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Zephaniah 1:2. Consume] From root; to destroy, utterly to sweep away (cf. Jeremiah 8:13) everything (Zephaniah 1:3). “The enumeration of particulars is designed to augment the fearful and universal character of the punishment” [Henderson]. Causes, idols, which made them offend or stumble (Ezekiel 14:3-4; Ezekiel 14:7).
THE DESTRUCTIVE JUDGMENTS.—Zephaniah 1:2-3
The people had been formerly warned, but heeded not; now threatenings are executed. Destruction, like another deluge, is to sweep the whole earth.
I. The universality of the judgments. The judgment of Judah is preceded by one upon all nations. The prophet was not of a selfish and bigoted spirit. He concerned himself with the fate of heathen countries, and proved that the destiny of the world was linked with that of the chosen people. As the result of judgment, nations will be converted to God (ch. Zephaniah 3:9), and the world renewed and glorified.
II. The severity of the judgments. Everything is specified and paired, like the threat of old (Genesis 6:7). The calamity will be as terrible as the flood.
1. Inferior creatures destroyed. “The fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea.”
2. Human beings destroyed. “I will consume men.” Man is the lord, not the helpless victim, of nature. All things are put under his feet, suffer for his guilt, and share his fate. “All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea.” Dumb brutes cry out against human guilt. We should learn God’s displeasure against sin when we see innocent creatures suffer for it.
III. The design of the judgments. Joel (Joel 2:12-14) and Zephaniah were deeply convinced that all sorrows and calamities were disciplinary—that judgments were mixed with mercy, and designed to purify human life. God afflicts men to restore their souls. The wicked are swept away, and their offences with them. Sad when life itself must be taken away to cleanse it from corruption and guilt. But nations have thus been purified from idolatry and oppression, and thus will it be at the last day, when the Son of Man “shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 1:1. The prophet’s employment. To declare God’s word, reprove sin, and reform society.
2. The prophet’s authority. The word came directly from God. His doctrine not devised by men, but received by inspiration.
3. The prophet’s age. “In the days of Josiah, king of Judah.” In times of general defection, God’s mercy is so great, that means are multiplied to reclaim men from sin. “Not many noble,” but some are called to this work. Here we have a king, and the son of a king, engaged in the service of God.
Zephaniah 1:2. I will utterly consume. A tragical beginning of a terrible sermon. Hard knots must have hard wedges; hard hearts, heavy menaces. The doubling of the denunciation, collingendo colligam, importeth the certainty, verity, and vehemency thereof [Trapp].
Zephaniah 1:2-3. “The besom of destruction” (Isaiah 14:23) and the terrible sweep it makes; man and beast. Corruption and destruction, or the indissoluble link.
Zephaniah 1:3. Wicked with their offences. Wickedness, corrupting the earth—entailing suffering on the brute creation—necessitating Divine interference, and displaying Divine love. “I beheld, and lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled” (Jeremiah 4:25; cf. Jeremiah 12:4). “As God’s acts of deliverance are connected in time with his acts of judgment (since his judgments are ever separations of the godly from the ungodly, and in this sense, salvations and deliverances), so also are the revelations of judgment at the same time revelations of deliverance, and the faith of the elect, which corresponds to them, is, at the same time, both a faith in judgment and a faith in salvation” [Lange].
“O God! thy arm was here,
And not to us, but to thy arm alone
Ascribe we all” [Shakspeare].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Zephaniah 1:1-3. Consume. The wrath of God is truly the terriblest thing in this world—the sting of sin, which is the sting of death. Alas! to us, God’s wrath doth not appear in its full horror; for if it did, we should sooner die than offend him. Some do but think of it; few think of it as they should; and they that are most apprehensive look upon it as at a distance, as that which may be turned away; and so, not fearing God’s wrath, “treasure up wrath against the day of wrath” [Farindon].
Zephaniah 1:4.] Judgment, especially upon Judah. Stretch] Not only threaten, but exert power to injury. Remnant] Statues, images dedicated to Baal, domestic and tutelary god of the Phœnicians.
Zephaniah 1:5.] The people now denounced for star-worship and incense-burning upon the flat roofs of houses (cf. Jeremiah 19:13; 2 Kings 23:12); for combining the worship of God with idolatry. Swear] Acknowledge in public, solemn manner; openly to pledge one’s service (2 Chronicles 15:14).
Zephaniah 1:6.] Two further classes mentioned—those who entirely apostate, and those who are indifferent.
