Ritual Prayers 6:5-8
This continues thoughts from the previous lesson. Worship is not for putting on a show. If making an offering to garner public approval was wrong, so was extravagant ritual prayer.
According to Edersheim (a converted Jewish rabbi) there is nothing in the Law of Moses that requires public prayer. Aside from certain highly unique situations in the Old Testament, we have no precedent for regular public prayer rituals. Yet, by this time the Talmudic traditions had prescribed public prayer at the morning and afternoon offerings, and again around sunset. In Jesus’ day, this had become an elaborate and scripted undertaking. Outside of Jerusalem where the Temple stood, ambitious Jewish men would arrange to be caught out in public during those three ritual moments of the day and engage in their pious display.
In essence, prayer fulfills the ancient courtly protocol of declaring dependence on one’s lord. In an Eastern feudal society, vassals and subjects were required on a regular basis to seek their master’s face and request things that only he had the authority to grant. The burden was on the lesser to appear before the greater. It wasn’t a bother; it was a public demonstration of his greatness. It enhanced his glory. It was typically a part of the daily reports that many vassals made to their lord.
It’s not that Jesus forbids leading a group in shared petition and praise, but that the original intent had been completely lost. If public prayer was always associated in the minds of His audience with what they had been taught by rabbis, then it’s time to wipe all that away and start from scratch. This silly nonsense of memorizing an officially approved checklist of things to cover with flowery language was hardly reporting to God as feudal Lord.
Such an ostentatious display was little more than reputation building. Public approval is not the God of Israel, but hypocrites treated it so. If there is to be any reward in public, let it come from the hand of God. Let Him decide when, how and why you might be presented with an award that marks you as favored by God. Even if we pretend that the rabbis were seeking the glory of Israel, it still misses the point. It’s a matter of His glory, not ours individually or together. All greatness is found only as a reflection of His glory.
So lets get this right: When you pray, seek a private place so you aren’t tempted to play head games with God. In the inner room where you can privately disrobe, so expose your true self to God’s searching gaze as you call on His name. If you then find His favor, people are going to know sooner or later.
Furthermore, remind yourself that God is a real Person, not some mere idea conjured in your head by reason and rabbinical teaching. Don’t insult Him by chanting like the heathen who have no personal communion with their deities. They can never be sure they are heard, so they have to engage in repetition and extravagant rituals to make sure they get the attention of someone or something that may be reluctant to respond. No one can compel Jehovah; He doesn’t respond to annoying pressure. Either you are already serving His interests or you need to find repentance.
Our Creator made us and needs no helpful clues as to what we need. He is fully aware of our predicament after the Fall. Return to Him often so you don’t lose track of who He is and what He is like. Prayer is for your own benefit; it’s a chance for you to renew the Covenant and seek His redemptive glory in this world.