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Zephaniah first mentions the time in which he prophesied; it was under the king Josiah. The reason why he puts down the name of his father Amon does not appear to me. The Prophet would not, as a mark of honor, have made public a descent that was disgraceful and infamous. Amon was the son of Manasseh, an impious and wicked king; and he was nothing better than his father. We hence see that his name is recorded, not for the sake of honor, but rather of reproach; and it may have been that the Prophet meant to intimate, what was then well known to all, that the people had become so obdurate in their superstitions, that it was no easy matter to restore them to a sound mind. But we cannot bring forward anything but conjecture; I therefore leave the matter without pretending to decide it.
With regard to the pedigree of the Prophet, I have mentioned elsewhere what the Jews affirm—that when the Prophets put down the names of their fathers, they themselves had descended from Prophets. But Zephaniah mentions not only his father and grandfather, but also his great-grandfather and his great-great-grandfather; and it is hardly credible that they were all Prophets, and there is not a word respecting them in Scripture. I do not think, as I have said elsewhere, that such a rule is well-founded; but the Jews in this case, according to their manner, deal in trifles; for in things unknown they hesitate not to assert what comes to their minds, though it may not have the least appearance of truth. It is possible that the father, grandfather, the great-grandfather, and the great-great-grandfather of the Prophet, were persons who excelled in piety; but this also is uncertain. What is especially worthy of being noticed is— that he begins by saying that he brought nothing of his own, but faithfully, and, as it were, by the hand, delivered what he had received from God.
With regard, then, to his pedigree, it is a matter of no great moment; but it is of great importance to know that God was the author of his doctrine, and that Zephaniah was his faithful minister, who introduced not his own devices, but was only the announcer of celestial truth. Let us now proceed to the contents -
It might seem at the first view that the Prophet dealt too severely in thus fulminating against his own nation; for he ought to have begun with doctrine, as this appears to be the just order of things. But the Prophet denounces ruin, and shows at the same time why God was so grievously displeased with the people. We must however remember, that the Prophet, living at the same period with Jeremiah, had regard to the stubbornness of the people, who had been already with more than sufficient evidence proved to have been guilty. Hence he darts forth as of a sudden and denounces the wickedness of the people, which had been already exposed; so there was to be no more contention on the subject, for their iniquity had become quite ripe. And no doubt it was ever the object of the Prophets to unite their endeavors so as to assist one another: and this united effort ought ever to be among all the servants of God, that no one may do anything apart, but with joined efforts they may promote the same object, and at the same time strive mutually to confirm the common truth. This is what our Prophet is now doing.
He knew that God would have used various means to restore them, had not the corruption of the people become now past recovery. Having observed that all others had spent their labor in vain, he directly attacks the wicked men who had, as it were designedly, cast aside every fear of God, and shook off every shame. Since, then, it was openly evident that with determined rebellion they resisted God, it was no wonder that the Prophet began with so much severity.
But here a difficulty meets us. He said in the first verse, that he thus spoke under Josiah; but we know that the land was then cleansed from its superstitions. For we learn, that when that pious king attained manhood, he labored most strenuously to restore the pure worship of God; and when all places were full of wicked superstitions, he not only constrained the tribe of Judah to adopt the true worship of God, but he also stimulated his neighbors who had remained and were dispersed through the land of Israel. Since, then, the pious king had strenuously and courageously promoted the interest of true religion, it seems a wonder that God was still so much displeased. But we must remember, that though Josiah sincerely worshipped God, yet the people were not really changed; for it has often happened, that God roused the chief men and leaders, while few, or hardly any, followed them, but only yielded a feigned obedience. This was no doubt the case in the time of Josiah; the hearts of the people were alienated from God and true religion, so that they chose rather to rot in their filth than to return to the true worship of God. And that this was the case soon appeared by the event; for Josiah did not reign long after he had cleansed the land from its defilements, and Jehoahaz succeeded him; and then the people immediately relapsed into their idolatry; and though for three months only his successor reigned, yet true religion was in that short time abolished. It is hence an obvious conclusion, that the people had ever been wedded to impiety, and that its roots were hidden in their hearts; though they apparently pretended to worship God, and, in order to please the king, embraced the worship divinely prescribed in their law; yet the event proved that it was a mere act of dissimulation, yea, of perfidy. Then after Jehoahaz followed Jehoiakim, and no better was their condition down to the time of Zedekiah; in short, no remedy could be found for their unhealable wound.
It hence plainly appears, that though Josiah made use of all means to revive the true and unadulterated worship of God in Judea, he did not yet gain his object. And we hence clearly learn how hard were the trials he sustained, seeing that he effected nothing, though at great hazard he attempted to restore the worship of God. When he found that he labored in vain, he no doubt had to contend with great difficulties; and this we know by our own experience. When hope of success shines on us, we easily overcome all troubles, however arduous our work may be; but when we see that we strive in vain, we become dejected: and when we see that our labor succeeds only for a few years, our spirit grows faint. Josiah surmounted these two difficulties; for the perverseness of the people was sufficiently evident, and he was also reminded by two Prophets, Jeremiah and Zephaniah, that the people would still cherish their impious perverseness. When, therefore, he plainly saw that his labor was almost in vain, he might have fainted in the middle of his course, or, as they say, at the starting-place. And since the benefit was so small during his reign, what could he have hoped after his death?
This example ought at this day to be carefully observed: for though God now appears to the world in full light, yet very few there are who submit themselves to his word; and of this small number fewer still there are who sincerely and without any dissimulation embrace sound doctrine. We indeed see how great is their inconstancy and indifference. For they who pretend great zeal for a time very soon vanish and fall away. Since then the perversity of the world is so great, sufficient to deject the minds of God’s servants a hundred times, let us learn to look to Josiah, who in his own time left undone nothing, which might serve to establish the true worship of God; and when he saw that he effected but little and next to nothing, he still persevered, and with firm and invincible greatness of mind proceeded in his course.
We may also derive hence an admonition no less useful not to regard ours as the golden age, because some portion of men profess the pure worship of God: for many, by no means wicked men, think, that almost all mortals are like angels, as soon as they testify in words their approbation of the gospel: and the sacred name of Reformation is at this day profaned, when any one who shows as it were by a nod only that he is not wholly an enemy to the gospel, is immediately lauded as a person of extraordinary piety. Though then many show some regard for religion, let us yet know that among so large a number there are many hypocrites, and that there is much chaff mixed with the wheat: and that our senses may not deceive us, we may see here, as in a mirror, how difficult it is to restore the world to the obedience of God, and utterly to root up all corruptions, though idols may be taken away and superstitions be abolished. No doubt Josiah had regard to everything calculated to cleanse the Church, and had recourse to the advice of Jeremiah and also of Zephaniah; we yet see that he did not attain the object he wished, for God now became more grievously displeased with his people than under Manasseh, or under Amon. These wicked kings had attempted to extinguish all true religion; they had cruelly raged against all God’s servants, so that Jerusalem became almost drenched with innocent blood: and yet God seems here to have manifested greater displeasure under Josiah than during the previous cruelty and so many impieties. But as I have already said, there is no reason why we should despond, though the world by its ingratitude may close up the way against us; and however much may Satan also by this artifice strive to discourage us, let us still perseveringly go on according to the duties of our calling.
But it may be now asked, why God denounces his vengeance on the beasts of the field, the birds of heaven, and the fishes of the sea; for how much soever the Jews may have provoked him by their sins, innocent animals ought to have been spared. If a son is not to be punished for the fault of his father, Ezekiel 18:4, but that the soul that has sinned is to die, why did God turn his wrath against fishes and other animals? This seems to have been a hasty and unreasonable infliction. But let this rule be first borne in mind—that it is preposterous in us to estimate God’s doings according to our judgment, as froward and proud men do in our day; for they are disposed to judge of God’s works with such presumption, that whatever they do not approve, they think it right wholly to condemn. But it behaves us to judge modestly and soberly, and to confess that God’s judgments are a deep abyss: and when a reason for them does not appear, we ought reverently and with due humility to hook for the day of their full revelation. This is one thing. Then it is meet at the same time to remember, that as animals were created for man’s use, they must undergo a lot in common with him: for God made subservient to man both the birds of heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and all other animals. It is then no matter of wonder, that the condemnation of him, who enjoys a sovereignty over the whole earth, should reach to animals. And we know that the world was not made subject to corruption willingly—that is, naturally; but because the contagion from Adam’s fall diffused itself through heaven and earth. Hence the sun and the moon, and all the stars, and also all the animals, the earth itself, and the whole world, bear marks of God’s wrath, not because they have provoked it through their own fault, but because the whole world is involved in man’s curse. The reason then is, because all things were created for the sake of man. Hence there is no ground to conclude, that God acts with too much severity when he executes his vengeance on innocent animals, for he can justly involve in the same ruin with man whatever he has created for his use.