JUDGMENT AT THE HOUSE OF GOD.—Zephaniah 1:4-6
The prophet now declares upon whom the sore desolation must come. Even Judah, where God is known, and Jerusalem, the holy city, must suffer. Those most exalted are most responsible, and those who sin against greater privileges will be most signally punished. Judgment must begin at the house of God. Six classes are singled out for judgment.
I. Idolatrous priests destroyed. Two kinds are specified.
1. Inferior priests. “The Chemarims,” priests ordained by the kings of Judah to minister at high places, or at the altar of Jehovah, with alien and impure rites (cf. 2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5). “In either case,” says one, “they were renegades from the national faith; miscreants, who, to earn a loaf of bread or to win the favour of the court, were prepared to stand at any altar and administer any ritual.”
2. Superior priests. “The Chemarims with the priests.” Those of the family of Aaron, Levitical priests, who have apostatized to idolatry. Such ministers are not worthy of the name and office of priest. Corrupt in doctrine, flagrant in practice, their very name shall be blotted out of existence. Ministers who pervert the national faith, and sell their birthright to gain the favour of the world, will suffer awful punishment. “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land, the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule at their hands.”
II. Idolatrous people destroyed. Corrupt priests influence the people. From the ministers the judgments pass to the people. Three classes are pointed out.
1. Open idolaters. These blended the worship of Baal (sun) and Astarte (moon) with Sabæism or pure star-worship. The stars were thought to be originators of all growth and decay in nature, and rulers of all sublunary events (2 Kings 21:3). The housetop was chosen for secrecy, or to obtain fuller views of the heavenly bodies. This custom was (a) prevalent, and (b) popular. Public idolatry was individualized and adopted, family by family. From house to house, from street to street, incense burned and homage rendered to the queen of heaven. “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto other gods.”
2. Time-servers. “Them that swear by the Lord, and by Malcham.” They swore allegiance to God, but lived to Moloch or Baal as their king. To the service of Jehovah they joined that of idols, and sought to be on good terms with both. One of our own poets stigmatizes them, “as willing to serve God, so that they did not offend the devil.” They thought Jehovah the true God, but yielded to the fashion and adopted the religion of the day. Principle had no hold upon them, and reproach was endured for present advantage. “Will ye steal, swear falsely, and burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods, and come and stand before me in this house; which is called by my name” (Jeremiah 7:8-10; Jeremiah 5:7).
3. Religiously indifferent. “Returning behind Jehovah, drawing back from him, turning the back upon God, is just the same as not seeking Jehovah, or not inquiring after him. The persons referred to are the religiously indifferent, those who do not trouble themselves about God, the despisers of God” [Keil]. Notice the steps of this departure. They do not want God, and therefore do not seek him. They fear his presence might embarrass them, and therefore forget him as much as they can. Then they cast him behind them, abstain from all worship, and renounce every custom that would bring him to their minds. “Thou hast forsaken me, saith the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee.”
FOUR CLASSES OF UNGODLY MEN.—Zephaniah 1:5-6
I. The worshippers of nature. When men see beauty in creatures, and derive advantage from them, their hearts dote upon them, and are drawn from God. Men adore nature, and forget nature’s God. A specious and plausible idolatry abounds in our day. To honour a star is quite as offensive to God as to honour a stone. To worship the splendours of heaven or the wealth of earth; to love self, family, or business more than God is “to change the truth of God into a lie, and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”
“They trifle with the truth, until, at last,
Delusions strong as hell shall bind them fast” [Cowper].
II. The half-hearted in religion. By acts of solemn profession they worship God, and then try to serve the world. They pledge themselves first to one and then the other, and try to serve two masters. This is morally impossible. The affections cannot be divided. One only can be our master, call him Baal, Moloch, or Christ. All men are made to serve something. The choice lies between Christ and the world. Compromise and neutrality are impossible. “How long halt ye between two opinions?”
III. The backsliders from God. This class is too common. Many once started well, were firm in purpose, and kept their face Zionwards, but have ceased to follow after, and utterly forsaken the Lord. To go back from God is virtually to join the enemy. “He that is not with me is against me.” Wandering is the natural tendency of man; but to wander out of the way of understanding, amid light, conviction, and privileges, awfully aggravates the sin. Watch the first step in feeling and practice, lest it fix you in a state of apostasy among “the mighty dead.” Backsliding is the fountain of its own misery, and the most fearful of Divine judgments. “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.”
IV. The practical atheists. Those guilty of defection will soon live in total neglect of God and his ways. It is said that a sheep, having once wandered from the fold, never tries to return, but “wanders on still more and more astray;” so in many cases backslidings are multiplied until men are reduced to extremity and ruin. “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 1:4. The remnant of Baal.
