Matthew 26:7
There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(7) There came unto him a woman.—We learn from St. John (John 12:3) that this was Mary the sister of Lazarus. It is hardly conceivable (unless we conjecture that she came in veiled, and that St. John alone knew her) that the writers of the first two Gospels, or those from whom they derived their knowledge, could have been ignorant who she was, and we can only see in their suppression of the name an example of the singular reticence which sealed their lips as to every member of the family at Bethany. A prevalent tradition or conjecture in the Western Church has identified the sister of Lazarus with the woman that was a sinner, of Luke 7, and, on this assumption what we now read was a repetition of an offering of love that had been made before. Of this, however, there is not the shadow of proof (see Notes on Luke 7:37-38). It may well have been, on the other hand, that the household of Bethany had heard of that act, and that this suggested the way in which love and gratitude now manifested themselves.

An alabaster box of very precious ointment.—The box was probably a vase of the material described as alabaster (according to one etymology, however, that word described originally the shape of the vase, as made without handles, and was subsequently extended to the material of which such vases were commonly made), with the lid cemented down, so as not to admit of extraction like a cork or stopper. St. John (John 12:3) describes the quantity as a pound (litra=about twelve ounces); and both St. John and St. Mark add that it was “of spikenard.” The word so rendered, however (pistikè), is found only in those two passages (Mark 14:3, John 12:3), and it is open to question whether it bears this meaning, or means “pure, genuine, unadulterated.” The “nard” so described is identified by botanists with the Nardostachys jatamansi, the sumbul of India, but was probably applied by Greeks and Romans to other perfumes. The value of the ointment is roughly estimated afterwards at three hundred denarii (John 12:5). Such preparations, like genuine âtar of roses in the modern East, consisting, as they did mainly, in the essential oils of carefully cultivated flowers, often fetched an almost fabulous price. The fact that Mary had such an unguent by her indicates that the household of Bethany belonged to the comparatively wealthy class, and so agrees with the general impression left by the record of John 11. It is a probable conjecture that a like costly unguent had been used in embalming the body of the brother who had so recently been raised from the dead, and that this gave a special point to our Lord’s comment on the act. St. Mark adds that she broke or crushed the vessel in order to pour out the ointment; St. John, that she anointed His feet, and wiped them with her hair.

26:6-13 The pouring ointment upon the head of Christ was a token of the highest respect. Where there is true love in the heart to Jesus Christ, nothing will be thought too good to bestow upon him. The more Christ's servants and their services are cavilled at, the more he manifests his acceptance. This act of faith and love was so remarkable, that it would be reported, as a memorial of Mary's faith and love, to all future ages, and in all places where the gospel should be preached. This prophecy is fulfilled.There came to him a woman - This woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, John 12:3.

Having an alabaster box - The "alabaster" is a species of marble, distinguished for being light, and of a beautiful white color, almost transparent.

It was much used by the ancients for the purpose of preserving various kinds of ointment in.

Of very precious ointment - That is, of ointment of "great value;" that was rare and difficult to be obtained. Mark Mar 14:3 and John Joh 12:3 say that it was ointment of spikenard. In the original it is "nard." It was procured from an herb growing in the Indies, chiefly obtained from the root, though sometimes also from the bark. It was liquid, so as easily to flow when the box or vial was open, and was distinguished particularly for an agreeable smell. See Sol 1:12. The ancients were much in the habit of "anointing or perfuming" their bodies, and the nard was esteemed one of the most precious perfumes. John says there was a "pound" of this, John 12:3. The "pound" in use among the Jews was the Roman, of twelve ounces, answering to our troy weight. That there was a large quantity is further evident from the fact that Judas says it might have been sold for 300 pence (about 9 British pounds), and that the "house" was filled with the odor of the ointment (John).

