John Calvin, Commentary on Zephaniah



Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets by John Calvin.

Now first translated from the original Latin, by the Rev. John Owen,
vicar of Thrussington, Leicestershire.

Volume Fourth. Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai

WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1950, Michigan.
Printed in the United States of America.



The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Prophet Zephaniah



Calvin's Preface to Zephaniah

Zephaniah is placed the last of the Minor Prophets who performed
their office before the Babylonian Captivity; and the inscription
shows that he exercised his office of teaching at the same time with
Jeremiah, about thirty years before the city was destroyed, the
Temple pulled down, and the people led into exile. Jeremiah, it is
true, followed his vocation even after the death of Josiah, while
Zephaniah prophesied only during his reign.
    The substance of his Book is this: He first denounces utter
destruction on a people who were so perverse, that there was no hope
of their repentance; - he then moderates his threatening, by
denouncing God's judgments on their enemies, the Assyrians, as well
as others, who had treated with cruelty the Church of God; for it
was no small consolation, when the Jews heard that they were so
regarded by God, that he would undertake their cause and avenge
their wrongs. He afterwards repeats again his reproofs, and shortly
mentions the sins which then prevailed among the elect people of
God; and, at the same time, he turns his discourse to the faithful,
and exhorts them to patience, setting before them the hope of favor,
provided they ever looked to the Lord; and provided they relied on
the gratuitous covenant which he made with Abraham, and doubted not
but that he would be a Father to them, and also looked, with a
tranquil mind, for that redemption which had been promised to them.
This is the sum of the whole Book.



Commentaries on the Prophet Zephaniah


Chapter 1.

Lecture One Hundred and Eighteenth

Zephaniah 1:1
The 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

    Zephaniah first mentions the time in which he prophesied; it
was under the king Josiah. The reason why he puts down the name of
his father Amon does not appear to me. The Prophet would not, as a
mark of honor, have made public a descent that was disgraceful and
infamous. Amon was the son of Manasseh, an impious and wicked king;
and he was nothing better than his father. We hence see that his
name is recorded, not for the sake of honor, but rather of reproach;
and it may have been that the Prophet meant to intimate, what was
then well known to all, that the people had become so obdurate in
their superstitions, that it was no easy matter to restore them to a
sound mind. But we cannot bring forward anything but conjecture; I
therefore leave the matter without pretending to decide it.
    With regard to the pedigree of the Prophet, I have mentioned
elsewhere what the Jews affirm - that when the Prophets put down the
names of their fathers, they themselves had descended from Prophets.
But Zephaniah mentions not only his father and grandfather, but also
his great-grandfather and his great-great-grandfather; and it is
hardly credible that they were all Prophets, and there is not a word
respecting them in Scripture. I do not think, as I have said
elsewhere, that such a rule is well-founded; but the Jews in this
case, according to their manner, deal in trifles; for in things
unknown they hesitate not to assert what comes to their minds,
though it may not have the least appearance of truth. It is possible
that the father, grandfather, the great-grandfather, and the
great-great-grandfather of the Prophet, were persons who excelled in
piety; but this also is uncertain. What is especially worthy of
being noticed is - that he begins by saying that he brought nothing
of his own, but faithfully, and, as it were, by the hand, delivered
what he had received from God.
    With regard, then, to his pedigree, it is a matter of no great
moment; but it is of great importance to know that God was the
author of his doctrine, and that Zephaniah was his faithful
minister, who introduced not his own devices, but was only the
announcer of celestial truth. Let us now proceed to the contents -

Zephaniah 1:2,3
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 off the land, saith the LORD

    It might seem at the first view that the Prophet dealt too
severely in thus fulminating against his own nation; for he ought to
have begun with doctrine, as this appears to be the just order of
things. But the Prophet denounces ruin, and shows at the same time
why God was so grievously displeased with the people. We must
however remember, that the Prophet, living at the same period with
Jeremiah, had regard to the stubbornness of the people, who had been
already with more than sufficient evidence proved to have been
guilty. Hence he darts forth as of a sudden and denounces the
wickedness of the people, which had been already exposed; so there
was to be no more contention on the subject, for their iniquity had
become quite ripe. And no doubt it was ever the object of the
Prophets to unite their endeavors so as to assist one another: and
this united effort ought ever to be among all the servants of God,
that no one may do anything apart, but with joined efforts they may
promote the same object, and at the same time strive mutually to
confirm the common truth. This is what our Prophet is now doing.
    He knew that God would have used various means to restore them,
had not the corruption of the people become now past recovery.
Having observed that all others had spent their labour in vain, he
directly attacks the wicked men who had, as it were designedly, cast
aside every fear of God, and shook off every shame. Since, then, it
was openly evident that with determined rebellion they resisted God,
it was no wonder that the Prophet began with so much severity.
    But here a difficulty meets us. He said in the first verse,
that he thus spoke under Josiah; but we know that the land was then
cleansed from its superstitions. For we learn, that when that pious
king attained manhood, he labored most strenuously to restore the
pure worship of God; and when all places were full of wicked
superstitions, he not only constrained the tribe of Judah to adopt
the true worship of God, but he also stimulated his neighbors who
had remained and were dispersed through the land of Israel. Since,
then, the pious king had strenuously and courageously promoted the
interest of true religion, it seems a wonder that God was still so
much displeased. But we must remember, that though Josiah sincerely
worshipped God, yet the people were not really changed; for it has
often happened, that God roused the chief men and leaders, while
few, or hardly any, followed them, but only yielded a feigned
obedience. This was no doubt the case in the time of Josiah; the
hearts of the people were alienated from God and true religion, so
that they chose rather to rot in their filth than to return to the
true worship of God. And that this was the case soon appeared by the
event; for Josiah did not reign long after he had cleansed the land
from its defilements, and Jehoahaz succeeded him; and then the
people immediately relapsed into their idolatry; and though for
three months only his successor reigned, yet true religion was in
that short time abolished. It is hence an obvious conclusion, that
the people had ever been wedded to impiety, and that its roots were
hidden in their hearts; though they apparently pretended to worship
God, and, in order to please the king, embraced the worship divinely
prescribed in their law; yet the event proved that it was a mere act
of dissimulation, yea, of perfidy. Then after Jehoahaz followed
Jehoiakim, and no better was their condition down to the time of
Zedekiah; in short, no remedy could be found for their unhealable
wound.
    It hence plainly appears, that though Josiah made use of all
means to revive the true and unadulterated worship of God in Judea,
he did not yet gain his object. And we hence clearly learn how hard
were the trials he sustained, seeing that he effected nothing,
though at great hazard he attempted to restore the worship of God.
When he found that he labored in vain, he no doubt had to contend
with great difficulties; and this we know by our own experience.
When hope of success shines on us, we easily overcome all troubles,
however arduous our work may be; but when we see that we strive in
vain, we become dejected: and when we see that our labour succeeds
only for a few years, our spirit grows faint. Josiah surmounted
these two difficulties; for the perverseness of the people was
sufficiently evident, and he was also reminded by two Prophets,
Jeremiah and Zephaniah, that the people would still cherish their
impious perverseness. When, therefore, he plainly saw that his
labour was almost in vain, he might have fainted in the middle of
his course, or, as they say, at the starting-place. And since the
benefit was so small during his reign, what could he have hoped
after his death?
    This example ought at this day to be carefully observed: for
though God now appears to the world in full light, yet very few
there are who submit themselves to his word; and of this small
number fewer still there are who sincerely and without any
dissimulation embrace sound doctrine. We indeed see how great is
their inconstancy and indifference. For they who pretend great zeal
for a time very soon vanish and fall away. Since then the perversity
of the world is so great, sufficient to deject the minds of God's
servants a hundred times, let us learn to look to Josiah, who in his
own time left undone nothing, which might serve to establish the
true worship of God; and when he saw that he effected but little and
next to nothing, he still persevered, and with firm and invincible
greatness of mind proceeded in his course.
    We may also derive hence an admonition no less useful not to
regard ours as the golden age, because some portion of men profess
the pure worship of God: for many, by no means wicked men, think,
that almost all mortals are like angels, as soon as they testify in
words their approbation of the gospel: and the sacred name of
Reformation is at this day profaned, when any one who shows as it
were by a nod only that he is not wholly an enemy to the gospel, is
immediately lauded as a person of extraordinary piety. Though then
many show some regard for religion, let us yet know that among so
large a number there are many hypocrites, and that there is much
chaff mixed with the wheat: and that our senses may not deceive us,
we may see here, as in a mirror, how difficult it is to restore the
world to the obedience of God, and utterly to root up all
corruptions, though idols may be taken away and superstitions be
abolished. No doubt Josiah had regard to everything calculated to
cleanse the Church, and had recourse to the advice of Jeremiah and
also of Zephaniah; we yet see that he did not attain the object he
wished, for God now became more grievously displeased with his
people than under Manasseh, or under Amon. These wicked kings had
attempted to extinguish all true religion; they had cruelly raged
against all God's servants, so that Jerusalem became almost drenched
with innocent blood: and yet God seems here to have manifested
greater displeasure under Josiah than during the previous cruelty
and so many impieties. But as I have already said, there is no
reason why we should despond, though the world by its ingratitude
may close up the way against us; and however much may Satan also by
this artifice strive to discourage us, let us still perseveringly go
on according to the duties of our calling.
    But it may be now asked, why God denounces his vengeance on the
beasts of the field, the birds of heaven, and the fishes of the sea;
for how much soever the Jews may have provoked him by their sins,
innocent animals ought to have been spared. If a son is not to be
punished for the fault of his father, (Ezek. 18: 4,) but that the
soul that has sinned is to die, why did God turn his wrath against
fishes and other animals? This seems to have been a hasty and
unreasonable infliction. But let this rule be first borne in mind -
that it is preposterous in us to estimate God's doings according to
our judgment, as froward and proud men do in our day; for they are
disposed to judge of God's works with such presumption, that
whatever they do not approve, they think it right wholly to condemn.
But it behaves us to judge modestly and soberly, and to confess that
God's judgments are a deep abyss: and when a reason for them does
not appear, we ought reverently and with due humility to hook for
the day of their full revelation. This is one thing. Then it is meet
at the same time to remember, that as animals were created for man's
use, they must undergo a lot in common with him: for God made
subservient to man both the birds of heaven, and the fishes of the
sea, and all other animals. It is then no matter of wonder, that the
condemnation of him, who enjoys a sovereignty over the whole earth,
should reach to animals. And we know that the world was not made
subject to corruption willingly - that is, naturally; but because
the contagion from Adam's fall diffused itself through heaven and
earth. Hence the sun and the moon, and all the stars, and also all
the animals, the earth itself, and the whole world, bear marks of
God's wrath, not because they have provoked it through their own
fault, but because the whole world is involved in man's curse. The
reason then is, because all things were created for the sake of man.
Hence there is no ground to conclude, that God acts with too much
severity when he executes his vengeance on innocent animals, for he
can justly involve in the same ruin with man whatever he has created
for his use.
    But the reason also is sufficiently plain, why the Prophet
speaks here of the beasts of the earth, the fishes of the sea, and
the birds of heaven: for we find that men grow torpid, or rather
stupid in their own indifference, except they are forcibly roused.
It was, therefore, necessary for the Prophet, when he saw the people
so hardened in their wickedness, and that he had to do with men past
recovery, to set clearly before them these judgments of God, as
though he had said - "Ye lie down securely, and indulge yourselves,
when God is coming forth prepared for vengeance: but his wrath shall
not only proceed against you, but will also lay hold on the harmless
animals; for ye shall see a horrible judgment executed on your oxen
and asses, on the birds and the fishes. What will become of you when
God's wrath shall be thus kindled against the unhappy creatures who
have committed no sins? Shall ye indeed escape unpunished?" We now
understand why the Prophet does not speak here of men only, but
collects with them the beasts of the earth, the fishes of the sea,
and the birds of the air.
    He says first, "By removing I will remove all things from the
face of the land"; he afterwards enumerates particulars: but
immediately after he clearly shows, that God would not act rashly
and inconsiderately while executing his vengeance, for his sole
purpose was to punish the wicked, "There shall be, he says,
stumblingblocks to the ungodly"; it is the same as though he said -
"When I cite to God's tribunal both the fishes of the sea and the
birds of heaven, think not that God's controversy is with these
creatures which are void of reason, but they are to sustain a part
of God's vengeance, which ye have through your sins deserved." The
Prophet then does here briefly show, that what he had before
threatened brute creatures with, would come upon them on men's
account; for God's design was to execute vengeance on the wicked;
and as he saw that they were extremely torpid, he tried to awaken
them by manifest tokens, so that they might see God the avenger as
it were in a striking picture. And at the same time he also adds, "I
will remove man from the face of the land". He does not speak now of
fishes or of other animals, but refers to men only. Hence appears
more clearly what I have said - that the Prophet was under the
necessity of speaking as he did, owing to the insensibility of the
people. He now adds -

Zephaniah 1:4
I 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;
    
    The Prophet explains still more clearly why he directed his
discourse in the last verse against the beasts of the earth and the
birds of heaven, even for this end - that the Jews might understand
that God was angry with them. I will stretch forth, he says, my hand
on Judah and on Jerusalem. God, then, by executing his vengeance on
animals, intended to exhibit to the Jews, as in a picture, the
dreadfulness of his wrath, which yet they despised and regarded as
nothing. The stretching forth of God's hand I have elsewhere
explained; and it means even this - that he stretches forth his hand
when he acts in an unusual manner, and employs means beyond what is
common. We indeed know that God has no hands, and we also know that
he performs all things by his command alone: but as everything seen
in the world is called the work of his hands, so he is said to
stretch forth his hand when he mentions a work that is remarkable
and worthy of being remembered. In a like manner, when I intend to
do some slight work, I only move my hand; but when I have some
difficult work to do, I prepare myself more carefully, and also
stretch forth my arms. This metaphor, then, is intended only for
this purpose, to render men more attentive to God's works, when he
is set forth as stretching forth his hand.
    But he says, "on Judah and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem".
The kingdom of Israel had now been abolished, and the ten tribes had
been led into exile; and a few only of the lowest and the poorest
remained. The Jews thought themselves safe for ever, because they
had escaped that calamity. This is the reason why the Prophet
declares that God's judgment was impending not only over the kingdom
of Judah, but also over the holy city, which thought itself exempt
from all such evil, because there were the sacrifices performed, and
there was the royal city, and, in short, because God had testified
that his habitation was to be there for ever. Since, then, by this
vain confidence the inhabitants of Jerusalem deceived themselves and
others, Zephaniah specifically addresses them. And as he had before
spoken of the wicked, he intended here, no doubt, sharply to reprove
the Jews, as though he said by way of anticipation, "There is no
reason for you to enquire who are the wicked; for ye yourselves are
they, even ye who are the holy people of God and God's chosen
inheritance, ye who are the race of Abraham, who flatter yourselves
so much on account of your excellency; ye are the wicked, who have
not hitherto ceased to provoke the vengeance of God." And at the
same time he shows, as it were by the finger, some of their sins,
though he mentions others afterwards: but he speaks now of their
superstitions.
    "I will cut off, he says, the remnants of Baal and the name of
Chamerim". The severity of the Prophet may seem here again to be
excessive, for being so incensed against superstitions which had
been abolished by the great zeal and singular diligence of the king;
but, as we have already intimated, he regarded not so much the king
as the people. For though they dared not openly to adulterate God's
worship, they yet cherished those corruptions at home to which they
had before been accustomed, as we see to be done at this day. For
when it is not allowed to worship idols, many mutter their prayers
in secret and invoke their idols: and, in short, they are restrained
only by the fear of men from manifesting their own impiety; and in
the meantime, they retain before God the same abominations. So it
was in the time of Josiah; the people were wedded to their
corruptions, and this we may easily conclude from the words of
Zephaniah: for the remnants of Baal were not seen in the temple, nor
in the streets, nor in their chapels, nor in the high places; but
their hidden impiety is here discovered by the Spirit of God; and no
doubt their sin was the more heinous and less excusable, because the
people refused to follow their pious leader. It was indeed the most
abominable ingratitude; for when they saw that the right worship was
restored to them, they preferred to remain fixed in their own filth,
rather than to return to God, even when they had liberty to do so,
and also when that pious king extended his hand to them.
    As to the word "kemarim", it designated either the worshipers
of Baal or some such men as our monks at this day: and they are
supposed by some to have been thus called, because they were clothed
in black vestments; while others think that they derived this name
from their fervor, because they were madly devoted to their
superstitions, or because they had marks on their foreheads, or
because they imposed, as is commonly the case, on the simple by the
ardor of their zeal. The name is also found in 2 Kings 23 in the
account given of Josiah: for it is said there, that the "kemarim"
were taken away, together with other abominations of superstition.
But as Zephaniah connects priests with them, it is probable that
they were a kind of people like the monks, who did not themselves
offer sacrifices, but were a sort of attendants, who undertook vows
and offered prayers in the name of the whole people. For what some
think, that they were thus called because they burnt incense,
appears not to me probable; for then they must have been priests.
They were then inferior to the sacrificers, and occupying a station
between them and the people, like the monks and hermits of this day,
who deceive foolish men by their sanctity. Such, then, were the
Camerim.
    But as Josiah could not attain his object, so as immediately to
cleanse the land from these pollutions, we need not wonder that at
this day we are not able immediately to remove superstitions from
the world: but let us in the meantime ever proceed in our course.
Let those endued with authority, who bear the sword, that is, all
magistrates, perform their office with greater diligence, inasmuch
as they see how difficult and protracted is the contest with the
ministers of idolatry. Let also the ministers of the gospel
earnestly cry against idolatry, and all ungodly ceremonies, and not
desist. Though they may not effect as much as they wish, yet let
them follow the example of Josiah. If God should in the meantime
thunder from heaven, let them not be discouraged, but, on the
contrary, know that their labour is approved by him, and never doubt
of their own safety; for though all were destroyed, their godly
efforts would not be in vain, nor fail of a reward before God. Thus,
then, ought all God's servants to animate themselves, each in his
particular sphere and vocation, whenever they have to contend with
superstitions, and with such corruptions as vitiate and adulterate
the pure worship of God.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so prone to corruptions, and so
easily turn from the right course after having commenced it, and so
easily degenerate from the truth once known, - O grant, that, being
strengthened by thy Spirit, we may persevere to the end in the right
way which thou showest to us in thy word, and that we may also
labour to restore the many who abandon themselves to various errors;
and though we may effect nothing, let us not yet be led away after
them, but remain firm in the obedience of faith, until having at
length finished all these contests, we shall be gathered into that
blessed rest which is prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our
Lord. Amen.


Lecture One Hundred and Nineteenth

Zephaniah 1:5
And 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;
    
