Zephaniah excites to repentance, foretells the destruction of the enemies of the Jews, and comforts the pious among them with promises of future blessings, the restoration of their nation, and the prosperity of the church in the latter days.
Threatenings against sinners. (1-6) More threatenings. (7-13) Distress from the approaching judgments. (14-18)
Verses 1-6 Ruin is coming, utter ruin; destruction from the Almighty. The servants of God all proclaim, There is no peace for the wicked. The expressions are figurative, speaking every where desolation; the land shall be left without inhabitants. The sinners to be consumed are, the professed idolaters, and those that worship Jehovah and idols, or swear to the Lord, and to Malcham. Those that think to divide their affections and worship between God and idols, will come short of acceptance with God; for what communion can there be between light and darkness? If Satan have half, he will have all; if the Lord have but half, he will have none. Neglect of God shows impiety and contempt. May none of us be among those who draw back unto perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
Verses 7-13 God's day is at hand; the punishment of presumptuous sinners is a sacrifice to the justice of God. The Jewish royal family shall be reckoned with for their pride and vanity; and those that leap on the threshold, invading their neighbours' rights, and seizing their possessions. The trading people and the rich merchants are called to account. Secure and careless people are reckoned with. They are secure and easy; they say in their heart, the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil; that is, they deny his dispensing rewards and punishments. But in the day of the Lord's judgment, it will clearly appear that those who perish, fall a sacrifice to Divine justice for breaking God's law, and because they have no interest by faith in the Redeemer's atoning sacrifice.
Verses 14-18 This warning of approaching destruction, is enough to make the sinners in Zion tremble; it refers to the great day of the Lord, the day in which he will show himself by taking vengeance on them. This day of the Lord is very near; it is a day of God's wrath, wrath to the utmost. It will be a day of trouble and distress to sinners. Let them not be laid asleep by the patience of God. What is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? And what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Let us flee from the wrath to come, and choose the good part that shall never be taken from us; then we shall be prepared for every event; nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Zephaniah 1:1-18 . GOD'S SEVERE JUDGMENT ON JUDAH FOR ITS IDOLATRY AND NEGLECT OF HIM: THE RAPID APPROACH OF THE JUDGMENT, AND THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF ESCAPE.
1. days of Josiah--Had their idolatries been under former kings, they might have said, Our kings have forced us to this and that. But under Josiah, who did all in his power to reform them, they have no such excuse.
son of Amon--the idolater, whose bad practices the Jews clung to, rather than the good example of Josiah, his son; so incorrigible were they in sin.
Judah--Israel's ten tribes had gone into captivity before this.
2. utterly consume--from a root to "sweep away," or "scrape off utterly." See Jeremiah 8:13 , Margin, and here.
from off the land--of Judah.
3. Enumeration in detail of the "all things" ( Zephaniah 1:2 ; compare Jeremiah 9:10 , Hosea 4:3 ).
the stumbling-blocks--idols which cause Judah to offend or stumble ( Ezekiel 14:3 Ezekiel 14:4 Ezekiel 14:7 ).
with the wicked--The idols and their worshippers shall be involved in a common destruction.
4. stretch out mine hand--indicating some remarkable and unusual work of vengeance ( Isaiah 5:25 , Isaiah 9:12 Isaiah 9:17 Isaiah 9:21 ).
Judah--including Benjamin. These two tribes are to suffer, which thought themselves perpetually secure, because they escaped the captivity in which the ten tribes were involved.
Jerusalem--the fountainhead of the evil. God begins with His sanctuary ( Ezekiel 9:6 ), and those who are nigh Him ( Leviticus 10:3 ).
the remnant of Baal--the remains of Baal worship, which as yet Josiah was unable utterly to eradicate in remote places. Baal was the Phoenician tutelary god. From the time of the Judges ( Judges 2:13 ), Israel had fallen into this idolatry; and Manasseh lately had set up this idol within Jehovah's temple itself ( 2 Kings 21:3 2 Kings 21:5 2 Kings 21:7 ). Josiah began his reformation in the twelfth year of his reign ( 2 Chronicles 34:4 2 Chronicles 34:8 ), and in the eighteenth had as far as possible completed it.