And poured it on his head - They were accustomed chiefly to anoint the head or hair. John says John 12:3 that she poured it on the "feet" of Jesus, and wiped them with her hair. There is, however, no contradiction. She probably poured it "both" on his head and his feet. Matthew and Mark having recorded the former, John, who wrote his gospel in part to record events omitted by them, completes the account by saying that the ointment was also poured on the feet of the Saviour. To pour ointment on the "head" was common. To pour it on the "feet" was an act of distinguished "humility" and of attachment to the Saviour, and therefore deserved to be particularly recorded.

As he sat at meat - That is, at supper. In the original, as he "reclined" at supper. The ancients did not sit at their meals, but "reclined" at length on couches. See the notes at Matthew 23:6. She came up, therefore, "behind him" as he lay reclined at the table, and, bending down over the couch, poured the ointment on his head and his feet, and, probably kneeling at his feet, wiped them with her hair.

CHAPTER 26

Mt 26:1-16. Christ's Final Announcement of his Death, as Now within Two Days, and the Simultaneous Conspiracy of the Jewish Authorities to Compass It—The Anointing at Bethany—Judas Agrees with the Chief Priests to Betray His Lord. ( = Mr 14:1-11; Lu 22:1-6; Joh 12:1-11).

For the exposition, see on [1361]Mr 14:1-11.

See Poole on "Matthew 26:13". There came unto him a woman,.... By some thought to be the same that is spoken of in Luke 7:37, and by most, to be Mary, the sister of Lazarus, John 12:3, which may be true; for it is possible that one and the same woman, might perform a like action at different times; for to neither of the above, at the same time, will the following agree: not to the former, for though that was done in the house of one Simon, yet not Simon the leper, but Simon the Pharisee; who though he had a particular respect for Christ, which few of that sect had, yet appeared to be then of a Pharisaical spirit; that was done in Galilee, this near Jerusalem in Bethany; the woman there anointed the feet of Christ, but this woman poured the ointment on his head; nor did any such conversation as here follow upon it, between Christ and his disciples; but what discourse was had on that occasion, was between Simon and Christ. Not to the latter, for that does not appear to be done in Simon's house, but rather in the house of Lazarus; no mention is made of the alabaster box, nor was the ointment poured on his head, but on his feet; besides, that was done six days before the passover, whereas this was but two; moreover, Judas only objected to that, but the disciples in general had indignation at this; and though the objections to it, and Christ's defence of it, are much in the same language, in one place as in the other, yet it was no unusual thing with Christ, to make use of the same words on a like incident, or when the same objections were made. The fact here recorded, is the same as in Mark 14:3, where it stands in the same order as here, and seems to have been done at the supper, of which mention is made, John 13:2, when Satan entered into Judas, and put it into his heart to betray his master, the account of which follows this here:

having an alabaster box of very precious ointment; Mark calls it, "ointment of spikenard", Mark 14:3, which was very odorous, and of a very fragrant smell; see Sol 1:12. Some there render it, "pure nard"; unadulterated, unmixed, sincere and genuine; others, "liquid nard", which was drinkable, and easy to be poured out; and some "Pistic" nard, so called, either from "Pista", the name of a place in India, from whence it was brought, as some think; or as Dr. Lightfoot, from "Pistaca", which is the maste of a tree (c), and of which, among other things, Pliny says (d), the ointment of nard was made. The Persic version in both places read it, "ointment of Gallia"; and the just now mentioned writer (e), speaks of "nardum Gallicum", "Gallic nard", which is what may be meant by that interpreter; but be it what ointment it will; it was ointment, very precious: very costly, and of a very great price; for the disciples observe, it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence: and for the better preserving of such ointments incorrupt, they used to be put into vessels made of "alabaster" (f); though some think not the matter, but the form of these vessels is referred to; and observe, that vessels of gold, silver, and glass, for this use, being made in the form of "alabasters", were called by that name; and that this might be made of the latter, since Mark says, that she brake the box; not into pieces, for then she could not be said to pour it out; but either the top, or side of it: though some critics observe, that the word signifies no more, than that she shook it, that the thicker parts of the ointment might liquify, and be the more easily poured out. The Arabic version has omitted that clause, and the Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic, read it, "she opened it"; that is, as the Persic adds, "the top of the vessel": she took off the covering of the box, or took out the stopple,

and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat: which was usually done at festivals, or at any considerable entertainments, as at weddings, &c.

