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CRITICAL NOTES.] Woe] to Jerusalem; others, Nineveh. Filthy] From a word, to straighten oneself; hence, to rebel, to be refractory.
Zephaniah 3:2. Voice] In law and prophets. Correction] Instruction with manifold chastisements.
Zephaniah 3:3. Princes] aggravated the evil (cf. Micah 3:0). Lions] tearing the poor (Proverbs 28:15; Ezekiel 19:2 : Nahum 2:12). Wolves] (cf. Habakkuk 1:8): voracious and insatiable, who devour all in the night.
Zephaniah 3:4. Prophets] Light and vainglorious; from a word, to boil over; frivolous in words; brag (Jeremiah 23:32). Priests] desecrate the temple and distort the law; make everything common (Ezekiel 22:26).
THE GUILTY CITY.—Zephaniah 3:1-4
After threatenings denounced against other nations, God speaks to the Church, denounces Jerusalem for the iniquities done by her. Former means were used in vain. Now the last sentence is uttered. A sinful state will bring a woeful doom.
I. Its inhabitants were ungodly. Its citizens were chosen of God to be “a holy people, zealous of good works;” but they were stained with corruption and vice.
1. They were deaf to warning. “She obeyed not the voice” of God in his law and prophets. Remonstrance and appeal were in vain; wise counsel and wholesome reproof were set at nought. “They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.”
2. They refused correction. “She received not correction.” She was neither disciplined by her own, nor the sufferings of others. Humbled by force and not in spirit, men kick and rebel; like an untractable child under the rod, they increase their own chastisement. “Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way.”
3. They hardened themselves in wickedness. Obstinate in sin, they were given up to filthiness and infamy.
(1) They were rebellious. “Woe to her that is refractory (filthy).”
(2) They were defiled. “Polluted” within, notwithstanding ceremonial purity without.
(3) They were oppressive. “The oppressing city.” Rebellion begets inward defilement before God, and cruelty to man. Hence—
(4) They provoked God to anger. “Woe to her!” The infinite patience of God may be exhausted, and he may become weary in correcting for sin. “Why should ye be stricken any more?” (Isaiah 1:5).
II. Its rulers were unjust. The leaders, civil and religious, who should have been a protection and a praise, were cruel and ferocious.
1. The princes were cruel. “Her princes within her are roaring lions.” Terrifying inferiors and devouring the poor who had no helper.
2. The judges were corrupt. “Her judges are evening wolves.” Instead of defending the innocent and redressing the wrong, they were most greedy and rapacious. They were no check to the insolence and rapacity of the nobles; but like wild beasts driven by famine, they left not a bone of their evening prey for the hunger of the morning. “They gnaw not the bones till the morrow.”
3. The prophets were unfaithful. “Her prophets were light and treacherous persons.”
(1) In their words they were light and frivolous, without truth and stability in their teaching. Insolent speech and empty boasting characterized their ministry.
(2) In their life they were treacherous and inconsistent. They evinced not that gravity and humility which become the messengers of God; trifled with most serious subjects; declared their own thoughts to be the truth of God, and apostatized from him to whom they should have witnessed.
3. The priests were polluted. “Her priests have polluted the sanctuary.”
(1) They committed sacrilege; polluted the temple and its services. They encouraged others, in a bold and carnal spirit, to profane that which was holy, and turn to their own use that which should be consecrated to God.
(2) They violated law. “They have done violence to the law.” They openly strained or secretly wrested it in forms of violence. By craft and gloss they perverted its function, and became a type of all who transgress the commandment of God and make it of none effect by their traditions (Matthew 15:6; Matthew 23:23). Thus were all classes of society, high and low, accused of guilt and exposed to judgment. Mere power and outward sanctity will never save a people. They must be under the fear of God, accept his correction, or they will be denounced with woe.
KEEPING FROM GOD.—Zephaniah 3:3
God is the source of our happiness, the satisfaction of our hearts, and the end of our being. What, then, the condition of those who draw not near to God? These words may be said concerning—
I. The wicked generally. Sin separates from God, creates enmity against him. The wicked, through the pride of their countenance, will not seek God. God is not in their thoughts nor supreme in their life. They stand at a distance, will not approach God; but say, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
II. Some afflicted people. Jerusalem was heavily afflicted, but stubborn. The end of affliction is not answered in the case of many. Like Asa, they ask counsel of physicians and not God. They murmur, repine, and rebel against him. They draw not near to God in his providential dealings with them. “It lightens the stroke,” said one, “to draw near to him who handles the rod.” “I would run into the arms of Christ, if he stood with a drawn sword in his hand,” said Luther. “It is good for me to draw near to God.”
III. Some professing Christians. Instead of walking with God, they live afar off. The sanctuary and the prayer-meeting are forsaken, the Bible neglected, and the back is turned from God. In a letter to Matthew Henry, his mother says, “I write a line or two to remind you to keep in with God by solemn, secret daily prayer.”
“The soul in audience with its God is heaven.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 3:1-2. Corruption.
1. Its nature. “Towards God, in herself, towards man, she is wholly turned to evil, not in passing acts but in her abiding state. She is known only by what she has become, and what has been done for her in vain. She is rebellious, and so had had the law; defiled, and so had been cleansed; and therefore her state is the more hopeless” [Pusey].
