From the Category, “The Eastern Eye”
[The Bible is an “Eastern” book. It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.” As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.
In understanding the Scriptures it is important for us to understand the culture, but it doesn’t mean that we should necessarily follow that culture. Rather, it is in the understanding of the Eastern culture that we gain light and understanding about many things in the Bible.]
There are a number of places in the Gospels where Jesus criticizes the Scribes and Pharisees. They, as the religious leaders of their day and time, should have not only set the example of following God, but also should have taught people rightly concerning God. In Jesus’ day they did neither; thus his criticism was justified.
One of his many comments about them concerned widows. He said they “devoured widows’ houses, and for a pretense of long prayer.” Understanding the culture of that time opens our eyes to what he was saying.
In the lands and times of the Bible, women did not share the same rights as men. Business matters that both women and men in the United States take for granted today were inaccessible to women. The limitations became quite challenging for a married woman who became a widow, especially if she had property.
In order for her to conduct business affairs, she would need to decide on a trustee. A widow would often send a message to the Rabbi, asking for help.. The Rabbi in turn would send several men to her so she could choose who she wanted to handle her affairs, and many times those sent would be Scribes or Pharisees.
In our day and time that would be comparable to a group of priests, pastors or ministers going to the widow’s house. She could converse with them, and then select who she thought would be best at serving her interests and conducting her business properly.
They Were “Holy” Men?
In Bible times, people looked up to the Scribes and Pharisees as “holy men” for spiritual guidance. While Jesus spoke to and about them on a number of occasions, though never favorably. The many derogatory comments by Jesus showed just how far they were from being holy; he clearly pointed out that they did not represent God.
So when these so called “holy men” arrived at a widow’s house, they not only discussed how well they would handle her affairs, but they also prayed in front of her. And many times it was their long and “pious” prayers that influenced the widow to legally allow one of them to be her trustee and take over her business affairs.
The new trustee then takes over. The devouring of her house means that he cheats and swindles her. He makes deals to profit himself, sells property and basically she ends up with nothing; what she had is devoured.
Why Such Contempt?
I’ve always found it remarkable the contempt Jesus had for the religious leaders of his day and time; you certainly don’t read any of that from him toward the common people, or even sinners. His scathing reproof was because they were supposed to be leading people to God. His comments allowed those who heard to see what was really going on.
If the religious leaders of his day and time had truly been walking with and for God, they would have recognized His Son in their presence. They not only refused to acknowledge who Jesus was, but they had great hatred for him and eventually engineered his death. They had the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God, walking right there among them, and they rejected him!
It is a Choice
Today, as in all of history, one chooses what he wants to believe; there are many religions one can follow and many spiritual paths one can walk. But Jesus said that he was the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but by him. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
God’s Word promises that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Salvation is not earned; it is a gift from God. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore you shall receive the greater damnation.
Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
Ephesians 2:5, 8, 9
Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;)
For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.
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There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written. The best I know of were written by Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to many recorded teaching by him.
He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced. But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window
Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)