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Matthew 23:14

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Ye devour widows' houses - On this subject I am in possession of nothing better than the following note of Dr. Whitby.

"This sect," says Josephus, (Ant. l. xvii. chap. 3), "pretended to a more exact knowledge of the law, on which account the women were subject to them, as pretending to be dear to God. And when Alexandra obtained the government, (Jewish War, b. I. ch. 4), they insinuated themselves into her favor, as being the exactest sect of the Jews, and the most exact interpreters of the law, and, abusing her simplicity, did as they listed, remove and dispose, bind and loose, and even cut off men. They were in vogue for their long prayers, which they continued sometimes three hours; that perhaps they sold them, as do the Roman priests their masses, or pretended others should be more acceptable to God for them; and so might spoil devout widows by the gifts or salaries they expected from them.

Now this being only a hypocritical pretense of piety, must be hateful to God, and so deserve a greater condemnation."

Long prayer - For proofs of long prayers and vain repetitions among Jews, Mohammedans, and heathens, see the notes on Matthew 6:7.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Devour widows‘ houses - The word “houses” is used here to denote “property” or possessions of any kind. You take away or get possession of the property of widows by improper arts and pretences. This was done in two ways:

1. They claimed a very exact knowledge of the law and a perfect observance of it. They pretended to extraordinary justice toward the poor, friendship for the distressed, and willingness to aid those who were in embarrassed circumstances. They thus induced “widows” and poor people to commit the management of their property to them as guardians and executors, and then took advantage of them and defrauded them.

2. They put on the appearance of great sanctity, and induced many conscientious but credulous women to give them much, under pretence of devoting it to religious purposes.

Long prayer - Their prayers are said to have been often three hours in length. One rule among them, says Lightfoot, was to meditate an hour, then pray an hour, and then meditate another hour - all of which was included in their “long prayers or devotions.”

Damnation - Condemnation. The word here probably refers to future punishment. It does not always, however. It means, frequently, no more than “condemnation,” or the divine disapprobation of a certain course of conduct, as in 1 Corinthians 11:29; “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh “damnation” to himself;” that is, he that eateth and drinketh in an unworthy manner disorderly, not with reverence - is guilty, and his conduct will be disapproved or condemned by God referring solely to the impropriety of the manner of partaking of the Lord‘s supper, and not at all to the worthiness or unworthiness of the person. See the notes at that place. Compare Romans 14:23.

For a pretence - For appearance or show; in order that they might the better defraud poor people. They would not be condemned for “making” long prayers, but because they did it with an evil design. Public prayers should, however, be short, and always to the point. A man praying in a Sunday school should pray for the school, and, usually, not for everything else.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.
Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 614-20

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” said Jesus; “for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” By perverting the Scriptures, the priests and lawyers blinded the minds of those who would otherwise have received a knowledge of Christ's kingdom, and that inward, divine life which is essential to true holiness. DA 614.1

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” The Pharisees had great influence with the people, and of this they took advantage to serve their own interests. They gained the confidence of pious widows, and then represented it as a duty for them to devote their property to religious purposes. Having secured control of their money, the wily schemers used it for their own benefit. To cover their dishonesty, they offered long prayers in public, and made a great show of piety. This hypocrisy Christ declared would bring them the greater damnation. The same rebuke falls upon many in our day who make a high profession of piety. Their lives are stained by selfishness and avarice, yet they throw over it all a garment of seeming purity, and thus for a time deceive their fellow men. But they cannot deceive God. He reads every purpose of the heart, and will judge every man according to his deeds. DA 614.2

Christ unsparingly condemned abuses, but He was careful not to lessen obligation. He rebuked the selfishness that extorted and misapplied the widow's gifts. At the same time He commended the widow who brought her offering for God's treasury. Man's abuse of the gift could not turn God's blessing from the giver. DA 614.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 144

