Zephaniah 2:1-15 open_in_new
Part II. EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE AND TO PERSEVERANCE.
§ 1. The prophet urges all to examine their ways before the day of the Lord come; and he prays the righteous to seek the Lord more earnestly, in order that they may be safe in the judgment.
Gather yourselves together. So the versions; and this rendering is probably correct. The prophet calls upon his nation to assemble themselves together in order to take mutual counsel or to make general confession and supplication to God. Another rendering, based on some alteration of letters, is, "Set yourselves to be ashamed; yea, be ashamed" (comp. Isaiah 46:8). Yea, gather together. The LXX. renders the two words, συνάχθητε καὶ συνδέθητε, "be ye gathered and bound together;" "Id est," says Jerome, "estote vobis caritatis vinculo copulati." O nation not desired; Vulgate, gens non amabilis — a litotes for abominable, hated for its sins, unworthy of God's love and care. The Septuagint rendering, ἀπαίδευτον, "unchastened," points to the meaning affixed by the Chaldee paraphrase, that does not wish to be converted," having no desire for amendment; like what is said in Jeremiah 2:30, "they received no correction." Others render, "which does not turn pale," i.e. which is not ashamed, comparing Isaiah 29:22. The verb kasaph seems to have this meaning in niphal, according to Talmudic use; but its usual signification is "to pine" or "long for." The Revised Version gives in the margin, "that hath no longing" — a rendering adopted by Professor Gandell, implying that the people are quite satisfied with their present condition, and have no aspiration for anything better or higher (comp. Hosea 12:8). This is a very apposite interpretation; but there is no sufficient ground for rejecting the translation of the Authorized Version, which is supported by high authority, is agreeable to the use of the word, and affords a satisfactory sense.
Before the decree bring forth. Before the result follows the fiat. The Divine purpose is represented as a woman labouring with child, travailing before it comes to execution. This is thrice repeated in substance, to show the certainty and speed of its arrival. Before the day pass as the chaff. "Before" is not in the Hebrew, and the clause is parenthetical, "Like chaff the day passeth." "The day" must be still the day of the Lord, not the day of life or the day of repentance. God brings on the judgment as easily and as quickly as the wind carries the chaff before it. The Septuagint and Syriac join the two clauses together; thus the LXX; Πρὸ τοῦ γενέσθαι ὑμᾶς ὡς ἄνθος παραπορευόμενον, "Before ye become as a flower that passeth away." And Jerome gives, "Priusquam pariat jussio quasi pulverem transeuntem diem," "Before the decree beget the day which passeth by like the dust." The present Hebrew text does not confirm these versions. The figure of the chaff is common (see Job 21:18; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5).
The prophet here addresses especially the pious among the people, urging them to perseverance in the right way. Ye meek of the earth. The humble, peaceable, religious, among the Israelites are primarily meant; whose character is the direct contrary of the proud, self-confident infidels mentioned above (comp. Isaiah 11:4; Amos 2:7). But there is no reason why the admonition should not include the heathen who are striving to live after the light of conscience (Isaiah 24:5; Romans 2:14, etc.). Which have wrought his judgment. Who have fulfilled the ordinances of God's Law. Seek righteousness. This and the following injunction explain what is meant by "seek the Lord" at the beginning of the verse (Deuteronomy 16:20). Seek meekness. Persevere in showing a humble, gentle temper. Septuagint, καὶ ἀποκρίνασθε αὐτά "and answer them." It may be. Even the righteous shall scarcely be saved. Ye shall be hid. Ye shall be preserved in the time of judgment (Psalms 27:5; Psalms 31:20; Isaiah 32:2). This recalls the prophet's name, which is interpreted, "Whom the Lord hides" (comp. Amos 5:14, Amos 5:15).
§ 2. The admonition is enforced by the announcement of the punishment that is about to fall on various nations, which shall prepare the way for the general acceptance of true religion; and first the sentence shall reach the Philistines.
There is reason enough why Judah should tremble when the nations around her, such as the powerful and turbulent Philistines, fall before the invading host. Four of the five cities of the Philistines are mentioned, as denoting the whole territory, which again is the representative of the heathen world more definitely particularized later on. Thus the four quarters of the world are virtually specified: the Philistines representing the west,, the Moabites and Ammonites (Zephaniah 2:8-36) the east, the Cushites (Zephaniah 2:11, Zephaniah 2:12) the south, and the Assyrians (Zephaniah 2:13-36) the north. Gaza (see note on Amos 1:6) shall be forsaken; depopulated and desolate. There is a paronomasia in the Hebrew: Azzah will be azubhah. Some of the other localities are treated in the same manner (comp. Micah 1:10-33, and notes there). Ashkelon a desolation (see note on Amos 1:8). They shall drive out Ashdod. The inhabitants shall be expelled. (For Ashdod, see note on Amos, loc. cit.) At the noon day. The hottest part of the day, the most unlikely time for a hostile attack, hence the expression is equivalent to "unexpectedly and suddenly" (comp. Jeremiah 15:8). Ekron shall be rooted up. In the Hebrew paronomasia, Ekron ("the Deep-rooted") shall be teaker. (For Ekron, see note on Amos, loc. cit; where the fulfilment of prophecy concerning that town is noted.) Gaza (see note on Amos 1:7), after being depopulated and again re-peopled by Alexander the Great, fell into the hands of Ptolemy, and was destroyed by Antiochus, B.C. 198. Often rebuilt, it was as often razed to the ground; and the present representative of the ancient town, Ghuzzeh, stands upon a hill composed of the accumulated ruins of successive cities. Of the condition of Ashkelon, Dr. Thomson writes, "There are no buildings of the ancient city now standing, but broken columns are mixed up with the soil .... Let us climb to the top of these tall fragments at the southeast angle of the wall, and we shell have the whole scene of desolation before us, stretching terrace after terrace, quite down to the sea on the northwest .... No site in this country has so deeply impressed my mind with sadness. They have stretched out upon Ashkelon the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness. Thorns have come up in her palaces, and brambles in the fortresses thereof, and it is a habitation of dragons and a court for owls (Isaiah 34:11-23)". "It was for ages," says Dr. Porter, "a great and strong city. Under the Philistines, the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracens, the Crusaders, it was a place of note. The shattered walls that still surround the site were built by Richard Coeur de Lion. When I first clambered to the top of a broken bastion, a scene of desolation burst suddenly upon my view for which I was not prepared, though I had seen Baal-bec and Palmyra, Heliopolis and Memphis. The whole site was before me, and not a fragment of a house standing. One small section was covered with little gardens; but over the rest of the site lay smooth rounded hillocks of drifting sand. The sand is fast advancing — so fast, that probably ere the close of the century the site of Ascalon will have been blotted out forever". As for Ekron, hod. Akir, travellers note that it is now a little village, consisting of about fifty mud houses, without a remnant of antiquity except two large walls; its very ruins have vanished. The omission of Gath, a town at this time of small importance (see note on Amos 1:6), is probably owing to a feeling of the symbolism of numbers, four denoting completion, or the whole, like "the four winds, the four ends of the earth," etc.
Woe. The denunciation extends to all Philistia. The inhabitants of the sea coast. Both the. Greek and Latin Versions retain the notion of the Hebrew word chebel: "Ye who inhabit the measured allotment of the sea." "Philistia," says Sir C. Warren, "consists of an undulating plain from fifty to a hundred feet above the level of the sea, reaching thirty-two miles from Ekron to Gaza, with a breadth of from nine to sixteen miles. To the east of this the hills commence, not the hill country, but a series of low spurs and undulating ground, culminating in hogs' backs, running nearly north and south, and rising in places to twelve hundred feet above the ocean". The nation of the Cherethites. So in Ezekiel 25:16. Zephaniah calls the Philistines by this name for the sake of a play on the word, Cherethites meaning "Cutters off," and they were devoted to being "cut off" (karath). Part of David's bodyguard was composed of the same people (1 Samuel 30:14). The name seems to have belonged to a portion of the Philistines who inhabited the southern part of the district. "One of the principal villages of Philistia is now called Keretiya, so that the term may apply to the inhabitants of this town — an ancient Cherith not mentioned in the Bible". They have been supposed to have emigrated from Crete, but there are no reliable grounds for this theory, though the LXX. in the present passage has, Πάροικοι Κρητῶν, "sojourners of the Cretans;' and the Syriac gives a similar rendering. St. Jerome renders, "gens perditorum," "nation of destroyers." The word of the Lord is against you. The sentence is pronounced in the words following. O Canaan. O Philistia, which shall be as Canaan, and in like manner exterminated. Canaan means "Lowland," a name which originally was applied to the Phoenician and Philistine tracts on the seacoast. I will even destroy thee. The like threat is uttered by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 47:4, Jeremiah 47:5) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 25:15-26).
Dwellings and cottages for shepherds; better, pastures with caves for shepherds. In the use of the word keroth, "diggings" ("cottages," Authorized Version) there is probably intended another play on the "Cherethites." Neale, "The road from Gaza to Askalon lay along the sea shore. In the winter months many parts of it are impracticable, owing to the encroachment of the sea. The surf then dashes wildly into the huge caverns worked out of the endless sand hills that line this coast. These caverns were tenanted, when we passed, by goatherds and their flocks. Thither they resort for shelter from the fierce heat of the noontide sun; and here during the night the goats are penned. There are wells and reservoirs in the vicinity which furnish water for the flocks the whole year round, and the brambles and thorn bushes that flourish near the seaside form their pasturage" ('Eight Years in Syria,' 1:40, 41). Septuagint, ἔσται Κρήτη νομὴ ποιμνίων, "Crete shall be a pasture of flocks."
And the coast shall be for the remnant, etc.; it will be a tract .for the remnant. The district will be the possession of the Jews, who should be restored to their land (Obadiah 1:19). Zephaniah virtually predicts the Captivity and the return, and intimates that the destruction of hostile nations is the means of advancing true religion. They shall feed their flocks thereupon. Where the Philistine cities stood shall be the pasture ground of the Israelites' flocks. Ashkelon. One city is mentioned as a type of all. For. This is the reason why they are permitted to triumph thus. Shall visit. In a good sense, to protect and cherish (Exodus 4:31; Ruth 1:6; Psalms 8:4; Zechariah 10:3; Luke 1:68). Turn away (reverse) their captivity. Bring them back from their exile to their own land (comp. Joel 3:1; Micah 4:10). The phrase, however, is often (and possibly here) used metaphorically for the abolishment of misery and the restoration to a happy condition (comp. Deuteronomy 30:3; Job 42:10 (15); Jeremiah 29:14). The full accomplishment of this prophecy concerning the overthrow of Philistia is of a spiritual nature, and must be looked for in the Messianic era, when the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of Christ; and so in the subsequent predictions.
3. The punishment shall fall next upon the Moabites and Ammonites, representing the east.
The reproach of Moab. As this refers to past actions, it must signify the hostile attitude which Moab always assumed towards Israel. The revilings of the children of Ammon. Both these descendants of Lot proved themselves bitter enemies of the Jews. Keil refers to Numb, 15:30 and Ezekiel 20:27, where the word gadaph is used in the sense "to revile or blaspheme by actions." (For the persistent hostility of Moab, see note on Amos 2:1, and for that of Ammon, the note on Amos 1:13.) Magnified themselves against their border. They carried themselves haughtily, showed their pride by violating the territory of the Israelites. This pride and self-exaltation is a leading feature of the character of these two nations (comp. Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:29, etc.). The destruction of the kingdom of Israel and the weakness of that of Judah gave occasion to these neighbours to display their haughtiness and independence. The LXX. has, "my borders." God himself assigned its boundaries to Israel, as to other nations (Deuteronomy 32:8); and to invade these was an offence against him.