"Says Rab, they "pour ointment on the heads of the doctors"; (the gloss is, the women put ointment on the heads of the scholars;) says R. Papa to Abai, does the doctor speak of the ointment of the bridechamber? He replies, thou orphan, did not thy mother cause for thee, that "they poured out ointment on the heads of the doctors", at thy wedding? for lo! one of the Rabbins got a wife for his son, in the house of R. Bar Ula; and they say, that R. Bar Ula got a wife for his son in the house of one of the Rabbins, , "and poured ointment on the head of the doctors" (g):''

to this custom are the allusions in Psalm 23:5. The pouring of this ointment on the head of Christ was emblematical of his being anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows; of his having the holy Spirit, and his gifts and graces without measure; which, like the ointment poured on Aaron's head, that ran down to his beard, and the skirts of his garments, descends to all the members of his mystical body: and was a symbol of the Gospel, which is like ointment poured forth; and of the sweet savour of the knowledge of Christ, which was to be diffused, throughout all the world, by the preaching of it; and was done by this woman in the faith of him, as the true Messiah, the Lord's anointed, as the prophet, priest, and king of his church.

(c) T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 69. 1. Gloss. in ib. (d) Hist. Nat. l. 13. c. 1.((e) Ib. c. 2. & l. 12. c. 12. (f) Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 13. 2. & 36. 8. (g) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 17. 2.

{b} There came unto him a woman having an alabaster {c} box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.

(b) For these things were done before Christ came to Jerusalem: and yet some think that the evangelists have two differing accounts.

(c) These boxes were of alabaster, which in ancient times men made hollow to put in ointments: for some write that alabaster keeps ointment without changing it in any way; Pliny, book 13, chap. 1.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 26:7. Γυνή] According to John, it was Mary.

ἀλάβαστρον] Among classical writers the neuter of this word does not occur except in the plural; in the singular ἀλάβαστρος is masculine, as also in 2 Kings 21:13, and feminine. “Unguenta optime servantur in alabastris,” Plin. N. H. iii. 3; Herod, iii. 20; Theocr. Id. xv. 114; Anth. Pal. ix. 153. 3; Jacobs, ad Anthol. XI. p. 92.

ἐπὶ τ. κ. αὐτοῦ] A divergence from John’s account, not to be reconciled in the arbitrary manner in which Calvin and Ebrard have attempted, as though the oil had been so unsparingly poured on that it ran down and was used for the feet as well (comp. Morison). Matthew narrates an anointing of the head; John, of the feet. The practice of anointing the heads of guests by way of showing them respect is well known (comp. Plat. Rep. p. 398 A, and Stallbaum thereon). Seeing, however, that the anointing of the feet was unusual (in opposition to Ebrard), and betokened a special and extraordinary amount of respect (as is, in fact, apparent from Luke 7:46), our passage would have been all the less likely to “omit” it (Lange), had it really formed part of the tradition.

ἀνακειμένου] while He was reclining at table, a circumstance qualifying the αὐτοῦ.Matthew 26:7. ἀλάβαστρον, an “alabaster” (vase), the term, originally denoting the material, being transferred to the vessel made of it, like our word “glass” (Speaker’s Com.), in common use for preserving ointments (Pliny, N.H., iii., 3). An alabaster of nard (μύρου) was a present for a king. Among five precious articles sent by Cambyses to the King of Ethiopia was included a μύρου ἀλάβ. (Herod., iii., 20). On this ointment and its source vide Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, p. 484 (quoted in notes on Mk.).—βαρυτίμου (here only in N. T.), of great price; this noted to explain the sequel.—κεφαλῆς: she broke the vase and poured the contents on the head of Jesus, feet in John; both possible; must be combined, say the Harmonists.7. a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment] “Then took Mary a pound of ointment, very costly” (John). “Ointment of spikenard, very precious” (Mark). The “alabaster box” was “a flask of fragrant oil;” the special kind of ointment named by the Evangelists—nard or spikenard—was extracted from the blossoms of the Indian and Arabian nard-grass (Becker’s Gallus).

