Jesus had just cleared out the Temple of merchants and money changers. Blind and lame came to him for healing and they were healed. As you might guess those who were healed gave praise to Jesus.
Interestingly, the text records that the Temple leaders were alarmed and with specific mention of what the children were saying.
In verse 15, it said, even the little children in the Temple shouted, "Praise God for the Son of David."
Verse 15 continuing into verse 16 said, the leaders were indignant and asked Jesus, "Do you hear what these children are saying?"
Jesus responded, "Yes. Haven't you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, you have taught children and infants to give you praise."
Why was this so troublesome to the religious leaders?
I suppose (1) Jesus healing people showed his power which would draw the people's loyalty away from the them (2) Jesus accepting the designation "Son of David" would be a claim to royalty and a Messianic title and those leaders probably wanted to be the ones to bestow that title to someone (i.e. they wanted to be the king makers) and (3) the quote by Jesus was perhaps a poke at them.
What part of the Hebrew Scriptures was Jesus referring to?
Well, in most Bibles, there are footnotes and mine says Jesus was referring to Psalm 8:2.
Psalm 8As you can see this Psalm is all about praise and glory to God. Created things and living things all point to the greatness of God. And even the youngest of humanity (verse 2) recognizes it.
1 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!
What does the last half over verse 2 say?
Hmm ... if I had to paraphrase it: Because there are those who oppose God, God shows his power by using the praise of children and infants to silence them.
Eugene Peterson of "the Message" paraphrase put it this way:
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;The Temple leaders would know their Psalms. They would have realized that Jesus was throw a jab at them. Those leaders were upset because of Jesus miracles and garnering the attention they wanted for themselves. Jesus was getting the praise of even the kids there. And now Jesus is putting them in the place of being the opponents being silenced by the worship coming from children.
toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
and silence atheist babble.
The tensions are rising: a triumphal entry, the clearing of the Temple, healing people, receiving praise and putting the religious leaders on the defensive.
A Jesus with a blank look making cryptic sayings would hardly inspire opposition and inspire followers who would ultimately span the globe through the centuries.
Ralph Winter, in a class I attended, put it this way: the Jesus of the Bible is hardly the mellow fellow of some Hollywood movie portrayals.
The Jesus of the Bible, now that is a Jesus worthy of praise and the fullest measure of our devotion.