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CRITICAL NOTES.] Summons to repent. Gather] As stubble (Exodus 5:7-12); then generally, to collect; in this sense, to gather one’s self, to examine one’s self. Desired] A word which signifies primarily, to turn pale, become white with shame (cf. Isaiah 29:22); unworthy persons, not desired by God.
Zephaniah 2:2.] Reason for exhortation. Decree] (ch. 1). Forth] As the embryo, hid in the womb, is brought forth in due time. Day] Lit. as chaff the day passes; “the day comes like chaff” [Keil].
Zephaniah 2:3.] Because judgment will suddenly come, the pious exhorted especially, the quiet and humble before God (cf. Micah 6:8). Right.] Not loved strange apparel and practised idolatry. May be] Not doubtful, but difficult.
THE CALL TO REPENTANCE.—Zephaniah 2:1-3
God had threatened his people, now withholds judgment, and urges them to repent, earnestly to seek and serve him, before the day of punishment comes.
I. The necessity of repentance. “Gather yourselves together.” Men are distant from God and alienated from one another; dissipated by lusts, and live in forgetfulness of their highest interests. Hence they have no desire to turn to God, and are unworthy of his blessing; “not desired.” They must be gathered into one feeling of penitence, one assembly of solemn worship, and one fold of God.
1. The impenitent must seek the Lord. Judgment is threatened against “sinners and their offences.” The proud must be humbled, the unrighteous be holy, and the backslider return.
2. The meek must seek the Lord. The submissive and quiet must be more humble; those who do right must know more perfectly, and act more constantly. Meekness, righteousness, and holiness must adorn their conduct. “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”
3. The whole nation must seek the Lord. National repentance is the only safeguard against national overthrow. An elect nation may become proud, undaunted in sin, and unappalled in danger. “A nation not desired,” which does not blush in shame; yet a nation whom God urges to turn to him and live. “Seek the Lord, and ye shall live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph and devour it.”
II. The method of repentance. “Gather yourselves together.”
1. By self-examination. A man must know himself thoroughly, examine himself closely, and ascertain how he stands in the sight of God. “Prove your own selves.” As we collect stubble from the fields, so must we search with diligence, and pick up “the withered leaves of past life.” The chaff must be burned up, all the dead and worthless must be destroyed in heart and conduct. It is better to judge ourselves than be judged of God. “Let us search and try our way, and turn again to the Lord.”
2. By earnest reformation. We must begin with self-examination, and end with amendment of life. The first earnest search must be continued, until all sin is discovered, abandoned, and pardoned. “Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” “That vice may be uneasy, and even monstrous unto thee,” says Sir Thomas Browne, “let iterated good acts and long-confirmed habits make virtue almost natural, or a second nature in thee. Since virtuous superstructions have commonly generous foundations, dive into thy inclinations, and early discover what nature bids thee to be, or tells thee thou mayest be. They who timely descend into themselves, and cultivate the good seeds which nature hath set in them, prove not shrubs but cedars in their generation.”
(1) Sin must be forsaken in act and deed.
(2) Humility must be cherished.
(3) Righteousness must be followed. In this radical change of disposition, attitude, and conduct, lies the sole chance of escape. “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his face evermore.”
3. By public confession. “Gather yourselves” to a religious assembly, and avert the judgment by united prayer and confession. The Jews forsook the worship of God for idolatry. Many neglect to assemble themselves together now. If we sin together we should confess together. Religion renders social intercourse sacred, and binds men in public acts of praise and prayer. “Call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord.”
III. The motives to repentance.
1. Danger threatens. “Before the decree bring forth.” Men suppose that there is no approaching peril, no need for instant amendment. But the decree is uttered, and God cannot change. “The error of one moment may become the sorrow of a whole life.”
2. Time is given for repentance. Space is afforded before the day of grace pass away. Time, on which eternity hangs, is a light, uncertain thing. Like chaff before the wind it is driver. onward, and when it is passed the wicked will be overthrown. “They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away.”
