Matthew 6:16
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
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(16) When ye fast.—Fasting had risen under the teaching of the Pharisees into a new prominence. Under the Law there had been but the one great fast of the Day of Atonement, on which men were “to afflict their souls” (Leviticus 23:27; Numbers 29:7) and practice had interpreted that phrase as meaning total abstinence from food. Other fasts were occasional, in times of distress or penitence, as in Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15; or as part of a policy affecting to be religious zeal (1Kings 21:9; 1Kings 21:12); or as the expression of personal sorrow (1Samuel 20:34; 2Samuel 12:16; Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 1:4; et al.). These were observed with an ostentatious show of affliction which called forth the indignant sarcasm of the prophets (Isaiah 58:5). The “sackcloth” took the place of the usual raiment, “ashes” on the head, of the usual unguents (Nehemiah 9:1; Psalm 35:13). The tradition of the Pharisees starting from the true principle that fasting was one way of attaining self-control, and that as a discipline it was effectual in proportion as it was systematic, fixed on the fasts “twice in the week,” specified in the prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:12); and the second and fifth days of the week were fixed, and connected with some vague idea that Moses went up Mount Sinai on the one, and descended on the other. Our Lord, we may note, does not blame the principle, or even the rule, on which the Pharisees acted. He recognises fasting, as He recognises almsgiving and prayer, and is content to warn His disciples against the ostentation that vitiates all three, the secret self-satisfaction under the mask of contrition, the “pride that apes humility.” The very words, “when thou fastest” contain an implied command.

Of a sad countenance.—Strictly, of sullen look, the moroseness of affected austerity rather than of real sorrow.

They disfigure their faces.—The verb is the same as that translated “corrupt” in Matthew 6:19. Here it points to the unwashed face and the untrimmed hair. possibly to the ashes sprinkled on both, that men might know and admire the rigorous asceticism.

Matthew 6:16-18. When ye fast — Our Lord does not enjoin either fasting, alms-deeds, or prayer, all these being duties which were before fully established in the Church of God. Be not as the hypocrites, &c. — Do not follow the example of the hypocrites, who, in order to show that they fast, assume a sad countenance; a dejected, austere, and mortified look, such as false devotees affect, who make piety to consist in outward show, rather than in true goodness. For they disfigure their faces — Viz., by dust and ashes put upon their heads, as was usual in times of mourning and solemn humiliation. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward — I assure you, persons of this character shall have no other reward but the esteem of those whom they deceive by such appearances. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, &c. — Come abroad in thine ordinary dress. The Jews often anointed their heads. That thou appear not, &c. — That, desiring the approbation of God, and not the applause of men, thou mayest chiefly be solicitous to appear before God as one that fasts; and God, who is ever with thee, and knows thy most secret thoughts, shall openly bestow on thee the blessings which belong to a true penitent, “whose mortification, contrition, and humility he can discern without the help of looks, or dress, or outward expressions of any kind. But it must be remembered, that our Lord is speaking here of private fasting, to which alone his directions are to be applied; for, when public sins or calamities are to be mourned over, the duty of fasting ought to be performed in the most public manner.”

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.Moreover, when ye fast - The word "fast" literally signifies to abstain from food and drink, whether from necessity or as a religious observance. It is, however, commonly applied in the Bible to the latter. It is, then, an expression of grief or sorrow. Such is the constitution of the body, that in a time of grief or sorrow we are not disposed to eat; or, we have no appetite. The grief of the "soul" is so absorbing as to destroy the natural appetites of the "body." People in deep affliction eat little, and often pine away and fall into sickness, because the body refuses, on account of the deep sorrow of the mind, to discharge the functions of health. "Fasting, then, is the natural expression of grief." It is not arbitrary; it is what every person in sorrow naturally does. This is the foundation of its being applied to religion as a sacred rite. It is because the soul, when oppressed and burdened by a sense of sin, is so filled with grief that the body refuses food. It is, therefore, appropriate to scenes of penitence, of godly sorrow, of suffering, and to those facts connected with religion which are suited to produce grief, as the prevalence of iniquity, or some dark impending calamity, or storm, or tempest, pestilence, plague, or famine. It is also useful to humble us, to bring us to reflection, to direct the thoughts away from the allurements of this world to the bliss of a better. It is not acceptable except it be the "real expression," of sorrow; the natural effect of the feeling that we are burdened with crime.