2. Its source. Contempt of the word. Law and punishment, invitation and promise, failed. “She obeyed not the voice.”
3. Its manifestation. Unbelief in threatenings and promises leads to settled hatred. “If a man despise the word of God, then the next thing is that he refuses all amendment, because he is well pleased with himself, and imagines everything which is in him good. And this is the climax of perversion of the life from God” [Lange].
4. Its consequence. “She drew not near to her God.” No change effected in life and heart. Distance from God not merely as a natural fact, but as a penal consequence. Drew not nigh in repentance, faith, and love; stood away until too late to come. “The way of destruction begins with obstinacy against God,” says one; “then comes pollution by vice; finally, the destruction of conscience, which becomes manifest in open acts of violence and crime.” The fourfold sin. Disobedience, obstinacy, atheism, and final impenitence. Take heed lest any of you “be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
Zephaniah 3:4. Pollution.
1. in the persons;
2. in the things. The priests were polluted themselves, and “made the sacrifices of the Lord to be abhorred.” “Polluted her sanctuary, lit. holiness, and so holy rites, persons (Ezra 8:28), things, places (as the sanctuary), sacrifices. All these they polluted, being themselves polluted—first themselves then the holy things which they handled, handling them as they ought not; carelessly and irreverently, not as ordained by God; turning them to their own use and self-indulgence” [Pusey]. “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 22:26; Malachi 2:8).
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Zephaniah 3:1. Polluted. Sinful corruption is a poison so subtle, that it pierces into all the powers of the soul; so contagions, that it infects all the actions; so obstinate, that only omnipotent grace can heal it [Dr. Bates].
Zephaniah 3:2. Instruction. The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate him. “That it may please thee to give to all thy people increase of grace to hear meekly thy word, to receive it with pure affection, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit” [Litany]. Near to her God. The essence of all wickedness is forsaking God [Nichols].
Zephaniah 3:3. Avarice is insatiable, and is always pushing on for more [L’Estrange].
“Fancy, and pride, seek things at vast expense,
Which relish not to reason, nor to sense.” [Pope.]
Zephaniah 3:4. Treacherous. “There is no love among Christians,” cries the man destitute of true charity. “Zeal has vanished,” exclaims the idle talker. “O for more consistency!” groans out the hypocrite. “We want more vital godliness,” protests the false pretender. As in the old legend, the wolf preached against sheep-stealing, so very many hunt down those sins in others which they gladly shelter in themselves [Spurgeon].
Zephaniah 3:5.] The cause not with God. He is very near, declares his displeasure with sin, and daily brings all things to light. Morning] Lit. in the morning, in the morning. Shame] of penitence and conversion.
Zephaniah 3:6. Cut off] Judgments appealed to as warnings (ch. 2); to consider severity and goodness.
Zephaniah 3:7.] Threatened danger would be averted if the people would turn from evil. But] Instead of repenting, they rose early, became more zealous in wickedness, prepared themselves for it, like parties starting early for a journey. Hence punishment.
GOD’S JUSTICE PROVED TO A GUILTY PEOPLE.—Zephaniah 3:5-6
No argument against the righteousness of God can be presented by those who have been warned, spared, and at last condemned. If iniquity be determined, and the sinner becomes incorrigible, the course of justice is clear. God could not rightly be taxed with injustice in punishing Jerusalem with greater suffering than the offence deserved. This is proved—
I. By God’s holy character. “The just Lord is in the midst thereof.” He is essentially holy, eternally just; the primal law of right to all. He is—
1. Just in himself; and
2. Just to others. “He will not do iniquity.” He is in the midst of men who are polluted and oppressive; reproving wrong, and giving an example of right. Hence, if sinners heed not, God cannot connive at their wickedness, and become as one of themselves (Psalms 50:21). “The Lord is upright, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
II. By God’s righteous administration. God not only dwelt in the temple; but gave clear intimations of duty, bright manifestations of equity, which they heeded not. God’s condemnations of evil practices were—
1. Open. In the day, not in secret.
2. Clear. He brought “his judgment to light.” All secret things, all works of darkness, were exposed and reproved (2 Samuel 12:12).
3. Continual. “Every morning;” morning by morning, day by day, his voice was heard and his judgments conspicuous. “He faileth not” in judgment and mercy; but they knew no shame, were conscious of no sin. “They were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush.”
III. By God’s terrible judgments upon others. “I have cut off the nations,” &c. (Zephaniah 3:6). Judgments upon others had always been set before them as a warning. When about to enter the inheritance (Leviticus 18:24-26; Leviticus 20:23), they were cautioned. When they got possession the ruins of cities were silent preachers of the results of sin (Isaiah 17:9). They had been the instruments of inflicting judgments, and lived in the memories of God’s visitations upon others. Fortified cities had been destroyed, mighty towers levelled to the dust, and nations completely ruined, to admonish them, but all in vains How earnest is God in seeking the sinner, but how terrible the punishment at last! “I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them.”
AGGRAVATIONS OF HUMAN GUILT.—Zephaniah 3:5-7
What aggravated their guilt till it became intolerable, and put them beyond all mercy save the “mercy of judgment,” was—
1. That God had given them a pure law of life, and himself administered it among them. In other cities, such as Gaza or Nineveh, the presence and the law of God were but obscurely revealed. Men were left to grope after the Unknown, if haply they might find him; to infer a spiritual presence from the operation of physical laws; to deduce a Divine rule from the imperfect and confused utterances of reason and conscience. In Jerusalem, God and his will were “set in the light;” the history of the chosen race, the services of the temple, the voices and scriptures of the prophets, the national habits of thought, and manner of life, loudly proclaimed God to be their God. Who should know him if they did not? and who do his will if they disobeyed it? But with so pure light of goodness in their midst, they wrapped themselves in darkness, and hated the light which reproved their deeds. “But the unjust know no shame.”