3. There is now a possibility of escape. “It may be ye shall be hid.” Not much chance appeared to the Jews, but God discovered one. Judgment looms over the impenitent. The slightest advantage, the least hope of safety, stimulate to diligence in temporal matters. You may secure a hiding-place in that day. In Christ we have shelter. “A man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.”
4. If the season pass, helpless will be the situation of those who meet the day.
(1) Destruction will be total. “Before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you.”
(2) Destruction will be without remedy. The warning is twice given, to impress the certainty and speed of its coming. “Take heed lest that day come upon you unawares.”
“God stays long, but strikes at last.”
“The higher the fool, the greater the fall.”
“In every fault there is folly.”
“What is not wisdom is danger” [Old English Proverbs].
SEEK THE LORD.—Zephaniah 2:3
Observe four purposes for which we are to seek God, and which enter essentially into genuine religion. First, we are to seek to know him. Here religion begins. “This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” “I will give them a heart that they may know me.” Secondly, we must seek to enjoy him. In order to this we must be reconciled. He cannot comfort us till we are reconciled to him. We cannot rejoice in Christ till we have received the atonement. Then we can draw to him as our exceeding joy; our souls can be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. In his favour we live, and his loving-kindness is better than life. Thirdly, we must seek to serve him. He is not only our portion to enjoy, but our master to obey and wait upon. “On thee do I wait all the day,” not only as an expectant to receive supplies, but as a servant to receive and execute orders, and to inquire, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” His service is perfect freedom, his work honourable and glorious, his yoke easy, and his burden light; and in keeping his commandments there is great reward. Fourthly, we must seek to resemble him. It is the essence of religion to be like him whom we worship. We are to “show forth his praises (margin, virtues).” God’s virtues are God’s perfections, and the best way to show them forth is to follow and exemplify them. We cannot resemble his natural perfections, eternity, omnipotence, and omniscience; but we may resemble his moral attributes—in our measure and degree be holy, do good, and forgive like him. “Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” As we advance in this grace, we are “renewed after the image of him who created us in righteousness and true holiness.” “We are changed from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord” [W. Jay].
THE THREEFOLD CALL.—Zephaniah 2:3
Divine judgments should rouse all to reflection, and lead them to test their thoughts and actions. The wicked do not seek God, but fall under his just displeasure. But the meek are exhorted to bend under his chastening rod, to seek him in outward ordinances and in active exercises. There is a threefold call here, or three special blessings to be sought.
I. Seek the Lord. This is most needful and important. We naturally seek God in his works and word, in history, and in ourselves even. When we find him our hearts and intellects are satisfied. “Lord,” says Augustine, “I have viewed the world over, in which thou hast set me; I have tried how this and that thing will fit my spirit and the design of my creation; and can find nothing in which to rest, for nothing here doth itself rest. Lo, I come to thee, the eternal Being, the Spring of life, the Centre of rest, the Fulness of all things!” “Lord. show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.”
II. Seek righteousness. The knowledge of God must be evinced in holy life. “He lived his religion,” was said of one.
1. Righteousness with men. If wrong with our fellow-creatures, we cannot be right with God. We must do justice and love mercy—fulfil the royal law of loving our neighbour as ourselves. “Charity is the scope of all God’s commandments,” says Chrysostom.
2. Righteous with God. This is more than a good moral life; paying your way, and being kind to all men. We must seek and possess the righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
“Their religion titled them the sons of God” [Milton].
III. Seek meekness. The virtue of lowliness (humilitas), known to heathens, was dignified into humility by Christianity. It is the first of Christian graces in order and rank—the very root of religion. Men teach us to cherish “spirit and pluck” in opposition and insult. Meekness is weakness in their estimation. But Christ demands it from his disciples. To be meek is to be like him. “I am meek and lowly in heart.” “By pride have we fallen from the kingdom of God, and by humility must we again enter it” [Starke].
“From purity of thought all pleasure springs;
And from a humble spirit all our peace” [Young].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
1. We may read an invitation to repentance in the darkest times. “A fruitful rain falls on the soil through which the ploughshare has been driven. The gracious intention of the Divine ‘doom’ is disclosed.”