Chemarims--idol priests, who had not reached the age of puberty; meaning "ministers of the gods" [SERVIUS on Æneid, 11], the same name as the Tyrian Camilli, r and l being interchangeable (compare Hosea 10:5 , Margin). Josiah is expressly said ( 2 Kings 23:5 , Margin) to have "put down the Chemarim." The Hebrew root means "black" (from the black garments which they wore or the marks which they branded on their foreheads); or "zealous," from their idolatrous fanaticism. The very "name," as well as themselves, shall be forgotten.
the priests--of Jehovah, of Aaronic descent, who ought to have used all their power to eradicate, but who secretly abetted, idolatry (compare Zephaniah 3:4 , Ezekiel 8:1-18 , 22:26 , 44:10 ). From the priests Zephaniah passes to the people.
5. worship the host of heaven--Saba: whence, in contrast to Sabeanism, Jehovah is called Lord of Sabaoth.
upon the housetops--which were flat ( 2 Kings 23:5 2 Kings 23:6 2 Kings 23:12 , Jeremiah 19:13 , 32:29 ).
swear by the Lord--rather, "swear to JEHOVAH" ( 2 Chronicles 15:14 ); solemnly dedicating themselves to Him (compare Isaiah 48:1 , Hosea 4:15 ).
and--"and yet (with strange inconsistency, 1 Kings 18:21 , Ezekiel 20:39 , Matthew 6:24 ) swear by Malcham," that is, "their king" [MAURER]: and "Milcom the god of . . . Ammon" ( 1 Kings 11:33 ). If Satan have half the heart, he will have all; if the Lord have but half offered to Him, He will have none.
6. This verse describes more comprehensively those guilty of defection from Jehovah in any way ( Jeremiah 2:13 Jeremiah 2:17 ).
7. Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord--( Habakkuk 2:20 ). Let the earth be silent at His approach [MAURER]. Or, "Thou whosoever hast been wont to speak against God, as if He had no care about earthly affairs, cease thy murmurs and self-justifications; submit thyself to God, and repent in time" [CALVIN].
Lord . . . prepared a sacrifice--namely, a slaughter of the guilty Jews, the victims due to His justice ( Isaiah 34:6 , Jeremiah 46:10 , Ezekiel 39:17 ).
bid his guests--literally, "sanctified His called ones" (compare Isaiah 13:3 ). It enhances the bitterness of the judgment that the heathen Chaldeans should be sanctified, or consecrated as it were, by God as His priests, and be called to eat the flesh of the elect people; as on feast days the priests used to feast among themselves on the remains of the sacrifices [CALVIN]. English Version takes it not of the priests, but the guests bidden, who also had to "sanctify" or purify themselves before coming to the sacrificial feast ( 1 Samuel 9:13 1 Samuel 9:22 , 16:5 ). Nebuchadnezzar was bidden to come to take vengeance on guilty Jerusalem ( Jeremiah 25:9 ).
8. the princes--who ought to have been an example of good to others, but were ringleaders in all evil.
the king's children--fulfilled on Zedekiah's children ( Jeremiah 39:6 ); and previously, on Jehoahaz and Eliakim, the sons of Josiah ( 2 Kings 23:31 2 Kings 23:36 , 2 Chronicles 36:6 ; compare also 2 Kings 20:18 , 21:13 ). Huldah the prophetess ( 2 Kings 22:20 ) intimated that which Zephaniah now more expressly foretells.
all such as are clothed with strange apparel--the princes or courtiers who attired themselves in costly garments, imported from abroad; partly for the sake of luxury, and partly to ingratiate themselves with foreign great nations whose costume as well as their idolatries they imitated, [CALVIN]; whereas in costume, as in other respects, God would have them to be separate from the nations. GROTIUS refers the "strange apparel" to garments forbidden by the law, for example, men's garments worn by women, and vice versa, a heathen usage in the worship of Mars and Venus ( Deuteronomy 22:5 ).
9. those that leap on the threshold--the servants of the princes, who, after having gotten prey (like hounds) for their masters, leap exultingly on their masters' thresholds; or, on the thresholds of the houses which they break into [CALVIN]. JEROME explains it of those who walk up the steps into the sanctuary with haughtiness. ROSENMULLER translates, "Leap over the threshold"; namely, in imitation of the Philistine custom of not treading on the threshold, which arose from the head and hands of Dragon being broken off on the threshold before the ark ( 1 Samuel 5:5 ). Compare Isaiah 2:6 , "thy people . . . are soothsayers like the Philistines." CALVIN'S view agrees best with the latter clause of the verse.
fill . . . masters' houses with violence, &c.--that is, with goods obtained with violence, &c.