But the reason also is sufficiently plain, why the Prophet speaks here of the beasts of the earth, the fishes of the sea, and the birds of heaven: for we find that men grow torpid, or rather stupid in their own indifference, except they are forcibly roused. It was, therefore, necessary for the Prophet, when he saw the people so hardened in their wickedness, and that he had to do with men past recovery, to set clearly before them these judgments of God, as though he had said—"Ye lie down securely, and indulge yourselves, when God is coming forth prepared for vengeance: but his wrath shall not only proceed against you, but will also lay hold on the harmless animals; for ye shall see a horrible judgment executed on your oxen and asses, on the birds and the fishes. What will become of you when God’s wrath shall be thus kindled against the unhappy creatures who have committed no sins? Shall ye indeed escape unpunished?” We now understand why the Prophet does not speak here of men only, but collects with them the beasts of the earth, the fishes of the sea, and the birds of the air.
He says first, By removing I will remove all things from the face of the land; he afterwards enumerates particulars: but immediately after he clearly shows, that God would not act rashly and inconsiderately while executing his vengeance, for his sole purpose was to punish the wicked, There shall be, he says, stumblingblocks to the ungodly; (69) it is the same as though he said—“When I cite to God’s tribunal both the fishes of the sea and the birds of heaven, think not that God’s controversy is with these creatures which are void of reason, but they are to sustain a part of God’s vengeance, which ye have through your sins deserved.” The Prophet then does here briefly show, that what he had before threatened brute creatures with, would come upon them on men’s account; for God’s design was to execute vengeance on the wicked; and as he saw that they were extremely torpid, he tried to awaken them by manifest tokens, so that they might see God the avenger as it were in a striking picture. And at the same time he also adds, I will remove man from the face of the land. He does not speak now of fishes or of other animals, but refers to men only. Hence appears more clearly what I have said—that the Prophet was under the necessity of speaking as he did, owing to the insensibility of the people. He now adds—
(69) This clause stands connected with the preceding words; “the stumblingblocks” were the idols, and they were to be taken away “along with the wicked,” according to Henderson, and according to the version of Symmachus , συν ἀσεβέσι, though Newcome, with less accuracy, renders the words thus,—
And the stumblingblocks of the wicked.
The whole verse is poetical in its language; the collective singular, and not the plural, is used; and the first verb, [ אםף ], in its most common meaning, is very expressive, and denotes the manner of the ruin that awaited the Jews. They were “gathered” and led into captivity. The two verses may be thus literally rendered,—
2. Gatherings I will gather everything From off the face of the land, saith Jehovah;
3. I will gather man and best; I will gather the bird of heaven and the fish of the sea, And the stumblingblocks together with the wicked; And I will cut them off, together with man, From the face of the land, saith Jehovah.—
The Prophet explains still more clearly why he directed his discourse in the last verse against the beasts of the earth and the birds of heaven, even for this end—that the Jews might understand that God was angry with them. I will stretch forth, he says, my hand on Judah and on Jerusalem. God, then, by executing his vengeance on animals, intended to exhibit to the Jews, as in a picture, the dreadfulness of his wrath, which yet they despised and regarded as nothing. The stretching forth of God’s hand I have elsewhere explained; and it means even this—that he stretches forth his hand when he acts in an unusual manner, and employs means beyond what is common. We indeed know that God has no hands, and we also know that he performs all things by his command alone: but as everything seen in the world is called the work of his hands, so he is said to stretch forth his hand when he mentions a work that is remarkable and worthy of being remembered. In a like manner, when I intend to do some slight work, I only move my hand; but when I have some difficult work to do, I prepare myself more carefully, and also stretch forth my arms. This metaphor, then, is intended only for this purpose, to render men more attentive to God’s works, when he is set forth as stretching forth his hand.
But he says, on Judah and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The kingdom of Israel had now been abolished, and the ten tribes had been led into exile; and a few only of the lowest and the poorest remained. The Jews thought themselves safe for ever, because they had escaped that calamity. This is the reason why the Prophet declares that God’s judgment was impending not only over the kingdom of Judah, but also over the holy city, which thought itself exempt from all such evil, because there were the sacrifices performed, and there was the royal city, and, in short, because God had testified that his habitation was to be there for ever. Since, then, by this vain confidence the inhabitants of Jerusalem deceived themselves and others, Zephaniah specifically addresses them. And as he had before spoken of the wicked, he intended here, no doubt, sharply to reprove the Jews, as though he said by way of anticipation, There is no reason for you to enquire who are the wicked; for ye yourselves are they, even ye who are the holy people of God and God’s chosen inheritance, ye who are the race of Abraham, who flatter yourselves so much on account of your excellency; ye are the wicked, who have not hitherto ceased to provoke the vengeance of God. And at the same time he shows, as it were by the finger, some of their sins, though he mentions others afterwards: but he speaks now of their superstitions.
I will cut off, he says, the remnants of Baal and the name of Chamerim. The severity of the Prophet may seem here again to be excessive, for being so incensed against superstitions which had been abolished by the great zeal and singular diligence of the king; but, as we have already intimated, he regarded not so much the king as the people. For though they dared not openly to adulterate God’s worship, they yet cherished those corruptions at home to which they had before been accustomed, as we see to be done at this day. For when it is not allowed to worship idols, many mutter their prayers in secret and invoke their idols: and, in short, they are restrained only by the fear of men from manifesting their own impiety; and in the meantime, they retain before God the same abominations. So it was in the time of Josiah; the people were wedded to their corruptions, and this we may easily conclude from the words of Zephaniah: for the remnants of Baal were not seen in the temple, nor in the streets, nor in their chapels, nor in the high places; but their hidden impiety is here discovered by the Spirit of God; and no doubt their sin was the more heinous and less excusable, because the people refused to follow their pious leader. It was indeed the most abominable ingratitude; for when they saw that the right worship was restored to them, they preferred to remain fixed in their own filth, rather than to return to God, even when they had liberty to do so, and also when that pious king extended his hand to them.
As to the word כמרים, chemarim, it designated either the worshipers of Baal or some such men as our monks at this day: and they are supposed by some to have been thus called, because they were clothed in black vestments; while others think that they derived this name from their fervor, because they were madly devoted to their superstitions, or because they had marks on their foreheads, or because they imposed, as is commonly the case, on the simple by the ardor of their zeal. The name is also found in Genesis 23:1 in the account given of Josiah: for it is said there, that the כמרים, chemarim, were taken away, together with other abominations of superstition. But as Zephaniah connects priests with them, it is probable that they were a kind of people like the monks, who did not themselves offer sacrifices, but were a sort of attendants, who undertook vows and offered prayers in the name of the whole people. For what some think, that they were thus called because they burnt incense, appears not to me probable; for then they must have been priests. They were then inferior to the sacrificers, and occupying a station between them and the people, like the monks and hermits of this day, who deceive foolish men by their sanctity. Such, then, were the Chemarim. (70)
But as Josiah could not attain his object, so as immediately to cleanse the land from these pollutions, we need not wonder that at this day we are not able immediately to remove superstitions from the world: but let us in the meantime ever proceed in our course. Let those endued with authority, who bear the sword, that is, all magistrates, perform their office with greater diligence, inasmuch as they see how difficult and protracted is the contest with the ministers of idolatry. Let also the ministers of the gospel earnestly cry against idolatry, and all ungodly ceremonies, and not desist. Though they may not effect as much as they wish, yet let them follow the example of Josiah. If God should in the meantime thunder from heaven, let them not be discouraged, but, on the contrary, know that their labor is approved by him, and never doubt of their own safety; for though all were destroyed, their godly efforts would not be in vain, nor fail of a reward before God. Thus, then, ought all God’s servants to animate themselves, each in his particular sphere and vocation, whenever they have to contend with superstitions, and with such corruptions as vitiate and adulterate the pure worship of God.