As I live. This is a common formulary to express certainty, God, as it were, pledging his existence to the truth of his declaration (Deuteronomy 32:40; Isaiah 49:18, etc.).. God calls himself, The Lord of hosts, therefore able to fulfil his threats; and the God of Israel, and therefore ready to punish wrongs done to his chosen people. As Sodom. This threat came home with particular force to the Moabites and Am. monites who dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea, and had before their eyes this awful proof of the chastisement with which sin meets, and which had happened in the time of their forefather Lot. "There are no settled inhabitants," says Dr. Porter, writing of Moab, "but the hillsides and glens are studded with the ruins of ancient towns and villages. We at length pitched our tents by the lonely fountain of Heshbon. The site of this royal city is commanding — a rounded hilt on the edge of avast plateau, which extends on the south and east to the horizon, and on the west breaks down in steep slopes, jagged cliffs, and wild ravines, to the Dead Sea and Jordan valley, nearly four thousand feet below. The hill was the nucleus of the city. Its sides are covered with ruins, and remains of houses, temples, and other buildings are strewn over a considerable section of the adjoining plain. All is desolate. Not a building, and scarcely a fragment of a wall, is standing; yet, though deserted for centuries, it bears its ancient name. I looked from Heshbon far and wide over the ancient territory of the Moabites, and saw desolation everywhere. The old towns and villages are all deserted and in ruins. In fact, there is not at this moment a single inhabited town or village in Moab, except Kerak, which stands on the extreme southern border. The sites of many were visible — grey mounds dotting the plain". "The cities, towns, villages, are all in ruins. ... And no attempt is ever made to rebuild or repair; no man ventures to seek even a temporary abode among the ruined cities of Moab. The local Arab avoids the old sites, and seeks rest and security amid rocks and ravines; the powerful desert tribes sweep over the country periodically, and devour and destroy all in their track". Even the breeding of nettles; rather, a possession of nettles; a place where nettles only grow. Vulgate, siccitas spinarum. The identification of the plant kharul is uncertain. In Job (Job 30:7) it is represented as of sufficient growth to conceal fugitives; hence some think it is the wild mustard. Dr. Pusey, relying on a notice of Professor Palmer, considers it to be the mallow, which grows in rank luxuriance in Moab. The LXX; reading daleth instead of mem in the ἅπαξ λεγόμενον mimshaq, rendered "breeding," has Δαμασκὸς ἐκλελειμμένη, "Damascus shall be left." Salt pits. All travellers note the abundance of rock salt in the vicinity of the Dead Sea (see Deuteronomy 29:23; and comp. Psalms 107:34; Jeremiah 17:6). A perpetual desolation. The prophecy intimates that this country should never recover its prosperity (comp. Ezekiel 25:1-26.). The residue of my people shall spoil them. A partial fulfilment of this prophecy occurred when Judas Maccabaeus smote Ammon (1 Macc. 5:6, etc.), and Alexander Jannaeus subdued the Moabites (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 13.13. 5); but the prophet looks forward to a spiritual fulfilment under the Messiah, as we see from Verse 11 (comp. Isaiah 14:1, Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 49:23, etc.). The faithful remnant shall win possession of the heathen strongholds, and convert the nations to Christ, and incorporate them in the Church.
This shall they have. All these calamities mentioned above shall fall on the Ammonites and Moabites in punishment of their pride and spite and insolence (see note on Zephaniah 2:8).
§ 4. Before passing to the judgment on the nations of the south and north, the prophet shows the object of all these chastisements: God destroys idolatry in order that pure religion may reign over all the earth. The Lord will be terrible unto them. The Lord shows himself as a terrible God over the Moabites and Ammonites, but only as parts of the heathen world, and with a view to a universal result This is the purpose of the revelation of himself as Judge. Septuagint, ̓Επιφανήσεται Κύριος ἐπ αὐτούς, "The Lord will appear against them." For he will famish all the gods of the earth. The verb means literally, "to make lean," and then "to destroy;" hence the LXX; ἐξολοθρεύσει. The word may be chosen in order to express the idea that worshippers will no more be found to offer sacrifices and drink offerings to the gods (see Bel and the Dragon 6, 12). The nations being destroyed, the gods reverenced by them would vanish and be heard of no more. Men shall worship him. Idolatry abolished, men shall learn to worship Jehovah. Every one from his place. Every one shall worship God in his own place and country; the Lord shall be universally recognized, and his worship shall no longer be confined to one temple or one land, but wherever men dwell there shall they offer their homage and adoration (comp. Isaiah 19:18, Isaiah 19:19; Malachi 1:11, where the same truth is signified). Such passages as Micah 4:1 and Zechariah 14:16, which seem to imply that all nations are to come up to the material Jerusalem to pay their devotions, require evidently a spiritual interpretation, and denote that the heathen converted to Christ shall be received into the Church, and join in the worship of the true Israel. The isles of the heathen; or, coasts of the nations; the most distant countries that lie across the seas (Genesis 10:5; Psalms 72:10; Isaiah 11:11, etc.).
5. The judgment shall fall upon the Ethiopians and Assyrians, representing the south and north.
Ethiopians; Cushites. These are named as the most remote inhabitants of the south with which the Israelites were acquainted (Ezekiel 38:5). Ye shall be slain by my sword; the slain of my sword are they, the second person being dropped, as one cannot address the dead (Orelli). The Lord's sword is the instrument which he uses to effect his purpose of punishment (comp. Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 34:5; Isaiah 66:16). The Ethiopians are reckoned among the forces of Egypt (2 Chronicles 12:3; Nahum 3:9, etc.). The prediction had a fulfilment when the Assyrians conquered Egypt, and again under Nebuchadnezzar. It shall have a more sublime accomplishment when the sword of the Spirit shall reduce the utmost south to the dominion of Christ (see Isaiah 45:14; Psalms 68:31). The commencement of this conversion is seen in the chamberlain of Queen Candace (Acts 8:27, etc.).
The north, represented by Assyria, as yet unconquered, and still apparently flourishing. Though this country lay to the northeast of Palestine, its armies attacked from the north, and it is generally represented as a northern power. Its destruction was foretold (Isaiah 10:12; Ezekiel 31:11, etc.; Nahum 1:14, etc.). In this verse the Hebrew verbs are not in the simple future, but in the imperative or optative mood, "Let him stretch out his hand," etc; as though the prophet were praying that the enemies of his people might be overthrown. Nineveh. St. Jerome gives speciosam, rendering the proper name according to his notion of its Hebrew etymology. Its proper meaning, in Accadian, would be "Fish house,". i.e. house consecrated to the god of fish. (For a description of Nineveh, see note on Jonah 1:2. For the destruction of Nineveh, see the Introduction to Nahum, § I.) Dry like a wilderness. The country shall become an and desert. Assyria was greatly indebted for its remarkable fertility to a very successful system of artificial irrigation, and when this was not maintained, great tracts soon relapsed into a wilderness (Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:68). "Cultivation," says Professor Rawlinson, "is now the exception instead of the rule. 'Instead of the luxuriant fields, the groves and gardens of former times, nothing now meets the eye but an arid waste' (Chesny). Large tracts are covered by unwholesome marshes, producing nothing but enormous reeds; others lie waste and bare, parched up by the fierce heat of the sun, and utterly destitute of water; in some places sand drifts accumulate, and threaten to make the whole region a mere portion of the desert" ('Anc. Men.,' 1:41).
Flocks; herds. The prophet describes graphically the desolation mentioned in the preceding verse. The "herds" are not sheep and cattle, as in parallel cases (Isaiah 17:2; Isaiah 27:10; Isaiah 32:14), but all the beasts of the nations — all the wild beasts that infest the country. Septuagint, πάντα τὰ θηρία τῆς γῆς. The Hebrew will hardly hear Keil's rendering, "all kinds of beasts in crowds." (Compare similar predictions, Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:11, Isaiah 34:14). The cormorant (kaath); probably the pelican; Vulgate, onocrotalus; the Septuagint gives, χαμαιλέοντες, which word Schleusner thinks to have been interchanged with κόρακες that follows soon afterwards. Bat in the latter place Jerome has corvus. The pelican is found in the Assyrian monuments tinder more than one appellation. The bittern (kippod). Most recent critics translate this by "hedgehog" or "porcupine." The Septuagint has, ἐχῖνοι: the Vulgate, ericius. But neither hedgehog nor porcupine utters cries or frequents pools of water, and it may well be doubted whether some marsh-loving bird is not meant. Certainly the following clause suits the habits of a bird better than those of a hedgehog. No notice of the bittern seems to be found in the Assyrian monuments, though the mention of the heron is not uncommon. The kaath and kippod are commonly mentioned together, e.g. Isaiah 34:1-23. II. The upper lintels; "the capitals" of the columns (see note on Amos 9:1, where the same word kaphtor is used). Their voice shall sing in the windows; literally, the voice of the songster in the window. Birds shall perch and sing in the apertures of the ruined palaces. Vulgate, Vox cantantis in fenestra; the LXX. has, Θηρία φωνήσει ἐν, τοῖς διορύγμασιν αὐτῆς, "Wild beasts shall cry in the breaches thereof." Others translate, "Hark! it singeth in the windows." There are no traces of windows in any of the Assyrian palaces, even in the ease of chambers next the outer walls. If daylight were admitted, it must have entered through openings in the ceilings (Layard, 'Nineveh.' 2:260). Desolation shall be in the thresholds. The word rendered "desolation" (chorebh) Jerome notes may be read as meaning "sword," "drought." and "raven;" he adopts the last signification, and translates, in agreement with the LXX; corvus. But it seems best to take the term as signifying "desolation;" no human creature shall be found there, only ruin and rubbish. Ewald renders, "Owls shall sing in the windows, crows on the threshold, 'shivered. crushed.'" For he shall uncover (he hath laid bare) the cedar work. God, or the enemy, has so destroyed the palaces that the cedar panelling is exposed to the weather. Jerome has, "Attenuabo robur ejus." We see by Sennacherib's boast (Isaiah 37:24) that the Assyrians imported cedars for building purposes. And we have monumental evidence of the employment of cedar in palaces at least since the time of Assurnazirpal, B.C. 860. Esar-haddon reports that he received cypress and cedar from Lebanon as tribute; and Assurbanipal states that in erecting his palace he used cedar pillars from Sirjon and Lebanon. Neriglissar, King of Babylon, B.C. 559, in rebuilding his palace, records that he "arranged tall cedars for its roof" ('Records of the Past,' 5:142).
This is the rejoicing city. Such is the fate of this once exulting city, that dwelt carelessly, secure, with no fear of danger at hand (Isaiah 47:8, on which this passage is founded). I am, and there is none beside me. Thus, in effect, Nineveh claimed for himself the attributes of Almighty God. She stands alone, mistress of nations, a type of the powers of this world, which deify themselves and defy the Lord. Septuagint, Οὐκ ἔστι μετ ἐμὲ ἔτι, "There is no more any after me." Shall hiss. In scorn (Job 27:23; Jeremiah 19:8; Micah 6:16). Wag his hand. He shall shake or wave his hand with the gesture of dismissal, as if saying, "Away with thee! get thee gone!" — a rehearsal of the awful "Depart ye!" in the final judgment (comp. Nahum 3:19).
Zephaniah 2:1, Zephaniah 2:2. - The evil summoned to repentance.
