For what reason does Jesus call the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and pronounce woe upon them in Mat 23:14a? By what means do we infer they were devouring widow’s houses? I.e., did they use strong-arm techniques to wrest away from them their property, or rather did they use piety as a cloak for their greed in order to take advantage of them? See Mat 23:14b. In what way is this a perfect illustration of Jesus’ words in Mat 7:15? Is there anything inherently wrong with “long prayers”? See Luk 2:37, 6:12, Eph 6:18, Col 4:2, 1Th 3:10, 5:17, 1Ti 5:5, 2Ti 1:3 and note; consider too that if continuing long in prayer was not a good thing it could not have been used as such a thick cloak to cover their love for the world. Some were said to have prayed formal prayers that took three hours, three times a day; is that what Paul means to pray without ceasing? See Ecc 5:1-2, Mat 6:5,7, Luk 18:10-14. What word in Mat 23:14 indicates what was wrong with their prayers? What was the result of such pretense? See note. What does this illustrate about the importance of the many warnings in Scripture about false prophets? Think: although ravenous wolves, are they easily recognized as such? Do false prophets necessarily know they are false prophets, or may they even be deceiving themselves that they are serving God even though their hearts love the world and the things in the world? See 2Th 2:11-12, 2Ti 3:13, Jam 4:4. What other examples do we have in Scripture of people using religious acts as a covering to hide their evil motives? See 2Sa 15:7, 1Ki 21:9-10, Mat 2:8. Although such pretense may fool men, does it ever fool God? See Mat 22:11-13. What do these things remind us is the only safeguard against deceiving ourselves, or being deceived by false religion? See Mat 10:16, 2Co 11:3.
Was Jesus the first to pronounce woe upon those who would oppress a widow? See Deut 27:19, Isa 10:1-2. What warnings had God given in the Law about oppressing widows, and who would be their defender? See Exo 22:22-24, Deut 10:18, Psa 68:5, 146:9, Mal 3:5. Would the learned scribes and Pharisees have been ignorant of this? In light of their legalistic concern for outwardly observing the Law, what may we infer about the great deception even to themselves of whatever reasonings they were using to justify their deeds? Again, although a false prophet is a wolf, does he look like a wolf, or suppose himself to be a wolf? In this light, should we understand that it was just widows that the scribes and Pharisees were exploiting, or does Jesus name widows to illustrate both the subtlety of their techniques and how low they would stoop to feed their lustful appetite for the things of the world? Consider that while there were exceptions like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, the scribes and Pharisees as a class presented themselves as the paragons of virtue in their society who could be trusted to look after the interests of others, but the slow creep and deceitfulness of sin eventually resulted in them abusing their position of trust to exploit even the most vulnerable. In what many ways has this same thing happened today? Is it just religious charlatans who present themselves as pillars of the community to be trusted to look after the interests of others, but who subtly exploit even the most vulnerable in order to feed their lustful appetites? Or might they also be doctors, lawyers, scientists, professors, politicians, executives, CEOs, drug companies, etc…? Considering that all of these are well educated, in this context is it just coincidence that a diploma is also referred to as a sheepskin?! What condemnation does Jesus pronounce upon the scribes and Pharisees in Mat 23:14 for their hypocrisy of pretending to help others while in fact exploiting them? Shall we suppose it will be any different for those who do similarly today? What does the example of these who are the recipients of Jesus’ harshest condemnation remind us about the importance of guarding our hearts in innocence, holiness and purity and shunning every inclination to use whatever position of trust we might have to further our own interests rather than those of others with which we are entrusted? Cf. Phil 2:3-4,20-21.
1. Where there are many sins to be confessed, and many wants to pray for the supply of, and many mercies to give thanks for, there is occasion for long prayers. Matthew Henry.↩
2. By [their prayers] they got the reputation of pious devout men, that loved prayer, and were the favorites of Heaven; and by this means people were made to believe it was not possible that such men as they should cheat them, and, therefore, happy the widow that could get a Pharisee for her trustee, and guardian to her children! Matthew Henry.↩