2. All repentance begins and continues in self-examination. “Gather yourselves, so as to rid yourselves of all chaff-like vanities and sins. Self-confidence and corrupt desires are the dissipations from which they are exhorted to gather themselves” [Calvin]. Collect yourselves, and be ye collected—i.e. collect your thoughts, and look into your state of mind [Gesenius]. The gathering is opposed to scattering, dissipation, and distance.
“Mankind is broken loose from moral bands” [Dryden].
The precept is doubled, as it is likewise Numbers 3:40; 2 Corinthians 13:5, to show the necessity of our doing it, as also the utility if well done; and lastly, our crossness and averseness thereunto, together with God’s exceeding great desire that it should be done thoroughly for our greatest good [Trapp].
Zephaniah 2:2. Before. God’s word is full (as it were) of the event which it foretelleth; it contains its own fulfilment in itself, and travaileth until it come to pass, giving signs of its coming, yet delaying until the full time. Time it said to bring forth what is wrought in it [Pusey]. Here are three cautionary “befores,” as there are four comfortable “yets” to be read (Zechariah 1:17). God yet offers them mercy, as Alexander did those he warred against, whiles the lamp burned; and as Tamerlane, whiles the white flag was hung out (cf. Jeremiah 18:7-8) [Trapp].
Zephaniah 2:3. Seek.
1. The objects of search. God and holiness of life.
2. The method of search. (a) To work judgment, not merely zealous about outward forms. (b) To seek diligently, for the Hebrew form is intensive.
3. The result of search; mitigation, if not prevention, of calamity; pardon of sin, and hid when others are exposed to punishment.
Seek righteousness, seek meekness, i.e. further measures of holiness and degrees of grace. Let him that is holy be holy still; let him persevere, grow, and advance forward towards the prize proposed unto him, taking for his motto that of Charles V., “Plus ultra,” further yet; perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1) [Trapp]. Ye meek.
1. In times of decline God hath a peculiar eye towards the godly, and expects much from them. He leaves the wicked nations, and turns to them in exhortation and promise.
2. The truth and reality of their graces must be manifest in humility of spirit, subjection to the word, fear of judgments, and tenderness towards others.
3. Then God puts their safety beyond all doubt.
4. Hence, in dangers, uncertainties, and troubles, they must seek him, trust his goodness and grace [Hutcheson].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Zephaniah 2:1-3. Meekness. Is it not as the steps of degree in the Temple, whereby we descend to the knowledge of ourselves, and ascend to the knowledge of God? Would we attain mercy? humility will help [C. Sutton].
Zephaniah 2:4. For] The punishment of neighbouring states a warning. Five nations, from all quarters of the earth, to indicate universality of judgment. Gaza] and cities of Philistines (cf. Amos 1:6-8; Isaiah 20:1). Noon-day] Not by thieves at night; but in the hottest part of day, generally spent in rest (2 Samuel 4:5), and less likely for attack; hence sudden invasion (Jeremiah 15:8).
Zephaniah 2:5. Cherethites] Cretans. The connection of Philistines with Crete early noticed (1 Samuel 30:14; 2 Samuel 8:18; 1 Chronicles 18:17; Ezekiel 25:16). Cherethites (from a verb, to cut off) were used as executioners in the royal army of Judah, and would be cut off by Jehovah [cf. Wordsworth].
Zephaniah 2:6. Sea coast] Lit. line of the sea, i.e. the region or coast along the sea-shore, and so called from the custom of using a cord or line in measuring off or dividing a territory (cf. with the same application, the coast of the sea, Jeremiah 47:7; Ezekiel 25:16) [Henderson]. Cottages] A proverbial description for utter desolation (cf. Zephaniah 2:14-15); shepherds excavated or dug huts underground to protect from the sun.
Zephaniah 2:7. Feed] The Jews restored to their land, not any longer annoyed by Philistines, would dwell safely. Visit] in mercy (Exodus 4:31).
