A reproof of Jerusalem for diverse sins. An exhortation to wait for the restoration of Israel, and to rejoice for their salvation by God.
Before Christ 612.
Woe to her that is filthy, &c.— Woe to her that provoketh wrath, and is defiled; to the oppressed city; or city of oppressors. Zephaniah 3:2. Which heareth not the voice, nor receiveth instruction, nor hath hope in Jehovah, nor approacheth to her God. Zephaniah 3:3. Whose princes, &c.—They do not gnaw the bones or, they leave no bones to gnaw in the morning; or, they rest not even till the morning. Houbigant; who observes, that the prophet in this verse compares the judges of Jerusalem to evening wolves, because they begin to hunt for their prey in the evening, yet they continue to do so throughout the whole night, and even till the morning.
Every morning, &c.— That is, "Every day he fails not to give fresh evidences of his justice upon these princes, false prophets, and idolatrous priests." The allusion is to the custom of the Jews and neighbouring nations, who passed judgments only in the morning.
Therefore— Nevertheless. "Notwithstanding these provocations, I exhort the pious among you to expect the accomplishment of the promises which I have made of restoring the Jewish nation to my favour: in order to which, I will execute remarkable judgments upon the unbelievers and disobedient." It is very common with the prophets to subjoin the most comfortable promises to the most fearful threatenings, and, after having denounced the captivity, to foretel the deliverance of the people; but the prophet here seems to look farther; even to the Gospel times, and perhaps to the future and final restoration of the Jews. See the following verses.
For then will I turn, &c.— Houbigant renders it, For then will I pour into the people a pure language; that they may all invoke the name of Jehovah, and serve him with one shoulder; that is to say, with unanimity and consent; alluding to the unanimity of the Levites in carrying the ark. The prophet foretels the same things here with Joel, Joel 2:28. I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, &c.
From beyond the rivers, &c.— From the borders of the rivers of Ethiopia, those whom I have hitherto dispersed shall become my suppliants, and shall bring me an offering. Houbigant. The Jews, dispersed in the most distant countries, as the farthest parts of Ethiopia, shall come into the Christian church, and there pay their adorations to the God of their fathers.
Them that rejoice in thy pride— Those who raised, or caused thy pride; namely, the Jewish priests and scribes, who proudly boasted themselves against the Messiah; and in whose stead the Lord introduced the meek and lowly people, the disciples of Christ; Zephaniah 3:12. Instead of, not be ashamed—and, because of my holy mountain, we may read, not be put to shame and in my holy mountain.
Sing, O daughter of Zion— These hymns of joy, though in some measure applicable to the return of the captivity, yet in their full propriety belong to the times of the Gospel. The king of Israel, spoken of in the next verse, is Jesus Christ, who reigns truly over his people, by his empire of grace and of love.
He will save, &c.— He will bring salvation; he will rejoice and be glad over thee; he will renew his love, and joy over thee with singing, as in a solemn assembly. Zephaniah 3:18. For I will take away those who oppressed thee; they shall be far from thee, that they may bring no reproach upon thee. Houbigant.
I will undo, &c.— I will oppress. Houbigant; who observes, that from the 13th verse to the end of the chapter, the prophet speaks of the last return and restoration of the Jews; as the former part respected the rising church of the Christians; for Sion and Jerusalem point out the Jewish nation, which shall not see evil any more, as they saw it in the last destruction of their city and state by the Romans. Instead of before your eyes, in the next verse, it should be read before their eyes; that is, the eyes of the people of all the earth.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Jerusalem again is the burthen of this prophesy: where God might justly have expected all obedience, there nothing is found but abomination.
1. The whole city is full of wickedness. Woe to her that is filthy and polluted with complicated sins; to the oppressing city, where lawless violence prevailed. She obeyed not the voice; disobedient to God's will, and paying no regard to his law: she received not correction; neither the admonitions of the prophets, nor the rod of afflictive providences, produced any good effect. She trusted not in the Lord, but in her idols and heathen allies: she drew not near to her God; breaking the covenant, forsaking the God of her mercies, and restraining prayer before him; which some particularly apply to the Pharisees in the days of Christ, who were full of uncleanness, trusted in themselves, and came not to Jesus for pardon, righteousness, and salvation.
2. The leading men are chief in transgression. The nobles and judges are rapacious and cruel as roaring lions and evening wolves, when, driven by hunger, they sally forth in search of prey; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow, or in the morning; eating up on the spot even the very bones of the prey which falls into their hands. Her prophets are light and treacherous; their vain conduct gave the lie to their pretensions, and their word tended to betray the interests of religion, and to ruin the souls of men. Note; Levity in a minister must render him a discredit to his profession. Her priests were faithless; they polluted the sanctuary by their sins, which they should have adorned by the purity of their lives: and did violence to the law; perverted it by false glosses, or contradicted what it taught by their bad examples: these, therefore, shall receive greater damnation.
3. Their sins were aggravated by many considerations:
[1.] God's presence was eminently with them. The just Lord is in the midst of thee; his Shechinah dwelt among them; he beheld all their ways, which could not but provoke the eyes of his holiness. He will not do iniquity; nor can he suffer it in others with impunity. Every morning doth he bring his judgment to light; sending his prophets to warn men of the evil and danger of their ways. He faileth not, with long patience and constant admonitions to call them to repentance: but the unjust knoweth no shame: never blushing at their guilt or their ingratitude; and they who are past shame are past cure.