2. That in the destruction inflicted upon neighbouring kingdoms, he had constantly warned them of the inevitable results of violating that law (Zephaniah 3:6). They had seen race after race cut off, their battlements laid waste, their cities battered down, and their streets reduced to such ruinous desolation that no man dwelt in them, nor so much as passed through them. What were these judgments but the law of God “writ large,” and illustrated so impressively as to arrest the attention of the most heedless, and to rouse a saving fear in the stubborn and impenitent? But even these glaring and portentous illustrations of God’s wrath against sin and all who cleave to it, had been wasted. They were unmoved, or moved only for a moment, under shocks and alarms. Only a judgment more severe than any they had seen or known could constrain them to penitence, through penitence to righteousness, and through righteousness to peace. “The nation that did not turn pale” (ch.Zephaniah 2:1; Zephaniah 2:1).
3. That much as they suffered, they had not accepted correction, nor learned that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Zephaniah 3:7). Not only had they seen “a day of the Lord” darken other lands, and judgments desolate heathen cities. They themselves had been visited with judgment, smitten again and again till the whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint. The whole body politic was bruised, and wounded, and sore. Their whole past history was full of Divine chastenings. What was their meaning? what were they sent to say? “Only fear God, accept correction,” let it produce its natural effect upon you, and all will be right. Corrections were sent to them that their land and city might be spared. But if they be rejected, they harden and deprave. Jerusalem had been content to give the day to disobedience and mutiny. Now as if it were not long enough for the sins they were eager to commit, “they rose up early” in the morning “to corrupt all their doings,” so shameless were they, so incorrigible [Preacher’s Lantern. Vol. II. Adapted].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 3:5. In the midst. God’s presence with an apostate people will not save from wrath, but will bring it nearer to them. “Is not the Lord among us?” was their boast (Micah 3:11). True, he is, but it is for another end from what ye think [Calvin].
He faileth not.
1. In presence;
2. In promise;
3. In help. He continually sets before us examples of judgment and mercy. “He wakeneth morning by morning” (Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 1:4). He does not fail to visit at the time looked for, though he may seem to forbear or linger behind (Habakkuk 2:3).
1. Many in the Church and in the nation acknowledge God, yet sin against the clear light of the Word.
2. When such are mad in their sin and rush to ruin, it is a presage of their destruction when the Word has no influence upon them; a token that judgment must come, notwithstanding warnings, when “the unjust knoweth no shame” [Hutcheson].
1. The chastisement of others is designed to improve us. The design is benevolent; “so their dwelling should not be cut off.” The method is suitable; “howsoever I punished them.” The results are reasonable; “surely thou wilt fear.”
2. If the warning is unheeded we shall ourselves be punished. “No words could be more simple and direct than these; none could state more plainly the merciful and Divine purpose of judgment; the true function of the miseries men are called to endure. These judgments and miseries come to teach us the fear of the Lord; that is, to save us from all fear. So soon as we accept them as corrections of our sins, their end is answered; henceforth there is no anger in them, no injurious pain, but only a Divine love and goodwill. And if no statement of the meaning and function of suffering can be more plain than this, surely none can be more consolatory. For, according to Zephaniah, it comes only for our good, for our highest good; to teach us the true wisdom, and to make us perfect. When once we ‘accept’ it, its end being reached, there is no reason why it should not either pass away or be changed into the stay and stimulus of our life.”
Long unaffected, undismayed,
In pleasure’s path secure I stray’d
Thou mad’st me feel thy chast’ning rod,
And straight I turn’d unto my God.
Instruction.—Other men’s woes should be our warnings; others’ sufferings our sermons; others’ lashes our lessons; God’s house of correction, a school of instruction where we should hear and fear, and do no more so (Deuteronomy 17:13). He that trembleth not in hearing, shall be crushed to pieces in feeling, said that martyr [Trapp].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Zephaniah 3:5. Just. If there be one truth that speaks throughout the Bible like the voice of God, and resounds with all the grandeur of the Divine intonation, it is the truth that God does not look with an equal eye upon the evil and the good, that He is a discriminator of character, a lover of that which is right, and a hater of that which is wrong [H. W. Beecher].
Zephaniah 3:6-7. The desolation is complete, within as well as without; ruin itself is hardly so desolate as the empty habitations and forsaken streets, once full of life, where
“The echoes and the empty tread
Would sound like voices from the dead.” [Pusey.]
Zephaniah 3:8. Wait] The prophecy returns to its starting-point in Zephaniah 3:2-3, to bring it to a close [Keil], Prey] (cf. Genesis 49:27; Isaiah 33:23). Determination] is fixed, or my right or justice to do this (Zephaniah 3:5). “My justice, i.e. the justice which I shall bring to the light, consists in the fact that I pour my fury upon all nations, to exterminate the wicked by judgments, and to convert the penitent to myself, and prepare myself worshippers out of all nations” [Keil]. Gather] To sift and convert them by judgments.