1. Good men may be hindered in their work, or leave it partially done. Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s reformation did not clear away the idolatry of Baal. Moses and Luther did not entirely finish their work. “Good and evil have each a root, which remains in the ground when the trunk has been hewn down. There is a remnant of grace when the rest have been blinded (Romans 11:5-7); and this is a holy seed to carry on the line of God (Isaiah 6:13). Evil too has its remnant, which, unless diligently kept down, shoots up again, after the conversion of peoples or individuals” [Pusey].
2. The presence and efforts of good men increase the guilt and the responsibility of any nations.
3. If these nations heed not their warnings or hinder their work, God may justly punish them for their sin. God will consume Judah for the remnant that remains. The reign of the pious Josiah preceded the doom of Judah, to deprive the people of all excuse. “I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
Zephaniah 1:6. Positive and negative apostasy. Positive, in forsaking the Lord for idols; negative, in ceasing to “seek” after him in real prayer. The latter is the forerunner of the former: many who do not go so far as open apostasy, are virtually guilty of it, for they do not “inquire for” the Lord. This verse describes more comprehensively those guilty of defection from Jehovah in any way. “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” [Fausset].
1. God must be sought diligently to be found.
2. Men do not seek God diligently.
3. The natural consequences are, turning back, forgetfulness, and carelessness. “Not sought. Diligently sought him (Hebrews 11:6), zealously inquired after him, as after a lost jewel (Jeremiah 29:13) God will visit for unzealousness; and curse those that do his work carelessly, cursorily, in a perfunctory, formal way” [Trapp].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Zephaniah 1:4-6. Remnant. Baal was the Phœnician tutelary god. His name means lord; and the feminine deity corresponding, and generally associated, with him, was Ashtoreth. As he was represented by the sun, so she was the goddess answering to the moon and the rest of the heavenly bodies. In fact, it was the worship of nature; a worship to which correspond the pantheism and scientific exaltation of nature and her laws in our days [Fausset]. They offered the sacrifices upon the roofs, that they might be the better able to see the stars in heaven [Theodoret]. Swear. A neuter is a monster; he hath two tongues, two minds, two souls: he hath a tongue for God, and a tongue for the world too: he looks up to God, and saith, certainly thou art mine: he looks down upon the world, and saith, surely I am thine; he hath a mind to be religious, and a mind to save his own stake in the world too [Brooks].
Zephaniah 1:7.] Judgment speedily comes. Hold] A summons to silent submission (Habakkuk 2:20); the reason given, the day near. Sacrifice] of victims of justice (Isaiah 34:6; Jeremiah 46:10); “nations consecrated to war, that they may consume Jacob” (Jeremiah 10:25) [Keil]. Guests] Lit. sanctified those invited (cf. Isaiah 13:3; 1 Samuel 9:13-22; 1 Samuel 16:5).
Zephaniah 1:8. Princes] should have set an example of virtue, but imitated foreign oppressors. Strange] Peculiar vestments belonging to the worship of each idol (2 Kings 10:22); a violation of law (Deuteronomy 22:5).
Zephaniah 1:9. Leap] An idol rite practised in the temple of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:5). Fill] With goods obtained by violence. The servants of the princes were eager to rush out of the palace, seize the property of others to increase their master’s wealth.
PRUDENT SILENCE.—Zephaniah 1:7
God’s anger is not easily seen, nor his words laid to heart, by those who are most concerned. Hence warnings are given time after time. Judgments are at hand, and though men will pursue their own folly, yet God has fixed a day of vengeance. Sinners therefore should tremble before the majesty of God, who can destroy the rebellious.
I. Hold thy peace, and do not murmur. Sinners murmur at their lot in life; at the threatening and punishment of God for their sins. They deny his right and his providence over men. The righteous feel condemned in God’s presence (Job 11:4; Psalms 143:2), how much more should the wicked! They are warned, devoid of every plea and excuse. The voice of Divine judgment finds an echo in every heart, “we indeed justly” (Luke 23:41).
II. Hold thy peace, for God is present. He sees our ways, and hears our ingratitude. “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” Hush! for if you would not like a friend or a prince to hear your words, why should God be offended with them? If at any time speech is silvern and silence golden, it is in the presence of the Great Judge.
III. Hold thy peace, for the day of decision is at hand. Things which perplex and astonish will soon be cleared up. “The day of the Lord is at hand,” and will speedily come (cf. Habakkuk 2:20; Zechariah 2:13).
“Thought has not colours half so fair,
That she to paint that hour may dare,
In silence best adored” [Keble].