10. fish gate--( 2 Chronicles 33:14 , Nehemiah 3:3 , 12:39 ). Situated on the east of the lower city, north of the sheep gate [MAURER]: near the stronghold of David in Milo, between Zion and the lower city, towards the west [JEROME]. This verse describes the state of the city when it was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar. It was through the fish gate that he entered the city. It received its name from the fish market which was near it. Through it passed those who used to bring fish from the lake of Tiberias and Jordan. It answers to what is now called the Damascus gate [HENDERSON].
the second--namely, the gate which was second in dignity [CALVIN]. Or, the second or lower part of the city. Appropriately, the fish gate, or extreme end of the lower part of the city, first resounds with the cries of the citizens as the foe approaches; then, as he advances further, that part of the city itself, namely, its inner part; lastly, when the foe is actually come and has burst in, the hills, the higher ones, especially Zion and Moriah, on which the upper city and temple were founded [MAURER]. The second, or lower city, answers to Akra, north of Zion, and separated from it by the valley of Tyropoeon running down to the pool of Siloam [HENDERSON]. The Hebrew is translated "college," 2 Kings 22:14 ; so VATABLUS would translate here.
hills--not here those outside, but those within the walls: Zion, Moriah, and Ophel.
11. Maktesh--rather, "the mortar," a name applied to the valley of Siloam from its hollow shape [JEROME]. The valley between Zion and Mount Olivet, at the eastern extremity of Mount Moriah, where the merchants dwelt. Zechariah 14:21 , "The Canaanite," namely, merchant [Chaldee Version]. The Tyropoeon (that is, cheese-makers') valley below Mount Akra [ROSENMULLER]. Better Jerusalem itself, so called as lying in the midst of hills ( Isaiah 22:1 , Jeremiah 21:13 ) and as doomed to be the scene of its people being destroyed as corn or drugs are pounded in a mortar ( Proverbs 27:22 ) [MAURER]. Compare the similar image of a "pot" ( Ezekiel 24:3 Ezekiel 24:6 ). The reason for the destruction is subjoined, namely, its merchant people's greediness of gain.
all the merchant people--literally, the "Canaanite people": irony: all the merchant people of Jerusalem are very Canaanites in greed for
all . . . that bear silver--loading themselves with that which will prove but a burden ( Habakkuk 2:6 ).
12. search . . . with candles--or lamps; so as to leave no dark corner in it wherein sin can escape the punishment, of which the Chaldeans are My instruments (compare Zephaniah 1:13 , Luke 15:8 ).
settled on their lees--"hardened" or crusted; image from the crust formed at the bottom of wines long left undisturbed ( Jeremiah 48:11 ). The effect of wealthy undisturbed ease ("lees") on the ungodly is hardening: they become stupidly secure (compare Psalms 55:19 , Amos 6:1 ).
Lord will not do good . . . evil--They deny that God regards human affairs, or renders good to the good; or evil to the evil, but that all things go haphazard ( Psalms 10:4 , Malachi 2:17 ).
13. Therefore their goods shall become a booty, &c.--Fulfilling the prophecy in Deuteronomy 28:30 Deuteronomy 28:39 (compare Amos 5:11 ).
14. voice of . . . day of . . . Lord--that is, Jehovah ushering in that day with a roar of vengeance against the guilty ( Jeremiah 25:30 , Amos 1:2 ). They who will not now heed ( Zephaniah 1:12 ) His voice by His prophets, must heed it when uttered by the avenging foe.
mighty . . . shall cry . . . bitterly--in hopeless despair; the might on which Jerusalem now prides itself, shall then fail utterly.
15. wasteness . . . desolation--The Hebrew terms by their similarity of sounds, Shoah, Umeshoah, express the dreary monotony
16. the trumpet--namely, of the besieging enemy ( Amos 2:2 ).
alarm--the war shout [MAURER].
towers--literally "angles"; for city walls used not to be built in a direct line, but with sinuous curves and angles, so that besiegers advancing might be assailed not only in front, but on both sides, caught as it were in a cul-de-sac; towers were built especially at the angles. So TACITUS describes the walls of Jerusalem [Histories, 5.11.7].
17. like blind men--unable to see whither to turn themselves so as to find an escape from existing evils.
flesh--Hebrew, "bread"; so the Arabic term for "bread" is used for "flesh" ( Matthew 26:26 ).
18. Neither . . . silver nor . . . gold shall . . . deliver them, &c.--( Proverbs 11:4 ).
fire of his jealousy--( Ezekiel 38:19 ); His wrath jealous for His honor consuming the guilty like fire.
make even a speedy riddance of all--rather, a "consummation" (complete destruction: "full end," Jeremiah 46:28 , Ezekiel 11:13 ) "altogether sudden" [MAURER]. "A consumption, and that a sudden one" [CALVIN].