These alabastra or unguent-flasks were usually made of the Oriental or onyx alabaster, with long narrow necks, which let the oil escape drop by drop, and could easily be broken (Mark 14:3). But the shape and material varied. Herodotus (iii. 20) mentions an “alabastron of fragrant oil”—the precise expression in the text—sent among other royal gifts of gold and purple by Cambyses to the king of Æthiopia.

The costliness of Mary’s offering may be judged from this. The other Evangelists name three hundred pence or denarii as the price; (St Mark says, “more than three hundred pence”). Now a denarius was a day’s wages for a labourer (see ch. Matthew 20:2); equivalent, therefore, to two shillings at least of English money; hence, relatively to English ideas, Mary’s offering would amount to £30. It was probably the whole of her wealth.Matthew 26:7. Ἀλάβαστρον, alabaster) Rather of thin stone than glass, otherwise it could not have been (see Mark 14:3) broken without inflicting wounds.—ἔχουσα, having) She had one alabaster-box, and did not know how to employ it better.—ἀνακειμένου, as He reclined) at table.[1112]—Others were anointed after death; it behoved Christ rather to be anointed whilst living: after His death it was needless.

[1112] E. V. As He sat at meat.—(I. B.)

Καὶ κατέχεεν, and poured it down) The mode of anointing in such a case is more readily understood, when it is taken into consideration that the ancients rather lay reclined at table than sat at it. They had couches furnished with cushions, and they lay in such a posture as that their feet rested backwards.—V. g.Verse 7. - A woman. St. John identifies her as Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Why the synoptists omit her name is not known; it is equally uncertain why St. John makes no mention of Simon. None of the synoptists notice Lazarus, though St. Luke names Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38, 39). It may have been at the time a matter of prudence or delicacy not to draw attention to them by name. But there is no discrepancy. One narrative supplements the other, and it is best to be thankful for what we have, and not to be over curious concerning points not explained. An alabaster box (ἀλάβαστρον). A cruse or flask made of alabaster, which is a white calcareous spar resembling marble, but setter and more easily worked. These cruses were generally round shaped, with a long narrow neck, the orifice of which was sealed. It may be the breaking of this seal to which St. Mark refers in his account (Mark 14:3), when he says that "she brake the box." Very precious ointment (μύρου). St. Mark calls it "pistic nard," rendered in our version "spikenard." The word in our text seems to be used for any salve or ointment which contained myrrh as one of its ingredients. Nard is found in Syria, the Himalayas, and other parts of India. From its root a strong scented unguent was made, which, being imported from a long distance, was very costly. Poured it on his head. It is to be noted that in the original there is no "it" after "poured;" so there is nothing to imply that the whole was poured upon his head. This helps to reconcile this account with that of the fourth evangelist (Morison). St. John tells that she anointed his feet, which was unusual; she first anointed his head, and then his feet, wiping the latter with her long flowing hair. Anointing the head was not an uncommon way of honouring distinguished guests; but Mary had another thought in her mind which the Lord discerned (ver. 12). As he sat at meat; as he reclined at table. The Jews had adopted the Roman mode of eating (comp. Matthew 22:10, where the word rendered "guests" is "the recumbent"). St. Matthew does not mention that a special supper was arranged for him (John 12:1), as if to do him honour. An alabaster box (ἀλάβαστρον)

Rev., cruse; flask in margin. Lit., an alabaster, just as we call a drinking-vessel made of glass a glass. Luther renders glass. It was a kind of cruet, having a cylindrical form at the top. Pliny compares these vessels to a closed rosebud, and says that ointments are best preserved in them.

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