IV. Hold thy peace, and submit. Submission is the most becoming attitude. The praise of silence has its pre-eminent advocate in Carlyle, who writes: “Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out.” “Thou, whosoever hast been wont to speak against God, as if he had no care about earthly affairs, cease thy murmurs and self-justifications: submit thyself to God, and repent in time” [Calvin].
THE DAY OF JEHOVAH’S SACRIFICE.—Zephaniah 1:7-9
Judgment is described as a sacrifice. The Jewish people are prepared, and the nations whom God has called to war are invited to punish them. It is not a sacrifice of joy but of sorrow.
I. The feast is prepared. “The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice.” Such as set aside the means of grace and despise the regular offerings, only prepare themselves for sacrifice. When men do not repent of sin and offer themselves “a living sacrifice,” they will become victims of their own folly. Blessings are withdrawn, and judgments prepared for them. “The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.”
II. The guests are invited. “He hath bid his guests.” The nations whom God has sanctified or set apart are the guests. Nations and individuals, whatever their aims and passions, are called to execute God’s displeasure. There is a kind of awe about “the scourges of God.” They are sanctified sometimes in spite of themselves. The Chaldæans and the Romans, Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, are constrained to bear testimony to God. “I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones for mine anger.”
III. The sacrifices to be offered. The judgments will fall with equal severity upon all ranks.
1. The royal families. “The princes and the king’s children.” Great men often abuse their power, influence the people by their examples, and become chief in provocation. Royalty is not exempt from responsibility, and will be reckoned with for its pride and wickedness.
“A flatter’d prince soon turns the prince of fools” [Ben Jonson].
2. The noble servants. “All such as are clothed with strange apparel.” Apostate nobles and princes imitated royal families; mimicked the manners of the heathen, and adopted their costumes. “Their apparel indicated their treasonable leanings, their servility to alien monarchs, their addiction to heathen vices and superstitions.”
3. The servile retainers. These were more licentious and cruel than the masters they served, lived by plunder and extortion, and leaped out of their own stronghold to invade that of others. Great men often think that their will should be law, and employ servants to support their prodigality by fraud and violence. But the obligations to God are greater than the claims of any master.
THE LORD’S SACRIFICE.—Zephaniah 1:7
I. The sacrifice which the Lord hath prepared. The sacrifice of Christ a subject at all times interesting. It is the believer’s feast and the sinner’s hope. It demonstrates the love of God. Man has sinned, the curse was upon him. A victim demanded, and must suffer to expiate sin. This sacrifice could not be provided by the wealth of kingdoms and the wisdom of schools. Angels could not prepare it. Must then man suffer? Silence all around, but the Eternal cries, “Deliver him from going down” (Job 33:24). Christ is the sacrifice offered to the world (Hebrews 9:26).
II. The guests whom God has invited to partake of his sacrifice. We are not left to conjecture who these are. Our Lord’s parable (Matthew 22:1-10) and Peter’s vision inform us (Acts 10:11-15; Acts 10:34).
1. The Jews. God’s chosen people, favoured with his will. They had a variety of sacrifices, which set forth and typified Christ, pointed out their guilt and expiation of it by blood. They had messengers in succession to call them to repentance; but when Christ came they rejected, persecuted, and crucified him. Yet after all this enmity they were invited to the sacrifice (Luke 24:47).
2. The Gentiles. This sacrifice prepared for Jews and Gentiles, nations afar off, perishing for lack of knowledge. All mankind invited to the gospel feast (Isaiah 25:6-7; Luke 14:21-23). Christ gave himself for all people (Luke 2:10); was a propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). The gospel must be preached to the world, that all may be saved (Mark 15:15). Application.
1. All have sinned, need a sacrifice, mediator, and Saviour.
2. Such a Saviour is provided.
3. Pardon, holiness, and happiness may be obtained by all who rightly seek. Are you partakers of this great sacrifice? Come, sit with the guests, and take your place at the sacramental table. Do not waver nor doubt. If strangers, you are perishing. Feel your need, and apply now. Woe be unto you if you make light of it! “If he that despised Moses’ law,” &c. [Rev. Thos. Jackson].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zephaniah 1:8. The strange apparel contrasted with the true garment, “the fine linen, clean and white,” granted unto the Church, which is “the righteousness of the saints” in Christ (Revelation 19:8).
The dress may be taken as a witness to—
1. The care for externals.
2. The power of fashion.
3. The state of the mind.
4. The danger of luxury. Seneca complained that many in his time were more careful about attire than the welfare of the state. It is extreme folly to be too anxious about either material or fashion of dress, to sacrifice comfort for appearance, and necessities for luxuries.
