Matthew 6:16 MEANING

Matthew 6:16
(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 (1 Kings 21:9; 1 Kings 21:12); or as the expression of personal sorrow (1 Samuel 20:34; 2 Samuel 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.

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).

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,.... 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.

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