[2.] He had executed judgments on other nations, that they might take warning; destroying their cities, and leaving their land desolate without inhabitants. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me; affected with the sufferings of others, and not daring to provoke a jealous God. Thou wilt receive instruction, by their sad case; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them; his visitations being designed to rescue them from destruction, if they heard the rod, and who had appointed it. But,
[3.] They rose early, and corrupted all their doings; grew worse and worse, filling up the measure of their iniquities; and wilfully rushed on their ruin. Note; Damned souls will to eternity have only their own obstinacy and folly to blame. How oft would I have gathered you, and ye would not.
2ndly, Amidst all the desolations determined, the prospect of the days of the Messiah gives some reviving hopes to the pious, who are commanded to wait still upon God, and expect his salvation.
1. He will rise up to avenge himself, and seize the prey; for which purpose he assembles the nations of the ungodly, to pour out upon them his wrath, who refuse to submit to the proffers of his grace, and obey not his Gospel. Or the sense may be, He will assemble the kingdoms, the Roman army collected from them, to pour upon them, the Jewish people, mine indignation, for rejecting their Messiah; and their whole country shall be devoured with the fire of my jealously.
2. He will set up and establish the gospel kingdom throughout the world, and bring the nations to the obedience of the faith, particularly in the latter days, which are here more particularly referred to: For then will I turn to the people a pure language; the converting grace of God effectually changing the conversation; so that renewed souls speak a different language from what they used to do, telling now of the things which God hath done for their souls, and with one mind and one mouth glorifying him: and the pious among all nations shall have one common tongue, and join in the same blessed service of prayer and praise, calling upon the name of the Lord, and serving him with one consent. And thus God's dispersed people, now brought to humble supplicants, from Egypt and all the places of their dispersion, shall come, bringing their offering, even their bodies, souls, and spirits, a living sacrifice to God. Prayer is the immediate voice of the humbled sinner; and every true supplicant, not only in words but in deed, presents himself to God, to glorify him, not only in his lips but in his life. In that day, in those last days especially, their shame shall be done away, their sins being forgiven, and the power of them subdued. The proud and self-righteous, the hypocrites, such as were the Scribes and Pharisees who trusted in their services at the temple, and on their works and doings, shall then be destroyed, nothing being more offensive to God, than that high conceit which such miserable sinners entertain of their own formal services and imperfect duties. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people; as when the Chaldeans carried all the nobles captives, and left the poor of the land for husbandmen and vine-dressers. And God's people are in general a poor people, afflicted frequently with temptations and persecution; poor, generally in worldly goods, always in spirit; sensible of their own wants, and beggars at the door of mercy for the bread of life: and they shall trust in the name of the Lord, in his infinite merit, as the only ground of their acceptance before God. The remnant of Israel, these poor afflicted faithful souls, shall not do iniquity, but by the grace of God shall be enabled to walk in all holy conversation and godliness; nor speak lies, truth stamping all their words; being obedient to the doctrines of the Gospel, and holding the truth in the light and love of it: neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed, as the sheep of Christ's pasture, on the ordinances, and lie down in peace under the protection of their great Shepherd; and none shall make them afraid; none of their enemies, spiritual or temporal, shall be able to terrify or to destroy them; for their heart standeth fast, and trusteth in the Lord.
3rdly, The promises made in the latter part of this chapter have a most immediate respect to the restoration of the Jews in the last days; for though they had some fulfilment in their deliverance from Babylon, yet after that they saw evil again, and are now lying under the longest and heaviest of all their afflictions; but when God shall fulfil this word, they shall not see evil any more.
Zion is called upon to rejoice and shout for joy in the prospect of her approaching glorious restoration; and she is enjoined no longer to fear or be dispirited in the view of the greatness or number of her foes, because God promises,
1. To remove all judgments from her; all temporal judgments, such as exile, dispersion, poverty, contempt; all spiritual judgments, such as blindness, unbelief, and hardness of heart. All her enemies shall be cast out, that now possess the land of Israel: and he will undo all that afflict them. Though weak, feeble, and halting, their captivity shall be brought back, never to be repeated; for thou shalt not see evil any more, their troubles now being for ever at an end.
2. God promises to be in the midst of them, as their king, Messiah, to save them from the power of all evil. He is mighty, yea, Almighty, able to save to the uttermost, and to fulfil all the promises of his word in defiance of whatever opposition may be raised from Satan, sin, death, or hell; and willing as he is able, he will save his faithful people. He will rejoice over thee with joy and singing, the conversion of sinners being the delight of the Redeemer; and he sees then in them the travail of his soul, and is satisfied. He will rest in his love; he will himself feel the highest complacence in the expressions of his favour vouchsafed to his dear and faithful people.
3. They shall again enjoy the ordinances which have been so long interrupted, and after which they mourned during their dispersion. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who weep over the desolations of Zion, who are of thee, the true children of the Jerusalem which is above, the mother of us all; to whom the reproach of it was a burden, deeply affected with the insults of their enemies, which was the case of the pious Jews in Babylon, who were, in God's appointed time, restored to their temple and worship at Jerusalem. The Jews in their present dispersion lament also the sad interruption of the service of the sanctuary; and those, who are converted from among them long for the day of their brethren's restoration, when they may be gathered into the church of Christ, and be collected together in their own land, and serve God literally in his holy mountain at Jerusalem, and their reproach be for ever rolled away.
4. They shall become honourable and respected, as they have been contemned and insulted. I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame, for their rejection of the Messiah: but now, being turned unto the Lord, all Christian lands will praise them for their obedience to the faith; and the fame of their conversion will spread a general joy; they shall then be a name and a praise among all people of the earth; for which happy event all gracious souls should unite their fervent supplications, that the Lord would be pleased to hasten it in his time.