He said to them, The Scripture says, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers. (Matthew 21:13 AMP)
Just before Jesus made the statement quoted above, he had gotten a proper whip and chased out the merchandisers who had taken over the house of God. The answer that my curiosity seeks is “how can robbers entrench themselves in church without the active collusion of the leaders of the church?”
Another story in another place gives us some insight into how the house of God can be turned into a den of robbers. The amazing story of Nehemiah found in the book of the bible so named is about the possibilities for transformation that are open to our nation and the church when any individual shares the sort of concern that made Jesus chase out the thieves from the house of God.
Nehemiah was such a person: even though he had a cozy job in the corridors of power serving the king of the then world power, he still could relate with the distress of his people. He chose to risk his job and neck to embark on a restoration project. Naturally, as with anyone who chooses to do the right and godly thing, he faced strident opposition…
But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed us to scorn and despised us and said, What is this thing you are doing? Will you rebel against the king? (Nehemiah 2:19 AMP)
Despite the growing opposition, Nehemiah rallied the people to do the work by providing leadership anchored on the stellar example of his own personal conduct. For the entire period that he led the people, he forfeited his legitimate salaries and ensured that other leaders didn’t take more than they were entitled to. So strong was his leadership that the first set of people to join the work was the religious establishment led by the high priest Eliashib.
THEN ELIASHIB the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set up its doors; they consecrated it even to the Tower of Hammeah or the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. (Nehemiah 3:1 AMP)
The sad reality however was that as is the case in our country Nigeria, the leaders of the same religious establishment that was going through the public motions of leading the restoration effort were also in the thick of the shadowy conspiracy to subvert Nehemiah’s efforts. In reality, the high priest Eliashib was not merely a close associate of the plunderers, he had set them up handsomely in the very house of God.
And came to Jerusalem. Then I discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah in preparing him [an adversary] a chamber in the courts of the house of God! And it grieved me exceedingly, and I threw all the house furnishings of Tobiah out of the chamber. (Nehemiah 13:7, 8 AMP)
Jesus isn’t the only one, nor is he the first one to throw plunderers out of the house of God. We see how Nehemiah wasted no time in throwing out Tobiah who the high priest had set up right within the holy courts of God.
There is clearly a lesson in this story for the church today: we have for too long reserved places of honour in the house of God for men who are the scum of the earth. While shouting ourselves hoarse praying for the restoration of our land, we are still honoring in our midst the same people who are plundering the land and opposing the work of the restorers.