    Zephaniah pursues the subject contained in the verse I
explained yesterday. For as the majority of the people still adhered
to their superstitions, though the pure worship of the law had been
restored by Josiah, the Prophet threatens here, that God would
punish such ingratitude. As then he had spoken in the last verse of
the worshipers of Baal and their sacrifices, so now he proceeds
farther - that the Lord would execute vengeance on the whole people,
who prayed to the host of heaven, or bowed themselves down before
the host of heaven. It is well known that those stars are thus
called in Scripture to which the gentiles ascribed, on account of
their superior lustre, some sort of divinity. Hence it was, that
they worshipped the sun as God, called the moon the queen of heaven,
and also paid adoration to the stars. The people, then, did not only
sin in worshipping Baal, but were also addicted to many
superstitions, as we see to be the case whenever men degenerate from
the genuine doctrine of true religion; they then seek out various
inventions on all sides, so that they observe no limits and keep
within no boundaries.
    But he says, that they worshipped the stars on their roofs. It
is probable that they chose this higher place, as interpreters
remind us, because they thought that they were more seen by the
stars the nearer they were to them. For as men are gross in their
ideas they never think God propitious to them except he exhibits
some proof or sign of a bodily presence; in short, they always seek
God according to their own earthly notions. Since, then, the Jews
thought that there were so many Gods as there are stars in heaven,
it is no wonder that they ascended to the roofs of their houses,
that they might be, as it were, in the sight of their gods, and thus
not lose their labour; for the superstitious never think that their
devotion is observed by God, unless they have before their eyes, as
we have just said, some sign of his presence.
    We now then see how this verse stands connected with the last.
God declares that he would punish all idolaters; but as the Jews
worshipped Baal, the Prophet first condemned that strange religion;
and now he adds other devices, to which the Jews perversely devoted
themselves; for they worshipped also all the stars, ascribing to
them some sort of divinity. Then he mentions all those who
worshipped and swore by their own king, and swore by Jehovah.
    By these last words the Prophet intimates, that the Jews had
not so repudiated the law of God but that they boasted that they
still worshipped the God who had adopted them, and by whom they had
been redeemed, who had commanded the temple to be built for him, and
an altar on mount Sion. They then did not openly reject the worship
of the true God, but formed such a mixture for themselves, that they
joined to the true God their own idols, as we see to be the state of
things at this day under the Papacy. It seems a sufficient excuse to
foolish men that they retain the name of God; and they confidently
boast that the true God is worshipped by them; and yet we see that
they mix together with this worship many of the delusions of Satan;
for under the Papacy there is no end to their inventions. When any
devise some peculiar mode of worship, it is then connected with the
rest; and thus they form such a mixture, that from one God, divided
into many parts, they bring forth a vast troop of deities. As then
at this day the Papists worship God and idols too, so Zephaniah had
to condemn the same wickedness among the Jews.
    We here learn that God's name was not then wholly obliterated,
as though the world had openly fallen away from God; for though they
worshipped Jupiter, Mercury, Apollo, and other fictitious gods, they
yet professed to worship the only true and eternal God, the Creator
of heaven and earth. What then was it that the Prophet condemned
that they were not content with what the law simply and plainly
prescribed, but that they devised for themselves various and strange
modes of worship; for when men take to themselves such a liberty as
this, they no longer worship the true God, how much soever they may
pretend to do so, inasmuch as God repudiates all spurious modes of
worship, as he testifies especially in Ezek. 20 - "Go ye," he says,
"worship your idols." He shows that all kinds of worship are
abominable to him whenever men depart in any measure from his pure
word. For we must hold this as the main principle - that obedience
is more valued by God than all sacrifices. Whenever men run after
their own inventions they depart from the true God; for they refuse
to render to him what he principally requires, even obedience.
    But our Prophet speaks according to the common notions of men;
for they pretended to be the true worshipers of God, while they
still adhered to their own inventions. They did not, indeed,
properly speaking, worship the true God; but as they thought, and
openly professed to do this, Zephaniah, making this concession, says
- "God will not suffer his own worship to be thus profaned: ye seek
to blend it with that of your idols; this he will not endure. Ye
worship the true God, and ye worship your idols; but he would have
himself to be worshipped alone; and this he deserves. But the
partition which ye make is nothing else than the mangling of true
worship; and God will not have himself to be thus in part
worshipped." We now understand what the Prophet means here; for the
Jews covered their abominations with the pretext that their purpose
was to worship the God of Abraham: the Prophet does not simply deny
this to be done by them, but declares that this worship was useless
and disapproved by God; nay, he proceeds farther, and says that this
worship, made up of various inventions, was an abominable corruption
which God would punish; for he can by no means bear that there
should be such an alliance - that idols should be substituted in his
place, and that a part of his glory should be transferred to the
inventions of men. This is the true meaning.
    We hence learn how greatly deceived the Papists are, who think
it enough, provided they depart not wholly from the worship of the
only true God; for God allows and approves of no worship except when
we attend to his voice, and turn not aside either to the left hand
or to the right, but acquiesce only in what he has prescribed.
    It is nothing strange that he connects swearing with worship,
for it is a kind of divine worship. Hence the Scripture, stating a
part for the whole, often mentions swearing in this sense, as
including the service due to God. But the Prophet pronounces here
generally a curse on all the superstitious, who worshipped
fictitious gods; and then he adds one kind of worship, and that is
swearing. I shall not here speak at large, nor is it - necessary, on
the subject of swearing. We know that the use of an oath is lawful
when God is appealed to as a witness and a judge, on important
occasions; for God's name may be interposed when a matter requires
proof, and when it is important; but God's name is not to be
introduced thoughtlessly. Hence two things are especially required
in an oath - that all who swear by his name should present
themselves with reverence before his tribunal, and acknowledge him
to be the avenger if they take his name falsely or inconsiderately
This is one thing. Then the matter itself, on account of which we
swear, must be considered; for if men allow themselves to swear by
God's name respecting things which are trifling and frivolous, it is
a shameful profanation, and by no means to be borne. For it is a
singular favor on the part of God, that he allows us to take his
name when there is any controversy among us, and when a confirmation
is necessary. As then we thus receive through kindness the name of
God, it is surely a great favor; for how great is the sanctity of
that name, though it serves even earthly concerns? God then does so
far accommodate himself to us, that it is lawful for us to swear by
his name. Hence a greater seriousness ought to be observed by us in
oaths, so that no one should dare to interpose an oath except when
necessity requires; and we should also especially take heed lest God
be called a witness to what is false. For how great a sacrilege it
is to cover a falsehood with his name, who is the eternal and
immutable truth! They then who swear falsely by his name change God,
as far as they can, into what he is not. We now sufficiently
understand how swearing is a kind of divine worship, because his
honor is thereby given to God; for his majesty is, as it were,
brought before us, and as it is his peculiar office to know and to
discover hidden things, and also to maintain the truth, this his own
work is ascribed to him. Now when any one swears by a mortal, or by
the sun, or by the moon, or by creatures, he deprives God in part of
his own honor.
    We hence see that in superstitious oaths there was a clear
proof of idolatry. This is the reason why the Prophet here condemns
those who did swear by Jehovah and by Malkom; that is, who joined
their idols with the true and eternal God when they swore. For it is
a clear precept of God's law, 'By the name of thy God shalt thou
swear.' (Deut. 6: 13.) And when the Prophets speak of the renovation
of the Church, they use this form - 'Ye shall swear by the name of
God;' 'To me shall bend every knee;' 'Every tongue shall swear to
me.' What does all this mean? "The whole world shall acknowledge me
as the true God; and as every knee shall bow to me, so every one
will submit himself to my judgment." We may hence doubtlessly
conclude, that God is deprived of his right, whenever we swear by
the sun, or by the moon, or by the dead, or by any creatures.
    This evil has been common in all ages; and it prevails still at
this day under the Papacy. They swear by the Virgin, by angels, and
by the dead. They do not think that they thus take away anything
from the sovereignty of the only true God; but we see what he
declares respecting them. The Papists therefore foolishly excuse
themselves, when they swear by their saints: for they cannot elude
the charge of sacrilege, which the Holy Spirit has stamped with
perpetual infamy, since he has said, that all those are abominable
in the sight of God who swear by any other name than his own: and
the reason is evident, for the sun, moon, and stars, and also dead
or living men, are honored with the name of God, when they are set
up as judges. For they who swear by the sun, do the same as though
they said - "The sun is my witness and judge;" that is, "The sun is
my God." They who swear by the name of a king, or as profane men
swore formerly, "By the genius of their king," ascribe to a mortal
what is peculiar to the true God alone. But when any one swears by
heaven or the temple, and does not think that there is any divinity
in the heavens or in the temple, it is the same as though he swore
by God himself, as it appears from Matt. 23: 20-22; and Christ, when
he forbade us to swear by heaven or by the earth, did not condemn
such modes of swearing as inconsistent with his word, but as only
useless and vain. At the same time he showed that God's name is
profaned by such expressions: 'They who swear by heaven, swear also
by him who inhabits heaven; they who swear by the temple, swear also
by him who is worshipped in the temple, and to whom sacrifices are
offered.' When one swears by his head or by his life, it is a
protestation, as though he said - "As my life is dear to me." But
they who swear by the saints, either living or dead, ascribe to
mortals what is due to God. They who swear by the sun, place a dead
created thing on the throne of God himself.
    As to the term "malkam", it may be properly rendered, their
king; for "melech", as it is well known, means a king; but it is
here put in construction, "malkam", their king; they swear by their
own, king. The Prophet, I doubt not, alludes to the word "Moloch",
which is derived from the verb, to reign: for though that word was
commonly used by all as a proper name, it is yet certain that that
false god was so called, as though he was a king: and the Prophet
increases the indignity by saying - They swear by Malkom. He might
have simply said, "They swear by Moloch;" but he says, They swear by
Malkom; that is, "They forget that I am their king, and transfer my
sovereignty to a dead and empty image." God then does here, by an
implied contrast, exaggerate the sin of the Jews, as they sought
another king for themselves, when they knew that under his
protection they always enjoyed a sure and real safety. Let us now
proceed -

Zephaniah 1:6
And them that are turned back from the LORD; and [those] that have
not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him.
    
    The Prophet seems here to include, as it were, in one bundle,
the proud despisers of God, as well as those idolaters of whom he
had spoken. It may yet be, that he describes the same persons in
different words, and that he means that they were addicted to their
own superstitions, because they were unwilling to serve God
sincerely and from the heart, and even shunned everything that might
lead their attention to true religion. And this view I mostly
approve; for what some imagine, that their gross contempt of God is
here pointed out, is not sufficiently supported. I therefore rather
think that the idolaters are here reproved, that they might not
suppose that they could by subterfuges wash away their guilt; for
they were wont to cover themselves with the shield of ignorance,
when they were overcome, and their impiety was fully proved: "I did
not think so; but, on the contrary, my purpose was to worship God."
Since, then, the superstitious are wont to hide themselves under the
covering of ignorance, the Prophet here defines the idolatry of the
people, and briefly shows that it was connected with obstinacy and
wickedness.
    They did "not seek Jehovah"; but, on the contrary, they turned
willfully away from him, and sought, as it were designedly, to
extinguish true religion. Nor was it to be wondered at, that so
grievous and severe a sentence was pronounced on them; for they had
been taught by the law how God was to be served. How was it, then,
that errors so gross had crept in? Doubtless, God had kindled the
light of celestial truth, which clearly showed the way of true
religion; but as men ever seek to perform some frivolous trifles,
the Israelites and the Jews, when they felt ashamed openly and
manifestly to reject the true God, labored at the same time to add
many ceremonies, that their impiety might be thus concealed. This is
the reason why the Prophet says that they turned back; that is, that
they could not be excused on the ground of ignorance, but that they
were perfidious and apostates, who had preferred their own idols to
the true God; though they knew that he could not be rightly
worshipped, but according to the rule prescribed in the law, they
yet neglected this, and heaped together many superstitions.
    And, doubtless, we shall find that the fountain of all false
worship is this - that men are unwilling truly and from the heart to
serve God; and, at the same time, they wish to retain some
appearance of religion. For there is nothing omitted in the law that
is needful for the perfect worship of God: but as God requires in
the law a spiritual worship, hence it is that men seek
hiding-places, and devise for themselves many ceremonies, that they
may turn back from God, and yet pretend that they come to him. While
they sedulously labour in their own ceremonies, it is indeed true
that the worship of God and religion are continually on their lips:
but, as I have said, it is all hypocrisy and deception; for they
accumulate ceremonies, that there might be something intervening
between God and them. It is not, therefore, without reason that the
Prophet here accuses the Jews that they "turned back from Jehovah,
and that they sought him not". How so? For there was no need of a
long, or of a difficult, or of a perplexed enquiry; for the Lord had
freely offered himself to them. How, then, was it that they were
blind in the midst of light, except that they knowingly and
willfully followed their own inventions?
    The same is the case at this day with the Papists: for though
they may glamour a hundred times that they seek to worship God, it
is quite evident that they willfully go astray; inasmuch as they so
delight themselves with their own inventions, that they do not
purely and from the heart devote and consecrate themselves to God.
    We now, then, see that this verse was added, as an explanation,
by the Prophet, that he might deprive the Jews of their false plea
of ignorance, and show that they sinned willfully; for they would
have been sufficiently taught by the law, had they not adopted their
own inventions, which dazzled their eyes and all their senses. It
follows -

Zephaniah 1:7-9
7 Hold 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.
8 And 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.
9 In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the
threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and
deceit.
    
    The Prophet confirms here what he has previously taught, when
he bids all to be silent before God; for this mode of speaking is
the same as though he had said, that he did not terrify the Jews in
vain, but seriously set before them God's judgment, which they would
find by experience to be even more than terrible. He also records
some of their sins, that the Jews might know that he did not
threaten them for nothing, but that there were just causes why God
declared that he would punish them. This is the substance of the
whole.
    Let us first see what the Prophet means by the word, silence.
Something has been said of this on the second chapter of Habakkuk.
We said then that by silence is meant submission; and to make the
thing more clear, we said that we were to notice the contrast
between the silence to which men calmly submit, and the contumacy,
which is ever clamorous: for when men seek to be wise of themselves,
and acquiesce not in God's word, it is then said, that they are not
silent, for they refuse to give a hearing to his word; and when men
give loose reins to their own will, they observe no bounds. Until
God then obtains authority in the world, all places are full of
clamour, and the whole life of men is in a state of confusion, for
they run to and fro in their wanderings; and there is no restraint
where God is not heard. It is for the same reason that the Prophet
now demands silence: but the expression is accommodated to the
subject which he handles. To be silent at the presence of God, it is
true, is to submit to God's authority; but the connection is to be
considered; for Zephaniah saw then that God's judgment was despised
and regarded as nothing; and he intimates here that God had so
spoken, that the execution was nigh at hand. Hence he says, "Be
silent", that is, "Know ye, that I have not spoken merely for the
purpose of terrifying you; but as God is prepared to execute
vengeance, of this he now reminds you, that if there be any hope of
repentance, ye may in time seek to return into favor with him; if
not, that ye may be without excuse."
    We now then understand why the Prophet bids them to be silent
before the Lord Jehovah: and the context is a confirmation of the
same view; for the reason is added, Because the day of Jehovah is
nigh. For profane men ever promise to themselves some respite, and
think that they gain much by delay: the Prophet, on the contrary,
does now expose to scorn this self-security, and says, that the day
of Jehovah was nigh at hand. It is then the same thing as though he
had said, that his judgment ought to have been quickly anticipated,
and even with fear and trembling.
    He afterwards employs a metaphor to set forth what he taught, -
that God had prepared a sacrifice, yea, that he had already
appointed and set apart his guests. By the word, sacrifice, the
Prophet reminded them, that the punishment of which he had spoken
would be just, and that the glory of God would thereby shine forth.
We indeed know how ready the world is to make complaints; when it is
pressed by God's hand, it expostulates on account of too much rigor;
and many in an open manner give utterance to their blasphemies. As
then they own not God's justice in his punishment, the Prophet calls
it a sacrifice; and sacrifices, we know, are evidences of divine
worship, and he who offers a sacrifice to God, owns him to be just.
So also by this kind of speaking Zephaniah intimates that God would
not act a cruel part in cutting off the city Jerusalem and its
inhabitants; for this would be a sacrifice, according to the
language often employed by the Prophets, and especially by Isaiah,
who says of Bozrah, 'A sacrifice is prepared in Bozrah,' (Is. 34:
6;) and who says also of Jerusalem itself, 'Oh! Ariel! Ariel! ' (Is.
29: 1.) where Jerusalem itself is represented as the altar; as
though he had said, "In all the streets, in the open places, there
shall be altars to me; for I will collect together great masses of
men, whom I shall slay as a sacrifice to me." For all who were not
willing to render worship to God, and who did not freely offer
themselves as spiritual victims to him, were to be drawn to the
slaughter, and were at the same time called sacrifices. So the
executions on the gallows, when the wicked suffer, may be said to be
sacrifices to God: for the Lord arms the magistrate with the sword
to restrain wickedness, that the wicked may not have such liberty as
to banish all equity from the world. The cities also, which, being
forcibly taken, are subject to a slaughter, and the fields, where
armies are slain, become altars, for God makes the rebellious a
sacrifice, because they refuse willingly to offer themselves.
    So also in this place the Prophet says, "Jehovah has prepared
for himself a sacrifice", - Where? At Jerusalem, through the whole
city, as it has appeared from the quotation from Isaiah; for as they
had not rightly sacrificed to God on Mount Sion, but vitiated his
whole worship, God himself declares, that he would become a priest,
that he might slay, as he thought right, those beasts, who had
obstinately refused his yoke: And he has prepared his guests. But I
cannot finish to-day.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that as we continue in so many ways to provoke
against us thy wrath, we may patiently bear the punishment, by which
thou wouldest correct our faults, and also anticipate thy judgment:
and since thou art pleased to recall us in due time to thyself, let
us not turn deaf ears to thy counsels, but so obey and submit
ourselves to thee, that we may become partakers of that mercy, which
thou offerest to us, provided we seek to be reconciled to thee, and
so proceed in thy service, that under the government of Christ thy
Son, whom thou hast appointed to be our supreme and only king, we
may so strive to be wholly devoted to thee that thou mayest be
glorified through our whole life, until we become at length
partakers of that celestial glory, which has been procured for us by
the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen
    

Lecture One Hundred and Twentieth
    
    We stated yesterday why God compares the slaughter of the
wicked to a sacrifice, - because in punishing the ungodly, he shows
himself to be the judge of the world: and this slaying is a
sacrifice of sweet odour, because it makes known this glory. And he
immediately adds, that he had prepared his guests. The word he uses
is "kadash", which means to sanctify, but is often to be taken in a
different sense. It may be explained as meaning, that God had
prepared his guests: but as there is an express mention made of
sacrifice, Zephaniah, I have no doubt, continues the same metaphor.
The meaning then is, that the Chaldeans, who were ministers of God's
vengeance, were already not only chosen for the purpose of executing
it, but were divinely consecrated for that end: and this unwelcome
saying was uttered by the Prophet, that he might more sharply touch
the feelings of his own nation. The Jews ought indeed to have
acknowledged God's judgment even when executed by heathens; but this
they would not have done, had they not understood, that these were,
in exercising their cruelty, as it were, the priests of God; for the
royal priesthood at Jerusalem had been profaned. We now then see why
the Prophet says, that those were sanctified by the Lord who had
been invited to feed on the flesh of the chosen people, as they were
wont to eat of the remainder of their sacrifices on festal days. Let
us now proceed.
    I yesterday repeated this verse, "And it shall be, on the day
of the sacrifice of Jehovah, that I will then visit the princes, and
the sons of the king, and those who are clothed with strange
apparel". The Prophet shows, that he not only threatened the common
people, but also the chief leaders, so that he spared not even the
king's sons. He attacks then here the principal men among the
people; for they were justly led to punishment in the first place,
as they had been to others the cause of their errors. We indeed
know, that they who excel in dignity give a much greater offense
when they abuse their power in promoting what is sinful. Hence it
was, that God seemed often to have sent his Prophets to them only.
For though the low and the humble in the community were not exempt
from punishment, yet it was but reasonable that God should more
severely punish their leaders. Hence the Prophet now says, that God
would "visit the princes and the king's sons". He did not indeed
intend here to flatter obscure men, as though God meant to overlook
them: but as the king and his counselors had more grievously sinned,
the more angry was God with them. We also know, that kings and
others, who exercise power, are not easily moved, for the splendor
of their fortune blinds them; and they think that they are in a
manner exempt from laws, because they occupy a higher station. We
now then see why the Prophet speaks especially of the princes and
the king's sons.
    He also adds, "And those who wear foreign apparel". Some refer
this to the worshipers of Baal, or his priests; but the context does
not allow us to apply it to any but to courtiers, whose great
delight was in apparel: for what Christ says is proved by the
experience of all ages to be too true, - that they who wear soft
clothing are in king's courts. (Matt. 11: 8.) And it is probable,
that courtiers, through a foolish affectation, often changed their
clothes; as it is the case with men who seek to appear great, they
devise daily some new way for spending money; and though they may be
more splendidly clothed than needful, yet they think it almost too
sordid to wear the same apparel for a whole month; and that their
prodigality may be more evident, they change also the forms of their
dress. This affectation prevails far too much at this day in the
world. But even then in the age of the Prophet, as it appears, the
courtiers and those who had power among the people, often changed
their dress, that they might the more display their pomp and attract
the admiration of the simple and poor people. And it was not simple
ambition, but it brought with it a contempt for others; for the rich
in this way upbraided the poor, that they themselves were alone
worthy of this superfluity and opulence. It was not enough for them,
that they were clothed for their own comfort, and also that ornament
and splendor were added; but they would have willingly made bare all
others: and as it was a shame to do this, they yet showed, as far as
they could, by their superfluous abundance, that they were alone
worthy of such display. It was then no wonder that the Lord
threatened them with so much severity.
    As this vice in course of time had greatly increased, this
passage of the Prophet deserves particular notice. And the more
luxurious men become and the more they indulge in such varieties,
and thus manifest their pride, the more carefully we ought to learn
to restrain the desires of our flesh, that they may not leap over
the bounds of moderation; and let those who abound in wealth be
contented with what is modest and becoming; and let them especially
abstain from that absurd affectation, which the Prophet evidently
condemns here. It may however have been, that the Jews then sought
new and unusual fashions as to their clothes from remote countries,
like the French at this day, who delight in the Turkish habit; for
they have too much intercourse with Turkey. So also at that time a
foolish desire had possessed the hearts of the people, so as to wish
to ingratiate themselves with the Chaldeans, and to make friends of
them by a likeness in dress. And we may learn this from a passage in
Ezekiel, where he compares them to harlots or to foolish lovers
(Ezek. 23: 2, &c.:) for as lovers paint harlots on walls, and
whoremongers and adulterers do the same; so Ezekiel accuses the
Jews, that they were so inflamed with a mad desire of making a
covenant with the Chaldean nation, that they had their images
painted in their chambers. They also no doubt imitated their dress,
in order to show that they regarded it a great happiness, if they
became their friends and confederates.
    Now follows what I repeated also yesterday, "I will visit every
one who danceth on the threshold". Some explain this of the
worshipers of Baal, but improperly; for as I have already said, the
context will not allow us to understand this except of the servants
of princes, who cruelly harassed the people and deprived helpless
men of their property, who were not able to resist them. The Prophet
then, after having spoken of the chief governors of the kingdom and
of the king's sons, now comes to their servants, who, like hunting
dogs, were ready to seize everywhere on the prey. They who
understand this to be said of the sacrifices of Baal, adduce a
passage from sacred history, - that since the image of Dagon had
been found on the threshold of the temple, they dared not to tread
on the threshold, but leaped over it: but this is too far-fetched.
Others also bring expositions of a different kind; but the Prophet,
I have no doubt, refers here to the liberty they took in plundering,
when he says, that they danced on the threshold, as persons
triumphing; for he afterwards adds, that they filled, by rapine and
fraud, the houses of the princes. To leap or dance then on the
threshold is no other thing than to take possession of the houses of
other people, and insolently to triumph over them, as it is usually
done by conquerors. For he who takes possession of what belongs to
another, does not quietly rest there as in his own habitation, but
boasts and exults. So also here, the Prophet paints to the life that
wantonness, which the servants of princes showed, when they entered
into the houses of others. He therefore says, that they danced, and
said, "This is my house; and who will dare to say a word to the
contrary?" Since then the servants of princes took so much liberty,
the Prophet here denounces on them the vengeance of God.
    He then adds, that they filled their masters' houses by rapine
and fraud. By rapine and fraud he means the prey gathered, partly by
armed force, and partly by deceit and craft; for courtiers have
their nets by which they lay in wait for helpless men. But if they
cannot obtain by fraud what they hope for, they leave recourse to
armed force. However this may be, they enrich themselves, sometimes
by plundering, and sometimes by fraud. Hence the Prophet mentions
both here. It follows -

Zephaniah 1:10
And 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.
    
    He confirms here the same truth, and amplifies and illustrates
it by a striking description; for we know how much a lively
representation avails to touch the feelings, when the event itself
is not only narrated, but placed as it were before our eyes. So the
Prophet is not content with plain words, but presents a scene, that
the future destruction of Jerusalem might appear in a clearer light.
But as I have elsewhere explained this mode of speaking, I shall not
dwell on the subject now.
    He says, that there would be "the voice of crying from the gate
of the fishes". He names here three places in Jerusalem, and
afterwards he adds a fourth. But as we do not understand the
situation of the city, sufficient for us is this probable
conjecture, - that he refers to parts opposite to one another; as
though he had said, that no corner of the city would be in a quiet
state, when the Lord roused up war. Let us then suppose it to be
triangular, and let the gate of the fishes be one side, and let the
second gate or the school be on the other; and let the part nigh the
hills form the third side. What some say, that the hills mean
palaces, I do not approve of; nor is it consistent with the context:
but we ought to bear in mind what I have already stated, that the
Prophet here denounces ruin on every part of the city, so that the
Jews would in vain seek refuges for themselves; for by running here
and there, they would find all places full of crying and howling.
There shall be then the voice of crying from the gate of the fishes.
Why the Prophet calls it the gate of the fishes we cannot for
certainty say, except that it is a probable conjecture, that either
some fish-pond was near it, or that the fish-market was nigh.
    As to the word "mishneh", the majority of interpreters think
that it means the place where the priests explained the law and
devoted themselves to the study of it; and they adduce a passage
from 2 Kings 22: 14, where it seems, as there is mention made of
priests, the word is taken in this sense. But as gates are spoken of
here, and as the Hebrews often call whatever is second in order by
this word, as the second part in buildings and also in towns and in
other places, is thus called, we may take it here in this sense,
that is, as meaning that gate which was next to the first in general
esteem. But as the subject has little to do with the main point, I
dismiss it.
    He says in the last place, that there "would be a great breach
in the hills". He refers, I have no doubt, to that part of the city
which was contiguous to the mountains. However this may be, it was
the Prophet's object to include here the whole city, that he might
shake off from the Jews all vain confidence, and show that there
would be no escape, when the Lord stretched forth his hand to punish
their sins. It now follows -

Zephaniah 1:11
Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut
down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
    
    The Prophet addresses the merchants here who inhabited the
middle part of the city, and hence thought themselves farther off
from all danger and trouble. As then they were concealed as it were
in their hiding-places, they thought that no danger was nigh them;
and thus security blinded them the more. After having spoken of the
king's palace and of the princes and their servants, Zephaniah now
turns his discourse to the merchants.
    And he calls them the inhabitants of the hollow place,
"machtesh". The verb "katash" means to be hollow; hence the Hebrews
call a hollow place "machtesh". So Solomon calls a mortar by this
name, because it is hollow: and we learn also from other parts of
scripture that the word means sometimes either a cavern or some low
place. But we know that merchants have for the most part their
streets on level ground, and it is for their advantage, as they have
goods to carry. It may then have been, that at Jerusalem there was a
large company of merchants in that part of the city, which was in
its situation low. But they who regard it as a proper name, bring
nothing either of reason or probability to confirm their opinion:
and it is also evident from the context that merchants are here
addressed, for cut off, he says, is the mercantile people. The word
"kena'an" means a merchant. Some think that the Jews are here, as
often elsewhere, called Canaan, because they were become degenerate,
and more like the Canaanites than the holy fathers, from whom they
descended. But the Prophet speaks here no doubt of merchants, for an
explanation immediately follows, all who are laden with money. And
he says that merchants were laden with money, because they would not
transact business without making payments and counting money, and
also, because merchants for the most part engrossed by their gainful
arts a great portion of the wealth of the world.
    We now then understand what the Prophet means: He threatens
howling to the merchants, who were concealed in their hidden places,
for they occupied that part of the city, as I have already said,
which was below the hills; and he then makes use of the word
"kena'an", a trafficker; and lastly he speaks of their wealth, as it
is probable that they became rich through frauds and most dishonest
means, and shows that their money would be useless to them, for they
would find in it no defense, when the Lord extended his hand to
punish them. It now follows -

Zephaniah 1:12
And 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.
    