Having declared fully and faithfully the Divine judgments, the prophet changed his tone, and, turning, to another aspect of truth and blending compassion with severity, he tenderly entreated those who had become so estranged from God to return to him with all their hearts. This is how he appeals to his godless fellow countrymen. "Gather yourselves," etc. (Zephaniah 2:1, Zephaniah 2:2). Notice —
I. THE HARDENING EFFECT OF SIN. Evil hardens those who indulge in it, even as the fire hardens the material brought under its influence. You read such words as Jeremiah 2:25; Jeremiah 18:12; Zechariah 7:12, and you cannot help bring impressed with the hardening tendency of sin. So here (Zechariah 7:1) note the words, "O nation not desired." The word rendered "desired" means "to turn pale," "to become white with shame." It is the same word used by Isaiah (Isaiah 29:22), "Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale." Indulgence in sin renders men stubborn and stiffnecked. There is a spiritual condition expressively described as "past feeling." The heart may become hardened, and the conscience seared. "Take heed," etc. (Hebrews 3:13).
II. GOD'S INFINITE CONDESCENSION AND GRACE IN MAKING ANY APPROACH OR APPEAL TO THOSE THUS CONFIRMED IN EVIL DOING. He might have left such to reap the full consequences of their transgressions, whereas in truth, all down the ages. his seeking love has been going out after such with a view to their restoration, and even his chastisements have had the same merciful intention.
1. We see this seeking love of God manifested in ancient time in the raising up of these prophets, men full of faith and power; bold, courageous, daring; and in sending these forth to expostulate with the callous and impenitent, if perchance they might be led "to break off sin by righteousness."
2. In the Incarnation. He who spake in time past to the fathers by the prophets, subsequently spoke unto them by his Son (Hebrews 1:1). "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost."
3. In the institution of the Christian ministry, sending forth his ambassadors to proclaim to the estranged the conditions of reconciliation and peace (2 Corinthians 5:20).
III. GOD'S CALL ADDRESSED TO EVIL DOERS IS A CALL TO REPENTANCE. "Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together" (Verse 1); i.e. "Bend yourselves," bend low in contrition in view of transgression — repent, and submit yourselves to God. The nature of repentance must be understood in order to this. There enters into it the element of sorrow; the deep humbling of the soul; yet sorrow alone does not constitute it; there must accompany this the breaking away from sin, and the turning unto God. "Repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" are sacred and imperative duties and obligations; yet there is no merit in them, but the heart must rest entirely in the mercy of God, which is so large that man has only to bend his heart before God — to be willing — and God's all-regenerating power shall be experienced. Then "bend yourselves, bend, ye people, that do not grow pale" (Verse 1).
IV. THIS SPIRIT OF PENITENCE AND SUBMISSION TO THE LORD GOD SHOULD BE CHERISHED WITHOUT DELAY. (Verse 2.) A British general, on being asked when he could be read), to take the command of the forces, answered, "Now." He knew as a soldier that the call of duty did not admit of delay. When a course is felt by us to be right, we ought at once to pursue it. "What is 'now'? 'A bright presence.' Wrestle with it, and say, 'I will not let thee go except thou bless me'! 'A sweet garden.' Go, gather in it the fruits of life! 'A true temple.' Bow down in it, and consecrate yourself to him who has placed you within its shrine! 'A living rescue.' Use it, that you may run into the ark of safety! 'A rich banquet.' Now the feast is spread: 'Come, eat, O friends, drink, O beloved! yea, eat and live forever'!". "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation' (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Zephaniah 2:3. - The good stimulated to a truer life.
It is a truth admitting of abundant illustration, that even in the most degenerate times God has had a people to show forth his praise. He has not left himself without witnesses. Whilst in this prophet's day there was "the remnant of Baal" (Zephaniah 1:4), there was also "the remnant of the house of Judah" (Zephaniah 2:7), "the remnant of Israel," that did no iniquity nor uttered lies (Zephaniah 3:13). "The meek of the earth" clothed with humility and working righteousness (Zephaniah 2:3).
I. TRUE PIETY INFLUENCES BOTH THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF ITS SUBJECTS. It is an inward grace, manifesting itself outwardly in holy excellence and holy living.
1. Humility is the token referred to as indicating its influence upon the character. "Ye meek of the earth." Meekness is power tempered with gentleness — it is the soul restraining, holding back its own power.
(1) It manifests itself towards God. He has marked out to man the true way of life; but man has the power to decline to pursue this course. "The meek of the earth" are such as, although conscious of this power, yield themselves up in passive obedience to God, to receive the impress of his Spirit, and to be mounted at his will.
(2) And it manifests itself towards man. The possessor of this heavenly grace, in his intercourse with his fellow men, lays aside all parade and show and ostentation; whilst under wrong, in patience he possesses his soul, and although he may have the power to revenge the wrong done, he holds hack this power, ruling his spirit, and proving himself mightier than he who taketh a city.
2. Rectitude is the token referred to as indicating the influence of true piety upon the conduct. "Which have wrought his judgment" (Zephaniah 2:3). It prompts to obedience to God's revealed Law — to righteousness of life — obedience rendered by a heart thoroughly loyal to God and to righteousness, and which, becoming the very habit of the soul, is rendered easy and pleasant.
II. THE GROWTH OF THE SOUL IN HOLY CHARACTER AND CONDUCT IS GRADUAL. The reiterated counsels and exhortations addressed to the good by prophets and apostles indicate that the goal had not been reached. Such are to "go on unto perfection" (Hebrews 6:1), to seek to be continually advancing, ever to be aiming after a purer and holier life. "Nearer, my God, to thee." "Not as though I had already attained," etc. (Philippians 3:12).
III. THIS PROGRESS IS TO BE SECURED AS THE RESULT OF DIVINE DISCIPLINE AND PERSONAL ENDEAVOUR.
1. Divine discipline. In the time of national calamity described by this prophet, and ere long to befall his land, the good as well as the evil would suffer — the sorowful experience would be passed through by all, whilst the Divine discipline thus designed to rouse the indifferent was intended also to purify the good, and to contribute to the perfecting in them the Divine character and life. And such being ever the gracious intention of God, let the good circumstanced thus sing —
"Great Master, touch us with thy skilful hand,
Let not the music that is in us die;
Great Sculptor, hew and polish us, nor let
Hidden and lost thy form within us lie.
Spare not thy stroke; do with us as thou wilt;
Let there be nought unfinished, broken, marr'd;
Complete thy purpose, that we may become
Thy perfect image, O our God and Lord!"
2. Personal endeavor. The seer here stimulated the good to persevering effort so as to attain unto a truer life. "Seek ye the Lord;" "seek righteousness;" "seek meekness." By earnest prayer, by calm reflection and meditation, and by holy service, man is to cooperate with God with a view to his own spiritual growth. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," etc. (Philippians 2:12).
IV. THEY WHO THUS PROGRESS IN THE DIVINE LIFE SHALL BE RENDERED SECURE IN THE DAY OF CONFLICT AND JUDGMENT. "It may be ye shall be hid," etc. (Zephaniah 2:3). The "may be" was not intended to express uncertainty with reference to their security, but rather to keep them from becoming too confident and self-reliant. They who continue in the love and service of God cannot but be secure, for their safety is amply guaranteed (Isaiah 26:20; Psalms 31:20; Isaiah 32:2).
Zephaniah 2:4-36. - The doom of the Philistines.
The prophet, having declared the judgments to come upon Judah, turned his thoughts to the surrounding heathen nations, and proclaimed the doom they should experience. Several reasons probably influenced him in taking this survey and in calling attention to the chastisements inflicted upon other lands.
(1) A desire to make it clear to his people that with God there is no respect of persons;
(2) that wrong doing works evil issues wherever it is practised;
(3) to make vivid to them that the dark clouds of retribution were gathering, and so to rouse them out of their apathy and to stimulate them to return to righteousness of life. In referring thus to the heathen, he began with the Philistines, the natural enemies of his nation. We have here —
I. A SOLEMN DECLARATION OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS TO BE EXECUTED AGAINST EVILDOERS.
1. The nation referred to was that of the Philistines. They were very influential in Palestine. Occupying the coast, they were in possession of the trade carried on with Europe and Asia. Besides this transit trade, they had vast internal resources. They were given to agriculture, and hence we read that the Israelites had to go to the Philistines "to sharpen every man his share and his coulter, his axe and his mattock." In their prosperity they built their five great cities, Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. They were warlike and idolatrous, and through their self-sufficiency and boastfulness, their tyranny and oppression, together with their idol worship, they became offensive in the sight of Heaven.
2. The judgments here declared as about to overtake them. Their cities should be destroyed, their land rendered desolate, their inhabitants should be removed, the busy tract by the sea, where once trade and commerce flourished, should become pastures and folds for sheep, and. where once stood the abodes of prosperous merchants, the humble shepherds should construct their huts (Zephaniah 2:4-36).
3. The fulfilment is unquestionable; the word of the Lord by the mouth of his holy prophet has been amply verified. It is true that the Gaza of today is a populous town, and hence those ready to carp and cavil have urged that, Gaza has not been forsaken. But the ruins which have been found and explored within a mile or two of modern Gaza indicate the site of the ancient city, and tell how that city has indeed, like the others, passed away. "The Word of our God shall stand foreVerse"
II. A TENDER ASSURANCE OF DIVINE MERCY TO BE MANIFESTED TOWARDS THE FAITHFUL. In terms of exquisite beauty and gracious tenderness he represents the faithful servants of Heaven, "the remnant of Judah," as visited by God in the midst of their dark experiences, brought by him out of captivity and conducted by his guiding hand to the green pastures, where their wants are fully supplied by day, and to quiet resting places, where by night they may lie down and repose in perfect security, as being under the Divine Shepherd's guardian care (Zephaniah 2:7). The verse has been taken by some literally, and they have either seen its fulfilment in the return of the pious Jews after captivity in Babylon, or they look on to the fulfilment in the conversion of the Jews and their restoration to their own land; whilst others are content with recognizing in the words a confident assurance and a beautiful symbolical picture of that ultimate peace and security and abundance which all the ransomed of the Lord shall enjoy. Certain it is that we may take the seer's stern words pronouncing the doom of the Philistines as conveying a clear intimation that evil doing shall assuredly be followed by Divine retribution, whilst from his words of promise to the faithful we may draw the encouraging and inspiring consciousness that the faithful and God fearing shall be sustained and comforted in present sorrow, and shall at length emerge out of the gloom and the darkness into the sunshine of a true prosperity.
Zephaniah 2:8-36. - The Divine judgment upon the Moabites and Ammonites.
The Moabites and Ammonites were related to the israelites by kinship. They were the descendants of Lot — the Moabites by Moab, the elder son of that patriarch, and the Ammonites by Ben-Ammi, or Ammon, his younger son (Genesis 19:37, Genesis 19:38). With these tribes, in view of this blood relationship, the Israelites were distinctly forbidden to wage war (Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19). These pastoral tribes, however, did not act thus peaceably toward Israel. They cherished the spirit of hatred in reference to the Israelites, which manifested itself in their revilings and boastings, and also in the incursions they made upon their territory (Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:29). The prophet here proceeds to declare against these tribes the judgments of God. Note —
I. THE PREVAILING SIN OF THE MOABITES AND AMMONITES. Pride (Zephaniah 2:10; Jeremiah 48:29). This spirit manifested itself
(1) in their evil speaking, — "they reproached and reviled God's people" (Zephaniah 2:8);
(2) in their arrogant and insolent bearing, — they "magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of hosts" (Zephaniah 2:10);
(3) in their deeds of oppression and cruelty, — they "magnified themselves against their border" (Zephaniah 2:8), crossing this and making raids upon Judah, and taking special advantage of those seasons when; through conflict with foreign adversaries, that nation had become enfeebled. This sin of pride, so characteristic of these tribes, is still very prevalent, and lies at the very root of human misery; it leads to the cherishing of false appearances, to inconsiderateness and injustice with reference to the rights of others; it occasions misunderstandings, and then, standing in the way of mutual concession, causes alienation. It inflicts likewise self-injury, carries with it its own chastisement in the unhappy spirit it engenders; it is its own condemnation, for it is evident to all that trees whose boughs do not bend to the ground are not very well laden with fruit; and it ends in ruin, for "pride goeth before destruction," etc. (Proverbs 16:18).