THE WAITING ATTITUDE OF GOD’S PEOPLE IN TIMES OF TROUBLE.—Zephaniah 3:8
The prophecy now returns to its starting-point. The faithful are called upon to wait upon God, as formerly they were exhorted to repentance (ch. Zephaniah 2:3). Judgments had thundered forth in terror, the impenitent were to be swept away, and the fire of Divine wrath to consume the whole earth. But after the storm comes a calm. Consolation is given in calamity. The judgments upon the enemies will issue in the salvation of the sons of Israel, the purification of the earth, and the glory of the Lord. Good, not evil, will spring out of present trials. “Therefore wait” a little longer, the day will surely come. God’s people must hope in him.
I. The basis of hope. “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord.” Salvation could not come from the people, even of favoured Israel, who had corrupted themselves. Princes plundered, and judges bribed, to get wealth; prophets deceived, and priests consecrated themselves to idols. There was no hope in the government nor in the priesthood. All were silent and all were guilty. Law makes nothing perfect, Christ alone brings in a better hope.
II. The discouragements of hope. Sad must have been the heart of God’s people under their oppression. Many things would tend to weaken their faith in God.
1. Inward decay. Leaders became unfaithful. When those upon whom we depend for help, and who should be examples of virtue, become faithless, we doubt all men and call them liars (Psalms 116:11).
2. Foreign invasion. The enemies came, like wave after wave, and swept the land. The innocent suffered with the guilty, and none escaped.
3. Long delay of help. How can God be holy, when vice unfolds itself and pollutes the whole nation? How can God be kind, when the righteous are overwhelmed with the wicked? Where is God’s providence in punishing the evil and rewarding the good? Disappointment and dejection seize the mind, and we forget to wait upon God. It is not the intenseness, but the length of trials, which test our patience. “The patience of hope,” says one, “will end” in the full assurance of hope—
“Our lives, discolour’d with our present woes,
May still grow white, and smile with happier hours” [Addison].
III. The rewards of hope. Wait for me, the day is at hand; I will seize my prey, and accomplish my purpose (Zephaniah 3:9-20).
1. The enemy would be subdued. Gathered together for cruel ends, God would snatch the prey out of their mouth, and crush their opposition.
2. They would be sheltered in the day of wrath. God not only overthrows hostility to his people in its powerful juncture of circumstances, but makes a complete destruction of heathenism and a full salvation to his chosen.
3. A purified earth would be created. The earth would be consumed with the fire of insulted love, and out of it would spring a new order of things. Christendom will yet become pure in life, united in effort, and all “with one mind and one mouth shall glorify God” (Romans 15:6).
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 3:8. Prey. Divine justice, like eagles, ready to fall upon the prey, the carcase of corruption (Matthew 24:28). Taking prey as booty, we have the picture of the warrior leading to victory. Hence—
1. Danger from sin and enemies.
2. Divine power in deliverance. “Through the judgment Jehovah obtains from among the nations those who will confess his name, so that the souls from among the nations which desire salvation fall to Him as prey (cf. Isaiah 53:12, with Isaiah 52:15, and Isaiah 49:7)” [Keil].
Fierce anger, or God’s judgments, a fire.
1. To consume; or—
2. To cleanse. The wicked are exterminated, the penitent are converted, and worshippers are prepared out of all nations. “In the first place, there is a work of judgment, as purifying, struggling, and demolishing to the last. In the second place, there is a work of salvation, a new-creating work, so that the same history is presented as a progressive communication of the Divine life-germ, advancing to the complete re-creation of that which has become corrupt by sin. These views cannot be separated; each receives its internal form by the irradiating lines of the other” [Lange].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Zephaniah 3:8. The terrors of the Lord are great, but they do not exercise supreme sway in a human heart, and lead all its affections whithersoever they will. His anger is not a ruling, leading, drawing power. It is mighty, but not to save [W. Arnot].
Zephaniah 3:9. For] The reason for judgment, lip purity of language, “effusions of devotion,” springing from renewed hearts. Consent] Shoulder; a metaphor from burden-bearers with even shoulders (Jeremiah 32:39); one accord, i.e. unanimity.
Zephaniah 3:10. From] most distant countries Jews will be presented to God by converted Gentiles as a meat-offering (cf. Isaiah 66:20). Rejected Israelites will be benefited by Gentiles entering into the kingdom of God.
Zephaniah 3:11. Ashamed] All cause for shame removed. They will be sanctified and restored to favour. Pride] Haughty princes and priests, who exult in sin, taken away. Mountain] The city or temple of which they boasted.
Zephaniah 3:12.] Those spared in judgment and gathered together. Afflicted] Bowed down, oppressed with feeling of impotence for good, opposite of pride, and trusting in self—“a humble and lowly people” [Newe.]
Zephaniah 3:13. This remnant] will be a boly nation (Exodus 19:6); without injustice in life and deceit in word. Feed] in peace, undisturbed by foreign foes or unjust rulers. “This blessing is still further developed in what follows; first of all, by reference to the removal of the judgments of God (Zephaniah 3:14-17), and secondly, by the promise of God that all the obstacles which prevent the enjoyment of the blessing are to be cleared away “[Keil].
THE GATHERING OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.—Zephaniah 3:9-10
In judgment God dispersed his ancient people, but they shall be restored with the Gentiles to God again. The heathens shall be converted, and be the means of turning the scattered nation to Jehovah. God will gather from all parts a people pure in life and united in service.