    The Prophet addresses here generally the despisers of God, who
were become hardened in their wickedness. But before he openly names
them, he says that the visitation would be such, that God would
search every corner, so that no place would remain unexplored. For
to visit with candles, or to search with candles, is so to examine
all hidden places or coverts, that nothing may escape. When one
intends to plunder a city, he first enters into the houses, and
takes away whatever he finds; but when he thinks that there are some
hidden treasures, he descends into the secret cells; and then if
there be no light there, he lights a candle, and carefully looks
here and there, that he may not overlook anything. By this
comparison then God intimates, that Jerusalem would be so plundered,
that nothing whatever would remain. Hence he says, "I will search it
with candles". We indeed know that nothing is hid from God; but it
is evident, that he is constrained to borrow comparisons from the
common practice of men, because he could not otherwise express what
is necessary for us to know. The world indeed deal with God as men
do with one another; for they think that he can be deceived by their
craftiness. He therefore laughs to scorn this folly, and says, that
he would have candles to search out whatever was concealed.
    Now, as impiety had possessed the minds of almost all the
people, he says, I will visit the men, who on their lees are
congealed. This may indeed be only understood of the rich, who
flattered themselves in their prosperity, and feared nothing, and
were thus congealed on their lees: but Zephaniah shows in the words
which follow, that he had in view something more atrocious, that is,
that they said that neither good nor evil proceeded from God. At the
same time, these two things may be suitably joined together - that
he reproves here their self-security, produced by wealth - and that
he also accuses the careless Jews of that gross contempt of God
which is afterwards mentioned. And I am disposed to take this view,
that is, that the Jews, inebriated with prosperity, became hardened,
as men contract hardness often by labour - and that they so
collected lees through too much quietness and abundance of things,
that they became wholly stupid, and could be touched by no truth
made known to them. Hence in the first place the Prophet says, that
God would visit with punishment a carelessness so extreme, when men
not only slumbered in their prosperity, but also became congealed in
their own stupidity, so as to be almost void of sense and
understanding. When one addresses a dead mass, he can effect
nothing: and so the Prophet compares careless men to a dead and
congealed mass; for stupidity had so bound up all their senses, that
they could not be either allured by the goodness of God, or
terrified by his threatenings. Congealing then is nothing else but
that hardness or contumacy, which is contracted by self-indulgences,
and particularly when the minds of men become almost stupefied. And
by lees he means sinful indulgences, which so infatuate all the
senses of men, that no light nor sincerity remains.
    He then mentions what they said in their hearts. He expresses
here what that carelessness which he condemned brings with it - even
that wicked men fearlessly mock God. What it is to speak in the
heart, is evident from many parts of Scripture; it means to
determine anything within: for though the ungodly do not openly
proclaim what they determine in their minds, they yet reason within
themselves, and settle this point - that either there is no God, or
that he rests idly in heaven. 'Said has the ungodly in his heart, No
God is.' Why in the heart? Because shame or fear prevents men from
openly avowing their impiety; yet they cherish such thoughts in the
heart and assent to them. Now here is described by the Prophet the
height of impiety, when he says, that men drunk with pleasures
robbed God of his office as a judge, saying, that he does neither
good nor evil. And it is probable that there were then many at
Jerusalem and throughout Judea who thus insolently despised God as a
judge. But Zephaniah especially speaks of the chief men; for such
above all others deride God, as the giants did, and look down as
from on high on his judgments. There is indeed much insensibility
among the common people; but there is more madness in the pride of
great men, who, trusting in their power, think themselves exempt
from the authority of God.
    But what I have just said must be borne in mind, that an
unhealable impiety is described by the Prophet, when he accuses the
Jews, that they did not think God to be the author either of good or
of evil; because God is thus deprived of his dignity; for except he
is owned as the judge of the world, what becomes of his dignity? The
majesty, or the authority, or the glory of God does not consist in
some imaginary brightness, but in those works which so necessarily
belong to him, that they cannot be separated from his very essence.
It is what peculiarly belongs to God, to govern the world, and to
exercise care over mankind, and also to make a difference between
good and evil, to help the miserable, to punish all wickedness, to
check injustice and violence. When any one takes away these things
from God, he leaves him an idol only. Since, then, the glory of God
consists in his justice, wisdom, judgment, power, and other
attributes, all who deny God to be the governor of the world
entirely extinguish, as much as they can, his glory. Even so do
heathen writers accuse Epicures; for as he dared not to deny the
existence of some god, like Diagoras and some others, he confessed
that there are some gods, but shut them up in heaven, that they
might enjoy there their leisure and delights. But this is to imagine
a god, who is not a god. It is then no wonder that the Prophet
condemns with so much sharpness the stupidity of the Jews, as they
thought that neither good nor evil proceeded from God. But there was
also a greater reason why God should be so indignant at such
senselessness: for whence was it that men entertained such an
opinion or such a delirious thought, as to deny that God did either
good or evil, except that they attempted to drive God far away from
them, that they might not be subject to his judgment. They therefore
who seek to extinguish the distinction between right and wrong in
their consciences, invent for themselves the delirious notion, that
God concerns not himself with human affairs, that he is contented
with his own celestial felicity, and descends not to us, and that
adversity as well as prosperity happens to men by chance.
    We hence see how men seek willfully and designedly to indulge
the notion, that neither good nor evil comes from God: they do this,
that they may stupefy their own consciences, and thus precipitate
themselves with greater liberty into sin, as though they were free
to do anything with impunity, and as though there was no judge to
whom an account is to be rendered.
    And hence I have said, that it is the very summit of impiety
when men strengthen themselves in this error, that God rests in
heaven, and that whatever miseries they endure in this world happen
through fortunes and that whatever good things they have are to be
ascribed either to their own industry or to chance. And so the
Prophet briefly shows in this passage that the Jews were past
recovery, that no one might feel surprised, that God should punish
with so much severity a people who had been his friends, and whom he
had adopted in preference to the whole world: for he had set apart
the race of Abraham, as it is well known, as his chosen and holy
people. God's vengeance on the children of Abraham might have
appeared cruel or extremely rigid, had it not been expressly
declared that they had advanced so far in impiety as to seek to
exclude God from the government of the world, and to deprive him of
his own peculiar office, even that of punishing sin, of defending
his own people, of delivering them from all evils, of relieving all
their miseries. Since, then, they thus shut up God in heaven, and
gave the governing power on earth to fortune, it was an intolerable
stupidity, nay, wholly diabolical. It was therefore no wonder that
God was so severely indignant, and stretched forth his hand to
punish their sin, as their disease had become now incurable.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that as almost the whole world breaks out into
such excesses, that there is no moderation, no reason, - O grant,
that we may learn not only to confine ourselves within those limits
which thou dost approve and command, but also to delight and glory
in the smallness of our portion, inasmuch as the wealth, and honors,
and pleasures of the world so fascinate the hearts and minds of all,
that they elevate themselves into heaven, and carry on war, as it
were, avowedly with thee. Grant also to us, that in our limited
portion we may be in such a way humbled under thy powerful hand, as
never to doubt but that thou wilt be our deliverer even in our
greatest miseries; and that ascribing to thee the power over life
and death, we may feel fully assured, that whatever afflictions
happen to us, proceed from thy just judgment, so that we may be led
to repentance, and daily exercise ourselves in it, until we shall at
length come to that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-First.

Zephaniah 1:13
Therefore 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.
    
    Zephaniah pursues the same subject - that God, after long
forbearance, would punish his rebellious and obstinate people. Hence
he says, that they were now delivered, even by God himself, into the
hands of their enemies. They indeed knew that many were inimical to
them; but they did not consider God's judgment, as God himself
elsewhere complains - that they did not regard the hand of him who
smote them. (Is. 9: 13.) Our Prophet, therefore, declares now that
they were given up to destruction, and that their enemies would find
no trouble nor difficulty in invading the land, since all places
would be open to plunder. And he recites what is found in Lev. 26:
20; for the Prophets were interpreters of the law, and the only
difference between Moses and them is, that they apply his general
truth to their own time. The Prophet now pursues this course, as
though he had said, that God had not in vain or to no purpose
threatened this evil in his law; for the Jews would find by
experience that this would really be the case, and that it had been
truly said, that the fruit of the land, their habitations, and other
comforts of life, would be transferred to others. It now follows -

Zephaniah 1:14
The 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 Prophet in this verse expresses more clearly what I have
already stated - That God would be the author of all the evils which
would happen to the Jews; for as they grew more insensible in their
sins, they more and more provoked God's wrath against themselves. It
is therefore no common wisdom to consider God's hand when he strikes
or chastens us. This is the reason why the Prophet now calls the
attention of the Jews to God, that they might not fix their minds,
as it is commonly done, on men only. At the same time, he tries to
shake off their torpor by declaring that the day would be terrible,
and that it was also now near at hand. We indeed know that
hypocrites trifle with God, except they feel the weight of his
wrath, and that they protract time, and promise themselves so long a
respite, that they never awake to repentance. Hence the Prophet in
the first place shows, that whatever evils then impended over the
Jews were not only from men, but especially from God. This is one
thing; and then, in order thoroughly to touch stupid hearts, he
says, that the day would be terrible; and lastly, that they might
not deceive themselves by vain flatteries, he declares that the day
was at hand. These three things must be noticed in order that we
understand the Prophet's object.
    But he says at the beginning of the verse, that the great day
of Jehovah was nigh. In these words he includes the three things to
which I have already referred. By calling it the day of Jehovah, he
means, that whatever evils the Jews suffered, ought to have been
ascribed to his judgment; and by calling it the great day, his
object was to strike terror; as well as by saying, in the third
place, that it was nigh. We hence see that three things are included
in these words. But the Prophet more fully explains what might, on
account of the brevity of his words, have seemed not quite clear.
    "Near, he says, is the day, and quickly hastens". Men, we know,
are wont to extend time, that they may cherish their sins; for
though they cannot divest themselves of every feeling as to
religion, or shake it off, they yet imagine for themselves a long
distance between them and God; and by such an imagination they find
ease for themselves. Hence the Prophet declares the day to be nigh;
and as it was hardly credible that the destruction of which he spake
was near, he adds, that the day was quickly hastening; as though he
had said, that they ought not to judge by the present state of
things what God would do, for in a moment his wrath would pass
through from east to west like lightning. Men need long preparation
when they determine to execute their vengeance; but God has no need
of much preparation, for his own power is sufficient for him when he
resolves to destroy the wicked. We now, then, see why it was added
by the Prophet, that the day would quickly hasten.
    He now repeats that the day of Jehovah and his voice would cry
out bitterly. I have stated three renderings as given by
interpreters. Some read thus - "The day of Jehovah shall be bitter;
there the strong shall cry aloud." This meaning is admissible, and a
useful instruction may from it be elicited; as though the Prophet
had said, that no courage could bring help to men, or be an aid to
them, against God's vengeance. Others give this rendering, that the
day would bitterly cry out, for there would be the strong, that is,
the strength of enemies would break down whatever courage the Jews
might have. But this second meaning seems forced; and I am disposed
to adopt the third - that the voice of the day of Jehovah would
bitterly cry out. And he means the voice of those who would have
really to know God as a judge, whom they had previously despised;
for God would then put forth his power, which had been an object of
contempt, until the Jews had by experience felt it.
    As to the Prophet's design, there is no ambiguity: for he seeks
here to rouse the Jews from their insensibility, who had so hardened
themselves against all threatening, that the Prophets were not able
to convince them. Since, then, they had thus hardened themselves
against every instruction and all warnings, the Prophet here says,
that the voice of God's day would be different: for God's voice had
sounded through the mouth of the Prophets, but it availed not with
the deaf. An awful change is here announced; for the Jews shall then
cry aloud, as the roaring of the divine voice shall then terrify
them, when God shall really show that he is the avenger of
wickedness - "When therefore he shall ascend his tribunal, then ye
shall cry. His messengers now cry to you in vain, for ye close up
your ears; ye shall cry in your turn, but it will be in vain."
    But if one prefers to take it as one sentence, "The voice of
the day of Jehovah, there strong, shall bitterly cry out," the
meaning will be the same as to the main point. I would not,
therefore, contend about words, provided we bear in mind what I have
already said - that Zephaniah sets here the cry of the distressed
people in opposition to the voices of the Prophets, which they had
despised, yea, and for the most part, as it appears from other
places, treated with ridicule. However this may have been, he
indirectly condemns their false confidence, when he speaks of the
strong; as though he had said, that they were strong only for their
own ruin, while they opposed God and his servants; for this strength
falls at length, nay, it breaks itself by its own weight, when God
rises to judgment. It follows -

Zephaniah 1:15,16
That 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 the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and
against the high towers.
    
    The Prophet shows here how foolish they were who extenuated
God's vengeance, as hypocrites and all wicked men are wont to do.
Hence he accuses the Jews of madness, that they thought that the way
of reconciliation would be easy to them, when they had by their
perverseness provoked God to come against them as an armed enemy.
For though the ungodly do not promise to themselves anything of
God's favor, yet they entertain vain imaginations, as though he
might with no trouble be pacified: they do not think that he will be
propitious to them, and yet in the meantime they deride his
vengeance. Against this kind of senselessness the Prophet now
inveighs. We have stated in other places, that these kinds of
figurative expressions were intended solely for this end - to
constrain men to entertain some fear, for they willfully deluded
themselves: for the Prophets had to do, partly with open despisers
of God, and partly with his masked worshipers, whose holiness was
hypocrisy.
    This, then, was the reason why he said, that that day would be
a day of wrath, and also a day of distress and of affliction, of
tumult and desolation, of darkness and of thick darkness, of clouds
and of mist. In short, he intended to remove from the Jews that
confidence with which they flattered themselves, yea, the confidence
which they derived from their contempt of God: for the flesh is
secure, while it has coverts, where it may withdraw itself from the
presence of God. True confidence cannot exceed moderation, that is,
the confidence that is founded on God's word, for thus men come nigh
to God: but the flesh wishes for no other rest but in the
forgetfulness of God. And we have already seen in the Prophet Amos,
(Amos 5: 18,) why the day of Jehovah is painted as being so
dreadful; he had, as I have said, to contend with hypocrites, who
made an improper use of God's name, and at the same time slumbered
in gross insensibility. Hence Amos said, "It will be a day, not of
light, but of darkness; not of joy, but of sorrow. Why then do ye
anxiously expect the day of the Lord?" For the Jews, glorying in
being the chosen people of God, and trusting only in their false
title of adoption, thought that everything was lawful for them, as
though God had renounced his own authority. And thus hypocrites ever
flatter themselves, as though they held God bound to them. Our
Prophet does not, as Amos, distinctly express these sentiments, yet
the meaning of the words is the same, and that is, that when God
ascends his tribunal, there is no hope for pardon. He at the same
time cuts off from them all their vain confidences; for though God
excludes all escapes, yet hypocrites look here and there, before and
behind, to the right hand and to the left.
    The Prophet therefore intimates, that there would be everywhere
darkness and thick darkness, clouds and mists, affliction and
distress, - Why? because it would be the day of wrath; for God,
after having borne patiently a long time with the Jews, and seen
that they perversely abused his patience, would at length put forth
his power. And that they might not set up their own strongholds
against God, he says, that war was proclaimed against the fortified
cities and high citadels. We hence see that he deprives the Jews of
all help, in order that they might understand that they were to
perish, except they repented, and thus return into favor with God.
It shall then be a day of the trumpet and of shouting, - How? on all
fortified cities. For the Jews, as it is usually done, compared the
strength of their enemies with their own. It was not their purpose
to go forth beyond their own borders: and they thought that they
would be able to resist, and be sufficiently fortified, if any
foreign enemy invaded them. The Prophet laughs to scorn this notion,
for God had declared war against their fortified cities. It follows
-

Zephaniah 1:17
And 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.
    
    He confirms what I have already stated - that though other
enemies, the Assyrians or Chaldeans, attacked the Jews, yet God
would be the principal leader of the war. God then claims here for
himself what the Jews transferred to their earthly enemies: and the
Prophet has already often called it the day of Jehovah; for God
would then make known his power, which had been a sport to them. He
therefore declares in this place, that he would reduce man to
distress, so that the whole nation would walk like the blind - that,
being void of counsel, they would stumble and fall, and not be able
to proceed in their course: for they are said to go astray like the
blind, who see no end to their evils, who find no means to escape
ruin, but are held as it were fast bound. And we must ever bear in
mind what I have already said - that the Jews were inflated with
such pride, that they heedlessly despised all the Prophets. Since
then they were thus wise in themselves, God denounces blindness on
them.
    He subjoins the reason, "Because they had acted impiously
towards Jehovah". By these words he confirms what I have already
explained - that the intermediate causes are not to be considered,
though the Chaldeans took vengeance on the Jews; for there is a
higher principle, and another cause of this evil, even the contempt
of God and of his celestial truth; for they had acted impiously
towards God. And by these words the Prophet reminds the Jews, that
no alleviation was to be expected, as they had not only men hostile
to them, but God himself, whom they had extremely provoked.
    Hence he adds, "Poured forth shall be your blood as dust." They
whom God delivered up to extreme reproach were deserving of this,
because he had been despised by them. "Their flesh, he says, shall
be as dung". Now, we know how much the Jews boasted of their
preeminence; and God had certainly given them occasion to boast, had
they made a right and legitimate use of his benefits; but as they
had despised him, they deserved in their turn to be exposed to every
ignominy and reproach. Hence the Prophet here lays prostrate all
their false boastings by which they were inflated; for they wished
to be honorable, while God was despised by them. At last he adds -

Zephaniah 1:18
Neither 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.
    
    He repeats what he has already said - that the helps which the
Jews hoped would be in readiness to prevent God's vengeance would be
vain. For though men dare not openly to resist God, yet they hope by
some winding courses to find out some way by which they may avert
his judgment. As then the Jews, trusting in their wealth, and in
their fortified cities, became insolent towards God, the Prophet
here declares, that neither gold nor silver should be a help to
them. "Let them," he says, "accumulate wealth; though by the mass of
their gold and silver they form high mountains for themselves, yet
they shall not be able to turn aside the hand of God, nor be able to
deliver themselves," - and why? He repeats again the same thing,
that it would be the day of wrath. We indeed know, that the most
savage enemies are sometimes pacified by money, for avarice
mitigates their cruelty; but the Prophet declares here, that as God
would be the ruler in that war, there would be no redemption, and
therefore money would be useless: for God could by no means receive
them into favor, except they repented and truly humbled themselves
before him.
    He therefore adds, that the land would be devoured by the fire
of God's jealousy, or indignation. He compares God's wrath to fire;
for no agreement can be made when fire rages, but the more materials
there are the more will there be to increase the fire. So then the
Prophet excludes the Jews from any hope of deliverance, except they
reconciled themselves to God by true and sincere repentance; for a
consummation, he says, he will make as to all the inhabitants of the
land, and one indeed very quick or speedy. In short, he means, that
as the Jews had hardened themselves against every instruction, they
would find God's vengeance to be such as would wholly consume them,
as they would not anticipate it, but on the contrary enhance it by
their pride and stupidity, and even deride it. Now follows -


Chapter 2.

Zephaniah 2:1,2
Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not
desired;
Before the decree bring forth, [before] the day pass as the chaff,
before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of
the LORD'S anger come upon you.

    The Prophet, after having spoken of God's wrath, and shown how
terrible it would be, and also how near, now exhorts the Jews to
repentance, and thus mitigates the severity of his former doctrine,
provided their minds were teachable. We hence learn that God
fulminates in his word against men, that he may withhold his hand
from them. The more severe, then, God is, when he chastises us and
makes known our sins, and sets before us his wrath, the more clearly
he testifies how precious and dear to him is our salvation; for when
he sees us rushing headlong, as it were, into ruin, he calls us back
by threatening and chastisements. Whenever, then, God condemns us by
his word, let us know that he will be propitious to us, if, touched
with true repentance, we flee to his mercy; for to effect this is
the design of all his reproofs and threatening.
    There follows then a seasonable exhortation, after the Prophet
had spoken of the dreadfulness of God's vengeance. "Gather
yourselves, he says, gather, ye nation not worthy of being loved".
Others read - "Search among yourselves, search;" and interpreters
differ as to the root of the verb; some derive it from "kashash",
and others from "kush"; while some deduce the verb from the noun
"kash", which signifies chaff or stubble. But however this may be, I
consider the real meaning of the Prophet to be - "Gather yourselves,
gather;" for this is what grammatical construction requires. I do
not see why they who read "search yourselves," depart from the
commonly received meaning, except they think that the verb gather
does not suit the context; but it suits it exceedingly well. Others
with more refinement read thus - "Gather the chaff, gather the
chaff," as though the Prophet ridiculed the empty confidence of the
people. But as I have already said, he no doubt shows here the
remedy, by which they might have anticipated God's judgment, with
which he had threatened them. He indeed compares them to stubble, as
we find in the next verse, but he shows that still time is given
them to repent, so that they might gather themselves, and not be
dissipated; as though he said - "The day of your scattering is at
hand; ye shall then vanish away like chaff, for ye shall not be able
to stand at the breath of the Lord's wrath. But now while God
withholds himself, and does not put forth his hand to destroy you,
gather yourselves, that ye may not be like the chaff." There are
then two parts in this passage; the first is, that if the Jews
abused, as usual, the forbearance of God, they would become like the
chaff, for God's wrath would in a moment scatter them; but the
Prophet in the meantime reminds them that a seasonable time for
repentance was still given them; for if they willingly gathered
themselves, God would spare them. Before then the day of Jehovah's
wrath shall come; gather, he says, yourselves.
    But the way of gathering is, when men do not vanish away in
their foolish confidences, or when they do not indulge their own
lusts; for whenever men give loose reins to wicked licentiousness,
and thus go astray in gratifying their corrupt lusts, or when they
seek here and there vain confidences, they expose themselves to a
scattering. Hence the Prophet exhorts them to examine themselves, to
gather themselves, and as it were to draw themselves together, that
they might not be like the chaff. Hence he says, - "gather
yourselves, yea, gather, ye nation not loved."
    Some take the participle "nichsaf" in an active sense, as
though the Prophet had said that the Jews were void of every
feeling, and had become wholly hardened in their stupidity. But I
know not whether this can be grammatically allowed. I therefore
follow what has been more approved. The nation is called not worthy
of love, because it did not deserve mercy; and God thus amplifies
and renders illustrious his own grace, because he was still
solicitous about the salvation of those who had willfully destroyed
themselves, and rejected his favor. Though then the Jews had by
their depravity so alienated themselves from God, that there was no
reason why he should save them, he yet still continued to call them
back to himself. It is therefore a remarkable proof of the unfailing
grace of God, when he shows love to a nation wholly worthy of being
hated, and is concerned for its safety.
    He then adds, "before the decree brings forth." Here the
Prophet asserts his own authority, and that of God's other servants:
for the Jews thought that all threatening would come to nothing, as
it is the case with most men at this day who deride every true
doctrine, as though it were nothing but an empty sound. Hence the
Prophet ascribes birth to his doctrine. It is indeed true, that the
word decree has a wider meaning; but the Prophet does not speak here
of the hidden counsel of God. He therefore calls that a decree,
which God had already declared by his servants: and the meaning is,
that it is not beating the air when God denounces his vengeance on
sinners by his Prophets, but that it is a fixed and unchangeable
decree, which shall at length be effected. But the similitude of
birth is most apposite; for as the embryo lies hid in the womb, and
then emerges in due time into light; so God's vengeance, though hid
for a time, will yet in due season be accomplished, when God sees
that men's wickedness is past a remedy. We now understand why the
Prophet says, that the time was near when the decree should bring
forth.
    Then he says, "Pass away shall the chaff in a day". Some read,
"Before the day comes, when the stubble (or chaff) shall pass away."
But I take "yom" in another sense, as meaning that the Jews shall
quickly pass away as the chaff; the like expression we have also met
in Hosea. He says then that the Jews would perish in a day, in a
short time, and as it were in a moment; though they thought that
they would not be for a long time conquered. Pass away, he says,
shall they like chaff.
    Then he adds, "Before it comes, the fury of Jehovah's wrath";
the day of Jehovah's wrath, gather ye yourselves. He says first,
"before it comes upon you, the fury of wrath," and then, "the day of
wrath." He repeats the same thing; but some of the words are
changed, for instead of the fury of wrath, he puts in the second
clause, the day of wrath; as though he had said, that they were
greatly deceived if they thought that they could escape, because the
Lord deferred his vengeance. How so? For the day, which was nigh,
though not yet arrived, would at length come. As when one trusting
in the darkness of the night, and thinking himself safe from the
danger of being taken, is mistaken, for suddenly the sun rises and
discovers his hiding-place; so the Prophet intimates, that though
God was now still, it would yet be no advantage to the Jews: for he
knew the suitable time. Though then he restrained for a time his
wrath, he yet poured it forth suddenly, when the day came and the
iniquity of men had become ripe.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that as we continue in various ways to provoke
thy wrath, we may at length be awakened by the blasting of that
trumpet which sounds in our ears, when thou proclaimest that thou
wilt be the judge of the world, and testifies also the same so
plainly in the gospel, so that we may, with our minds raised up to
thee, learn to renounce all the depraved lusts of the world, and
that having shaken off our torpidity, we may so hasten to repent,
that we may anticipate thy judgment, and so find that we are
reconciled to thee, as to enjoy thy goodness, and ever to retain the
taste of it, in order that we may be enabled to renounce all the
allurements and pleasures of this world, until we shall at length
come to that blessed rest, where we shall be filled with that
unspeakable joy, which thou hast promised to us, and which we hope
for in Christ our Lord. Amen.


Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-second

Zephaniah 2:3
Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his
judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be
hid in the day of the LORD'S anger.

    Here the Prophet turns his discourse to a small number, for he
saw that he could produce no effect on the promiscuous multitude.
For had his doctrine been addressed in common to the whole people,
there were very few who would have attended. We would therefore have
been discouraged had he not believed that some seed remained among
the people, and that the office of teaching and exhorting had not
been in vain committed to him by God. But he shows at the same time
that the greater part were wholly given up to destruction. We now
see why the Prophet especially addresses the meek of the land; for
few undertook the yoke, though they had been already broken down by
many calamities. And it hence appears that the fruit of correction
was not found equal in all, for God had chastised the good and the
bad, the whole people, from the least to the greatest; they had all
been laid prostrate by many evils, yet the same ferocity remained,
as God complains in Isaiah, that he labored in vain in punishing
that refractory nation. (Isa. 1: 5.)
    But we are here taught that though ministers of the word may
think that they spend their labour to no purpose, while they sing to
the deaf, as the proverb is, they ought not yet to depart from the
course of their vocation; for there will ever be some who will
really show, after a long time, that they had been divinely and
wonderfully saved, so as not to perish with others. But what the
Prophet had especially in view was to show, that the faithful ought
not to regard what the multitude may do, or how they live; but that
when God invites them to repentance, and gives them a hope of
pardon, they ought without delay to come to him, that they might not
perish with the rest. And it deserves to be noticed, that when God
raises his voice, some harden others, and thus men lead one another
into ruin. Thus it happens that all teaching becomes unsuccessful.
Hence the Prophet applies a remedy, by showing how preposterous it
is when some follow others; for in this way they increase the ranks
of the rebellious; but that if there be any who are meek, they ought
to be teachable, when God stretches forth his hand and shows that he
will be propitious, provided they return to the right way.
    He calls them meek who had profited under the scourges of God;
for the Hebrews consider "'anawim" to be the afflicted, deriving the
word from "'anah", to afflict, or to be humble. But as men for the
most part are not subdued except by scourges, they call, by a
metaphor, "'anawim" the meek, such as have been subdued: for men
grow wanton in their pleasures, and abundance commonly produces
insolence; but by adversity they learn to become meek. Hence our
Prophet calls those the meek of the land who were submissive to God,
after having been chastised by him. For we know, that though God may
smite the wicked, they yet continue to have a stiff and iron neck
and a brazen front: but the faithful are tamed, as Jeremiah
confesses as to himself; for he says that he was like an untamed
heifer before he was chastised by God's scourges. So the Prophet
directs his discourse to the few who had felt the afflicting hand of
God, and had been thus humbled.
    He bids them to seek Jehovah, and yet he says that they had
wrought his judgment. These two clauses seem inconsistent with each
other; for if they had been previously alienated from God, justly
might the Prophet bid them to return to the right way; but as they
had devoted themselves to religion, and formed their life according
to the rule of uprightness, the Prophet seems to have exhorted them
without reason to seek God. But the passage is worthy of special
notice; for we hence learn that even the best are roused by God's
scourges to seek true religion with greater ardor than they had
before done. Though then it be our object to serve God and to follow
his word, yet when calamities arise and God appears as a judge, we
ought to be stimulated to greater care and diligence; for it never
is the case that any one of us fully performs his duty. Let us then
remember, that we are roused by God whenever adversity impends over
us, and when God himself shows by manifest signs that he is
displeased. This is the reason why the Prophet bids the pious doers
of righteousness to seek God, however much they were before devoted
to what was just and upright.
    There was also another reason: we know how grievously faith is
tried, when the good and wicked are indiscriminately and without any
difference chastised by God's hand; for the godly are then tempted
to think that it avails them nothing that they have labored
sincerely to serve God; they think that this has all been in vain
and to no purpose, for they are brought into the same miseries with
others. As then this temptation is enough to shake even the
strongest, the Prophet here exhorts the faithful to persevere, as
though he had said, that in the first confusion no difference would
be found between the good and the wicked as to their circumstances,
for God would afflict both alike, but that the end would be
different; and that there was therefore no reason for them to
despond or to think it of no advantage to seek God: for he would at
length really show that he approved of their integrity; as though he
had said, "God will not remunerate you at the first moment; but your
patience will at length find that he is a just judge, who has regard
for his people, and delivers them in their extremity."
    To do the judgment of God in this place is to form the life
according to the righteousness of the law. The word "mishpat" has
various meanings in Scripture. Sometimes, and indeed often, it
designates the punishment which God allots to the wicked: but it
frequently means equity or the rule of right living. Hence to do
judgment is to observe what is righteous and just, to abstain from
what is wrong and injurious. But the Prophet calls it the judgment
of God, because it is what he prescribes in his word and what he
approves. For we know that men blend various things, by which they
would prove themselves to be just and righteous: but they deceive
themselves, except they form their life especially according to what
God requires. We now perceive what the Prophet means; and he
afterwards defines what it is to seek God; for the latter part of
the verse is added as an explanation, that the faithful might
understand how God is to be sought.
    For hypocrites, as soon as God invites them, accumulate many
rites, and weary themselves much in things of no value. In short,
they think that they have sufficiently sought God when they have
performed a number of ceremonies. But by over-acting they trifle as
it were with God, and thus deceive themselves. Thus we see
repentance profaned. They under the Papacy prattle enough about
repentance, but when they are asked to define it, they begin with
contrition; and yet no displeasure at sin is mentioned by them, nor
any real love of righteousness, but they talk about attrition and
contrition, and then immediately they leap to confession; and this
is the principal part of repentance: they afterwards come to
satisfactions. Thus repentance among the Papists is nothing else but
a some kind of mistaken solicitude, by which they labour to pacify
God, as though they came nigh him: nay, the satisfactions of the
Papacy are nothing else but obstructions between God and men.
    This evil has been common in all ages. The Prophet, therefore,
does not without reason define what the true and rightful way of
seeking God is, and that is, when righteousness is sought, when
humility is sought. By righteousness he understands the same thing
as by judgment; as though he had said, "Advance in a righteous and
holy course of life, for God will not forget your obedience,
provided your hearts grow not faint, and ye persevere to the end."
We hence see that God complains, not only when we obtrude external
pomps and devices I know not what, as though he might like a child
be amused by us; but also when we do not sincerely devote our life
to his service. And he adds humility to righteousness; for it is
difficult even for the very best of men not to murmur against God
when he severely chastises them. We indeed find how much their own
delicacy embitters the minds of men when God appears somewhat severe
with them. Hence the Prophet, in order to check all clamors, exhorts
the faithful here to cultivate humility, so that they might
patiently bear the rigor by which God would try them, and might
suffer themselves to be ruled by his hand. Peter had the same thing
in view when he said, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of
God." (1 Pet. 5: 6.) We now then see why the Prophet requires from
the faithful not only righteousness but also humility; it was, that
they might with composed minds wait for the deliverance which God
had promised. They were not in the interval to murmur, nor to give
vent to their own perverse feelings, however severely God might
treat them.
    We may hence gather a profitable instruction: The Prophet does
not address here men who were depraved and had wholly neglected what
was just and right, but he directs his discourse to the best, the
most upright, the most holy: and yet he shows that they had no other
remedy, but humbly and patiently to bear the chastisement of God. It
then follows that no perfection can be found among men, such as can
meet the judgment of God. For were any to object and say, that they
devoted themselves to righteousness, there is yet a just reason why
they should humble themselves; for we are all guilty before God, and
no one can clear himself, inasmuch as when any one examines his own
conscience, he finds that he is not free from sin. However conscious
then we may be of acting uprightly, and God himself may be a judge
to us, and the Holy Spirit the witness of our true and real
integrity; yet when the Lord summons us before his tribunal, let us
all, from the least to the greatest, learn to confess ourselves
guilty and exposed to judgment.
    He afterwards adds, "If it may be (or, it may be) ye shall be
concealed in the day of Jehovah's anger". The Prophet speaks not
doubtingly, as though the faithful were uncertain as to God's favor:
but he had another thing in view, - that though no hope remained as
to the perceptions of men, yet the faithful would not lose their
labour, if they sought God; for in their worst circumstances they
would find him propitious to them and their safety secured by his
kindness. Hence we see, that the Prophet in these words points out
the disastrous character of the event, but no deficiency in the love
of God. Though the Lord is ready to pardon, nay, of his own self
anticipates his people, and kindly invites them to himself; it is
yet necessary for them to consider how wonderful is his power in
preserving his elect, when all things seem desperate. It may then
be, he says, when the Jews understood that all things were in a
state of extreme despair: and the Prophet said this, partly that the
reprobate and the perverse might know that they were to perish, and
partly that the faithful might appreciate the more the favor of God,
when they saw themselves delivered from death by a miracle, and
found that it would be a kind of resurrection, when God became their
deliverer. Hence the Prophet, in order to commend to God's children
his salvation, which he offers them, and to render more illustrious
God's favor, makes use of the particle "'ulay", it may be. In the
meantime he fulminates, as I have already said, against the
reprobate, that they might understand that it was all over with
them. It follows -

Zephaniah 2:4,5
For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall
drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up.
Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the
Cherethites! the word of the LORD [is] against you; O Canaan, the
land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall
be no inhabitant.
    
    The Prophet begins here to console the elect; for when God's
vengeance had passed away, which would only be for a time against
them, the heathens and foreigners would find God in their turn to be
their judge to punish them for the wrongs done to his people; though
some think that God's judgment on the Jews is here described, while
yet the Prophet expressly mentions their neighbors: but the former
view seems to me more suitable, - that the Prophet reminds the
faithful of & future change of things, for God would not perpetually
afflict his chosen people, but would transfer his vengeance to other
nations. The meaning then is - that God, who has hitherto threatened
the Jews, would nevertheless be propitious to them, not indeed to
all the people, for a great part was doomed to destruction, but to
the remnant, whom the Lord had chosen as a seed to himself, that
there might be some church remaining. For we know, that God had
always so moderated the punishment he inflicted on his people, as
not to render void his covenant, nor abolish the memory of Abraham's
race: for this reason he was to come forth as their Redeemer.
    Since then the Prophet speaks here against Gaza, and Ashkelon,
and Ashdod, and Akron, and the Philistine, and the Cretians and
others, he intended no doubt to add courage to the faithful, that
they might not despair of God's mercy, though they might find
themselves very grievously oppressed; for he could at length put an
end to his wrath, after having purged his Church of its dregs. And
this admonition the faithful also need, that they may not envy the
wicked and the despisers of God, as though their condition were
better or more desirable. For when the Lord spares the wicked and
chastens us, we are tempted to think that nothing is better than to
shake off every yoke. Lest then this temptation should have assailed
the faithful, the Prophet reminded them in time, that there was no
reason why the heathens should flatter or congratulate themselves,
when God did not immediately punish them; for their portion was
prepared for them.
    He mentions Gaza first, a name which often occurs in scripture.
The Hebrews called it Aza; but as "'ayin" is the first letter, the
Greeks have rendered it Gaza, and heathen authors have thought it to
be a Persia word, and it means in that language a treasure. But this
is a vain notion, for it is no doubt a Hebrew word. He then adds
Ashkelon, a city nigh to Gaza. In the third place he mentions
Ashdod, which the Greeks have translated Azotus, and the Latins have
followed the Greeks. He names Ekron in the last place. All these
cities were near to the Jews, and were not far from one another
towards the Moabites and the Idumeans.
    He then adds, Ho! (or, woe to, "ho") the inhabitants of the
line of the sea. The region of the sea he calls Galilee; and he
joins the Kerethites and the Philistine. Some think that he alludes
to the troops, who carried on war under David; for he had chosen his
garrison soldiers from that nation, that is, from the people of
Galilee, and had called them Kerethites and Philistine. But I know
not whether the Prophet spoke so refinedly. I rather think, that he
refers here to those heathen nations, which had been hostile to the
Jews, though vicinity ought to have been a bond of kindness. Hence
he includes them all in the name of Canaan: for I do not take it
here, as some do, as signifying merchants; for the Prophet evidently
means, that however called, they were all Canaanites, who had been
long ago doomed to destruction. Since then those regions had been
enemies to the Jews, the Prophet intimates that God would become the
defender of his chosen people.
    "The word of Jehovah is against you". "God, who has hitherto
threatened his own people, summons you to judgment. Think not that
you will escape unpunished for having vexed his Church." For though
God designed to prove the patience of his people, yet neither the
Moabites, nor the rest, were excusable when they cruelly oppressed
the Jews; yea, when they purposed through them to fight with God
himself, the creator of heaven and earth. He afterwards adds, There
shall be no inhabitant, for God would destroy them all. We now see
that the Prophet had no other design but to alleviate the bitter
grief of the faithful by this consolation, - that their miseries
would be only for a time, and that God would ere long punish their
enemies. It follows -

Zephaniah 2:6,7
And the sea coast shall be dwellings [and] cottages for shepherds,
and folds for flocks.
And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they
shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down
in the evening: for the LORD their God shall visit them, and turn
away their captivity.
    
    The Prophet confirms what he has before said respecting the
future vengeance of God, which was now nigh at hand to the Moabites
and other neighbouring nations, who had been continually harassing
the miserable Jews. Hence, he says, that that whole region would
become the habitation of sheep. It is a well known event, that when
any country is without inhabitants shepherds occupy it; for there is
no sowing nor reaping there, but grass alone grows. Where,
therefore, there is no cultivation, where no number of men are
found, there shepherds find a place for their flocks, there they
build sheep cots. It is, therefore, the same as though the Prophet
had said, that the country would be desolate, as we find it
expressed in the next verse.
    He immediately adds, but for a different reason, that the coast
of the sea would be a habitation to the house of Judah. And there is
here a striking divergence from the flocks of shepherds to the tribe
of Judah, which was as it were, the chosen flock of God. The Prophet
then, after having said that the region would be waste and desolate,
immediately adds, that it would be for the benefit of the chosen
people; for the Lord would grant there to the Jews a safe and secure
rest. But the Prophet confines this to the remnant; for the greater
part, as we have already seen, were become so irreclaimable, that
the gate of mercy was completely closed against them. The Prophet,
at the same time, by mentioning a remnant, shows that there would
always be some seed from which God would raise up a new Church; and
he also encourages the faithful to entertain hope, so that their own
small number might not terrify them; for when they considered
themselves and found themselves surpassed by a vast multitude, they
might have thought that they were of no account. Lest then they
should be disheartened the Prophet says that this remnant would be
the object of God's care; for when he would visit the whole coast of
the sea and other regions, he would provide there for the Jews a
safe habitation and refuge.
    "That line then, he says, shall be for the residue of the house
of Judah; feed shall they in Ashkelon, and there shall they lie down
in the evening"; that is, they shall find in their exile some
resting-place; for we know that the Jews were not all removed to
distant lands; and they who may have been hid in neighboring places
were afterwards more easily gathered, when a liberty to return was
permitted them. This is what the Prophet means now, when he says,
that there would be a refuge in the night to the Jews among the
Moabites and other neighboring nations.
    A reason follows, which confirms what I have stated, "for
Jehovah their God, he says, will visit them". We hence see that the
Prophet mitigates here the sorrow of exile and of that most grievous
calamity which was nigh the Jews, by promising to them a new
visitation of God; as though he had said, "Though the Lord seems now
to rage against you, and seems to forget his own covenant, yet he
will again remember his mercy, when the suitable time shall come."
And he adds, he will restore their captivity; and he added this,
that he might show that his favor would prove victorious against all
hindrances. The Jews might indeed have raised this objection, "Why
does not the Lord help us immediately; but he, on the contrary,
allows our enemies to remove us into exile?" The Prophet here calls
upon them to exercise patience; and yet be promises, that after
having been driven into exile, they should again return to their
country; for the Lord would not suffer that exile to be perpetual.
It now follows -

Zephaniah 2:8
I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children
of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified
[themselves] against their border.
    
    The Prophet confirms what I have just said of God's vengeance
against foreign enemies. Though all the neighboring nations had been
eager in their hostility to the Jews, yet we know that more hatred,
yea and more fury, had been exhibited by these two nations than by
any other, that is, by the Moabites and the Ammonites,
notwithstanding their connection with them by blood, for they
derived their origin from Lot, who was Abraham's nephew. Though,
then, that connection ought to have turned the Moabites and the
Ammonites to mercy, we yet know they always infested the Jews with
greater fury than others, and as it were with savage cruelty. This
is the reason why the Prophet speaks now especially of them. Some
indeed take this sentence as spoken by the faithful; but the context
requires it to be ascribed to God, and no doubt he reminds them that
he looked down from on high on the proud vauntings of Moab which he
scattered in the air, as though he had declared that it was not
hidden or unknown to him how cruelly the Moabites and Ammonites
raged against the Jews, how proud and inhuman they had been. And
this was a very seasonable consolation. For the Jews might have been
swallowed up with despair, had not this promise been made to them.
They saw the Moabites and the Ammonites burning with fury, when yet
they had not been injured or provoked. They also saw that they made
gain and derived advantage from the calamities of a miserable
people. What could the faithful think? These wicked men not only
harassed them with impunity, but their cruelty and perfidy towards
them was gainful. Where was God now? If he regarded his own Church,
would he not have interposed? Lest then a temptation of this kind
should upset the faithful, the Prophet introduces God here as the
speaker, -
    "I have heard, he says, the reproach of Moab; I have heard the
revilings of Amman": "Nothing escapes me; though I do not
immediately show that these things are regarded by me, yet I know
and observe how shamefully the Moabites and the Ammonites have
persecuted you: they at length shall find that I am the guardian of
your safety, and that you are under my protection." We now apprehend
the Prophet's design. Near]y the same words are used by Isaiah, ch.
16, and also by Jeremiah ch. 48: but they both pursue the subject
much farther, while our Prophet only touches on it briefly, for we
see that what he says is comprised in very few words. But by saying
that the reproach of Moab and the revilings of the children of Amman
had come into remembrance before God, what he had in view was - that
the Jews might be assured and fully persuaded that they were not
rejected and forsaken, though for a time they were reproachfully
treated by the wicked. The Prophet indeed takes the words reproach
and revilings, in an active sense.
    He then adds, "By which they have upbraided any people". God
intimates here that he does not depart from his elect when the
wicked spit, as it were, in their faces. There is indeed nothing
which so much wounds the feelings of ingenuous minds as reproach;
there is not so much bitterness in hundred deaths as in one
reproach, especial]y when the wicked licentiously triumph, and do
this with the applauding consent of the whole world; for then all
difference between good and evil is confounded, and good conscience
is as it were buried. But the Prophet shows here, that the people of
God suffer no loss when they are thus unworthily harassed by the
wicked and exposed to their reproach.
    He at last subjoins that they had enlarged over their border.
Some consider "mouth" to be understood - "they have enlarged the
mouth against their border;" and the word, it is true, without any
addition, is often taken in this sense; but in this place the
construction is fuller, for the words "'al-gevulam", over their
border, follow the verb. The Prophet means that God's wrath had been
provoked by the petulance of both nations, for they wished to break.
up, as it were, the borders, which had been fixed by God. The land
of Canaan, we know, had been given to the Jews by an hereditary
right; - "When the Most High," says Moses, "divided the nations, he
set a line for Jacob." (Deut. 32: 8.) It is indeed true that the
possessions of the nations were allotted to them by the hidden
counsel of God; but there was a special reason as to his chosen
people; for the Lord had made Abraham the true possessor of that
land, even for ever. (Gen. 17: 8.) Now the Moabites were confined,
as it were, to a certain place; the Lord had assigned to them their
own inheritance. When, therefore, they sought to go beyond and to
invade the land of the Jews, God's wrath must have been kindled
against them; for they thus fought, not against mortals, but against
God himself; for by removing the borders fixed by him, they
attempted to subvert his eternal decree. We now then understand why
the Prophet says that the children of Moab and of Ammon had enlarged
over the border of those who had been placed in the land of Canaan
by God's hand; for they not only sought to eject their neighbors,
but wished and tried to take away from God's hand that inheritance
which the Lord had given to Abraham, and given, as I have said, in
perpetuity.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast been pleased to consecrate us
a peculiar people to thyself, we may be mindful of such an
invaluable favor, and devote ourselves woody to thee, and so labour
to cultivate true sincerity as to bear the marks of thy people and
of thy holy Church: and as we are so polluted by so many of the
defilements of our own flesh and of this world, grant that thy Holy
Spirit may cleanse us more and more every day, until thou bringest
us at length to that perfection to which thou invites us by the
voice of thy gospel, that we may also enjoy that blessed glory which
has been provided for us by the blood of thy only begotten Son.
Amen.


Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-third.