II. THE SURE PUNISHMENT WITH WHICH THEY WERE TO BE OVERTAKEN ON ACCOUNT THEREOF. (Zephaniah 2:9.)
1. Their cities were to be destroyed. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah of old had become engulfed in the Dead Sea, upon which these haughty ones constantly gazed without recalling the past and laying to heart its lessons of warning, so theirs should likewise pass away.
2. Their rich pasture lands should become barren, and the fertile region changed into a region of nettles and salt pits and a perpetual desert (Zephaniah 2:9).
3. Israel, so often oppressed by them and called upon to endure their scorn and contempt, should eventually triumph over them, and take possession of their territory as the spoils of war (Zephaniah 2:9).
4. This fate should really come to pass, since Jehovah was against them, and was pledged to its accomplishment. "Therefore as I live," etc. (Zephaniah 2:9). All that his people had suffered through their haughtiness, he had known (Zephaniah 2:8), and would duly requite. And so ever, since he reigneth, shall pride be subdued and the haughty oppressor be laid in the dust. "He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He puts down the mighty from their seats, and exalts them of low degree" (Luke 1:51, Luke 1:52)
"True dignity abides with him alone
Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,
Can still suspect and still revere himself
In lowliness of heart."
Zephaniah 2:11. - The Divine purpose in reference to the race, and the way of its fulfilment.
A very erroneous notion has been widely entertained respecting God's relations to the peoples of the earth. The representation has been very current that, in selecting the Jewish tribes and constituting these his "peculiar treasure," the Most High left all other nations to their own resources, and that they became practically outcasts from his love and care. We have, however, abundant evidence that such is by no means the teaching of Scripture; that whilst with a view to the revealing and developing of his plan of redeeming mercy he did select the Jewish race, imparting to them special privileges and communicating to them a knowledge of his will, yet that all the nations were likewise under his government and nurture. We think of what is recorded in the Bible respecting Job the Chaldean, Balaam the heathen soothsayer, the mission of Elisha to the woman of Sarepta, and of Jonah to Nineveh, and the Divine revelations made to heathen monarchs, and, with all this before us, we cannot foster the notion that the world outside the pale of Judaism was disregarded by Heaven, but we see clearly that, whilst God was working out his special purposes of love to the race through the medium of" the chosen people," he was also in various ways by his Spirit striving with all the children of men. The beauty in the teachings of the Hebrew prophets consists in She fact that they were so ready to acknowledge all this; that they broke through the narrow boundary of exclusiveness which the Jews guarded so jealously, and told of the Divine working in all lands, and of the Divine intention to bless the entire race. The case of the Prophet Zephaniah is a conspicuous example of this. Whilst declaring the Divine judgments to light upon his own people, he also looked north and south, east and west, and saw the retributions which were to come upon the heathen nations. Nor did he rest here, but, peering still further into the future and apprehending the Divine Ruler as bringing order out of chaos, and out of trial and sorrow working good for the race, he paused in the midst of his dark announcements of coming woe to proclaim this loving design of his God (Verse 11), whilst at length, having ended his predictions of impending evil, he again turned to this cheering theme, and fingered upon it even to the very end of his prophecy (Zephaniah 3:8-36).
I. THE DIVINE PURPOSE AS HERE EXPRESSED. This includes:
1. The complete extinction of idolatry. This is most expressly referred to here under the figure of starvation. The gods of the heathen should die through want and neglect. "He will famish all the gods of the earth" (Verse 11).
2. The full establishment of the worship of God. "And men shall worship him every one from his place" (Verse 11).
3. The universal acknowledgment of him by Gentile nations. "Even all the isles of the heathen" (Verse 11). The thought of the universality of this acknowledgment of the true God eventually is seen to be the more decidedly expressed here as we remember that in ancient times whole countries and continents were described as "the isles."
II. THIS DIVINE PURPOSE IS TO BE WROUGHT OUT THROUGH THE OUTWARD DISCIPLINE OF CONFLICT AND TRIAL. "The Lord will be terrible unto them" (Verse 11). Men are to be humbled that God may be exalted. They pursue their own designs, and often care only for the realization of their own selfish ends, but "the Lord sitteth in the heavens," ruling over all, and, through all the conflicts and strifes, the turmoils and trials of individuals and nations, he is bringing to pass his loving purposes, and is leading on to the glory of the latter day.
III. THE THOUGHT OF GOD AS WORKING THUS YIELDS INSPIRATION AND STRENGTH TO TRUE AND LOYAL HEARTS AMIDST THE DIFFICULTIES AND DISCOURAGEMENTS IN HOLY SERVICE. This was to Zephaniah the source of strength. Whilst faithful to his trust as the messenger of judgment he made to his own and to heathen nations the stern announcements of coming tribulation, he paused again and again to reflect upon the thought that these very judgments should be made to contribute to the accomplishment of God's merciful and gracious design to bless and save the race.
Zephaniah 2:12. - The doom of Ethiopia.
We have here simply a passing allusion, yet we do well to pause and reflect upon it. Every word of God is "profitable," and even words which at first glance seem unimportant are found on reflection to be suggestive of holy teaching. We are reminded here —
I. THAT THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS BEACH EVEN TO REMOTE PLACES. Ethiopia was in the south, and at the extreme south. Now, Judah had other and nearer foes in that direction. There was Edom and there was Egypt; but the prophet, in his announcement . of coming Divine judgments, carried his thoughts beyond these, and fixed his mind upon those dwelling at the remotest point. "Ye Ethiopians also," etc. (Zephaniah 2:12). Remoteness will not screen wrong doers.
II. THAT IT IS PERILOUS TO STAND IN ASSOCIATION WITH THOSE WHO ENGAGE IN EVIL DOING. These Ethiopians or Cushites had no direct conflict with Judah, but they were in alliance with Egypt; and through this alliance they would have to suffer in the time of coming retribution. Egypt was specially singled out for judgment because of her oppression, and Ethiopia, as one of her allies, her "helpers," would fall under the retributive chastisements of God (Ezekiel 30:4, Ezekiel 30:5). They who ally themselves with transgressors make themselves participators in their crimes, and must expect to be partakers of their plagues.
III. THAT THE EVIL PASSIONS OF MEN ARE MADE TO FULFIL THE DIVINE BEHESTS. War is a terrible evil. In no way are the evil passions of men more surely let loose than in such conflicts; yet by these military conflicts God's purposes have at times been accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces, invading Egypt and destroying the Egyptians and their allies the Ethiopians, were instruments God employed to work his will. God through his holy prophet declared, "Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword" (Zephaniah 2:12).
Zephaniah 2:13-36. -The doom of Assyria.
It was very natural that the prophet, in unfolding the Divine judgments upon heathen nations, should turn his thoughts to the north and to the Assyrian empire. That power was, in his day, at the very zenith of its prosperity, and his own nation was peculiarly exposed to its tyranny and oppression. The Hebrew seers frequently referred to this empire and to the ruin which should eventually overtake it; and whilst Zephaniah's allusion is very brief, limited indeed to three verses, it is nevertheless remarkably graphic and vivid. Observe —
I. THE STERN SENTENCE. (Verses 13, 14.)
1. It foretold that the prevailing power which was seeking the overthrow of the kingdom of God in Judah should itself be completely destroyed. In a few descriptive touches he set forth the utter ruin which should befall the haughty Assyrian nation. She should be destroyed, and her capital become a dry, desolate waste in the midst of which the beasts of the desert should make their home. Her temples and palaces should lie broken, pelicans and hedgehogs lodging in the fallen capitals, whilst instead of the strains of the men singers and women singers, no more to be heard in her palaces, the notes of some solitary bird sitting in the window of some outer wall should alone sound forth. "Desolation" too "should be on the thresholds," and heaps of sand blown from the desert should mingle with the wreck of the city, until at length every trace of the former magnificence should have disappeared. And the acknowledgment should be made that this ruin was merited; the passer-by should hiss with very scorn, and move his hand in token of supreme contempt (Verses 13-15).
2. It declared this ruin to be the result of the Divine working. "And he will stretch out his hand," etc. (Verse 13).
3. This stern doom thus pronounced has literally come to pass. Modern research has been amply rewarded in the evidence which has thus been supplied of the fulfilment to the very letter of God's declarations uttered through his holy prophets. "The Word of the Lord endureth foreVerse"
II. THE SOLEMN REFLECTION. (Verse 15.)
1. In reading these words we are led to feel that the prophet had a vivid realization of the future, and of the changes which were to take place. He saw "the rejoicing city" full of worldly prosperity, and he saw it likewise in its desolation, and his heart was moved as he reflected upon the instability of mere earthly greatness and might.
2. He traced the coming overthrow of the Assyrian power to its true causes.
(1) Pride. "That said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me" (Verse 15).
(2) Selfishness. "There is none beside me." Her interests centred in herself. There was no regard for the rights of others. She sought only her own ends, and sought by oppression and cruelty to make all surrounding nations tributary to her own worldly splendour and prosperity. And fostering this unholy spirit, she "dwelt carelessly," crying, "Peace and safety," wrapt in carnal security, until at length "sudden destruction" came upon her, and she was left in her desolation, silently yet emphatically to proclaim to all after ages that true prosperity for nations, as for individuals, lies not in material greatness and worldly aggrandizement, but in the cultivation of the fear of God and in rectitude and righteousness of life.
HOMILIES BY T. WHITELAW
Zephaniah 2:1, Zephaniah 2:2. -A call to repentance, addressed to the nation of Judah.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE NATION DESCRIBED. Not its physical or material, but its moral or religious, condition. The former prosperous and fitted to inspire vain thoughts of stability and permanence. Its upper classes devoted to money making and pleasure seeking (Zephaniah 1:8, Zephaniah 1:12; cf. Jeremiah 4:30); its lower orders, here not the victims of oppression (Zephaniah 1:9; Zephaniah 3:1; cf. Jeremiah 5:27, Jeremiah 5:28; Jeremiah 6:6), well fed and comfortable (Jeremiah 5:7, Jeremiah 5:17). The latter degenerate and deserving of severe reprehension.
1. Irreligious. According to the marginal rendering of both the Authorized and Revised Versions, the nation was "not desirous," i.e. possessed no longing after Jehovah, his Law, or worship, but had forsaken him, and sworn by them that are no gods (Jeremiah 5:7), offering up sacrifices and pouring out drink offerings unto other divinities in the open streets, and even setting up their abominations in the temple (Jeremiah 7:17, Jeremiah 7:18, 80). For a nation no more than for an individual is it possible to remain in a state of irreligious neutrality or indifference. The people whose aspirations go not forth after him who is the King of nations as well as King of saints will sooner or later find themselves trusting in "lying vanities," or creating divinities out of their own foolish imaginations (Romans 1:23). Between theism and polytheism is no permanent half way house for either humanity as a whole or man as an individual.
2. Shameless. This translation (Grotius, Gesenius, Ewald, Keil and Detitzsch, Cheyne, and there) depicts the moral and spiritual hardening which results from sin long continued, passionately loved, and openly gloried in, as Judah's apostasy had been (Zephaniah 3:5). A whole diameter of moral and spiritual being lies between the shamelessness of innocence (Genesis 2:25) and the shamelessness of sin (Philippians 3:19). The former is beautiful and excites admiration; the latter is loathsome and evokes reprehension and pity. "A generation," says Pressense, "which can no longer blush is in open insurrection against the first principles of universal morality" ('The Early Years of Christianity,' 4:892).
