Jeremiah 2:22
For though you wash you with nitre, and take you much soap, yet your iniquity is marked before me, said the Lord GOD.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(22) Nitre.—The mineral alkali found in the natron lakes of Egypt that took their name from it. The Hebrew word nether is the origin of the Greek and English words. (Comp. Proverbs 25:20.)

Sope.—Not the compounds of alkali and oil or fat now known by the name, but the potash or alkali, obtained from the ashes of plants, which was used by itself as a powerful detergent. The thought is the same as that of Job 9:30, and, we may add, as that of Macbeth, Acts 2, sc. 2 :—

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.”

The guilt was too strongly “marked,” too “deep-dyed in grain” to be removed by any outward palliatives.

Jeremiah 2:22. For though thou wash thee with nitre, &c. — Though thou shouldest use ever so many methods of washing away thy sins, such as the rites of expiation prescribed by the law, or practised by idolaters; though thou shouldest insist ever so much upon thy own innocence and righteousness, yet the marks or stains of thy sins will always appear in the sight of God, till they are done away by his pardoning mercy, exercised toward thee in consequence of thy repentance and reformation. “The nitre here mentioned is not what we call nitre, or salt-petre, but a native salt of a different kind, distinguished among naturalists by the name of natrum, or the nitre of the ancients. It is found in abundance in Egypt, and in many parts of Asia, where it is called soap-earth, because it is dissolved in water, and used like soap in washing.” — Blaney.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.Nitre - Or, natron, a mineral alkali, found in the Nile valley, where it effloresces upon the rocks and surfaces of the dykes, and in old time was carefully collected, and used to make lye for washing (see Proverbs 25:20).

Sope - A vegetable alkali, now called "potash," because obtained from the ashes of plants. Its combination with oils, etc., to form soap was not known to the Hebrews until long after Jeremiah's time, but they used the lye, formed by passing water through the ashes. Thus then, though Israel use both mineral and vegetable alkalies, the most powerful detergents known, yet will she be unable to wash away the stains of her apostasy.

Thine iniquity is marked - i. e., as a stain.

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."

Though interpreters do greatly vary. in describing what is particularly meant here by

nitre and soap, and it would be superfluous to mention here; yet all agree they are some materials that artists make use of for the cleansing away spots from the skin, clothes, or other things; and the sense is plain, that the blot of his people is by no art to be taken out: it cannot be covered by excuses; Though thou wouldst dissemble thy idolatries, thou canst not deceive me: nor expiated by sacrifices; it is beyond the power of all superstitious or religious washings to cleanse away, which may be understood by these natural and artificial ways of cleansing.

Thine iniquity is marked: the meaning seems to be either, Thy filthiness is so foul that it leaves a brand behind it that cannot be hid or washed out, but will abide: see Jeremiah 17:1. Or, according to another acceptation of the word,

it is laid up with God. See the like Deu 32:34 Hosea 13:12. Purge thee, wash thee, do what thou wilt, thou canst by no means conceal thy wickedness from me, Job 9:20. They that would see greater variety of interpretations, let them consult the Synopsis. 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.

For though thou shalt wash thee with {g} lye, and take thee much soap, yet thy iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.

(g) Though you use all the purifications and ceremonies of the law, you cannot escape punishment.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
22. lye] the same as washing-soda. “It occurs as an incrustation on the ground in Egypt, Persia and elsewhere, and is also a constituent in the water of certain saline lakes. The most famous of the latter are the ‘natron lakes’ in Egypt. They lie in the ‘natron valley’ about 60 miles W.N.W. of Cairo.” HDB. s. v. Nitre.

soap] As natron is a mineral so this is a vegetable alkali. Salsola kali (saltwort) is the chief plant among those used in its production, and is found in abundance on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine, as well as on the shores of the Dead Sea. This and other plants on being burnt furnish ashes, the lye of which (formed by passing water through them) was used for cleansing purposes. The immense heaps of rubbish frequently found in Palestine shew the extent of the manufacture. Soap-making by the admixture of oils and animal fat, now a prominent branch of industry in Palestine, was much later than Jeremiah’s time.

thine iniquity is marked] The original word occurs nowhere else in O.T. and apparently means stained. Cp. our expression, (iniquity) of the deepest dye.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'). Israel has had to submit to spoliation at the hands of the Egyptians too. The present reference to the Egyptians is explained by the circumstances of the prophet's times-from the fact, namely, that just as Israel and Judah had sought the help of Egypt against the Assyrians (cf. Hosea 7:11; 2 Kings 17:4, and Isaiah 30:1-5) in the time of Hezekiah, so now in Jeremiah's times Judah was expecting and seeking help from the same quarter against the advancing power of the Chaldeans; cf. Jeremiah 37:7. Noph and Tahpanes are two former capitals of Egypt, here put as representing the kingdom of the Pharaohs. nop נף, in Hosea 9:6 mop מף contracted from מנף, Manoph or Menoph, is Memphis, the old metropolis of Lower Egypt, made by Psammetichus the capital of the whole kingdom. Its ruins lie on the western bank of the Nile, to the south of Old Cairo, close by the present village of Mitrahenny, which is built amongst the ruins; cf. Brugsch Reiseberichte aus Egypten, 60ff., and the remarks on Hosea 9:6 and Isaiah 19:13. תחפנס, elsewhere spelt as here in the Keri תּחפּנחס - cf. Jeremiah 43:7., Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 46:14, Ezekiel 30:18 -was a strong border city on the Pelusiac arm of the Nile, called by the Greeks Δάφναι (Herod. ii. 20), by the lxx Τάφναι; see in Ezekiel 30:18. A part of the Jews who had remained in the land fled hither after the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 43:7. ,ירעוּך קדקד feed upon thy crown (lit., feed on thee in respect of thy crown), is a trope for ignominious devastation; for to shave one bald is a token of disgrace and sorrow, cf. Jeremiah 47:5; Jeremiah 48:37, Isaiah 3:17; and with this Israel is threatened in Isaiah 7:20. רעה, to eat up by grazing, as in Job 20:26 and Job 24:21; in the latter passage in the sense of depopulari. We must then reject the conjectures of J. D. Mich., Hitz., and others, suggesting the sense: crush thy head for thee; a sense not at all suitable, since crushing the head would signify the utter destruction of Israel. - The land of Israel is personified as a woman, as is shown by the fem. suffix in ירעוּך. Like a land closely cropped by herds, so is Israel by the Egyptians. In Jeremiah 6:3 also the enemies are represented as shepherds coming with their flocks against Jerusalem, and pitching their tents round about the city, while each flock crops its portion of ground. In Jeremiah 12:10 shepherds lay the vineyard waste.
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