(70) The word is found in two other places, Genesis 23:5, and Hosea 10:5. In the latter text the priests of the calf of Bethaven are thus called; in the former, they are said to be those who “burnt incense in the high places.” From this fact, Parkhurst concludes, that they were called scorched, as the word means, by their fumigating fires.
The “priests” mentioned here were the sacrifices, while the “Chemarim” were the incense-burners. There were “altars” (not an altar) reared for Baal in the temple; one, as it seems, for sacrifices, and the other for incense. See Genesis 21:3. In 2 Chronicles 34:4, the priests and sacrificers are alone mentioned; but in Genesis 23:5, where the same things are recorded, the Chemarim and incense are alone named. The Prophet in this passage mentions both.
Some, as Cocceius and Henderson, have been disposed to think that the unfaithful priests of the true God are here meant. But the other view is more consistent with the whole passage. If we retain not the original word, we may thus render the line,—
The name of the incense-burners with the priests;
That is, those who burnt incense and those who offered sacrifices to Baal.— Ed.
Zephaniah pursues the subject contained in the verse I explained yesterday. For as the majority of the people still adhered to their superstitions, though the pure worship of the law had been restored by Josiah, the Prophet threatens here, that God would punish such ingratitude. As then he had spoken in the last verse of the worshipers of Baal and their sacrifices, so now he proceeds farther—that the Lord would execute vengeance on the whole people, who prayed to the host of heaven, or bowed themselves down before the host of heaven. It is well known that those stars are thus called in Scripture to which the gentiles ascribed, on account of their superior lustre, some sort of divinity. Hence it was, that they worshipped the sun as God, called the moon the queen of heaven, and also paid adoration to the stars. The people, then, did not only sin in worshipping Baal, but were also addicted to many superstitions, as we see to be the case whenever men degenerate from the genuine doctrine of true religion; they then seek out various inventions on all sides, so that they observe no limits and keep within no boundaries.
But he says, that they worshipped the stars on their roofs. It is probable that they chose this higher place, as interpreters remind us, because they thought that they were more seen by the stars the nearer they were to them. For as men are gross in their ideas they never think God propitious to them except he exhibits some proof or sign of a bodily presence; in short, they always seek God according to their own earthly notions. Since, then, the Jews thought that there were so many Gods as there are stars in heaven, it is no wonder that they ascended to the roofs of their houses, that they might be, as it were, in the sight of their gods, and thus not lose their labor; for the superstitious never think that their devotion is observed by God, unless they have before their eyes, as we have just said, some sign of his presence.
We now then see how this verse stands connected with the last. God declares that he would punish all idolaters; but as the Jews worshipped Baal, the Prophet first condemned that strange religion; and now he adds other devices, to which the Jews perversely devoted themselves; for they worshipped also all the stars, ascribing to them some sort of divinity. Then he mentions all those who worshipped and swore by their own king, and swore by Jehovah
By these last words the Prophet intimates, that the Jews had not so repudiated the law of God but that they boasted that they still worshipped the God who had adopted them, and by whom they had been redeemed, who had commanded the temple to be built for him, and an altar on mount Sion. They then did not openly reject the worship of the true God, but formed such a mixture for themselves, that they joined to the true God their own idols, as we see to be the state of things at this day under the Papacy. It seems a sufficient excuse to foolish men that they retain the name of God; and they confidently boast that the true God is worshipped by them; and yet we see that they mix together with this worship many of the delusions of Satan; for under the Papacy there is no end to their inventions. When any devise some peculiar mode of worship, it is then connected with the rest; and thus they form such a mixture, that from one God, divided into many parts, they bring forth a vast troop of deities. As then at this day the Papists worship God and idols too, so Zephaniah had to condemn the same wickedness among the Jews.
We here learn that God’s name was not then wholly obliterated, as though the world had openly fallen away from God; for though they worshipped Jupiter, Mercury, Apollo, and other fictitious gods, they yet professed to worship the only true and eternal God, the Creator of heaven and earth. What then was it that the Prophet condemned that they were not content with what the law simply and plainly prescribed, but that they devised for themselves various and strange modes of worship; for when men take to themselves such a liberty as this, they no longer worship the true God, how much soever they may pretend to do so, inasmuch as God repudiates all spurious modes of worship, as he testifies especially in Ezekiel 20:0 —Go ye, he says, worship your idols. He shows that all kinds of worship are abominable to him whenever men depart in any measure from his pure word. For we must hold this as the main principle—that obedience is more valued by God than all sacrifices. Whenever men run after their own inventions they depart from the true God; for they refuse to render to him what he principally requires, even obedience.
But our Prophet speaks according to the common notions of men; for they pretended to be the true worshipers of God, while they still adhered to their own inventions. They did not, indeed, properly speaking, worship the true God; but as they thought, and openly professed to do this, Zephaniah, making this concession, says—God will not suffer his own worship to be thus profaned: ye seek to blend it with that of your idols; this he will not endure. Ye worship the true God, and ye worship your idols; but he would have himself to be worshipped alone; and this he deserves. But the partition which ye make is nothing else than the mangling of true worship; and God will not have himself to be thus in part worshipped. We now understand what the Prophet means here; for the Jews covered their abominations with the pretext that their purpose was to worship the God of Abraham: the Prophet does not simply deny this to be done by them, but declares that this worship was useless and disapproved by God; nay, he proceeds farther, and says that this worship, made up of various inventions, was an abominable corruption which God would punish; for he can by no means bear that there should be such an alliance—that idols should be substituted in his place, and that a part of his glory should be transferred to the inventions of men. This is the true meaning.
We hence learn how greatly deceived the Papists are, who think it enough, provided they depart not wholly from the worship of the only true God; for God allows and approves of no worship except when we attend to his voice, and turn not aside either to the left hand or to the right, but acquiesce only in what he has prescribed.
It is nothing strange that he connects swearing with worship, for it is a kind of divine worship. Hence the Scripture, stating a part for the whole, often mentions swearing in this sense, as including the service due to God. But the Prophet pronounces here generally a curse on all the superstitious, who worshipped fictitious gods; and then he adds one kind of worship, and that is swearing. I shall not here speak at large, nor is it— necessary, on the subject of swearing. We know that the use of an oath is lawful when God is appealed to as a witness and a judge, on important occasions; for God’s name may be interposed when a matter requires proof, and when it is important; but God’s name is not to be introduced thoughtlessly. Hence two things are especially required in an oath—that all who swear by his name should present themselves with reverence before his tribunal, and acknowledge him to be the avenger if they take his name falsely or inconsiderately This is one thing. Then the matter itself, on account of which we swear, must be considered; for if men allow themselves to swear by God’s name respecting things which are trifling and frivolous, it is a shameful profanation, and by no means to be borne. For it is a singular favor on the part of God, that he allows us to take his name when there is any controversy among us, and when a confirmation is necessary. As then we thus receive through kindness the name of God, it is surely a great favor; for how great is the sanctity of that name, though it serves even earthly concerns? God then does so far accommodate himself to us, that it is lawful for us to swear by his name. Hence a greater seriousness ought to be observed by us in oaths, so that no one should dare to interpose an oath except when necessity requires; and we should also especially take heed lest God be called a witness to what is false. For how great a sacrilege it is to cover a falsehood with his name, who is the eternal and immutable truth! They then who swear falsely by his name change God, as far as they can, into what he is not. We now sufficiently understand how swearing is a kind of divine worship, because his honor is thereby given to God; for his majesty is, as it were, brought before us, and as it is his peculiar office to know and to discover hidden things, and also to maintain the truth, this his own work is ascribed to him. Now when any one swears by a mortal, or by the sun, or by the moon, or by creatures, he deprives God in part of his own honor.
We hence see that in superstitious oaths there was a clear proof of idolatry. This is the reason why the Prophet here condemns those who did swear by Jehovah and by Malkom; that is, who joined their idols with the true and eternal God when they swore. For it is a clear precept of God’s law, ‘By the name of thy God shalt thou swear.’ Deuteronomy 6:13. And when the Prophets speak of the renovation of the Church, they use this form—‘Ye shall swear by the name of God;’ ‘To me shall bend every knee;’ ‘Every tongue shall swear to me.’ What does all this mean? The whole world shall acknowledge me as the true God; and as every knee shall bow to me, so every one will submit himself to my judgment. We may hence doubtlessly conclude, that God is deprived of his right, whenever we swear by the sun, or by the moon, or by the dead, or by any creatures.