I. The Gentiles shall be gathered together. “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia;” Abyssinia and neighbouring nations shall be converted. From the utmost bound of the known world shall people come The dispersed, the outcasts of spiritual Israel, shall be gathered from every region. With the restoration of the Jews shall “the fulness of the Gentiles” come. “That also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”
II. The Gentiles shall be holy in their life.
1. Pure in their language. “Then will I turn to the people a pure language.” The confusion of tongues was the punishment of sin; but lips once polluted with idolatry and blasphemy, shall be purified by the Spirit of God. A pure language indicates a pure life. The mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart. The lip was created by God, and should be used for his service and glory. A pure heart refines character and conversation, pours grace into the lips, and cleanses them from falsehood and profanity. “He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.”
2. Sincere in their worship. “My suppliants shall bring mine offering.” Converted Gentiles will not only bring devout Jews as an offering to God (cf. Isaiah 66:20); but they will present themselves in humility and acceptance (Romans 15:16). No longer defiled by invocations and foul strains to idols, they will “all call upon the name of the Lord.” “For, from the rising of the sun to 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.”
3. United in their service. “Serve him with one consent.” Saved by judgments, the nations shall be sanctified in speech, and one in effort. They shall bear the burden without strain or distress, walk step by step and work shoulder to shoulder in the cause of God. Christendom shall yet be purged from bigotry and sectarianism. There shall be a return to the simplicity and union in Christ. The Gospel shall dislodge idolatry and anti-Christian systems. Nations shall walk together—the Jew and the Greek, the Barbarian and the Scythian—side by side, shoulder to shoulder, bearing the conquests of the cross. Thus, on earth we may anticipate the joys, and hear the songs, of heaven (Revelation 7:10; Revelation 7:12; Revelation 11:15). “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them and of their children after them.”
BEARING THE BURDEN WITH ONE CONSENT.—Zephaniah 3:9
The law of God is a burden. Man can only bear it without strain and distress as each freely assumes it, and as all help to bear it, by walking in willing and happy consent of obedience. To induce a free and universal obedience, men are judged and corrected of the Lord. The metaphor, therefore, suggests three main thoughts—
1. That the law of God is a burden which men are reluctant to assume. To our selfwill it is always hard to submit to the purest and tenderest will, even to the Divine Will, which moves in the light of eternal wisdom, and at the impulse of perfect love. Christ admits obedience to be a yoke to our unruly passions, a burden to our stubborn necks (Matthew 11:28-30). When we delight in his law after the inward man, we find another law in our members warring against the law of our mind, and bringing us into the captivity of sin (Romans 7:21-23). We can only enter into rest as we get unity and freedom in our life, and we willingly submit to a higher will than our own.
2. That we can only attain this freedom as, with cheerful and enforced accord, we assume the burden of the Divine law, and do the will of God. Self-will makes us hateful to ourselves and to others; incapacitates for social and spiritual life. Follow your own will, you become a burden to yourself and all about you. Voluntarily curtail your own liberty, then you have true liberty. Set yourself against the world, you will find that the world has a stronger will than you have. We must take up some burden, and submit to some law. No law is so good, no burden so light, as the good will of God. This will rules in human affairs. It is wise to make it our law—not merely yield to it, but cheerfully adopt and love it, and walk in liberty. Love makes all burdens light. When we love God, his will grows beautiful to us, and preferable to our own. Because we bear the yoke we find rest; because we keep the commandment we walk at large (Psalms 119:45). We are free because we obey. But are we happy because we are free.
3. That the happiness of obedience depends on the unanimity and the universality of obedience. Only when all men serve God with one shoulder the sense of strain and distress will pass from us. To love God is to love man. Till they share our freedom, it cannot be a happy freedom. Till they love him and do his will, they will put many hindrances and temptations in our way which make obedience hard and painful. If they do not take their full share in bearing the burden, it will press unduly upon our shoulders. If some are morally taller and others morally shorter, men do not keep step. Only when the whole world stands under the Divine burden with one shoulder, and moves with one step, will our freedom be a happy freedom, and God’s statutes become our songs. Seeing how men suffer from the sins of men, and nations from the sins of nations, we may well long and pray for the time when all men shall speak with a pure lip and serve with a single shoulder [Preacher’s Lantern, vol. II].
THE RESTORED REMNANT.—Zephaniah 3:11-13
In these verses the prophet pictures the happy characteristics and condition of restored Israel These qualities are common to God’s people in all ages and countries. Notice—
I. Their spiritual character.
1. They are few in number. “The remnant of Israel.” Small compared with the whole, yet precious in the sight of God—increasing, and will increase.
2. They are humble in spirit. “An afflicted and poor people.” Poor in spirit, and conscious of no desert. Realizing life, growth, and strength only from God.
3. They are dependent upon God. Feeling themselves unworthy, they naturally “trust in the name of the Lord.”
4. They are upright in conduct.
(1) They do no iniquity.
(2) They speak no lies. They worship God in truth, and love man in sincerity. They are Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile. Born of God, they sin not (1 John 3:9) in word or deed. Where true faith exists, holy life will follow.
II. Their blessed condition. They are completely restored to holiness, sit in the centre of a regenerated world, in the special presence and under the constant care of Jehovah.
1. They are cleansed from shame for sin. “In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for thy doings.” The disgrace of rebellion shall be wiped away. Remembrance of sin and failure may cause penitence—long after sin is renounced and forgiven we feel humble—but the guilt and reproach of sin shall not remain.
2. They are delivered from spiritual pride. The spirit of the Pharisee, the vain confidence which they had in the temple, and the pride of descent from Abraham, shall be taken away.
3. They are redeemed from proud oppressors. “I will take away out of the midst of thee, them that rejoice in thy pride.” The meek and lowly will be left. The haughty judge and the proud sinners will be exterminated. Priests or prophets who exult in sinful ways will be cut off.