3. Hateful. So the Authorized Version, followed by Pusey. The degenerate nation, addicted to idolatry and sunk in immorality, was not desired or loved by God; but, on account of its wickedness, was an object of aversion to God. No contradiction to the truth elsewhere stated that God still loved the people and desired their reformation (Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:14); neither is it inconsistent to preach that "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalms 7:11); and that, nevertheless, "he wilteth not that any should perish, but that all should turn to him and live" (2 Peter 3:9).
II. THE DUTY OF THE NATION DEFINED. To "gather themselves together." The figure, derived from the gathering together or collecting of stubble or dry sticks, "which are picked up one by one, with search and care" (Pusey), points to that work of self-examination which, in nations as in individuals, must precede conversion, and must be conducted:
1. With resoluteness. Being a work to which their hearts were naturally not disposed, it could not be entered upon and far less carried through without deliberate and determined personal effort. Hence the prophet's reduplication of his exhortation. To make one's self the subject of serious introspection, never easy, is specially difficult when the object is to detect one's faults and pronounce judgment on one's deeds.
2. With inwardness. A merely superficial survey would not suffice. An action outwardly correct may be intrinsically wrong, Hence the individual that would conduct a real work of self-examination must withdraw himself as much as possible from things eternal, take his seat on the interior tribunal of conscience, and gather round him all that forms a part of his being, in addition to his spoken words and finished deeds, the feelings out of which these have sprung, the motives by which they have been directed, the ends at which they have aimed, and subject the whole to a calm and impartial review.
3. With minuteness. The things to be reviewed must be taken one by one, and not merely in the mass. Words and deeds, motives and feelings, when only glanced at in the heap, seldom reveal their true characters; to be known in their very selves they must be looked at, considered, questioned, weighed separately. All about them must be brought to light and placed beneath the microscope of conscientious investigation.
4. With thoroughness. As each word, act, feeling. motive, so all must be taken. None must be exempted from scrutiny. Nor will it suffice that they be passed through the ordeal of examination once; the process must be repeated and re-repeated till the exact truth is known. "For a first search, however diligent, never thoroughly reaches the whole deep disease of the whole man; the most grievous sins hide other grievous sins, though lighter. Some sins flash on the conscience at one time, some at another; so that few, even upon a diligent search, come at once to the knowledge of all their heaviest sins" (Pusey).
III. THE DANGER OF THE NATION DECLARED. Unless the duty recommended and prescribed were immediately and heartily entered upon and carried through, the judgment already lying in the womb of God's decree would come to the birth, and the day of his fierce anger would overtake them.
1. The event was near. Should Judah continue unrepentant, the hour of doom would be on her before she was aware. It was rapidly approaching, like chaff driven before the wind. So will the day of the Lord come upon the wicked unawares (Luk 16:1-31 :35).
2. The issue was certain. Like chaff before the wind, too, her people would be driven away to pitiless destruction. The like fate is reserved for ungodly men generally (Psalms 1:4; Job 21:18). Nothing can avert the final overthrow of the unbelieving and impenitent, whether nation or individual, but repentance and reformation, not outward but inward, not seeming but real, not temporary but permanent.
1. The reality of national no less than of individual wickedness.
2. The responsibility that attaches to nations as well as men.
3. The necessity of self-examination for communities as well as for private persons. — T.W.
Zephaniah 2:3. - An exhortation to the meek, addressed to the believing remnant of Judah.
I. A CHEERING TESTIMONY.
1. To the existence of a believing remnant. Dark as the outlook for Judah was, degenerate as the mass of her people had become, there were yet those belonging to her community who either had not apostatized from Jehovah or had reverted to their allegiance (see 2 Kings 22:1-12; 2 Kings 23:1-12.; 2 Chronicles 34:1-14; 2 Chronicles 35:1-14.). Since "the days that were before the Flood" (Genesis 6:5-1, Genesis 6:12, Genesis 6:13), God has never wanted a seed to serve him, though oftentimes it has been small, and as in the days of Elijah (1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:18) scarcely perceptible, at least by man. Compare the times after the exile (Malachi 3:16) and those preceding the birth of Christ (Luke 2:25). "Even so at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5). However discouraging in some respects the present aspect of Society may be — what with infidelity in the upper and learned classes, indifference towards religion among the masses, and lukewarmness on the one hand with fanaticism on the other in the Church itself — there are, nevertheless, those who fear God and think upon his Name, who believe in Christ and seek to follow in his steps, who sigh and cry for the irreligion of the age, mourn over the deadness and divisions of the Church, and pray for the coming of that happy era when "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord," etc. (Isaiah 11:9).
2. To the beauty of their characters, Designated "the meek of the earth." Indicating
(1) their patience in enduring the disesteem, scorn, ridicule, and perhaps also oppression, spoliation, and persecution heaped upon them for their nonconformity to general custom in the matter of religion, and for venturing to dissent from common practice in serving Baal; and
(2) their humility in maintaining intercourse with others, but especially in communing with God. Such virtues of patience and humility lie at the root of all religion (Matthew 5:3, Matthew 5:5), were exemplified by Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:29; Mat 27:12; 2 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Peter 2:23), and are demanded of all his followers (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 2:21).
3. To the piety of their lives. They had "wrought Jehovah's judgment," i.e. had honestly endeavoured to carry out what Jehovah had prescribed as the right thing to do in the matter of worship and duty. This, after all, the ultimate test of sincerity in religion, which signifies not the mere acceptance of certain propositions relating to God, his worship, and his commandment, but the carrying out of God's will in respect of both. Compare what Samuel said to Saul (1 Samuel 15:22), what Christ explained to his followers (John 14:15; John 15:14), and what Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 10:5).
II. AN URGENT ADMONITION.
1. Its import. Explained by two clauses: "Seek righteousness, seek meekness." Only in these ways could Jehovah be sought — neither by coveting the material and temporal tokens of his favour, such as health, comfort, protection, prosperity, nor by maintaining the external forms of his worship, however elaborate or costly, but by aspiring after inward and outward, spiritual and moral conformity to his Law (righteousness) and character (meekness). The same sense attaches to the phrase when addressed to Christians, who are exhorted to follow after righteousness and meekness (1 Timothy 6:11), and to seek both in Christ (Matthew 11:29; Romans 10:4).
2. Its incidence. Declared by the words, "all ye meek." Addressed to the humble hearted, first in Judah, and then in the whole world. The obligation to seek Jehovah grounded for both on
(1) their relations to Jehovah as his creatures and servants;
(2) their own free choice of him as their Lord and King;
(3) the nature of religion, which is not an act to be performed once for all, but a habit of soul to be maintained throughout life; and
(4) the necessity of attending to their own safety, which could not otherwise be secured than by patient continuance in well doing (Matthew 24:13; Romans 2:7; Revelation 2:10).
3. Its urgency. Proclaimed by the threefold "seek." The like diligence demanded of all in the matter of religion.
(1) Because of the majesty of him whose service it is (2 Chronicles 2:5; 1 Timothy 6:15).
(2) Because of its intrinsic excellence as a purely spiritual service (John 4:24; Romans 12:1).
(3) Because of the momentous issues involved in it according as it is sincere or insincere (Job 8:13; Proverbs 10:28).
(4) Because of the shortness and uncertainty of man's opportunity on earth to make his calling and election sure (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ephesians 5:16; Philippians 4:5).
III. AN ENCOURAGING CONSOLATION.
1. A promise of salty for the righteous. Not a doubtful promise, though introduced by "it may be." From this phrase it cannot be inferred that the prophet was uncertain whether the meek in the laud would be protected in the day when Jehovah poured out his wrath upon Judah and Jerusalem; or whether the meek generally would be sheltered in the day of judgment. Merely he intimated that the hiding would be difficult; not the hiding of them by Jehovah, with whom nothing could be hard or easy, but the supplying by them of the moral and spiritual conditions without which God's hiding of them could not come to pass. The ultimate salvation of the meek is guaranteed (Psalms 149:4; Matthew 5:5); but the actual process, in time, of saving them is attended by so many difficulties that throe is need for constant watchfulness against the danger of coming short.
2. A threatening of doom for the ungodly. If the difficulty of saving the righteous be so great, what possible loophole of escape can there be for the ungodly (Luke 23:31; 1 Peter 4:17, 1 Peter 4:18)? The overthrow of the wicked an additional security to the salvation of the righteous. — T.W.
Zephaniah 2:4-36. - Divine judgments upon heathen nations.
I. THE NATIONS SPECIFIED.
1. Philistia in the west.
(1) Its situation. "The seacoast," "the region of the sea," or "the track by the sea." Extending along the Mediterranean, from Gaza in the south to Jaffa in the north, and reaching back to the hill country of Judah in the west, it consisted of two parallel strips of land; one "of undulating plains, about twelve miles in breadth, bordering on the seacoast, elevated from fifty to a hundred feet above the sealevel, without distinctive features, and composed of the richest alluvial deposit;" and another "twelve to fifteen miles wide, consisting of a series of hills and spurs from five hundred to eight hundred feet above the sealevel, and broken through by broad valleys" ('Picturesque Palestine,' 3:151).
(2) Its names. "The land of the Philistines," "of the Cherethites," "of Canaan." Of these the first describes it as a land whose inhabitants bad been originally "immigrants," Philistia — in Hebrew Pelesheth, in the Assyrian inscriptions Pilastu, Pilasta, and Palastav — being derived from a root signifying "to wander about." The second depicts these inhabitants from a tribe settled in the southwest of the country, the Cherethites, a race of "Cutters," or "Executioners," who had achieved their settlements by means of the sword (Amos 9:7). Whether they came originally from Crete (Gesenius, Hitzig, Baur in Riehm's 'Handworterbuch'), which must then be identified with Caphtor (Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:5), settling down first on the Egyptian coast (Genesis 10:14), and gradually creeping north towards the Palestinian coast, though extremely probable, is still a matter of debate. The names of Philistine kings preserved in Assyrian inscriptions and bearing a more or less Semitic character suggest that the people must have been of Semitic origin. The third name, Canaan, "Lowland," was probably given to it because that had been its primitive designation, although the appellation afterwards was transferred to the whole country, just as Philistia or Palestine was.
(3) Its chief cities. Four mentioned — Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron — in the Assyrian inscriptions Haziti, Iskaluna, Asdudu, and Amkaruna. Their early histories may be learnt from Scripture. Gaza, the modern Guzzeh, originally inhabited by the Avim (Deuteronomy 2:23), and, prior to the conquest of Palestine, by the Caphtorim or Philistines, and a remnant of the Anakim (Joshua 11:22), was the scene of Samson's feats of strength, imprisonment, and destruction, and the site of a temple of Dagon (Judges 16:1-7, Judges 16:21-7). Ashkelon, situated on the sea (Joshua 13:3), had also been the scene of one of Samson's feats (Judges 14:19). Ashdod possessed a temple of Dagon, in which the captured ark was placed (1 Samuel 5:1-9.) Ekron, the most northern of the five chief cities, with a temple of Beelzebub (2 Kings 1:2), was the city from which the ark was sent back to Israel (1 Samuel 5:10).
2. Moab and Ammon in the east. In the Assyrian inscriptions Ma'-ab, Ma'aab, Muaba, and Bit Amman. Here conjoined probably because
(1) of their blood relationship, the Moabites having been descended from Lot's son Moab (Genesis 19:37), and the Ammonites from the same patriarch's son Ben-Ammi (Genesis 19:38);
(2) of their geographical contiguity, their territories lying east of the Jordan, — that of Moab south of the Arnon, and stretching from the Dead Sea to the Syrian desert, and that of the Ammonites a little to the northcast, "in a mountainous district not annexed by Israel" (Conder); and
(3) of their mutual hostility to Israel, having more than once joined forces in an attack upon the latter (Judges 3:13; 2 Chronicles 20:1).