Zephaniah 2:9,10
Therefore [as] I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,
Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as
Gomorrah, [even] the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a
perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and
the remnant of my people shall possess them.
This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached
and magnified [themselves] against the people of the LORD of hosts.
    
    In order to cheer the miserable Jews by some consolation, God
said, in what we considered yesterday, that the wantonness of Moab
was known to him; he now adds, that he would visit with punishment
the reproaches which had been mentioned. For it would have availed
them but little that their wrongs had been observed by God, if no
punishment had been prepared. Hence the Prophet reminds them that
God is no idle spectator, who only observes what takes place in the
world; but that there is a reward laid up for al the ungodly. And
these verses are to be taken in connection, that the faithful may
know that their wrongs are not unknown to God, and also that he will
be their defender. But that the Jews might have a more sure
confidence that God would be their deliverer, he interposes an oath.
God at the same time shows that he is really touched with when he
sees his people so cruelly and immoderately harassed, when the
ungodly seem to think that an unbridled license is permitted them.
God therefore shows here, that not only the salvation of his people
is an object of his care, but that he undertakes their cause as
though his anger was kindled; not that passions belong to him but
such a form of speaking is adopted in order to express what the
faithful could never otherwise conceive an idea of, that is, to
express the unspeakable love of God towards them, and his care for
them.
    He then says that he "lives", as though he had sworn by his own
life. As we have elsewhere seen that he swears by his life, so he
speaks now. Live do I, that is, "As I am God, so will I avenge these
wrongs by which my people are now oppressed." And for the same
reason he calls himself Jehovah of hosts, and the God of Israel. In
the first clause he exalts his own power, that the Jews might know
that he was endued with power; and then he mentions his goodness,
because he had adopted them as his people. The meaning then is that
God swears by his own life; and that the Jews might not think that
this was done in vain, his power is brought before them, and then
his favor is added.
    "Moab, he says, shall be like Sodom, and the sons of Ammon like
Gomorrah, even for the production of the nettle and for a mire of
salt;" that is, their lands should be reduced to a waste, or should
become wholly barren, so that nothing was to grow there but nettles,
as the case is with desert places. As to the expression, the mine
(fodina) or quarry of salt, it often occurs in scripture: a salt-pit
denotes sterility in Hebrew. And the Prophet adds, that this would
not be for a short time only; It shall be (he says) a perpetual
desolation. He also adds, that this would be for the advantage of
the Church; for the residue of my people shall plunder them, and the
remainder of my nation shall possess them. He ever speaks of the
residue; for as it was said yesterday, it was necessary for that
people to be cleansed from their dregs, so that a small portion only
would remain; and we know that not many of them returned from exile.
    The import of the whole is, that though God determined to
diminish his Church, so that a few only survived, yet these few
would be the heirs of the whole land, and possess the kingdom, when
God had taken vengeance on all their enemies.
    It hence follows, according to the Prophet, that this shall be
to them for their pride. We see that the Prophet's object is, to
take away whatever bitterness the Jews might feel when insolently
slandered by their enemies. As then there was danger of desponding,
since nothing, as it was said yesterday, is more grievous to be
borne than reproach, God does here expressly declare, that the proud
triumph of their neighbours over the Jews would be their own ruin;
for, as Solomon says, 'Pride goes before destruction.' (Prov. 16:
18.) And he again confirms what he had already referred to - that
the Jews would not be wronged with impunity, for God had taken them
under his guardianship, and was their protector: Because they have
reproached, he says, and triumphed over the people of Jehovah of
hosts. He might have said, "over my people," as in the last verse;
but there is something implied in these words, as though the Prophet
had said, that they carried on war not with mortals but with God
himself, whose majesty was insulted, when the Jews were so unjustly
oppressed. It follows -

Zephaniah 2:11
The LORD [will be] terrible unto them: for he will famish all the
gods of the earth; and [men] shall worship him, every one from his
place, [even] all the isles of the heathen.
    
    He proceeds with the same subject, - that God would show his
power in aiding his people. But he calls him a terrible God, who had
for a time patiently endured the wantonness of his enemies, and thus
became despised by them: for the ungodly, we know, never submit to
God unless they are constrained by his hand; and then they are not
bent so as willingly to submit to his authority; but when forced
they are silent. This is what the Prophet means in these words; as
though he had said, that the wicked now mock God, as they disregard
his power, but that they shall find how terrible an avenger of his
people he is, so that they would have to dread him. And then he
compares the superstitions of the nations with true religion; as
though he had said, that this would be to the Jews as a reward for
their piety, inasmuch as they worshipped the only true God, and that
all idols would be of no avail against the help of God. And this was
a necessary admonition; for the ungodly seemed to triumph for a
time, not only over a conquered people, but over God himself, and
thus gloried in their superstitious and vain inventions. The
Prophet, therefore, confirms their desponding minds; for God, he
says, will at length consume all the gods of the nations.
    The verb "razah" means strictly to make lean or to famish, but
is to be taken here metaphorically, as signifying to consume. God
then will famish all the inventions of the nations: and he alludes
to that famine which idols had occasioned through the whole world;
as though he had said, that God's glory would shortly appear, which
would exterminate whatever glory the false gods had obtained among
them, so that it would melt away like fatness.
    He at last adds, that the remotest nations would become
suppliants to God; for by saying, "adore him shall each from his
place", he doubtless means, that however far off the countries might
be, the distance would be no hindrance to God's name being
celebrated, when his power became known to remote lands. And, for
the same reason, he mentions the islands of the nations, that is,
countries beyond the sea: for the Hebrews, as it has been elsewhere
observed, call those countries islands which are far distant, and
divided by the sea. In short, the Prophet shows, that the redemption
of the people would be so wonderful, that the fame of it would reach
the farthest bounds of the earth, and constrain foreign nations to
give glory to the true God, and that it would dissipate all the
mists of superstition, so that idols would be exposed to scorn and
contempt. It follows -

Zephaniah 2:12
Ye Ethiopians also, ye [shall be] slain by my sword.
    
    The Prophet extends farther the threatened vengeance, and says,
that God would also render to the Ethiopians the reward which they
deserved; for they had also harassed the chosen people. But if God
punished that nation, how could Ammon and Moab hope to escape? For
how could God spare so great a cruelty, since he would visit with
punishment the remotest nations? For the hatred of the Moabites and
of the Ammonites, as we have said, was less excusable, because they
were related to the children of Abraham. They ought, on this
account, to have mitigated their fierceness: besides, vicinity ought
to have rendered them more humane. But as they exceeded other
nations in cruelty, a heavier punishment awaited them. Now this
comparison was intended for this end - that the Jews might know that
God would be inexorable towards the Moabites, by whom they had been
so unjustly harassed, since even the Ethiopians would be punished,
who yet were more excusable on account of their distance.
    As to the words, some regard the demonstrative pronoun "hemah",
they, as referring to the Babylonians, and others, to the Moabites.
I prefer to understand it of the Moabites, if we read, "like them,"
or "with them," as these interpreters consider it: for they regard
the particle "et", "with," or "kaf", "like," to be understood, "Ye
Ethiopians shall be slain by my sword like them," or with them. It
would in this case doubtless apply to the Moabites. But it seems to
me that the sentence is irregular, even ye Ethiopians, and then,
they shall be slain by any sword. The Prophet begins the verse in
the second person, summoning the Ethiopians to appear before God's
tribunal; he afterwards adds in the third person, they shall be
slain by my sword.
    God calls whatever evils were impending over the Ethiopians his
sword; for though they were destroyed by the Chaldeans yet it was
done under the guidance of God himself. The Chaldeans made war under
his authority, as the Assyrians did, who had been previously
employed by him to execute his vengeance. It follows -

Zephaniah 2:13
And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy
Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, [and] dry like a
wilderness.
    
    The Prophet proceeds here to the Assyrians, whom we know to
have been special enemies to the Church of God. For the Moabites and
the Ammonites were fans only, as we have elsewhere seen, as they
could not do much harm by their own strength. Hence they stirred up
the Assyrians, they stirred up the Ethiopians and remote nations.
The meaning, then, is, that no one of all the enemies of the Church
would be left unpunished by God, as every one would receive a reward
for his cruelty. He speaks now of God in the third person; but in
the last verse God himself said, that the Ethiopians would be slain
by his sword. The Prophet adds here, "He will extend his hand to the
north"; that is, God will not complete his judgments on the
Ethiopians; but he will go farther, even to Nineveh and to all the
Assyrians.
    Nineveh, we know, was the metropolis of the empire, before the
Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians. Thus Babylon then
recovered the sovereignty which it had lost; and Nineveh, though not
wholly demolished, was yet deprived of its ruling power, and
gradually lost its name and its wealth, until it was reduced into a
waste; for the building of Ctesiphon, as we have elsewhere seen,
proved its ruin. But the Prophet, no doubt, proceeds here to
administer comfort to the Jews, lest they should despair, while the
Lord did not interfere. And the extension of the hand means as
though he said, that his own time is known to the Lord, and that he
would put forth his power when needful. Assyria was north as to
Judea: hence he says, to the north will the Lord extend his hand,
and will destroy Assyria; he will make Nineveh a desolation, that it
may be like the desert. It follows -

Zephaniah 2:14
And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the
nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper
lintels of it; [their] voice shall sing in the windows; desolation
[shall be] in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work.
    
    The Prophet describes here the state of the city and the
desolation of the country. He says, that the habitations of flocks
would be in the midst of the city Nineveh. The city, we know, was
populous; but while men were so many, there was no place for flocks,
especially in the middle of a city so celebrated. Hence no common
change is here described by the Prophet, when he says, that "flocks
would lie down in the middle of Nineveh"; and he adds, "all wild
beasts". For beasts, which seek seclusion and shun the sight of men,
are wont to come forth, when they find a country desolate and
deserted; and they range then at large, as it is the case after a
slaughter in war; and when any region is emptied of its inhabitants,
the wolves, the lions, and other wild beasts, roam here and there at
full liberty. So the Prophet says, that wild beasts would come from
other parts and remote places, and find a place where Nineveh once
stood. He adds that the bitterns, or the storks or the cuckoos, and
similar wild birds would be there. As to their various kinds, I make
no laborious research; for it is enough to know the Prophet's
design: besides, the Jews themselves, who boldly affirm that either
the bittern or the stork is meant, yet adduce nothing that is
certain. What, in short, this description means, is - that the
place, which before a vast multitude of men inhabited, would become
so forsaken, that wild beasts and nocturnal birds would be its only
inhabitants.
    But we must bear in mind what I have stated, that all these
things were set before the Jews, that they might patiently bear
their miseries, understanding that God would become their defender.
For this is the only support that remains for us under very grievous
evils, as Paul reminds us in the first chapter of the Second Epistle
to the Thessalonians; for he says, that the time will come when the
Lord shall give to us relief and refreshment, and that he will visit
our adversaries with punishment.
    The Prophet mentions especially Nineveh, that the Jews might
know that there is nothing so great and splendid in the world which
God does not esteem of less consequence than the salvation of his
Church, as it is said in Isaiah, "I will give Egypt as thy ransom."
So God threatens the wealthiest city, that he might show how much he
loved his chosen people. And the Jews could not have attributed this
to their own worthiness; but the cause of so great a love depended
on their gratuitous adoption. It afterwards follows -

Zephaniah 2:15
This [is] the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her
heart, I [am], and [there is] none beside me: how is she become a
desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that
passeth by her shall hiss, [and] wag his hand.

    He seems to have added this by way of anticipation, lest the
magnificent splendor of the city Nineveh should frighten the Jews,
as though it were exempt from all danger. The Prophet therefore
reminds them here, that though Nineveh was thus proud of its wealth,
it could not yet escape the hand of God; nay, he shows that the
greatness, on account of which Nineveh extolled itself, would be the
cause of its ruin; for it would cast itself down by its own pride:
as a wall, when it swells, will not long stand; so also men, when
they inwardly swell, and vent their own boastings, burst; and though
no one pushes them down, they fall of themselves. Such a destruction
the Prophet denounces on the Ninevites and the Assyrians.
    "This, he says, is the exulting city, which sat in confidence".
Isaiah reprobates in nearly the same words the pride of Babylon: but
what Isaiah said of Babylon our Prophet justly transfers here to
Nineveh. But he no doubt had respect to the Jews, and exhibits
Nineveh in its state of ruin, lest the power of that city should
dazzle their eyes; for we are seized with wonder, when anything
grand and splendid presents itself to us. Here then Zephaniah makes
a representation of Nineveh and sets it before the Jews: "Behold,"
he says, "ye see this city full of exultation; ye also see that it
rests as in a state of safety; for it is conscious of no fear; it
regards itself exempt from the common lot of men, as though it was
built in the clouds. This city," he says, "is above all others
celebrated; but let not frail and evanescent splendor terrify you;
for God will doubtless in his own time overthrow it and reduce it to
nothing."
    Let us also in the meantime observe what I have lately referred
to, - that the cause of the ruin of Nineveh is described, which was,
that it had promised to itself a perpetuity in the world. But let us
remember, that in this city is presented to us an example, which
belongs in common to all nations, - that God cannot endure the
presumption of men, when inflated by their own greatness and power,
they do not think themselves to be men, nor humble themselves in a
way suitable to the condition of men, but forget themselves, as
though they could exalt themselves above the heavens.
    But it is necessary to examine the words: "Nineveh said in her
heart, I, and besides me no other". By these words the Prophet
means, that Nineveh was so blinded by its splendor that it now
defied every change of fortune. Had Babylon spoken thus, it would
have been no wonder, for it had taken from Nineveh its sovereignty.
But we see that the same pride infatuates people as well as superior
kings; for each thinks himself to be great alone, and when he
compares himself with others, he looks on them as far below him, as
though they were placed beneath his feet. Thus then the Prophet
shows in few words what was the cause of the ruin of Nineveh: it
thought that its condition on the earth was fixed and perpetual. If
then we desire to be protected by God's hand, let us bear in mind
what our condition is, and daily, yea, hourly prepare ourselves for
a change, except God be pleased to sustain us. Our stability is to
depend only on the aid of God, and from consciousness of our
infirmity, to tremble in ourselves, lest a forgetfulness of our
state should creep in.
    He afterwards adds, "How has it become a desolation?" The
Prophet accommodates his words to the capacities of men: for the
ruin of Nineveh might have appeared incredible. Hence the Prophet by
a question rouses the minds of the faithful, that they might not
doubt the truth of what God declared, for he would work in an
extraordinary manner. This "how" then intimates, that the Jews ought
not to be incredulous, while thinking that Nineveh was on all sides
fortified, so as to prevent the occurrence of anything disastrous:
for God would, in a wonderful manner and beyond what is usual,
overthrow it. How, then, has it become a desolation, a resting-place
for beasts?
    He then subjoins, "every one who passes by will hiss and shake
his hand". The Prophet seems to point out the future reproach of
Nineveh, and to confirm also by a different mode of speaking what he
had before said, that its ruin would be wonderful; for the shaking
of the hand and hissing are marks of reproach: "Behold Nineveh,
which so much flattered itself! we now see only its sad ruins." The
Prophet, I have no doubt, means here by hissing and the shaking of
the hind, that Nineveh would become an ignominious spectacle to all
people: and the same mode of speaking often occurs in the Prophets.
"All shall hiss at thee;" that is, I will make thee a reproach and a
disgrace. Then the Prophet, as I have already said, still declares
the same truths that the ruin of Nineveh would be like a miracle;
for all those who pass by would be amazed; as though he had said,
"Behold, they will hiss - What is this? and then they will shake the
hand - What can be firm in this world? We see the principal seat of
empire demolished, and differing nothing from a desert." We now
perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
    As this doctrine is also necessary for us at this day, we must
notice the circumstances to which we have referred. If, then, our
enemies triumph now, and their haughtiness is intolerable, let us
know, that the sooner the vengeance of God will overtake them; if
they are become insensible in their prosperity, and secure, and
despise all dangers, they thus provoke God's wrath, and especially
if to their pride and hardness they add cruelty, so as basely to
persecute the Church of God, to spoil, to plunder, and to slay his
people, as we see them doing. Since then our enemies are so wanton,
we may see as in a mirror their near destruction, such as is
foretold by the Prophet: for he spoke not only of his own age, but
designed to teach us, by the prophetic spirit, how dear to God is
the safety of his Church; and the future lot of the ungodly till the
end of the world will no doubt be such as Nineveh is described here
to have been that though they swell with pride for a time, and
promise themselves every success against the innocent, God will yet
put a stop to their insolence and check their cruelty, when the
proper time shall come. I shall not to-day begin the third chapter,
for it contains a new subject.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou triest us in the warfare of the
cross, and arouses most powerful enemies, whose barbarity might
justly terrify and dishearten us, were we not depending on thine
aid, - O grant, that we may call to mind how wonderfully thou didst
in former times deliver thy chosen people, and how seasonably thou
didst bring them help, when they were oppressed and entirely
overwhelmed, so that we may learn at this day to flee to thy
protection, and not doubt, but that when thou becomest propitious to
us, there is in thee sufficient power to preserve us, and to lay
prostrate our enemies, how much soever they may now exult and think
to triumph above the heavens, so that they may at length know by
experience that they are earthly and frail creatures, whose life and
condition is like the mist which soon vanishes: and may we learn to
aspire after that blessed eternity, which is laid up for us in
heaven by Christ our Lord. Amen.
    
    
Chapter 3.

Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-fourth.

Zephaniah 3:1,2
Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!
She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted
not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God.
    
    The Prophet speaks here again against Jerusalem; for first, the
Jews ought ever to have been severely reproved, as they were given
to many sins; and secondly, because there was always there some seed
which needed consolation: and this has been the way pursued, as we
have hitherto seen, by all the Prophets. But we must also bear in
mind, that the books now extant were made up of prophetic addresses,
that we might understand what was the sum of the doctrine delivered.
    The Prophet here makes this charge against the Jews, that they
were polluted and become filthy. And he addresses Jerusalem, where
the sanctuary was; and it might therefore seem to have been superior
to other cities; for God had not in vain chosen that as the place
for his worship. But the Prophet shows how empty and fallacious was
any boasting of this kind; for the city which God had consecrated
for himself had polluted itself with many sins. The Prophet seems to
allude to the ancient rites of the law, which, though many, had been
prescribed, we know, by God, that the people might observe a holy
course of life: for the ceremonies could not of themselves wash away
their filth; but the people were instructed by these external things
to worship God in a holy and pure manner. As then they often washed
themselves with water, and as they carefully observed other rites of
outward sanctity, the Prophet derides their hypocrisy, for they did
not regard the real design of the ceremonies. Hence he says, that
they were polluted, though in appearance they might be deemed the
most pure; for they were defiled as to their whole life.
    He adds that the city was "hayonah"; some render it the city of
dove, or, a dove; for the word has this meaning: and they take it
metaphorically for a foolish and thoughtless city, as we find it to
be so understood in Hos. 7: 11; where Ephraim was said to be a dove,
because the people were void of reason and knowledge, and of their
own accord exposed themselves to traps and snares. Some then
consider this place to have this meaning, - that Jerusalem, which
ought to have been wise, was yet wholly fatuitous and foolish. But
it may be easily gathered from the context, that the Prophet means
another thing, even this, - that Jerusalem was given to plunder and
fraud; for the verb "yanah" signifies to defraud and to take by
force what belongs to another; and it means also to circumvent as
well as to plunder. He therefore means no doubt, that Jerusalem was
a city full of every kind of iniquity, as he had before called it a
polluted city; and then he adds an explanation.
    The Prophet in the first verse seems to have in view the two
tables of the law. God, we know, requires in the law that his people
should be holy; and then he teaches the way of living justly and
innocently. Hence when the Prophet called Jerusalem a polluted city,
he meant briefly to show that the whole worship of God was there
corrupted, and that no regard for true religion flourished there;
for the Jews thought that they had performed all their duty to God,
when they washed away their filth by water. Such was the extremely
foolish notion which they entertained: but we know and they ought to
have known that the worship of God is spiritual. He afterwards adds,
that the city was rapacious, under which term he includes every kind
of injustice.
    It follows, "She heard not the voice, she received not
correction". The Prophet now explains and defines what the pollution
was of which he had spoken: for true religion begins with
teachableness; when we submit to God and to his word, it is really
to enter on the work of worshipping him aright. But when heavenly
truth is despised, though men may toil much in outward rites, yet
their impiety discovers itself by their contumacy, inasmuch as they
suffer not themselves to be ruled by God's authority. Hence the
Prophet shows, that whatever the Jews thought of their purity at
Jerusalem, it was nothing but filth and pollution. He says, that
they were unteachable, because they did not hear the Prophets sent
to them by God.
    This ought to be carefully noticed; for without this beginning
many torment themselves in the work of serving God, and do nothing,
because obedience is better than sacrifice. If, then, we wish our
efforts to be approved by God, we must begin with faith; for except
the word of God obtains credit with us, whatever we may offer to him
are mere human inventions. It is, in the second place, added, that
they did not receive correction; and this was no superfluous
addition. For when God sees that we are not submissive, and that we
do not willingly come to him when he calls us, he strengthens his
instruction by chastisements. He allures us at first to himself, he
employs kind and gentle invitations; but when he sees us delaying,
or even going back, he begins to treat us more roughly and more
severely: for teaching without the goads of reproof would have no
effect. But when God teaches and reproves in vain, it then appears
that our disposition is wicked and perverse. So the Prophet intended
here to show the wickedness of his people as extreme, by saying,
that they heard not the voice nor received correction; as though he
had said, that the wickedness of his people was unhealable, for they
not only rejected the doctrine of salvation, when offered, but also
obstinately rejected all warnings, and would not bear any
correction.
    But we must bear in mind, that the Prophet had to do with that
holy people whom God had chosen as his peculiar treasure. There is
therefore no reason why those who profess the name of Christians at
this day should exempt themselves from this condemnation; for our
condition is not better than the condition of that people. Jerusalem
was in an especial manner, as we have already said, the sanctuary,
as it were, of God: and yet we see how severely the Prophet reproves
Jerusalem and all its inhabitants. We have no cause to flatter
ourselves, except we willingly submit to God, and suffer ourselves
to be ruled by his word, and except we also patiently bear
correction, when his teaching takes no suitable effect, and when
there is need of sharp goads to stimulate us.
    He afterwards adds, that it "did not trust in the Lord, nor
draw nigh to its God". The Prophet discovers here more clearly the
spring of impiety - that Jerusalem placed not the hope of salvation
in God alone; for from hence flowed all the mass of evils which
prevailed; because if we inquire how it is that men burn with
avarice, why they are insatiable, and why they wantonly defraud and
plunder one another, we shall find the cause to be this - that they
trust not in God. Rightly then does the Prophet mention this here,
among other pollutions at Jerusalem, as the chief - that it did not
put its trust in God. The same also is the cause and origin of all
superstitions; for if men felt assured that God alone is enough for
them, they would not follow here and there their own inventions. We
hence see that unbelief is not only the mother of all the evil deeds
by which men willfully wrong and injure one another, but that it is
also the cause of all superstitions.
    He says, in the last place, that it did not draw nigh to God.
The Prophet no doubt charges the Jews that they willfully departed
from God when he was nigh them; yea, that they wholly alienated
themselves from him, while he was ready to cherish them, as it were,
in his own bosom. This is indeed a sin common to all who seek not
God; but Jerusalem sinned far more grievously, because she would not
draw nigh to God, by whom she saw that she was sought. For why was
the law given, why was adoption vouchsafed, and in short, why had
they the various ordinances of religion, except that they might join
themselves to God? 'And now Israel,' said Moses, 'what does the Lord
thy God require of thee, except to cleave to him?' God thus intended
his law to be, as it were, a sacred bond of union between him and
the Jews. Now when they wandered here and there, that they might not
be united to him, it was a diabolical madness. Hence the Prophet
here does not only accuse the Jews of not seeking God, but of
withdrawing themselves from him; and thus they were ungovernable.
The Lord sought to tame them; but they were like wild beasts. It now
follows -

Zephaniah 3:3
Her princes within her [are] roaring lions; her judges [are] evening
wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.
    