“Care no more to clothe and eat” [Shakspears].
Zephaniah 1:9. Those that leap. Those who serve their earthly masters with—
2. insolence; and
3. violence. Wealth thus gained is—
2. uncertain; and
3. Divinely cursed. “Here again all which remains is the sin. They enriched, as they thought, their masters, by art or by force: they schemed, plotted, robbed; they succeeded to their heart’s wish; but ‘ill-gotten, ill-spent.’ They filled their masters’ houses quite full; but wherewith?—with violence and deceit, which witnessed against them, and brought down the judgments of God upon them” [Pusey].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Zephaniah 1:7-9. Sacrifice. The image was probably suggested by Isaiah’s words (Isaiah 34:6). Jeremiah subsequently uses it of the overthrow of Pharaoh at the Euphrates (Jeremiah 46:10). Sanctified ones. By giving this title to God’s instruments against Judah, declares that themselves, having become in deeds like the heathen, were as heathen to him. Jeremiah reports the saying (Jeremiah 22:6-7). That is, so far, a holy war in the purpose of God, who fulfils his will; hence Nebuchadnezzar was his servant (Jeremiah 25:9), avenging his wrongs (cf. Joel 3:9; Micah 3:5) [Pusey].
Zephaniah 1:10.] Siege of Jerusalem. Gate] which stood near fish-market (2 Chronicles 33:14; Nehemiah 3:3). Second] A part of the city given (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22). Hills] within the walls, Zion and Moriah. Crashing] Breaking to pieces of what now exists, not merely fall of buildings, as Isaiah 15:6. A cry at the threat of utter destruction [Keil].
Zephaniah 1:11. Maktesh] A rock in form of a mortar, where they hulled rice and corn. “The name probably chosen to express how their false hopes, grounded on the presence of God’s temple among them, while by their sins they profaned it, should be turned into true fears” [Pusey].
Zephaniah 1:12. Candles] Diligently and thoroughly (Luke 15:8); the enemy would let no corner escape them. Lees] Quiet, retaining harshness, and growing turbid and thick. It denotes perseverance, confirmation in moral indifference (Jeremiah 48:11). Say] Denied God’s providence, put him level with idols, who did neither good nor ill (Isaiah 41:23; Jeremiah 10:5).
Zephaniah 1:13.] God proved to be ruler and judge, by giving up their wealth to plunder, and punishing them as despisers of his name (Deuteronomy 28:30; Amos 5:11).
Zephaniah 1:14]. The hint of Zephaniah 1:7 carried out further; the nearness and terrible character of judgment described Great] in effects (Joel 2:11). Bitterly] For he cannot save himself from the foe; the might of the heroes and the city utterly fails.
Zephaniah 1:15.] All the words supplied by the language crowded together to describe the terrors of judgment [cf. Keil]. He first, as the day of wrath (Isaiah 19:18). The effect of wrath, distress and pressure (Job 15:24): then a reduplication (cf. Nahum 2:11); desolation, &c. (Job 30:3; Job 38:27). Lastly,
Zephaniah 1:16.] “Indicating still more closely the nature of the judgment, as a day of the trumpet and the trumpet-blast, i.e. on which the clangour of the war trumpets will be heard over all the fortifications and castles, and the enemy will attack, take, and destroy fortified places amidst the blast of trumpets [Keil].
Zephaniah 1:17.] No help nor counsel in this distress. Blind] Groping insecurely, or rushing headlong to destruction (Deuteronomy 28:29; Nahum 2:6). Dust] Of as little value and in as great quantity (Genesis 13:16; cf. 2 Kings 13:7). Flesh] From a root to eat; equivalent to food (Job 20:23) [cf. Lange]. “Their flesh here called bread, because doomed to be the food of worms” [Drusius].
Zephaniah 1:18.] With silver and gold they cannot save themselves. No heed given to riches by the enemy (cf. Isaiah 13:17; Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 7:19). Fire] will devastate; cause speedy and complete destruction. “A consumption, and that a sudden one” [Calvin].
THE DOOMED CITY.—Zephaniah 1:10-12
The vision of Divine judgment which swept the earth, and settled in dark clouds over the land of Judah, is now depicted as falling on the city. Jerusalem, the metropolis, the centre of national vice and luxury, is besieged by Nebuchadnezzar. The advance of the enemy, the ruin of the buildings, and the miseries of the inhabitants, are set forth in impressive figures.
I. The anguish at the gate. “A sound of crying from the fish gate.” Massive walls and iron gates cannot keep out Divine visitations in the city; wealth and grandeur are no barrier to retribution in the family. God can disturb our towns and markets, our business and societies, and create want and anguish on every hand.