3. Ethiopia in the south. The land of Cush, in Assyrian Kusu, the furthest south territory known to the Hebrews, was probably regarded as embracing Nabian Ethiopia and Arabia (Genesis 2:13; 2 Chronicles 21:16; Esther 1:1; Isaiah 18:1; Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:5). Its inhabitants, dark-skinned (Jeremiah 13:23), were of a warlike character (Jeremiah 46:9). Ethiopians composed part of Shishak's army (2 Chronicles 12:3). Zerah their king was defeated by Asa (2 Chronicles 14:9-14; 2 Chronicles 16:8). "They were a race cognate with the Egyptians, but darker in complexion and coarser in feature — not by any means negroes, but still more nearly allied to the negro than the Egyptians were".
4. Assyria in the north. Founded by Asshur (Genesis 10:11), who appears to have given his name first to the city he founded, and then to the empire it began, Assyria had as its capital Nineveh, the modern Koujunjik. (On the history of Nineveh as detailed by the cuneiform inscriptions, see Layard's 'Nineveh;' Sayce's 'Assyria, its Princes, Priests, and People;' and Schroder's 'Keilinschriften'). "The Assyrians were allied in blood and language to the Hebrews, the Aramaeans, and the Arabs;" "were a military people, caring for little else save war and trade;" and "if less luxurious than their Babylonian neighbours, were also less humane" (Sayce). Israel's contact with Assyria began in B.C. 853, with Ahab's contribution of ten thousand infantry and two thousand chariots to assist Benhadad II. of Damascus against Shalmaneser II. of Assyria ('Records of the Past,' 3:99), and ended, with the tall of Nineveh in B.C. 606.
II. THEIR SINS RECORDED.
1. Idolatry. All alike guilty of worshipping false gods — the Philistines of doing homage to Ashtaroth, Dagon, and Beelzebub; the Moabites, to Baalpeor and Chemosh; and the Ammonites, to Moloch; the Ethiopians, most likely to the gods of Egypt, Amen-Ra, Ptah, Osiris, Anubis, Thoth, Isis, Hathor, etc.; and the Assyrians, to the old Babylonian divinities, Bel, Anu, and Ea. Idolatry regarded as a sin not in Israel alone (Exodus 20:3-2), but in heathen peoples as well (Psalms 97:7; Romans 1:25).
2. Enmity against Israel. In this also all had been partakers — the Philistines from the days of the judges (Judges 10:7); the Moabites and Ammonites from the same period (Judges 3:13); the Ethiopians in the times of Rehoboam and Asa (2 Chronicles 12:3; 2 Chronicles 14:9); and the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser II; who first invaded the northern kingdom in the reign of Menahem (2 Kings 4:19). In particular the Philistines of Gaza, in the days of Jeroboam II; had sold captive Israelites to Edom (Amos 1:6); the Moabites under Mesha the sheepmaster, in the days of Jehoram, son of Ahab, not only revolted against Israel (2 Kings 3:5), but carried the torch of war into Israelitish territory, defeating the Israelitish king and making many prisoners ('Records of the Past,' 2nd series, 2:200); while the Assyrians invaded Judah so late as the days of Manasseh, and even deported that king to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11).
3. Pride. This more especially the sin of Moab (Verse 10) and of Assyria (Verse 15), of whom the former despised and magnified herself against Israel, and the latter exulted in her own fancied security and superlative greatness.
III. THEIR JUDGMENTS PRONOUNCED.
1. In character equally severe.
(1) Deportation of their inhabitants. The Philistine cities will be overtaken by this late (Verse 4). Moab and Ammon shall be involved in a like doom. The former "shall be as Sodom," and the latter "as Gomorrah" (Verse 9). Ethiopia shall not escape, but her people shall be "slain by Jehovah's sword" (Verse 12). Assyria shall suffer similar calamity. Nineveh will become a desolation, etc. (Verses 13, 14).
(2) Desolation of their lands. The land of the Philistines, the tract by the sea, shall be pastures with caves for shepherds' huts, and folds for flocks (Verse 6). The territories of Moab and Ammon shall become a possession of nettles and salt pits and a perpetual desolation (Verse 9). Nineveh will become dry like a wilderness (Verse 13), and desolation shall be in her thresholds (Verse 14).
(3) Occupation of their deserted lands by Israel. "The Philistine coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah" (Verse 7). Of Moab and Ammon it is written, "The remnant of my nation shall inherit them" (Verse 9).
2. In incidence equally certain. All rested on a common ground, and were pronounced by a common voice, that of Jehovah. "The word of Jehovah was against the]and of the Philistines" (Verse 5). Unto Moab and Ammon Jehovah had undertaken to be terrible (Verse 11). Jehovah's sword was to slay the Ethiopians (Verse 12). He should also stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria (Verse 13). What God directly by his own voice, or indirectly through the voice of another, undertakes to do is as good as done.
3. In result equally good. In threatening to destroy the above-mentioned nations — from their number and situation obviously designed to represent the whole heathen world — Jehovah practically engaged that the issue of his judgments would be to famish all the gods of the earth (Verse 11), i.e. cut off their worshipper's, and so starve or make them lean, and in this way cause them to vanish from the face of the earth. Thus the ultimate result of his punishing the heathen would be
(1) to reveal the nothingness of idols, whose inability to protect their worshippers would thereby be revealed;
(2) to extinguish idolatry, since men would no longer serve divinities that were powerless to save them; and
(3) to hasten the conversion of the world, since "all the isles of the nations" would be induced by what they saw to worship Jehovah "every one from his place."
1. That God sees and notes the attitudes of nations towards himself and his kingdom.
2. That God is as much against nations that do wickedly as he is against individuals that sin.
3. That the strongest and most flourishing empires can be easily overthrown when God becomes their assailant.
4. That social and political convulsions are all hastening on the era when "the meek shall inherit the earth."
5. That national judgments are a prelude and premonition of the judgments of the great day When "before him shall be gathered all nations." — T.W.
HOMILIES BY J.S. CANDLISH
Zephaniah 2:3. - The duty of seeking the Lord.
This may be taken as the key-note of the second discourse of the prophet (Zephaniah 2:1-36 :l- Zephaniah 3:7), in which, after having uttered the solemn threatening of judgment in the former discourse, he gives more explicit directions as to what is the duty of the people in the view of this impending calamity. The call in Zephaniah 1:1-36. had simply been "Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God," i.e. to recognize the reality, nearness, and justice of the judgment he announced; but now the prophet gives more particular and express admonitions as to what people should do. What he calls upon them to do is, in one word, to seek the Lord; but in this discourse he enlarges at some length on the grounds and the way of doing so.
I. WHY OUGHT MEN, IN VIEW OF SUCH A JUDGMENT, TO SEEK THE LORD?
1. Because the judgment is universal. It is not merely a local visitation on the land of Israel, in which it alone is to suffer at the hands of some powerful and successful invader. In that case prudence might dictate the propriety of seeking escape by allying themselves with the conquering power, or taking refuge in some other land not exposed to its invasion. It might even be suggested by the idolatrous superstition of those days, that: the cause of the triumph or safety of other nations was the power of their gods, and that this might be a reason for worshipping or fearing them. But the judgment is to be from the Lord, the only living and true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and it is to show itself as such in this that it shall include all nations in its sweep; it is to be on the countries round about, as well as on Judah. The most prominent of the neighbouring nations are mentioned as involved in the calamity — the cities of the Philistines on the seacoast to the southwest (Zephaniah 1:4-36), Moab and Ammon on the southeast (Zephaniah 1:8-36). These had been old hereditary enemies of Israel, and were inclined to rejoice in her calamity, and boast themselves as if their old hatred was now to be gratified. But this very jealousy and pride offend the Lord and bring down his judgment on them too. Then even the more distant nations of the Ethiopians far to the southwest, beyond Egypt, and Assyria in the remote northeast, with the great luxurious and proud city of Nineveh, were to be visited too; so that there would be no quarter of the earth to which Israel could turn for safety (Zephaniah 1:12-36). So it ever is when God visits men; he makes it to be felt that vain is the help of man, and that there are no devices of human power, or riches, or wisdom, by which his hand can be escaped. It does not always need universal and sweeping judgments to show this; and it is our wisdom to learn the lemons even from single and separate manifestations of the power of God's wrath; or from the records and threatenings of these old judgments and their lessons.
2. But this is only a negative motive; it shows us in what quarters we are not to turn — that we can find no help in man. But the prophet gives also positively a reason why we should seek the Lord, and that is because his judgments are sent with a view to mercy. This is pointed out both In regard to Judah (Zephaniah 1:7) and in regard to the Gentiles (Zephaniah 1:11); for not only is the captivity of Judah to be turned back, but all the isles of the heathen are to worship the Lord. Such is ever the design of God's judgments against sin in this world. They are, indeed, expressions of his wrath and foretastes of his curse against sin, and as such they are fitted and intended to produce fear, and to lead men to hold their peace at the presence of the Lord God, and to humble themselves under his mighty hand. But the design of them never is simply to destroy. It may be needful ultimately, for the glory of the Lord, that the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and that the wicked be no more; and that utter destruction shall surely overtake the impenitent, when the Lord shall destroy the stumbling blocks with the wicked, when "the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:41, Matthew 13:42). That is the doom solemnly denounced against the impenitent. But is not the very denunciation of it, stern as it is, an act of mercy? It is a warning graciously sent in time, lest that doom should come upon them unforetold and unexpected — a call to them to flee from the wrath to come, a signal of danger ahead, that may lead sinners to arrest their onward and downward course. Now, if the warning in words is thus manifestly merciful, so also are these foretastes of judgment that are but warnings in deed given when those in words have been disregarded. Had Israel listened to the words of the prophets, and turned from their evil ways, it might not have been necessary that God should send on them the judgment of the Captivity; but when they would not take warning from the solemn words of the Lord denouncing judgment, it was needful that they should be made to feel that these were not mere words, and be taught by actual inflictions in deed. But these were also sent in mercy, like the famine that came on the prodigal son in the far land to which he had wandered and wherein he wasted his substance in riotous living. Suffering may pierce the heart which the mere threat of suffering, however solemn and earnest, had failed to touch; and in that case the suffering, as well as the warning of it, has a gracious end. Even to the heathen nations, the judgment is with a view to mercy. Had Israel been faithful to their God and their calling, they would have been a kingdom of priests to spread the knowledge of the true God and of his grace and mercy among the Gentile nations around. But since they would not do this willingly, in the way of faithfully walking in the covenant of their God, he shall bring it to pass that by the judgments they undergo they shall be the means of making known his way in the earth, and his salvation among all nations. The heathen shall learn in the ruin of Israel to recognize the justice of the Lord, and the very nations that destroyed Israel shall be taught that the hand of God is on them too, and that they cannot escape his righteous judgments. "The Lord will be terrible to them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth." When he sent a grievous famine on the far country where the prodigal was, this might lead some of the citizens of that country, as well as the prodigal himself, to see how vain and perishing was the abundance in which they bad been trusting, and might constrain him to look to that father's house from which he had gone away; when the heathen mariners in the ship in which Jonah was fleeing from the Lord found that none of their gods could save them from the great storm sent by the Lord against his disobedient servant, they cried to the Lord, and they "feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows." So when the heathen nations shall find that the judgments of God against his people for their sin come upon themselves also, and that none of their gods can save them, they too, says the prophet, "shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen." Thus the judgment, even as regards them, is with a view to mercy; and this is the strong positive reason that all have to seek the Lord. Are you suffering calamity or trouble of any kind, and does conscience tell you that this affliction is not undeserved, nay, that it is the natural consequence and the just punishment of your sin? Then do not on any account let this drive you to despair; do not think that there is no hope for you; do not give way to mere idle grief or vain regret of the past that cannot be recalled; believe and be assured that the suffering has been sent in mercy as well as judgment, that it is a proof that God has not yet pronounced against you that most awful of all sentences, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone" (Hosea 4:17); and instead of hardening your heart in disobedience, or wringing your hands in despair, let God's judgments move you to "seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is near."