The Jews fasted often. They had four "annual" fasts in commemoration of the capture of Jerusalem Jeremiah 52:7, of the burning of the temple Zechariah 7:3, of the death of Gedaliah Jeremiah 41:4, and of the commencement of the attack on Jerusalem Zechariah 8:19. In addition to these, they had a multitude of occasional fasts. It was customary, also, for the Pharisees to fast twice a week, Luke 18:12.

Of a sad countenance - That is, sour, morose; with assumed expressions of unfelt sorrow.

They disfigure their faces - That is, they do not anoint and wash themselves as usual: they are uncombed, filthy, squalid, and haggard. It is said that they were often in the habit of throwing ashes on their heads and faces; and this, mixing with their tears, served still further to disfigure their faces. So much pains will people take, and so much suffering will they undergo, and so much that is ridiculous will they assume, to impose on God and people. But they deceive neither. God sees through the flimsy veil. Human eyes can pierce a disguise so thin. Hypocrites overact their part. Not having the genuine principles of piety at heart, they know not what is its proper expression, and hence they appear supremely contemptible and abominable. Never should people exhibit outwardly more than they feel; and never should they attempt to exhibit anything for the mere sake of ostentation.

They have their reward - They have all that they desired - the praise of men and "the pleasure of ostentation." See the notes at Matthew 6:2.

16. Moreover, when ye fast—referring, probably, to private and voluntary fasting, which was to be regulated by each individual for himself; though in spirit it would apply to any fast.

be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces—literally, "make unseen"; very well rendered "disfigure." They went about with a slovenly appearance, and ashes sprinkled on their head.

that they may appear unto men to fast—It was not the deed, but reputation for the deed which they sought; and with this view those hypocrites multiplied their fasts. And are the exhausting fasts of the Church of Rome, and of Romanizing Protestants, free from this taint?

Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

See Poole on "Matthew 6:18".

Moreover when ye fast,.... This is to be understood, not so much of their public stated fasts, and which were by divine appointment, as of their private fasts; which, with the Jews, were very frequent and numerous, and particularly every Monday and Thursday; see Luke 18:12 in which they affected great severity, and is here condemned by Christ:

be not as the hypocrites, the Scribes and Pharisees,

of a sad countenance; who put on very mournful airs, and dismal looks; made wry faces, and distorted countenances; banished all pleasantry and cheerfulness from them, so that they looked quite like other men than they really were;

for they disfigure their faces; not by covering them out of sight, by putting a veil over them, as some have thought; but they neglected to wash their faces, and make them clean, as at other times; and not only so, but put ashes upon their heads, and other methods they used: they discoloured their faces, or "made" them "black", as the Arabic version reads it; that they might look as if they became so through fasting: and such persons were in great esteem, and thought to be very religious. It is said (f), in commendation of R. Joshua ben Chanamah, that all his days , "his face was black", through fastings; and this is said (g) to be the reason of Ashur's name, in 1 Chronicles 4:5 because "his face was black" with fasting: yea, they looked upon such a disfiguring of the face to be meritorious, and what would be rewarded hereafter.

"Whoever (say they (h)) , "makes his face black", on account of the law in this world, God will make his brightness to shine in the world to come.''

Now these practices they used,

that they might appear unto men to fast: so that either they did not really fast, when they pretended to it; only put on these outward appearances, that men might think they did; or, not content with real fasting, which they must be conscious of themselves, and God knew, they took such methods, that it might appear to men that they fasted, and that they might be taken notice of, and applauded by them: for their view in fasting was not to satisfy their own consciences, or please God, but that they might have glory of men. Hence, says Christ,

verily I say unto you, they have their reward; they obtain what they seek for, honour from men, and that is all they will have.