THE JUDGMENT UPON THE PHILISTINES.—Zephaniah 2:4-7
Punishment to neighbouring states is now threatened. Under five nations all mankind are included. The Philistines, as a near malicious enemy, are mentioned first. “Out of the five cities, woe is pronounced upon the same four as Amos (Amos 1:6-8) before, Jeremiah soon after (Jeremiah 25:20), and Zechariah (Zechariah 9:5-6) later. Gath, the fifth, had probably remained with Judah since Uzziah and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 26:6; 2 Kings 18:8). The name of the place itself is regarded in the sentence, that it may suggest the thought of the doom pronounced upon it. The names expressed boastfulness, and so, in the Divine judgment, carried their own sentence with them, and this sentence is pronounced by a slight change in the word” [Pusey]. The four capitals include the whole territory and people.
I. The splendid cities will be destroyed. The chief cities are threatened with open and violent attack, with entire desolation and depopulation.
1. Gaza shall be forsaken (Azzah, strong, shall be, Azoobah, desolated). Though strong, and able to resist the conqueror for four or five months, its defenders perished in the battle. Alexander sold its inhabitants, and repeopled it from the neighbourhood.
2. Ekron shall be uprooted (Ekron, deep rooting, shall be Te-aker, rooted out). Not a vestige of the place is now left. It is only known by name, say travellers. Man builds, and God pulls down. Man plants, and God uproots. The most flourishing trade, the most deeply-rooted society, may be torn out of the soil and carried away.
3. Ashkelon shall become a desolation. The present city is a ghastly skeleton. The soil is good, but peasants who cultivate it live outside in mud-huts, under the impression that God has left the place and permitted evil spirits to dwell there.
4. Ashdod shall be suddenly overtaken. “They (the enemies) shall drive out Ashdod at the noon-day.” The power of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:0) could not defend it. When its inhabitants were taking repose and sleep, and thought themselves most secure—when evil was least expected, it would prove most fatal. The judgments of God would suddenly overtake them. Neither antiquity nor valour, neither natural strength nor the power of their gods, would protect these cities. The word of God was against them, and their doom was inevitable. “I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof; and I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn mine hand against Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord God.”
II. The whole population will be taken away. “Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea-coast.” Every epithet in Zephaniah 2:5 is selected with a view of deepening the gloom of terrible denunciation. “The terrors are encompassed by hints drawn from the latent omen of the Kerethite name, and from the ancient Canaanite traditions.”
1. The fertility of the land would be cursed. Shepherds will dig it up to build their huts, and shelter their flocks.
2. Seats of industry will be abandoned.
3. The country would be repeopled. “This once fertile tract by the sea, thickly dotted with the crowded hives of human industry, with fair cities inhabited by free brave men, afterwards a desert, accursed by God, and abandoned by man, ‘shall become pastures, with huts for shepherds, and folds for sheep.’ Through the mountain gorges the flocks of the restored Hebrews will descend on the green flowery plains, knowing no want, fearing no evil, because the shepherds go before them with staff and rod” [S. Cox]. “I will even destroy thee that there shall be no inhabitant.” “In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 2:4. The judgments threatened upon others an argument for the ungodly to repent, and for the godly to persevere in well-doing, that they may escape the general calamity.
Zephaniah 2:5-6. Woe.
1. The source of the woe. “The word of the Lord.”
2. The cause of the woe. They were of the posterity, possessed the land, and inherited the sins of Canaan.
3. The consequences of the woe.
(2) Universal destruction. “Woe to the people who have the word of God against them. To them he speaketh not in good, but in evil; not in grace, but in anger; not in mercy, but in vengeance” [Pusey].
Zephaniah 2:7. The fall of the enemy, the restoration of the elect of Israel. The remnant of Baal driven out, to make room for the remnant of God. Notice—
1. The blessings bestowed.
(1) Visited by God. “The Lord their God shall visit them.” In mercy and loving-kindness (Exodus 4:31).
(2) Delivered. “And turn away their captivity.”
(3) Restored to possessius “His visits are not empty visits (Psalms 8:5); his favours are not like the winter sun, that lighteth but heateth not” [Trapp].
2. The source of the blessings. The covenant of “the Lord their God.” Covenant rights will not fail, after long delay and many disappointments.
