Matthew 6:17
But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face;
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(17) Anoint thine head, and wash thy face.—Both these acts were rigidly prohibited by the traditions of the Elders on the Day of Atonement, and by implication on other fast days also. They were the outward signs of joy (Ecclesiastes 9:8), and were therefore looked on as unsuitable for a time of mourning. The disciples of Christ were to hide their contrition and self-discipline, and even when the heart knew its own bitterness were to be blithe and cheerful, opening their griefs only to their Father in heaven.

Openly.—Here again the artificial antithesis is to be rejected as an interpolation.

6:16-18 Religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, but it is not so much a duty itself, as a means to dispose us for other duties. Fasting is the humbling of the soul, Ps 35:13; that is the inside of the duty; let that, therefore, be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. God sees in secret, and will reward openly.But thou when thou fastest, anoint ... - That is, appear as you do daily. Do not assume any new appearance, or change your visage or dress. The Jews and all neighboring nations were much in the habit of washing and anointing their bodies. This washing was performed at every meal; and where it could be effected, the head, or other parts of the body, was daily anointed with sweet or olive oil. In a warm climate, exposed to the great heat of the sun, this practice conduced much to health, preserved the skin smooth and tender, and afforded a most grateful sensation and odor. See Mark 7:2-3; James 5:14; Mark 11:13; John 12:3.

The meaning of this whole commandment is, when you regard it to be your duty to fast, do it as a thing expressing deep feeling or sorrow for sin, not by assuming unfelt gravity and moroseness, but in your ordinary dress and appearance; not to attract attention, but as an expression of feeling toward God, and he will approve and reward it.

17. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face—as the Jews did, except when mourning (Da 10:3); so that the meaning is, "Appear as usual"—appear so as to attract no notice. See Poole on "Matthew 6:18". But thou, when thou fastest,.... Christ allows of fasting, but what is of a quite different kind from that of the Jews; which lay not in an outward abstinence from food, and other conveniences of life, and refreshments of nature; but in an abstinence from sin, in acknowledgment and confession of it; and in the exercise of faith and hope in God, as a God pardoning iniquity, transgression and sin; wherefore cheerfulness, and a free use of the creatures, without an abuse of them, best became such persons.

Anoint thine head, and wash thy face; directly contrary to the Jewish canons, which forbid these things, with others, on fast days:

"On the day of atonement, (say (i) they,) a man is forbidden eating and drinking, "and washing and anointing", and putting on of shoes, and the use of the bed.''

And the same were forbidden on other fasts: in anointings, the head was anointed first, and this rule and reason are given for it:

"he that would anoint his whole body, , "let him anoint his head first", because it is king over all its members (k).''

Anointing and washing were signs of cheerfulness and joy; see Ruth 3:3.

(i) Misn. Yoma, c. 8. sect. 1. & Taanith, c. 1. sect. 4, 5, 6. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 77. 2. Taanith, fol. 12. 2. Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora, pr. affirm. 32. (k) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 61. 1.

But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
Matthew 6:17. Dress thyself as if to go to a festive entertainment. Psalm 23:5; Luke 7:46; Suicer, Thes. I. p. 185; Wetstein. Of course Jesus does not intend the anointing, and so on, to be taken literally; but under this form of requirement He expresses the sincerity which He desires in connection with the—of itself voluntary—practice of fasting. Comp. Chrysostom. The form is one that is suited to an attitude of radical opposition to Jewish formalism. Luther: “If thou so fastest between thyself and thy Father alone, thou hast rightly fasted in that it pleases Him; yet not as if one must not go on a fast-day with few clothes, or unwashed, but the additional ceremony is rejected, because it is observed for the sake of applause, and to hoodwink people with such singular demeanour.”Matthew 6:17. ἄλειψαι, νίψαι: not necessarily as if preparing for a feast (Meyer and Weiss), but performing the usual daily ablutions for comfort and cleanliness, so avoiding parade of fasting by neglect of them (Bleek, Achelis).

The foregoing inculcations of sincerity and reality in religion contribute indirectly to the illustration of the divine name Father, which is here again defined by discriminating use. God as Father desires these qualities in worshippers. All close relations (father, son: husband, wife) demand real affection as distinct from parade.Matthew 6:17. Ἄλειψαινιψαι, anoint—wash) Both verbs are in the middle voice; [the meaning therefore is] anoint and wash alone (solus unge et lava). It was customary for the Jews to be anointed on feast days.[270]

[270] The sense is, Abstain from all rather severe exercises.—V. g.Verse 17. - But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face. If both these were, among the Jews, done daily, Christ's command would mean - make no external sign of fasting; dress and appear as usual. But as anointing, at least, cannot be proved to have been a daily habit (though expressly forbidden during the stricter kinds of fasts, see Schurer, II. 2:212), especially with the mixed classes whom our Lord was addressing, and as it was with the ancients rather a symbol of special joy, it is safer to take it in this sense here. Thus our Lord will mean - so far from appearing sad, let your appearance be that of special joy and gladness. "By the symbols of joy and gladness he bade us be joyful and glad when we fast" (Photius, in Suicer, 1:186).
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