4. They are specially protected by God. (a) Delivered from fear. “None shall make them afraid.” No foreign foe nor native prince—no “treacherous” prophet, nor “violent” and “polluting” priest, can touch them (Zephaniah 3:4). They are beyond all harm and fear. (b) Blessed with peace. As God’s sheep they “shall feed” in green pastures—“he down” to rest in perpetual enjoyment (Micah 7:14), and dwell in God’s presence without fear (Leviticus 26:6). “I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God.”
THE TRUE ISRAELITE.—Zephaniah 3:13
Of the subjects of Divine grace here mentioned, notice: Their number; “a remnant.” Strait is the gate, and narrow the way, that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it. Yet God has always had a people for his Name—never left himself without a witness, and this has been our case as a nation; for, “except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom,” &c. Though “a little flock” in a large field, “a garden” in a vast wilderness, yet “he shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” Their sanctity. “They shall not do iniquity.” Take this with some restriction. “There is not on earth a just man that doeth good and sinneth not.” But they are not “workers of iniquity,” and “evil-doers.” Sin does not reign in them. They hate every false way, and esteem all his commandments concerning all things to be right. He that has “true holiness” cannot be satisfied without perfect holiness. He therefore prays to be sanctified in body, soul, and spirit. Their sincerity. “They shall not speak lies,” &c. A part is put for the whole, and the quality of speech expresses the inward temper of their minds. Everything is a lie religiously that does not accord with the state of the heart. Only an upright spirit can maintain a deceitless tongue before God. Christians are not mere pretenders; a painted sepulchre, fair without, and rottenness within. Not mere actors on a stage, but are really what they appear to be. Their integrity is specially known by their fear of self-deception. They come to the light, examine themselves by the Word, and implore the inspection of God himself: “Search me, O God.” Their privileges. Their blessedness is expressed pastorally, and includes three things. First, pasture: they shall “feed.” As new creatures their food is intellectual and spiritual; found in the ordinances of religion, and with the Saviour himself. Secondly, repose: and shall “lie down.” In an eastern climate, in a warm sun, how desirable would rest be! Hence the Church says, Tell me, not only where thou feedest, but “where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon.” Thirdly, security: “and none shall make them afraid.” Sheep are the most timid of all animals, every appearance and movement alarms them. But the righteous should be bold as a lion; their duty requires it, and their principles justify it. God has amply provided for their confidence. When they believe it, they can be in quiet from the fear of evil, “dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods” [W. Jay].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 3:11. Haughty because of holy mountain. Pride in outward privileges.
1. A sin against God who gave them.
2. A danger, because robbing of enjoyment, and exposing to judgment. “That haughtiness is most offensive to God, which is supported and fed by the pretensions of holiness.” If pride be “the last infirmity of noble minds,” “is not spiritual pride the last infirmity of religious minds? When the Jew shall no longer boast himself in Jerusalem and the temple; when there shall not be a single sectarian left to pride himself in his exclusive possession of some spiritual gift, or on his singular fidelity to some neglected truth; when every man shall hold all he has in trust for his brethren, call nothing his own, and value all gifts in proportion as they are common to all; when this catholic charity is the animating, all-pervading spirit of the Church of God, will the millennium be far off? or Heaven itself?” [S. Cox].
Zephaniah 3:12. It is painful to the human heart, that it must first become completely poor and humble before it learns to trust entirely in the living God. This is the reason that the hearts rich in the opinion of the world are richest in dead idols [Lange].
Zephaniah 3:12-13. The glory of the Christian Church. Not in outward splendour; for they are often few, poor, and afflicted, but in holy life, exalted worship, and Divine protection. Feed: Shall have all that heart can wish or need require plenty, safety, security [Trapp].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Zephaniah 3:9; Zephaniah 3:13. Language. Speech is the perfect expression of the senses. Words are but the representations of the disintegrated body of man [Oken]. Christ became the one language of the whole world [Jerome]. Deceitful tongue (Zephaniah 3:13). They employ words but to disguise their thoughts [Voltaire].
Zephaniah 3:14.] Fulness of joy indicated by repetition of words.
Zephaniah 3:15.] The reasons given for exultation. Evil removed, enemies destroyed, full enjoyment of God’s presence.
Zephaniah 3:16.] Therefore no cause for fear, but reason for diligence. Slack] Faint not (Hebrews 12:12) through alarm and anxiety (Isaiah 13:7).
Zephaniah 3:17.] Jehovah within is mighty to help and save, and rejoices over his rescued people (Isaiah 62:5; Isaiah 65:19). Rest] Be silent in his love; love deeply felt and absorbed in its objects. “As a man caresses his dearest wife, so will God then quietly repose in thy love” [Calvin]. To be silent, not to speak, is here very appropriately employed to express the non-remembrance of iniquity [Hend.].
THE JOY OF THE REDEEMED.—Zephaniah 3:14-17
These words are a call to the converted Israelites, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to exult in their distinguished blessings. The prophet seems to be in a transport of joy himself, as he adds word to word, and epithet to epithet, in tender feelings. Three designations are given: “Daughter of Zion,” “Israel,” and “daughter of Jerusalem.” The wonders of “that day” are great, and the source of exultant joy to all who see them. The causes of this joy are distinctly pointed out.