3. The method of securing the blessings. After captivity and calamity. Through much tribulation we enter heaven. But the word is sure. “Be thou faithful.”
In chap. 1 Zephaniah 2:8-9, God had threatened to “visit” the men of Judah and Jerusalem; now he promises to “visit” them: the same Heb. verb used in both places; but now by a slight change of construction (páguad, construed with an accusative of the person instead of with al), the verb itself shows that God is about to visit them in grace. And the grammatical hint is expanded in the words which follow: God is about to visit them, that he may “turn their captivity,” as he turned that of Job by giving them freedom for bondage, peace for war, wealth for want. The peace and abundance of this happier time are charmingly expressed in the opening clauses of Zephaniah 2:7 [S. Cox].
Zephaniah 2:8. Moab] and Ammon rejoiced in the calamity of the Jews. Compare parallel prophecies against Moab (Isaiah 15, 16; Jeremiah 48:0; Amos 2:1-3), and Ammon (Jeremiah 49:1-6; Amos 1:13-15). Magnified] Acted insolently against their boundary (Jeremiah 48:29; 2 Kings 13:20).
Zephaniah 2:9.] The threat will certainly be executed. Divine existence itself pledged. The land shall be overrun with stinging nettles, and become a place for salt-pits, like the southern coast of the Dead Sea. A remnant of Jews shall possess the people themselves.
Zephaniah 2:10.] The judgment is talio. The universality of it stands out with greater precision, according to its two-fold fundamental characteristic [Lange].
Zephaniah 2:11. Famish] Deprive them of worship and sacrifices, which were considered food (Deuteronomy 32:38). His place] Not in Jerusalem alone, but everywhere worship Jehovah (Psalms 68:29; Malachi 1:11).
THE JUDGMENT UPON THE MOABITES.—Zephaniah 2:8-10
Moab and Ammon were of blood relation to Israel. Their country adjoined Canaan, and from the time of Balak they were always reviling Israel, and invading their territory, and plundering their cities. The pride and insolence of Ammon were proverbial. They were now to be punished for their conduct.
I. The nature of their doom. Their land was to be spoiled, and their cities exterminated.
1. The tribes would be destroyed. They would incur a fate like Sodom and Gomorrah, which are ingulfed in the Dead Sea.
2. The land would be cursed. Nettles would infest it, salt-pits would tear it up, and desolation would be perpetual. Destruction, barrenness, and extinction beyond recovery (Jeremiah 49:18). “The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning: it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein; like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger and in his wrath.”
II. The certainty of their doom. “Therefore as I live, saith the Lord of hosts.” Jehovah pledges himself by solemn oath to inflict the destruction. When God threatens men seem slow to believe that he is in easnes. When be appeals to his own existence in support of his truth they should fear. “Because he could swear by no greater he swears by himself.”
III. The cause of their doom.
1. Their pride. “This shall they have for their pride.” Pride and arrogance are specially offensive to God. When men magnify themselves against the people of God and their possessions, they magnify themselves against God. God will bring them low, and give them shame and contempt.
2. Their cruelty. They reviled and reproached the people of God (Zephaniah 2:8); took pleasurs in their misfortunes; cherished constant hatred towards them; and violated their land age after age. Pride begets insolence and cruelty, and these expose to the judgment of God. “It is a dangerous indiscretion for a man not to know the bounds of his own calling” [Bp. Hall]. “A man’s pride shall bring him him low.”
“My pride fell with my fortunes” [As you like it].
THE LIVING GOD.—Zephaniah 2:8-11
“I live.” God here declares his eternal self-existence. “In the beginning God.” The living God is not indifferent to human affairs; neither does he keep silence. He has entered into relationships and covenants indicated by the name, “the God of Israel,” revealed his majestic power, and triumphed gloriously over the rebellious “The Lord, strong and mighty.” This God has spoken, linked his sayings with his character, and made them emphatic by an oath.
I. The living God is cognisant of all that transpires on earth. “I have heard.” Nothing escapes the eyes of God. “All things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” God is an ever-present listener (whispering gallery: telephone).
