This Chapter opens in sharp reproofs to Jerusalem, but ends in blessed promises. It contains much of Gospel mercies, and sweetly points to the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! (2) She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God. (3) Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. (4) Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. (5) 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."
I venture to believe, that the mind of the Prophet was led out to speak in those verses concerning Jerusalem, in the day of Christ, and the age that followed; and perhaps the Reader will not be of a different opinion, if he attends to one or two particulars here mentioned. The Prophet describes a woe to Jerusalem. And he saith, her princes, and judges, and prophets, and priests, are the cause. Now this could not be in Babylon, for Jerusalem then was trodden down of the Gentiles, and had neither temple nor priest. Besides, he adds, the just Lord is in the midst thereof. And so the Lord was at all times indeed but eminently might it be said, if we consider the time referred to, when Christ came to his own, and his own received him not. But if we suppose Zephaniah in those verses, spoke of the day in which he lived, then would it have been more of an history than a prophecy; for he ministered in the Church much about the time of Jeremiah, as hath been before observed. And the woe pronounced by the Prophet, corresponds to our Lord's own declaration concerning Jerusalem, as a city given up to destruction. Luke 13:34-35. And what an exact description in the character of her judges, priests, and prophets, to the elders and scribes in the day of our Lord? Luke 11:42-51. And above all, the high crime here mentioned proves it. She drew not near to her God. Look into the gospel, and behold the continued contempt the leading men of the nation manifested to the Lord Jesus!
"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; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings."
As a further confirmation that this part of Zephaniah's prophecy referred to the days of Christ, the cutting off of the nations comes in to the support of it; for it is well known, that the ancient enemies of Israel were subdued, and a profound peace through the earth was established, when He, the Prince of Peace, came. And though in deed Judea was living under tribute to the Roman power, having been thus humbled for her sins, yet this only made way for the more eminent manifestation of Israel's king and Savior. How beautiful and gracious doth the Lord speak in this passage of his word, concerning his people. I said, surely thou wilt hear me, thou wilt receive instruction. That is, everything around my people becomes a motive for them to seek unto me, as well as my manifestation to them!
"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. (9) 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. (10) From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering."
If I mistake not, here is a corresponding prophecy to that of our Lord's, concerning Jerusalem; and which we know took place in the appointed season, when the city was given up to the destruction of the Roman army, agreeable to our Lord's account. Matthew 24:21. And when we consider how the Lord, by the pure language of his gospel, then beginning to spread among all nations, and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, caused the work of his grace to prosper, even from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia; his people being brought to him from all the varieties of the earth, as the first fruits of a glorious harvest of souls, I think the subject of the Prophet's prediction may well be supposed to have respect to those blessed times.
"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. (12) I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. (13) The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid."
Had we any doubt concerning the period to which Zephaniah's prophecy referred, the opening of this paragraph would tend to explain. In that day, is the general phrase of all the Prophets, when meaning gospel day. And the character given of the gracious impressions wrought upon the minds of true believers, wholly corresponds to the general feature of the gospel. The awakened, convinced, and truly converted sinner, takes shame to himself while giving glory to the Lord. The Church of such is made up of afflicted, and the poor in spirit; and the remnant of grace adorns the doctrine of God their Savior in all things. And then they are spiritually fed, and sustained, and nourished with the body and blood of Christ. Jesus himself is both their food and shepherd. They lie down in safety under the assured blessing of pardon, mercy, and peace in Him and his righteousness See Ezekiel 16:63; Matthew 5:3; Ephesians 4:22, etc. John 6:51-58.
"Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. (15) The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil anymore. (16) In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. (17) The LORD thy God in the midst of 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. (18) I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden. (19) 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; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. (20) At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD."