This evil has been common in all ages; and it prevails still at this day under the Papacy. They swear by the Virgin, by angels, and by the dead. They do not think that they thus take away anything from the sovereignty of the only true God; but we see what he declares respecting them. The Papists therefore foolishly excuse themselves, when they swear by their saints: for they cannot elude the charge of sacrilege, which the Holy Spirit has stamped with perpetual infamy, since he has said, that all those are abominable in the sight of God who swear by any other name than his own: and the reason is evident, for the sun, moon, and stars, and also dead or living men, are honored with the name of God, when they are set up as judges. For they who swear by the sun, do the same as though they said—The sun is my witness and judge; that is, The sun is my God. They who swear by the name of a king, or as profane men swore formerly, By the genius of their king, ascribe to a mortal what is peculiar to the true God alone. But when any one swears by heaven or the temple, and does not think that there is any divinity in the heavens or in the temple, it is the same as though he swore by God himself, as it appears from Matthew 23:20; and Christ, when he forbade us to swear by heaven or by the earth, did not condemn such modes of swearing as inconsistent with his word, but as only useless and vain. At the same time he showed that God’s name is profaned by such expressions: ‘They who swear by heaven, swear also by him who inhabits heaven; they who swear by the temple, swear also by him who is worshipped in the temple, and to whom sacrifices are offered.’ When one swears by his head or by his life, it is a protestation, as though he said—As my life is dear to me. But they who swear by the saints, either living or dead, ascribe to mortals what is due to God. They who swear by the sun, place a dead created thing on the throne of God himself.
As to the term מלכם, melkom, it may be properly rendered, their king; for מלך, melak, as it is well known, means a king; but it is here put in construction, מלכם, melkom, their king; they swear by their own, king (71) The Prophet, I doubt not, alludes to the word מולך, Molok, which is derived from the verb, to reign: for though that word was commonly used by all as a proper name, it is yet certain that that false god was so called, as though he was a king: and the Prophet increases the indignity by saying— They swear by Malkom. He might have simply said, They swear by Moloch; but he says, They swear by Malkom; that is, They forget that I am their king, and transfer my sovereignty to a dead and empty image. God then does here, by an implied contrast, exaggerate the sin of the Jews, as they sought another king for themselves, when they knew that under his protection they always enjoyed a sure and real safety. Let us now proceed—
(71) It appears that this idol had two names, Moloc and Milcom, or Molcam. It is called Moloc, or Molec, in Leviticus 20:5, and in seven other places; but Milcom in Genesis 11:5; Genesis 23:14; as well as here, and also in Jeremiah 49:1, though improperly rendered in our version, "their king.” The Ammonites are the people spoken of.
The swearing is here differently expressed: it is to [( ל)] Jehovah; and by [( ב)] Milcam. To swear to, is to make a promise to another by an oath, or, in this instance, to swear allegiance to God: but to swear by, is to appeal to another as witness to an engagement. We have the two forms together in Joshua 9:19. The Jews made a solemn profession of obedience to God, and yet they acknowledged Melcam as God, by appealing to him as a witness to the truth. It is called the abomination of the Ammonites, Genesis 11:33
The image of this god, according to the Rabbins, was hollow, made of brass, and had seven compartments. In the first, they put flour—in the second, turtles—in the third, an ewe—in the fourth, a ram—in the fifth, a calf—in the sixth, an ox—and in the seventh, a child! All these were burnt together by heating the image in the inside! To drown the cries and noises that might be made, they used drums and other instruments. See [ מלך ] in Parkhurst. How cruel is superstition! and yet how wedded to it is man by nature! Though the Jews had knowledge of the religion of him who is the God of love and mercy; yet they preferred the religion of savages and barbarians. How strongly does this fact prove man’s natural antipathy to God!— Ed.
The Prophet seems here to include, as it were, in one bundle, the proud despisers of God, as well as those idolaters of whom he had spoken. It may yet be, that he describes the same persons in different words, and that he means that they were addicted to their own superstitions, because they were unwilling to serve God sincerely and from the heart, and even shunned everything that might lead their attention to true religion. And this view I mostly approve; for what some imagine, that their gross contempt of God is here pointed out, is not sufficiently supported. I therefore rather think that the idolaters are here reproved, that they might not suppose that they could by subterfuges wash away their guilt; for they were wont to cover themselves with the shield of ignorance, when they were overcome, and their impiety was fully proved: I did not think so; but, on the contrary, my purpose was to worship God. Since, then, the superstitious are wont to hide themselves under the covering of ignorance, the Prophet here defines the idolatry of the people, and briefly shows that it was connected with obstinacy and wickedness.
They did not seek Jehovah; but, on the contrary, they turned willfully away from him, and sought, as it were designedly, to extinguish true religion. Nor was it to be wondered at, that so grievous and severe a sentence was pronounced on them; for they had been taught by the law how God was to be served. How was it, then, that errors so gross had crept in? Doubtless, God had kindled the light of celestial truth, which clearly showed the way of true religion; but as men ever seek to perform some frivolous trifles, the Israelites and the Jews, when they felt ashamed openly and manifestly to reject the true God, labored at the same time to add many ceremonies, that their impiety might be thus concealed. This is the reason why the Prophet says that they turned back; that is, that they could not be excused on the ground of ignorance, but that they were perfidious and apostates, who had preferred their own idols to the true God; though they knew that he could not be rightly worshipped, but according to the rule prescribed in the law, they yet neglected this, and heaped together many superstitions.
And, doubtless, we shall find that the fountain of all false worship is this—that men are unwilling truly and from the heart to serve God; and, at the same time, they wish to retain some appearance of religion. For there is nothing omitted in the law that is needful for the perfect worship of God: but as God requires in the law a spiritual worship, hence it is that men seek hiding-places, and devise for themselves many ceremonies, that they may turn back from God, and yet pretend that they come to him. While they sedulously labor in their own ceremonies, it is indeed true that the worship of God and religion are continually on their lips: but, as I have said, it is all hypocrisy and deception; for they accumulate ceremonies, that there might be something intervening between God and them. It is not, therefore, without reason that the Prophet here accuses the Jews that they turned back from Jehovah, and that they sought him not. How so? For there was no need of a long, or of a difficult, or of a perplexed enquiry; for the Lord had freely offered himself to them. How, then, was it that they were blind in the midst of light, except that they knowingly and willfully followed their own inventions? (72)
The same is the case at this day with the Papists: for though they may glamour a hundred times that they seek to worship God, it is quite evident that they willfully go astray; inasmuch as they so delight themselves with their own inventions, that they do not purely and from the heart devote and consecrate themselves to God.
We now, then, see that this verse was added, as an explanation, by the Prophet, that he might deprive the Jews of their false plea of ignorance, and show that they sinned willfully; for they would have been sufficiently taught by the law, had they not adopted their own inventions, which dazzled their eyes and all their senses. It follows—
(72) Calvin has omitted to notice the last words in the verse, “Nor enquire of him;” which Henderson, adopting a modern phraseology, has rendered, “nor apply to him.” The reading ought to be, as many MSS. have it, [ דרשוהו ]. The verb means to enquire of, to consult, and also to regard or to care for. They did not enquire of God as to his will, or they did not show any regard for him. See Genesis 25:0 : 22; Ezekiel 20:1; and also Deuteronomy 11:12; Job 3:4. To seek the Lord is to seek his favor and communion with him; to enquire of the Lord is to seek the knowledge of his will in any difficulty.— Ed.
The Prophet confirms here what he has previously taught, when he bids all to be silent before God; for this mode of speaking is the same as though he had said, that he did not terrify the Jews in vain, but seriously set before them God’s judgment, which they would find by experience to be even more than terrible. He also records some of their sins, that the Jews might know that he did not threaten them for nothing, but that there were just causes why God declared that he would punish them. This is the substance of the whole.
