“When Thou Prayest Enter into Thy Closet”

Brant Gardner

The imagery of the closet is the small interior space where food was typically kept. It was a typically a pantry with a door, but no windows. Thus the “closet” becomes the symbolic antithesis of public. In contrast to open public gatherings, the “closet” was a space in the interior of a house (itself a private space) and one where there were no windows. It was far away from the crowds. The import of the imagery is not to suggest that dark and lonely rooms are the best place for prayer, but rather to heighten the contrasts that are being used to make the example. It is also possibly a reference to this room as a place of refuge as in the Septuagint version of Isaiah 26:20. (Robert Guelich. A Foundation for Understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Word Publishing, Dallas. 1982


We have many antitheses active in this section. We have “in the streets and synagogues”/ “in very private interior rooms for only one person.” We have the public/private antithetical set. We also have the interesting set of God “seeing secret”/ “rewarding openly.” This continues the inside/outside, reward of men/reward of God themes that was begun in the first section on alms. Prayer is another expected devotion, but true prayer is done before God, not before men.

Book of Mormon Context: We actually know a fair amount about the living places of different Mesoamerican peoples. The wealthy lived in compounds of buildings that were built of permanent materials, such as stone or cement. The farmers lived in homes that were built of wood with thatched roofs, not at all unlike those that may been seen in the modern homes of the descendants of these the Book of Mormon period people. None of these homes were laid out in the same way as an Israelite home, and none of them have consistent interior rooms without windows. Indeed, none of the homes had windows, and certainly the homes of the common people had none, nor any interior room at all.

Rather than closets, the roof beams were used to hang things that would have been placed in the Israelite “closet.” Thus this particular verse is again couched in terms that are culture-bound to the Old World context. In the New World there is still the importance of public and private devotion, and Zoramites continue to serve as a reminder that the Savior had ample reason to remind the Nephites of the importance of the proper intent in their prayers.

Textual: There are no changes from the Matthean text.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon