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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to Zephaniah
Zephaniah was called to his role not long after Habakkuk. Since his time was near to that of Habakkuk, so his subject was also related. Both lived when, for the sins of the reign of Manasseh, God had pronounced an irreversible sentence of destruction upon Jerusalem. The mission of both was not to the whole people whose sentence was fixed, but to the individuals who would flee from the wrath to come. The form of Habakkuk's prophecy was (as we might say) more subjective; that of Zephaniah was more objective. Habakkuk exhibits the victory of faith in the oppressed faithful - how it would hold to God amid the domestic oppressions, amid the oppressions of the Chaldees by whom those oppressions were to be punished, and, when all shall seem to fail, should, in the certainty of its unseen life, rejoice in its God. The characteristic of Zephaniah is the declaration of the tenderness of the love of God for that remnant of Israel, "the afflicted and poor people," whom God would "leave in the midst of them" Zephaniah 3:12.
Zephaniah has, like Habakkuk, to declare the judgment on the world. He renews the language of Joel as to "the day of the Lord," and points to nations and individuals. He opens with the prophecy of one wide destruction of the land and all the sinners in it, its idolaters and its oppressors, its princes, its royal family, its merchants, its petty plunderers, who used rapine under color of their masters' name, and brought guilt upon themselves and them. Nothing is either too high or too low to escape the judgments of God. But the visitation upon Judah was only partially of a more comprehensive judgment. Zephaniah foretells the wider destruction of enemies of God's people on all sides - of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, on each side of them, and the distant nations on either side, Ethiopia (which then included Egypt) and Assyria. All these particular judgments contain principles of God's judgments at all times. But in Zephaniah they seem all to converge in the love of God for the remnant of His people. The nation he calls "a nation not desired" Zephaniah 2:1. He calls to God individuals: "It may be, ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger" Zephaniah 2:3. He foretells a sifting time, wherein God would "take away the proud among her" Zephaniah 3:11-12; yet there follows a largeness of Gospel promise and of love Zephaniah 3:12-17, the grounds of which are explained in the Gospel, but whose tenderness of language is hardly surpassed even by the overwhelming tenderness of "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge" Ephesians 3:19.
The prophet's own name "the Lord hath hid" corresponds with this. The Psalmist had said, using this same word, "He shall hide me in His tabernacle in the day of evil: in the secret of His tabernacle He shall hide me" Psalm 27:5; and, "O how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast "laid up" for them that fear Thee. Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man. Thou shalt "keep them secretly" Psalm 31:19-20 in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." "They take counsel against Thy "hidden" ones" Psalm 83:4.
The date which Zephaniah prefixed to his prophecy, has not been disputed; for no one felt any interest in denying it. Those who disbelieve definite prophecy invented for themselves a solution, whereby they thought that Zephaniah's prophecy need not be definite, even though uttered in the time of Josiah; so the fact remained unquestioned.
The unaccustomed fullness with which his descent is given implies so much of that personal knowledge which soon fades away, that those who speak of other titles, as having been prefixed to the books, or portions of books of the prophets, by later hands, have not questioned this. The only question is, whether he lived before or in the middle of the reformation by Josiah. Josiah, who came to the throne when eight years old 641 b.c., began the reformation in the 12th year of his reign, 2 Chronicles 34:3-7, when almost twenty; 630 b.c. The extirpation of idolatry could not, it appears, be accomplished at once. The finding of the ancient copy of the law, during the repairs of the temple in the 18th year of his reign, 2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 34:8-28, 624 b.c., gave a fresh impulse to the king's efforts. He then united the people with himself, bound all the people present to the covenant 2 Kings 23:3; 2 Chronicles 34:31 to keep the law, and made a further destruction of idols 2 Kings 23:4-20; 2 Chronicles 34:33 before the solemn passover in that year. Even after that passover some abominations had to be removed 2 Kings 23:24. It has been thought that the words, "I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place" Zephaniah 1:4, imply that the worship of Baal had already in some degree been removed, and that God said, that He would complete what had been begun. But the emphasis seems to be rather on the completeness of the destruction, as we should say, that He would efface every remnant of Baal, than to refer to any effort which had been made by human authority to destroy it.
The prophet joins together, "I will cut off the remnant of Baal, the name of the Chemarim." The cutting off "the name of the Chemarim," or idolatrous priests, is like that of Hosea, "I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name" Hosea 2:17. As the cutting off of "the name of the Chemarim" means their being utterly obliterated, so, probably, does "the cutting off the remnant of Baal." The worship of Baal was cut off, not through Josiah, but (as Zephaniah prophesied) through the captivity. Jeremiah asserts its continuance during his long prophetic office Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 11:13; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:29.
In the absence of any direct authority to the contrary, the description of idolatry by Zephaniah would seem to belong to the period, before the measures to abolish it were begun. He speaks as if everything were full of idolatry Zephaniah 1:4-5, the worship of Baal, the worship of the host of heaven upon the housetops, swearing by Maleham, and probably the clothing with strange apparel.
The state also was as corrupt Zephaniah 3:3-4 as the worship. Princes and judges, priests and prophets were all alike in sin; the judges distorted the law between man and man, as the priests profaned all which related to God. The princes were roaring lions; the judges, evening wolves, ever famished, hungering for new prey. This too would scarcely have been, when Josiah was old enough to govern in his own person. Both idolatry and perversion of justice were continued on from the reign of his father Amon. Both, when old enough, he removed. God Himself gives him the praise, that he "did judgment and justice, then it was well with him; he judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him; was not this to know Me? saith the Lord" Jeremiah 22:15-16. His conversion was in the eighth year of his reign. Then, while he was yet young, he began to "seek after the God of David his father."
The mention of the "king's children" (see the note at Zephaniah 1:8), whom, God says, He would punish in the great day of His visitation, does not involve any later date. They might, anyhow have been brothers or uncles of the king Josiah. But, more probably, God declares that no rank should be exempt from the judgments of that day. He knew, too, that the sons of Josiah would be then punished for their great sins. The sun of the temporal rule of the house of David set in unmitigated wickedness and sorrow. Of all its kings after Josiah, it is said, they did "evil in the sight of the Lord;" some were distinguished by guilt; all had miserable ends; some of them with aggravated misery.
Zephaniah then probably finished his course before that 12th year of Josiah, (for this prophecy is one whole) and so just before Jeremiah was, in Josiah's 13th year, called to his office, which he fulfilled for half a century, perhaps for the whole age of man.
The foreground of the prophecy of Zephaniah remarkably coincides with that of Habakkuk. Zephaniah presupposes that prophecy and fills it up. Habakkuk had prophesied the great wasting and destruction through the Chaldaeans, and then their destruction. That invasion was to extend beyond Judah (for it was said "he shall scoff at kings" Habakkuk 1:10), but was to include it. The instrument of God having been named by Habakkuk, Zephaniah does not even allude to him. Rather, he brings before Judah the other side, the agency of God Himself. God would not have them forget Himself in His instruments. Hence, all is attributed to God. "I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked, and I will cut off man from the land, saith the Lord. I will also stretch out Mine hand upon Judah; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal. In the day of the Lord's sacrifice, I will punish the princes, etc. In the same day also I will punish all those etc. I will search Jerusalem with candles. The great day of the Lord is near, and I will bring distress upon, etc. O Canaan, land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee. The Lord will be terrible upon them. Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by My sword. And He will destroy Nineveh" Zephaniah 1:2, Zephaniah 1:4, Zephaniah 1:8-9, Zephaniah 1:13-14, Zephaniah 1:17; Zephaniah 2:5, Zephaniah 2:11-13. The wicked of the people had "said in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil" Zephaniah 1:12. Zephaniah inculcates, throughout his brief prophecy, that there is nothing, good or evil, of which He is not the doer or overruler.
But the extent of that visitation is co-extensive with that prophesied by Habakkuk. Zephaniah indeed speaks rather of the effects, the desolation. But the countries, whose desolation or defeat he foretells, are the lands of those, whom the Chaldaeans invaded, worsted, in part desolated. Beside Judah, Zephaniah's subjects are Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia (which included Egypt), Nineveh. And here he makes a remarkable distinction corresponding with the events. Of the Ethiopians or Egyptians, he says only, "ye shall be slain by My sword" Zephaniah 2:12. Of Assyria he foretells Zephaniah 2:13-15 the entire and lasting desolation; the capitals of her palaces in the dust; her cedar-work bare; flocks, wild-beasts, pelican and hedgehog, taking up their abode in her. Moab and Ammon and Philistia have at first sight the two-fold, apparently contradictory, lot; "the remnant of My people," God says, "shall possess them; the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah" Zephaniah 2:9; and, that they should be a perpetual desolation.
This also was to take place, after God had brought back His people out of captivity. Now all these countries were conquered by the Chaldaeans, of which at the time there was no human likelihood. But they were not swept away by one torrent of conquest. Moab and Ammon were, at first, allies of Nebuchadnezzar, and rejoiced at the miseries of the people, whose prophets had foretold their destruction. But, beyond this, Nineveh was at that time more powerful than Egypt. Human knowledge could not have discerned, that Egypt should suffer defeat only, Nineveh should be utterly destroyed. It was the custom of the great conquerors of the East, not to destroy capitals, but to re-people them with subjects obedient to themselves. Nineveh had held Babylon by viceroys; in part she had held it under her own immediate rule. Why should not Babylon, if she conquered Nineveh, use the same policy? Humanly speaking, it was a mistake that she did not.
It would have been a strong place against the inroads of the Medo-Persian empire. The Persians saw its value so far for military purposes, as to build some fort there ; and the Emperor Claudius, when he made it a colony, felt the importance of the well-chosen situation . It is replaced by Mosul, a city of some "20,000 to 40,000" inhabitants. Even after its destruction, it was easier to rebuild it than to build a city on the opposite bank of the Tigris. God declared that it should be desolate. The prediction implied destruction the most absolute. It and its palaces were to be the abode of animals which flee the presence of man; and it perished.
Again, what was less likely than that Philistia, which had had the rule over Israel, strong in its almost impregnable towns, three of whose five cities were named for their strength, Gaza, "strong;" Ashdod, "mighty;" Ekron, "deep-rooting;" one of which, Ashdod, about this very time, resisted for 29 years the whole power of Egypt, and endured the longest siege of any city of ancient or modern times - what, to human foresight, less was likely, than that Philistia should come under the power of the "remnant of the house of Judah," when returned from their captivity? Yet, it is absolutely foretold. "The seacoast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down in the evening. For the Lord their God shall visit them, and restore their captivity" Zephaniah 2:7. As unlikely was it, that Moab and Ammon, who now had entered upon the territory of the two and a half tribes beyond Jordan, should themselves become the possession of the remnant of Judah. Yet, so it was!
It is then lost labor, even for their own ends, when moderns, who do not believe definite prophecy, would find out some enemy whom Zephaniah may have had in mind in foretelling this wide destruction. It still remains that all that Zephaniah says beforehand was fulfilled. It is allowed that he could not foretell this through any human foresight. The avowed object in looking out for some power, formidable in Zephaniah's time, is, that he could not, by any human knowledge, be speaking of the Chaldaeans. But the words stand there. They were written by Zephaniah, at a time when confessedly no human knowledge could have enabled man to predict this of the Chaldaeans; nay, no human knowledge would have enabled anyone to predict so absolutely a desolation so wide and so circumstantially delineated.
That school, however, has not been willing to acquiesce in this, that Zephaniah does "not" speak of the instrument, through whom this desolation was effected. They will have it, that they know, that Zephaniah had in his mind one, who was "not" the enemy of the Jews or of Nineveh or of Moab and Ammon, and through whom no even transient desolation of these countries was effected. The whole argument is a simple begging of the question. : "The Egyptians cannot be meant, for the Cushites, who are threatened Zephaniah 2:12, themselves belong to the Egyptian army Jeremiah 46:9, and Psammetichus only besieged Ashdod which he also took, without emblazoning ought greater on his shield (Herodotus ii. 157). The Chaldaeans come still less into account, because they did not found an independent kingdom until 625 b.c., nor threaten Judaea until after Josiah's death. On the other hand, an unsuspicious and well-accredited account has been preserved to us, that somewhere about this time the Scythians overflowed Palestine too with their hosts. Herodotus relates , that the Scythians, after they had disturbed Cyaxares at the siege of Nineveh, turned toward Egypt; and when they had already arrived in Palestine, were persuaded by Psammetichus to return, and in their return plundered a temple in Ascalon."
It is true that Herodotus says that "a large Scythian army did, under their king Madyes, burst into Asia in pursuit of the Cimmerians and entered Media - keeping Mount Caucasus on the right," and that "the Medes opposed and fought them and, being defeated, lost their rule" .
It is true also that Herodotus relates, that "they went thence toward Egypt, and when they were in Palestine-Syria, Psammetichus king of Egypt, meeting them, turned them by gifts and entreaties from going further; that when in their return they were in Ascalon, a city of Syria, whereas most of the Scythians passed by without harming ought, some few of them, being left behind, plundered the temple of Venus Ourania." In this place also, it is true, Herodotus uses a vague expression, that "for 28 years the Scythians ruled over Asia, and that all things were turned upside down by their violence and contempt. For beside the tributes, they exacted from each what they laid upon each, and beside the tribute, they drove together and took what each had. And most of them Cyaxares and the Medes entertaining as guests, intoxicated and killed. And then the Medes recovered their empire and "became masters of what they held before."
But, apart from the inconsistency of the period here assigned to their power, with other history, it appears from the account itself, that by "all Asia" Herodotus means "all upper Asia," as he expresses himself more accurately, when relating the expedition of Darius against them. : "Darius wished to take revenge on the Scythians, because they first, making an inroad into Media and defeating in battle those who went against them, began the wrong. For the Scythians, as I have before said, "ruled upper Asia" for 28 years. For, pursuing the Cimmerians, they made an inroad into Asia, putting down the Medes from their rule, for these, before the Scythians came, ruled Asia." The Asia then, which Herodotus supposes the Scythians to have ruled, is co-extensive with the Asia which he supposes the Medes to have ruled previously. But this was all in the north, for having said that , "Phraortes subdued Asia, going from one nation to another," he adds that, having brought Persia under his yoke, "he led an army against those Assyrians who had Nineveh, and there lost most of his army and his own life."
Apart then from the fabulousness of this supposed empire, established by Phraortes , (Cyaxares having been the real thunder of the Median empire,) it is plain that, according to Herodotus himself, the Asia, in which the Scythians plundered and received tribute, were the lands north of Assyria. The expedition against Egypt stands as an insulated predatory excursion, the object of which having been mere plunder, they were bought off by Psammetichus and returned (he tells us) doing no mischief in their way, except that a few lingerers plundered a temple at Ascalon. It was to Media that they first came; the Medes, whom they defeated; the Median empire to which they succeeded; Cyaxares and the Medes, who treacherously destroyed most of them; the Medes, whose empire was restored by the destruction of some, and the return of the rest to their own land.
With this agrees the more detailed account of the Scythians by Strabo, who impeaches the accuracy of the accounts of Herodotus . Having spoken of the migrations of leaders, and by name, of "Madyes the Scythian" (under whom Herodotus states the irruption to have taken place), he says , "the Sacae made the like inroad as the Cimmerians and the Trerians, some longer, some nigh at hand, for they took possession of Bactriana, and acquired the best land of Armenia, which they also left, named after them Sacasene, and advanced as far as to the Cappadocians and especially those on the Euxine, whom they now call of Pontus (Pontians). But the generals of the Persians who were at the time there, attacking them by night, while they were making a feast upon the spoils, utterly extirpated them."
The direction which he says they took, is the same as that of the Cimmerians, whom Herodotus says that they followed. : "The Cimmerians, whom they also call Trerians, or some tribe of them, often overrun the right side of the Pontus, sometimes making inroads on the Paphlagonians, at others, on the Phrygians. Often also the Cimmerians and Trerians made the like attacks, and they say that the Trerians and Cobus (their king) were, at last expelled by Madyes king of the (Scythians)." Strabo also explains, what is meant by the tributes, of which Herodotus speaks. He is speaking of the Nomadic tribes of the Scythians generally : "Tribute was, to allow them at certain stated times, to overrun the country (for pasturage) and carry off booty. But when they roamed beyond the agreement, there arose war, and again reconciliations and renewed war. Such was the life of the nomads, always setting on their neighbors and then being reconciled again."
The Scythians then were no object of fear to the Jews, whom they passed wholly unnoticed and probably unconscious of their existence in their mountain country, while they once and once only swept unharming along the fertile tracks on the sea-shore, then occupied by the old enemies and masters of the Jews, the Philistines. But Herodotus must also have been misinformed as to the length of time, during which they settled in Media, or at least as to the period during which their presence had any sensible effects. For Cyaxares, whom he represents as having raised the siege of Nineveh, in consequence of the inroad of the Scythians into Media, came to the throne, according to the numbers of Herodotus, 633 b.c. For the reign of Cyaxares having lasted according to him 40 years , that of Astyages 35 , and that of Cyrus 29 , these 104 years, counted back from the known date of the death of Cyrus, 529 or 530 b.c., bring us to 633 or 636 b.c. as the beginning of the reign of Cyaxares. But the invasion of the Scythians could not have taken place at the first accession of Cyaxares, since, according to Herodotus, he had already defeated the Assyrians, and was besieging Nineveh, when the Scythians burst into Media. According to Herodotus, moreover, Cyaxares "first distributed Asiatics into troops, and first ordered that each should be apart, spearmen, and archers and cavalry, for before, all were mixed pele-mele together."
Yet, it would not be in a very short time, that those who had been wont to fight in a confused mass, could be formed into an orderly and disciplined army. We could not then, anyhow, date the Scythian inroad, earlier than the second or third year of Cyaxares. On the other hand the date of the capture of Nineveh is fixed by the commencement of the Babylonian Empire, Babylon falling to Nabopolassar. The duration of that empire is measured by the reigns of its kings , of whom, according to Ptolemy's Canon, Nabopolassar reigned 21 years; Nebuchadnezzar, (there called Nabocollasar) 43; Evil-Merodach (Iluaroadam) 2; Neriglissar (Niricassolassar) 4; Nabunahit (Nabonadius with whom his son Belshazzar was co-regent) 17; in all 87 years; and it ends in an event of known date, the capture of Babylon by Cyrus, 538 b.c. The addition of the 87 years of the duration of the empire to that date carries us back to the date assigned to the capture of Nineveh by Nabopolassar in conjunctitan with Cyaxares, 625 b.c. The capture then of Nineveh was removed by 8 or 9 years only from that, which Herodotus gives as the time of the accession of Cyaxares, and since the attack upon Nineveh can hardly have been in his first year, and the last siege probably occupied two, the 28 years of Scythian dominion would dwindle down into something too inconsiderable for history. Probably, they represent some period from their first incursion into Media, to the final return of the survivors, during which they marauded in Media and Upper Asia. The mode, by which "the greater part" (Herodotus tells us) were destroyed, intoxication and subsequent murder at a banquet, implies that their numbers were no longer considerable.
History, with the exception of that one marauding expedition toward Egypt, is entirely silent as to any excursions of the Scythians, except in the north. No extant document hints at any approach of theirs to any country mentioned by Zephaniah. There was no reason to expect any inroad from them. With the exception of Bactriana, which lies some 18 degrees east of Media and itself extended over some 7 degrees of longitude, the countries mentioned by Strabo lie, to what the kings of Assyria mention as the far north, Armenia, and thence, they stretched out to the west, yet keeping mostly to the neighborhood of the Euxine. Considering the occasion of the mention of the invasion of the Scythians, the relief which their invasion of Media gave to Nineveh, it is even remarkable that there is no mention of any ravages of theirs throughout Mesopotamia or Babylonia. Zephaniah speaks, not of marauding, but of permanent desolation of Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, and of destructive war also on Ethiopia. There is no reason to think that the Scythians approached any of these lands, except Philistia, which they passed through unharming. The sacred writers mention even smaller nations, by whom God chastised Judah in their times, "bands of the Syrians, of Moab, of the children of Ammon," as well as Assyria and Babylon. Ezekiel Ezek. 38; 39, when he prophesies of the inroad of Northern nations, Meshech and Tubal, Gomer and Togormah, speaks of it as far removed in the future, prophesies not their destroying but their own destruction.
It does not affect the argument from prophecy, whether Zephaniah did or did not know, through whom the events, which he predicted, should be brought to pass. But, setting aside the question whether he had from the prophecies of Habakkuk and Isaiah, a human knowledge of the Chaldees or whether God instructed him, how what he foretold should be accomplished, or whether God spread out before his mind that which was to be, apart from time, in prophetic vision, Zephaniah did picture what came to pass. But it is an intense paradox, when men, 2500 years after his date, assert, not only that Zephaniah's prophecies had no relation to the Chaldees, in whom his words were fulfilled, and who are the objects of the prophecies of Habakkuk and Jeremiah, but that they know, what must have been, and (as they assert) what was in the prophet's mind; and that he had in his mind, not those in whom his words were fulfilled, but others in whom they were "not" fulfilled, to whom he does not allude in one single trait, who left no trace behind them, and whose march along an enemy's tract on the seacoast was of so little account, that no contemporary historian, nor Josephus, even alludes to it . But there is to this day a city beyond Jordan into which this name enters in part, Scythopolis." Quaestt. Hebr. ad Gen. (Opp. iii. 358. ed. Vall.) quoted by Reland, p. 992).
It has been already observed, that each prophet connects himself with one or more of those before them. They use the language of their predecessors in some one or more sentences, apparently with this precise object. They had overflowing fullness of words; yet, they chose some saying of the former prophet, as a link to those before them. We have seen this in Amos , then in Obadiah, , who uses the language of Balaam, David, Joel, Amos; of Jeremiah, in regard to Obadiah ; of Micah to his great predecessor, Micaiah, and Amos ; of Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Ezekiel to Micah ; of Nahum to Jonah ; and of Isaiah (I think), to Nahum ; of Habakkuk, to Isaiah and Micah , It is in conformity with this, that Zephaniah, even more than those before him, uses language of earlier prophets.
It arises, not (as people have been pleased to say) from any declension in the originality of prophets at his date, but from his subject. It has been said, "if anyone desire to see the utterances of the prophets in brief space, let him read through this brief Zephaniah." The office of Zephaniah was not to forewarn of any instrument of God's judgments. The destruction is prophesied, not the destroyer. His prophecy is, more than those of most other prophets, apart from time, to the end of time. He prophesies of what shall be, not when it shall be, nor by whom. He does not "expect" or "anticipate" or "forebode!" He absolutely declares the future condition of certain nations; but not the "how" of its coming to pass. If Nineveh, Edom and Ammon had not been desolated, his prophecy would have been falsified; each fulfillment became the earnest of a larger fulfillment; but all shall not be completed until "the earth and all that is therein shall be burned up."
It belongs to this character of Zephaniah, that he gathers from other prophets before him, especially Isaiah, Joel, Amos, Habakkuk, expressions relating to, or bearing on, judgment to come, or again to that his other great subject, God's love for the remnant of His people; yet mostly in fragments only and allusively. They were key-notes for those who knew the prophets. Thus, in calling on man to hushed submission before God, because a day of judgment was coming, he blends into one verse Habakkuk 1:7 Habakkuk's call, "hush before the Lord" Habakkuk 2:20, and the warning words of Isaiah, Joel, Obadiah Isa 13:6; Joel 1:15; Joel 3:15; Obadiah 1:15, "nigh is the day of the Lord;" the image of the "sacrifice," which God had commanded, and the remarkable word, "consecrated," of God's instruments. The allusion is contained in single words, "sacrifice, consecrated;" the context in which they are embodied is different.
The idea only is the same, that Almighty God maketh, as it were, a sacrifice to Himself of those who incorrigibly rebel against Him. Elsewhere, Isaiah draws out the image at much length; "A sword of the Lord is full of bloods; it is smeared with fat, with the blood of lambs and of goats; with the fat of kidneys of rams: for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom" Isaiah 34:6. Jeremiah uses the image in equal fullness of the overthrow of Pharaoh-Necho at the Euphrates; "This is a day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Him of His adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with blood, for the Lord God hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates" Jeremiah 46:10. Ezekiel expands it yet more boldly Ezekiel 39:17. Zephaniah drops everything local, and condenses the image into the words, "The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice; He hath consecrated His guests," adding the new bold image, that they whom God employed were, as it were, His invited guests whom He consecrated thereto.
In like way, as to the day of the Lord itself, he accumulates all words of terror from different prophets; from Joel the words, "a day of darkness and of gloominess; a day of clouds and of thick darkness" Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:15 : to these he adds "of shouting and the sound of the trumpet" Zephaniah 1:16; Amos 2:2, used by Amos in relation to the destruction of Moab; the two combinations, which precede, occur, the one in a different sense, the other with a slightly different grammatical inflection, in Job.
From Isaiah, Zephaniah adopts that characteristic picture of self-idolizing, which brings down God's judgments on its pride; (the city) "that dwelleth securely, that said in her heart, I and no I beside" Isaiah 47:8; Zephaniah 2:15.
Even where Isaiah says, "For a consumption and that decreed, the Lord God of hosts makes in the midst of all the earth" Isaiah 10:23, and, slightly varying it, "For a consumption and that decreed, I have heard from the Lord God of hosts upon all the earth" Isaiah 28:22, Zephaniah, retaining the two first words, which occur in both places, says more concisely, "For a consumption, nought but terror, will He make all the inhabitants of the earth." Yet, simple as the words are, he pronounced, that God would not only "bring a desolation upon the earth," or "in the midst of the earth," but would make its inhabitants one consumption. Nahum had said of Nineveh, "with an overflowing flood He will make the place thereof an utter consumption" Nahum 1:8. The most forceful words are the simplest.
He uses the exact words of Isaiah, "From beyond the rivers of Cush" Zephaniah 3:10; Isaiah 18:1, than which none can be simpler, and employs the word of festive procession, though in a different form, and having thus connected his prophecy with Isaiah's, all the rest, upon which the prophecy turns, is varied.
In like way he adopts from Micah the three words, "her-that-halteth, and-will-gather her-that-is-driven-out" Micah 4:6; Zephaniah 3:19. The context in which he resets them is quite different.
It has been thought, that the words, "I have heard the reproach of Moab," may have been suggested by those of Isaiah, who begins his lament over Moab, "We have heard of the pride of Moab;" but the force and bearing of the words is altogether different, since it is God Who says, "I have heard," and so He will punish.
The combination, "the exulters of pride" Isaiah 13:3; Zephaniah 3:11, is common to him with Isaiah: its meaning is uncertain; but it is manifestly different in the two places, since the one relates to God, the other to man.
The words, "They shall build houses and shall not dwell therein; they shall plant vineyards and not drink the wine thereof" , are from the original threat in Deuteronomy, from which also the two words, "They-shall-walk as-the-blind Zephaniah 1:17, may be a reminiscence, but with a conciseness of its own and without the characteristic expressions of Deuteronomy, adopted by other sacred writers: "They shall grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness" Deuteronomy 28:29.
Altogether these passages are evidence that Zephaniah is of later date than the prophecies in which the like language occurs; and the fact that he does employ so much language of his predecessors furnishes a strong presumption in any single case, that he in that case also adopted from the other sacred writer the language which they have in common.
It is chiefly on this ground, that a train of modern critics have spoken disparagingly of the outward form and style of Zephaniah. It has, however, a remarkable combination of fullness with conciseness and force. Thus, he begins the enumeration of those upon whom the destruction should fall, with the words, "consuming I will consume all" Zephaniah 1:2 : to an enumeration co-extensive with the creation, he adds unexpectedly, "and the stumblingblocks with the wicked" Zephaniah 1:3, anticipating our Lord's words of the Day of Judgment, "they shall gather the stumblingblocks and them that do iniquity" Matthew 13:41 : to the different idolatries he adds those of a divided faith, "swearers to the Lord and swearers by Malcham" Zephaniah 1:5; to those who turned away from God he adds those who were unearnest in seeking Him Zephaniah 1:6.
Again, after the full announcement of the destruction in the day of the Lord, the burst, in those five words, "sift-yourselves and-sift (on) nation unlonged for" Zephaniah 2:1, is, in suddenness and condensation, like Hosea; and so again, in five words, after the picture of the future desolation of Nineveh, the abrupt turn to Jerusalem, "Woe rebellious and-defiled (thou) oppressive city" Zephaniah 2:1, and then follow the several counts of her indictment, in brief disjointed sentences, first negatively, as a whole; each in three or four words, "she-listened not to-voice; she-received not correction; in-the-Lord she-trusted not; to-her-God she-approached not" Zephaniah 3:2; then, in equally broken words, each class is characterized by its sins; "her-princes in-her-midst are roaring lions; her-judges evening wolves; not gnawed-they-bones on-the-morrow; her-prophets empty-babblers, men of-deceits; her-priests profaned holiness, violated law" Zephaniah 3:3-4 Then in sudden contrast to all this contumacy, neglect, despite of God, He Himself is exhibited as in the midst of her; the witness and judge of all; there, where they sinned. "The-Lord righteous in-her-midst; He-doth not iniquity; by-morning by-morning His-judgment He-giveth to-light; He-faileth not" Zephaniah 3:5; and then in contrast to the holiness and the judgments of God, follows in four words, the perseverance of man in his shamelessness, and - the fruit of all this presence and doings of the holy and righteous God and judge is, "and-not knoweth the wrong-doer shame."
Zephaniah uses the same disjoining of the clauses in the description of God's future manifestation of His love toward them. Again, it is the same thought, "The-Lord thy-God- (is) in-thy-midst" Zephaniah 3:17; but now in love; "mighty, shall-save; He-shall-rejoice over-thee with-joy; He-shall-keep-silence in-His-love; He-shall-rejoice over-thee with-jubilee." The single expressions are alike condensed; "she-hearkened not to-voice" Zephaniah 3:2, stands for what Jeremiah says at such much greater length, how God had sent all His servants "the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them, but they hearkened not unto Me nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck" Jeremiah 7:24-28. The words "shall-be-silent in-His-love, in their primary meaning, express the deepest human love, but without the accustomed image of betrothal.
"The whole people of Canaan" (Zephaniah 1:11, compare Hosea 12:7) reminds one of Hosea; "the-men-coagulated on-their-lees" Zephaniah 1:12 is much expanded by Jeremiah Jer 48:11, his word occurs before him in Job only and the song of Moses Job 10:10; Exodus 15:8. Single poetic expressions are, that Moab should become "the possession of briars" Zephaniah 2:9, the word itself being framed by Zephaniah; in the description of the desolation of Nineveh, "a voice singeth in the window; desolation is on the threshold" Zephaniah 2:14, the imagery is so bold, that modern criticism has thought that the word "voice" which occurs in the Old Testament 328 times and with pronouns 157 times more, must signify "an owl," and "desolation" must stand for "a crow." Very characteristic is the word, ""He (see below the note at Zephaniah 2:11) shall famish" all the gods of the earth," expressing with wonderful irony, the privation of their sacrifices, which was the occasion of the first pagan persecutions of the Christians.
When then a writer, at times so concise and poetic as Zephaniah is in these places, is, at others, so full in his descriptions, this is not prolixity, but rather vivid picturing; at one time going through all the orders of creation Zephaniah 1:3; at another, different classes of the ungodly Zephaniah 1:4-9 : at yet another, the different parts of the scared woe-stricken city Zephaniah 1:10-11, to set before our eyes the universality of the desolation. Those who are familiar with our own great northern poet of nature, will remember how the accumulation of names adds to the vividness of his descriptions. Yet, here too, there is great force in the individual descriptions, as when he pictures the petty plunderers for their master, and "fill their masters' houses" - not with wealth but - "with violence and fraud" , all which remains of wealth gained by fraud and extortion being the sins themselves, which dwell in the house of the fraudulent to his destruction.
In the strictly prophetic part of his office, Jerusalem having been marked out by Micah and Isaiah before him, as the place where God would make the new revelation of Himself, Zephaniah adds, what our Lord revealed to the Samaritan woman John 4:21, that Jerusalem should no longer be the abiding center of worship. "They shall worship Him, every man from his place, all the isles of the nations" Zephaniah 2:11, is a prophecy which, to this day, is receiving an increasing accomplishment. It is a prophecy, not of the spread of Monotheism, but of the worship of Him, to whose worship at that time a handful of Jews could with difficulty be brought to adhere, the desertion or corruption or association of whose worship with idolatry Zephaniah had to denounce and to foretell its punishment. The love which God should then show to His own is expressed in words, unequaled for tenderness and in conformity to that love is the increasing growth of holiness, and the stricter requirements of God's holy justice.
Again, Zephaniah has a prelude to our blessed Lord's words, "to whom much is given, of him shall much be required" Luke 12:48, or His Apostle's, of the great awe in working out our salvation Philippians 2:12. Progress is a characteristic and condition of the Christian life; "We beseech you, that as ye have received of us, how ye ought to walk and to please God, ye would abound more and more" 1 Thessalonians 4:1. Even so Zephaniah bids "all the meek of the earth, who have wrought His judgments or law to seek diligently that meekness" Zephaniah 2:3, which had already characterized them, and that, not in view of great things, but, if so be they might be saved; it may be that ye may be hid in the day of the Lord's anger, as Peter saith, "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" 1 Peter 4:18. It is again remarkable, how he selects meekness, as the characteristic of the new state of things, which he promises. He anticipates the contrast in the Magnificat, in which the lowest lowliness was rewarded by the highest exaltation. As it is said there, "He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek" Luke 2:52, so the removal of the proud "from within thee," and the "leaving of an afflicted and poor people within thee" Zephaniah 3:12, is the special promise by Zephaniah.
Little is said of the captivity. It is a future, variously assumed subject Zephaniah 3:13. Judah in the farthest lands, "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, is the daughter of My dispersed" Zephaniah 3:10; the whole earth is the scene of their shame Zephaniah 3:19; their praises should be commensurate with their shame, "when I turn back your captivity before your eyes" Zephaniah 3:20; Zephaniah 2:7. But this turning away of their captivity is the only notice, that their punishment should be the going into captivity. The captivity itself is pre-supposed, as certain and as known. So neither are there any images from temporal exaltation. All pride should be removed, as utterly unbefitting God's holy presence: "thou shalt no more be haughty in My holy mountain" Zephaniah 2:11. The words expressive of the abasement of those within her are proportionably strong, "My afflicted and poor" Zephaniah 2:12. Some are accustomed, in these days, to talk of God's prophets as patriots. They were such truly, since they loved the land of the Lord with a divine love. But what mere "patriot" would limit his promises to the presence of "a poor people in a low estate," with an unseen presence of God? The description belongs to His kingdom, which was "not of this world" John 18:36 : the only king whom Zephaniah speaks of, "the king of Israel" Zephaniah 3:15, is Almighty God. The blessing which he promises, is the corresponding, blessing of peace, "Fear thou not; thou shalt not see evil anymore, none shall make them afraid" Zephaniah 3:16. But the words "Let not thy hands be slack" (Zephaniah 3:2, (Zephaniah 4:2 in Hebrew)), imply that they shall be aggressive on the world; that they were not to relax from the work which God assigned to them, the conversion of the world.
An allusion to the prophet Joel makes it uncertain whether words of Zephaniah relate to the first coming of our Lord, or the times which should usher in the second coming, or to both in one; and so, whether, in accordance with his general character of gathering into one all God's judgments to His end, he is speaking of the first restoration of the one purified language of faith and hope, when "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul" Acts 4:32, or whether he had his mind fixed rather on the end, "when the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in" Romans 11:25. The words also (since they may be taken either way) (see the note at Zephaniah 3:10) leave it uncertain whether the Gentiles are spoken of as bringing in the people of God, (as they shall at the end) or whether the first conversion of the Jews, even in the most distant countries, is his subject.
In any case, Zephaniah had a remarkable function - to declare the mercy and judgment of God, judgments both temporal and final, mercies, not of this world, promised to a temper not of this world, "the wisdom which is from above, pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" James 3:7.
1The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.
The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah - It seems likely that more forefathers of the prophet are named than is the wont of Holy Scripture, because the last so named was some one remarkable. Nor is it impossible that Zephaniah should have been the great grandson of the King Hezekiah, for although Holy Scripture commonly names the one son only who is in the sacred line, and although there is one generation more than to Josiah, yet if each had a son early, Zephaniah might have been contemporary with Josiah. The names seem also mentioned for the sake of their meaning; at least it is remarkable how the name of God appears in most. Zephaniah, "whom the Lord hid;" Gedaliah, "whom the Lord made great;" Amariah, "whom the Lord promised;" Hezekiah, "whom the Lord strengthened."
2I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.
I will utterly consume all things - Better "all." The word is not limited to "things" "animate" or "inanimate" or "men;" it is used severally of each, according to the context; here, without limitation, of "all." God and all stand over against one another; God and all which is not of God or in God. God, he says, will utterly consume all from off the land (earth). The prophet sums up in few words the subject of the whole chapter, the judgments of God from his own times to the day of Judgment itself. And this Day Itself he brings the more strongly before the mind, in that, with wonderful briefness, in two words which he conforms, in sound also, the one to the other, he expresses the utter final consumption of all things. He expresses at once the intensity of action and blends their separate meanings, "Taking away I will make an end of all;" and with this he unites the words used of the flood, "from off the face of the earth."
Then he goes through the whole creation as it was made, pairing "man and beast," which Moses speaks of as created on the sixth day, and the creation of the fifth day, "the fowls of the heaven and the fishes of the sea;" and before each he sets the solemn word of God, "I will end," as the act of God Himself. The words can have no complete fulfillment, until "the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up" 2 Peter 3:10, as the Psalmist too, having gone through the creation, sums up, "Thou takest away their breath, they die and return to their dust" Psalm 104:29; and then speaks of the re-creation, "Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created; and Thou renewest the face of the earth" Psalm 104:36, and, "Of old Thou hast laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands; they shall perish, but Thou shalt endure, yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed" Psalm 103:25.
Local fulfillments there may, in their degree, be. Jerome speaks as if he knew this to have been. Jerome: "Even the brute animals feel the wrath of the Lord, and when cities have been wasted and men slain, there cometh a desolation and scarceness of beasts also and birds and fishes; witness Illyricum, witness Thrace, witness my native soil," (Stridon, a city on the confines of Dalmatia and Pannonia) "where, beside sky and earth and rampant brambles and deep thickets, all has perished." But although this fact, which he alleges, is borne out by natural history, it is distinct from the words of the prophet, who speaks of the fish, not of rivers (as Jerome) but of the sea, which can in no way be influenced by the absence of man, who is only their destroyer. The use of the language of the histories of the creation and of the deluge implies that the prophet has in mind a destruction commensurate with that creation. Then he foretells the final removal of offences, in the same words which our Lord uses of the general Judgment. "The Son of Man shall send forth His Angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity" Matthew 13:41.
3I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD.
The stumbling-blocks with the wicked - Not only shall the wicked be utterly brought to an end, or, in the other meaning of the word, "gathered into bundles to be taken away," but all causes of stumbling too; everything, through which others can fall, which will not be until the end of all things. Then, he repeats, yet more emphatically, "I will cut off the whole race of man from the face of the earth," and then he closes the verse, like the foregoing, with the solemn words, "saith the Lord." All this shall be fulfilled in the Day of Judgment, and all other fulfillments are earnests of the final Judgment. They are witnesses of the ever-living presence of the Judge of all, that God does take account of man's deeds. They speak to men's conscience, they attest the existence of a divine law, and therewith of the future complete manifestation of that law, of which they are individual sentences. Not until the prophet has brought this circle of judgments to their close, does he pass on to the particular judgments on Judah and Jerusalem.
4I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests;
I will also stretch out Mine Hand - As before on Egypt . Judah had gone in the ways of Egypt and learned her sins, and sinned worse than Egypt. "The mighty Hand and stretched-out Arm" Jeremiah 2:10-11, with which she had been delivered, shall be again "stretched out," yet, not for her but "upon" her, "upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem." In this threatened destruction of all, Judah and Jerusalem are singled out, because "judgment" shall "begin at the house of God" 1 Peter 4:17; Jeremiah 25:29. They who have sinned against the greater grace shall be most signally punished. Yet, the punishment of those whom God had so chosen and loved is an earnest of the general judgment. This too is not a partial but a general judgment "upon "all" the inhabitants of Jerusalem."
And I will cut off the remnant of Baal - that is, to the very last vestige of it. Isaiah unites "name and residue" Isaiah 14:22, as equivalents, together with the proverbial, posterity and descendant. Zephaniah distributes them in parallel clauses, "the "residue" of Baal and the "name" of the Chemarim." Good and evil have each a root, which remains in the ground, when the trunk has been hewn down. There is "a remnant according to the election of grace," when "the rest have been blinded" Romans 11:5, Romans 11:7; and this is a "holy seed" Isaiah 6:13 to carry on the line of God. Evil too has its remnant, which, unless diligently kept down, shoots up again, after the conversion of peoples or individuals. The "mind of the flesh" remains in the regenerate also. The prophet foretells the complete excision of the whole "remnant of Baal," which was fulfilled in it after the captivity, and shall be fulfilled as to all which it shadows forth, in the Day of Judgment. "From this place;" for in their phrensy, they dared to bring the worship of Baal into the very temple of the Lord 2 Kings 23:4. Ribera: "Who would ever believe that in Jerusalem, the holy city, and in the very temple idols should be consecrated? Whoso seeth the ways of our times will readily believe it. For among Christians and in the very temple of God, the abominations of the pagan are worshiped. Riches, pleasures, honors, are they not idols which Christians prefer to God Himself?"
And the name of the Chemarim with the priests - Of the "idolatrous priests" the very name shall be cut off, as God promises by Hosea, that He will "take away the names of Baalim" Hosea 2:17, and by Zechariah, that He "will cut off the names of the idols out of the land" Zechariah 13:2. Yet this is more. Not the "name" only "of the Chemarim," but themselves with their name, their posterity, shall be blotted out; still more, it is God who cuts off all memory of them, blotting them out of the book of the living and out of His own.
They had but a name before, "that they were living, but were dead" Revelation 3:1. Jerome: "The Lord shall take away names of vain glory, wrongly admired, out of the Church yea, the very names of the priests with the priests who vainly flatter themselves with the name of Bishops and the dignity of Presbyters without their deeds. Whence he markedly says, not, "and the deeds of priests with the priests," but the "names;" who only bear the false name, of dignities, and with evil works destroy their own names." The "priests are priests of the Lord," who live not like priests, corrupt in life and doctrine and corrupters of God's people (see Jeremiah 2:8;Jeremiah 5:31). The judgment is pronounced alike on what was intrinsically evil, and on good which had corrupted itself into evil. The title of priest is no where given to the priest of a false God, without some mention in the context, implying that they were idolatrous priests; as the priests of Dagon 1 Samuel 5:5, of the high places as ordained by Jeroboam 1 Kings 13:2, 1 Kings 13:33; 2 Kings 23:20; 2 Chronicles 11:15, of Baal 2 Kings 10:19; 2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 23:17, of Bethel Amos 7:10, of Ahab 2 Kings 10:11, of those who were not gods 2 Chronicles 13:9, of On, where the sun was worshiped . "The priests" then were God's priests, who in the evil days of Manasseh had manifoldly corrupted their life or their faith, and who were still evil.
The "priests" of Judah, with its kings its princes and the people of the land, were in Jeremiah's inaugural vision enumerated as those, who "shall," God says, "fight against thee, but shall not prevail against thee" Jeremiah 1:18-19. "The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew Me not" Jeremiah 2:7-8. In the general corruption, "A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land, the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule at their hands" Jeremiah 5:30-31 : "the children of Israel and the children of Judah, their kings, their princes, their priests, and their prophets, and the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, have turned unto Me the back, and not the face" Jeremiah 32:32-33. Jeremiah speaks specifically of heavy moral sins. "From the prophet even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely" Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 8:10; "both prophet and priest are profane" Jeremiah 23:11; "for the sins of her prophets, the iniquities of her" Lamentations 4:13. And Isaiah says of her sensuality; "the priests and the prophets have erred through strong drink; they are swallowed up of wine; they are out of the way through strong drink" Isaiah 28:7.
5And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham;
And them that worship the best of heaven upon the - (flat) housetops This was fulfilled by Josiah who destroyed "the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz" 2 Kings 23:12. Jeremiah speaks as if this worship was almost universal, as though well-near every roof had been profaned by this idolatry. "The houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of Judah, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink-offerings unto other gods" Jeremiah 19:13. "The Chaldaeans that fight against this city, shall come and set fire on this city, and burn it with the houses, upon whose roofs they have offered incense unto Baal, and poured out drink-offerings to other gods, to provoke Me to anger" Jeremiah 32:29. They worshiped on the house-tops, probably to have a clearer view of that magnificent expanse of sky, "the moon and stars which" God had "ordained" Psalm 8:3; the "queen of heaven," which they worshiped instead of Himself. There is something so mysterious in that calm face of the moon, as it "walketh in beauty" Job 31:26; God seems to have invested it with such delegated influence over the seasons and the produce of the earth, that they stopped short in it, and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. Much as men now talk of "Nature," admire "Nature," speak of its "laws," not as laws imposed upon it, but inherent in it, laws affecting us and our well-being; only not in their ever-varying vicissitudes, "doing whatsoever God commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth, whether for correction, or for His land or for mercy!" Job 37:12-13. The idolaters "worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed forever" Romans 1:25; moderns equally make this world their object, only they idolize themselves and their discoveries, and worship their own intellect.
This worship on the house-tops individualized the public idolatry; it was a rebellion against God, family by family; a sort of family-prayer of idolatry. "Did we," say the mingled multitude to Jeremiah, "make our cakes to worship her, and pour out our drink-offerings unto her, without our men?" Jeremiah 44:19. Its family character is described in Jeremiah. "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" Jeremiah 7:18. The idolatry spread to other cities. "We will certainly do," they say, "as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem" Jeremiah 44:17. The incense went up continually "as a memorial to God" from the altar of incense in the temple: the "roofs of the houses" were so many altars, from which, street by street and house by house the incense went up to her, for whom they dethroned God, "the queen of heaven." It was an idolatry, with which Judah was especially besotted, believing that they received all goods of this world from them and not from God. When punished for their sin, they repented of their partial repentance and maintained to Jeremiah that they were punished for "leaving off to burn incense to the queen of heaven" Jeremiah 44:2, Jeremiah 44:15, Jeremiah 44:18.
And them that worship ... the Lord - but with a divided heart and service; "that swear by (rather to) the Lord," swear fealty and loyal allegiance to Him, while they do acts which deny it, in that "they swear by Malcham," better (it is no appellative although allied to one) "their king" , most probably, I think, "Moloch."
This idolatry had been their enduring idolatry in the wilderness, after the calves had been annihilated; it is "the" worship, against which Israel is warned by name in the law Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-4; then, throughout the history of the Judges, we hear of the kindred idolatry of Baal , "the" Lord (who was called also "eternal king" and from whom individuals named themselves "son of (the) king," "servant of (the) king" ), or the manifold Baals and Ashtaroth or Astarte. But after these had been removed on the preaching of Samuel 1 Samuel 7:6; 1 Samuel 12:10, this idolatry does not reappear in Judah until the intermarriage of Jehoram with the house of Ahab 2 Kings 8:16-18, 2 Kings 8:26-27; 2 Chronicles 21:6, 2 Chronicles 21:12-13; 2 Chronicles 22:2-4.
The kindred and equally horrible worship of "Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon" 1 Kings 11:7, was brought in by Solomon in his decay, and endured until his high place was defiled by Josiah 2 Kings 23:13-14. It is probable then that this was "their king" , of whom Zephaniah speaks, whom Amos and after him Jeremiah, called "their king;" but speaking of Ammon. Him, the king of Ammon, Judah adopted as "their king." They owned God as their king in words; Molech they owned by their deeds; "they worshiped and sware fealty to the Lord" and they "sware by their king;" his name was familiarly in their mouths; to him they appealed as the Judge and witness of the truth of their words, his displeasure they invoked on themselves, if they swore falsely. Cyril: "Those in error were wont to swear by heaven, and, as matter of reverence to call out, 'By the king and lord Sun.' Those who do so must of set purpose and willfully depart from the love of God, since the law expressly says, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and serve Him alone, and swear by His Name" Deuteronomy 6:13.
The former class who "worshipped on the roofs" were mere idolaters. These "worshiped," as they thought, "the Lord," bound themselves solemnly by oath to Him, but with a reserve, joining a hateful idol to Him, in that they, by a religious act, owned it too as god. The act which they did was in direct words, or by implication, forbidden by God. The command to "swear by the Lord" implied that they were to swear by none else. It was followed by the prohibition to go after other gods. (Deuteronomy 6:13-14; Deuteronomy 10:30, compare Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 4:2). Contrariwise, to swear by other gods was forbidden as a part of their service. "Be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the Law of Moses, neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, but cleave unto the Lord your God" (Joshua 23:6-8; compare Amos 8:14). "How shall I pardon thee for this? Thy children have forsaken Me, and have sworn by those who are no gods" Jeremiah 5:7. "They taught My people to swear by Baal" Jeremiah 12:16. They thought perhaps that in that they professed to serve God, did the greater homage to Him, professed and bound themselves to be His, (such is the meaning of "swear to the Lord") they might, without renouncing His service, do certain things, "swear by their king," although in effect they thereby owned hint also as god. To such Elijah said, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him" 1 Kings 18:21; and God by Jeremiah rejects with abhorrence such divided service. "Ye trust in lying words, which will not profit. Will ye steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods, and come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, saying, We are delivered to do all these abominations" Jeremiah 7:8-10. And Hosea, "Neither go ye to Beth-aven, and swear there, The Lord liveth" Hosea 4:15.
Such are Christians, Jerome: "who think that they can serve together the world and the Lord, and please two masters, God and Mammom; who, "being soldiers of Jesus Christ" and having sworn fealty to Him, "entangle themselves with the affairs of this life and offer the same image to God and to Caesar" 2 Timothy 2:3-4. To such, God, whom with their lips they own, is not their God; their idol is, as the very name says, "their king," whom alone they please, displeasing and dishonoring God. We must not only fear, love, honor God, but love, fear, honor all beside for Him Alone.
6And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor inquired for him.
And them that are turned back from - (Literally, have turned themselves back from following after) the Lord From this half-service, the prophet goes on to the avowed neglect of God, by such as wholly fall away from Him, not setting His will or law before them, "but turning away from" Him. It is their misery that they were set in the right way once, but themselves "turned themselves back," now no longer "following" God, but "their own lusts, drawn away and enticed" James 1:14 by them. How much more Christians, before whose eyes Christ Jesus is set forth, not as a Redeemer only but as an Example that they should "follow His steps!" 1 Peter 2:21.
And those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for Him - This is marked to be a distinct class. "And those who." These did not openly break with God, or turn away overtly from Him; they kept (as men think) on good terms with Him, but, like "the slothful servant," rendered Him a listless heartless service. Both words express diligent search. God is not found then in a careless way. They who "seek" Him not "diligently" Matthew 2:8, do not find Him. "Strive," our Lord says, "to enter in at the strait gate, for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able" Luke 13:24. She who had lost the one piece of silver, "sought" "diligently" Luke 15:8, until she had found it.
Thus, he has gone through the whole cycle. First, that most horrible and cruel worship of Baal, the idolatrous priests and those who had the name of priests only, mingled with them, yet not openly apostatizing; then the milder form of idolatry, the star-worshipers; then those who would unite the worship of God with idols, who held themselves to be worshipers of God, but whose real king was their idol; then those who openly abandoned God; and lastly those who held with Him, just to satisfy their conscience-qualms, but with no heart-service. And so, in words of Habakkuk and in reminiscence of his awful summons of the whole world before God, he sums up;
7Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests.
Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God - (Literally, "Hush," in awe "from the face of God.") In the presence of God, even the righteous say from their inmost heart, "I am vile, what shall I answer Thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth" Job 40:4. "Now mine eye seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" Job 42:5-6. "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified" Psalm 143:2. How much more must the "man without the wedding garment be speechless" Matthew 22:11-12, and every false plea, with which he deceived himself, melt away before the Face of God! The voice of God's Judgment echoes in every heart, "we indeed justly" Luke 23:41.
For the Day of the Lord is at hand - Zephaniah, as is his custom, grounds this summons, which he had renewed from Habakkuk, to hushed silence before God, on Joel's prophetic warning , to show that it was not yet exhausted. A day of the Lord, of which Joel warned, had come and was gone; but it was only the herald of many such days; judgments in time, heralds and earnests, and, in their degree, pictures of the last which shall end time.
Dionysius: "All time is God's, since He Alone is the Lord of time; yet that is specially said to be His time when He doth anything special. Whence He saith, "My time is not yet come" John 7:6; whereas all time is His." The Day of the Lord is, in the first instance, Jerome: "the day of captivity and vengeance on the sinful people," as a forerunner of the Day of Judgment, or the day of death to each, for this too is near, since, compared to eternity, all the time of this world is brief.
For the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice - God had rejected sacrifices, offered amid unrepented sin; they were "an abomination to Him" Isaiah 1:11-15. When man will not repent and offer himself as "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" Romans 12:1, God, at last, rejects all other outward oblations, and the sinner himself is the sacrifice and victim of his own sins. The image was probably suggested by Isaiah's words, "The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea" Isaiah 34:6; and Jeremiah subsequently uses it of the overthrow of Pharaoh at the Euphrates, "This is the day of the Lord of Hosts; that He may avenge Him of His adversaries, for the Lord God hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates" Jeremiah 46:10. "The Lord hath made all things for Himself, yea even the wicked for the day of evil" Proverbs 16:4. All must honor God, either fulfilling the will of God and the end of their own being and of His love for them, by obeying that loving will with their own freewill, or, if they repudiate it to the end, by suffering it.
He hath bid His guests - (Literally, sanctified) God had before, by Isaiah, called the pagan whom He employed to punish Babylon, "My sanctified ones" Isaiah 13:3. Zephaniah, by giving the title to God's instruments against Judah, declares that themselves, having become in deeds like the pagan, were as pagan to Him. The instruments of His displeasure, not they, were so far his chosen, His called. Jeremiah repeats the saying, "Thus saith the Lord against the house of the king of Judah;...I have sanctified against thee destroyers, a man and his weapons" Jeremiah 22:6-7. That is, so far, a holy war in the purpose of God, which fulfills His will; from where Nebuchadnezzar was "His servant" Jeremiah 25:9, avenging His wrongs . Cyril: "To be sanctified, here denotes not the laying aside of iniquity, nor the participation of the Holy Spirit, but, as it were, to be foreordained and chosen to the fulfillment of this end." That is in a manner hallowed, which is employed by God for a holy end, though the instrument, its purposes, its aims, its passions, be in themselves unholy. There is an awe about "the scourges of God." As with the lightning and the tornado, there is a certain presence of God with them, in that through them His Righteousness is seen; although they themselves have as little of God as the "wind and storm" which "fulfill His word." Those who were once admitted to make offerings to God make themselves sacrifices to His wrath; these, still pagan and ungodly and in all besides reprobate, are His priests, because in this, although without their will, they do His will.
8And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD'S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
I will punish - (Literally, visit upon). God seems oftentimes to be away from His own world. People plot, design, say, in word or in deed, "who is Lord over us?" God is, as it were, a stranger in it, or as a man, who hath "taken a journey into afar country." God uses our own language to us. "I will visit," inspecting (so to say), examining, sifting, reviewing, and when man's sins require it, allowing the weight of His displeasure to fall upon them.
The princes - The prophet again, in vivid detail (as his characteristic is), sets forth together sin and punishment. Amid the general chastisement of all, when all should become one sacrifice, they who sinned most should be punished most. The evil priests had received their doom. Here he begins anew with the mighty of the people and so goes down, first to special spots of the city, then to the whole, man by man. Josiah being a godly king, no mention is made of him. Thirteen years before his death, he received the promise of God, "because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord - I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered unto thy grave in peace, and thou shalt not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place" 2 Kings 22:19-20. In remarkable contrast to Jeremiah, who had to be, in detail and continual pleading with his people, a prophet of judgment to come, until these judgments broke upon them, and so was the reprover of the evil sovereigns who succeeded Josiah, Zephaniah has to pronounce God's judgments only on the "princes" and "the king's children."
Jeremiah, in his inaugural vision, was forewarned, that "the kings Judah, its princes, priests, and the people of the land" Jeremiah 1:18 should war against him, because he should speak unto them all which God should command him. And thenceforth, Jeremiah impleads or threatens kings and the princes together Jeremiah 2:26; Jeremiah 4:9; Jeremiah 8:1; Jeremiah 24:8; Jeremiah 32:37; Jeremiah 34:21. Zephaniah contrariwise, his office lying wholly within the reign of Josiah, describes the princes again as "roaring lions" Zephaniah 3:3, but says nothing of the king, as neither does Micah M1 Corinthians 3:1, Micah 3:9, in the reign, it may be, of Jotham or Hezekiah. Isaiah speaks of princes, as "rebellious and companions of thieves" Isaiah 1:23. Jeremiah speaks of them as idolaters Jeremiah 31:32-34; Jeremiah 44:21. They appear to have had considerable influence, which on one occasion they employed in defense of Jeremiah Jer 26:16, but mostly for evil Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 38:4, Jeremiah 38:16. Zedekiah inquired of Jeremiah secretly for fear of them Jeremiah 37:17; Jeremiah 38:14-27. They brought destruction upon themselves by what men praise, their resistance to Nebuchadnezzar, but against the declared mind of God. Nebuchadnezzar unwittingly fulfilled the prophets' word, when he "slew all the nobles of Judah, the eunuch who was over the war, and seven men of them that were near the king's person, and the principal scribe of the host" Jeremiah 39:6; Jeremiah 52:25-27.
And the king's children - Holy Scripture mentions chief persons only by name. Isaiah had prophesied the isolated lonely loveless lot of descendants of Hezekiah who should be "eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon" Isaiah 39:7, associated only with those intriguing pests of Eastern courts, a lot in itself worse than the sword (although to Daniel God overruled it to good) and Zedekiah's sons were slain before his eyes and his race extinct. Jehoiakim died a disgraced death, and Jehoiachin was imprisoned more than half the life of man.
And all such as are clothed with strange apparel - Israel was reminded by its dress, that it belonged to God. It was no great thing in itself; "a band of dark blue Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12 upon the fringes at the four corners of their garments." But "the band of dark blue" was upon the high priest's mitre, with the plate engraved, "Holiness to the Lord" Exodus 28:36, fastened upon it; "with a band of dark blue" also was the breastplate Exodus 39:21 bound to the ephod of the high priest. So then, simple as it was, it seems to have designated the whole nation, as "a kingdom of priests, an holy nation" Exodus 19:6. It was appointed to them, "that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring; that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God" Numbers 15:39-40. They might say, "it is but "a band of blue;"" but the "band of blue" was the soldier's badge, which marked them as devoted to the service of their God; indifference to or shame of it involved indifference to or shame of the charge given them therewith, and to their calling as a peculiar people. The choice of the strange apparel involved the choice to be as the nations of the world; "we will be as the pagan, as the families of the countries" Ezekiel 20:33.
All luxurious times copy foreign dress, and with it, foreign manners and luxuries; from where even the pagan Romans were zealous against its use. It is very probable that with the foreign dress foreign idolatry was imported . The Babylonian dress was very gorgeous, such as was the admiration of the simpler Jews. "Her captains and rulers clothed in perfection, girded with girdles upon their loins, with flowing dyed attire upon their heads" Ezekiel 23:12, Ezekiel 23:15. Ezekiel had to frame words to express the Hebrew idea of their beauty. Jehoiakim is reproved among other things for his luxury Jeremiah 22:14-15. Outward dress always betokens the inward mind, and in its turn acts upon it. An estranged dress betokened an estranged heart, from where it is used as an image of the whole spiritual mind Romans 13:14; Colossians 3:12; Ephesians 4:24. Jerome: "The garment of the sons of the king and the apparel of princes which we receive in Baptism, is Christ, according to that, "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ," and "Put ye on bowels of mercy, goodness, humililty, patience," and the rest. Wherein, we are commanded to be clothed with the new man from heaven according to our Creator, and to "lay aside" the clothing of "the old man with his deeds" Ephesians 4:22. Whereas, then we ought to be clothed in such raiment, for mercy we put on cruelty, for patience, impatience, for righteousness, iniquity; in a word, for virtues, vices, for Christ, antichrist. Whence it is said of such an one, "He is clothed with cursing as with a garment" Psalm 109:17. These the Lord will visit most manifestly at His Coming." Rup.: "Thinkest thou that hypocrisy is "strange apparel?" Of a truth. For what stranger apparel than sheeps' clothing to ravening wolves? What stranger than for him who "within is full of iniquity, to appear outwardly righteous before men?" Matthew 23:28.
9In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit.
I will punish all those that leap on the threshold - Neither language nor history nor context allow this to be understood of the idolatrous custom of Ashdod, not to tread on the threshold of the temple of Dagon. It had indeed been a strange infatuation of idolatry, that God's people should adopt an act of superstitious reverence for an idol in the very instance in which its nothingness and the power of the true God had been shown. Nothing is indeed too brutish for one who chooses an idol for the true God, preferring Satan to the good God. Yet, the superstition belonged apparently to Ashdod alone; the worship of Dagon, although another form of untrue worship, does not appear, like that of Baal, to have fascinated the Jews; nor would Zephaniah, to express a rare superstition, have chosen an idiom, which might more readily express the contrary, that they "leapt "on" the threshold," not over it.
They are also the same persons, who "leap on the threshold," and who "fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit." Yet, this relates, not to superstition, but to plunder and goods unjustly gotten. As then, before, he had declared God's judgments upon idolatry, so does he here upon sins against the second table, whether by open violence, or secret fraud, as do also Habakkuk Hab 1:2-3, and Jeremiah Jer 5:27. All, whether open or hidden from man, every wrongful dealing, (for every sin as to a neighbor's goods falls under these two, violence or fraud) shall be avenged in that day. 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.
10And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, and a great crashing from the hills.
A cry from the fish-gate - "The fish-gate" was probably in the north of the wall of "the second city." For in Nehemiah's rebuilding, the restoration began at the sheep-gate Nehemiah 3:1 (so called doubtless, because the sheep for the sacrifices were brought in by it), which, as being near the temple, was repaired by the priests; then it ascended northward, by two towers, the towers of Meah and Hananeel; then two companies repaired some undescribed part of the wall Nehemiah 3:2, and then another company built the fish-gate Nehemiah 3:3. Four companies are then mentioned, who repaired, in order, to the old gate, which was repaired by another company Nehemiah 3:4-6. Three more companies repaired beyond these; and they left Jerusalem unto the broad wall Nehemiah 3:7-8. After three more sections repaired by individuals, two others repaired a second measured portion, and the tower of the furnaces Nehemiah 3:9-11.
This order is reversed in the account of the dedication of the walls. The people being divided "into two great companies of them that give thanks" Nehemiah 12:31-38, some place near "the tower of the furnaces" was the central point, from which both parted to encompass the city in opposite directions. In this account, we have two additional gates mentioned, "the gate of Ephraim" Nehemiah 12:39, between the "broad wall" and the "old gate," and "the prison-gate," beyond "the sheep-gate," from which the repairs had begun. "The gate of Ephraim" had obviously not been repaired, because, for some reason, it had not been destroyed. Elsewhere, Nehemiah, who describes the rebuilding of the wall so minutely, must have mentioned its rebuilding. It was obviously to the north, as leading to Ephraim. But the tower of Hananeel must have been a very marked tower. In Zechariah Jerusalem is measured from north to south, "from the tower of Hananeel unto the king's winepresses" Zechariah 14:10.
It was then itself at the northeast corner of Jerusalem, where towers were of most importance to strengthen the wall, and to command the approach to the wall either way. "The fish-gate" then, lying between it and "the gate of Ephraim," must have been on the north side of the city, and so on the side where the Chaldaean invasions came; yet it must have been much inside the present city, because the city itself was enlarged by Herod Agrippa on the north, as it was unaccountably contracted on the south. The then limits of Jerusalem are defined. For Josephus thus describes "the second wall." (B. J. v. 42): "It took its beginning from that gate which they called "Gennath," which belonged to the first wall; it only encompassed the northern quarter of the city and reached as far as the tower of Antonia." The tower of Antonia was situated at the northwest angle of the corner of the temple. The other end of the wall, the Gennath or "garden" gate, must have opened on cultivated land; and Josephus speaks of the gardens on the north and northwest of the city which were destroyed by Titus in leveling the ground (B. J. v. 32).
But near the tower of Hippicus, the northwestern extremity of the first wall, no ancient remains have been discovered by excavation ; but they have been traced north, from "an ancient Jewish semi-circular arch, resting on piers 18 feet high, now buried in rubbish."
These old foundations have been traced at three places in a line on the east of the Holy Sepulchre (which lay consequently outside the city) up to the judgment gate, but not north of it .
The line from west to east, that is, to the tower of Antonia, is marked generally by "very large stones, evidently of Jewish work, in the walls of houses, especially in the lower parts" . They are chiefly in the line of the Via Dolorosa.
"The fish-gate" had its name probably from a fish-market (markets being in the open places near the gates (see 2 Kings 7:1; Nehemiah 13:16, Nehemiah 13:19)) the fish being brought either from the lake of Tiberius or from Joppa. Near it, the wall ended, which Manasseh, after his restoration from Babylon, "built without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley" 2 Chronicles 33:14. This, being unprotected by its situation, was the weakest part of the city. : "The most ancient of the three walls could be considered as impregnable, as much on account of its extreme thickness, as of the height of the mountain on which it was built, and the depth of the valleys at its base, and David, Solomon and the other kings neglected nothing to place it in this state." Where they had made themselves strong, there God's judgment should find them.
And a howling from the second - city, as it is supplied in Nehemiah, who mentions the prefect set over it . It was here that Huldah the prophetess lived , who prophesied the evils to come upon Jerusalem, after Josiah should be "gathered to" his "grave in peace." It was probably the lower city, which was enclosed by the second wall. It was a second or new city, as compared to the original city of David, on Mount Moriah. On this the enemy who had penetrated by the fish-gate would first enter; then take the strongest part of the city itself. Gareb Jeremiah 31:39 and Bezetha were outside of the then town; they would then be already occupied by the enemy before entering the city.
A great crashing from the hills - These are probably Zion, and Mount Moriah on which the temple stood, and so the capture is described as complete. Here should be not a cry or howling only, but an utter destruction . Mount Moriah was the seat of the worship of God; on Mount Zion was the state, and the abode of the wealthy. In human sight they were impregnable. The Jebusites mocked at David's siege, as thinking their city impregnable 2 Samuel 5:6; but God was with David and he took it. He and his successors fortified it yet more, but its true defense was that the Lord was round about His people" Psalm 125:2, and when lie withdrew His protection, then this natural strength was but their destruction, tempting them to resist first the Chaldaeans, then the Romans. Human strength is but a great crash, falling by its own weight and burying its owner. "This threefold cry , from three parts of the city, had a fulfillment before the destruction by the Romans. In the lower part of the city Simon tyrannized, and in the middle John raged, and "there was a great crashing from the hills," that is, from the temple and citadel where was Eleazar, who stained the very altar of the temple with blood, and in the courts of the Lord made a pool of blood of divers corpses."
Cyril: "In the assaults of an enemy the inhabitants are ever wont to flee to the tops of the hills, thinking that the difficulty of access will be a hindrance to him, and will cut off the assaults of the pursuers. But when God smiteth, and requireth of the despisers the penalties of their sin, not the most towered city nor impregnable circuits of walls, not height of hills, or rough rocks, or pathless difficulty of ground, will avail to the sufferers. Repentance alone saves, softening the Judge and allaying His wrath, and readily inviting the Creator in His inherent goodness to His appropriate gentleness. Better is it, with all our might to implore that we may not offend Him. But since human nature is prone to evil, and "in many things we all offend" James 3:2, let us at least by repentance invite to His wonted clemency the Lord of all, Who is by nature kind."
11Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh - Literally, "Mortar" , "in which," Jerome says, "corn is pounded; a hollow vessel, and fit for the use of medical men, in which properly ptisans are wont to be beaten (or made). Striking is it, that Scripture saith not, 'who dwell in the valley or in the alley,' but who "dwell in the mortar," because as corn, when the pestle striketh, is bruised, so the army of the enemy shall rush down upon you" (Jerome). The place intended is probably so much of the valley of the Tyropoeon, which intersected Jerusalem from north to south, as was enclosed by the second wall, on the north, and the first wall on the south. The valley "extended as far as the fountain of Siloam," and united with the valley of Jehoshaphat a little below Ophel. It was "full of houses," and, from its name as well as from its situation, it was probably the scene of petty merchandise, where the occasions in which men could and did break the law and offend God, were the more continual, because they entered into their daily life, and were a part of it. The sound of the pestle was continually heard there; another sound should thereafter be heard, when they should not bruise, but be themselves bruised. The name "Maktesh" was 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. They had been and thought themselves "Mikdash," "a holy place,. sanctuary;" they should be Maktesh , wherein all should be utterly bruised in pieces.
Jerome: "Whoso considereth the calamities of that siege, and how the city was pressed and hemmed in, will feel how aptly he calls them "the inhabitants of a mortar;" for, as grains of corn are brought together into a mortar, to the end that, when the pestle descendeth, being unable to fly off, they may be bruised, so the people flowing together, out of all the countries of Judaea, was narrowed in by a sudden siege, and through the savage cruelty of the above leaders of the sedition, was unutterably tortured from within, more than by the enemy without."
For all the merchant people are cut down - (Literally, "the people of Canaan") that is Ch.: "they who in deeds are like the people of Canaan," according to that , "Thou art of Canaan and not of Judah," and, "Thy father is an Amorite and thy mother a Hittite" . So our Lord says to the reprobate Jews, "Ye are of your father the devil" John 8:44.
All they that bear silver are cut off - (Literally, "all laden with"). The silver, wherewith they lade themselves, being gotten amiss, is a load upon them, weighing them down until they are destroyed.
12And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.
I will search - (Literally, "diligently"). The word is always used of a minute diligent search, whereby places, persons, things, are searched and sifted one by one in every corner, until it be found whether a thing be there or no . Hence, also of the searching out of every thought of the heart, either by God Proverbs 20:27, or in repentance by the light of God Lamentations 3:40.
Jerusalem with candles - so that there should be no corner, no lurking-place so dark, but that the guilty should be brought to light. The same diligence, which Eternal Wisdom used, to "seek and to save that which was lost Luke 15:8, lighting a candle and searching diligently," until it find each lost piece of silver, the same shall Almighty God use that no hardened sinner shall escape. Cyril: "What the enemy would do, using unmingled phrensy against the conquered, that God fitteth to His own Person, not as being Himself the Doer of things so foreign, but rather permitting that what comes from anger should proceed in judgment against the ungodly." It was an image of this, when, at the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans, they "dragged out of common sewers and holes and caves and tombs, princes and great men and priests, who for fear of death had hid themselves."
How much more in that Day when "the secrets of all hearts shalt be revealed" by Him who "searcheth the hearts and reins, and to Whose Eyes" Psalm 7:9; Psalm 26:2; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 20:12; Revelation 2:23, "which are like flashing Fire, all things are naked and open!" Revelation 1:14. The candles wherewith God searcheth the heart, are men's own consciences Proverbs 20:27, His Own revealed word Psalm 119:104; Proverbs 6:23; 2 Peter 1:19, the lives of true Christians Philippians 2:15. Those, through the Holy Spirit in each, may enlighten the heart of man, or, if he takes not heed, will rise in judgment against him, and show the falsehood of all vain excuses. : "One way of escape only there is. If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged. I will "search out my" own "ways" and my desires, that He who "shall search out Jerusalem with candles," may find nothing in me, unsought and unsifted. For He will not twice judge the same thing. Would that I might so follow and track out all my offences, that in none I need fear His piercing Eyes, in none be ashamed at the light of His candles! Now I am seen, but I see not. At hand is that Eye, to whom all things are open, although Itself is not open. Once "I shall know, even as I am known" 1 Corinthians 13:12. Now "I know in part," but I am not known in part, but wholly."
The men that are settled on their lees - Stiffened and contracted . The image is from wine which becomes harsh, if allowed to remain upon the lees, unremoved. It is drawn out by Jeremiah, "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed" Jeremiah 48:11. So they upon whom "no changes come, fear not God (see Psalm 55:19). The lees are the refuse of the wine, yet stored up (so the word means) with it, and the wine rests, as it were, upon them. So do men of ease rest in things defiled and defiling, their riches or their pleasure, which they hoard up, on which they are bent, so that they, Dionysius: "lift not their mind to things above, but, darkened with foulest desires, are hardened and stiffened in sin."
That say in their heart - Not openly scoffing, perhaps thinking that they believe; but people "do" believe as they love. Their most inward belief, the belief of their heart and affections, what they wish, and the hidden spring of their actions, is, "The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil." They act as believing so, and by acting inure themselves to believe it. They think of God as far away, "Is not God in the height of heaven? And behold the height of the stars, how high they are! And thou sayest, How doth God know? Can He judge through the dark cloud? Thick goads are a covering to Him, that He seeth not; and He walketh in the circuit of heaven" Job 22:12-14, "The ungodly in the pride of his heart" (thinketh); "He will not inquire; all his devices" (speak), "There is no God. Strong are his ways at all times; on high are Thy judgments out of his sight" Psalm 10:4-5. "They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless, and they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it" Psalm 94:5-6.
"Such things they did imagine and were deceived, for their own wickedness blinded them. As for the mysteries of God, they knew them not" (Wisd. 2:21-22). "Faith without works is dead" James 2:20. Faith which acts not dies out, and there comes in its stead this other persuasion, that God will not repay. There are more Atheists than believe themselves to be such. These act as if there were no Judge of their deeds, and at last come, themselves to believe that God will not punish Isaiah 5:19; Malachi 2:17. What else is the thought of all worldlings, of all who make idols to themselves of any pleasure or gain or ambition, but "God will not punish?" "God cannot punish the (wrongful, selfish,) indulgence of the nature which He has made." "God will not be so precise." "God will not punish with everlasting severance from Him, the sins of this short life." And they see not that they ascribe to God, what He attributes to idols that is, not-gods. "Do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and behold it together" . "Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good" Jeremiah 10:5. These think not that God does good, for they ascribe their success to their own diligence, wisdom, strength, and thank not God for it. They think not that He sends them evil. For they defy Him and His laws, and think that they shall go unpunished. What remains but that He should be as dumb an idol as those of the pagan?
13Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof.
Therefore their goods - Literally, "And their strength." It is the simple sequel in God's Providence. It is a continued narrative. God will visit those who say, that God does not interfere in man's affairs, and, it shall be seen Jeremiah 44:28 whose words shall stand, God's or their's. All which God had threatened in the law shall be fulfilled. God, in the fulfillment of the punishment, which He had foretold in the law Leviticus 26:32-33; Deuteronomy 28, would vindicate not only His present Providence, but His continual government of His own world. All which is strength to man, shall the rather fail, because it is strength, and they presume on it and it deceives them. Its one end is to "become a prey" of devils. Riches, learning, rule, influence, power, bodily strength, genius, eloquence, popular favor, shall all fail a man, and he, when stripped of them, shall be the more bared because he gathered them around him. "Wealth is ever a runaway and has no stability, but rather intoxicates and inclines to revolt and has unsteady feet. Exceeding folly is it to think much of it. For it will not rescue those lying under the divine displeasure, nor will it free any from guilt, when God decreeth punishment, and bringeth the judgment befitting on the transgressors. How utterly useless this eagerness after wealth is to the ungodly, he teacheth, saying, that "their strength shall be a prey" to the Chaldaean."
And their houses a desolation - Cyril: "For they are, of whom it may be said very truly, "This is the man that took not God for his strength, but trusted unto the multitude of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness" Psalm 52:7. But if indeed their houses are adorned in a costly manner, they shall not be theirs, for they shall be burned, and themselves go into captivity, leaving all in their house, and deprived of all which would gladden. And this God said clearly to the king of Judah by Jeremiah, "Thou hast builded thyself a large house and wide chambers, ceiled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shalt thou reign because thou closest thyself with cedar!" Jeremiah 22:14-15. Gregory (Mor. viii. 14): "As the house of the body is the bodily dwelling, so to each mind its house is that, wherein through desire it is wont to dwell," and "desolate" shall they be, being severed forever from the things they desired, and forever deserted by God. "They shall also build houses but not inhabit them," as the rich man said to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years .... Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" Luke 12:19-20. Before the siege by the Romans, Jerusalem and the temple had been greatly beautified, only to be destroyed. "And they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof." This is the woe, first pronounced in the law Deuteronomy 28:39, often repeated and ever found true. Wickedness makes joy its end, yet never finds it, seeking it where it is not, out of God.
