Zephaniah 3:1-20 open_in_new
§ 6. The prophet turns to Jerusalem, and warns her that, if God punishes the heathen, he will not spare the hardened sinners in Judah.
Woe to her! This is addressed to Jerusalem, as is seen by Zephaniah 3:2-36. Filthy; rather, rebellious, i.e. against God. The LXX; mistaking the word, renders ἐπιφανής, "notable." So the Syriac. Jerome has provocatrix. The true sense is seen by the expansion of the term in Zephaniah 3:2. polluted by her many sins. Jerome, following the Septuagint ἀπολευτρωμένη, "ransomed," has, redempta, which he explains, "Captivitatibus traditia, et rursum redempta." The oppressing city, that acts unjustly and cruelly to the weak and poor. So the three sins for which she is here denounced are that she is rebellious against God, defiled with sin in herself, and cruel to others. The Septuagiut and Vulgate translate jonah ("oppressing") "dove," which seems singularly inappropriate here, though some try to explain it as applied to Jerusalem in the sense of "silly" or "stupid" (Hosea 7:11)
The voice; i.e. of God, as heard in the Law and at the mouth of his prophets (comp. Jeremiah 7:24, etc.; Jeremiah 9:13). Received not correction. They took not to heart the chastisements sent upon them, and did not profit by them. She trusted not in the Lord, but in man. When danger threatened, she relied on human aid, made alliances with the heathen, or else had recourse to idols and prayed for help to false gods, as the next clause complains. She drew not near to her God. She broke the covenant which she had made, would not avail herself of the privilege bestowed upon her, and had no intercourse with the Lord in prayer and worship.
Roaring lions. The princes, who ought to protect the people, are ready to tear them in pieces and devour them (Proverbs 28:15). Probably the violence and arrogance of the chiefs had increased during the minority of the king. This must have been written before the great reformation. Evening wolves (see note on Habakkuk 1:8). The judges, whose duty it was to administer justice and to set an example of equity and virtue, are themselves most cruel and rapacious. They gnaw not the bones till tomorrow; they gnaw no bones in the morning; that is, they are so greedy that they eat up all their prey at once and leave nothing till the morning. The versions drop the metaphor, and render, "They leave not to the morning" (comp. Ezekiel 22:27).
Her prophets. These are the false prophets, who have no true mission from God (comp. Micah 2:11; Micah 3:5). Light; either, frivolous or empty boasters. The word means properly, "boiling over," like water. Vulgate, vesani; Septuagint, πνευματοφόροι, which means, probably, not "inspired by an (evil) spirit," but "carried away by the wind," "light" (comp. Matthew 11:7). Treacherous persons; literally, men of treacheries, who uttered their own fancies as if they were commissioned by God, and so really opposed him whom they professed to represent (Jeremiah 23:32). Her priests have polluted the sanctuary (what is holy). Not the temple only, but all that has to do with God's service, worship, rites, sacrifices; they make no distinction between what is sacred and what is profane (Ezekiel 22:26). They have done violence to the Law. Chiefly, doubtless, by distorting its meaning, and neither observing it themselves nor teaching others to keep it.
In the midst of this congregation of sinners God is continually manifesting his righteousness; he leaves not himself without witness; and therefore their iniquities are without excuse. The just Lord is in the midst thereof; or, the Lord in the midst of her is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4). His presence was associated with the temple; his moral government was always being manifested. He would not be "just" if he left sinners unpunished. Every morning; Hebrew," in the morning, in the morning." The phrase is rightly explained in our version (comp. Exodus 16:21; Psalms 87:5). Doth he bring his judgment to light. His prophets proclaim his perfect justice; his judgments on the heathen manifest it (Zephaniah 3:8; Hosea 6:5). It is not from ignorance of the Law that the people sin. He faileth not; or, it faileth not; Vulgate, non abscoudetur. God never ceases thus to act; or, his justice is clear as (lay. But the unjust knoweth no shame. In spite of this hourly manifestation of God's justice, and the enactments of the Law so well known, the perverse nation will not amend its ways, feels no shame at its backslidings (Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 6:15). The Septuagint Version, according to the Vatican manuscript, is curious here, and in the latter part somewhat like St. Matthew's rendering of Isaiah 42:3, Καὶ οὐκ ἔγνω ἀδικίαν ἐν ἀπαιτήσει, καί οὐκ εἰς νεῖκος ἀδικίαν (comp. Matthew 12:20), which Jerome translates, "Nescit iniquitatem in exactione, nec insempiternum injustitiam," and explains, "When God exacts from every man the sum he has committed to him, he will not be unjust, nor allow injustice to prevail."
§ 7. Obdurate and blinded as nations are, these extreme measures are the only way left to secure salvation for Israel and the whole world.
God speaks, showing why he has sent these judgments. I have cut off the nations. The reference is to facts well known to the hearers (though not specified here); such as the rain of Pentapolis, the destruction of the Canaanites, the defeat of the Chaldeans in Hezekiah's time, the conquest of cities and countries by the Assyrians, and the devastation of Israel itself. Their towers are desolate. Their towers (see note on Zephaniah 1:16), in which they trusted for defence, are overthrown and lie in ruins. Others translate, "street corners," where people most do congregate. Streets; perhaps, roads; signifying the open country. So Keil. None inhabitant (comp. Jeremiah 4:7).
Taught by such examples, the Jews might have learned to repent and amend their ways. I said. God represents himself as reasoning as a man would reason. Surely thou wilt fear me; Septuagint, "only fear me." This is the one condition for salvation. Or, according to our version, Judah must learn experience from my threats and visitations, and return unto me. Thou wilt.; receive instruction; Septuagint, "receive ye discipline," accept the correction and learn the lesson which it is meant to teach (Proverbs 24:32). Their (her) dwelling. Jerusalem or Judaea. The temple is never called the dwelling place of the people. This sudden change of person is very common in the prophets. Howsoever I punished them; rather, according to all that I appointed concerning her. God had ordained certain punishment for Jerusalem if she reformed not. The Anglican Version means that God would never cut them off wholly, however severely he might chastise them. The Hebrew will not carry this; nor are the Greek and Latin Versions quite correct. Septuagint, Οὐ μὴ ἐξολοθρευθῆτε ἐξ ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῆς πάντα δοα ἐξεδίκησα ἐπ αὐτήν, "And ye shall not be cut off from the face thereof for all the punishment that I inflicted upon it;" Vulgate, Propter omnia in quibus visitavi earn. But they rose early. Warning, reproof, and chastisement were expended in vain; the people only gave themselves up more ardently to their evil doings. "To rise early to do a thing" is a phrase used to signify the acting with zeal and full purpose (comp. Jeremiah 7:13, Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 11:7, etc.). Corrupted all their doings. Like the inhabitants of the earth before the Flood (Corinthians 6:12; comp. Psalms 14:1). The Septuagint rendering is peculiar, ̓Ετοι μάζου ὄρθισον ἔφθαρται πᾶσα ἡ ἐπιφυλλὶς αὐτῶν "Prepare thyself, rise early, all their produce is spoiled." St. Jerome, moralizing on this, adds, "Nisi praeparati fuerimus, non nobis orietur sol justitiae. Orto autem sole, omnes racemi de vinea Sodomorum dissipantur et pereunt; ut non solum grandes botri, sed etiam quod parvum esse videbatur in nobis, Christi lucerna radiante dispereat."
Therefore. Because of the outrage done to God's "long suffering," he must needs punish. Wait ye upon me; wait ye for me. The exhortation is addressed to the pious among the Jews, as in Zephaniah 2:3, and is used in a good sense (Psalms 33:20; Isaiah 8:17), urging them not to despair, but to be patient under the affliction, in the assured hope of salvation. The same expression is used in Habakkuk 2:3. I rise up to the prey. This is a phrase denoting effort and the effecting of some great object. Jehovah seizes the prey when the nations, roused by judgment inflicted, are converted unto him (Isaiah 53:12; Psalms 68:18). The LXX; pointing the last word differently (עד), renders, εἰς ἡμέραν ἀναστάσεώς μου εἰς μαρτύριον: "until the day of my rising up for testimony." Jerome, "In die resurrectionis meae in futurum." The Fathers interpreted this of the times of Messiah — some, of Christ's resurrection from the dead; some, of his rising up to divide the spoil. But such interpretations are Mien from the intention of the passage, however allowable as glosses. For my determination is; literally, my judgment (mishpat) is. My justice is displayed, as Habakkuk 2:5. The word, according to Keil, never means, "decree" or "decision." That I may assemble the kingdoms. Not for utter extermination, but to bring them to a better mind (Isaiah 26:9; Joel 3:11, etc.). Fire of my jealousy (Zephaniah 1:18). God will allow no rival anywhere (Nahum 1:2). This is the reason of the severity and universality of the judgment The Masorites note that this ' the only verse in the Bible which contains the whole Hebrew alphabet.
Part III. PROMISE OF THE CONVERSION OF THE WORLD AND THE HAPPINESS OF ISRAEL.
§ 1. The heathen shall be converted, and shall help in the restoration of Israel.
Will I turn to the people (peoples) a pure language (lip). When his judgments have done their work, God will bring the heathen to the knowledge of him. He will purify their lips, which have been polluted with the names of idols and the worship offered to false gods (Psalms 16:4; Hosea 2:17); the confusion of Babel shall be done away, and all shall speak the language of faith in one God. This, of course, points to Messianic times. For "pure lip," the Vulgate has, labium electum; the LXX; by a mistake of a letter (bhedurah for bherurah), γλῶσσαν εἰς γενεὰν αὐτῆς (so. γῆς), "a tongue for her generation." With one consent; literally, with one shoulder; ὑπὸ ζυγὸν ἕνα, "under one yoke"; humero uno (Vulgate). The metaphor implies that all will help to carry the same burden, and to accomplish the same work, bearing the gospel throughout the world, and being all of one mind in the service of Jehovah (Jeremiah 32:39; Isaiah 19:23, Isaiah 19:24; Revelation 11:15).
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia (Cush); i.e. from the distant south, a type of the remotest parts of the world (Zephaniah 2:12). The rivers of Cush (Isaiah 18:1), are the Nile, the Atbara, and their affluents. My suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering. From the ends of the earth, the Jews who have continued faithful to Jehovah, and have not lost their nationality among the Gentiles, but have considered themselves as belonging to "the dispersion," shall be again received of the Lord, and bring their oblations unto him. This may be the sense intended: but looking to the thought in Isaiah 66:20 (where it is said that the Gentiles shall bring the Israelites out of all nations as a meat offering unto the Lord), we had better render the passage as the Revised Version margin, "They shall bring my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, for an offering unto me." The remote Gentiles shall show their faith in God by aiding the Hebrews among them to turn to the Lord; this shall be their offering to the true God, whom they have learned to adore. When they themselves are converted, they shall be evangelists to the Hebrews of the Dispersion. For this work of the Gentiles in converting the Hebrews, Wordsworth compares Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 8:8, Song of Solomon 8:9; Isaiah 61:5, Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 65:18-23. St. Paul speaks to the same effect in Romans 6:1-45. Offering (minehah). The pure meal offering (Malachi 1:10,Malachi 1:11, where see notes; comp. Romans 15:16; Philippians 2:17). Dr. Briggs renders, "From beyond the rivers of Gush will be my incense (athar); the daughter of Phut will bring a minchah." This brings out the parallelism. The universal worship of Messianic times is expressed in the ceremonial terms of the old dispensation, but has a very real applicableness to the Christian religion (see note on Malachi 1:11).
§ 2. Israel, restored to God's .favour, shall be cleansed and sanctified.
In that day. When the Lord rises to seize the prey (Zephaniah 3:8), when the Gentiles are converted, and Judah returns to her obedience. Shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings. God addresses Israel repentant and converted, and assures her that she shall not have to reproach herself any more, or to blush for her iniquities, because God blots them out, or because she sins no more as she has done. And the great help to this improvement is the abolition of the cause and incitement to sin. I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride (thy proud triumphers, Isaiah 13:3). God will cut off all those who gloried in their temporal prosperity without thought of God, who in the pride of their heart walked as they pleased, deeming themselves accountable to no one, subject to no law. Such shall no longer be found in the holy nation. Haughty because of (in) my holy mountain; i.e. in the temple (Isaiah 11:9). They shall no longer exult in the exclusiveness of their privileges, or feel a vain glorious confidence in their own election, or the sanctity of their temple or its provision of worship. The Gentiles should be admitted to the covenant, and share in their privileges. Here we see adumbrated the nature of the Christian Church, an organized body no longer local, insulated, but Catholic — a spiritual temple open to all belieVerses
A further characteristic of Messiah's kingdom is here unfolded. No worldly pomp or splendour shall be found in it; its members are not proud, conceited, self-reliant. I will also leave in the midst of thee. I will leave over, as a remnant saved in the judgment (camp. Romans 9:27; Micah 2:12, and the note there). An afflicted and poor people. The two epithets and elsewhere joined together (Job 34:28; Isaiah 26:6) to express the feeling of patience under affliction and inability to help one's self by one's own efforts. The spirit signified is just the contrary of the haughty, complacent, self-satisfied temper previously mentioned (1 Corinthians 1:26; James 2:5). They shall trust in the Name of the Lord. All self-confidence shall be abolished, and the religion of the remnant shall be characterized by quiet trust in God.
The remnant of Israel (see note on Zephaniah 3:12). Though they claim no worldly eminence, the true Israelites shall be conspicuous for spiritual graces. Shall not do iniquity. Their acts shall be just and holy; their daily conduct such as becomes the children of God's election (Leviticus 19:2; 1 John 3:9). Nor speak lies. There shall be no lying prophets there, and all fraud and double-dealing shall be abolished. The proof of their righteous conduct is found in the favour of the Lord and the security in which they shall live. For they shall feed, etc. The remnant is compared to a "little fleck" (Luke 12:32), of which the Lord is the Shepherd (comp. Micah 7:14). The blessing is that promised to Israel in the Law if she kept the commandments (Leviticus 26:5, Leviticus 26:6).
§ 3. Israel shall be cam forted and largely blessed by the presence of Jehovah and exalted to honour in the eyes of all the world.
in view of the coming blessing, the prophet bursts forth in exultation, yet with a vein of prophecy running through all the canticle. After the late denunciation of woe and judgment, he soothes the faithful with the promise of the grace and peace which the time of Messiah shall bring. Sing, O daughter of Zion (Isaiah 1:8; Zec 2:1-13 :14; Zechariah 9:9). He calls on the restored remnant of Judah to show its joy by outward tokens. O Israel. All the tribes are to unite in praising God. This is one of the passages where "Israel" is supposed to have been written by mistake for "Jerusalem." So Jeremiah 23:6. The LXX. gives, θύγατερ Ἱερουσαλήμ, "daughter of Jerusalem" (see note on Zechariah 1:19). The prophet enjoins a triple note of exultation in order to confirm the universal joy.
In this and following verses the prop. hot gives the reasons why Zion should rejoice. Thy judgments. The chastisements inflicted on thee in judgment, rendered necessary by thy iniquity (Ezekiel 5:8). These God has removed; this is the first ground for rejoicing. Septuagint, τὰ ἀδικήματα σου, "thine iniquities." When God removes the punishments, he forgives the sin. He hath cast out (cleared quite away) thine enemy. The enemies who executed the judgment are utterly dispersed. The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee (Obadiah 1:21). The theocracy is restored. Under the judgments which fell upon Israel, Jehovah seemed to have left his people; now he is in the midst of them as their icing (Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 52:7; Hosea 11:9). The perpetual presence of Christ in the Church is here adumbrated. Thou shalt not see evil any more. So the Septuagint. Another reading adopted by Jerome is, "Thou shalt not fear." In view of the following verse, this seems rather tautological. With God in their midst, the people shall see, i.e. experience (Jeremiah 5:12), no evil (Revelation 21:3,Revelation 21:4).
It shall be said. So obvious to all men shall be the happy and secure, position of Zion under God's favour and rule, that they shall join in bidding her east away fear and exult in the Divine protection. Fear thou not (comp. Matthew 14:27; Matthew 28:5, Matthew 28:10; Luke 12:7, Luke 12:32). And to Zion. Probably vocative, O Zion. Let not thine hands be slack. Be not despairing or faint hearted, but work with energy and confidence (comp. Isaiah 13:7; Hebrews 12:12); or the sentence may be rendered, "Jerusalem will be called Fear not, and Zion, Let not thine hands be slack." In this case we may compare the names Hephzibah and Beulah given to Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:4), and Jehovah-Tsidkenu (Jeremiah 33:16).
In the midst of thee; better, is in the midst of thee (see note on Zephaniah 3:15). Is mighty; he will says; rather, a Mighty One who will save; LXX; ̓Ο δυνατὸς σώσει σε, "The Mighty One shall save thee." This is the real ground of confidence: the Lord wills their salvation. He will rejoice over thee with joy, now that thy iniquity is purged, and thou art united again to him, as a chaste and comely bride (Isaiah 52:5; Jeremiah 32:41; Hosea 2:19). He will rest (Hebrew, be silent) in his love. This is a human expression, denoting that perfect love which needs no outward demonstration. For the very greatness of his love God rests, as it were, in quiet enjoyment of it. Some take it to mean that in his love for his people he is silent about, makes no mention of, past sins; but this seems less suitable, as this clause is merely an expansion of the preceding one. The Septuagint and Syriac Versions render, "He will renew thee in his love;" and Ewald has proposed to alter the present reading to, "He will do a new thing." But there is no sufficient reason for making the change. With singing. Again he gives to his ineffable love outward expression. The LXX. paraphrases accurately, "He will rejoice over thee with delight as on a day of festival" (Isaiah 65:19).
The love which God feels he shows in action. He cares for the exiled and dispersed, and will gather them again and comfort them for all their sorrows. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly; or, far removed from the solemn, assembly. Those who grieve because by their exile from the Holy Land they are debarred from duly attending the periodical festivals, these God will restore, and enable them again to participate in the sacred feasts. The above version and explanation are undoubtedly right, as the Latin Version is certainly wrong, Nugas, qui a lege recesserant, congregabo; that is, the light and fickle persons, who have estranged themselves from the Law, God will reclaim, and join them to the congregation of the true Israel; and this, quia ex te erant, for their origin's sake, because they are descendants of the chosen people. Who are of thee; they are of thee, O Zion. These are the true Israelites; this is why they mourn for the cessation of the festivals, and why they shall be restored to the Holy Land. To whom the reproach of it was a burden; i.e. who felt the desolation of Zion and the reproaches uttered against her by enemies (Psalms 137:1-19.) as a burden grievous to be borne. The Vulgate has, Ut non ultra habeas super eis opprobrium; i.e. "That they may be no more a disgrace to thee;" the LXX. reads somewhat differently, Οὐαὶ τίς ἔλαβεν ἐπ αὐτὴν ὀνειδισμόν; "Alas! who took up a reproach against her?"
I will undo all that afflict thee; I will deal with in punishment (Jeremiah 18:23); Vulgate, "I will slay." The restoration of Israel is preceded by the destruction of the enemies of God and the Church. Septuagint, Ποιῶ ἐν σοὶ ἕνεκέν σου ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ λέγει Κύριος, "Dominus dicet ad Sion, Ecce, ego faciam in te propter te, id est, faciam ultionem tuam" (St. Jerome). Her that halteth (Micah 4:6). The afflicted of Israel, here compared to a lame and footsore flock of sheep. Septuagint, τὴν ἐκπεπιεσμένην, "pressed," like grapes or olives, to extract the juice. Her that was driven out. The exiled and dispersed. I will get them praise and fame; I will make them to be a praise and a name. This is in accordance with the promise in Deuteronomy 26:19. In every land where they have been put to shame; literally, in every land of their shame. The scene of their shame should be the scene of their glorification. The prophet does not consider that the restored theocracy shall be confined to the geographical limits of the Holy Land; he looks to its dissemination throughout the world. Wide as the dispersion itself shall be the diffusion of the knowledge of Goal and the admiration of his doings towards Israel (comp. Zephaniah 2:11; Zephaniah 3:9; Ezekiel 20:41; Ezekiel 28:25; Zechariah 8:23).
Will I bring you again (in). He repeats the promise with some slight verbal changes. I will lead you like a flock to the pastures of Zion. People; peoples. When I turn back your captivity; i.e. when God brings them all home into the spiritual Zion from which they were long exiled (but see note on Zephaniah 2:7; and comp. Hosea 6:11; Amos 9:14). Before your eyes. Most certainly and evidently, so that what they hoped for they shall plainly see (Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 30:3, etc.; Isaiah 52:8, Isaiah 52:10). Saith the Lord. All this shall assuredly come to pass, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. In the prophet's eye the restoration from captivity and the times of Messiah are synchronous, or the former is so closely connected in idea with the latter that he speaks of both under one set of terms, applying the same imagery to both.
Zephaniah 3:1-36. -Guilt and retribution.
Having taken a mental survey of the surrounding heathen nations, the seer returns again in thought to his own people. It was, indeed, in their interest that he had been led to take this wide review of God's dealings with men. He desired to make very real to them the Divine law that sin cannot go unpunished, and that national guilt must inevitably be followed by chastisement; yea, more, that if this law operated in heathen lands, much more might they expect to come under it who had enjoyed the special illumination of God's Spirit, to whom he had given his holy oracles, and amongst whom he had raised up a succession of faithful men to guide them into the paths of truth and righteousness. In these verses observe —
I. THE PROPHET PRESENTS A HEAVY INDICTMENT, SETTING FORTH THE GUILT OF JUDAH AND JERUSALEM.
1. This indictment contained certain counts, directed against the people in general. They were charged with
(1) inward defilement: "filthy and polluted" (Zephaniah 3:1);
(2) outward tyranny: "the oppressing city" (Zephaniah 3:1);
(3) practical atheism.
God had spoken unto them, but they had not hearkened unto his voice (Zephaniah 3:2). He had corrected them, but they did not humble themselves under his chastening hand (Zephaniah 3:2). He had offered himself to them as the Object of trust, but they withheld their confidence from him, and rested in an arm of flesh (Zephaniah 3:2). He had intimated his willingness to enter into fellowship with them, and to inspire and strengthen them, but "they drew not near unto him" (Zephaniah 3:2). He had frustrated and brought to confusion their adversaries, and had covered with confusion and shame the godless nations around them, but instead of being warned by these Divine judgments, executed in their sight against evil doers, they had themselves wilfully persisted in their iniquity (Zephaniah 3:6, Zephaniah 3:7).
2. This indictment contained also certain counts directed against the leaders of the nation in particular (Zephaniah 3:3, Zephaniah 3:4).
(1) The princes were charged with cruelty, devouring, like roaring lions, those they ought to have protected (Zephaniah 3:3).
(2) The judges were marked by greed and rapacity, and were insatiable as evening wolves, so that justice was perverted, and wrong remained unredressed (Zephaniah 3:3).
(3) The prophets of the people, wire claimed to be messengers of God to them, were trifling and insincere, so that no reliance could be placed upon their words (Zephaniah 3:4).
(4) The priests profaned the temple and its services, and dishonoured the Law they were appointed to expound and enforce (Zephaniah 3:4).
II. THE PROPHET DECLARED THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD, AND THE CONSEQUENT RETRIBUTION THAT SHOULD BE EXPERIENCED BY THE EVIL DOERS. (Zephaniah 3:5, Zephaniah 3:1, Zephaniah 3:8) God is righteous (Zephaniah 3:5). He is so absolutely and essentially. His perfections are all conformed to this, and, when truly contemplated by us, only render his righteousness the more manifest and intense to us. His Law is distinguished by this, and all his doings are guided by this. "He thinks, and feels, and purposes, and acts always according to what ought to be, and never in accommodation to what is; he makes uncompromising rectitude the rule of all his judgments and proceedings in all his dealings with men. He is not facile and bending, open to appeals and appliances from without, but inherently and unalterably righteous" (Candlish). And God being thus essentially and eternally righteous, iniquity cannot go unpunished; and transgressors persisting shamelessly in wrong doing must reap the due reward of their deeds. In no spirit of vindictiveness, but in strict accordance With this rectitude, so perfect and entire, by which he is characterized, God here, by "the mouth of his holy prophet," pronounced "woe" unto Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:1), and declared his "determination" to gather the godless nations and to assemble the rebellious kingdoms, and to pour upon them his indignation, etc. (Zephaniah 3:8).
III. THE PROPHET INDICATED THE TRUE ATTITUDE OF THE GOOD IN THE LAND WHILST THE PREVAILING INIQUITY WAS REACHING ITS CULMINATION AND WHEN THE JUDGMENTS OF HEAVEN SHOULD FALL. They should wait in the exercise of patience and of hope, assured that out of the chaos wrought by sin God would evolve his purposes of love, bringing good to the race. "Therefore wait for me, saith Jehovah" (Zephaniah 3:8).
Zephaniah 3:9. - Symbols of the final prosperity of God's spiritual kingdom.
This verse introduces us to brighter scenes. The writer has unfolded the guilt of his own and other nations, and has declared the terrible judgments which, in consequence of the prevailing iniquity, should be experienced; and now, in the closing portion of his prophecy, he seeks to comfort the true hearted in such troublous times by lingering upon the glorious future of the Church of the living God. His faith pierces the mists and clouds, and apprehends the noble victories to be won in the coming time by the Lord and his Christ, and the halycon days that lay beyond. We are not to imagine that the ancient prophets realized the full significance of the predictions they uttered respecting the glory of "the latter day." They wrote under the inspiration of God's Spirit, and we doubt not there was often a deeper meaning underlying their utterances than even they supposed. Unconsciously they "testified beforehand" of a "glory" such as, if fully seen by them, would have dazzled and bewildered them by its very splendour. We must avoid placing narrow interpretations upon their words in reference to these high themes. It were weak indeed to seek the complete fulfilment of the glowing predictions which form the closing portion of this prophecy in any one nation, and still less in any particular event in that nation's history. The prophets themselves, partial although the light they possessed was, would not thus have restricted their own words, for they recognized and rejoiced in the thought of God as working in the interests of the whole race; and we, with the increased light possessed by us, ought not to be less comprehensive than they. Viewing this verse (Zephaniah 3:9) in this spirit, we may see set forth in it a striking symbol, the characteristics of the sincere and genuine subjects of the spiritual kingdom of God. Such are distinguished by —
I. PURITY IN HEART AND LIFE. "For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language;" literally, "a purified life" (Zephaniah 3:9). Degeneracy reveals itself in a marked manner in the evil utterances of men. The filthy jest, the coarse oath, the brutal curse, the foul names, which how often offended our ears as we have walked along the public streets, indicate the depravity of hardened hearts. Equally expressive of this is uncharitable speech, whether taking the form of open reproaches or the cowardly and more dangerous form of secret slander. Double-tongued utterances, too, reveal the wickedness of the human heart — utterances which appear to convey a twofold meaning, good and evil, the good being simply a kind of disguise employed for the purpose of rendering the evil the more effective. And vain and frivolous speech likewise serves to indicate wrongness of heart; "idle words," useless effectless words, words which some spend so much time in dropping from house to house, words very unsavoury to all sensible minds, and which, if they accomplish anything, only work mischief and mistrust. In contrast to this, and as indicating the opposite disposition of mind said heart, we place true speech. "The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life'" (Proverbs 10:11), "natural, clean, life giving, refreshing;" "The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright" (Proverbs 15:2); "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life" (Proverbs 15:4); "The lips of the wise disperse truth" (Proverbs 15:7). Happy they who resemble the character portrayed by George Eliot, in her 'Scenes of Clerical Life,' and of whom she says, "He was the man to give me help and comfort when everything else failed: every word he says seems to have a new meaning. I think it must be because he has felt life more deeply than others, and has a deeper faith. I believe everything he says at once; his words seem to come like rain on the parched ground. It has always seemed to me before as if I could see behind people's words as one sees behind a screen, but in this man it is his very soul that speaks." And since speech thus reveals character, no more appropriate symbol could have been chosen by Zephaniah than this for the purpose of setting forth the Divine renewal in man, and of expressing that purity in heart and life which should characterize the members of the true Church of God in the happier days to which, despite the prevailing gloom, he looked forward so hopefully. "For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language."
II. DEVOUTNESS IN SPIRIT AND DISPOSITION. Purified in heart, they should be rendered devout in spirit. Fellowship with God should be their delight. They should no longer grovel in the dust, but their aspirations should tend towards God and heaven. Delivered from idolatry and superstition and worhtliness, they should all "call upon the Name of the Lord" (Verse 9). "From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my Name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my Name, and a pure offering" (Malachi 1:11).
III. UNITY IN PURPOSE AND AIM. "To serve him with one consent," literally "with one shoulder." The symbol was suggested by the thought of a number of men being engaged in bearing a heavy burden. They walk in step, they act together, they stand shoulder to shoulder, the weight is proportionately shared by each; such, indeed, is their agreement and concert that it would seem as though there were but one shoulder among them. And so shall it be with the Church of God eventually. The time shall come when all divisions and strifes shall cease, when all antagonisms, whether real or seeming, shall be no longer traceable amongst good men, when that true unity in heart, in life, and in endeavour shall become manifest, for which the great Intercessor yearned, and for which he prayed as he cried, "That they all may be one" (John 17:21-43). Happy era, predicted in this verse, and which, since "the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," shall assuredly come at length, when all God's servants shall "with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:6).
Zephaniah 3:10. - The restoration of the Jews.
These words have been regarded by some biblical expositors as having reference to the conversion of the Gentiles. This utterance of Zephaniah in the Old Testament, and the prophecy of Caiaphas recorded in the New (John 11:51, John 11:52), have been associated together in their minds, and they have thought that by the "dispersed" Zephaniah meant the Gentiles, even as Caiaphas described the Gentiles as "the children of God that were scattered abroad," and that when the prophet alluded to the dispersed "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia," he meant to intimate that the Gentiles even from the remotest parts should eventually be brought home to God. Others, including many of the ablest interpreters, take the opposite view. They regard Verse 9 as referring to the Gentiles in their relation to the truth and the kingdom of God, and as intimating the great fact of the calling of the Gentiles, who should be led with one consent to serve the Lord, and then refer to this tenth verse as having special reference to the spiritual restoration of the Jews, who, through the agency of the Gentiles thus converted to God, should at length be brought in (Romans 11:30, Romans 11:31). Accepting this latter interpretation, we have here declared the spiritual restoration of the Jews (Verse 10). Note —
I. THEIR PRESENT POSITION.
1. Dispersed. Scattered over the face of the whole earth. "Can you find a country which they can call their own? Can you find a nation in which they are not? In Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and the furthest islands of the Southern Sea, among bond and tree, copper-coloured and yellows white and black, wherever there are men, there are Jews."
2. Yearning. Crying out to God, longing for the fulfilment of their cherished hopes. In exile they are still his "suppliants," expecting the promised Messiah, and, whilst many of them are embittered against Christianity, there are not wanting numbers who have embraced it, and openly avowed their faith in Christ, whilst many are his disciples "secretly," ready to avow themselves his, only shrinking from the pains and penalties involved, whilst a still larger number are inquiring concerning him, and are easily accessible to the missionary of the cross.
II. THEIR ULTIMATE RESTORATION.
1. The fact of their spiritual recovery is here emphatically declared (Verse 10). From the remotest parts they shall come and surrender themselves as an offering unto God. "All Israel shall be saved." They shall be brought in with the fulness of the Gentiles, and "there shall be one flock, one Shepherd" (John 10:16). Their restoration to their own land is a question of comparative unimportance in view of this spiritual recovery which is so frequently declared in the unerring Word of God (Romans 9:1-45, Romans 9:8, Romans 9:9; Romans 10:1-45; Romans 11:1, Romans 11:9, Romans 11:11-45, Romans 11:23-45; 2 Corinthians 3:12-47).
2. It is implied here that this spiritual restoration shall be effected through the agency of the Gentiles. The offering here referred to as to be brought unto the Lord was "the meat offering." The idea expressed here is that, just as the children of Israel presented the meat offering unto God, so the Gentiles themselves, converted to him, should labour for the conversion of the Jews, and, crowned with success in this holy service, should bring these Hebrew converts as a meat offering unto the Lord. And the meaning is still more clear if we remember the signification of the meat offering. It was a sacrifice in which the Jew recognized God's goodness and grace in the bounties of his hand, and acknowledged that these gifts were his by right, and ought to be consecrated unto him. And even so, it is here declared that the Gentiles should recognize God's mercy in bringing home to himself his chosen race, and should present these converts to him as those who were his in virtue of all he had done for them, and who ought to be entirely consecrated to his service. The Church of Christ should ever prove herself a missionary Church, and in these enterprises a conspicuous place should be assigned to work for the spiritual good of God's ancient people, whose "falling away" shall result in "the reconciling of the world," and the restoration of whom shall be "as life from the dead" (Romans 11:15).
Zephaniah 3:11-36. - Pictorial representation of the Church of God in the latter age.
Dark days were in store for his people when this prophet prophesied. The Captivity was in prospect, and there would soon be occasion for them, by "the rivers of Babylon," to "weep as they remembered Zion." Still, he would have them remember that it would not be ever thus, but that the time should come in which the ransomed of the Lord should return to Zion with songs and with gladness. In these verses he draws a beautiful picture of the Church of the future. How far his description has been realized in the past in the experience of the Hebrew Church in connection with the return from captivity, it would be impossible for us to indicate; certain, however, is it that, for the full realization of this, we must turn to the future, to the Church of God in the latter age. We do well to unite with the good of all past times in looking on by faith to that bright day of God which shall yet dawn upon the world sin has darkened and sorrow blighted, and to anticipate, with expectant hearts, its glorious appearing. Concerning the Church of the future, we are reminded here of —
I. HER PERFECTED CHARACTER. Her members are represented as:
1. Purified. So pure indeed should they be as that "they should not be ashamed for all their doings wherein they had transgressed against God" (Zephaniah 3:11); i.e. they should have "no more conscience of sin" (Hebrews 10:2). So completely should they be delivered from the old life of sin that even the remembrance of the sinful past should all be obliterated, and should no more rise before them to disturb and distress.