II. The desolation at the centre. From the entrance the enemy goes on to the centre, or second part of the city. The second wall hinders not; the sacred temple and the school of the prophets are battered by rams and fall crash to the ground. When God assails, what can withstand! Neglect of duty and indulgence in sin will bring a fearful “cry of destruction” (Isaiah 15:5).
III. The conquest of the city. When God begins, he will make an end. Judgments penetrate most secret places, and destroy the highest citadel. The horrors of the siege increase. The storm sweeps everything before it. The inhabitants gather on the surrounding hills, and howl at the devastation before them. “A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies” (Isaiah 66:6).
IV. The destruction of the inhabitants. “Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh,” &c. Not only the city in its grandeur, but the people in their wickedness are all destroyed.
1. Wealthy merchants were overtaken. “All the merchant people are cut down.” The Maktesh (lit. mortar), in which they dwell, is a type of the method in which they suffer. They will be pounded and crushed. The silver with which they lade themselves will weigh them down to death. Abused prosperity makes judgments severe. It is folly to dream of safety in any place from which God is banished. Mercantile gains and heaps of silver cannot deliver men “in the day of the Lord’s wrath.” They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord,” &c. (Ezekiel 7:19; James 5:1).
2. Men of business were carried off. “All they that bear silver are cut off.” The traders of the city had become very Canaanites in greed and gain (cf. Hosea 12:7; Ezekiel 16:3). The invaders seized the wealthy first, and carried away their booty (cf. Zephaniah 1:13). Traffic and trade are good things, but are not the real basis on which a kingdom stands. When carried on by injustice and violence they will cause depression in business, failure in banks, and ruin in the country. God never allows any dishonesty to go unpunished. “By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted; but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.”
DIVINE SCRUTINY AND RETRIBUTION.—Zephaniah 1:12-18
God is not indifferent to human affairs. We may forget that God sees us, but the fact is not altered by our forgetfulness.
I. Human conduct is under Divine inspection. This indicates—
1. A thorough scrutiny. “I will search Jerusalem with candles.” When God comes forth—to make evil glare out by his fierce light—the secret sins and the secret sinners cannot be hidden. No hiding-place can keep out the light that makes manifest.
2. The detection of the guilty. “Men that are settled (curded or thickened). The imagery is taken from the process of preparing wine, and emphatically sets forth—(a) The evil of carnal self-satisfaction (Jeremiah 48:11). Prosperity fostered pride; ease generated presumption; absence of dislodging changes resulted in aggravated spirit of impunity. This self-security should be detected; and (b) Practical atheism should be exposed. “That say in their heart, the Lord will not do good,” &c. Practical atheism was the outcome of debasing indulgence. God’s watchfulness, justice, and government were flagrantly ignored. His patience was thought to be unconcern. They talked in their hearts, held mental monologues, and charged God with being alike indifferent to do good or evil, to bestow blessing or visit with calamity. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Note the manifestation of a similar spirit in the days of the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:0).
II. Punishment is threatened for wrong-doing. “I will punish, because they have sinned against the Lord” (cf. Zephaniah 1:12-17). God’s anger is not awakened by trifles, neither is it disproportionate to the offence. The same faithfulness and power are concerned in the fulfilment of great and terrible threatenings as of “exceeding great and precious promises.” The space mercifully allotted for repentance was nearly over. The day of grace was ending, and stern justice was drawing near.
1. The punishment would not be delayed. “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near and hasteth greatly.”
2. The punishment would be most exacting. “The curse causeless shall not come.” The penalty for sin may
(1) make the sinner’s labour profitless. “They shall build houses, but not inhabit them, and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof.” The advent of justice may
(2) render the offenders homeless. “Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation.” Judgment may
(3) terrify with manifold alarms (Zephaniah 1:15-17). Retributions
(4) make the whole land desolate. “The whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy.”
3. The punishment would not be evaded.
(1) There would be no exemption by purchase. “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them.”
(2) The doom would be inclusive and complete. “For he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land” [Matt. Braithwaite].
THE DILIGENT SEARCH AND THE CERTAIN DISCOVERY.—Zephaniah 1:12-14
God will now come in terrible judgment, go through the city, trying house by house, and man by man. “As the vintner goes through his cellars, torch in hand; or as the head of the household, taper in hand, searches every nook and corner of his house before the Passover, lest any morsel of leaven should be hidden in it, so Jehovah will ‘search Jerusalem with candles,’ hunting the evil out of every dark nook in which they have concealed themselves, suffering none to escape.”