Men professing to have new light, claiming to be reformers, will have great influence over a certain class who are convinced of the heresies that exist in the present age and who are not satisfied with the spiritual condition of the churches. With true, honest hearts, these desire to see a change for the better, a coming up to a higher standard. If the faithful servants of Christ would present the truth, pure and unadulterated, to this class, they would accept it, and purify themselves by obeying it. But Satan, ever vigilant, sets upon the track of these inquiring souls. Someone making high profession as a reformer comes to them, as Satan came to Christ disguised as an angel of light, and draws them still further from the path of right. 5T 144.1

The unhappiness and degradation that follow in the train of licentiousness cannot be estimated. The world is defiled under its inhabitants. They have nearly filled up the measure of their iniquity; but that which will bring the heaviest retribution is the practice of iniquity under the cloak of godliness. The Redeemer of the world never spurned true repentance, however great the guilt; but He hurls burning denunciations against Pharisees and hypocrites. There is more hope for the open sinner than for this class. 5T 144.2

“And for this cause [not receiving the love of the truth] God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” This man and those deceived by him love not the truth but have pleasure in unrighteousness. And what stronger delusion could come upon them than that there is nothing displeasing to God in licentiousness and adultery? The Bible contains many warnings against these sins. Paul writes to Titus of those who “profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily [not openly] shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” The ones here referred to are not those who openly claim to have no faith in Christ, but those who profess to believe the truth and by their vileness of character bring a reproach upon it, causing it to be evil spoken of. 5T 144.3

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (EGW), 1098

All Ye Are Brethren—God has made men responsible beings, and placed them in circumstances favorable to obedience to His will. In the dignity of their God-given manhood, they are to be governed and controlled by God Himself, not by any human intelligence in our world. Man is ever to acknowledge that God lives and reigns; men are never to become lords over God's heritage. They are to consider that “all ye are brethren.” In the very fact that men are free moral agents, God teaches us not to be forced or compelled into any course of action, also that as responsible beings in copartnership with God we are to represent God in character. We are to have an interest in our brother, in our neighbor, in all around (Letter 65, 1895). 5BC 1098.1

8-10. None to Place Spiritual Interests Under Another—The oft repeated “Rabbi,” was very acceptable to the ear, but Jesus warned His disciples against this. He said to them, “But be not ye called rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” 5BC 1098.2

By these words Christ meant that no man is to place his spiritual interest under another as a child is guided and directed by his earthly father. This has encouraged a spirit to desire ecclesiastical superiority, which has always resulted in the injury of the men who have been trusted, and addressed as “Father.” It confuses the sense of the sacredness of the prerogatives of God (Manuscript 71, 1897). 5BC 1098.3

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Ellen G. White
Fundamentals of Christian Education, 310

Our minds have been much exercised day and night in regard to our schools. How shall they be conducted? And what shall be the education and training of the youth? Where shall our Australian Bible School be located? I was awakened this morning at one o'clock with a heavy burden upon my soul. The subject of education has been presented before me in different lines, in varied aspects, by many illustrations, and with direct specification, now upon one point, and again upon another. I feel, indeed, that we have much to learn. We are ignorant in regard to many things. FE 310.1

In writing and speaking upon the life of John the Baptist and the life of Christ, I have tried to present that which has been presented to me in regard to the education of our youth. We are under obligation to God to study this subject candidly; for it is worthy of close, critical examination upon every side. Of John the Baptist, Christ declared, “Of them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater.” That prophet was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness, away from the contaminating influences of the city, to obtain an education that would qualify him to receive instruction from God rather than from any of the learned scribes. He was not to connect himself with the rabbis; the less he became acquainted with their teachings, their maxims, and traditions, the more easily could the Lord impress his mind and heart, and give him the pure mold of truth that was to be given to the people to prepare the way of the Lord. The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were of a character to turn the people away from the unadulterated truth that was to be presented by the Great Teacher when He should enter upon His mission. The only hope of the people was to open their hearts and minds to the light sent from heaven by His prophet, the forerunner of Christ. FE 310.2

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