2. Humble. No longer puffed up with spiritual pride, boasting of themselves as being the favoured of Heaven, and glorying in their special advantages of ancestry and country, "they should no more be haughty because of God's holy mountain" (Zephaniah 3:11), but should be lowly in heart, and clothed with that humility and meekness which is in the sight of God of great price
3. Trustful. Resting wholly in "the Name of the Lord, which is a strong tower" (Proverbs 18:10). "And they shall trust in the Name of the Lord" (Zephaniah 3:11).
4. Sincere. They should reach unto the heights of holy obedience, and which is, indeed, the climax. "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, or speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth" (Zephaniah 3:13).
II. HER HIGH PRIVILEGES.
1. Deliverance from all sorrow. "Thou shalt not see evil any more" (Zephaniah 3:15).
2. Enrichment with peace and tranquillity. "For they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid" (Zephaniah 3:13).
3. Safety under God's protecting care. "The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee;" "Fear thou not" (Zephaniah 3:15, Zephaniah 3:16).
III. HER DIVINE RESOURCES. In the seventeenth verse the love of God towards his servants is declared in words of exquisite beauty and tenderness. "The prophet speaks of the eternal love and joy of God towards his people as an exuberant joy, one which boundeth within the inmost self, and again is wholly silent in his love, as the deepest, tenderest, most yearning love broods over the object of its love, yet is held still in silence by the very depth of its love, and then again breaks forth in outward motion, and leaps for joy, and uttereth what it cannot form in words; for truly the love of God in its unspeakable love and joy is past belief, past utterance, past thought" (Pusey). And since he who thus loves is "mighty," the objects of this Divine love need not fear nor grow faint hearted ever, for their resources are infinite and eternal.
IV. HER RAPTUROUS JOY. "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel," etc. (Zephaniah 3:14). The joy of the redeemed eventually shall be full and all-sufficing, and, in anticipation of entering into this experience at length, all God's servants, even in the dark days, may well lift up their heads, and "in the darkness raise their carols of high praise."
Zephaniah 3:15. - The abiding presence of God with his Church.
"The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee." This truth was constantly affirmed in the Old Testament with reference to the Jewish Church; and as the Church of God through all ages is one Church, we may take the promises of God to Israel of old as having their application to his Church still. So may we apply to her today those assurances contained in the Hebrew Scriptures (Psalms 46:1-19.; Psalms 48.), or that contained in the text, or, turning to the New Testament, we may grasp the gracious promise of the God-Man, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).
I. INDICATE SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH GOD HAS ESTABLISHED THIS TRUTH OF HIS ABIDING PRESENCE WITH HIS CHURCH IN ALL AGES.
1. By having "a remnant" to his praise even in the darkest times. It is an undoubted fact that, whatever dark clouds of persecution, or indifference, or declension may have arisen, God has had all through the season of darkness a people to show forth his praise. These Hebrew prophets, amidst their emphatic testimony against the iniquity prevailing in their times, constantly recognize with thankfulness "a remnant" as remaining true to God and to righteousness. Elijah at Horeb thought himself to be the only servant of Heaven remaining in his corrupt day; but God removed the veil concealing from his view the secret and hidden Church, and, lo, he beheld "an exceeding great army," where he had supposed himself to be the solitary warrior for the truth. "Yet have I left me seven thousand in Israel," etc. (1 Kings 19:18). In "the dark ages," when the light of Christian truth had become well nigh extinguished, there were not wanting those who dared to maintain the truth of God in its simplicity and purity. Even within the pale of the Church of Rome in those days there were some who deplored the prevailing corruptions, and who longed for a return to the simplicity in teaching and the purity of life by which the early Christians were characterized; whilst outside her communion were associations of Free Christian societies, as in Lombardy and in the Alps, who were as lights shining in dark places. The Nestorians, "the Protestants of Asia," referred to by Mr. Layard, serve as another illustration, and who, away in the remote valleys of Kurdistan, and entirely separated from intercourse with other Christian communities, have preserved through so many centuries a knowledge of the Christian faith in the purity of its character and the simplicity of its worship. There has ever been "a remnant" true to God, and serving as a clear token of his abiding presence with his Church.
2. By raising up in her midst, and qualifying, men for special service. Whilst we may not "glory in men," we may magnify God's grace and power in them; and it is intensely interesting to note how he has in every emergency raised up his agents to do his work. Moses and Joshua, in relation to the deliverance of the Israelites and their settlement in Canaan; Ezra and Nehemiah, in connection with the return from the Captivity in Babylon; the faithful prophets raised up to declare the judgments of Heaven against idolatrous nations; Luther, Melancthon, Zwingle, called by him to take part in the work of the Reformation; and Owen, Howe, Bunyan, Baxter, Flavel, and others, following, to wield the pen effectively in support of the truth, and so to confirm and to consolidate the work of their predecessors. And by thus raising up men and endowing them with gifts for special service, God has confirmed to his Church the assurance of his abiding presence.
3. By frustrating and bringing to nought the evil designs of her enemies. He has repeatedly proved that "no weapon directed against his Church can prosper," and has made manifest the folly of those who have sought to overthrow the kingdom of truth and righteousness. "The wrath of man shall praise him," etc. (Psalms 76:10).
4. By opening up new fields for the extension of her influence. India has been placed under British rule, and the opportunity given of making known to its teeming millions "the unsearchable riches of Christ." The exclusiveness chat prevented access to the empire of China has passed away, so that the missionary may go through the length and breadth of the land. The heart of Africa has been penetrated, and there is now the prospect of her sable tribes becoming elevated and blessed through Christian influence. And in thus opening up the world for Christian enterprise to bestow upon it all its energy and zeal, God has shown himself as being still with his Church. "The King of Israel," etc. (Verse 15).
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT THIS THOUGHT OF GOD'S ABIDING PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE IS CALCULATED TO AFFORD TO THEIR HEARTS,
1. In view of the character of the age in which we live, as related to Christian truth. Many are seeking to restore that papal supremacy which has proved such a blight in ages that are past; many are cherishing the spirit of scepticism, and would have us even banish God himself from his universe; and there is also a widespread spirit of indifference abroad in relation to the highest spiritual realities. Yet still we will not despond, for "the Lord of hosts is with us," and as he caused the light to burn and to prevail even in the darkest ages, so he will still work until the light shall shine in every land, and all flesh see together the revealed glory of the Lord.
2. In view of apathy, coldness, and declension in holy service. Such seasons do occur, and such lifelessness and deadness at times falls upon the Church of God and upon Christian communities. Yet God does not forsake us even when we thus grow lukewarm in his service. He is with us still, and will grant us renewal and revival if we will but turn to him with all our hearts.
3. In view of the losses the Church of God is called upon to sustain through the ravages of death. The last foe is ever active. Beneath his unsparing hand the useful as well as the useless fall — the true-hearted worker for God as well as the idler whose life is altogether barren of good. But amidst these changes the chief Shepherd liveth; all holy gifts and heavenly graces are his bestowments, and he will not fail his Church, but will raise up a bright succession of devoted servants to do his bidding and to help on the grand consummation. Hence we will not despair; for "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early" (Psalms 46:4).
Zephaniah 3:18-36. - Words of help and hope to the exiled and banished.
The closing words of this prophecy, contained in these verses, are amply sufficient to indicate that although the writer was a messenger of judgment, and as such addressed burning words of denunciation to evil doers, he was also a man full of tenderness — a Barnabas as well as a Boanerges. Whilst, being commissioned by God to reprove the ungodly, he did not spare such, yet he also knew how to speak words of help and hope to the sorrowful and distressed; indeed, we find him here anticipating sorrow, being beforehand with consolation, and providing the balm for wounds yet to be inflicted.
I. THE CASE SUPPOSED. The prophet had spoken of captivity; yet he was conscious that God would restore his people at the close, and bring them from Babylon to their own land. But, whilst confident as to this, he knew that, in the very nature of the circumstances, only a portion of God's people weird be privileged thus to return, and that many of them would be dispersed among the heathen in various places, and would be unable to come back with those who should be restored "when the Lord should turn again the captivity of his people." And he also knew that, amongst these scattered ones, there would be those who, in their remote exile, would mourn for the solemn assembly, and whoso hearts would be burdened in view of their banishment (Zephaniah 3:18).
II. THE WORDS OF HELP AND HOPE ADDRESSED BY THE PROPHET TO THOSE THUS CIRCUMSTANCED.
1. He assured them that the Lord their God would bring to nought their oppressors. "I will undo all that afflict thee" (Zephaniah 3:19).
2. That the Shepherd of Israel would in his own time regather every member of his flock, however scattered they were, and however feeble some of them might be. "And I will save her that halteth, and gather," etc. (Zephaniah 3:19).
3. And that in the very lands where they would be put to shame he would eventually secure to them lasting honour and imperishable renown (Zephaniah 3:19, Zephaniah 3:20).
III. THE PROPHET AN EXAMPLE TO TEACHERS OF RELIGION IN EVERY AGE. There must be the bold denunciation of wrong, but there should ever accompany this tenderness of spirit, revealing itself in the endeavour to comfort and cheer troubled hearts. And in proportion as this spirit is cherished by us do we resemble the great Prophet of the Church, who was "anointed to comfort those that mourn," etc. (Isaiah 61:1-23).
HOMILIES BY T. WHITELAW
Zephaniah 3:1-36. - Jerusalem the rebellious and polluted; or, the wickedness and woe of a degenerate city.
I. THE NUMBER AND VARIETY OF HER SINS.
1. Rebellion. This, marking her attitude towards God, is amplified and detailed as consisting in four transgressions.
(1) Disobedience. She had not obeyed Jehovah's voice speaking to her through the Law and the prophets, adjoining on her precepts and imposing on her duties, but, like an ordinary heathen nation, had said, "Who is Jehovah, that we should serve him, or that he should reign over us?"
(2) Insubordination. She had not received correction, i.e. had not accepted with meek submission the discipline or chastisement Jehovah had laid upon her in consequence of her sins, as for instance when he brought against her Shishak of Egypt (1 Kings 14:25, 1 Kings 14:26), Jehoash of Israel (2 Kings 14:13), Sargon or Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 18:17; 2 Chronicles 32:1), but had resented it, not only adhering to her disobedient ways, but improving on them, "rising early and corrupting all her doings."
(3) Unbelief. Not trusting in Jehovah, she had alternately trusted in Assyria and Egypt. Whereas her confidence in Jerusalem's stability and impregnability ought to have rested on the fact that Jehovah had chosen it to place his Name there, had entered into covenant with the nation of which it was the capital, had established in it his worship, and had promised to protect it, she was constantly basing her hopes on a political alliance either with the northern power against the southern, or with the southern against the northern (Isaiah 36:6; Hosea 14:3).
(4) Irreligion. Having renounced all faith in Jehovah, she had scarcely maintained the pretence of observing his worship — had not drawn near to him, either externally in the way of celebrating those rites he had prescribed, or internally by pouring out her heart before him in supplication of his favour and help.
2. Pollution. This declares what the city was in herself. The completeness of her defilement discovered itself in the wickedness of all classes of her population, but more especially of her civil and spiritual rulers. Of the latter,
(1) the prophets were light and treacherous persons, vain glorious boasters, boiling up with their own conceited imaginings, men of treacheries who published their own false dreams as if these had been the true visions of God (Jeremiah 23:32), and thus caused the people to err (Isaiah 9:16; Micah 3:5). As they exercised their callings without having themselves been called to these by God (Jeremiah 14:14), they were not his prophets, but hers. Scarcely less polluted were
(2) the priests, who, as Jehovah's ministers, ought to have been holy (Leviticus 21:6; Numbers 16:5), but who, through being themselves impure, profaned that which is holy, or defiled the sanctuary and all connected with it — its rites, persons, things, places, sacrifices, and violated the Law (Ezekiel 22:26) "by treating what was holy as profane."