(f) Juchasin, fol. 59. 1.((g) T. Bab. Sota, fol. 12. 1.((h) T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 100. 1.

{5} Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they {f} disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

(5) That is, those that desire a name of holiness by fasting.

(f) They do not let their original pallor to be seen, that is to say, they mar the natural colour of their faces, that they may seem lean and palefaced.

Matthew 6:16. Δέ] indicating a transition from the subject of prayer to another kindred subject.

νηστεύητε] here with reference to private fasting, which depended on the inclination of the individual (Ewald, Alterth. p. 110), though regularly observed by the Pharisees on Thursday (when Moses is supposed to have ascended Mount Sinai) and on Monday (when he is believed to have come down again), but never on the Sabbath and festival days, except at the feast of Purim. Mourning attire was worn during the fasting. Isaiah 58:5; Isaiah 61:3; Joel 2:12; Zechariah 7:3; Daniel 10:3; 2 Samuel 12:20; 2 Samuel 13:19; 1Ma 3:47.

σκυθρωποί] common in the classics; “plerumque in vitio ponitur et notat hominem non solum tristem et tetricum vultum habentem, sed fingentem vel augentem,” Bremi, ad Aeschin. adv. Ctesiph. p. 290 f.

ἀφανίζουσι] is a play upon the word in allusion to φανῶσι. They conceal their countenances with a view to their “being seen of,” and so on. This is intended to indicate how, partly by sprinkling themselves with ashes, and by the dirt on the unwashed face and beard, and partly by actual veiling of themselves (2 Samuel 15:30; Esther 6:12), they contrive to prevent it being seen what their countenance is really like. It should be observed, however, that ἀφανίζειν does not mean to disfigure, but, even in passages like the one quoted from Stob. Serm. 74, 62, with reference to a painted woman, it denotes to make invisible, e conspectu submovere. The Vulgate correctly renders by exterminant, i.e. e conspectu removent. Beck, Anecd. p. 468, 25 : ὅλως τὸ ἀνελεῖν καὶ ἀφανὲς ποιῆσαι, ὅπερ ἐκάλουν ἀϊστῶσαι. Hence in Greek writers it is often associated with κρύπτειν.

Matthew 6:16-18. Fasting.

(c) Fasting, 16–18.

. Fasting, in itself a natural result of grief, as anyone who has witnessed deep sorrow knows, easily degenerates into a form without reality.

disfigure] Either (1) make unseen, “veil,” or (2) cause to disappear, so “destroy,” “mar,” by leaving the face unwashen. The same word is translated “corrupt,” Matthew 6:19.

The apparent play upon the Greek words for “disfigure” and “appear” has been adduced in support of their view by those who consider Greek to have been the original language of the gospel.

Matthew 6:16. Ὅταν νηστεύητε, when ye fast) Fasting also ought to be of great account with us; it is not a part of the ceremonial law.—ἀφανίζουσι, they disfigure) By neglecting the daily attention to the person of washing and anointing. An exquisite oxymoron, ἀφανίζουσι, φανῶσι.[269]

[269] i.e. a play upon these words, ἀφανίζω being the privative transitive formed from φανῶ, to appear.—(I. B.)