1. God hears the mockery of evil tongues. “I have heard the reproach of Moab,” &c. How painful for us to hear all the slanders, curses, and blasphemies of one day! Yet God hears all the evil-speaking of men through all time. The God of patience may bear long with personal and national provocations, but he feels, and expresses feeling in words. “As I live, saith the Lord of hosts.” This brings out the idea—
2. That God is affected by the injury done to his people. This truth was unfolded to Moses when commanded to go to Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10). Note how the exalted, living Christ identifies himself with his persecuted people. (Acts 9:1-14). This truth should comfort and sustain, “when men shall revile you, and persecute you,” &c.
II. The living God administers timely justice. Nations only exist in time, and so in time punishment takes place. We are dealt with as individuals before the judgment-seat of Christ. Moab and Ammon, for repeated and persistent offences, are threatened with Divine judgments. God’s words soon become God’s works, notwithstanding seeming hindrances and impossibilities. The guilt was great and grievous. Observe—
1. The severity of the Divine judgment. “Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah.” We have no encouragement from the history of nations to regard God’s mercy as amiable weakness, or his judgments as harsh and vindictive. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” Under his righteous administration, and in the execution of judgment for the oppressed, light words may bring heavy blows, and defiant tones desolating retributions. Cause and effect, sin and suffering, are here connected.
2. The Divine judgment was the penalty of pride and arrogance. “This shall they have for their pride,” &c. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Illustrations:—Goliath (1 Samuel 17:0); Benhadad (1 Kings 20:0); Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:0); Babylon (Isaiah 47:0).
III. The living God is jealous of his name and worship. “The Lord will be terrible unto them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth,” &c. An eidôlon is a thing that can be seen and put for a being who cannot be seen. God is a spirit, and no image can represent a spirit. He prohibits the attempt to make a “likeness” of himself (Exodus 20:0). The maedicties won this sin are numerous and startling. It is specially offensive and insulting to the one living and true God. With the most horrible, inhuman, and debasing rites, Moab and Ammon worshipped gods, and left the infamous names of Chemosh, Molech, Milcom, and Peor.
1. Idolatry is a flagrant insult to the living God.
2. God declares his intention to exterminate it. “For he will famish all the gods of the earth.” The triumphs of Divine truth over idolatry have been signal and complete. Islands and countries have abolished their idols. The process goes on and must continue, for he hath said, “I am God, and there is none like me.” “The idols he shall utterly abolish.”
3. God predicts the universality of true and acceptable worship. Jealous for his character, God will tolerate no rival. The heathen gods shall be without offerings and devotees. The destructive work is to prepare for the constructive, or rather the true worship is to displace the false. “Men shall worship Him, every one from his place,” &c. However prevalent, mighty, and venerable idol worship may be in some places, it is doomed. Whether slowly or rapidly men “turn from idols to serve the living God,” the promise must be accomplished. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him.” The predicted universality of acceptable worship should (a) Incite the Church of God to pray earnestly, “thy kingdom come;” and (b) Inspire unceasing aggressive efforts, until “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ” [Mt. Braithwaite].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
1. No relation will bind the wicked to the Church, and in sympathy with the godly. However near, they break loose, persecute, and revile them.
2. But God takes notice of this conduct towards his people, declares his love, and determines to punish their enemies. Chastisement does not hinder affection for them. I have heard the reproach. “The memory of God is one of the most fearful things of which a man can think. He notices particularly the dishonour done to his people, because they only take no heed of dishonour, and are not allowed to defend themselves. But take heed that you are not reviled on account of your own sins. Such reviling God does not punish, but it is itself punishment” [Lange].
Zephaniah 2:11. The extermination of dolatry, and the establishment of God’s worship.
1. Idolatry to be exterminated. “For he will famish all the gods of the earth.” They will die from want and starvation. There will be a gradual and universal destruction of idols. This happened in the days of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar, who chastised the Jews and weaned them from heathen deities; in the early age of Christianity, and in modern missions.