3. Oppression. Revealing her behaviour towards man: her civic dignitaries practised cruelties ferocious and unprovoked upon those over whom they ruled.
(1) Her princes in the midst of her, i.e. her kings and nobles, like roaring lions rushing on their prey (Proverbs 27:15), ground down her poor and unresisting population by excessive taxations and labours.
(2) Her judges, in their administration of law and (so called) justice, were so fixedly bent on their own enrichment, and so insatiably greedy of their evil gains, that they seemed like hungry and rapacious evening wolves which could not leave a bone of their prey till the morning, but must devour it ere the night passed (Habakkuk 1:8; Jeremiah 5:6; Ezekiel 22:27).
II. THE AGGRAVATION AND HEINOUSNESS OF HER SINS.
1. Against Divine grace. She had been guilty of all the foregoing wickednesses, though Jehovah had been in the midst of her. That he chose at the first to establish his presence in her was a favour — a special favour; that he remained in her after she had become rebellious, polluted, and oppressive, was more than a special favour — was an exceeding great mercy.
2. Against Divine example. In all Jehovah's dealings with her he had shown himself "righteous," even proved that he would not and could not do iniquity; nevertheless, she had not followed in Jehovah's steps, but had turned aside into crooked paths and unclean ways.
3. Against Divine instruction. Jehovah had brought his judgment to light every morning by causing his Law to be proclaimed to the nation daily by the prophets. Yet she had rebelled against the light and done the works of darkness.
4. Against Divine warnings. She had seen Jehovah cutting off the nations around, throwing down their battlements, and rendering them desolate, "making their streets waste," etc. (Zephaniah 3:6); and still she had closed her ears against the warnings these providential judgments gave.
5. Against Divine expectation. Jehovah had hoped she would fear him and receive the instruction and correction he had intended for her; but she had not done so. Rather she had risen early and corrupted herself, thereby proving herself one of the unjust who know no shame.
III. THE RECOMPENSE AND REWARD OF HER SINS.
1. A severe penalty. Woe; and the cutting off of her dwelling. Unless she repented and turned from her evil ways, she would be overwhelmed with the righteous indignation of God, and her place as a nation wiped out — an impressive symbol of the doom threatened against unbelieving and unrepentant sinners under the gospel.
2. A contingent penalty. If she feared Jehovah and accepted correction, her dwelling should not be cut off, and the vials of woe should not he outpoured upon her (Jeremiah 18:7). So are God's threatenings against sinners contingent on their continued impenitence. But this presupposed, it becomes:
3. A certain penalty. Nothing could avert the woe and the cutting off in Jerusalem's case but repentance and reformation, neither of which she showed; and so when within less than a century it became apparent that there was no remedy, the sluice gates of wrath were opened, and she was cut off without compassion (2 Chronicles 36:16, 2 Chronicles 36:17). So will it be with those under the gospel, who, being often reproved, vet harden their necks — they shall he utterly destroyed, and that without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).
1. The danger of sin.
2. The certainty of judgment. — T.W.
Zephaniah 3:5. - The shamelessness of sin.
I. A DEMONSTRABLE FACT.
1. Asserted by Scripture. In addition to the statement of the text, that "the unjust knoweth no shame," may be cited other declarations to the same effect from both the Old (Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 6:15; Jeremiah 8:12) and the New (Ephesians 4:19; Philippians 3:19) Testaments.
2. Proved by experience. Besides the individuals to whom the above passages allude, persons are often met with in actual life who not only seem, but so far as can be discovered from their behaviour actually are, insensible to shame.
II. A PSYCHOLOGICAL ENIGMA.
1. Shame the fruit of sin. Exemplified in the case of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:25; Genesis 3:7). Shame is the outward sign of the soul's inward consciousness of guilt.
2. Sin the death of shame. If shame does not lead to repentance, and so to the destruction of sin, sin will soon assert its supremacy over shame and lead to its extinction.
III. A SIGNIFICANT PHENOMENON. Teaching:
1. The possibility of complete spiritual deteriotation. When a soul can no longer feel ashamed on account of sin, when its moral perceptions have become darkened, and its conscience is deadened, the process of spiritual or religious degeneration has reached its lowest point. The soul is practically dead in trespasses and in sins. It has become essentially and permanently unjust.
2. The impossibility of ultimate red, raptly. The soul that cannot blush is at least perilously near the condition of those of whom it is written, "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance" (Hebrews 6:6). — T.W.
Zephaniah 3:8-36. - The gracious acts of Jehovah; or, Israel's glorious future.
I. THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL. (Zephaniah 3:8.)
1. The time indicated. The day that Jehovah riseth up to the prey; i.e. to take for himself as a booty or spoil out of the nations he visits a people who shall desire his salvation and confess his Name. Among those who shall then be captured by Jehovah will be Israel, or at least a remnant thereof, who shall be brought again to their own land. The time thus indicated began with Persia's overthrow of Babylon, to which doubtless the prophet's language primarily refers, continued till the advent of Christ, in whom Jehovah rose up not merely to bring, redemption to the pious remnant of Israel (Luke 1:68), but to take out of the Gentiles a people for his Name (Acts 15:14), and will not terminate till the close of the present era, during which, by the gospel, is being gathered out of all nations and kindreds, peoples and tongues, a people for Jehovah, of whom ancient Israel was but a shadow and a type (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29; Revelation 7:9).
2. The instrumentality declared. A work of judgment upon the nations of the earth, which work again commenced with the destruction of Babylon, and will only be finished when Christ appears a second time to execute judgment upon all (Jude 1:15), and in particular to pour out his wrath upon the impenitent and unbelieving (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 10:27; Revelation 6:17). As in Zephaniah's time Jehovah declared it to be his fixed purpose to hold such an assize of the nations, so has he revealed his intention to hold another and a grander at the end of time (Acts 17:31); and as he further maintained (to adopt another rendering) that the holding of such an assize, with what would inevitably result from it, viz. "the devouring of all the earth with the fire of his jealousy," i.e. the destruction of his enemies by his judgments, and the salvation of his people by his grace, should be a clear vindication of his righteousness, so does he in respect of the final judgment claim that its decisions will manifest to all the righteous character of himself and his government (Romans 2:2, Romans 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; Revelation 16:5).
3. The duty prescribed. To wait for Jehovah. Addressed, not to the whole wicked and corrupt nation (Hitzig), but to its pious remnant (Keil and Delitzsch, Pusey, Fausset, Farrar), this counsel was in effect:
(1) A warning against apostasy. Though Jehovah's judgments should descend upon the nation, they, the meek of the land (Zephaniah 2:3), were not to discontinue either believing in Jehovah or practising his religion, but were to steadfastly adhere to both.
(2) An intimation of mercy. Since, even before the judgment fell, Jehovah counselled them to wait for him after it had fallen, the sense could only be that he had it in contemplation to interpose in his own time for their deliverance.
(3) An encouragement to hope. In the darkest hours of their despondency, when the nation's fortunes should be at the lowest ebb, they should not yield to despair, but look expectantly forward to the good time coming. The duty here prescribed that of God's people collectively and individually at all times, but especially in seasons of calamity and affliction.
II. THE ENLARGEMENT OF ISRAEL. (Verses 9, 10.)
1. The accession of the Gentiles.
(1) The outward occasion of this turning of the nations to Israel. The visible, historical instrumentality by which it should be brought about has been declared to be the pouring out upon them of Jehovah's indignation. When God's judgments are abroad, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9). Nations and communities no less than individuals, and these no less than those, not unfrequently require to be whipped into obedience and chastised into submission. Calamities in the shape of wars and pestilences bring powerful kingdoms and haughty empires to their knees, when nothing else will. Prodigals and profligates need experience of servitude and starvation at the swine's trough, before they will return in penitence to God.
(2) The impelling force. Jehovah's grace in turning to them a pure language (literally, "lip"). Not imparting to them instruction through his servants the prophets (Luther, Hofmann), but purifying their lips defiled by the worship of idols (Hitzig, Keil, and Delitzsch). This, again, was only possible by first purifying their hearts, or weaning them from the love of their debasing superstitions. The fountain must be cleansed if the stream running from it is to be pure; the tree must be good if its fruit is to be good (Matthew 12:33). The prime mover in all religious awakenings and reformations is God (Ezekiel 36:27; John 3:3, John 3:5; John 6:63; Romans 8:2; 1 Corinthians 15:10).
(3) The formal expression. Calling upon the Name of the Lord. A phrase used to designate the worship of Jehovah by Abraham (Genesis 12:8), and of Christ by believers under the gospel (Romans 10:13). The Name of God signifies his manifested character (Exodus 3:15; Exodus 20:24; Exodus 23:21; John 17:6); to call upon his Name, to invoke the help that Name proffers and warrants to expect.
(4) The animating Spirit. "To serve him with one consent," or "one shoulder;" signifying that their adherence to Jehovah shall not be purely formal but essentially spiritual, not of outward ceremonial alone but also of inward devotion, not forced and constrained but voluntary and of personal choice, and not fragmentary and isolated but united and combined.
2. The ingathering of the dispersed (Jews). These the prophet represents:
(1) As objects of Jehovah's affection, even in the countries of their exile. Jehovah speaks of them as his dispersed, and as the daughter of his dispersed (cf. Verse 14), a designation of Israel shaped after similar expressions of Isaiah (Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 22:4) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:11, Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 6:2, Jeremiah 6:14), — God's love to men changes not, though their circumstances and, even their characters may change.
(2) As returning to Jehovah's service. From the furthest bounds of their dispersion, even from beyond the rivers (the Nile and the Astaboras) of Ethiopia and from other countries into which they may have bee, scattered. No spot too distant or condition of existence too abject that one may not find his way back from it to God. In a spirit of penitential entreaty. Jehovah calls them his suppliants, to indicate the mood of mind in which they shall return (Zechariah 12:10). In so doing "he describes the character of all who come to God through Christ" (Pusey). To offer acceptable worship. What Jehovah styles "his offering," was the minchah, or meat offering due to him according to the Law of Moses (Exodus 29:41; Leviticus 2:8; Numbers 4:16), the tribute they owed him as their Divine King (1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Kings 4:21). According to another rendering, the offerers are the Gentiles, and the offering the Jews of the dispersion, whom the former shall bring and present to Jehovah. Though favoured by Isaiah (46:20) and Paul (Romans 11:25, Romans 11:26, Romans 11:31), it is doubtful if this view of the passage was in the prophet's mind (Hitzig, Pusey).
III. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF ISRAEL. (Verses 11-13.)
1. In the enjoyment of spiritual peace. When the Lord had turned again her captivity, and brought her back to himself with weeping and with supplication (Jeremiah 31:9; Jeremiah 1:1-24.Jeremiah 1:4; Joel 2:12), she should no longer be ashamed for or "on account of" her past iniquities. Not because these would then have ceased to be reprehensible and fitted to cause shame, but either because they would then have ceased to be (Keil and Delitzsch), or because God would then have forgiven them (Pusey). A new heart and a quiet conscience — two of the first gifts bestowed upon returning penitents.
