And the publican standing afar off
Not at the outermost porch, or at the door: for
``a man might not fix his place at the door of the synagogue, but, (qyxry) , "he must go afar off", the space of two doors, and then pray F18;''it may be in the court of the Gentiles, when the Pharisee was in the court of the Israelites; at least he was afar off from him: and indeed, those who came to humble themselves before the Lord, and confess their sins, were obliged to stand at the distance of four cubits one from another, that one might not hear the prayers and confessions of the other F19: and it might be, that this poor man might stand at a greater distance than was required, that he might not displease the Pharisee, who, he knew, would resent it, should he stand near him; or rather this was done, to testify the sense he had of his state and condition, and of his unworthiness; as that he was afar off from God, and unworthy to draw nigh unto him, and deserved to be kept at a distance from him for ever. So it is said F20 of the Israelites, that they trembled at Mount Sinai, and "stood afar off", (Mtwntwne twrwhl) , "to show their humility": and under a work of the law, and under such a like dispensation was this publican; and therefore
would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven:
and which, as it was an humble posture he stood in, agrees with the rules the Jews give F21;
``the order (or posture) of the body, how is it? when a man stands in prayer he ought to set his feet one by the side of the other, and fix his eyes, (hjml) , "below", as if he looked to the earth; and his heart must be open above, as if he stood in the heavens; and lay his hands upon his heart, putting the right hand over the left; and must stand as a servant before his master, with trembling, and fear, and dread, and may not put his hands upon his loins.''And agreeably to this, it is elsewhere F23 said,
``he that prays, ought to fix his eyes below, and his heart above.''And the Jews used to look downward, or shut their eyes, for the sake of attention in prayer; and it was even forbidden them to open their eyes to look upon the wall F24. This showed in the publican, that the guilt of his sins lay heavy on him; that he could not look up; that shame filled him with blushing; that sorrow caused his countenance to fall; and that fear of divine wrath, and displeasure, possessed him; and that he looked upon himself as unworthy of the smiles of heaven,
but smote upon his breast:
pointing at the fountain of his sin; expressing by this action, his sorrow, and repentance for it; and an aversion and abhorrence of himself on account of it, joined with indignation and revenge; and he did this to arouse and stir up all the powers and faculties of his soul, to call upon God. The Persic version renders it, "he fell on his knees, and beat the earth with his head"; taking a sort of revenge on himself for sin:
saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
This is his prayer; a short, but a very full one, and greatly different from that of the Pharisee: in which is a confession that he was a sinner; a sinner in Adam, who had derived a sinful nature from him, being conceived and born in sin; and a sinner by practice, having committed many actual transgressions, attended with aggravating circumstances; a guilty and filthy sinner, a notorious one, deserving of the wrath of God, and the lowest hell: he speaks of himself, as if he was the only sinner in the world; at least, as if there was none like him: and there is in this prayer also a petition; and the object it is put up to, is "God", against whom he had sinned; with whom there is mercy and forgiveness; and who only can forgive sin; and who has promised that he will: and has proclaimed his name, a God, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin; and has given instances of his forgiving grace and mercy; and therefore the publican was right in addressing him by confession: the petition he makes to him is, to be "merciful", or "propitious" to him; that is, to show mercy to him, through the propitiary sacrifice of the Messiah, which was typified by the sacrifices under the law: the first thing a sensible sinner wants, is an application of pardoning grace and mercy; and forgiveness springs from mercy; and because the mercy of God is free and abundant, therefore pardon is so: but this is not to be expected from an absolute God, or God out of Christ. God is only propitious in Christ: hence it may be observed, that God pardons none but those to whom he is propitious in his Son; and that he forgives sin upon the foot of a reconciliation, and satisfaction made to his law, and justice, and so pardon is an act of justice, as well as of mercy; and that there is no pardoning mercy but through Christ. The Arabic version renders it, "spare me, because I am a sinner"; see ( Psalms 25:11 ) .
F18 Piske Harosh Beracot, c. 1. art. 7. Vid. T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 9. 1.
F19 Jarchi & Bartenora in Pirke Abot. c. 5. sect. 5.
F20 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 80. 1.
F21 Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 5. sect. 4. & Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora, pr. affirm. 19.
F23 T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 105. 2.
F24 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 25. 3.