2. Divine worship to be established. Not only at Jerusalem but universally. “Men shall worship him, every one from his own place.” His own Gentile home taught by Jews in the true religion. “All the isles of the heathen,”—the maritime regions of the West. This prediction is being fulfilled at present; and ere long, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering” (Malachi 1:11; Psalms 2:8; Numbers 14:21).
THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD A SCHEME OF REDEMPTION.—Zephaniah 2:11
‘The immense value of this verse consists in the fact that it reveals a law, a constant invariable law, of the Divine government. It stands alone and is complete. It is a place of vantage, a point of rest, to which the prophet has risen, and from which he contemplates not simply the doom of which he has spoken, or the dooms of which he is about to speak, but the whole course of the Divine providence. And as he looks before and after, as he recalls the past and project himself into the future, he finds this to be a law of human history, that the judgments of God are a necessary part of the scheme of redemption: that God intends them to recover men from error to truth, from sin to holiness” [S. Cox]. Let us trace this thought—
I. In human experience. God often visits in terror, smites our gods, and takes away what is dearest and most valuable. This terror brings torment and despair. The darkness hides the light, and the judgment the mercy. God is terrible indeed to us. But how else could we be weaned from sin, delivered from idolatry, and restored to God? Threatenings have been unheeded, mercies have been abused, and promises are of no avail. Severe measures must be adopted. “Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord.”
II. In the history of the Christian Church. In the Jewish nation, in apostolic times and in modern history, this truth is abundantly confirmed. The Church has been purified by persecution, and nations have been saved by the famishing of their gods. “These judgments,” says one, “answer to the convulsions and storms of the natural world, and serve to disperse the foul infections which brood over the homes of men, to raise them to happier conditions, and to pour round them a more vital air.” God thus starves idols to make known himself, clothes himself in terrors to redeem from error, and reveals mercy to win “the isles of the heathen.” “For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Zephaniah 2:10-11. Pride. That which first overcame man, is the last thing he overcomes [Augustine].
Zephaniah 2:12.] Fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt, with which Ethiopia was closely allied (Jeremiah 46:2; Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 30:5-9).
THE DOOM OF ETHIOPIA.—Zephaniah 2:12
“Zephaniah has to complete his circuit. He has travelled East and West, and now completes his round by denouncing judgment on the nations of the North and South. At the South he merely aims a blow in passing; but it is curious to note how far it reaches. He travels to the utmost limit of his knowledge, and hurls his curt ringing anathema at Cush or Ethiopia, the southernmost kingdom known to the Hebrews.” Notice—
I. That the enemies of the Church, though numerous and far distant, will be found out and punished. Philistia, Moab, and Ammon escape not. The sword passes Edom, a constant enemy, immediately south to Judah. Egypt insolent and more southern still, is not mentioned. But far away the judgment sweeps to remote Ethiopia. “Ye Ethiopians also.”
II. That in the punishment of these enemies the hand of God must be recognized. “Slain by my sword.” All nations and individuals are God’s instruments, and under his control. The most powerful and profane are under the rule and wielded by the hand of God. None can annoy and act without his permission. All things are as easily managed as a sword in the hand. Hence learn (a) to submit to God in the persecution by wicked men; and (b) to discern his power and use of them. “Deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword.”
Zephaniah 2:13.) The prophet dwells longer on the heathen power of the north, the Assyrian kingdom with its capital, Nineveh, because Assyria was then the imperial power, seeking to destroy the kingdom of Judah. This explains the announcement, in the form of a wish, as the use of the contracted forms, yet and yâsçm, clearly shows. Assyria was north-east, but invaded Palestine from the north, hence regarded as situated thus [Keil].
Zephaniah 2:14. Cormorant and bittern] or pelican and porcupine (cf. Isaiah 34:11), from whence the words are adopted [Wordsworth]. Lintels] or knops of pillars (Amos 9:1). “The capitals of the pillars do not lie on the ground, but now stand unattached, after the roofs and doors, which rested upon them, are thrown down” [Hitzig].
Zephaniah 2:15.] This city, proud and haughty, sheltered behind defences of water, would become a lair of beasts, a desolate waste, a hissing to men. All would exult in its ruins, wave the hand, and declare that “she richly deserved her fate.”