I. Judgments are removed. “The Lord hath taken away thy judgments.” Israel was chastised in mercy, but God forgave her sins, and took away her judgments. Christians are freed from condemnation by the law, and rejoice in hope of salvation. When sin is pardoned, the consequences of sin are removed. When the cause is destroyed the effects will cease; happiness follows the way of holiness.
II. Enemies are subdued. “He hath cast out (lit. cleared quite away) thine enemy.” This is a type of the destruction of antichrist, the casting out of the prince of this world (Matthew 12:31), and the overthrow of all opposition. Delivered from all enemies, God’s people will serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all their days (Luke 1:74-75).
III. God is enthroned in their midst. “Even the Lord is in the midst of thee.” God seemed to desert them for a time, but now returns to a purified temple. As King of Israel he sits enthroned in mercy to receive the homage of a grateful nation. He dwells in the Church, and will be with his people to the end of time.
1. To deliver them from evil. “Thou shalt not see evil any more.”
2. To strengthen their hearts. They will neither be weary nor faint in God’s service. Saving health will be imparted, timidity shall be overcome, and men will admire their courage.
3. To rejoice over them with sacred joy. “He will rejoice over thee with joy.” With a bridegroom’s joy will God “rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in his people” (Isaiah 65:19; Isaiah 62:5). But man’s love is only a faint shadow of God’s love. Love in twofold aspects—in its silence and exultation—represents God’s satisfaction and joy in his people. He exults over and takes pleasure in those that fear him. Rejoicing now is only the first-fruits. Those who weep by the rivers of Babylon will sing in the new Jerusalem: “Sing, (O daughter of Zion), shout, (O Israel), be glad, and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Zephaniah 3:14. Whether the Church or the faithful soul—she is summoned by all her names—called to the fullest joy in God, with every expression, and every feeling. Sing; it is the inarticulate, thrilling, trembling burst of joy: shout; again the inarticulate, yet louder, swell of joy; a trumpet-blast: and then, too, deep within; be glad, the calm inward joy of the soul; exult, the triumph of the soul which cannot contain itself for joy; and this, with the whole heart, no corner of it not pervaded with joy. The ground of this is the complete removal of every evil, and the full presence of God [Pusey].
Zephaniah 3:15-17. Very remarkable is the use of the sacred number three in these verses. Threefold is the description of their being freed from sins:
(1) They shall not do iniquity;
(2) nor speak lies;
(3) neither shall a deceitful tongue be in their mouth. Threefold their blessedness: They shall
(2) lie down;
(3) none make them afraid. Threefold the exhortation to joy: sing, to God the Father; shout, to God the Son; be glad and rejoice, in God the Holy Ghost. The promise is threefold:
(1) Thou shalt not see evil any more;
(2) fear thou not;
(3) let not thine hands be slack. The love of God is threefold:
(1) He will rejoice over thee with joy;
(2) He will rest in his love;
(3) He will joy over thee with singing [Pusey].
Zephaniah 3:17. God in the midst.
1. God near. In his works, but specially present with his saints.
2. God mighty. Mighty to comfort, sustain, and defend.
3. God will save. He is willing, bound by promise, oath, and blood.
4. But is he thy God? Thine by promise, covenant, and actual possession.
“How happy, then, are they to whom
The Lord our God is known;
Whom he, from all the world besides,
Has chosen for his own!”
He will rejoice over thee. The satisfaction here implied is the Saviour’s own joy arising out of the salvation of his people. First, we may view this joy as the result of success. Secondly, as a manifestation of benevolence. Thirdly, as indicative of the delight and complacency with which he regards his people. The Saviour’s joy over, and in, his people is the sinner’s hope. Lastly, the Saviour’s joy is the saint’s example. He was infinitely more than an example, and nothing less. If we depend upon him, we must resemble him [Jay].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Zephaniah 3:14-15. Sing. Thy words have darted hope into my soul, and comfort dawns upon me [Southern].
“Joy is our duty, glory, health,
The sunshine of the soul;
Our best encomium on the Power
Who sweetly plans the whole” [Young].
Zephaniah 3:18.] Those who pined in distance at the time of festivities, shall be gathered together. Of thee] The people are of thy origin and descent (Isaiah 58:12; Ezra 2:59; Psalms 68:27). Reproach] Presses upon them as a burden [cf. Lange].
Zephaniah 3:19. Undo] Lit. I will deal with all oppressors; heal the limping. Her that halteth] Weakness no barrier to restoration; gather together the dispersed, and will get] Lit. make them a praise and fame in lands where they have been reproached.
Zephaniah 3:20. Captivity] Lit. captivities of every age and kind shall end. God will lead them, finish the work begun, and, incredible as it may appear, their glorification shall be seen with their own eyes (Luke 24:41).
MOURNING FOR THE SOLEMN ASSEMBLY.—Zephaniah 3:18
The prophet concludes with the promise that all the dispersed—all who mourn because they do not share the joy of festal meetings in the temple—shall be restored to ancient privileges, and gathered into one fold. We have not to sorrow because deprived of Christian ordinances. Our temples stand, our Sabbaths are not taken away, yet there is reason to mourn for the condition of Zion.
I. Mourn when deprived of personal attendance. Domestic affliction, accidents, and trials may detain from its solemnities. Then the soul is cast down within us. God thus teaches us to value the means more highly, quickens our relish for the provisions of his house, and draws us nearer to himself. “When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalms 42:2).
