|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
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.
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).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
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.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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