THE JUDGMENT UPON ASSYRIA.—Zephaniah 2:13-15
The prophet dwells upon the kingdom of Assyria with its splendid capital, Nineveh. It was the imperial power then seeking to destroy Judah, But the sentence of Jonah and Nahum was to be executed. No opportunity of repentance now. The most populous and ambitious kingdom of Eastern races has to be entirely laid waste.
I. Its capital would become a heap of ruins. God will stretch out his hand “and destroy Assyria, and will make Nineveh a desolation.” Nineveh, strongly built and splendidly adorned, secure in its streams and impregnable in its defences, would become an arid waste. “Dry like a wilderness.”
II. Its ruins would be complete. They would become—
1. A lair of wild beasts. “Herds crouch were once ran broad streets, loud with the wheels of traffic or the tramp of armies. Wild beasts wander and climb about the fallen stones, seeking a prey or finding a covert within its dismantled walls. Pelicans from the neighbouring marshes, and hedgehogs from the adjacent fields, make their homes in the sculptured capitals of her fallen columns.”
2. A home of unclean birds. Birds perch and sing on the lintels of broken windows, joyous in existence amid extensive ruins. The music of the palace, men-singers and women-singers, have ceased to be; but the song of the bird startles the spectator in the lonely scene.
3. A heap of desolation. “Desolation shall be in the thresholds.” On spots where porters watched and multitudes thronged, heaps of rubbish stand. The thresholds of house and temple, mart and palace, are covered with dust. “The sands carried by winds from the desert, have buried the wreck of former grandeur, and hid every trace of its magnificence.”
III. Its ruins would become a derision to travellers. “Every one that passeth by her shall hiss and wag his hand.” He shall hiss with scorn, and motion with the hand in detestation, not in joy (Nahum 3:19). The desolation would astonish, and the ruin of the immense and stately city would be a source of joy. “The merchants among the people shall hiss at thee; thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt be any more.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Zephaniah 2:13. Desolation. No desolation is like that of decayed luxury. It preaches the nothingness of man, the fruitlessness of his toils, the fleetingness of his hopes and enjoyments. Grass in a court or on a beaten road, much more in a town, speaks of the passing away of what has been; that man, wont to be there, is not there now. It leaves the feeling of void and forsakenness [Pusey].
Zephaniah 2:15. “I am,” &c. Pride will fall. The more selfish and secure in sin, the greater the human shame and the Divine indignation. This was the language of—
1. Pride. Deification of its own might.
2. Selfishness. I alone, and no other that I care for.
3. Defiance. I am, who dare touch me? No security in worldly strength and prosperity.
4. Self-deception. Judgments from God humble the most haughty, and turn the most mirthful into mourning. Thus Divine retribution
“Falls most sure
On wicked men, when they are most secure.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Zephaniah 2:13-15. This doom on Nineveh was carried out to the very letter. It was not simply the largest city of the ancient world. In the mouth of the Hebrew prophets it was the name of a district, 25 miles long, by 15 broad, which included four large cities, besides villages and forts, within its protecting walls. About six centuries B. C., this vast populous district was conquered and destroyed by the Medes (under Cyaxares), and the Chaldeans (under Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar). So complete was the destruction, that with startling abruptness the great city vanished from the face of the earth, and its very ruins were hidden from the eyes of men. In A. D. 1766, Niebuhr, the great historian, stood on the eastern bank, which he took to be acclivities wrought by the hand of nature. It was not till A. D. 1842 that Layard, Rawlinson, and Botta dug into these mounds, exhumed and interpreted the remains which tell the story of the city’s greatness, luxury, and culture with a power beyond that of words [S. Cox].
“I am.” Indulged sin thrives and strengthens in character. Germs of evil gather round the accursed root, until judgments from heaven cut it down.
“When we in our viciousness
Grow hard, the wise gods seal our eyes,
In our own slime drop our clear judgments,
Make us adore our errors, and thus
We strut to our destruction.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Zephaniah 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13