II. But the prophet not only sets forth the strong motives which the impending judgment affords to seek the Lord; he also INDICATES THE WAY IN WHICH THIS IS TO BE DONE. More especially there are two parts of this duty that he emphasizes, the one religious and the other moral, both of which must be combined.
1. The more directly religious duty is humiliation and prayer to God (Verses 1-3a). The somewhat obscure language of Verse 1, in the exact rendering of which scholars differ, seems to indicate, in the way of general humiliation before God, either a public gathering for a day of fasting, such as that described by Joel (Joel 2:15-29), or more directly the feeling of shame and humiliation arising in the hearts of those who had before been strangers to it. Then the very expression, "Seek the Lord" (Verse 3), describes religious exercises of prayer and worship. If the judgment threatened against Israel, or any Divine judgment, is to have its right and designed effect, there must be a recognition of a personal God and of our personal relation to him. Seek righteousness, seek meekness. There is something more implied here than merely "a power not ourselves that makes for righteousness." Could we be called to seek such a power in any other way than by seeking righteousness? Yet seeking the Lord is here spoken of as something distinct, though not to be separated, from seeking righteousness; and the anger of the Lord, so repeatedly and emphatically mentioned in Verses 2 and 3, is not to be explained away as a mere figure for the infliction of punishment. The "power that makes for righteousness" is a Person in whose favour lies our only true happiness. Were it not so, the evils that follow on sin would be no call to humiliation or to shame, for they would be the result of a mere law or tendency. But since we have to do with a living Person, who not only punishes but is grieved and displeased at our sins, we have reason not only to fear but to be humbled and ashamed before him. Such feelings are essential to true repentance; they find expression in that confession of sin which everywhere in Scripture is made a requisite for its forgiveness. A true confession implies grief and shame for sin, and an acknowledgment of it, and expression of these feelings to God; and without this, even though the judgments that follow on sin could be removed, God's displeasure and wrath would not be turned away — there would be no reconciliation, and the offender would be no nearer to God than before. But where there is this humiliation before God as the living God with whom we and in a personal relation, then there can be also prayer to him, and this also is implied in the call to seek the Lord. We are not only to turn to him for refuge, as a Power that will save us; we are to speak to him as a Person, and ask him first and chiefly to forgive us for our past sins, and then, if it is his will, to save us from the judgments that they deserve. Such is the religious duty to which the prophet here calls Israel, and this movement of heart religion must ever enter into the exercises of soul to which we are impelled by God's judgments, if these are to have a salutary effect.
2. But this religious exercise must never be separated from the moral duty here enjoined along with it. Humiliation, confession, and prayer can never be sincere if they remain alone, or if the sense of sin prompts to nothing more than these; for the religious element of repentance, however important it is, cannot be made to supersede the moral. There must be a grief for sin, not only because it has offended God personally, but because of its intrinsic evil; for the offence that it gives to God does not spring from any mere arbitrary command on his part, but from his own eesential nature as the perfectly and unchangeably Holy One. Therefore that is no real approach to him that does not imply a hatred of and turning from sin and a seeking after righteousness. Hence the command, "Seek the Lord," is closely connected with "Seek righteousness, seek meekness;" only in this way can the God of Israel, who is essentially holy, be really sought. Righteousness and meekness are the virtues here specially mentioned, for these contain the sum of moral duty, and are opposed to the violence and deceit, the avarice and oppression, that had been depicted in Joel 1:1-29. as the evils which brought down the judgment of the Lord on Judah and Jerusalem. If we would truly seek the Lord, we must turn from the sins of which we have been guilty, and set about those duties that we have been neglecting. This may be no easy task. It may imply a seeking, a searching of heart with great diligence to detect the hidden roots of evil, a pursuit of holiness with labour and perseverance in order to overcome inbred habits of sin, and to acquire habits of goodness. The character is not to be renewed or changed by a single effort or in one day; it requires a lifelong effort to "put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." But the work can and ought robe begun at once, and will be so begun if we really seek the Lord. If we know the Lord as the Holy One, and feel the evil of sin as it is in his sight, then our turning to him in repentance really implies a turning from all sin and a seeking righteousness and meekness. This too must be prompt and immediate. There is no time to be lost; the day of the Lord is at hand, his judgment is announced, his wrath has almost begun to burn, the dark thunder clouds are as it were big with the approaching storm. Therefore let there be no delay; make haste, and tarry not, before the decree brings forth its terrible execution. Judgment is still, as it were, in the womb of the Divine law and order, but ere long it must break forth, and the day of the Lord's wrath will sweep away all the wicked of the earth as chaff. Before that day comes, yet there is time, time enough to seek the Lord, but no time to waste in dallying with sin or halting between two opinions. Finally, be it remembered that this call is addressed to all alike, to the godly as well as to sinners. It is especially addressed to all the meek of the earth, who have wrought God's judgment, as well as to those who have still to seek righteousness and meekness. For, indeed, those who have most earnestly repented will most feel their need of the ever fresh and repeated call. That repentance is not genuine which is not virtually continued and actually repeated even to the very end of life, is a principle of Protestant theology, and most important for practical religion. We must not be content in this matter with any past experience or exercises of soul; as long as we have in us or about us anything of the sins that provoke God's anger, our repentance must be continual The whole of a Christian's life should be a turning from sin to God. In view of the sin that dwells in us, and our continual shortcomings of the righteousness and meekness required by God's Law, we must be constantly humbling ourselves before God and asking his forgiveness; and we must also be striving against sin, making it our earnest effort to abandon all practices and habits that are wrong, to eradicate passions and tempers of mind at variance with God's holy Law, and to acquire and cultivate the qualities required by it. We are to be putting off the old man and putting on the new, constantly day by day. Alas! how often do we forget this! How many days do we spend without conscious striving against sin or effort after holiness! Can we wonder that we should need rebuke and chastening from the Lord if we are thus neglecting what is an essential element of Christian life? Again, this repentance needs not only to be constantly going on as to the principle or power of it, but there are occasions when it needs to be actually renewed. One such occasion is when a believer falls into any grievous sin, such as wounds his conscience and destroys his peace. Then he must not be satisfied with a mere general acknowledgment of sinfulness; he must come once more, as he came at first, to God through Christ and anew, as at first, with the returning prodigal say, "Father, I have sinned," etc.; anew, as at first, turn from his sin to God with full purpose of heart and endeavour after new obedience No fresh burden of guilt is to be got rid of in any other way than that, and in that way all may be removed. Another occasion when we ought actually to renew our repentance is when we seek to enter into spiritual communion with God. Israel of old was commanded to keep a solemn day of fast and humiliation for sins just before the joyful Feast of Tabernacles, and in regard to the New Testament feast of the Lord's Supper it is said, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." There cannot be faithful self-examination without a remembering and bringing to light of much sin, and that must needs call for humiliation and prayer for forgiveness, and renewed efforts after holiness. But if, thus searching and trying our ways, we turn unto the Lord, and lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens, we shall assuredly find him; we shall experience that mercy which he shows to those who confess their sins, and we shall be made more and more partakers of his holiness. Thus we shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger, for we shall be able to say to him, "Thou art my Hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance." — C.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Zephaniah 2:1-36. -Sin and repentance: the bane and the antidote.
"Gather yourselves together," etc. Here is an exhortation to the men of Judah to repent ere the Chaldean invaders approach, and wreak destruction on their land. Two thoughts are suggested.
I. SIN EXPOSES MAN TO RUIN. It was sin, in the form of idolatry and gross immorality, that exposed the Jewish people to the terrible doom that was now hanging over them. Sin is evermore the cause of all human suffering. Corporeal sin brings corporeal suffering; moral sin brings moral suffering; national sin brings national suffering. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."
1. The suffering that follows sin is sometimes very terrible. It was so now. Sin brings upon a people famines, pestilences, wars, perdition.
2. The suffering expresses God's antagonism to sin. "The fierce anger of the Lord," or, as Henderson has it, "the burning anger of Jehovah." God's anger is not a passion, but a principle; and the principle is antagonism, not to the happiness of his creatures, but to their sin and their wickedness. The connection between sin and misery is a beneficent arrangement. It is well that misery should pursue wrong.
II. THAT REPENTANCE DELIVERS MAN FROM RUIN. To prepare for the coming doom, the men of Judah are called upon to repent. "Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired," which may mean, "not worthy of the grace or favour of God." Some translate it, "not waxing pale," meaning, "being dead to a sense of shame." Others regard the expression as meaning, "not desiring to repent."
1. The preparation for repentance. "Gather yourselves together," etc. "Gather yourselves together" in connection; deliberate together as to the best way of securing the friendship and protection of God. "Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders" (Joel 2:16). It is well for sinners, in the prospect of their doom, to meet and confer concerning their relations to Almighty God.
2. The nature of repentance. It is here represented as seeking the Lord. "Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth;" or, as Henderson renders it, "Seek ye Jehovah, all ye humble of the earth." There are two seekings here.
(1) The seeking of God. Which is to be understood in a moral sense, seeking his friendship; for in a natural sense he is "not far from every one of us." But we are all away from him in sympathy.
(2) The seeking of meekness. "Seek righteousness, seek meekness," etc. Indeed, to seek moral excellence is to seek God; and to seek moral excellence is repentance; it is a turning away from the creature to the Creator, from the wrong to the right. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near."
3. The urgency of repentance. Do it now. "Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger come upon you." It wilt be too late to repent when the judgment comes. "They shall call upon me, and I will not answer;" "Many shall say to me at that day," etc. (Matthew 7:22).
CONCLUSION. As sin is in the world, judgments are in the world. Retribution, like an invading army, is always marching toward the victim. Repentance is the only means of deliverance. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." — D.T.
Zephaniah 2:4-36. - The sinner's baleful influence, and God's disposal of all.
"For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon," etc. Here the prophet makes the punishment awaiting the neighbouring states, which he goes on to specify, an argument for immediate repentance. "For Gaza shall be forsaken." Gaza was one of the five principalities of the Philistines, and was situated on the coast, of the Mediterranean at the southern extremity of Canaan. "Ashkelon a desolation." This was another of the fenced cities of the Philistines, situated on the shore of the Mediterranean. between Gaza and Ashdod. "Ekron shall be rooted up." Another philistine city, lying northwest of Gath, and north of Ashdod. "Woe unto the inhabitants of the seacoast!" The Philistines dwelling on the seacoast southwest of Canaan. "The nation of the Cherethites" — the Cretans, the name applied to the Philistines that sprang from Crete. "O Canaan, the land of the Philistines." They occupied the strip of land on the south shore of the Mediterranean (Joshua 13:3). Two facts are here suggested.
I. THAT THE CALAMITIES FALLING UPON ONE SINNER OFTEN INVOLVE OTHERS. It was so now. The ruin that was approaching the Hebrew nation would be most calamitous to the Philistine cities, and indeed to the neighbouring states. Gaza would be "forsaken," Ashkelon would be a "desolation," Ashdod would be "driven out," Ekron would be "rooted up," the inhabitants of the seashore, the Cherethites, the Canaanites, all would be involved. So vital, strong, and numerous are the ties that connect man with man in this world, that the condition of one must affect the condition of others. It is so:
1. With nations. At no period in the world's history was it more manifest than now. No one state or kingdom of Europe can be affected without influencing others. What was called "the Eastern question," in that terrible war between the sultan and the czar, affected every part of the civilized world.