Let us first see what the Prophet means by the word, silence. Something has been said of this on the second chapter of Habakkuk. We said then that by silence is meant submission; and to make the thing more clear, we said that we were to notice the contrast between the silence to which men calmly submit, and the contumacy, which is ever clamorous: for when men seek to be wise of themselves, and acquiesce not in God’s word, it is then said, that they are not silent, for they refuse to give a hearing to his word; and when men give loose reins to their own will, they observe no bounds. Until God then obtains authority in the world, all places are full of clamor, and the whole life of men is in a state of confusion, for they run to and fro in their wanderings; and there is no restraint where God is not heard. It is for the same reason that the Prophet now demands silence: but the expression is accommodated to the subject which he handles. To be silent at the presence of God, it is true, is to submit to God’s authority; but the connection is to be considered; for Zephaniah saw then that God’s judgment was despised and regarded as nothing; and he intimates here that God had so spoken, that the execution was nigh at hand. Hence he says, Be silent, (73) that is, Know ye, that I have not spoken merely for the purpose of terrifying you; but as God is prepared to execute vengeance, of this he now reminds you, that if there be any hope of repentance, ye may in time seek to return into favor with him; if not, that ye may be without excuse.
We now then understand why the Prophet bids them to be silent before the Lord Jehovah: and the context is a confirmation of the same view; for the reason is added, Because the day of Jehovah is nigh. For profane men ever promise to themselves some respite, and think that they gain much by delay: the Prophet, on the contrary, does now expose to scorn this self-security, and says, that the day of Jehovah was nigh at hand. It is then the same thing as though he had said, that his judgment ought to have been quickly anticipated, and even with fear and trembling.
He afterwards employs a metaphor to set forth what he taught,—that God had prepared a sacrifice, yea, that he had already appointed and set apart his guests. By the word, sacrifice, the Prophet reminded them, that the punishment of which he had spoken would be just, and that the glory of God would thereby shine forth. We indeed know how ready the world is to make complaints; when it is pressed by God’s hand, it expostulates on account of too much rigor; and many in an open manner give utterance to their blasphemies. As then they own not God’s justice in his punishment, the Prophet calls it a sacrifice; and sacrifices, we know, are evidences of divine worship, and he who offers a sacrifice to God, owns him to be just. So also by this kind of speaking Zephaniah intimates that God would not act a cruel part in cutting off the city Jerusalem and its inhabitants; for this would be a sacrifice, according to the language often employed by the Prophets, and especially by Isaiah, who says of Bozrah, ‘A sacrifice is prepared in Bozrah,’ Isaiah 34:6;) and who says also of Jerusalem itself, ‘Oh! Ariel! Ariel!’ Isaiah 29:1, where Jerusalem itself is represented as the altar; as though he had said, In all the streets, in the open places, there shall be altars to me; for I will collect together great masses of men, whom I shall slay as a sacrifice to me. For all who were not willing to render worship to God, and who did not freely offer themselves as spiritual victims to him, were to be drawn to the slaughter, and were at the same time called sacrifices. So the executions on the gallows, when the wicked suffer, may be said to be sacrifices to God: for the Lord arms the magistrate with the sword to restrain wickedness, that the wicked may not have such liberty as to banish all equity from the world. The cities also, which, being forcibly taken, are subject to a slaughter, and the fields, where armies are slain, become altars, for God makes the rebellious a sacrifice, because they refuse willingly to offer themselves.
So also in this place the Prophet says, Jehovah has prepared for himself a sacrifice, —Where? At Jerusalem, through the whole city, as it has appeared from the quotation from Isaiah; for as they had not rightly sacrificed to God on Mount Sion, but vitiated his whole worship, God himself declares, that he would become a priest, that he might slay, as he thought right, those beasts, who had obstinately refused his yoke: And he has prepared his guests. But I cannot finish today.
(73) The word is [ הט ], and is evidently an interjection enjoining silence, Hush! or, Silence!
7. Silence at the presence of the Lord Jehovah! For nigh is the day of Jehovah, For prepared hath Jehovah a sacrifice, Selected hath he his guests!
The passage is remarkably forcible and striking. Jehovah was coming, and everything was prepared, and all were to be silent. And then follows what is no less striking and expressive,—
8. And it shall be in the day of Jehovah’s sacrifice, That I will visit the princes and the king’s sons, And all who wear foreign apparel. 9. I will also visit, in that day, Every one who leaps on the threshold, Who fill the house of their master By plunder and by fraud.
There is in the last line a metonymy; the act is put for what was acquired by it: they filled the house of their master by spoils gained by plunder or violence, and by fraud or cheating.— Ed.
He confirms here the same truth, and amplifies and illustrates it by a striking description; for we know how much a lively representation avails to touch the feelings, when the event itself is not only narrated, but placed as it were before our eyes. So the Prophet is not content with plain words, but presents a scene, that the future destruction of Jerusalem might appear in a clearer light. But as I have elsewhere explained this mode of speaking, I shall not dwell on the subject now.
He says, that there would be the voice of crying from the gate of the fishes. He names here three places in Jerusalem, and afterwards he adds a fourth. But as we do not understand the situation of the city, sufficient for us is this probable conjecture,—that he refers to parts opposite to one another; as though he had said, that no corner of the city would be in a quiet state, when the Lord roused up war. Let us then suppose it to be triangular, and let the gate of the fishes be one side, and let the second gate or the school be on the other; and let the part nigh the hills form the third side. What some say, that the hills mean palaces, I do not approve of; nor is it consistent with the context: but we ought to bear in mind what I have already stated, that the Prophet here denounces ruin on every part of the city, so that the Jews would in vain seek refuges for themselves; for by running here and there, they would find all places full of crying and howling. There shall be then the voice of crying from the gate of the fishes. Why the Prophet calls it the gate of the fishes we cannot for certainty say, except that it is a probable conjecture, that either some fish-pond was near it, or that the fish-market was nigh.
As to the word משנה, meshene, the majority of interpreters think that it means the place where the priests explained the law and devoted themselves to the study of it; and they adduce a passage from Genesis 22:14, where it seems, as there is mention made of priests, the word is taken in this sense. But as gates are spoken of here, and as the Hebrews often call whatever is second in order by this word, as the second part in buildings and also in towns and in other places, is thus called, we may take it here in this sense, that is, as meaning that gate which was next to the first in general esteem. But as the subject has little to do with the main point, I dismiss it. (78)
He says in the last place, that there would be a great breach in the hills. He refers, I have no doubt, to that part of the city which was contiguous to the mountains. However this may be, it was the Prophet’s object to include here the whole city, that he might shake off from the Jews all vain confidence, and show that there would be no escape, when the Lord stretched forth his hand to punish their sins. It now follows—
(78) Junius, Piscator, Newcome, and Henderson think that it means the second city, a part of Jerusalem, being so called, as they supposed, in Nehemiah 11:9 : where our version is considered to be wrong, and the clause ought to be, “and Judah, the son of Jeruiah, was over the second city”—[ משנה על העיר ]. So it is deemed improperly rendered “college” in Genesis 22:14 and 2 Chronicles 34:22; where it ought to be “in the second city.” But the passage in Nehemiah is not decisive on the subject; and our version is countenanced by the former part of the verse, where “Joel” is said to be the “overseer,” and “Judah” is mentioned as being next to him, the second in office: and it is so rendered in the Septuagint. As to the other text, the word is by itself as here. What Calvin, after Cyril and Theodoret, suggests, is the most probable solution.
The word rendered by Calvin “ contritio —breach,” and by Henderson, “destruction,” is [ שבר ]. As “crying” and “howling” are said to proceed from the other parts, so something similar must have proceeded from “the hills.” The word means breaking, and it is often applied to the heart—“a broken heart,” Psalms 34:18, etc. It seems to mean here the breaking out into weeping and wailing. The parallelism of the verse would thus be complete—
And there shall be in that day, saith Jehovah, The voice of crying from the fish-gate, And howling from the second gate, And great wailing from the hills.
Wailing is the breaking out of anguish and pangs. The word is used in Ezekiel 21:6, for acute pain in the loins, and may be considered as used here metonymically.— Ed.
The Prophet addresses the merchants here who inhabited the middle part of the city, and hence thought themselves farther off from all danger and trouble. As then they were concealed as it were in their hiding-places, they thought that no danger was nigh them; and thus security blinded them the more. After having spoken of the king’s palace and of the princes and their servants, Zephaniah now turns his discourse to the merchants.