    The Prophet now explains what we have stated respecting plunder
and fraud. He confirms that he had not without reason called
Jerusalem "hayonah", a rapacious city, or one given to plunder; for
the princes were like lions and the judges like wolves. And when he
speaks of judges, he does not spare the common people; but he shows
that all orders were then corrupt: for though no justice or equity
is regarded by the people, there will yet remain some shame among
the judges, so as to retain the people at least within some limits,
that an extreme licentiousness may not prevail: but when robbery is
practiced in the court of justice, what can be said of such a city?
We hence see that the Prophet in these words describes an extreme
confusion: The princes of Jerusalem, he says, are lions. And we have
elsewhere similar declarations; for the Prophets, when it was their
object to condemn all from the least to the greatest, did yet direct
their discourse especially to the judges.
    And this is worthy of being noticed, for there was then no
Church of God, except at Jerusalem. Yet the Prophet says, that the
judges, and prophets, and priests, were all apostates. What comfort
could the faithful have had? But we hence see that the fear of God
had not wholly failed in his elect, and that they firmly and with an
invincible heart contended against all offenses and trials of this
kind. Let us also learn to fortify ourselves at this day with the
same courage, so that we may not faint, however much impiety may
everywhere prevail, and all religion may seem extinct among men.
    But we may also hence learn, how foolishly the Papists pride
themselves in their vain titles, as though they thought that God was
bound as it were to them, because they have bishops and pastors. But
the Prophet shows, that even those who performed the ordinary office
of executing the laws could yet be the wicked and perfidious
despisers of God. He also shows, that neither prophets nor priests
ought to be spared; for when God sets them over his Church, he gives
them no power to tyrannize, so that they might dare to do anything
with impunity, and not be reproved. For though the priesthood under
the law was sacred, we yet see that it was subject to correction. So
let no one at this day claim for himself a privilege, as though he
was exempt from all instruction and reproof, while occupying a high
station among the people of God.
    He distinguishes between princes and judges; and the reason is,
because the kingdom was as yet standing. So the courtiers, who were
in favor and authority with the king, drew a part of the spoil to
themselves, and the judges devoured another part. Though Scripture
often makes no difference between these two names, yet I doubt not
but he means by "sarim" princes, the chiefs who were courtiers; and
he calls them "shoftim", judges, who administered justice. And he
says that the judges were evening wolves, that is, hungry, for
wolves become furious in the evening when they have been roaming
about all day and have found nothing. As their want sharpens the
savageness of wolves, so the Prophet says that the judges were
hungry like evening wolves, whose hunger renders them furious. And
for the same purpose he adds, that they broke not the bones in the
morning; that is, they waited not till the dawn to break the bones
Al for when they devoured the flesh they also employed their teeth
in breaking the bones, because their voracity was so great. We now
apprehend the Prophet's meaning. It afterwards follows -

Zephaniah 3:4
Her prophets [are] light [and] treacherous persons: her priests have
polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.
    
    The Prophet again reverts to the pollution and filth of which
he has spoken in the first verse. He shows that he had not without
reason cried against the polluted city; for though the Jews used
their washings, they could not yet make themselves clean in this
manner before God, as the whole of religion was corrupted by them.
    He says that the Prophets were light. He alone speaks here, and
he condemns the many. We hence see that there is no reason why the
ungodly should allege their great number, when God by his word
accuses them, as the Papists do at this day, who deny it to be right
in one or two, or few men, to speak against their impiety, however
bad the state of things may be; there must be the consent of the
whole world, as though the Prophet was not alone, and had not to
contend with a great many. It is indeed true that he taught at the
same time with the Prophet Jeremiah, as we have elsewhere seen; but
yet hardly two or three did then discharge faithfully their office
of teaching; and from this and other places we learn that the false
Prophets, relying on their number, were on that account bolder. But
Zephaniah did not for this reason cease to cry against them. However
much then the false Prophets raged against him, and terrified him by
the show of their number, he still exercised his liberty in
condemning them. So at this day, though the whole world should unite
in promoting impiety, there is yet no reason why the few should be
disheartened when observing the worship of God perverted; but they
ought on the contrary to encourage themselves by this example, and
strenuously to resist thousands of men if necessary; for no union
formed by men can possibly lessen the authority of God.
    It now follows that they were men of transgressions. What we
render "light," others render "empty;" (vacuous;) but the word
"pochazim" means strictly men of nought, and also the rash, and
those who are void of judgment as well as of all moderation. In
short, it is the same as though the Prophet had said that they were
stupid and blind; and he says afterwards that they were fraudulent,
than which there is nothing more inconsistent with the Prophetic
office. But Zephaniah shows that the whole order was then so
degenerated among the people, that the thickest darkness prevailed
among those very leaders whose office it was to bring forth the
light of celestial truth. And he makes a concession by calling them
Prophets. The same we do at this day when we speak of Popish
bishops. It is indeed certain that they are unworthy of so honorable
a title; for they are blinder than moles, so that they are far from
being overseers. We also know, that they are like brute beasts; for
they are immersed in their lusts: in short, they are unworthy to be
called men. But we concede to them this title, in order that their
turpitude may be more apparent. The Prophet did the same, when he
said, that the Jews did not draw nigh to their God; he conceded to
them what they boasted; for they ever wished to be regarded as the
holy and peculiar people of God: but their ingratitude did hence
become more evident, because they went back and turned to another
object, when God was ready to embrace them, as though they
designedly meant to show that they had nothing to do with him. It is
then the same manner of speaking, that Zephaniah adopts here, when
he says, that the Prophets were light and men of transgressions.
    He then adds, "The priests have polluted the holy place". The
tribe of Levi, we know, had been chosen by God; and those who
descended from him, were to be ministers and teachers to others: and
for this reason the Lord in the law ordered the Levites to be
dispersed through the whole country. He might indeed have given them
as to the rest, a fixed habitation; but his will was, that they
should be dispersed among the whole population, that no part of the
land should be without good and faithful ministers. The Prophet now
charges them, that they had polluted the holy place. By the word
"kodesh" the Prophet means whatsoever is holy; at the same time he
speaks of the sanctuary. Moreover, since the sanctuary was as it
were the dwelling-place of God, when the Prophets speak of divine
worship and religion, they include the whole under the word, Temple,
as in this place. He says then that the sanctuary was polluted by
the priests, and then that they took away or subverted the law.
    We here see how boldly the Prophet charges the priests. There
is then no reason why they who are divinely appointed over the
Church should claim for themselves the liberty of doing what they
please; for the priests might have boasted of this privilege, that
without dispute everything was lawful for them. But we see that God
not only calls them to order by his Prophets, but even blames them
more than others, because they were less excusable. Now the Papists
boast, that the clergy, even the very dregs collected from the
filthiest filth, cannot err; which is extremely absurd; for they are
not better than the successors of Aaron. But we see what the Prophet
objects now to them, - that they subverted the law: he not only
condemns their life, but says also, that they were perfidious
towards God; for they strangely corrupted the whole truth of
religion. The Papists confess, that they indeed can sin, but that
the sin dwells only in their moral conduct. They yet seek to exempt
themselves from all the danger of going astray. Though the Levitical
priests were indeed chosen by the very voice of God, we yet see that
they were apostates. But God confirms the godly, that they might not
abandon themselves to impiety, though they saw their very leaders
going astray, and rushing headlong into ruin. For it behaved the
faithful to fortify themselves with constancy, when the priests not
only by their bad conduct withdrew the people from every fear of
God, but also perverted every sound doctrine; it behaved, I say, the
faithful to remain then invincible. Though then at this day those
who hold the highest dignity in the Church neglect God and even
despise every celestial truth, and thus rush headlong into ruin, and
though they attempt to turn God's truth into falsehood, yet let our
faith continue firm; for John has not without reason declared, that
it ought to be victorious against the whole world. (1 John 5: 4.) It
follows -

Zephaniah 3:5
The just LORD [is] in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity:
every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not;
but the unjust knoweth no shame.
    
    Here the Prophet throws back against hypocrites what they were
wont to pretend, when they sought wickedly to reject every
instruction and all warnings; for they said, that God dwelt in the
midst of them, like the Papists at the present day, who raise up
this as their shield against us, - that the Church is the pillar of
the truth. Hence they think that all their wicked deeds are defended
by this covering. So the Jews at that time had this boast ever on
their lips, - "We are notwithstanding the holy people of God, and he
dwells in the midst of us, for he is worshipped in the Temple, which
has been built, not according to men's will, but by his command; for
that voice proceeded not from earth, but came from heaven, 'This is
my rest for ever, here will I dwell.'" (Ps. 132: 14.) Since then the
Jews were inflated with this presumption, the Prophet concedes what
they claimed, that God dwelt among them; but it was for a far
different purpose, which was, that they might understand, that his
hand was nigh to punish their sins. This is one thing.
    Jehovah is in the midst of them; "Granted," he says; "I allow
that he dwells in this city; for he has commanded a temple to be
built for him on Mount Sion, he has ordered a holy altar for
himself; but why does God dwell among you, and has preferred this
habitation to all others? Surely, he says, he will not do iniquity.
Consider now what the nature of God is; for when he purposed to
dwell among you, he certainly did not deny himself, nor did he cease
to be what he is. There is therefore no reason for you to imagine,
as though God intended, for the sake of those to whom he bound
himself, to throw aside his own justice, or intended to pollute
himself by the defilements of men." He warns the Jews, that they
absurdly blended these things together. God then who dwells in the
midst of you, will not do iniquity; that is, "He will not approve of
your evil deeds; and though he may for a time connive at them, he
will not yet bear with them continually. Do not therefore foolishly
flatter yourselves, as though God were the approver of your
wickedness."
    Some apply this to the people, - that they ought not to have
done iniquity; but this is a strained exposition, and altogether
foreign to the context. Most other interpreters give this meaning,
that God is just and will do no iniquity, for he had sufficient
reasons for executing his vengeance on a people so wicked. They
hence think, that the Prophet anticipates the Jews, lest they
murmured, as though the Lord was cruel or too rigid. He will not do
iniquity, that is, "Though the Lord may inflict on you a most
grievous punishment, yet he cannot be arraigned by you as unjust;
and ye in vain contend with him, for he will ever be found to be a
righteous judge." But this also is a very frigid explanation. Let us
bear in mind what I have already said, - that the Prophet here, by
way of irony, concedes to the Jews, that God dwelt among them, but
afterwards brings against them what they thought was a protection to
them, - "God dwells in the midst of you; I allow it, he says; but is
not he a just God? Do not then dream that he is one like yourselves,
that he approves of your evil deeds. God will not do iniquity; ye
cannot prevail with him to renounce himself, or to change his own
nature. Why then does God dwell in the midst of you? In the morning,
in the morning, he says, his judgment will he bring forth to light;
the Lord will daily bring forth his judgment." How this is to be
understood, we shall explain to-morrow.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as thou hast deigned to favor us
with an honor so invaluable, as to adopt us for a holy people to
thee, and to separate us from the world, - O grant, that we may not
close our eyes against the light of thy truth, by which thou showest
to us the way of salvation; but may we with true docility follow
where thou callest us, and never cast away the fear of thy majesty,
nor mock thee with frivolous ceremonies, but strive sincerely to
devote ourselves wholly to thee, and to cleanse ourselves from all
defilements, not only of the flesh, but also of the spirit, that by
thus seeking true holiness, we may aspire after and diligently
labour for that heavenly perfection, from which we are as yet far
distant; and may we in the meantime, relying on the favor of thy
only-begotten Son, lean on thy mercy; and while depending on it, may
we ever grow up more and more into that true and perfect union,
reserved for us in heaven, when we shall be made partakers of thy
glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
    

Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-fifth.
    
    We began yesterday to explain the passage, where the Prophet
says, that God dwelt at Jerusalem, but that he was notwithstanding
just, and could not possibly associate with the ungodly and the
wicked, because he changes not his nature to suit the humor of men.
    It now follows, "In the morning, in the morning, his judgment
will he bring forth to light": by which words he means, either that
God would be the avenger of wickedness, which seems to escape, as it
were, his eyes, while he delays his punishment, or that he is ready
to restore his people, whenever they are attentive to instruction.
If the former view be approved, the sense will be this, - that
hypocrites foolishly flatter themselves, when God spares them; for
he will suddenly ascend his tribunal that he may visit them with
punishment. Some however choose to apply this to the judgments
executed on the Gentiles, of which the Jews had not once nor twice
been reminded, but often, that they might in time repent. But there
is no doubt but that the Prophet refers here to a judgment belonging
to the Jews.
    Let us now see whether this judgment is pronounced or
inflicted. It would not ill suit the passage to understand it of the
vengeance which God was hastening to execute, for the Jews were
worthy of what had been severely threatened, because they falsely
professed his name; and while they absurdly boasted that he dwelt
among them, they withdrew themselves very far from him. It is
however no less suitable to refer this to teaching, so that the
Prophet thus enhanced the sin of the people, because they had
hardened themselves after so many and so constant warnings, which
continually sounded in their ears, as God elsewhere complains, that
though he rose early, and indeed daily, this solicitude had been
without its fruit. The verb in the future tense will thus signify a
continued act, for God ceased not to exhort to repentance those
wretched beings who had ears which were deaf. And this view
strikingly corresponds with what immediately follows, that he fails
not; for such a perseverance was a proof of unwearied mercy, when
God continued to send Prophets one after the other.
    He now adds, "The wicked knows no shame". He means what he has
just referred to - that the people had become so hardened in their
wickedness that they could not be reformed, either by instruction or
by threats, or by the scourges of God. If we refer judgment to
teaching, which I approve, the meaning will be - that though God, by
making known daily his law, kindled as it were a lamp, which
discovered all evils, yet the ungodly were not ashamed. But if we
understand it, as they say, of actual judgment, the meaning will be
in substance the same - that the ungodly repented not, though the
hand of God openly appeared; and though he rose to judgment, yet he
says, they knew not what it was to feel ashamed. As to the main
subject there is no ambiguity; for the Prophet means only that the
people were past recovery; for though God proved himself a judge by
manifest evidences, and even by his own law, they yet felt no shame,
but went on in their wicked courses. The word judgment, in the
singular number, seems to have been put here in the sense of a rule,
by which men live religiously and justly, and a rule which ought to
make men ashamed. It now follows -

Zephaniah 3:6,7
I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their
streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so
that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant.
I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so
their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but
they rose early, [and] corrupted all their doings.
    
    Here the Prophet shows in another way that there was no hope
for a people, who could not have been instructed by the calamities
of others, to seek to return to God's favor. For God here complains
that he had in vain punished neighboring nations, and made them
examples, in order to recall the Jews to himself. Had they been of a
sane mind they might have been led, by their quiet state, while God
spared them, to consider what they had deserved - "If this is done
in the green tree, what at length will be done in the dry?" They
might then have thought within themselves, that a most grievous
calamity was at hand, except they anticipated God's wrath, which had
grown ripe against them; and God also testified that he intended by
such examples to stay the judgment which he might have already
justly executed on them. As they then even hastened it, it is
evident that their wickedness was past remedy. This is the sum of
the whole.
    He says first, "I have cut off nations"; by which words he
shows that he warned the Jews to repent, not only by one example,
but by many examples; for not one instance only of God's wrath had
appeared, but God had on all sides manifested himself to be a judge,
in inflicting punishment on one nation after another. Since then
they had been so often warned, we may hence learn that they were
wholly blinded by their wickedness.
    He now enhances the atrocity of the punishment inflicted, and
says, that citadels had been demolished and streets cut off, that no
one passed through; and then, that cities had been reduced to
solitude, so that there was no inhabitant. For when punishment is of
an ordinary kind, it is wont, for the most part, to be disregarded;
but when God showed, by so remarkable proofs, that he was displeased
with the nations, that is, with the ignorant, who in comparison with
the Jews were innocent, how could such an instance as this be
disregarded by the Jews, whom God thus recalled to himself, except
that they were of a disposition wholly desperate and irreclaimable?
We now then see why the Prophet enlarges on the punishments which,
having been inflicted on the nations, ought to have been considered
by the Jews.
    He now subjoins the object which God had in view, "I said,
Surely thou wilt fear me". Here God assumes the character of man, as
he does often elsewhere: for he does not wait for what is future, as
though he was doubtful; but all things, as we know, are before his
eyes. Hence God was not deceived, as though something had happened
beyond his expectation; but as I have already said, he undertakes
here the character of man; for he could not otherwise have
sufficiently expressed how inexcusable the Jews were who had
despised all his warnings. For what was God's design when he
punished the heathens, one nation after another, except that the
Jews might be awakened by the evils of others, and not provoke his
wrath against themselves? Paul makes use of the same argument. 'On
account of these things,' he says, 'the wrath of God comes upon all
the unbelieving.' (Rom. 1: 17.) Inasmuch as men for the most part
deceive themselves by self-flatteries and cherish with extreme
indulgence their own wickedness, Paul says, that the wrath of God
comes on the unbelieving: and it is a singular proof of God's love,
that he does not immediately assail us, but sets before us the
examples of others. As when any one lays hold of his servant in the
presence of his son, and punishes him severely, the son must be
moved by the sight, except he be wholly an abandoned character:
however, in such a case the father's love manifests itself; for he
withholds his hand from his son and inflicts punishment on the
servant, and this for the benefit of his son, that he may learn
wisdom by what another suffers. God declares in this place that he
had done the same; but he complains that it had been without
benefit, for the Jews had frustrated his purpose.
    It may be here asked, whether men so frustrate God that he
looks for something different from what happens. I have already
said, that God speaks after the manner of men, and in a language not
strictly correct: and hence we ought not here to enter or penetrate
into the secret purpose of God, but to be satisfied with this
reason, - that if we profit nothing when God warns us either by his
word or by his scourges, we are then equally guilty, as though he
was deceived by us: and hence also the madness of those is reproved,
who are unwilling to ascribe anything to God but what is conveyed in
these common forms of speech: God says, that he wills the salvation
of all, (1 Tim. 2: 4;) hence there is no election, which makes a
distinction between one man and another; but the Lord leaves the
whole human race to their free-will, so that every one may provide
for himself as he pleases; otherwise the will of God must be
twofold. So unlearned men vainly talk; and such not only show their
ignorance in religion, but are also wholly destitute of common
sense. For what is more absurd than to conclude, that there is a
twofold will in God, because he speaks otherwise with us than is
consistent with his incomprehensible majesty? God's will then is one
and simple, but manifold as to the perceptions of men; for we cannot
comprehend his hidden purpose, which angels adore with reverence and
humility. Hence the Lord accommodates himself to the measure of our
capacities, as this passage teaches us with sufficient clearness.
For if we receive what the fanatics imagine, then God is like man,
who hopes well, and finds afterwards that he has been deceived: but
what can be more alien to his glory? We hence see how these insane
men not only obscure the glory of God, but also labour, as far as
they can, to reduce his whole essence to nothing. But this mode of
speaking ought to be sufficiently familiar to us, - that God justly
complains that he has been deceived by us, when we do not repent,
inasmuch as he invites us to himself, and even stimulates us, I
said, Surely thou wilt fear me.
    This word "said", ought not then to be referred to the hidden
counsel of God, but to the subject itself, and that is, that it was
time to repent. "Who would not have hoped but that you would have
returned to the right way? When the next house was on fire, how was
it possible for you to sleep, except ye were extremely stupid? And
when so many examples were presented before your eyes without any
advantage, it is evident that there is no more any hope of
repentance." Thou, then, wilt fear me; that is, "God might have
hoped for some amendment, though he had not yet touched you even
with his smallest finger; for ye beheld, while in a tranquil state,
how severely he punished the contempt of his justice as to the
heathens." He uses a similar language in Isaiah 5: 4, 'My vine, what
have I done to thee? or what could I have done to thee more than
what I have done? I expected thee to bring forth fruit; but, behold,
thou hast brought forth wild grapes.' God in that passage
expostulates with the Jews as though they had by their
perfidiousness deceived him. But we know, that whatever happens was
known to him before the creation of the world: but, as I have
already said, the fact itself is to be regarded by us, and not the
hidden judgment of God.
    He afterwards adds, "Thou wilt receive correction"; that is,
thou wilt be hereafter more tractable: for monstrous is our
stupidity, when we fear not God's vengeance; when yet it evidently
appears that we are warned, as I have already said, to repent, by
all the examples of judgments which are daily presented to us. But
if we proceed in our wickedness, what else is it but to kick against
the goad, as the old proverb is? In short, we here see described an
extreme wickedness and obstinacy, which admitted of no remedy.
    Hence the Prophet adds again, "And cut off should not be her
habitation, howsoever I might have visited her; that is, though the
Jews had already provoked me, so that the punishment they have
deserved was nigh; yet I was ready to withdraw my hand and to
forgive them, if they repented: not that God ever turns aside from
his purpose, for there is no shadow of turning in him; but he sets
before them the fact as it was; for the subject here, as I have
said, is not respecting the secret purpose of God, but we ought to
confine ourselves to the means which he employs in promoting our
salvation. God had already threatened the Jews for many years; he
had as yet deferred to execute what he had threatened. In the
meantime his wrath had been manifested through the whole
neighborhood; the heathen nations had suffered the severest
judgments. God here declares, that he had been so lenient to his
people as to give time to repent; and he complains that he had
delayed in vain, for they had gone on in their wickedness, and had
mocked, as it were, his patience. When, therefore, he says, Cut off
should not be her habitation, howsoever I might have visited her, or
have visited her, he pursues still the same mode of speaking, that
is, that he was prepared to forgive the Jews, though he had before
destined them to destruction; not that he, as to himself, would
retract that sentence; but that he was still reconcilable, if the
Jews had been touched by any feeling of repentance.
    He at last adds, "Surely, (some render it, but,) surely they
have hastened". The verb "shacham" means properly to rise early, but
is to be taken metaphorically in the sense of hastening; as though
he had said, "They run headlong to corrupt their ways." God had said
that he had been indulgent to them for this end - that he might lead
them by degrees to repentance: now he complains, that they on the
contrary had run another way, when they saw that he suspended his
judgments, as though it was their designed object to accelerate his
wrath. Thus they hastened to corrupt their ways. The meaning, then,
is that this people were not only irreclaimable in their obstinacy,
but that they were also sottish and presumptuous, as though they
wished to hasten the judgment, which the Lord was ready for a time
to defer. It now follows -

Zephaniah 3:8
Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise
up to the prey: for my determination [is] to gather the nations,
that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine
indignation, [even] all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be
devoured with the fire of my jealousy.
    