2. In the possession of heart humility. Then all her proudly exulting citizens should be cut off, and all her haughty leaders abased, so that none should remain in her but an afflicted and poor people, who should no more be haughty in Jehovah's holy mountain. Meekness of mind, lowliness of heart, poverty of spirit, an indispensable characteristic of true religion in the soul (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 11:20; Matthew 18:4; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5, 1 Peter 5:6).
3. In the exercise of living faith. They, i.e. the inhabitants of restored Jerusalem, shall trust in the Name of the Lord. If true religion begets a spirit of lowliness towards one's self, it inspires a feeling of calm and confident trust in God (Psalms 9:10).
4. In the pursuit of true holiness. The members of God's spiritual Israel should neither commit injustice nor tell lies, nor practise deceit of any kind. These again, righteousness and truth, are absolute requirements from all who claim to be possessed of sincere religion (Philippians 4:8).
5. In the satisfaction of all her needs. Like Jehovah's flock, she (Israel) should want nothing (Psalms 23:1) She should have:
(1) Food. She should "feed".
(2) Rest. She should "lie down".
(3) Protection. "None should make her afraid". — T.W.
Zephaniah 3:14-36. -The reciprocal joy of Israel and Jehovah.
I. THE JOY OF ISRAEL IN JEHOVAH. (Zephaniah 3:14 Zephaniah 3:16.)
1. The character in which Israel is summoned to rejoice. Indicated by the names in which she is addressed.
(1) Daughter of Zion. Zion meaning "sunny," hence "arid," and so "thirsty," or thirsting after God.
(2) Israel. Signifying "Prince of God," or one who has power with God, and can prevail.
(3) Daughter of Jerusalem. Equivalent to "City of peace." At all events, those whom God calls to rejoice in the fulness of his salvation are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6), these who seek his face and call upon his Name (Romans 10:12), and those who are possessed of a spirit of peace (Matthew 5:9).
2. The enthusiasm with which she is invited to rejoice. Suggested by the threefold call to sing, shout, and be glad. "Sing, — it is the inarticulate, thrilling, trembling burst of joy; shout, — again the inarticulate, yet louder swell of joy, a trumpet blast; and then too, deep within, be glad, — the calm even joy of the inward soul; exult, the triumph of the soul which cannot contain itself for joy; and this with the whole heart, no corner of it not pervaded with joy" (Pusey).
3. The grounds on which Israel is called to rejoice.
(1) Judgments taken away. The calamities inflicted on her because of her iniquities have been removed (Isaiah 40:2). Meaning, her sins have been pardoned. Believers under the gospel have the same cause for exultation. For them, as for Israel, is no condemnation more (Romans 5:11; Romans 8:1).
(2) Enemies cast out. In the case of Israel this was so far true that henceforth she was no more seriously harassed as a nation after the restoration. Of believers under the gospel it is true that their chief enemy, the prince of this world, has been cast out by Jesus Christ (John 12:31), while sin, which represents his power in them, will ultimately be expelled from their renewed natures (Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27; Titus 2:15).
(3) God returned. As her covenant God, — "the Lord thy God;" rightful King, — "The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee;" powerful Protector, — the Lord thy God is "a Mighty One who will save thee." In the same characters God abides in the Church and dwells in the heart of the belieVerse
(4) Prosperity secured. With Jehovah in her midst she shall no more see or experience evil (Psalms 91:10). The same true of the Christian believer, in whose heart God dwells (2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Peter 3:13).
4. The signs Israel shows that she does rejoice.
(1) No more fear. "In that day it shall be raid to Jerusalem, Fear thou not." So Christ says to his little flock, "Fear not!" (Luke 12:32; John 6:20).
(2) No more despondency. "O Zion, let not thine hands be slack." Drooping hands are the sign of a fainting heart. Believers are exhorted to faint not (Luke 18:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16).
(3) No more indolence. Slack hands are idle hands; and no greater enemy to activity in Churches or individuals exists than lack of joy, as nothing stimulates to religious work like the experience of religious joy.
II. THE JOY OF JEHOVAH IN ISRAEL. (Zephaniah 3:17.)
1. The character of this joy. The joy:
(1) Of a conqueror over the prey he has captured (Zephaniah 3:8); Israel in her restoration being a trophy of his prowess.
(2) Of an artificer in the work of his hands (Zephaniah 3:11); Israel in her purified condition being a production of his grace.
(3) Of an owner in the value of his possession (Zephaniah 3:10); Jehovah speaking of Israel as "his dispersed."
(4) Of a lover in the object of his affection, as e.g. of a bridegroom in his bride (Isaiah 62:5).
2. The tenderness of this joy. It was a joy springing out of love to Israel, the joy of one who seeks the happiness of another, rather than of one who glories in his own felicity. In God's joy over Israel is no element of selfishness; it is all sympathy and affection.
3. The intensity of this joy. Marked by the gradation of clauses. Beginning with an inward feeling of delight, it swells in volume and deepens in tenderness till it becomes too great for utterance, and the subject of it is "silent in his love," after which it keeps on rising like a tide, till at length it overflows the soul's banks and breaks forth into song.
4. The spontaneity of this joy. It is not meant that Jehovah's joy in Israel is occasioned or evoked by Israel's joy in Jehovah, but rather that Jehovah's joy in Israel should prompt and sustain Israel's joy in Jehovah, As "we love him because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19), so can we only "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:11) when we realize that he for Christ's sake is well pleased with us. — T.W.
Zephaniah 3:17. - God and his people.
I. GOD'S RELATION TO HIS PEOPLE.
1. Their covenant God.
2. Their rightful King.
3. Their mighty Saviour.
II. GOD'S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE. He is in their midst.
1. In the Spirit of his Son.
2. In the Word of his truth.
3. In the ordinances of his Church.
III. GOD'S WORK FOR HIS PEOPLE. Salvation:
1. From the guilt and power of sin.
2. From the danger of ignorance and error.
3. From the temptations and corruptions of the world.
4. From the fear of death and the dominion of the grave.
IV. GOD'S DELIGHT IN HIS PEOPLE.
1. True and tender.
2. Full and deep.
3. Perfect and abiding. — T.W.
Zephaniah 3:18-36. - The turning again of Israel's captivity; or, good news for sin's exiles.
I. LIBERTY FOR THE CAPTIVES. "I will deal with all them that afflict thee," etc. Those members of the Israelitish community who were soon to be carried off into exile and enslaved in a foreign land were to be eventually (in the day when God rose up to the prey) rescued from their oppressors and set free from the reproach of slavery which pressed upon them like a heavy burden. So were the members of the human race captives of sin and Satan, and bondmen in a far off land of alienation from Cod, when Christ came to preach deliverance to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that were bound (Isaiah 41:1; Luke 4:18). So are men by nature sin's captives still (John 8:34), and the burden of the gospel message still runs, "If the Son shall make you free, then are ye free indeed" (John 8:36).
II. COMFORT FOR THE SORROWFUL. "I will gather them that sorrow for the solemn assembly." Those about to be exiled in Babylon, especially such among them as should preserve their piety, would regard it as the saddest element in their lot that through banishment they were no longer permitted to take part in the festal assemblies of the nation, in particular in the Feast of Tabernacles, the most joyful of all their celebrations (Hosea 12:10). To them, therefore, it would come "like cold water to a thirsty soul," or "like good news from a far country," that they should afterwards, "at that time," be restored to their religious privileges, and the fellowship with Jehovah which these signified. So men "in sin," being far off from him whose favour and fellowship alone is life, when they first awake to this thought, are filled with sorrow, and mouth after God, after that reconciliation and communion with him in which alone true happiness can be found (Psalms 31:16; Psalms 51:8-19; Psalms 85:4, Psalms 85:6; Psalms 143:7, Psalms 143:8). To all such the gospel promises comfort and consolation (Matthew 5:4).
III. GATHERING FOR THE DISPERSED. Many of Israel's sons and daughters should be scattered into far off lands when Jenovah rose to pour his indignation on the nations (Zephaniah 3:8). But into whatsoever region they should have wandered, Jehovah would recollect them in the day when he turned again Israel's captivity. So bare men by sin been driven away into many different "far countries" — into conditions of existence where their material environments, dispositions of soul, and habits of life have become widely divergent. But up out of all situations and from all characters God by his grace can bring men who have departed from him and separated from each other, and can form them again into a united community, a holy brotherhood, a spiritual household, a redeemed family. To do this is the aim of the gospel (Ephesians 2:17-49).
IV. GLORY FOR THE SHAMED. Whereas the approaching exile would lead to Israel becoming overwhelmed with dishonour, when the Lord turned again her captivity that dishonour would be wiped out, and she should once more acquire a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth. This certainly was true of the Jewish people, who, for all their humiliation, rose to a position of commanding influence because of her relation to Jehovah and the Christian Church, to which no nation on earth has ever attained; while Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, her great world-rivals, and frequently her oppressors, have passed away into comparative oblivion. So, if sin turns man's glory into shame, the gospel of Jesus Christ promises to reconvert man's shame into glory; and this it does by giving to the Christian Church a position and power possessed by no other human institution, and by conferring on the individual believer the glory
(1) of a good name;
(2) of an influential life;
(3) of a peaceful end; and
(4) of a blessed future.
1. "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound".
2. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature". — T.W.
HOMILIES BY J.S. CANDLISH
Zephaniah 3:9-36. - The promise of restoration.
Very remarkable is the way in which the most gracious promises are in this book interwoven, and, as it were, wrapped up in threatenings of judgment. This appears in Zephaniah 2:11, where it is declared that the Lord shall be terrible to the nations that magnified themselves against his people, and shall famish all the gods of the earth, so depriving these nations of their fancied support and confidence; and then it is added that men shall worship him every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen. The deserved judgment would really prove to be the greatest blessing, leading them from the worship of dumb idols that could not save to that of the living and true God. So it is in the very similar prophecy given here. It is not certain whether Zephaniah 2:8 is to be understood as a warning given in solemn irony to the ungodly Jews, or an encouragement addressed to the faithful remnant among them; and so the precise connection of Zephaniah 2:9 with the preceding context is not quite clear; but in general it is plain that it speaks of the conversion of the peoples to God as the result of the terrible revelation of his judgments against them. Thus we see how true it is that the Lord delighteth not in judgment, but in the midst of wrath remembers mercy. Now, this is no isolated or exceptional case, but an instance of the general principles on which God acts in his dealings with men. It may therefore be taken to illustrate the conversion of sinners to God at any time and in any circumstances. We may notice two things that it shows us:
(1) the cause;
(2) the results of conversion.
I. THE CONVERSION OF THE PEOPLES IS HERE TRACED VERY DIRECTLY TO THE AGENCY OF GOD. It is his doing, and that not merely indirectly, by the influence of the judgments that he has been threatening to send, but by an inward work of renewal wrought in the people. The judgments of God may convince the heathen of the vanity of their idols, or even show them that they should call on the Name of the Lord, and that they must do so if they are to be delivered; but then how shall they do so? The Lord is revealed as the just God, who will not do iniquity, and every morning doth he bring his judgments to light; but their lips, with which they should call upon him, are impure, they have taken up the names of other gods, they have been full of cursing and bitterness. May they not well feel as Isaiah did, when he saw the vision of the Holy One, that they are undone, for they are men of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips? Who can enable such peoples, whose lips are accustomed to falsehood and profanity and uncleanness, to worship the God who is a Spirit, and seeketh such to worship him as will worship him in spirit and in truth? Who but that very God himself, who purged Isaiah's lips, who touched the lips of Jeremiah and put his words in his mouth? It must be he himself who enables them to call on him, by an act of gracious will and mighty power, purifying their lips and opening their mouths. The nature of this act of Divine power and grace is not more particularly described, but the language used suggests a comparison with what is said of Saul after he had been anointed by Samuel to be king over Israel, "God gave [Hebrew, 'turned'] him another heart" (1 Samuel 10:9). It is the same phrase as is used here, and so the meaning is that God will give to the peoples another lip, which shall be pure, instead of their former unclean lip. But a change of lip or language cannot be conceived apart from a change of heart, as, on the other hand, the new heart that God gave to Saul showed itself at once in his language, for when a company of prophets met him, he prophesied among them (1 Samuel 10:10). Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and so, if the lips are to be pure, filled with the praises of God and calling on his Name, the heart must be changed. Now, this renewal of heart, showing itself in the utterance of the lips, is everywhere in the Bible traced to the Spirit of God as his special work. So it was with Saul. "The Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied." This working of the Spirit, too, is of God's sovereign and free grace. It comes on the most unlikely and unworthy objects. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." So it was with Saul. He seemed an unlikely person to receive such a gift, and men said "Is Saul also among the prophets?" and the answer was, "But who is their father?" Men receive not the gift by descent from any human ancestry, but by the direct bestowal of God; and so it may come upon any, and is to come at last, as Joel prophesied, on all flesh, even on the servants and handmaidens. Thus this prophecy is connected with these that point to the great manifestation of the grace and power of God's Spirit that was made at Pentecost, when the disciples of Jesus, speaking with new tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, testified of the new and pure language that the Lord was to turn to the nations. He will pour out his Spirit on all flesh; and even those nations that were most alienated from him, and sunk in impurity of heart and life, may receive the heavenly gift. But this, like all the promises of God, is given in Christ. He it is that sends the gift of the Spirit, as he is exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance and remission of sins. Listen, then, to him as he graciously and freely offers it, and comply with his loving call, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. And this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive" (John 7:37-43). When we seek to determine in theory the exact relation of order between the gift of the Spirit and our faith, we run into difficulties that we cannot solve. But in practice these difficulties need not trouble us, or are solved by our actually coming to Jesus in faith. We need not wait till we are conscious of the renewing influence of the Spirit in order to come to Christ; we may be sure that any impulses that lead us to Christ are from him, and that the Lord's own gracious call is sufficient warrant for us to believe on him, that we may be fully conscious of the indwelling of the Spirit.
II. THE RESULTS OF CONVERSION, AS HERE INDICATED, ARE SEVERAL.
1. "That they may all call upon the Name of the Lord" (Verse 9). The first movement of the renewed heart is towards God; the first utterance of the pure lip is prayer to him. So it was said of Saul, when the Lord arrested him in his career of persecution, "Behold, he prayeth." The tendency of the natural heart is away from God, and the lips are by nature slow and backward to call upon him. But when the Lord changes the heart, and turns to the peoples a pure lip, then they call upon his Name, they comply with the call formerly given by the prophet, to seek the Lord. Instead of endeavouring to hide themselves from his presence, or to find some refuge or defence against his judgments, they are led to see that there is none that can deliver them out of his hand, but that he himself is merciful and gracious, and that if they turn to him and implore his mercy, they shall be delivered. For his name is "the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means spare the guilty" (Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7); and that affords a strong encouragement to all the nations to call upon him. His Name is just the expression of his character, and that is one of grace and love, of mercy and forgiveness; so that even the most sinful may call upon him.
2. "To serve him." The words of the lips, the prayer of faith, may be the first result of the change wrought by God's Spirit in the soul; but that will not remain alone, but, if it is sincere and genuine at all, will lead to service in deeds. They shall not merely honour him with their lips, but shall serve him. He is the Lord, as well as the Saviour, of the world; and when they call upon his Name as their Saviour, they will further give themselves to him as their Lord. They have been refusing to serve him before, saying, "Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?" asserting that they were not in bondage to any man, but their own masters, yet really serving divers lusts and pleasure. But now, weary and heavy laden with the burden of the service of self and sin and the world, they come unto Christ, and take his yoke upon them; they enter that service in which alone is perfect freedom. It is a most essential characteristic of the converted, that they serve the Lord. They count themselves his servants, as Paul, for example, speaking of Christ, says, "Whose I am, and whom I serve." They are not their own, but bought with a price; and they seek to realize this by living, not for themselves, but for him who died and rose again for them. This does not imply that they go out of the world and separate themselves from its active work and affairs, to spend their time wholly and exclusively in exercises of worship. The service that the Lord would have given to him is to be carried on in the world; they are to be "not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." By diligence in the duties of the calling in which God has placed them, by uprightness and sincerity in word and deed, by letting no corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth, but that which is good for the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers, by working with their hands that which is good, that they may have to give to him that needeth; and, above all, by walking in love, after the example of Christ, God's servants serve him; and this they are enabled to do by the work of his grace in their hearts.
3. Another result here indicated as flowing from conversion is unity and harmony among the nations. "They shall all call on the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent." The invocation of the true God is to be in common, and the service rendered to him a united and harmonious one," with one shoulder," as the words literally mean, as if bearing the yoke together, and .equally taking part in the work. This implies a gathering together of the nations m peace and good will. Idolatry and polytheism ever go hand in hand with national exclusiveness and mutual hostility. Each people is supposed to have its own patron gods, each land its own local deities, and the servant of one god naturally becomes the enemy of the people of another. Religion, in this corrupt form, tends to separate men, and set one against another. Ungodliness, too, has much the same tendency. When men recognize and worship no god or power above the earth, their selfish passions and interests set each one against his fellow. But when the one universal Lord and Maker of all is recognized as God, then the consideration that we have all one Father, and that one God created us, forms a tie of brotherhood among all nations. And this is strengthened by the fact that, when his judgments are abroad on the earth against all nations alike, all am invited and encouraged to trust in his mercy and call on his Name. "For the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon him." This does away with every ground of separation, as if there were many local or national deities, as the heathen thought; it does away even with the special privileges of the seed of Jacob, which the Jews were apt to abuse, so as to foster a selfish and exclusive pride; for "in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free, but Christ is all and in all." True conversion, also, by taking away the ungodliness of the natural heart, removes the great root of selfishness, and gives a ground, a motive, and an example for love to all men. In proportion as men am brought nearer to God am they brought nearer also to one another. He is the Centre and Sun of the universe, and the more the paths of any of the creatures depart from him; the more will they diverge from one another; while the nearer they come to God, the closer will they find themselves drawn to their fellows, who may have started from very distant points and been led by very different ways. These things, then — prayerfulness, diligence in God's service, and brotherly love — may be taken as genuine and sure evidences of that great change that must be wrought in every man ere he can ace the kingdom of God — a change that is secret and mysterious in its own nature, though known and recognized by its fruits. — C.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Zephaniah 3:1-36. - A religious city terribly degenerate.
"Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God," etc. "To give still greater emphasis to his exhortation to repentance, the prophet turns to Jerusalem again, that he may once more hold up before the hardened sinners the abominations of this city in which Jehovah daily proclaims his right, and shows the necessity for the judgment, as the only way that is left by which to secure salvation for Israel and for the whole world" (Keil). We have two things here to look at.
I. A PROFESSEDLY RELIGIOUS CITY TERRIBLY DEGENERATED. Jerusalem is distinguished not so much for the beauty of its architecture, the extent of its population, the measure of its trade and resources, as by its being religious. There the one temple stood; there the worship, with its imposing ritual, was daily performed; there the priests lived and God was specially manifested. But how morally degenerate it became I She is here represented as "filthy," "polluted" and "oppressing." "She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God." In this degeneracy all classes of the community seamed to be involved.
1. The "princes" are mentioned. "Her princes within her are the roaring lions." Like rapacious beasts, they preyed on all about them, they lived on people, they devoured their property. As a rule, "princes" have too often lived upon the people; they are devourers of their means; they consume everything, and produce nothing.
2. The "judges" are mentioned. "Her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones, till, the morrow." Or, as Henderson renders it, "they gnaw no bones till the morning." So insatiable are they, that they leave not a single bone till the morning, of the prey that they have caught in the evening.
3. The "prophets" are mentioned. These "prophets are light and treacherous persons." In their life and teaching there was no truth, gravity, or steadfastness. They were "treacherous," false to man, and false to God (Jeremiah 23:32; Ezekiel 22:28).
4. The "priests" are mentioned. These "polluted the sanctuary" by desecrating the sacred place, and outraged the "Law" by distorting its meaning and misrepresenting its genius and aim. Like Hophni and Phinehas, their wicked lives made the sacrifices of the Lord to be abhorred. Such was the degenerate condition into which this holy city is represented as having fallen. How many modern cities today, which call themselves Christian, have sunk into a similar degeneracy! London, Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, etc; are all highly religious in profession, and have religious means in abundance. What is the moral conditions not only of their masses, but of their "princes," their "judges," their "prophets," and their "priests"? Ah me! under the cover of religion there rolls the sea of putrescent depravity. Morally, how much better is London than Bombay, Pekin, or Jeddo?
II. A PROFESSEDLY RELIGIOUS CITY TERRIBLY DEGENERATED, ALTHOUGH GOD WAS SPECIALLY WORKING IN ITS MIDST. "The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame." In every city, and amongst every people, the just Lord, the righteous Jehovah, is and works — works by the operations of material nature, by the events of human life, by the suggestions of human reason, and the dictates of human conscience. But in Jerusalem he was in a more especial sense, and he wrought in special ways. The temple was his dwelling place, and the gleaming Shechinah was the symbol of his presence; and specially did he reveal himself to some of its noblest men. And yet, notwithstanding all, Jerusalem sank; with God amongst them working to raise them, they fell lower and lower. What does this teach?
1. The wonderful freedom which the Almighty allows to wicked men on the earth. Though he strives to improve them, he does not coerce them. He makes no invasion of their moral agency.
2. The tremendous force of human depravity. What a power sin gains over man! It binds him in chains often stronger than adamant. It loads him with a weight which he cannot shake off, but which sinks him deeper and deeper into the abysses of wickedness.
1. Do not hinder Christian propagandism from entering a city because it is nominally Christian. The gospel is wanted there, perhaps, more than anywhere else, more even than in pagan populations.
2. Do not expect that the world will be morally renovated by miraculous agency. Almighty Goodness does not coerce. There is no way by which mere force can travel to a man's soul. — D.T.
Zephaniah 3:6-36. - Terrible calamities it, human history.
"I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction," etc. In these verses the prophet sums up all that he had said in the preceding verses of this chapter, and thus closes his admonition to repentance with the announcement of tremendous judgments. These verses remind us of three great truths of universal importance, claiming the attention of men wherever they exist.
I. THAT THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH THE MOST TERRIBLE CALAMITIES IN HUMAN HISTORY MAY BE ASCRIBED TO GOD. Here he is represented as cutting off the nations, destroying their "towers," making their "streets waste," so that "there is no man," and "none inhabitant." What particular nation is here referred to cannot be determined with certainty. We know that he did destroy nations — the Canaanitish nations, also Assyria and Babylon. These calamities are here ascribed to God. In Bible language he is frequently represented as doing that which he only permits. Nations destroy each other, he allows them to do so. Though he does not give them the disposition for the work, he imparts the power and the opportunities.
II. THAT THE GRAND DESIGN OF SUCH CALAMITIES IS THE PROMOTION OF MORAL IMPROVEMENT AMONGST MANKIND. Why did he permit the wreck and ruin of those nations, and all the dire desolations here recorded? Here is the answer, "I said, Surely thou. wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction." The grand end of all his dispensations with men is to generate within them the right state of mind in relation to himself; in other words, to make them "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." "Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to enlighten him with the light of the living" (Job 33:29, Job 33:30). As the storms, the snows, the frosts, and the cutting winds of winter help to bring on the luxuriant spring, so the calamities in human life contribute to the moral regeneration of mankind.
III. THAT THE NON-REALIZATION OF THIS DESIGN AMONGST A PEOPLE EXPOSES THEM TO TERRIBLE RETRIBUTION. "But they rose early, and corrupted all their doings." The men of Jerusalem, instead of becoming better for these terrible calamities, grew worse. They "corrupted all their doings." This they did with assiduity. They "rose early." They began their morning with it. "Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy." Or, as Keil renders it, "Therefore wait for me, is the saying of Jehovah, for the day when I rise up to the prey; for it is my right to gather nations together, to bring kingdoms in crowds, to heap upon them my fury, all the burning of my wrath; for in the fire of my zeal will the whole earth be devoured." The Almighty here speaks after the manner of men, as he does almost everywhere in the Bible, in condescension to human infirmities. He speaks as if he were disappointed in the moral results of the calamities which he had sent, and as if his nature now glowed with the fires of his indignation. There is, of course, really no disappointment for him, for he knows the future, and "fury" is not in him. — D.T.
Zephaniah 3:9, Zephaniah 3:10. - The good time coming.
"For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the Name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering." Henderson supposes that the poem from this verse to the end of the book relates to Messianic times; that the prophet points to that dispensation of remedial mercy under which we live, and which commenced more than eighteen hundred years ago. We may therefore regard these words as pointing to at least two of the great characteristic blessings that will come to the world during the continuance of the gospel age; and these two are moral purity of language and spiritual unity of worship.
I. MORAL PURITY OF LANGUAGE. "Then will I turn to the people a pure language." Or, as Keil renders it, "a pure lip." Human language is looked upon in different aspects by different men. Some look upon it grammatically, trace its etymology, and arrange its words and sentences according to tile conventional rules of speech; some look at it logically, study it in its relation to the law of human reasoning; some look upon it philosophically, view it in relation to the nature of the things it is intended to represent; and some look upon it morally, contemplate it in its relation to the law of conscience and God. Grammatical language is mere conformity to acknowledged rules of speech; logical language, conformity to recognized principles of reasoning; philosophical language is conformity to the order of nature; moral language is conformity to the moral law of God. There is a regular gradation in the importance of these aspects of language. The first is of the least importance; the second and third come next; and the last is the most important of all. It is strange and sad to see that the amount of attention which men pay to these aspects is in the inverse ratio of their importance. The first, the least important, is the most attended to; the second, next; the third, next; and the last, the most important of all, almost entirely neglected. In the department of speech we have more grammarians than logicians, more logicians than philosophers, more philosophers than honest saints. It is moral purity of language that is wanted in the world, and that is here promised. Language that shall be used, not without meaning, as it is oftentimes used now, nor to misrepresent meaning, as is often the case. A "pure" moral language implies two things.
1. That the state of the heart should be in accord with Divine reality.
2. That the words of the lip should be in accord with the state of the heart. In other words, purity of soul and veracity of expression.
II. SPIRITUAL UNITY OF WORSHIP. "That they may all call upon the Name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent." "That they may serve him with one accord" (Henderson). Who are to serve him with one accord? The nations, partially specified in the tenth verse. "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia [Cush] my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering." The glorious point to be observed is not that all nations shall worship, for worship will ever belong to the race; but that all nations will worship with one accord. There is a oneness in their worship. Unity of worship does not necessarily mean unity of theological opinion or of ritualistic observances; but unity of object, the same God in the same spirit — reverence, gratitude, adoration.
CONCLUSION. What a glorious future awaits the world! All men morally pure in speech, all men heartily one in worship. Thrice hail the day! — D.T.
Zephaniah 3:11-36. - A sketch of a morally regenerated city.
"In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain," etc. "These verses," says Henderson, "contain a description of restored and regenerated Israel. The being not ashamed of their sinful practices does not mean their not feeling a compunctious sense of their intrinsic odiousness and demerits, but is expressive of the great change that should take place in the outward condition of the Jews. That condition, into which they have been brought by their obstinate rebellion against Jehovah and his Messiah, is one of disgrace. When recovered out of it, all the marks of shame and infamy shall be removed. The Pharisaic spirit of pride, and the vain confidence in the temple and the temple worship, which proved the ruin of the nation, shall be taken away. The converted residue shall be a people humble and poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 11:5), and of a truly righteous and upright character; and, having fled for refuge to the hope set before them in the gospel, they shall be safe under the protecting care of their heavenly Father." These verses may be regarded as giving a sketch of a morally regenerated city. It is marked by —
I. THE UTTER ABSENCE OF THE BAD. There is an absence of:
1. Painful memories. "In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings." Thou wilt not need to be ashamed of all thy iniquities,
(1) because they are all forgiven;
(2) because they will occur no more.
Whilst regenerated souls will perhaps ever remember their past iniquities, the memories will not be associated with pain, they will awaken no moral shame. So flooded will the soul be with new loves, hopes, and purposes, that everything painful in connection with the past will be buried in comparative forgetfulness. Departed saints cannot but remember their old sins, but, in view of pardon and purification, the remembrance of them is associated with pleasure, not pain.
2. Wicked citizens. "I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride," or, "thy proud triumphers." In a thoroughly regenerated city there will be no proud vaunters, no blustering pretenders, no arrogant worldlings. The voices of such men will not be heard; they will not be seen in the streets, in the marts of commerce, the chambers of legislation, or the scenes of recreation.
3. All crimes. "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth." No wrong committed, no lies spoken, no deceit practised. The whole atmosphere of the city cleared of such moral impurities.
II. THE BLESSED PRESENCE OF THE GOOD. "I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the Name of the Lord." Who will be the citizens?
1. Men of humility. Delitzsch translates the word "afflicted," "bowed down;" and Henderson, "humble." Humility is evidently the idea. There will be men who are "poor in spirit." Moral humility is moral nobility. The humbler a man is, the nobler and the happier too. "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
2. Men of piety. "They shall trust in the Name of the Lord." Their chief confidence will be placed, not in their strength, their wealth, or their wisdom, but in God. They will centre their trust, not in the creature, but in the Creator.
3. Men of concord. "They shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid." There will be amongst them no acrimonious disputations, no commercial rivalries, no social jealousies or envyings, no painful divisions of any kind. They will be united as brethren, one in leading thoughts, loves, and aims.
CONCLUSION. This is indeed a model city. What a city this! When shall such a city appear on this earth? Ah! when? It is in the distant future, but it has been gradually rearing from the dawn of the Christian era to this hour. It will, I believe, be one day completed, the "topstone" will be put on with shoutings of triumph. — D.T.
Zephaniah 3:14-36. - Joy, human and Divine.
"Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord hath taken away thy judgements, he hath cast out thine enemy," etc. Here is a call to the regenerated inhabitants of Jerusalem to exult in the mercy of God, who has wrought their deliverance, at the same time, a beautiful description of the sublime delight with which Jehovah will regard them in the future. The words bring under our notice joy, human and Divine.
I. THE JOY OF THE REGENERATED MAN. "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shoat, O Israel; be glad and rejoice." What is the joy?
1. The joy of gratitude for the deliverance ,from evil. "The Lord hath taken away thy judgments, he hath east out thine enemy." What is the joy of the slave in the hour of his emancipation, of the prisoner on leaving his cell, of the long suffering invalid on his restoration to full health? Far more is the joy of the man who feels himself morally delivered — delivered from the power of sin, and brought into the "glorious liberty of the children of God." Gratitude is always an element of joy.
2. The joy of conscious security. "Even the Lord is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more." What joy breaks forth in the apostolic challenge, "Who shall separate us from the love of God?" etc.! Here is the joy of regenerated humanity, the joy of gratitude for the greatest deliverance, the joy of conscious security from all possible dangers.
II. THE JOY OF THE REGENERATING GOD. "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee [within thee] is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." What is the joy of God? It is the joy of infinite benevolence. What is the joy of the genuine patriot when he has delivered his country from a power that threatened its utter destruction? What is the joy of a loving physician when he has rescued his patient from the very jaws of death? What is the joy of a loving parent who has rescued his child from ruin? Some such joy as this — infinitely superior — is the joy of God over regenerated humanity. In this joy the redeemed will participate; indeed, it will be their heaven. "Enter into the joy of thy Lord." "Rejoice over thee with singing." Does God sing? Yes; in all the happy voices of the universe, especially in the shouts of the redeemed. — D.T.
Zephaniah 3:18-36. - The moral restoration of mankind.
"I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden. Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee," etc. "The salvation held up in prospect before the remnant of Israel, which has bee, refined by the judgments and delivered, was at a very remote distance in Zephaniah's time. The first thing that awaited the nation was the judgment through which it was to be dispersed among the heathen, according to the testimony of Moses and all the prophets, and to be refined in the furnace of affliction. The ten tribes were already carried away into exile, and Judah was to share the same fate immediately afterwards. In order, therefore, to offer to the pious a firm consolation of hope in the period of suffering that awaited them, and one on which their faith could rest in the midst of tribulation, Zephaniah mentions, in conclusion, the gathering together of all who pine in misery at a distance from Zion, and who are scattered far and wide, to assure even these of their future participation in the promised salvation" (Delitzsch). These verses may be taken to illustrate the moral restoration of mankind. Taking them for this purpose, we have the restoration and the Restorer. We have here —
I. THE RESTORATION. What is the restoration?
1. From the deprivation of religious privileges to their enjoyment. The Jews, who were in a state that rendered it impossible to celebrate their religious festivals at Jerusalem, are here represented as filled with sorrow or grief when they reflected on the privileges of their ancestors. "By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept," etc. Though unregenerate men may live amidst religious privileges, they are really deprived of them, for they do not possess and enjoy them. Their moral restoration brings them into that happy enjoyment. Though the ungodly man holds the gospel in his hand, he is morally exiled from it. It is more distant from him than was the temple from the Jew in Babylon.
2. From the sufferings of oppression to the happiness of deliverance. "Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out." The literal reference is here, of course, to Babylonian tyrants. By the providence of God these were overcome. Their power was broken, their counsels confounded, so that they were forced to surrender their prey. "I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out." The Hebrew captives were delivered, and brought back to their own country and city. In moral restoration the power of the oppressor is broken, the soul is delivered from the power of Satan and the bondage of corruption. "Being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." What was the tyranny of Babylon to the Jews, compared to the tyranny of evil over the soul?
3. From the condition of reproach to that of true honour. "I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame." High above all nations was Israel at one time. The "reproach" brought on them was one of their sorest grievances; that reproach has been partially wiped away, the Jewish people are the most distinguished of the races of the earth, for of them Christ came, who is the glory of his people Israel. When a man is morally restored, he becomes truly honourable, not before. Goodness is moral majesty. There is no true royalty which has not its foundation in moral excellence.
II. THE RESTORER. All the restoration sketched in these verses was effected by whom? Not by Cyrus and his battalions: they were but instruments. It was Jehovah. "I will gather;" "I will save;" "I will get them praise;" "I bring you again;" "I will make you a name;" "I turn back your captivity." So in moral restoration. No one can restore a soul but God. It is his work.
1. A work which he does by moral means. By the gospel.
2. A work which, from the nature of the case, must proceed gradually.
3. A work which will one day be consummated — D.T.