Verses 16-18. - Matthew only. Verse 16. - Fasting. The third in the series of recognized religious duties (ver. 1, note). (On the prominence given to fasting, see 'Psalms of Solomon,' 3:9, with Ryle's and James's note, and Schurer, II. 2:118; cf. Matthew 9:14.) Observe

(1) Christ does not abolish it, but regulates it;

(2) yet fasting is mentioned much less often in the true text of the New Testament than in that which, developed contemporaneously with eccle-siasticism, became the Received Text. Be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. The Revised Version, by inserting a comma between "not" and "as," shows that the true emphasis of the warning lies, not on resemblance to the hypocrites themselves, but on being of a sad countenance, as in fact also the hypocrites were. The hypocrites (ver. 2, note; cf. also 'Didache,' § 8, "But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites," where, however, the thought is rather of hypocrites as representing the Pharisaic, the typically Jewish party). The early Jewish Christians are bidden in the 'Didache' to avoid the fasting-days chosen by the Jews. Be not. Our Lord does not forbid even this sad countenance if it be, so to speak, natural; but do not, because you fast, therefore purposely become so (μὴ γίνεσθε), i.e. in sign of your supposed sorrow for sin (cf. Ecclus. 19:26). Of a sad countenance (σκυθρωποί); gloomy, especially- in knitting the brows. In Daniel 1:10 (Thee-dotion) used of merely physically bad looks (cf. 'Test. XII. Patr.,' § 4, of the look of a man whose liver is out of order). In the New Testament elsewhere only Luke 24:17, "And they stood still, looking sad," Revised Version (cf. Genesis 40:7; Ecclus. 25:23). For they disfigure. The play on the words (ἀφανίζουσιν. . . ὅπως φανῶσιν, hardly to be reproduced in English," They disfigure... that they may figure before men as fasting") points to the 'Gospel having been originally composed in Greek (see Introduction, p. 13.). It is curious that ἀφανίζω comes elsewhere in Matthew only in vers. 19, 20, while in the whole of the New Testament it only comes twice besides: Acts 13:41 (from the LXX.) and James 4:14 (ἀφανισμός, Hebrews 8:13). As ver. 19 is peculiar to Matthew, and ver. 20 is a corollary to it though in part found also in Luke 12:33, the whole passage vers. 16-20 is probably either due to the author of the First Gospel or else derived by him from some one source. In this connexion it may be noticed that κρυφαῖος comes in the New Testament only in ver. 18 (twice). Physical disfigurement, common in many nations as a sign of grief, such as tearing or marking the flesh, is not to be thought of, since this was forbidden (Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1). Ἀφανίζειν, too, has no such connotation, but rather hiding out of sight, hence causing to vanish, destroy (ver. 19); here, in the sense of giving a strange, unpleasant appearance, e.g. by ashes, or by not washing, or even by covering part of the face or the head (cf. Ezekiel 24:17; 2 Samuel 15:30; Esther 6:12). That they may appear unto men to fast; Revised Version, that they may be seen, etc.; i.e. not the mere appearance, as though there were appearance only, but the being seen as fasting - conspicuousness, not mere semblance. Hence νηστεύοντες is expressed (contrast ver. 5), since while in ver. 5 not the praying but the piety that induced it is to be made apparent, here it is the very fact itself of fasting, which, except for these external signs, might escape human notice. They have (ver. 2, note). Matthew 6:16Ye fast (νηστεύητε)

Observe the force of the present tense as indicating action in progress: Whenever ye may be fasting.

Of a sad countenance (σκυθρωποί)

An uncommon word in the New Testament, occurring only here and at Luke 24:17. Trench ("Studies in the Gospels") explains it by the older sense of the English dreary, as expressing the downcast look of settled grief, pain, or displeasure. In classical Greek it also signifies sullenness and affected gravity. Luther renders, Look not sour.

Disfigure (ἀφανίζουσιν)

The idea is rather conceal than disfigure. There is a play upon this word and φανῶσιν (they may appear) which is untranslatable into English: they conceal or mask their true visage that they may appear unto men. The allusion is to the outward signs of humiliation which often accompanied fasting, such as being unwashed and unshaven and unanointed. "Avoid," says Christ, "the squalor of the unwashed face and of the unkempt hair and beard, and the rather anoint thy head and wash thy face, so as to appear (αφνῇς) not unto men, but unto God as fasting." Wycliffe's rendering is peculiar: They put their faces out of kindly terms.

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