II. Mourn when neglected by others. Many entirely forsake the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:25). They do not see the utility and necessity of public worship. Others are kept away by most trifling excuses. In vain are all pretences to religion if the means of grace have no attraction. Resolve with Nehemiah and his friends, “We will not forsake the house of our God.”
III. Mourn when dishonoured by its attendants. It is dishonoured by a worldly spirit. Many have no serious heart in worship. “If familiarity does not breed contempt,” says one, “it must always tend to reduce veneration.” “In thy fear will I worship towards thy holy temple.”
2. It is dishonoured by inconsistent conduct. The apostasies, backslidings, and disgraceful conduct of professors bring reproach upon the house and the people of God. The enemies blaspheme, the way of truth is evil spoken of, and the Redeemer is wounded in the house of his friends. God’s people bear the reproach, and grieve at the dishonour cast upon solemn assemblies. To them, this “is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.”
IV. Mourn for its lack of spiritual prosperity. Its members lack fervour and power. They are faithless, unhappily divided, and do not heartily work together. Its agencies are few, and fail in their design. Sinners are not converted to God, and the world is prejudiced against Christianity. When the ways of Zion mourn, the sons of Zion are sorrowful also. God will not forget their distress, but gather them
(1) to feasts on earth, and
(2) to the assembly in heaven. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee.”
THE WONDERFUL RESTORATION.—Zephaniah 3:19-20
God confirms his promise of restoration by removing all impediments. The prophecy closes with the final reversal of all which in this imperfect state of things seems turned upside down, when those who now mourn shall be comforted, they who now bear reproach and shame shall have glory, and those who now afflict the people of God shall be undone [Pusey].
I. A restoration glorious in its character. It will be a most signal day for Israel. What they could not do for themselves God will do for them.
1. It will be Divinely performed. “At that time will I bring—I gather you—I turn back,” &c. God manifests his interest in his people, and the greatest difficulties should not lead us to doubt the certainty of the promise.
2. It will be completely performed. God will bring home all banished ones, and recover all captives. (a) All infirmities within shall be healed. Their weakness and unworthiness only sets forth the freeness and fulness of Divine love. “Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:22). (b) All dangers without shall be removed. The enemies will be repressed and rooted up, judged by God, to prepare for the restoration of Israel (Isaiah 66:15-16). Dignity for disgrace, mercy for misery, and honour for insult. In every land where they have been reproached shall they be praised by the foe. They will then be “high above all nations which he hath made in praise, and in name, and in honour,” &c. (Deuteronomy 26:19; Deuteronomy 30:3).
3. It will be visibly performed. “Before your eyes, saith the Lord.” However incredible, it shall be quite obvious to the sense. The testimony of the senses shall convince you. Believers will see the end of all their sufferings, realize all their hopes, and soon partake of the fulness of their redemption.
II. A restoration certain in its accomplishment. The promise is repeated to make the assurance greater. One act of God makes way for another. When he begins he will finish his work.
1. Unimpeded by outward enemies. “I will undo all that afflict thee.” God may be silent, but will not always sit still. He will deal with all according to their deserts.
2. Unimpeded by internal weakness. None can detain them in bondage. All difficulties will be easily surmounted. (a) The weak shall be strengthened. “I will save her that halteth. (b) The outcast shall be restored. “And gather her that was driven out.” (c) The captives shall be recovered. “When I turn back your captivity.” What a sublime prospect to God’s people! They shall be redeemed from oppression, called together from the utmost ends of the earth—the maimed and the halt, the peasant and the priest—to be owned, guided, and fixed in their kingdom. Jew and Gentile, Barbarian and Scythian, shall become one fold, become the praise of the earth, and the glory of the universe. “At that time,” the Christian Church will be a type of the Church of the first-born, which in the great day will be admired and glorified in Christ, and he in them. Then his kingdom will be established and perfected in the new Jerusalem. And the “redeemed out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” shall become kings and priests to God.
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 3:20. The period of restoration distinctly prominent by pointed reference. The manner also remarkable. “I will bring you in.” I will lead you like a shepherd going before his flock, and gather you in due season, like the shepherd putting his flock into the fold. “For even these weak and helpless ones, who limp, and are burdened, and have been dispersed, are of the flock of the Lord, and will experience the faithful tender care of the Great Shepherd and Bishop of souls.” “That time is the whole time of the gospel; the one day of salvation, in which all who shall ever be gathered, shall be brought into the New Jerusalem. The words were fulfilled, when at our Lord’s first coming the remnant of the true Israel, those ordained to eternal life, were brought in. It shall be fulfilled again, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:25-26). It shall most perfectly be fulfilled at the end, when there shall be no going out of those once brought in, and those who have gathered others into the Church shall be a name and a praise among all people of the earth” [Pusey].
Your captivity, lit. captivities of different ages and countries in Jewish and gospel history. “All personal and social captivities will be turned back like a stream. ‘Turn our captivity, O Lord, as the rivers of the south’ (Psalms 126:5); they will all flow into the Church of Christ. (See Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). ‘All nations shall flow into it’ ” [Wordsworth].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Zephaniah 3:18-20. So with this scene of quiet pastoral felicity the poem closes; and Zephaniah, whose earlier words seemed to bespeak a veritable “son of thunder,” proves himself to be a true “son of consolation,” even as the judgment he was sent to denounce proves to be an act of sovereign and Divine mercy. Harsh and severe in husk, in outward seeming, its heart is “made of tenderness.” It is like one of those fairy nuts in which, when they could be broken, there were found lustrous gems of price [S. Cox].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Zephaniah 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28