I. The nature of the search. “I will search with candles.”
1. It is a determined search. An earnest and diligent search of persons and places; a sifting one by one in every corner until the thing searched be discovered. The woman “lit a candle, and swept the house, and sought diligently till she found” the lost coin (Luke 15:8; Psalms 44:21).
2. It is a universal search. None can escape. Josephus tells in the destruction of Jerusalem how princes and priests were dragged out of tombs, pits, and caves, in which they had hidden themselves in fear of death. Ungodly men hate the light, would extinguish the candle, and hide themselves from punishment. But this is impossible. “Though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence.” (a) No bribe can avert it. (b) No strength can resist it. The might of the city and the courage of the warrior would fail. So irresistible would be the attack that “the mighty man” would abandon himself to shrieks of hopeless grief (Zephaniah 1:14). There is only one way of escape for the guilty: to examine his own ways, to condemn his own offences, and abandon all pleas, to trust in Christ.
II. The design of the search. God searches the city, and penetrates the inward parts of the soul to expel darkness, discover guilt, and bring men to himself.
1. To rouse the spiritually hardened. Idleness and ease beget moral indifference. Men sit down upon their lees, draw themselves together, and get hardened in sin. They rest on the vilest, the sediment and refuse of their nature; become defiled by lusts, and confirmed in habitual wickedness.
2. To reprove the practically indifferent. Men who deny not God’s existence may reason themselves into atheism, may wish and believe in their hearts, and by acts inure themselves into the belief that God is far away from them; that he does not govern the world; and “will not punish men with eternal destruction for the sins of this short life.” God sits in heaven heedless of what men do or suffer, and will neither interfere in this world nor in the next. Why then fear him? Why not give themselves to lusts and pleasures? This spirit is rebuked by the prophet. If men do not see God in the merciful visitations, he will terrify them by judgments in life.
3. To punish the worldly-minded. Men pursue their ordinary course of labour and of sin, eat and drink, build houses and plant vineyards, until the day overtakes them, and deprives them of all they have (Matthew 24:38-39).
(1) They hoard up and cannot keep. “Therefore their goods shall become a booty.” God refutes men’s notions by his providence, and makes them feel that he cares for what they do by taking what they possess, and leaving them homeless and penniless. “And their houses a desolation.”
(2) They labour and do not reap the benefit. They “build houses, but do not inhabit them; plant vineyards, but do not drink the wine thereof.” God proves the verity of the threatening by his execution, disappoints men of happiness and enjoyment by his justice. If we forget God in prosperity, get intoxicated with pleasure, and revolt in threatened punishment, we shall be convinced of our folly. God will visit our cities and marts, and search our shops and families. We shall be frustrated in our pursuits, and robbed of all our possessions. “Thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein; thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof” (cf. Deuteronomy 28:30; Amos 1:2).
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
The three acts of punishment. The first falls upon the princes who indulge in the customs of the heathen (Zephaniah 1:8-9). The second falls upon the rich (Zephaniah 1:10-11). The third falls upon the careless despisers (Zephaniah 1:12-13) [Lange].
1. Ease, prosperity, and lack of change, beget false security, disregard of God’s providence, and spiritual indifference.
2. God refutes the language, and makes practical atheists alarmed at his judgments.
3. When God strips any people of their possessions they will find that their enjoyment and abuse of them have been a snare to them. Therefore (i.e. because these things have had such an effect) “their goods shall become a booty.” “Religion and morality are two spheres which cannot be separated. An upright heart can only have one God, and in cherishing other gods besides God lies a falseness which bears its fruit in the field of morals. Whilst the heart, in its profoundest depths, is actuated by two diametrically opposite opinions, it is necessary that those influences should finally neutralise one another. In this way arises indifference towards motives drawn from eternal things. The indifference has a twofold result. First, temporal motives, among which the most powerful are pride (fashion) and avarice, take the place of eternal. In the second place, the other result of this fearless, practical atheism is: God does no good and no evil” [Lange].
THE GREAT DAY OF THE LORD.—Zephaniah 1:14-18
To rouse the self-secure in their ease, Zephaniah carries out the hint of Zephaniah 1:7, of the near approach and awful character of the judgment. The warning to Judah and Jerusalem should make sinners in Zion tremble. It is the day, the great day of the Lord, “a specimen of the day of judgment, a kind of doomsday, as the last destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans is represented to be in our Saviour’s prediction in Matthew 24:27.”
