|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
2:20-28 Notwithstanding all their advantages, Israel had become like the wild vine that bears poisonous fruit. Men are often as much under the power of their unbridled desires and their sinful lusts, as the brute beasts. But the Lord here warns them not to weary themselves in pursuits which could only bring distress and misery. As we must not despair of the mercy of God, but believe that to be sufficient for the pardon of our sins, so neither must we despair of the grace of God, but believe that it is able to subdue our corruptions, though ever so strong.
Verse 22. - Nitre does not mean the substance which now bears that name, but "natron," a mineral alkali, deposited on the shores and on the bed of certain lakes in Egypt, especially those in the Wady Nat-run (the ancient Nitria, whence came so large a store of precious Syriac manuscripts). In ancient times, this natron was collected to make lye from for washing purposes (comp. Proverbs 25:20). Sope; rather, potash; the corresponding vegetable alkali (comp. Isaiah 1:25). Thine iniquity is marked. So Kimchi and Gesenius (through a doubtful etymology); but the Aramaic use of the word favors the rendering stained, i.e. filthy. The word is in the participle, to indicate the permanence of the state (comp. "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood," etc.? 'Macbeth').
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
For though thou wash thee with nitre,.... The word "nitre", is only used in this place and in Proverbs 25:20 and it is hard to say what it is. Kimchi and Ben Melech observe, that some say it is what is called "alum"; and others that it is a dust with which they wash the head, and cleanse everything; and so Jarchi says it is a kind of earth used in cleaning garments; and "nitre" is mentioned by the Misnic doctors (s) among those things which are used for the washing of garments, and taking spots out of them; though about what it is they are not agreed; and it seems the nitre of the ancients is unknown to us (t); and saltpetre is put in the room of it; and some render the word here "saltpetre"; and Pliny (u) observes, that nitre does not much differ from salt, and ascribes to it a virtue of eating out filth, and removing it; so Aristotle (w) reports of the lake Ascania; that its water is of such a nitrous quality, that garments, being put into it, need no other washing. Nitre has its name from "to loose", because it looses the filth, and cleanses from it:
and take thee much soap. The Septuagint render it, "herb"; and the Vulgate Latin version, "the herb borith"; which is the Hebrew word here used; and about the sense of which there is some difficulty. Kimchi and Ben Melech say some take it to be the same with what is called "soap"; so Jarchi; and others, that it is an herb with which they wash, the same that is called fullers' herb; but whether it is soap, or fullers' herb, or fullers' earth, as others, it is certain it is something fullers used in cleaning garments, as appear from Malachi 3:2, where the same word is used, and fullers made mention of as using what is signified by it. It has its name from which signifies to "cleanse" and "purify". The sense is, let this backsliding and degenerate people take what methods they will to cleanse themselves from their sins, as by their ceremonial ablutions and sacrifices, which was the usual method they had recourse to, to purify themselves, and in which they rested:
yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God; or, "will retain its spots" (x) these remain; the filth is not washed away; the iniquity is not hid and covered; it appears very plain and manifest;
yea, shines like gold; or, "is gilded" (y); as the word used signifies. It is of too deep a die to be removed by such external things; nothing but the blood of Christ can cleanse from sin, take away its filth, removes its guilt, and cover it out of the sight of God, so that it can be seen no more. The Targum is,
"for if you think to be cleansed from your sins, as they cleanse with nitre, or make white with "borith", or soap; lo, as the mark of a spot which is not clean, so are your sins multiplied before me, saith the Lord God.''
(s) Misn. Sabbat, c. 9. sect. 5. & Nidda, c. 9. sect. 6. & Maimon & Bartenora in ib. & in Misn. Celim, c. 10. sect. 1.((t) Schroder. Pharmacopoeia, l. 3. c. 23. p. 140. (u) Nat. Hist. l. 31. c. 10. (w) Opera, vol. 1, de Mirabil. p. 705. (x) "Maculas tamen retinebit iniquitas tua", Schmidt. (y) "nitet, vel splendet, instar anri", Piscator; "obducat se auro insigni", Junius & Tremellius; so Gussetius renders the word, "inaurari, auro ebduci"; and who rightly observes, that whatever is glided, or covered with gold, the more it is washed with nitre, or soap, the brighter it will appear; and so, whatever other methods are taken to wash away sin, but seeking for justification by the grace of God in Christ, it will be but the more manifest, Ebr. Comment. p. 410.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
22. nitre—not what is now so called, namely, saltpeter; but the natron of Egypt, a mineral alkali, an incrustation at the bottom of the lakes, after the summer heat has evaporated the water: used for washing (compare Job 9:30; Pr 25:20).
soap—potash, the carbonate of which is obtained impure from burning different plants, especially the kali of Egypt and Arabia. Mixed with oil it was used for washing.
marked—deeply ingrained, indelibly marked; the Hebrew, catham, being equivalent to cathab. Others translate, "is treasured up," from the Arabic. Maurer from a Syriac root, "is polluted."
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