    God here declares that the last end was near, since he had
found by experience that he effected nothing by long forbearance,
and since he had even found the Jews becoming worse, because he had
so mercifully treated them. Some think that the address is made to
the faithful, that they might prepare themselves to bear the cross;
but this view is foreign to the subject of the Prophet: and though
this view has gained the consent of almost all, I yet doubt not but
that the Prophet, as I have now stated, breaks out into a complaint,
and says, that God would not now deal in words with a people so
irreclaimable.
    Look for me, he says; that is, "I am now present fully
prepared: I have hitherto endeavoured to turn you, but your hearts
have become hardened in depravity. But inasmuch as I have lost all
my labour in teaching, warning, and exhorting you, even when I
presented to you examples on every side among heathen nations, which
ought to have stimulated you to repentance, and inasmuch as I have
effected nothing, it is now all over with you - Look for me: I shall
no more contend with you, nor is there any ground for you to hope
that I shall any more send Prophets to you." Look then for me, until
I shall rise - for what purpose? to the prey. Some render the word
"le'od" forever; but the Prophet means, that God was so offended
with the contumacy oЈ the people, that he would now plunder, spoil
and devour, and forget his kindness, which had been hitherto a sport
to them - "I shall come as a wild beast; as lions rage, lacerate,
tear, and devour, so also will I now do with you; for I have
hitherto too kindly and paternally spared you." We hence see that
these things are not to be referred to the hope and patience of the
godly; but that God on the contrary does here denounce final
destruction on the wicked, as though he had said - "I bid you adieu;
begone, and mind your own concerns; for I will no longer contend
with you; but I shall shortly come, and ye shall find me very
differentfrom what I have been to you hitherto." We now see that
God, as it were, repudiates the Jews, and threatens that he would
come to them with a drawn sword; and at the same time he compares
himself to a savage and cruel wild beast.
    He afterwards adds - For my judgment is; that is, I have
decreed to gather all nations. We have elsewhere spoken of this verb
"asaf"; it is the same in Hebrew as the French trousser. It is then
my purpose to gather, that is, to heap together into one mass all
nations, to assemble the kingdoms, so that no corner of the earth
may escape my hand. But he speaks of all nations and kingdoms, that
the Jews might understand that his judgment could no longer be
deferred; for if a comparison be made between them and the heathen
nations, judgment, as it is written, is wont to begin with the house
of God, (1 Pet. 4: 17 ;) and further, they were less excusable than
the unbelieving, who went astray, which is nothing strange, in
darkness, for they were without the light of truth. God then
threatens nations and kingdoms, that the Jews might know that a most
dreadful punishment was impending over their heads, for they had
surpassed all others in wickedness and evil deed. He afterwards adds
-

Zephaniah 3:9
For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may
all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.

    The Prophet now mitigates the asperity of his doctrine, which
might have greatly terrified the godly; nay, it might have wholly
disheartened them, had no consolation been applied. God then
moderates here what he had previously threatened; for if the Prophet
had only said this - "My purpose is to gather all the nations, and
thus the whole earth shall be devoured by the fire of indignation,"
what could the faithful have concluded but that they were to perish
with the rest of the world? It was therefore necessary to add
something to inspire hope, such as we find here.
    We must at the same time bear in mind what I have reminded you
of elsewhere - that the Prophet directs his discourse one while to
the faithful only, who were then few in number, and that at another
time he addresses the multitude indiscriminately; and so when our
Prophet threatens, he regards the whole body of the people; but when
he proclaims the favor of God, it is the same as though he turned
his eyes towards the faithful only, and gathered them into a place
by themselves. As for instance, when a few among a people are really
wise, and the whole multitude unite in hastening their own ruin, he
who has an address to make will make a distinction between the vast
multitude and the few; he will severely reprove those who are thus
foolish, and live for their own misery; and he will afterwards shape
his discourse so as to suit those with whom he has not so much fault
to find. Thus also the Lord changes his discourse; for at one time
he addresses the ungodly, and at another he turns to the elect, who
were but a remnant. So the Prophet has hitherto spoken by reproofs
and threatening, for he addressed the whole body of the people; but
now he collects, as I have said, the remnant as it were by
themselves, and sets before them the hope of pardon and of
salvation.
    Hence he says, But then (for I take "ki" as an adversative)
will I turn to the people a pure lip. God intimates that he would
propagate his grace wider, after having cleansed the earth; for he
will be worshipped not only in Judea, but by foreign nations, and
even by the remotest. For it might have been objected, "Will God
then extinguish his name in the world? For what will be the state of
things when Judea is overthrown and other nations destroyed, except
that God's name will be exposed to reproach! It will nowhere be
invoked, and all will outvie one another in blasphemies against
him." The Prophet meets this objection, and says, that God has in
his own hand the means by which he will vindicate his own glory; for
he will not only defend his Church in Judea, but will also gather
into it nations far and wide, so that his name shall be everywhere
celebrated.
    But he speaks first of a pure lip, I will turn, he says, to the
nations a pure lip. By this word he means, that the invocation of
God's name is his peculiar work; for men do not pray through the
suggestion of the flesh, but when God draws them. It is indeed true,
that God has ever been invoked by all nations; but it was not the
right way of praying, when they heedlessly cast their petitions into
the air: and we also know, that the true God was not invoked by the
nations; for there was no nation then in the world which had not
formed for itself some idol. As then the earth was full of
innumerable idols, God was not invoked except in Judea only.
Besides, though the unbelieving had an intention to pray to God, yet
they could not have prayed rightly, for prayer flows from faith. God
then does not without reason promise, that he would turn pure lips
to the nations; that is, that he would cause the nations to call on
his name with pure lips. We hence then learn what I have stated -
that God cannot be rightly invoked by us, until he draws us to
himself; for we have profane and impure lips. In short, the
beginning of prayer is from that hidden cleansing of the Spirit of
which the Prophet now speaks.
    But if it be God's singular gift, to turn a pure lip to the
nations, it follows that faith is conferred on us by him, for both
are connected together. As God then purifies the hearts of men by
faith, so also he purifies their lips that his name may be rightly
invoked, which would otherwise be profaned by the unbelieving.
Whenever they pretend to call on God's name, it is certain that it
is not done without profanation.
    As to the word "all", it is to be referred to nations, not to
each individual; for it has not been that every one has called on
God; but there have been some of all nations, as Paul also says in
the first chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians: for in
addressing the faithful, he adds, 'With all who call on the name of
the Lord in every place' - that is, not only in Judea; and elsewhere
he says, 'I would that men would stretch forth hands to heaven in
every place.' (1 Tim. 2: 8.)
    He afterwards adds, "That they may serve him with one
shoulder"; that is, that they may unitedly submit to God in order to
do him service; for to serve him with the shoulder is to unite
together, so as to help one another. The metaphor seems to have been
derived from those who carry a burden; for except each assists, one
will be overpowered, and then the burden will fall to the ground. We
are said then to serve God with one shoulder when we strive by
mutual consent to assist one another. And this ought to be carefully
noticed, that we may know that our striving cannot be approved by
God, except we have thus the same end in view, and seek also to add
courage to others, and mutually to help one another. Unless then the
faithful thus render mutual assistance, the Lord cannot approve of
their service.
    We now see how foolishly they talk who so much extol free-will
and whatever is connected with it: for the Lord demands faith as
well as other duties of religion; and he requires also from all,
love and the keeping of the whole law. But he testifies here that
his name cannot be invoked, as the lips of all are polluted, until
he has consecrated them, cleansing by his Spirit what was before
polluted: and he shows also that men will not undertake the yoke,
unless he joins them together, so as to render them willing. I must
not proceed farther.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that since it is the principal part of our
happiness, that in our pilgrimage through this world there is open
to us a familiar access to thee by faith, - O grant, that we may be
able to come with a pure heart to thy presence: and when our lips
are polluted, O purify us by thy Spirit, so that we may not only
pray to thee with the mouth, but also prove that we do this
sincerely, without any dissimulation, and that we earnestly seek to
spend our whole life in glorifying thy name, until being at length
gathered into thy celestial kingdom, we may be truly and really
united to thee, and be made partakers of that glory, which has been
procured for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen.

Lecture One hundred and Twenty-sixth.

Zephaniah 3:10
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, [even] the
daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
    
    Interpreters agree not as to the meaning of this verse; for
some of the Hebrews connect this with the former, as though the
Prophet was still speaking of the calling of the Gentiles. But
others, with whom I agree, apply this to the dispersed Jews, so that
the Prophet here gives hope of that restoration, of which he had
before spoken. They who understand this of the Gentiles, think that
Atharai and Phorisai are proper names. But in the first place, we
cannot find that any nations were so called; and then, if we receive
what they say, these were not separate nations, but portions of the
Ethiopians; for the Prophet does not state the fact by itself, that
Atharai and Phorisai would be the worshipers of God; but after
having spoken of Ethiopia, he adds these words: hence we conclude,
that the Prophet means this, - that they would return into Judea
from the farthest region of the Ethiopians to offer sacrifices to
God. And as he mentions the daughter of the dispersion, we must
understand this of the Jews, for it cannot be applied to the
Ethiopians. And this promise fits in well with the former verse: for
the Prophet spoke, according to what we observed yesterday, of the
future calling of the Gentiles; and now he adds, the Jews would come
with the Gentiles, that they might unite together, agreeing in the
same faith, in the true and pure worship of the only true God. He
had said, that the kingdom would be enlarged, for the Church was to
be gathered from all nations: he now adds, that the elect people
would be restored, after having been driven away into exile.
    Hence he says, "Beyond the rivers of Ethiopia shall be my
suppliants": for "'atar" means to supplicate; but it means also
sometimes to be pacified, or to be propitious; and therefore some
take "'atarim" in a passive sense, "they who shall be reconciled to
God;" as though he had said, "God will at length be propitious to
the miserable exiles, though they have been cast away beyond the
rivers of Ethiopia: they shall yet again be God's people, for he
will be reconciled to them." As David calls Him the God of his
mercy, because he had found him merciful and gracious, (Ps. 59: 18,)
so also in this place they think that the Jews are said to be the
"'ararey", the reconciled of Jehovah, because he would be reconciled
to them. But this exposition is too forced: I therefore retain that
which I have stated, - that some suppliants would come to God from
the utmost parts of Ethiopia, not the Ethiopians themselves, but the
Jews who had been driven there.
    To the same purpose is what is added, The daughter of my
dispersed; for "puts" means to scatter or to disperse. Hence by the
daughter of the dispersed he means the gathered assembly of the
miserable exiles, who for a time were considered as having lost
their name, so as not to be counted as the people of Israel. These
then shall again offer to me a gift, that is, they are to be
restored to their country, that they may there worship me after
their usual manner. Now though this prophecy extends to the time of
the Gospel, it is yet no wonder, that the Prophet describes the
worship of God such as it had been, accompanied with the ceremonies
of the Law. We now then perceive what Zephaniah means in this verse,
- that not only the Gentiles would come into the Church of God, but
that the Jews also would return to their country, that they might
together make one body. It follows, -

Zephaniah 3:11
In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein
thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of
the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no
more be haughty because of my holy mountain.
    
    Here the Prophet teaches us, that the Church would be
different, when God removed the dross and gathered to himself a pure
and chosen people: and the Prophet stated this, that the faithful
might not think it hard that God so diminished his Church that
hardly the tenth part remained; for it was a sad and a bitter thing,
that of a vast multitude a very few only remained. It could not then
be, but that the ruin of their brethren greatly affected the Jews,
though they knew them to be reprobate. We indeed see how Paul felt a
sympathy, when he saw that his own nation were alienated from God.
(Rom. 9: 1.) So it was necessary that some consolation should be
given to the faithful, that they might patiently bear the diminution
of the Church, which had been previously predicted. Hence the
Prophet, that he might moderate their grief, says, that this would
be for their good; for in this manner the reproaches were to be
removed, by which the Jewish name had been polluted, and rendered
abominable.
    "Thou shalt not be ashamed, he says, for the sins by which I
have been offended". Why? For thou shalt be cleansed; for it is
God's purpose to reserve a few, by whom he will be purely
worshipped. Some think that he does not speak here of the remission
of sins, but on the contrary, of a pure and holy life, which follows
regeneration; as though he had said, "There will be no reason any
more for thee to be ashamed of thy life; for when I shall chasten
you, ye will then fear me, and your correction will be conducive to
a newness of life: since then your life will not be the same as
formerly, and since my glory shall shine forth among you, there will
be no cause why ye should be ashamed. But this is a strained view,
and cannot be accommodated to the words of the Prophet; for he says,
Thou shalt no more be ashamed of the sins by which thou hast
transgressed against me. We hence see that this cannot be otherwise
applied than to the remission of sins. But the last clause has led
interpreters astray, for the Prophet adds, "For I will take away
from the midst of thee those who exult": but the Prophet's design,
as I have stated, was different from what they have supposed; for he
shows that there was no reason for the Jews to lament and deplore
the diminution of the Church because the best compensation was
offered to them, which was, that by this small number God would be
purely served. For when the body of the people was complete, it was,
we know, a mass of iniquity. How then could Israel glory in its vast
number, since they were all like the giants carrying on war against
God? When now God collects a few only, these few would at length
acknowledge that they had been preserved in a wonderful manner, in
order that religion and the true worship of God should not be
extinguished in the earth.
    We now perceive the Prophet's design; but I will endeavor to
render this clearer by a comparison: Suppose that in a city
licentiousness of life so prevails that the people may seem to be
irreclaimable; when it happens that the city itself falls away from
its power and pristine state, or is in some other way reformed, not
without loss, and is thus led to improve its morals, this would be a
compensation to the good, and would give courage to the godly and
ease their grief, so that they would patiently submit, though the
city had not the same abundance, nor the same wealth and enjoyments.
How so? because they who remained would form a body of people free
from reproach and disgrace. When disease is removed from the human
body, the body itself is necessarily weakened; and it is sometimes
necessary to amputate a member, that the whole body may be
preserved. In this case there is a grievous diminution, but as there
is no other way of preserving the body, the remedy ought to be
patiently sustained. In a similar manner does the Prophet now speak
of the city Jerusalem: "Thou shalt not be ashamed of the sins by
which thou hast transgressed against me". How so? Because they were
to be separated from the profane and gross despisers of God; for as
long as the good and the evil were mixed together, it was a reproach
common to all. Jerusalem was then a den of robbers; it was, as it
were, a hell on earth; and all were alike exposed to the same
infamy, for the pure part could not be distinguished, as a mass of
evil prevailed everywhere. The Prophet now says, "Thou shalt not be
ashamed of thy former infamy." Why? "Because God will separate the
chaff from the wheat, and will gather the wheat; ye shall be, as it
were, in the storehouse of God; the chosen seed shall alone remain;
there will be such purity, that the glory of the Lord shall shine
forth among you: ye shall not therefore be ashamed of the
disgraceful deeds by which ye are now contaminated."
    We now apprehend the meaning of the words. But it may seem
strange that the Prophet should say, that sins should be covered by
oblivion, which the Jews ought indeed to have thought of often and
almost at all times, according to what Ezekiel says, 'Thou wilt then
remember thy ways, and be ashamed,' (Ezek. 36: 61;) that is, when
God shall be pacified. Ezekiel says, that the fruit of repentance
would be, that the faithful, covered with shame, would condemn
themselves. Why so? Because the reprobate proceed in their wicked
courses, as it were, with closed eyes, and as it has been previously
said, they know no shame: though God charges them with their sins,
they yet despise and reject every warning with a shameless front;
yea, they kick against the goads. Since it is so, justly does
Ezekiel say, that shame would be the fruit of true repentance,
according to what Paul also says in the sixth chapter to the Romans,
"Of which ye are now ashamed." He intimates, that when they were
sunk in their unbelief, they were so given to shameful deeds, that
they perceived not their abomination. They began therefore to be
ashamed, when they became illuminated. The Prophet seems now to cut
off this fruit from repentance: but what he says ought to be
otherwise understood, that is, that the Church would be then free
from reproach; for the reprobate would be separated, all the filth
would be taken away, when God gathered only the remnant for himself;
for in this manner, as it has been said, the wheat would be
separated from the chaff. Thou shalt not then be ashamed in that day
of evil deeds; for I will take away from the midst of thee those who
exult. He shows how necessary the diminution would be; for all must
have perished, had not God cut off the putrid members. How severe
soever then and full of pain the remedy would be, it ought yet to be
deemed tolerable; for the Church, that is the body, could not
otherwise be preserved.
    But it may be again objected - That the Church is cleansed from
all spots, inasmuch as the reprobate are taken away; for he says,
Thou shalt not be ashamed of the evil deeds by which thou hast
sinned, literally, against me, that is, by which thou hast
transgressed against me. God here addresses, it may be said, the
faithful themselves: He then does not speak of the evil deeds of
those whom the Lord had rejected. But the answer is easy: When he
says, that the Church had sinned, he refers to that mixture, by
which no distinction is made between the wheat and the chaff. We may
say that a city is impious and wicked, when the majority so much
exceeds in number the good, that they do not appear. When therefore
among ten thousand men there are only thirty or even a smaller
number who are anxious for a better state of things, the whole
number will be generally counted wicked on account of the larger
portion, for the others are hid, and, as it were, covered over and
buried. Justly then and correctly does Zephaniah declare, that the
Jews had transgressed against God; for in that mixed multitude the
elect could not have been distinguished from the reprobate. But he
now promises that there would be a distinction, when God took away
the proud, who exulted in vain boasting. For he says, "I will take
away from the midst of thee those who exult in thy pride".
    Some render the word in the abstract, "the exultations of thy
pride:" but the term "'alizim" found here, is never in construction
rendered exultations. It is therefore no doubt to be understood of
men. He then names the pride of the people; and yet he addresses the
elect, who were afterwards to be gathered. What does this mean? even
what we have already stated, that before the Church was cleansed
from her pollution and filth, there was a common exultation and
insolence against God; for these words were everywhere heard - "We
are God's holy people, we are a chosen race, we are a royal
priesthood, we are a holy inheritance." (Ez. 19: 6.) Since, then,
these boastings were in the mouth of them all, the Prophet says,
that it was the pride of the whole people. I will then take away, he
says, from the midst of thee those who exult in thy pride.
    He afterwards adds, "Thou shalt no more add to take pride in my
holy mountain". Here the Prophet points out the main spring of the
evil, because the Jews had hardened themselves in a perverse
self-confidence, as they thought that all things were lawful for
them, inasmuch as they were God's chosen people. Jeremiah also in a
similar manner represents their boasting as false, when they
pretended to be the temple of God. (Jer. 7: 4.) So our Prophet
condemns this pride, because they concealed their sins under the
shadow of the temple, and thought it a sufficient defense, that God
dwelt on Mount Sion. To show, then, that the people were unhealable,
without being cleansed from this pride, the Prophet says, I will
take away those who exult - How did they exult? in thy pride: and
what was this pride? that they inhabited the holy mount of God,
besides which there was no other sanctuary of God on earth. As then
they imagined that God was thus bound to them, they insolently
despised all admonitions, as though they were exempt from every law
and restraint. Thou shalt not then add to take pride in my holy
mountain.
    We now then see how careful we ought to be, lest the favors of
God, which ought by their brightness to guide us to heaven, should
darken our minds. But as we are extremely prone to arrogance and
pride, we ought carefully to seek to conduct ourselves in a meek and
humble manner, when favored with God's singular benefits; for when
we begin falsely to glory in God's name, and to put on an empty mask
to cover our sins, it is all over with us; inasmuch as to our
wickedness, to our contempt of God, and to other evil lusts and
passions, there is added perverseness, for we persevere in our
course, as it were, with an iron and inflexible neck. Thus, indeed,
it happens to all hypocrites, who elate themselves through false
pretenses as to their connection with God. It follows -

Zephaniah 3:12,13
I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people,
and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.
The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither
shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall
feed and lie down, and none shall make [them] afraid.
    
    Here the Prophet pursues the same subject - that God would
provide for the safety of his Church, by cutting off the majority of
the people, and by reserving a few; for his purpose was to gather
for himself a pure and holy Church, as the city had previously been
full of all uncleanness. It ought, then, to have been a compensation
to ease their grief, when the godly saw that God would be propitious
to them, though he had treated them with great severity. And we must
bear in mind what I have before stated - that the Church could not
have been preserved without correcting and subduing that arrogance,
which arose from a false profession as to God. Zephaniah takes it
now as granted, that pride could not be torn away from their hearts,
except they were wholly cast down, and thus made contrite. He then
teaches us, that as long as they remained whole, they were ever
proud, and that hence it was necessary to apply a violent remedy,
that they might learn meekness and humility; which he intimates when
he says, that the residue of the people would be humble and
afflicted; for if they had become willingly teachable, there would
have been no need of so severe a correction. In short, though the
faithful lament that God should thus almost annihilate his Church,
yet in order that they might not murmur, he shows that this was a
necessary remedy. How so? because they would have always conducted
themselves arrogantly against God, had they not been afflicted. It
was, therefore, needful for them to be in a manner broken, because
they could not be bent. I will, then, he says, make the residue an
afflicted and a poor people.
    The word, "'ani" means humble; but as he adds the word "dal",
he no doubt shows that the Jews could not be corrected without being
stripped of all the materials of their glorying. They were, indeed,
extremely wedded to their boastings; yea, they were become hardened
in their contempt of God. He therefore says, that this fruit would
at last follow, that they would trust in the Lord, that is, when he
had laid them prostrate.
    This verse contains a most useful instruction: for first we are
taught that the Church is subdued by the cross, that she may know
her pride, which is so innate and so fixed in the hearts of men,
that it cannot be removed, except the Lord, so to speak, roots it
out by force. There is then no wonder that the faithful are so much
humbled be the Lord, and that the lot of the Church is so
contemptible; for if they had more vigor, they would soon, as is
often the case, break out into an insolent spirit. That the Lord,
then, may keep his elect under restraint, he subdues and tames them
by poverty. In short, he exercises them under the cross. This is one
thing.
    We must also notice the latter clause, when he says, "They
shall trust in the Lord", that is, those who have been reduced to
poverty and want. We hence see for what purpose God deprives us of
all earthly trust, and takes away from us every ground of glorying;
it is, that we may rely only on his favor. This dependence ought
not, indeed, to be extorted from us, for what can be more desirable
than to trust in God? But while men arrogate to themselves more than
what is right, and thus put themselves in the place of God, they
cannot really and sincerely trust in him. They indeed imagine that
they trust in God, when they ascribe to him a part of their
salvation; but except this be done wholly, no trust can be placed in
God. It is hence necessary that they who ascribe to themselves even
the smallest thing, should be reduced to nothing: and this is what
the Prophet means. Let us further know, that men do not profit under
God's scourges, except they wholly deny themselves, and forget their
own power, which they falsely imagine, and recomb on him alone.
    But the Prophet speaks of the elect alone; for we see that many
are severely afflicted, and are not softened, nor do they put off
their former hardihood. But the Lord so chastises his people, that
by the spirit of meekness he corrects in them all pride and
haughtiness. But by saying, They shall trust in the name of Jehovah,
he sets this trust in contrast with the pride which he had
previously condemned. They indeed wished to appear to trust in the
name of God, when they boasted of Mount Sion, and haughtily brought
forward the adoption by which they had been separated from heathen
nations; but it was a false boasting, which had no trust in it. To
trust, then, in the name of Jehovah is nothing else than sincerely
to embrace the favor which he offers in his word, and not to make
vain pretenses, but to call on him with a pure heart and with a deep
feeling of penitence.
    For the same purpose he adds, "The residue of Israel shall no
more work iniquity nor speak falsehood; nor shall there be found a
deceitful tongue in their mouth". The Prophet continues the same
subject - that the Church is not to be less esteemed when it
consists only of a few men; for in the vast number there was great
filth, which not only polluted the earth by its ill savor, but
infected heaven itself. Since then Jerusalem was full of iniquities,
as long as the people remained entire, the Prophet adduces this
comfort, that there was no reason for sorrow, if from a vast number
as the sand of the sea, and from a great multitude like the stars,
God would only collect a small band; for by this means the Church
would be cleansed. And it was of great importance that the filth
should be cleansed from God's sanctuary; for what could have been
more disgraceful than that the holy place should be made the lodging
of swine, and that the place which God designed to be consecrated to
himself, should be profaned? As then Jerusalem was the sanctuary of
God, ought not true religion to have flourished there? But when it
became polluted with every kind of filth, the Prophet shows that it
ought not to have seemed grievous that the Lord should take away
that vast multitude which falsely boasted that they professed his
name. They shall not then work iniquity.
    Under one kind of expression he includes the whole of a
righteous life, when he says, "They shall not speak falsely, nor
will there be found a deceitful tongue". It is indeed sufficient for
the practice of piety or integrity of life to keep the tongue free
from frauds and falsehood; but as it cannot be that any one will
abstain from all frauds and falsehood, except he purely and from the
heart fears God, the Prophet, by including the whole under one
thing, expresses under the word tongue what embraces complete
holiness of life.
    It may be now asked, whether this has ever been fulfilled. It
is indeed certain, that though few returned to their own country,
there were yet many hypocrites among that small number; for as soon
as the people reached their own land, every one, as we find, was so
bent on his own advantages, that they polluted themselves with
heathen connections, that they neglected the building of the temple,
and deprived the priests of their tenths, that they became cold in
the worship of God. With these things they were charged by Haggai,
Zechariah, and Malachi. Since these things were so, what means this
promise, that there would be no iniquity when God had cleansed his
Church? The Prophet speaks comparatively; for the Lord would so
cleanse away the spots from his people that their holiness would
then appear more pure. Though then many hypocrites were still mixed
with the good and real children of God, it was yet true that
iniquity was not so prevalent, that frauds and falsehood were not so
rampant among the people as they were before.
    He afterwards adds, "For they shall feed and lie down, and
there will be none to terrify them". He mentions another benefit
from God - that he will protect his people from all wrongs when they
had repented. We must ever bear in mind what I have stated - that
the Prophet intended here to heal the sorrow of the godly, which
night have otherwise wholly dejected their minds. That he might then
in some measure alleviate the grief of God's children, he brings
forward this argument - "Though few shall remain, it is yet well
that the Lord will cleanse away the filth of the holy city, that it
may be justly deemed to be God's habitation, which was before the
den of thieves. It is not then a loss to you, that few will dwell in
the holy land, for God will be a faithful guardian of your safety.
What need then is there of a large multitude, except to render you
safe from enemies and from wild beasts? What does it signify, if God
receives you under his protection, under the condition that ye shall
be secure, though not able to resist your enemies? Though one cannot
defend another, yet if God be your protector, and ye be made to live
in peace under the defense which he promises, there is no reason why
ye should say, that you have suffered a great loss, when your great
number was made small. It is then enough for you to live under God's
guardianship; for though the whole world were united against you,
and ye had no strength nor defense yourselves, yet the Lord can
preserve you; there will be no one to terrify you.
    And this argument is taken from the law; for it is mentioned
among other blessings, that God would render safe the life of his
people; which is an invaluable blessing, and without which the life
of men, we know, must be miserable; for nothing is more distressing
than constant fear, and nothing is more conducive to happiness than
a quiet life: and hence to live in quietness and free from all fear,
is what the Lord promises as a chief blessing to his people.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that since the depravity of our nature is so
great, that we cannot bear prosperity without some wantonness of the
flesh immediately raging in us, and without becoming even arrogant
against thee, - O grant, that we may profit under the trials of the
cross; and when thou have blest us, may we with lowly hearts,
renouncing our perverseness, submit ourselves to thee, and not only
bear thy yoke submissively, but proceed in this obedience all our
life, and so contend against all temptations as never to glory in
ourselves, and feel also convinced, that all true and real glory is
laid up for us in thee, until we shall enjoy it in thy celestial
kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-seventh.