2. With individuals. A man cannot fail in health, in business, or in character, without painfully affecting others in some way or other. What sufferings the failures of the Gurneys, the Petos, and the Grants have brought upon thousands in this country! This shows:
(1) The social connection between man and man. No man can live unto himself. Each man is a link in the great chain of human life; and he cannot move without influencing others. Each man is a]ink in the great human body; and, if one suffers, all suffer.
(2) The duty of each man to look well after his own conduct. A sinner has no right to say he will do what he likes, and that no one may properly interfere with him. If his actions terminated in himself, there might be some reason in such a claim; but as they cannot, and they must affect others, every man, all society, the whole human world, have a right to protest against the sinful conduct of any individual man.
II. THAT THE LOT OF MAN IS AT THE DISPOSAL OF ALMIGHTY GOD. "And the seacoast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks. And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon; in the houses of Ashkelon shall they He down in the evening: for the Lord their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity." "And the line of the sea shall be pastures, with cisterns for shepherds and folds for sheep. Yea, the line shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah, thereupon shall they feed; in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down at even; for Jehovah their God shall visit them, and reverse their captivity" (Henderson). Here the Almighty is represented as arranging the future home and circumstances of "the remnant of the house of Judah." Paul at Athens said that God had "determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26). Though we are free and conscious of our freedom, we are at the disposal of One above us. He has appointed:
1. Our place in the world. He has set bounds to our habitation "that we cannot pass."
2. Our period in the world. "My times are in thy hand." The periods of our birth and death are all arranged by him. "Man's days are determined; the number of his months is with thee" (Job 14:5). We are often tempted to imagine that chance rules us. We are struck with the apparent contingency when we look at men's circumstances in connection with their choice. None of us has any choice as to the condition, the place, the time, in which we are to be born or brought up. We are struck with the apparent contingency also when we look at men's circumstances in connection with their merits. How often do we find feeble-minded men in eminent positions, and men of talents and genius in obscurity! some, by what is called a hit, making fortunes and earning fame, whilst honest industry plods on with little or no success; vice in mansions, and virtue in the pauper's hut! Verily the race is not always to "the swift, nor the battle to the strong." But amidst all this feeling of contingency, and over all, there is the ruling plan of the beneficent God. — D.T.
Zephaniah 2:8-36. - The persecution of the good.
"I have heard the reproach," ere. "The threat now turns from the Philistines in the west to the two tribes in the east, viz. the Moabites and the Ammonites, who were descended from Lot, and therefore blood relations, and who manifested hostility to Israel on every possible occasion." The passage suggests three facts.
I. THAT GOOD MEN ARE OFTEN SUBJECT TO ANNOYANCES FROM THE UNGODLY WORLD. "I have heard the reproach [abuse] of Moab, and the revilings of the children of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people [abused my nation], and magnified themselves against their border." These people, the Moabites and the Ammonites, were constantly annoying and abusing the chosen people in the time of Moses. Balak, the King of the Moabites, sought to destroy the Israelites by means of Balaam's curses (Numbers 22:1-4.). And in the time of the judges, both peoples endeavoured to oppress Israel (Judges 3:12; Judges 10:7). The charge here probably refers to the hostile attitude assumed by both tribes at all times toward the people of God. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah accused them of annoying them (Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:29). The hostile conduct of Moab and Ammon towards Israel is only a specimen and an illustration of the antagonism of wicked men towards the truly pious. They "reproach" them; they charge them with superstition, fanaticism, cant, hypocrisy. Their revilings are often bitter and constant. "It has been," says an old writer, "the common lot of God's people in all ages to be reproached and reviled on one account or another." There is an eternal enmity between the two seeds — the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The conduct of a truly good man can scarcely fail to exasperate worldly and ungodly people. It condemns their selfishness, their greed, their falsehood, their pleasures. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before," etc.; "If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call those of the household!" "Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother; and wherefore slew he him? because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." In corrupt society, we may lay it down as a truth that the better a man is, the more pure, honest, true, righteous, the more he will be hated and annoyed by his neighbours. The best men, the men of whom "the world is not worthy," are always persecuted.
II. THAT THESE ANNOYANCES ESCAPE NOT THE NOTICE OF GOD. "I have heard the reproach of Moab." I have heard the whole, all their calumnies, reproaches, revilings not a word has escaped me, not a syllable has been lost. Observe:
1. God's attention to the minute concerns of human life. He who is the Maker and Manager of the universe, to whom the creation is as nothing and less than nothing, is not indifferent to the utterances of little human creatures on this earth, which is itself a mere speck in space. "I have heard the reproaches." "He sees with equal eye, as God of all A hero perish, or a sparrow fall."
2. God's special interest in his people. Good men are his children, as dear to him as the apple of the eye; and whatever happens to them, even a reproachful word, affects him. It is truly consoling, it is energizing, to know that the great Father is interested in all that pertains to us. "Thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 32:19).
III. THAT GOD WILL NOT FAIL TO CHASTISE THE AUTHORS OF SUCH ANNOYANCES. "Therefore as I live, saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and salt pits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them. This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of hosts." Mark:
1. The doom of those reproachers. "They shall be as So, lore and Gomorrah." "This simile," says Keil, "was rendered a very natural one by the situation of the two lands in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea. It affirms the utter destruction of the two tribes." Their land is to abound with "nettles and salt pits," the products and proofs of utter ruin.
2. The cause of their doom. "This shall they have for their pride." All the persecutors of the good will meet with a terrible chastisement. Sooner or later God will avenge his own elect. Hence let the godly victims of persecution, when they are "reviled, revile not again;" "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord;" "Blessed are they which and persecuted," etc. (Matthew 5:10). — D.T.
Zephaniah 2:11. - Good things in the future.
"The Lord will be terrible unto them," etc. "'Jehovah is to be feared above all the gods of the earth, for he will cause them to waste away; and all the inhabitants of the maritime regions shall worship him, each from his place.' While announcing the destruction of the surrounding idolatrous nations, the prophet was inspired to predict the gradual but certain destruction of idolatry universally throughout the earth. The period predicted should be one in which all peculiarity of local worship should cease, and Divine worship be acceptable wherever presented in sincerity and truth" (Henderson). The passage reminds us of two good things that are in the future of our world.
I. THE DESTRUCTION OF IDOLATRY. What is idolatry? It is the giving of our supreme affection to creature objects. It is not confined to the worship of heathen deities, which are for the most part the productions of human invention and art. The spirit of idolatry often exists where heathen idolatry is denounced. Whatever objects a man loves most is his god. In our England and throughout Christendom there are gods many, although they have no recognized temple. Wealth is a mighty god, power is a mighty idol, pleasure is a mighty idol, fame is a mighty idol. Before these idols the vast majority of the civilized world prostrate their souls in the ardour of devotion. The destruction of idolatry, therefore, does not mean the beating to dust or the consuming to ashes the idols that fill the temples of heathendom, but means the withdrawal of man's supreme love from every object short of God. You may bum up all heathen temples, and leave idolatry as rampant as eVerse To "famish all the gods of the earth" is to draw man's supreme sympathy from all things except God. This is the great moral famine that is to be desired, to be prayed for and struggled after. The other good thing in the future of our world is —
II. THE ADVANCEMENT OF TRUE WORSHIP. "And men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen." Observe:
1. The object of true worship. "Men shall worship him," that is, Jehovah. Him, not it — not the universe, but the infinite Personality that created it, the Fountain of all existence, all energy, all love, all blessedness. Him — the Creator of the material, the Father of the spiritual.
2. The scene of true worship. "Every one from his place." Wherever he is. The worshipper need not go to any particular scene — no temple, chapel, or cathedral. "From his place." It may be in solitude or in society, on the mountain brow or the seashore. "Neither in this mountain" nor on that mountain, but everywhere, "God is a Spirit."
3. The extent of true worship. "Even all the isles of the heathen."
CONCLUSION. What a glorious future awaits the world! How blessed will those ages be when every man of every tribe and clime shall have his heart centred in supreme love upon the one great Father of all! — D.T.
Zephaniah 2:13-36. -National pride and national ruin.
"And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness. And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations," etc. Dr. Henderson's translation of this passage is not only beautiful, but seems so faithful and clear as scarcely to require any exposition.
"And he will stretch his hand over the north,
And destroy Assyria.
Idle will also make Nineveh waste,
An arid region like the desert.
And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her,
All the wild beasts of the nations:
Both the pelican and the porcupine
Shall take up their abode in her capitals:
A voice shall sing in the windows,
Desolation shall be in the thresholds,
For the cedar work is laid bare.
This is the exulting city which dwelt securely,
Which said in her heart,
I am, and beside me there is none.
How she is become desolate!
A resting place for wild beasts!
Every one that passeth by her shall hiss,
He shall shake his head."
Two facts are suggested.
I. THAT MEN ARE OFTEN PRONE TO PRIDE THEMSELVES ON THE GREATNESS OF THEIR COUNTRY. The men of the city of Nineveh — the capital of Assyria — were proud of their nation. It is called the "rejoicing city," and represented as saying, "I am, and there is none beside me." This was the voice of the population. There was much in the city of Nineveh to account for, if not to justify, the exultant spirit of its population. It was the metropolis of a vast empire; it was a city sixty miles in compass, it had walls a hundred feet high, and so thick and strong that three chariots could be driven abreast on them; it had twelve hundred massive towers. The boasting spirit of the men of Nineveh concerning the grandeur of their country is by no means uncommon; it beats in the hearts of modern nations. Italy, Austria, Germany, America, England, each says in its spirit, "I am, and there is none beside me." Nations are egotistic, they exult in their own greatness, they sing their own praises. This spirit of national boasting is unjustifiable. There is nothing in a nation of which it should be proud, except moral excellence; and, alas! how little moral excellence there is in the most virtuous kingdom of the earth! On the contrary, how much ignorance, sensuality, worldliness, intolerance, impiety, that should humble us in the dust! It is, moreover, a foolish spirit. It is a check to true national progress, and its haughty swaggerings tend to irritate other countries.
II. THAT THE GREATEST COUNTRY MUST SOONER OR LATER FALL TO RUIN. "He will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria," etc. This great city, peopled with pompous boasters, became a receptacle for beasts. "Flocks shall lie down in the midst of her," etc. "All the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant [the pelican] and the bittern [the porcupine] shall lodge in the upper lintels of it." The wild grim birds that haunt all ruins, Not only a receptacle for beasts, but a derision to travellers. "Every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand." Such was the doom that came on this great city when Cyaxares and Nabopolassar, 600 years B.C; struck it down. This is the fate that awaits all the nations under heaven, even the greatest. Egypt, Syria, Babylon, Rome, Greece, have risen, prospered, and decayed. The symptoms of decay are manifest in many of the grandest nations of Europe. The more thoughtful amongst us discover those symptoms in the life of our England. England has nothing more to become, they say; the plum is overripe, and it must rot; the tree has exhausted all its latent vitality, and it must wither; the sun has passed the meridian, and it must go down. Thoughtful men point to the sad lack of capacity in our statesmen, the unscrupulous greed of our traders, the grumbling of our artisans, the weakness of our pulpits, the haughtiness of our ecclesiastics, the hollowness of our religion, the infidelities of our scientists, the diminution of our revenue and the increase of our pauperism, the arrogance of one class and the flunkeyism of another, pampered indolence here and starving toil there, jobbery in politics, swindling in commerce, cant in religion, and strikes in trade, — and say these are unmistakable marks of national corruption. — D.T.