14The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.
The great Day of the Lord is near - The prophet again expands the words of Joel, accumulating words expressive of the terrors of that Day, showing that though "the great and very terrible Day of the Lord" Joel 2:31, (Joel had said) "a day of darkness and gloominess, of clouds and of thick darkness" Joel 2:2, "which was then coming and nigh at hand" Joel 2:1, had come and was gone, it was only a forerunner of others; none of them final; but each, because it "was" a judgment and an instance of the justice of God, an earnest and forerunner of other judgments to the end. Again, "a great Day of the Lord was near." This Day had itself, so to speak, many hours and divisions of the day. But each hour tolleth the same knell of approaching doom. Each calamity in the miserable reigns of the sons of Josiah was one stroke in the passing-bell, until the de struction of Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans, for the time closed it.
The judgment was complete. The completeness of that excision made it the more an image of every other like day until the final destruction of all which, although around or near to Christ, shall in the Great Day be found not to be His, but to have rejected Him. Jerome: "Truly was vengeance required, 'from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, whom they slew between the temple and the altar' Matthew 23:35, and at last when they said of the Son of God, "His blood be upon us and upon our children" Matthew 27:25, they experienced a bitter day, because they had provoked the Lord to bitterness; a Day, appointed by the Lord, in which not the weak only but the mighty shall be bowed down, and wrath shall come upon them to the end. For often before they endured the wrath of the Lord, but that wrath was not to the uttermost. What need now to describe how great calamities they endured in both captivities, and how they who rejected the light of the Lord, walked in darkness and thick darkness, and they who would not hear the trumpet of the solemn feast-days, heard the shout of the enemy.
But of the "fenced cities" and "lofty corner-towers" of Judaea, which are until now destroyed even to the ground, the eyes, I deem, can judge better than the ears. We especially, now living in that province, can see, can prove what is written. We scarcely discern slight traces of ruins of what once were great cities. At Shiloh, where was the tabernacle and ark of the testament of the Lord, scarcely the foundations of the altar are shown. Rama and Bethoron and the other noble cities built by Solomon, are shown to be little villages. Let us read Joseplius and the prophecy of Zephaniah; we shall see his history before our eyes. And this must be said not only of the captivity, but even to the present day. The treacherous farmers, having slain the servants, and, at last, the Son of God, are prevented from entering Jerusalem, except to wail, and they purchase at a price leave to weep the ruin of their city, so that they who once bought the Blood of Christ, buy their tears; not even their tears are costless.
You may see on the day that Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by the Romans, a people in mourning come, decrepit old women and old men, in aged and ragged wretchedness, showing in their bodies and in their guise the wrath of the Lord. The hapless crowd is gathered, and amid the gleaming of the Cross of Christ, and the radiant glory of His Resurrection, the standard also of the Cross shining from Mount Olivet, you may see the people, piteous but unpitied, bewail the ruins of their temple, tears still on their cheeks, their arms livid and their hair disheveled, and the soldier asketh a guerdon, that they may be allowed to weep longer. And doth any, when he seeth this, doubt of the "day of trouble and distress, the day of darkness and gloominess, the day of clouds and thick darkness, the day of the trumpet and alarm?" For they have also trumpets in their sorrow, and, according to the prophecy, the voice of "the solemn feast-day is turned into mourning." They wail over the ashes of the sanctuary and the altar destroyed, and over cities once fenced, and over the high towers of the temple, from which they once cast headlong James the brother of the Lord."
But referring the Day of the Lord to the end of the world or the close of the life of each, it too is near; near, the prophet adds to impress the more its nearness, for it is at hand to each; and when eternity shall come, all time shall seem like a moment, "A thousand years, when past, are like a watch in the night" Psalm 90:4; one fourth part of one night.
And hasteth greatly - For time whirls on more rapidly to each, year by year, and when God's judgments draw near, the tokens of them thicken, and troubles sweep one over the other, events jostle against each other. The voice of the day of the Lord. That Day, when it cometh, shall leave no one in doubt what it meaneth; it shall give no uncertain sound, but shall, trumpet-tongued, proclaim the holiness and justice of Almighty God; its voice shall be the Voice of Christ, which "all that are in the graves shall hear and come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation" John 5:28-29.
"The mighty men shall cry there bitterly, for "bitter is the remembrance of death to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions, unto the man that hath nothing to vex him, and that hath prosperity in all things" (Ecclesiasticus 41:1); and, "There is no mighty man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death; and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it" Ecclesiastes 8:8. Rather, wrath shall come upon "the kings" of the earth, "and the great men and the rich men and the mighty men, and" they shall will to "hide" themselves "from the Face of Him that sitteth on the Throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great Day of His wrath is come: and who shall be able to stand?" Revelation 6:15-17.
The mighty men shall cry there bitterly - The prophet has spoken of time, "the day of the Lord." He points out the more vividly the unseen sight and place, "there;" so David says, "There they feared a fear" Psalm 14:5. He sees the place; he hears the bitter cry. So near is it in fact; so close the connection of cause and effect, of sin and punishment. There shall be a great and bitter cry, when there shall be no place for repentance. It shall be a mighty cry, but mighty in the bitterness of its distress. "Mighty men shall be mightily tormented" (Wisd. 6:6), that is, those who have been mighty against God, weak against Satan, and shall have used their might in his service.
15That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of wrath - In which all the wrath of Almighty God, which evil angels and evil men have treasured to them for that day, shall be poured out: "the" day of wrath, because then they shall be brought face to face before the presence of God, but thenceforth they shall be cast out of it forever.
A day of trouble and distress - Both words express, how anguish shall narrow and hem them in; so that there shall be no escape; above them, God displeased; below, the flames of Hell; around, devils to drag them away, and Angels casting them forth "in bundles to burn them;" without, "the books" which shall be opened;" and within, conscience leaving them no escape.
A day of wasteness and desolation - In which all things shall return to their primeval void, before "the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the waters," His presence being altogether withdrawn.
A day of darkness and gloominess - For sun and moon shall lose their brightness, and no brightness from the Lamb shall shine upon the wicked, but they shall be driven into "outer darkness."
A day of clouds and thick darkness - Hiding from them the Face of the Sun of Righteousness, and covering Him, so that their "prayers should not pass through" Lamentations 3:44.
16A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.
A day of the trumpet and alarm - o that is, of the loud blast of the trumpet, which sounds alarm and causes it. The word is especially the shrill loud noise of the trumpet (for sacred purposes in Israel itself, as ruling all the movements of the tabernacle and accompanying their feasts); then also of the "battle cry." They had not listened to the voice of the trumpet, as it called them to holy service; now they shall hear "the voice of the Archangel and the trump of God" 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
Against the high towers - Literally, "corners" , and so "corner-towers." This peculiarity describes Jerusalem, whose walls "were made artificially standing in a line curved inwards, so that the flanks of assailants might be exposed." By this same name Judges 20:2; 1 Samuel 14:38; Isaiah 19:13; Zechariah 10:4 are called the mighty men and chiefs of the people, who, humanly speaking, hold it together and support it; on these chiefs in rebellion against God, whether devils or evil men, shall punishment greatly fall.
17And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.
I will bring distress upon men - I will hem them in, in anguish on all sides. God Himself shall meet them with His terrors, wherever they turn. "I will hem them in, that they may find it so" .
That they shall walk like blind men - Utterly bereft of counsel, seeing no more than the blind which way to turn, grasping blindly and franticly at anything, and going on headlong to their own destruction. So God forewarned them in the law; "Thou shalt grope at noon day, as the blind gropeth in darkness" Jeremiah 10:29; and Job, of the wicked generally, "They meet with the darkness in the day-time, and grope in the noon-day as in the night" Job 5:14; and, "They grope in the dark without light, and He maketh them to stagger like a drunken man" Job 12:25; and Isaiah foretelling of those times, "We grope for the wall, as the blind; and we grope, as if we had no eyes; we stumble in the noon-day as in the night. Because they have sinned against the Lord" Isaiah 59:10, and so He hath turned their wisdom into foolishness, and since they have despised Him, He hath made them objects of contempt. "Their blood shall be poured out like dust" 1 Samuel 2:30, as abundant and as valueless; utterly disregarded by Him, as Asaph complains, "their blood have they shed like water" Psalm 79:3; contemptible and disgusting as what is vilest; "their flesh as the dung," refuse, decayed, putrefied, offensive, enriching by its decay the land, which had been the scene of their luxuries and oppressions. Yet, the most offensive disgusting physical corruption is but a faint image of the defilement of sin. This punishment, in which the carrion remains should be entombed only in the bowels of vultures and dogs, was especially threatened to Jehoiakim; "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, dragged and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" Jeremiah 22:19.
18Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD'S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.
Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath - Gain unjustly gotten was the cause of their destruction. For, as Ezekiel closes the like description; "They shall cast their silver into 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; they shall not satisfy their souls nor fill their bowels: "because it is the stumbling-block of their iniquity" Ezekiel 7:19. Much less shall any possession, outward or inward, be of avail in the Great Day; since in death the rich man's "pomp shall not follow him" Psalm 49:17, and every gift which he has misused, whether of mind or spirit, even the knowledge of God without doing His will, shall but increase damnation. "Sinners will then have nothing but their sins."
Here the prophet uses images belonging more to the immediate destruction; at the close the words again widen, and belong, in their fullest literal sense, to the Day of Judgment. "The whole land," rather, as at the beginning, "the whole earth shall be devoured by the fire of His jelousy; for He shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land:" rather, "He shall make an utter, yea altogether a terriffic destruction of all the dwellers of the earth." What Nahum had foretold of Nineveh , "He shall make the place thereof an utter consumption," that Zephaniah foretells of all the inhabitants of the world. For what is this, "the whole earth shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy," but what Peter says, "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up?" 2 Peter 3:13. And what is that he says, "He shall make all the dwellers of the earth an utter, yea altogether a hasty destruction," but a general judgment of all, who belong to the world, whose home, citizenship, whose whole mind is in the world, not as true Christians, who are strangers and pilgrims here, and their "citizenship is in heaven?" Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20.
These God shall make an utter, terrific, speedy destruction, a living death, so that they shall at once both be and not be; be, as continued in being; not be, as having no life of God, but only a continued death in misery. And this shall be through the jealousy of Almighty God, that divine quality in Him, whereby He loves and wills to be loved, and endures not those who give to others the love for which He gave so much and which is so wholly due to Himself Alone. Augustine, Conf. i. 5. p. 3, Oxford Translation: "Thou demandest my love, and if I give it not, art wroth with me, and threatenest me with grievous woes. Is it then a slight woe to love Thee not?" What will be that anger, which is Infinite Love, but which becomes, through man's sin, Hate?