Zephaniah 3:14,15
Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with
all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine
enemy: the king of Israel, [even] the LORD, [is] in the midst of
thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.
    
    The Prophet confirms what he has been teaching, and encourages
the faithful to rejoice, as though he saw with his eyes what he had
previously promised. For thus the Prophets, while encouraging the
faithful to entertain hope, stimulate them to testify their
gratitude, as though God's favor was already enjoyed. It is certain,
that this instruction was set before the Jews for this purpose, -
that in their exile and extreme distress they might yet prepare
themselves to give thanks to God, as though they were already, as
they say, in possession of what they had prayed for. But we must
remember the design of our Prophet, and the common mode of
proceeding which all the Prophets followed; for the faithful are
exhorted to praise God the same as if they had already enjoyed his
blessings, which yet were remote, and seemed concealed from their
view.
    We now then perceive what the Prophet meant in encouraging the
Jews to praise God: he indeed congratulates them as though they were
already enjoying that happiness, which was yet far distant: but as
it is a congratulation only, we must also bear in mind, that God
deals so bountifully with his Church as to stimulate the faithful to
gratitude; for we pollute all his benefits, except we return for
them, as it has been stated elsewhere, the sacrifice of praise: and
as a confirmation of this is the repetition found here, which would
have otherwise appeared superfluous. "Exult, daughter of Sion,
shout, be glad; rejoice with all thine heart, daughter of
Jerusalem."
    But the Prophet was not thus earnest without reason; for he saw
how difficult it was to console the afflicted, especially when God
manifested no evidence of hope according to the perception of the
flesh; but his purpose was by this heap of words to fortify them,
that they might with more alacrity struggle with so many hard and
severe trials.
    He then adds, that God had taken away the judgments of Zion. By
judgments, he means those punishments which would have been
inflicted if it had been the Lord's purpose to deal according to
strict justice with the Jews, as when any one says in our language,
J'ai brule tous tes proces. He intimates then that God would no more
make an enquiry as to the sins of his people. The word "mishpat", we
know, has various meanings in Hebrew; but in this place, as I have
said, it means what we call in French, Toutes procedures. In short,
God declares that the sins of his people are buried, so that he in a
manner cuts off his character as a judge, and remits his own right,
so that he will no more contend with the Jews, or summon them, as
they say, to trial. Jehovah then will take away thy judgments.
    Then follows an explanation, "By clearing he has turned aside
all enemies;" for we know that war is one of God's judgments. As
then God had punished the Jews by the Assyrians, by the Egyptians,
by the Chaldeans, and by other heathen nations, he says now, that
all enemies would be turned away. It hence follows, that neither the
Assyrians nor the Chaldeans had assailed them merely through their
own inclination, but that they were, according to what has been
elsewhere stated, the swords, as it were, of God.
    It afterwards follows, "The king of Israel is Jehovah in the
midst of thee". Here the Prophet briefly shows, that the sum of real
and true happiness is then possessed, when God declares, that he
undertakes the care of his people. God is said to be in the midst of
us, when he testifies that we live under his guardianship and
protection. Properly speaking, he never forsakes his own; but these
forms of speech, we know, are to be referred to the perception of
the flesh. When the Lord is said to be afar off, or to dwell in the
midst of us, it is to be understood with reference to our ideas: for
we think God to be then absent when he gives liberty to our enemies,
and we seem to be exposed as a prey to them; but God is said to
dwell in the midst of us when he protects us by his power, and turns
aside all assaults. Thus, then, our Prophet now says, that God will
be in the midst of his Church; for he would really and effectually
prove that he is the guardian of his elect people. He had been
indeed for a time absent, when his people were deprived of all help,
according to what Moses expresses when he says, that the people had
denuded themselves, because they had renounced God, by whose hand
they had been safely protected, and were also to be protected to the
end. (Exod. 32: 25.)
    He lastly adds, "Thou shalt not see evil". Some read, "Thou
shalt not fear evil," by inserting "yod"; but the meaning is the
same: for the verb, to see, in Hebrew is, we know, often to be taken
in the sense of finding or experiencing. Thou shalt then see no
evil; that is, God will cause thee to live in quietness, free from
every disturbance. If the other reading, "Thou shalt not fear evil,"
be preferred, then the reference is to the blessing promised in the
law; for nothing is more desirable than peace and tranquillity.
Since then this is the chief of temporal blessings, the Prophet does
not without reason say, that the Church would be exempt from all
fear and anxiety, when God should dwell in the midst of it,
according to what he says in Ps. 46. It now follows -

Zephaniah 3:16,17
In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: [and to]
Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
The LORD thy God in the midst of thee [is] mighty; he will save, he
will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will
joy over thee with singing.
    
    The Prophet proceeds still to confirm the same truth, but
employs a different mode of speaking. It shall, he says, be then
said everywhere to Zion, Fear not, let not thine hands be let down,
&c. For these words may no less suitably be applied to the common
report or applause of all men, then to the prophetic declaration; so
that the expression, "It shall be said," may be the common
congratulation, which all would vie to offer. The import of the
whole is, that Jerusalem would be so tranquil that either the
Prophets, or all with common consent would say, "Thou enjoyest thy
rest: for God really shows that he cares for thee; there is
therefore no cause for thee hereafter to fear." For there is
expressed here a real change: since the Jews had been before in
daily fear, the Prophet intimates, that they would be so safe from
every danger, as to be partakers of the long-wished-for rest, with
the approbation even of the whole world. Hence, it shall be said -
by whom? either by the Prophets, or by common report: it makes no
great difference, whether there would be teachers to announce their
state joyful and prosperous, or whether all men would, by common
consent, applaud God's favor, when he had removed from his people
all wars, troubles, and fears, so as to make them live in quietness.
    "It shall then be said to Jerusalem, fear not; Sion! let not
thine hands be relaxed". By saying "Fear not, and let not thine
hands be relaxed," he intimates, that all vigor is so relaxed by
fear, that no member can perform its function. But by taking a part
for the whole, he understands by the word hands, every other part of
the body; for by the hands men perform their works. Hence in
Scripture the hands often signify the works of men. The meaning then
is - that God's Church would then be in such a state of quietness as
to be able to discharge all its duties and transact its concerns
peaceably and orderly. And it is what we also know by experience,
that when fear prevails in our hearts we are as it were lifeless, so
that we cannot raise even a finger to do anything: but when hope
animates us, there is a vigor in the whole body, so that alacrity
appears everywhere. The Prophet, no doubt, means here, that God thus
succors his elect, not that they may indulge in pleasures, as is too
often the case, but that they may, on the contrary, strenuously
devote themselves to the performance of their duties. We ought
therefore to notice the connection between a tranquil state and
diligent hands; for, as I have said, God does not free us from all
trouble and fear, that we may grow torpid in our pleasures, but that
we may, on the contrary, be more attentive to our duty. Sion, then!
let thine hands be no more torpid - Why?
    "Jehovah, he says, in the midst of thee strong, will save". He
repeats what he had said, but more fully expresses what might have
appeared obscure on account of its brevity. He therefore shows here
more at large the benefit of God's presence - that God will not
dwell idly in his Church, but will be accompanied with his power.
For what end? To save. We hence see that the word "gibur", ascribed
to God, is very emphatical; as though he had said, that God would
not be idle while residing in the midst of his Church, but would
become its evident strength. And it is worthy of notice, that God
exhibits not himself as strong that he may terrify his elect, but
only that he may become their preserver.
    He afterwards adds, "He will rejoice over thee with gladness.
This must be referred to the gratuitous love of God, by which he
embraces and cherishes his Church, as a husband his wife whom he
most tenderly loves. Such feelings, we know, belong not to God; but
this mode of speaking, which often occurs in Scripture, is thus to
be understood by us; for as God cannot otherwise show his favor
towards us and the greatness of his love, he compares himself to a
husband, and us to a wife. He means in short - that God is most
highly pleased when he can show himself kind to his Church.
    He confirms and shows again the same thing more clearly, "He
will be at rest (or silent) in his love". The proper meaning of
"charash" is to be silent, but it means here to be at rest. The
import is, that God will be satisfied, as we say in French, Il
prendra tout son contentement; as though he had said that God wished
nothing more than sweetly and quietly to cherish his Church. As I
have already said, this feeling is indeed ascribed to God with no
strict correctness; for we know that he can instantly accomplish
whatever it pleases him: but he assumes the character of men; for
except he thus speaks familiarly with us, he cannot fully show how
much he loves us. God then shall be at rest in his love; that is,
"It will be his great delight, it will be the chief pleasure of thy
God when he cherishes thee: as when one cherishes a wife most dear
to him, so God will then rest in his love." He then says, "He will
exult over thee with joy."
    These hyperbolic terms seem indeed to set forth something
inconsistent, for what can be more alien to God's glory than to
exult like man when influenced by joy arising from love? It seems
then that the very nature of God repudiates these modes of speaking,
and the Prophet appears as though he had removed God from his
celestial throne to the earth. A heathen poet says, -
        Not well do agree, nor dwell on the same throne,
        Majesty and love. (Ovid. Met. Lib. ii. 816-7.)
    God indeed represents himself here as a husband, who burns with
the greatest love towards his wife; and this does not seem, as we
have said, to be suitable to his glory; but whatever tends to this
end - to convince us of God's ineffable love towards us, so that we
may rest in it, and being weaned as it were from the world, may seek
this one thing only, that he may confer on us his favour - whatever
tends to this, doubtless illustrates the glory of God, and derogates
nothing from his nature. We at the same time see that God, as it
were, humbles himself; for if it be asked whether these things are
suitable to the nature of God, we must say, that nothing is more
alien to it. It may then appear by no means congruous, that God
should be described by us as a husband who burns with love to his
wife: but we hence more fully learn, as I have already said, how
great is God's favor towards us, who thus humbles himself for our
sake, and in a manner transforms himself, while he puts on the
character of another. Let every one of us come home also to himself,
and acknowledge how deep is the root of unbelief; for God cannot
provide for our good and correct this evil, to which we are all
subject, without departing as it were from himself, that he might
come nigher to us.
    And whenever we meet with this mode of speaking, we ought
especially to remember, that it is not without reason that God
labors so much to persuade us of his love, because we are not only
prone by nature to unbelief, but exposed to the deceits of Satan,
and are also inconstant and easily drawn away from his word: hence
it is that he assumes the character of man. We must, at the same
time, observe what I have before stated - that whatever is
calculated to set forth the love of God, does not derogate from his
glory; for his chief glory is that vast and ineffable goodness by
which he has once embraced us, and which he will show us to the end.
    What the Prophet says of "that day" is to be extended to the
whole kingdom of Christ. He indeed speaks of the deliverance of the
people; but we must ever bear in mind what I have already stated -
that it is not one year, or a few years, which are intended, when
the Prophets speak of future redemption; for the time which is now
mentioned began when the people were restored from the Babylonian
captivity, and continues its course to the final advent of Christ.
And hence also we learn that these hyperbolic expressions are not
extravagant, when the Prophets say, "Thou shalt not afterwards fear,
nor see evil:" for if we regard the dispersion of that people,
doubtless no trial, however heavy, can happen to us, which is not
moderate, when we compare our lot with the state of the ancient
people; for the land of Canaan was then the only pledge of God's
favour and love. When, therefore, the Jews were ejected from their
inheritance, it was, as we have said elsewhere, a sort of
repudiation; it was the same as if a father were to eject from his
house a son, and to repudiate him. Christ was not as yet manifested
to the world. The miserable Jews had an evidence, in figures and
shadows, of that future favor which was afterwards manifested by the
gospel. Since, then, God gave them so small an evidence of his love,
how could it be otherwise but that they must have fainted, when
driven far away from their land? Though the Church is now scattered
and torn, and seems little short of being ruined, yet God is ever
present with us in his only-begotten Son: we have also the gate of
the celestial kingdom fully opened. There is, therefore,
administered to us at all times more abundant reasons for joy than
formerly to the ancient people, especially when they seemed to have
been rejected by God. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that
the Church would be lessened by calamities, when God again gathered
it. But that redemption of the people of Israel ought at this day to
be borne in mind by us; for it was a memorable work of God, by which
he intended to afford a perpetual testimony that he is the deliverer
of all those who hope in him. It follows -

Zephaniah 3:18
I will gather [them that are] sorrowful for the solemn assembly,
[who] are of thee, [to whom] the reproach of it [was] a burden.
    
    He proceeds here with the same subject, but in different words;
for except some consolation had been introduced, what the Prophet
has hitherto said would have been frigid; for he had promised them
joy, he had exhorted the chosen of God to offer praise and
thanksgiving; but they were at the same time in a most miserable
state. It was hence necessary to add this declaration respecting the
exiles being gathered.
    But he says "at the time". Some read, "in respect to time;" but
this is obscure and strained. Others render it, "at the time;" but
it means strictly "from the time;" though "mem" may sometimes be
rendered as a particle of comparison. Interpreters do not seem to me
rightly to understand the Prophet's meaning: for I do not doubt but
that he points out here the fixed time of deliverance, as though he
had said, "I will again gather thine afflicted, and those who have
endured thy reproach." When? at the time, "mimo'ed"; that is, at the
determined or fixed time: for "mo'ed" is not taken in Hebrew for
time simply, but for a predetermined time, as we say in French, Un
terme prefix. I will then gather thine afflicted, but not soon. Our
Prophet then holds the faithful here somewhat in suspense, that they
might continue in their watch tower, and patiently wait for God's
help; for we know how great is our haste, and how we run headlong
when we hope for anything; but this celerity, according to the old
proverb, is often delay to us. Since, then, men are always carried
away by a certain heat, or by too much impetuosity, to lay hold on
what may happen, the Prophet here lays a restraint, and intimates
that God has his own seasons to fulfill what he has promised, that
he will not do so soon, nor according to the will of men, but when
the suitable time shall come. And this time is that which he has
appointed, not what we desire.
    He then adds, "Who have sustained reproach for her". In this
second clause the Prophet no doubt repeats the same thing; but at
the same time he points out, not without reason, their condition -
that the Jews suffered reproach and contumely at the time of their
exile, and that on account of being the Church; that is, because
they professed to worship their own God; for on account of his name
the Jews were hated by all nations, inasmuch as their religion was
different from the superstitions of all heathens. It could not hence
be, but that the unbelieving should vex them with many reproaches,
when they were carried away into exile, and scattered in all
directions.
    He had said before, "I will gather the afflicted;" but he now
adds, "I will gather those who have sustained reproach." I have
stated that some read, "A burden upon her is reproach;" but no sense
can be elicited from such words. The Prophet does here no doubt
obviate a temptation which awaited God's children, who would have to
experience in exile what was most grievous to be borne; for they
were to be exposed to the taunts and ridicule of all nations. Hence
he seasonably heals their grief by saying, that though for a time
they would be laughed at by the ungodly, they would yet return to
their own country; for the Lord had resolved to gather them. But we
must ever remember what I have said - that God would do this in his
own time, when he thought it seasonable. It follows -

Zephaniah 3:19
Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will
save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I
will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put
to shame.
    
    He confirms here what I have referred to in the last verse that
God would overcome all obstacles, when his purpose was to restore
his people. On this the Prophet, as we have said, dwells, that the
Jews might in their exile sustain themselves with the hope of
deliverance. As, then, they could not instantly conceive what was so
incredible according to the perceptions of the flesh, he testifies
that there is sufficient power in God to subdue all enemies.
    At that time, he says, he repeats what had been stated before -
that his people must wait as long as God pleases to exercise them
under the cross; for if their option had been given to the Jews,
they would have willingly continued at their ease; and we know how
men are wont to exempt themselves from every trouble, fear, and
sorrow. As therefore men naturally desire rest and immunity from all
evil, the Prophet here exhorts the faithful to patience, and shows,
that it cannot be that God will become their deliverer, except they
submit to his chastisement; "at that time" then. It is ever to be
observed, that the Prophet condemns that extreme haste which usually
takes hold of men when God chastises them. However slowly then and
gradually God proceeds in the work of delivering his own, the
Prophet shows here, that there was no reason for them to despair, or
to be broken down in their spirits.
    He then subjoins, that he would "save the halting, and restore
the driven away". By these words he means, that though the Church
would be maimed and torn, there would yet be nothing that could
hinder God to restore her: for by the halting and the driven away he
understands none other than one so stripped of power as wholly to
fail in himself. He therefore compares the Church of God to a
person, who, with relaxed limbs, is nearly dead. Hence, when we are
useless as to any work, what else is our life but a languor like to
death? But the Prophet declares here, that the seasonable time would
come when God would relieve his own people: though they were to
become prostrate and fallen, though they were to be scattered here
and there, like a torn body of man, an arm here and a leg there,
every limb separated; yet he declares that nothing could possibly
prevent God to gather his Church and restore it to its full vigor
and strength. In short, he means that the restoration of the Church
would be a kind of resurrection; for the Lord would humble his
people until they became almost lifeless, so as not to be able to
breathe: but he would at length gather them, and so gather them that
they would not only breathe but be replenished with such new vigor
as though they had received no loss. I cannot finish the whole
to-day.
    
Prayer.
    
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day so scattered on
account of our sins, and even they who seem to be collected in thy
name and under thy authority, are yet so torn by mutual discords,
that the safety of thy Church hangs as it were on a thread, while in
the meantime thine enemies seem with savage cruelty to destroy all
those who are thine, and to obliterate thy gospel, - O grant, that
we may live in quietness and resignation, hoping in thy promises, so
that we may not doubt, but that thou in due time will become our
deliverer: and may we so patiently bear to be afflicted and cast
down by thee, that we may ever raise up our groans to heaven so as
to be heard through the name of thy Son, until being at length freed
from every contest, we shall enjoy that blessed rest which is laid
up for us in heaven, and which thine only begotten Son has procured
for us. Amen.


Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-eighth.

    We stopped yesterday at the latter clause of the last verse but
one of the Prophet Zephaniah, where God promises that the Jews, who
had been before not only obscure, but also exposed to all kinds of
reproaches, would again become illustrious; for to give them for a
name and for a praise, is no other thing than to render them
celebrated, that they might be, as they say, in the mouth of every
one.
    And he says, "in the land of their shame," or reproach; for
they had been a mockery everywhere; as the unbelieving thought that
they deluded themselves with a vain hope, because they boasted that
God, under whose protection they lived, would be their perpetual
guardian, though they were driven away into exile. Hence an occasion
for taunt and ridicule was given. But a change for the better is
here promised; for all in Assyria and Chaldea would have to see that
this was a people chosen by God; so that there would be a remarkable
testimony among all nations, that all who trust in God are by no
means disappointed, for they find that he is faithful in his
promises. The last verse follows -

Zephaniah 3:20
At that time will I bring you [again], even in the time that I
gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people
of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes,
saith the LORD.
    
    He repeats the same things, with some change in the words; and
not without reason, because no one of then thought that the Jews,
who were cast as it were into the grave, would ever come forth
again, and especially, that they would be raised unto such dignity
and unto so elevated an honour., As ten this was not probable, that
Prophet confirms his prediction - "I will restore you", says God, "I
will gather you, even because I have given you a name"; that is, it
is my resolved and fixed purpose to render you celebrated: but here
again are laid down the words we have already noticed.
    He afterwards adds - "When I shall restore your captivities".
The plural number is to be noticed; and not rightly nor prudently is
what has been done by many interpreters, who have rendered the word
in the singular number; for the Prophet mentions "captivities"
designedly, as the Jews had not only been driven into exile, but had
also been scattered through various countries, so that they were not
one captive people, but many troops of captives. Hence his purpose
was to obviate a doubt; for it would not have been enough that one
captivity should be restored, except all who had been dispersed were
collected into one body by the wonderful power of God. And hence he
adds "before your eyes", that the Jews might be convinced that they
should be eye-witnesses of this miracle, which yet they could hardly
conceive, without raising up their thoughts above the world.


End of the Commentaries of Zephaniah.