Here comes the hymn of praise, suited for the day of redemption, and such only as redeemed souls can sing. It is a part of the same song as is sung in glory, and equally proper to be sung by faith here below, as the Church in glory sings above. And this comes in most blessedly and proper, after what the Prophet had said before. The Prophet Zechariah had it in commission, to command the Church in his days to sing it. And what I beg the Reader particularly to observe, in confirmation of all that I have been saying in this Chapter, that this prophecy refers to the times of the gospel, is that Zechariah, when calling upon the Church to begin this song, assigns this very cause, because Zion's King is come to his Church, See Zechariah 9:9. And as a further confirmation, the Evangelist declares Christ's entry into Jerusalem to have been the fulfillment of this prophecy. Matthew 21:4-5. Reader! do not overlook this! And, Reader! how precious are the several parts of this hymn of praise; thou shalt not see evil anymore. No! a redeemed soul is a secured soul, a safe soul, an happy soul! Even his afflictions are as angels and messengers of sanctification and wisdom, all tending to his good. Romans 8:28. And Reader! observe further how blessedly in this part of the Prophet's Sermon, the presence and glory of the Lord Jesus is spoken of, in the midst, of his people, as a sun in the center of the heavens; yea, Christ, as the sun of righteousness in the heart. What a thought! And in this he will rest; or as the margin of our old Bibles hath it, he will he silent in his love; no upbraidings for all that is past, but resting in one constant everlasting act of divine love and divine delight. Isaiah 62:5. Neither is the next clause in the verse less expressive; he will joy over thee with singing. Have you never seen in a summer's day that sweet bird of the air, the sky-lark as she is called, mounting over her little brood, and rising into the air to a great height, still singing as she ascends, while looking down on her darlings in their nest below, until at length descending again with vast rapidity, she drops upon them, and rejoices over them in all the expressions of delight? So methinks Jesus looks on all, and every individual of, his redeemed below; and as his soul is said to have grieved for the miseries of his people, so having planted them in their own land, he is said to rejoice over them to do them good, with his whole heart, and with his whole soul. Compare Judges 10:16 with Jeremiah 32:41. The close of the Prophecy is full of the most blessed promises to the same purport, of recovering every poor, halting, timid, fearful believer, and comforting every sorrowful one. And the whole is closed in with a solemn confirmation, for Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, put their One glorious covenant name to the promises of God in Christ, with a thus saith the Lord! To which all the faithful say, Amen.
BLESSED Lord! how delightful is it to trace the footsteps of thy grace by the ministry of thy servants, in teaching and leading thy Church in all ages! How truly condescending was it, O Lord, to comfort the Church before their captivity, in the prospect of thy coming! And how truly gracious to open to their view such sweet features of thy person, character, and offices, as might direct their minds to the knowledge of thee in that day, when thou wouldest come to bind up the breaches of thy people, and to heal their wounds. Hail, thou holy Lord! Thou hast indeed fulfilled, and more than fulfilled, this prophecy of thy servant, in thy coming. Thou hast taken away the judgments of thy people, and cast out the enemy. Thou hast prevented the sight of evil anymore, by doing away sin, with all its dreadful consequences, by the sacrifice of thyself! Do thou then, O blessed Jesus, manifest the truth of this precious scripture, by thine indwelling residence in the midst of thy Church and people. Gather every poor follower of thine to thyself. Save her that halteth, and get praise and fame to thy glorious name, in every land where thy redeemed have been put to shame. Yea! blessed. Lord, prove by these sovereign acts of grace, that thou takest part in all that concerns thy Church, and that thou art, and ever will be Jesus, for thou wilt save thy people from their sins. And let thy people, as this scripture hath promised, be so completely and fully gathered to thee, that their name, in and from thine, may be a praise among all people of the earth, when thou hast turned back their captivity before their eyes, and thou hast put thy great name to the truth of it, as the Lord God! Adieu Zephaniah! thou art indeed Zephaniah, or Zeph-neth-paaneah! for thou art a revealer of secrets, and hast faithfully revealed to the Church the wonders of redemption by Jesus. The Lord be adored for thy ministry, and the ministry of all his servants, and their faithfulness in Jesus! Amen