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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Zephaniah 1

Verses 1-18

Notes on the Prophecy of Zephaniah

Chapter 1

The Day Of The Lord

Of the prophet Zephaniah practically nothing is known beyond what he himself tells us in the first verse. His pedigree is traced back through four generations, and the date of his ministry is given as “in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.” Those were days of blessing and revival for a remnant; but the mass of the people, though outwardly reformed, were in the sad state described in this book and in the early chapters of Jeremiah. The object of the Spirit in Zephaniah was, therefore, to warn the formalists of coming judgment, and to comfort the hearts of the godly residue who had a little strength, and had not denied His name. In fact, the prophecy of Zephaniah has much in common with the New Testament letter to the Philadelphian assembly, contemplating a condition of things answering in large measure to what we see at the present time-a day when many vaunt themselves in Laodicean pride while walking in utter indifference to the written Word of God and despising a feeble remnant who cling to that Word and seek to honor Him who gave it. Such may be like Zephaniah himself, whose very name means, “Hidden of Jehovah;” but though unknown to men, they are well known to Him who speaks of an hour coming when the haughty opposers of the truth shall “come and worship before thy feet, and know that I have loved thee” (Revelation 3:7-13).

The very fact that a remnant are at any time distinguished from the mass implies that the latter are ripe for judgment; for when all goes as it should, there is no occasion for the faithful to be thus distinguished. Therefore this prophecy has much to say about the coming of the Lord when everything will be dealt with in the light of His revealed will. Zephaniah speaks of judgment about to fall, first on Judah and Jerusalem, yea, the whole land (though the ten tribes had been carried into Assyria nearly a century ere his time); then, on all the surrounding nations. For, if God begins with His people, He will not stop there, but all must know the power of His anger when He makes inquisition in regard to their ways.

The three chapters may be considered as three divisions. Chapter 1 presents the general truth as to the day of the Lord which is coming upon Judah. Chapter 2 gives the judgment of the nations. Chapter 3 is the indictment of Jerusalem, with the eustomary promise of restoration, to be made good after the purging of the period of tribulation.

Zephaniah was contemporary with Jeremiah for at least a part of the latter’s ministry, but he probably passed off the scene before the predicted destruction of Jerusalem was fulfilled.

Coming to a somewhat careful notice of this first chapter, we find in verses 2 to 6 the solemn announcement of the stretching out of Jehovah’s hand in judgment against the people of His choice. He was about to consume all things from off the land. Man and beast, fowls and fishes, all alike must feel the stroke. It speaks of utter desolation-the result of the fearful ravages of bloody warfare. Judah and Jerusalem were to be given up to the woes of which they had been warned for so long. They had turned away from Him, who would have been their Saviour, to follow Baal, the demon of the heathen. God would not cease His strange work until He had cut off the last vestige of Baal-worship from the land. The idolatrous priests who had been the instruments used to deceive the people were to be cut off too till the very name of the Chemarim would cease. The worshipers of the heavenly bodies, together with those who professed to follow the Lord, but whose profession was unreal, as also those who swore by Malcham,26 the “great king” -all must be included in the coming doom.

The host appointed to death is divided into two classes in the sixth verse: “Them that are turned back from the Lord; and those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for Him.” There were some who had at first heeded Josiah’s call to repentance, and who had sought for a time to obey the voice of the Lord; but, putting their hand to the plow, they looked back and relapsed into their old idolatrous ways. There were others who had never known, nor cared to know, the mind of God. All must perish in the common destruction that was coming.

Beginning with verse 7, we have a more detailed account of the manner in which the awful threatenings were to be carried out. It will be noticed that while the prophet himself had before his mind, beyond any doubt, the Babylonian conquest, the Holy Spirit who empowered him to speak and write had something far more serious before Him. The day of the Lord was at hand, a day which will only be known in its fulness when man’s day has come to a close. In that day the Lord will prepare a great sacrificial feast. Already “He hath bid His guests.” The language reminds us of the supper of the great God, or, as it should be rendered, the great supper of God, in Revelation 19:17, Revelation 19:18. In that day He will visit the iniquities of the princes and the king’s household upon them, as also all of foreign birth who are gathered together in the land of Palestine. Violence and deceit shall meet their just desert, and evil be everywhere abased (vers. 7-9).

From gate to gate the cry of anguish will be heard. The merchants and great ones who have lived in pleasure on the earth shall in no wise escape the day of His wrath. James 5:1 seems to be intimately connected with verse 11 of this chapter. Both have to do with the collapse of the great commercial system which in our own day has assumed such gigantic proportions.

It is a matter of solemn moment, the place / given in Scripture to the mad rush for silver and gold in the last days. The world today presents an amazing spectacle if viewed from this standpoint. Commerce is the Baal of the hour. In the accumulation. of great wealth, conscience and Christianity are pressed to the wall. Gold is king and god. For gold men will sacrifice every principle, human and divine. Covetousness is the ruling passion of the age. All else must go down before it. And Scripture warrants us to expect this, and emphasizes the fact that it is a sign of the near approach of the end. Happy are those saints who are preserved from this unholy spirit of the times, and who, having food and raiment, seek to be therewith content!

With a lighted lamp the Lord will search Jerusalem in that day; not, as now, to find the lost piece that typifies the poor sinner lying in dust (Luke 15:8-10), but to ferret out every man who has been indifferent to His truth and has sought to make God a nonentity in His own creation, saying, “The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil” (ver. 12). This is likewise characteristic of the present times. Men no longer believe in a particular providence. Even the so-called clergy often ridicule he idea of divine intervention in the affairs of men. Law, hard and inexorable, is supposed to control all things; so that human responsibility and a prayer-hearing God are alike practically denied. But the hour of awakening is nearing, when, too late, men will be made to know the reality of God’s government and the truth of His Word. Their goods shall become a prey and their abodes a desolation when they are snatched away by the fierce anger of the Lord, whose power and hatred against sin they have disdainfully ignored (ver. 13).

In fervid rhythm the prophet winds up the first section of his book with a stirring description of the day so long expected-the day of the Lord. It is near, and hasteth greatly; the day wherein the mighty man shall cry bitterly when he sinks beneath the weight of divine wrath. It shall be “a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm!” No refuge will then avail, no high tower protect from the avenging hand of Him whom men have insulted to His face for so long. Like the blind who stumble in the daytime, they shall grope in their distress, only to fall into the pit prepared, “because they have sinned against the Lord.” The riches for which they have labored will be useless to save them. “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath.” He will not cease until He has made “a speedy riddance” of all who have defiled His land. The fire must burn till all the chaff be consumed (vers. 14-18).

To this, men are fast hastening on. For this, the Jews are even now returning in unbelief to their ancient home. For this, men are sacrificing every right and noble instinct, building, as has been well said, for the fire!

What sobriety and other-worldliness27 becomes the Christian in view of the end toward which everything is now hastening so rapidly! The day of the Lord is near. The Morning Star will soon shine forth. Be it ours then to live and act as men who wait for their Lord!

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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Zephaniah 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.