, missing. In classical Greek the verb is often used of intentional falling, as of throwing one’s self upon an enemy; and this is the prevailing sense in biblical Greek, indicating reckless and wilful sin (see 1Ch_5:25; 1Ch_10:13; 2Ch_26:18; 2Ch_29:6, 2Ch_29:19; Eze_14:13; Eze_18:26). It does not, therefore, imply palliation or excuse. It is a conscious violation of right, involving guilt, and occurs therefore, in connection with the mention of forgiveness (Rom_4:25; Rom_5:16; Col_2:13; Eph_2:1, Eph_2:5). Unlike παράβασις (transgression), which contemplates merely the objective violation of law, it carries the thought of sin as affecting the sinner, and hence is found associated with expressions which indicate the consequences and the remedy of sin (Rom_4:25; Rom_5:15, Rom_5:17; Eph_2:1).
But if ye forgive not – He who does not awake at the sound of so loud a voice, is not asleep but dead. A vindictive man excludes himself from all hope of eternal life, and himself seals his own damnation.
Trespasses – Παραπτωματα, from παρα and πιπτω, to fall off. What a remarkable difference there is between this word and οφειληματα, debts, in Mat_6:12! Men’s sins against us are only their stumblings, or fallings off from the duties they owe us; but our’s are debts to God’s justice, which we can never discharge. It can be no great difficulty to forgive those, especially when we consider that in many respects we have failed as much, in certain duties which we owed to others, as they have done in those which they owed us. “But I have given him no provocation.” Perhaps thou art angry, and art not a proper judge in the matter; but, however it may be, it is thy interest to forgive, if thou expectest forgiveness from God. On this important subject I will subjoin an extract from Mason’s Self-knowledge, page 248, 1755.
“Athenodorus, the philosopher by reason of his old age, begged leave to retire from the court of Augustus, which the emperor granted. In his compliments of leave, he said, ‘Remember, Caesar, whenever thou art angry, that thou say or do nothing before thou hast distinctly repeated to thyself the twenty-four letters of the alphabet.’ On which Caesar caught him by the hand, and said, ‘I have need of thy presence still:’ and kept him a year longer. This was excellent advice from a heathen; but a Christian may prescribe to himself a wiser rule. When thou art angry, answer not till thou hast repeated the fifth petition of our Lord’s prayer – Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors: and our Lord’s comment upon it – For if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly father forgive your trespasses.”
Of a sad countenance (skuthrōpoi). Only here and Luk_24:17 in the N.T. It is a compound of skuthros (sullen) and ops (countenance). These actors or hypocrites “put on a gloomy look” (Goodspeed) and, if necessary, even “disfigure their faces” (aphanizousin ta prosōpa autōn), that they may look like they are fasting. It is this pretence of piety that Jesus so sharply ridicules. There is a play on the Greek words aphanizousi (disfigure) and phanōsin (figure). They conceal their real looks that they may seem to be fasting, conscious and pretentious hypocrisy.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face. If both these were, among the Jews, done daily, Christ’s command would mean—make no external sign of fasting; dress and appear as usual. But as anointing, at least, cannot be proved to have been a daily habit (though expressly forbidden during the stricter kinds of fasts, see Schurer, II. 2.212), especially with the mixed classes whom our Lord was addressing, and as it was with the ancients rather a symbol of special joy, it is safer to take it in this sense here. Thus our Lord will mean—so far from appearing sad, let your appearance be that of special joy and gladness. “By the symbols of joy and gladness he bade us be joyful and glad when we fast” (Photius, in Suicer, 1:186).