And he calls them the inhabitants of the hollow place, מכתש, mecatesh. The verb כתש, catash, means to be hollow; hence the Hebrews call a hollow place מכתש, mecatesh. So Solomon calls a mortar by this name, because it is hollow: (79) and we learn also from other parts of scripture that the word means sometimes either a cavern or some low place. But we know that merchants have for the most part their streets on level ground, and it is for their advantage, as they have goods to carry. It may then have been, that at Jerusalem there was a large company of merchants in that part of the city, which was in its situation low. But they who regard it as a proper name, bring nothing either of reason or probability to confirm their opinion: and it is also evident from the context that merchants are here addressed, for cut off, he says, is the mercantile people. The word כנען, canon, means a merchant. Some think that the Jews are here, as often elsewhere, called Canaan, because they were become degenerate, and more like the Canaanites than the holy fathers, from whom they descended. (80) But the Prophet speaks here no doubt of merchants, for an explanation immediately follows, all who are laden with money. And he says that merchants were laden with money, because they would not transact business without making payments and counting money, and also, because merchants for the most part engrossed by their gainful arts a great portion of the wealth of the world.
We now then understand what the Prophet means: He threatens howling to the merchants, who were concealed in their hidden places, for they occupied that part of the city, as I have already said, which was below the hills; and he then makes use of the word כנען, canon, a trafficker; and lastly he speaks of their wealth, as it is probable that they became rich through frauds and most dishonest means, and shows that their money would be useless to them, for they would find in it no defense, when the Lord extended his hand to punish them. It now follows—
(79) This original meaning of the word is much more probable than what lexicographers generally give. The braying or pounding is evidently derived from the noun, and the noun from the form of the mortar. Most agree that the word here means the lower part of the city—the hollow, from the circumstance of being surrounded by hills. The “hills” were those on which a part of the city was built, such as Zion, Moriah and Ophal.— Ed.
(80) This opinion has been entertained, because the Jews are so called in Hosea 12:8. That the word means a trader or merchant is evident from Job 41:6, (in the Hebrew Bibles, 40:30;) Isaiah 23:8; Ezekiel 17:4. In the last passage it is rendered “traffic” in our version; and it may be so rendered here—“all the people of traffic,” or of trade. The version of Newcome is, “all the trafficking people.” The verse may be thus literally rendered,—
Howl ye, the inhabitants of the lower part, For reduced to silence have been all the people of trade, Cut off have been all the laden with silver.
They are called to howl, as though their calamity had already taken place, a mode of speaking often used by the Prophets. That the event was future is clear from the context, especially from the next verse. “Reduced to silence”—[ נדמה ], is literally the meaning, not “destroyed;” and appropriate is the term, as people of trade create much bustle and noise. “The laden with silver,” may be rendered, as Newcome does, “the bearers of silver:” and silver is here for money.— Ed.
The Prophet addresses here generally the despisers of God, who were become hardened in their wickedness. But before he openly names them, he says that the visitation would be such, that God would search every corner, so that no place would remain unexplored. For to visit with candles, or to search with candles, is so to examine all hidden places or coverts, that nothing may escape. When one intends to plunder a city, he first enters into the houses, and takes away whatever he finds; but when he thinks that there are some hidden treasures, he descends into the secret cells; and then if there be no light there, he lights a candle, and carefully looks here and there, that he may not overlook anything. By this comparison then God intimates, that Jerusalem would be so plundered, that nothing whatever would remain. Hence he says, I will search it with candles. We indeed know that nothing is hid from God; but it is evident, that he is constrained to borrow comparisons from the common practice of men, because he could not otherwise express what is necessary for us to know. The world indeed deal with God as men do with one another; for they think that he can be deceived by their craftiness. He therefore laughs to scorn this folly, and says, that he would have candles to search out whatever was concealed.
Now, as impiety had possessed the minds of almost all the people, he says, I will visit the men, who on their lees are congealed. This may indeed be only understood of the rich, who flattered themselves in their prosperity, and feared nothing, and were thus congealed on their lees: but Zephaniah shows in the words which follow, that he had in view something more atrocious, that is, that they said that neither good nor evil proceeded from God. At the same time, these two things may be suitably joined together—that he reproves here their self-security, produced by wealth—and that he also accuses the careless Jews of that gross contempt of God which is afterwards mentioned. And I am disposed to take this view, that is, that the Jews, inebriated with prosperity, became hardened, as men contract hardness often by labor—and that they so collected lees through too much quietness and abundance of things, that they became wholly stupid, and could be touched by no truth made known to them. Hence in the first place the Prophet says, that God would visit with punishment a carelessness so extreme, when men not only slumbered in their prosperity, but also became congealed in their own stupidity, so as to be almost void of sense and understanding. When one addresses a dead mass, he can effect nothing: and so the Prophet compares careless men to a dead and congealed mass; for stupidity had so bound up all their senses, that they could not be either allured by the goodness of God, or terrified by his threatenings. Congealing then is nothing else but that hardness or contumacy, which is contracted by self-indulgences, and particularly when the minds of men become almost stupefied. (81) And by lees he means sinful indulgences, which so infatuate all the senses of men, that no light nor sincerity remains.
He then mentions what they said in their hearts. He expresses here what that carelessness which he condemned brings with it—even that wicked men fearlessly mock God. What it is to speak in the heart, is evident from many parts of Scripture; it means to determine anything within: for though the ungodly do not openly proclaim what they determine in their minds, they yet reason within themselves, and settle this point—that either there is no God, or that he rests idly in heaven. ‘Said has the ungodly in his heart, No God is.’ Why in the heart? Because shame or fear prevents men from openly avowing their impiety; yet they cherish such thoughts in the heart and assent to them. Now here is described by the Prophet the height of impiety, when he says, that men drunk with pleasures robbed God of his office as a judge, saying, that he does neither good nor evil. And it is probable that there were then many at Jerusalem and throughout Judea who thus insolently despised God as a judge. But Zephaniah especially speaks of the chief men; for such above all others deride God, as the giants did, and look down as from on high on his judgments. There is indeed much insensibility among the common people; but there is more madness in the pride of great men, who, trusting in their power, think themselves exempt from the authority of God.
But what I have just said must be borne in mind, that an unhealable impiety is described by the Prophet, when he accuses the Jews, that they did not think God to be the author either of good or of evil; because God is thus deprived of his dignity; for except he is owned as the judge of the world, what becomes of his dignity? The majesty, or the authority, or the glory of God does not consist in some imaginary brightness, but in those works which so necessarily belong to him, that they cannot be separated from his very essence. It is what peculiarly belongs to God, to govern the world, and to exercise care over mankind, and also to make a difference between good and evil, to help the miserable, to punish all wickedness, to check injustice and violence. When any one takes away these things from God, he leaves him an idol only. Since, then, the glory of God consists in his justice, wisdom, judgment, power, and other attributes, all who deny God to be the governor of the world entirely extinguish, as much as they can, his glory. Even so do heathen writers accuse Epicures; for as he dared not to deny the existence of some god, like Diagoras and some others, he confessed that there are some gods, but shut them up in heaven, that they might enjoy there their leisure and delights. But this is to imagine a god, who is not a god. It is then no wonder that the Prophet condemns with so much sharpness the stupidity of the Jews, as they thought that neither good nor evil proceeded from God. But there was also a greater reason why God should be so indignant at such senselessness: for whence was it that men entertained such an opinion or such a delirious thought, as to deny that God did either good or evil, except that they attempted to drive God far away from them, that they might not be subject to his judgment. They therefore who seek to extinguish the distinction between right and wrong in their consciences, invent for themselves the delirious notion, that God concerns not himself with human affairs, that he is contented with his own celestial felicity, and descends not to us, and that adversity as well as prosperity happens to men by chance.
We hence see how men seek willfully and designedly to indulge the notion, that neither good nor evil comes from God: they do this, that they may stupefy their own consciences, and thus precipitate themselves with greater liberty into sin, as though they were free to do anything with impunity, and as though there was no judge to whom an account is to be rendered.
And hence I have said, that it is the very summit of impiety when men strengthen themselves in this error, that God rests in heaven, and that whatever miseries they endure in this world happen through fortunes and that whatever good things they have are to be ascribed either to their own industry or to chance. And so the Prophet briefly shows in this passage that the Jews were past recovery, that no one might feel surprised, that God should punish with so much severity a people who had been his friends, and whom he had adopted in preference to the whole world: for he had set apart the race of Abraham, as it is well known, as his chosen and holy people. God’s vengeance on the children of Abraham might have appeared cruel or extremely rigid, had it not been expressly declared that they had advanced so far in impiety as to seek to exclude God from the government of the world, and to deprive him of his own peculiar office, even that of punishing sin, of defending his own people, of delivering them from all evils, of relieving all their miseries. Since, then, they thus shut up God in heaven, and gave the governing power on earth to fortune, it was an intolerable stupidity, nay, wholly diabolical. It was therefore no wonder that God was so severely indignant, and stretched forth his hand to punish their sin, as their disease had become now incurable.