I. A day of profound darkness. Darkness and gloominess, clouds and thick darkness. Everything looks threatening, and nothing encourages. No hope, no light. “The day of a darkness so profound, that day itself is changed into its very opposite and becomes a night, and a night wrapped in clouds through which no star can shoot a ray of hope.”
II. A day of Divine wrath. “That day is a day of wrath;” wrath treasured up for awhile, but now overflowing and irresistible—manifest, and felt in distress of every kind and degree, in calamity without relief. If the wrath of a king is like a messenger of death, how much more the wrath of an offended God? (Proverbs 16:14; Malachi 3:2).
III. A day of material destruction.
1. The cities will be destroyed. “Against the fenced cities, and against the high towers” (Zephaniah 1:16). Whatever the strength and structure of fortifications, they would afford no protection.
2. The land will be wasted. The blast of God will turn all fertility into waste. The dreary monotony of desolation appears everywhere. The earth is wasted with havoc, and broken into ruin. “A day of wasteness and desolation.”
IV. A day of human misery. “A day of trouble and distress” (Zephaniah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:17).
1. Great helplessness. (a) No escape by ransom; (b) no escape by flight. Men sink into anguish beyond expression; into misery beyond relief.
2. Great blindness. Hemmed in, they turn first to one place and then another; stagger like drunken men (Job 12:25); and walk like blind men. Bereft of counsel, strength, and hope, “they meet with the darkness in the day-time, and grope in the noon-day as in the night.”
3. Great slaughter. “Their blood shall be poured out as dust.” Life was of no value, blood would be utterly disregarded, treated as contemptible, and spilt in abundance (Psalms 79:3). Their flesh would decay, putrefy, and become offensive, and lie like dung upon the land. All this “because they have sinned.” “The most offensive disgusting physical corruption,” says Pusey, “is but a faint image of the defilement of sin.”
4. Great despair. Amid darkness, distress, and murder, the war trumpet sounds louder and louder, strikes terror into every heart, and despair is read in every eye. The fire of jealousy devours the land, and “a speedy riddance is made of all them that dwell” in it. “He shall make an utter, yea, altogether (nothing but) a terrific destruction of all the dwellers of the earth” (cf. Psalms 104:29; Isaiah 65:23).
V. A day of speedy approach. “It is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly.” Each hour tells the knell of approaching doom. Conscience, Scripture, and providence, like the voice of God, proclaim that it is near. Near, adds the prophet, to impress us the more. It is at hand to each. It hasteth greatly, and may come before we are aware. Nothing will hasten it more than carelessness in sin and security in judgment. Prepare now, before its voice is heard; arise, ye dead, and come to judgment. “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
“I see the Judge enthroned! the flaming guard!
The volume opened! opened every heart!
A sunbeam pointing out each secret thought!
No patron! intercessor none! now past
The sweet, the element mediatorial hour!
For guilt no plea! to pain, no pause! no bound!
Inexorable all! and all, extreme” [Young].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Zephaniah 1:10-11. These verses describe the state of Jerusalem, when besieged by Nebuchadnezzar. Through the fish gate he entered the city. It received its name from the fish market, which was near it. Through it passed those who used to bring fish from the lake of Tiberias and Jordan. It answers to what is now called the Damascus gate [Henderson].
Zephaniah 1:11. Maktesh, the mortar, a name applied to the valley of Siloam from its hollow shape [Jerome]. It is called by Josephus, “the cheese-maker’s valley,” and by the present inhabitants, el-Wâd, i.e. the valley, and also the mill-valley. The name “mortar” was probably coined by Zephaniah, to point to the fate of the merchants and men of money who lived there [Keil].
Zephaniah 1:12-13. Neither the majesty of God, nor his government or glory, consists in imaginary splendour, but in those attributes which so meet together in him that they cannot be severed from his essence. It is the property of God to govern the world, to take care of the human race, to distinguish between good and evil, to relieve the wretched, to punish all crimes, to restrain unjust violence; and if any one would deprive God of these, he would leave nothing but an idol [Calvin].
“Even God’s providence
Seeming estranged” [Thos. Hood].
Zephaniah 1:14-18. Day. When iniquity hath played her part, vengeance leaps upon the stage; the comedy is short, but the tragedy is long. The black guard shall attend you; you shall eat at the table of sorrow; and the crown of death shall be upon your heads, many glistering faces looking upon you [Hy. Smith]. You can muzzle your fear, and you can silence your conscience, and you can go on making money by ways which God abhors, and which every honest man ought to abhor, and you can, in the mean time, have comparative peace; but there is a great difference between staying off judgment now, and staving off revelation and judgment then [H. W. Beecher].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Zephaniah 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent