The Merchants and the Children
John Heading, Aberystwyth
In this paper, we consider verses 12 to 17 of this chapter, containing the third and fourth quotation from the Old Testament.
The Temple, v. 12. As we trace the Lord entering the temple, we must realise that there was no divine warrant for the existence of this temple; Herod had conceived it for outward show and beauty. When the Lord left this temple for the last time, He appropriately called it "your house", Matt. 23. 38, in just the same way as what had once been a feast of the Lord was now termed a feast of the "Jews", John 5. 1. Generally speaking, this temple was not the house of God. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle had been the house of God, built by divine command, but it ceased to be His sanctuary after He had forsaken it in Samuel's day, Psa. 78. 60. The presence of David, a man of faith, transformed it to the house again, Mark 2. 26, but this was an isolated occasion. Similarly, when the Lord departed from Solomon's temple for the last time, Ezek. 11. 23, it was no longer His house up to the time of its destruction, although it may still be called by its traditional name, 2 Chron. 36. 19. Thus the Lord's presence temporarily transformed Herod's temple into "the temple of God", as previously it had been called "my Father's house", John 2. 16. It was only the special presence of the Lord that had transformed the burning bush into a sanctified place, Exod. 3. 2. Today, a building or an organisation may be called a "church" by tradition, but the vital question is, does the Lord's presence reside there?
Essentially, the Lord entered the temple with the object of teaching the people, Matt. 21. 23; Luke 19. 47, but its cleansing was necessary first; compare Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34. The Lord's act was the same as He had accomplished in John 2, but the heart of man would not receive correction.
No doubt the sale of things in Jerusalem for temple usage had been instituted in the Old Testament, Deut. 14. 25, thereby saving transport between a distant home and the temple, but in Matthew 21 the method employed desecrated the house for the greed of gain. The sons of Eli had done this in 1 Samuel 2. 12-17, placing the taste of a carnal appetite above the holy requirements of God. Similarly in Corinth, many had reduced the Lord's supper to the act of taking their own supper; "one is hungry, and another is drunken", 1 Cor. 11. 21. Judgment fell in every case where holy institutions were turned into an occasion for the flesh.
The moneychangers were concerned with the annual payment of half a shekel to the temple funds.
Originally, there had been one payment only, Exod. 30. 12-14. In Matthew 17. 24-27 the Lord Himself paid, thereby to avoid offending the people. But God does not take payment from the Son, since the children are "free". In Matthew 21, payment could be made in Jewish coin only, so moneychangers were necessary to effect this from pilgrims from afar, but these changers were working for carnal profit.
The Third Old Testament Quotation, v. 13. In John 2. 16, the house had been made "an house of merchandise", the Old Testament is not quoted, save the disciples' own recollection from Psalm 69. 9, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up". But here in Matthew 21, on this the second such situation, the Lord probes deeper morally, likening it to "a den of thieves". See Jeremiah 7. 11, "den of robbers". Nevertheless, in John 2. 25 "he knew what was in man"; suitable conduct in the house was impossible apart from being born again. But these verses show that moral holiness is necessary today for those who seek to serve in God's spiritual house; there can be no defilement of the temple of God, "for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are", 1 Cor. 3- 17.
And now Isaiah 56. 7 is quoted, "for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people". The context refers to those who please God, v. 4; these would have a place in His house, having been given an everlasting name, v. 5, having joined themselves in true fellowship to the Lord by loving His name, v. 6. This would result in acceptable prayer, worship and fellowship, w. 7-8. This is God's ideal, obviously in contrast with the state of affairs in Jerusalem in the Lord's day.
The Temple Children, vv. 14-15. The blind and the lame, being healed, would be those of whom the true temple would be formed, after this brand of Judaism had passed away. The blind and the lame of Malachi 1. 8 could not be accepted, but the Lord looked for a "pure offering" from the Gentiles, v. n; their offering up would be acceptable, "being sanctified by the Holy Ghost", Rom. 15. 16.
In the temple courts, the activity of the children stands in sharp contrast to the displeasure of" the priests. The religious leaders had nothing, but the lowly and innocent had scriptural praise. It should be the same today. The cold formality of cathedral precincts should contrast with the spiritual warmth found amongst the Lord's people gathered in a less imposing building. Official Christendom may well be displeased when it sees the Lord's servants far more able spiritually in evangelistic work and in the exposition of Scripture, but this is because such believers recognise that the gift and calling of God derive from the Risen Christ, at the same time waiting upon their ministry.
The Fourth Old Testament Quotation, vv. 16-17. The Lord quotes the Messianic Psalm 8 to the ignorant priests. The "babes and sucklings" had not tasted the wisdom of the world, so could not be deflected from the true substance of praise. These were the "weak things of the world" chosen by God "to confound the things which are mighty", 1 Cor. 1. 27. Thus no flesh should glory in His presence; thereby would be brought to nought the "things that are",v. 28, namely "the enemy and the avenger" of Psalm 8. 2. The mouth of these children, referred to in this verse, is like the mouth of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue", 2 Sam. 23. 2. The Lord Himself had intimated that this would be so, observing that these things, hid from the wise and prudent, had been revealed "unto babes". Matt. 11. 25.
The Lord knew He was passing onwards to His decease, but this Psalm shows that He knew His ultimate vindication. Verse 6 indicates that He would have dominion over all, and that all would be placed under His feet. Hebrews 2. 6-8 shows that this will be accomplished openly in "the world (age) to come", but meanwhile the Lord is crowned with glory and honour. See Hebrews 1. 13; 1 Corinthians 15. 25-27.
Hence in verse 17, the Lord leaves a barren religious nation, although containing a remnant of praise, and departs to a place of love, namely Bethany. Moreover, this was a "place of dates or figs", a place of fruitfulness, contrasting sharply with the barren fig tree in the way in the next paragraph. We consider this in our following paper.