(81) There is a similar meaning in Jeremiah 48:11; but the verb is different, [ שקט ], which means to be still, to rest, to settle, while the verb here is [ קפא ], which signifies to be condensed, or to be congealed, Exodus 15:8. But as things congelaed become fixed, the verb seems to have the meaning of fixedness here; as wines on the lees, to which allusion is made, do not become congealed, the comparison seems to be, that as wine kept still on the lees increases in strength and flavor so the Jews, settling on their dregs—their sins—became strengthened and confirmed in their wickedness and atheistic notions. But Newcome and Henderson take another view of the metaphor, and consider that “the thoughtless tranquillity of the rich is compared to the fixed unbroken surface of fermented liquors.” Our version favors the former idea, as the verb is rendered “settled.”— Ed.
Zephaniah pursues the same subject—that God, after long forbearance, would punish his rebellious and obstinate people. Hence he says, that they were now delivered, even by God himself, into the hands of their enemies. They indeed knew that many were inimical to them; but they did not consider God’s judgment, as God himself elsewhere complains—that they did not regard the hand of him who smote them. Isaiah 9:13. Our Prophet, therefore, declares now that they were given up to destruction, and that their enemies would find no trouble nor difficulty in invading the land, since all places would be open to plunder. And he recites what is found in Leviticus 26:20; for the Prophets were interpreters of the law, and the only difference between Moses and them is, that they apply his general truth to their own time. The Prophet now pursues this course, as though he had said, that God had not in vain or to no purpose threatened this evil in his law; for the Jews would find by experience that this would really be the case, and that it had been truly said, that the fruit of the land, their habitations, and other comforts of life, would be transferred to others. It now follows—
The Prophet in this verse expresses more clearly what I have already stated—That God would be the author of all the evils which would happen to the Jews; for as they grew more insensible in their sins, they more and more provoked God’s wrath against themselves. It is therefore no common wisdom to consider God’s hand when he strikes or chastens us. This is the reason why the Prophet now calls the attention of the Jews to God, that they might not fix their minds, as it is commonly done, on men only. At the same time, he tries to shake off their torpor by declaring that the day would be terrible, and that it was also now near at hand. We indeed know that hypocrites trifle with God, except they feel the weight of his wrath, and that they protract time, and promise themselves so long a respite, that they never awake to repentance. Hence the Prophet in the first place shows, that whatever evils then impended over the Jews were not only from men, but especially from God. This is one thing; and then, in order thoroughly to touch stupid hearts, he says, that the day would be terrible; and lastly, that they might not deceive themselves by vain flatteries, he declares that the day was at hand. These three things must be noticed in order that we understand the Prophet’s object.
But he says at the beginning of the verse, that the great day of Jehovah was nigh. In these words he includes the three things to which I have already referred. By calling it the day of Jehovah, he means, that whatever evils the Jews suffered, ought to have been ascribed to his judgment; and by calling it the great day, his object was to strike terror; as well as by saying, in the third place, that it was nigh. We hence see that three things are included in these words. But the Prophet more fully explains what might, on account of the brevity of his words, have seemed not quite clear.
Near, he says, is the day, and quickly hastens. Men, we know, are wont to extend time, that they may cherish their sins; for though they cannot divest themselves of every feeling as to religion, or shake it off, they yet imagine for themselves a long distance between them and God; and by such an imagination they find ease for themselves. Hence the Prophet declares the day to be nigh; and as it was hardly credible that the destruction of which he spake was near, he adds, that the day was quickly hastening; as though he had said, that they ought not to judge by the present state of things what God would do, for in a moment his wrath would pass through from east to west like lightning. Men need long preparation when they determine to execute their vengeance; but God has no need of much preparation, for his own power is sufficient for him when he resolves to destroy the wicked. We now, then, see why it was added by the Prophet, that the day would quickly hasten.
He now repeats that the day of Jehovah and his voice would cry out bitterly. I have stated three renderings as given by interpreters. Some read thus—The day of Jehovah shall be bitter; there the strong shall cry aloud. This meaning is admissible, and a useful instruction may from it be elicited; as though the Prophet had said, that no courage could bring help to men, or be an aid to them, against God’s vengeance. Others give this rendering, that the day would bitterly cry out, for there would be the strong, that is, the strength of enemies would break down whatever courage the Jews might have. But this second meaning seems forced; and I am disposed to adopt the third—that the voice of the day of Jehovah would bitterly cry out. And he means the voice of those who would have really to know God as a judge, whom they had previously despised; for God would then put forth his power, which had been an object of contempt, until the Jews had by experience felt it. (82)
As to the Prophet’s design, there is no ambiguity: for he seeks here to rouse the Jews from their insensibility, who had so hardened themselves against all threatening, that the Prophets were not able to convince them. Since, then, they had thus hardened themselves against every instruction and all warnings, the Prophet here says, that the voice of God’s day would be different: for God’s voice had sounded through the mouth of the Prophets, but it availed not with the deaf. An awful change is here announced; for the Jews shall then cry aloud, as the roaring of the divine voice shall then terrify them, when God shall really show that he is the avenger of wickedness—When therefore he shall ascend his tribunal, then ye shall cry. His messengers now cry to you in vain, for ye close up your ears; ye shall cry in your turn, but it will be in vain.
But if one prefers to take it as one sentence, The voice of the day of Jehovah, there strong, shall bitterly cry out, the meaning will be the same as to the main point. I would not, therefore, contend about words, provided we bear in mind what I have already said—that Zephaniah sets here the cry of the distressed people in opposition to the voices of the Prophets, which they had despised, yea, and for the most part, as it appears from other places, treated with ridicule. However this may have been, he indirectly condemns their false confidence, when he speaks of the strong; as though he had said, that they were strong only for their own ruin, while they opposed God and his servants; for this strength falls at length, nay, it breaks itself by its own weight, when God rises to judgment. It follows—
(82) The Rabbinical punctuation has destroyed the simplicity of this passage by connecting "bitter” with the latter clause. Jerome, Pagninus, Newcome, as well as the Septuagint, connect it with the former clause. The literal rendering of the two lines is as follows—
The voice of the day of Jehovah shall be grievous; Roar out there (or then) shall the brave.“
The voice of the day,” etc., means the voice uttered on that day, as Drusius explains it. [ מר ] is no doubt “bitter;” but it is often applied in scripture to express what is grievous, afflictive, or sorrowful. If we render [ שט ], “there,” it refers to Jerusalem, verse 12; but it is sometimes used as an adverb of time, “then,” see Psalms 14:5; Nehemiah 3:15. “The meaning is,” says Drusius, “that the voice of that day, which they who excel in strength of mind and body shall utter, shall be bitter.” The whole verse is remarkably concise and emphatical,—
14. Nigh is the great day of Jehovah, Nigh and hastening quickly: The voice of the day of Jehovah shall be grievous; Roar out then shall the brave.
Then the following verse is not to begin, as in our version, which has been followed by Newcome and Henderson, “That day is a day of wrath,” but thus—
A day of wrath shall be that day.
This is the order of the original, and as there is no verb, it must be supplied and regulated as to its tense by the context.— Ed.
The Prophet shows here how foolish they were who extenuated God’s vengeance, as hypocrites and all wicked men are wont to do. Hence he accuses the Jews of madness, that they thought that the way of reconciliation would be easy to them, when they had by their perverseness provoked God to come against them as an armed enemy. For though the ungodly do not promise to themselves anything of God’s favor, yet they entertain vain imaginations, as though he might with no trouble be pacified: they do not think that he will be propitious to them, and yet in the meantime they deride his vengeance. Against this kind of senselessness the Prophet now inveighs. We have stated in other places, that these kinds of figurative expressions were intended solely for this end—to constrain men to entertain some fear, for they willfully deluded themselves: for the Prophets had to do, partly with open despisers of God, and partly with his masked worshipers, whose holiness was hypocrisy.
This, then, was the reason why he said, that that day would be a day of wrath, and also a day of distress and of affliction, (83) of tumult and desolation, (84) of darkness and of thick darkness, of clouds and of mist. In short, he intended to remove from the Jews that confidence with which they flattered themselves, yea, the confidence which they derived from their contempt of God: for the flesh is secure, while it has coverts, where it may withdraw itself from the presence of God. True confidence cannot exceed moderation, that is, the confidence that is founded on God’s word, for thus men come nigh to God: but the flesh wishes for no other rest but in the forgetfulness of God. And we have already seen in the Prophet Amos, (Amos 5:18,) why the day of Jehovah is painted as being so dreadful; he had, as I have said, to contend with hypocrites, who made an improper use of God’s name, and at the same time slumbered in gross insensibility. Hence Amos said, It will be a day, not of light, but of darkness; not of joy, but of sorrow. Why then do ye anxiously expect the day of the Lord? For the Jews, glorying in being the chosen people of God, and trusting only in their false title of adoption, thought that everything was lawful for them, as though God had renounced his own authority. And thus hypocrites ever flatter themselves, as though they held God bound to them. Our Prophet does not, as Amos, distinctly express these sentiments, yet the meaning of the words is the same, and that is, that when God ascends his tribunal, there is no hope for pardon. He at the same time cuts off from them all their vain confidences; for though God excludes all escapes, yet hypocrites look here and there, before and behind, to the right hand and to the left.
The Prophet therefore intimates, that there would be everywhere darkness and thick darkness, clouds and mists, affliction and distress,—Why? because it would be the day of wrath; for God, after having borne patiently a long time with the Jews, and seen that they perversely abused his patience, would at length put forth his power. And that they might not set up their own strongholds against God, he says, that war was proclaimed against the fortified cities and high citadels. We hence see that he deprives the Jews of all help, in order that they might understand that they were to perish, except they repented, and thus return into favor with God. It shall then be a day of the trumpet and of shouting, (85) —How? on all fortified cities. For the Jews, as it is usually done, compared the strength of their enemies with their own. It was not their purpose to go forth beyond their own borders: and they thought that they would be able to resist, and be sufficiently fortified, if any foreign enemy invaded them. The Prophet laughs to scorn this notion, for God had declared war against their fortified cities. It follows —
(83) The original words are similar in sound and meaning; the first, [ צרה ], comes from a verb which means to inclose, to confine, to straiten, and it may be rendered, narrowness, confinement, straitness, distress. The other, [ מצוקה ], is oppression, as the verb means to press down, to press close.
(84) Waste or confusion is, [ משואה שאה ], derived from the same root, may be rendered desolation. The two next words, “darkness” and “thick darkness,” occur in Joel 2:2. In the same passage we have also “the day of cloudiness and of entire darkness,” literally, bare or naked darkness; for the word is, [ ערפל ], derived, as I conceive, from [ ער ], bare, and [ אפל ], thick darkness. There is a gradation in the words used in each line; the second word is stronger than the first.— Ed.
(85) Rather “acclamation,” the triumphant voice of conquerors. As an attempt to preserve the distinctive character of each word in this singular passage, I offer the following version—
15. A day of extreme wrath shall be that day, A day of distress and oppression, A day of waste and of desolation, A day of darkness and of thick darkness, A day of cloudiness and of entire darkness;
16. A day of the trumpet and of acclamation Over the cities that are inclosed, And over the towers which are lofty.
The word [ עברה ], “extreme wrath,” means such wrath as passes over all bounds—overflowing wrath. We are obliged to use the word darkness three times for lack of suitable terms. The first is the common darkness of the night, the second is a grosser darkness, and the third is complete darkness. The words “gloominess” and “obscurity,” used by Newcome and Henderson, are not sufficiently strong, and convey not the meaning.— Ed.
He confirms what I have already stated—that though other enemies, the Assyrians or Chaldeans, attacked the Jews, yet God would be the principal leader of the war. God then claims here for himself what the Jews transferred to their earthly enemies: and the Prophet has already often called it the day of Jehovah; for God would then make known his power, which had been a sport to them. He therefore declares in this place, that he would reduce man to distress, so that the whole nation would walk like the blind —that, being void of counsel, they would stumble and fall, and not be able to proceed in their course: for they are said to go astray like the blind, who see no end to their evils, who find no means to escape ruin, but are held as it were fast bound. And we must ever bear in mind what I have already said—that the Jews were inflated with such pride, that they heedlessly despised all the Prophets. Since then they were thus wise in themselves, God denounces blindness on them.
He subjoins the reason, Because they had acted impiously towards Jehovah (86) By these words he confirms what I have already explained—that the intermediate causes are not to be considered, though the Chaldeans took vengeance on the Jews; for there is a higher principle, and another cause of this evil, even the contempt of God and of his celestial truth; for they had acted impiously towards God. And by these words the Prophet reminds the Jews, that no alleviation was to be expected, as they had not only men hostile to them, but God himself, whom they had extremely provoked.
Hence he adds, Poured forth shall be your blood as dust (87) They whom God delivered up to extreme reproach were deserving of this, because he had been despised by them. Their flesh, (88) he says, shall be as dung. Now, we know how much the Jews boasted of their preeminence; and God had certainly given them occasion to boast, had they made a right and legitimate use of his benefits; but as they had despised him, they deserved in their turn to be exposed to every ignominy and reproach. Hence the Prophet here lays prostrate all their false boastings by which they were inflated; for they wished to be honorable, while God was despised by them. At last he adds—
(86) The Hebrew words are literally,
For against Jehovah have they sinned.—
(87) “Copiously and in contempt,” says Marckius; “as a thing of no value,” says Grotius; “as worthless as dust,” says Drusius. The comparison is evidently intended to show that their blood, or their life, would be treated with contempt, and no more regarded than dust.— Ed.
(88) The word is [ לחט ], usually rendered food; here it means what is fed, the carcass, the body. It is rendered “flesh” by the Septuagint.— Ed.
He repeats what he has already said—that the helps which the Jews hoped would be in readiness to prevent God’s vengeance would be vain. For though men dare not openly to resist God, yet they hope by some winding courses to find out some way by which they may avert his judgment. As then the Jews, trusting in their wealth, and in their fortified cities, became insolent towards God, the Prophet here declares, that neither gold nor silver should be a help to them. Let them, he says, accumulate wealth; though by the mass of their gold and silver they form high mountains for themselves, yet they shall not be able to turn aside the hand of God, nor be able to deliver themselves,—and why? He repeats again the same thing, that it would be the day of wrath. We indeed know, that the most savage enemies are sometimes pacified by money, for avarice mitigates their cruelty; but the Prophet declares here, that as God would be the ruler in that war, there would be no redemption, and therefore money would be useless: for God could by no means receive them into favor, except they repented and truly humbled themselves before him.
He therefore adds, that the land would be devoured by the fire of God’s jealousy, or indignation. He compares God’s wrath to fire; for no agreement can be made when fire rages, but the more materials there are the more will there be to increase the fire. So then the Prophet excludes the Jews from any hope of deliverance, except they reconciled themselves to God by true and sincere repentance; for a consummation, he says, he will make as to all the inhabitants of the land, and one indeed very quick or speedy. (89) In short, he means, that as the Jews had hardened themselves against every instruction, they would find God’s vengeance to be such as would wholly consume them, as they would not anticipate it, but on the contrary enhance it by their pride and stupidity, and even deride it. Now follows—
(89) Quickness rather than terror is what is evidently meant. See version 14. Most agree in this respect. Newcome renders it “speedy,” and Henderson “sudden.” The word “riddance,” for [ כלה ], in our version, is improper. It is rendered “full end” by Newcome, and “consummation” by Henderson, and “συντέλειαν— end” by the Septuagint. The particle [ אך ] does not mean “altogether,” as rendered by Henderson, but it is an asseveration—surely, indeed, certainly, doubtless. The [ אח ] before “inhabitants” has evidently here the meaning of κατα, with regard to. It is rendered επι, upon, in the Septuagint, and “with” by Marckius and Newcome. The whole verse is as follows,—
18. Neither their silver nor their gold Shall be able to deliver them In the day of the extreme-wrath of Jehovah; By the fire of his jealousy Shall be consumed the whole land; For an end, doubtless sudden, will he make, As to all the inhabitants of the land.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Zephaniah 1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13