Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. MEANING OF HIS NAME. Zephaniah, "One whom Jehovah hides." Hiding in the day of calamity a blessing promised to them that fear Go(Psalm 31:19, 20), who are therefore styled God's hidden ones (Psalm 83:4), and may confidently reckon upon God's extending to them his protecting care in the midst of peril (Psalm 27:5), yea, may even boldly flee unto him to hide them (Psalm 143:9).
II. THE DIGNITY OF HIS PERSON. The scion of a kingly house, "the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah." Mentioned here, not because they had been prophets, but probably because they had been celebrated persons, perhaps good men, these ancestors of Zephaniah - three of them, like himself, with Jehovah in his name - may have been introduced to show that the prophet, while descended from the good King Hezekiah, belonged to a different branch of the family from Manasseh and Amon; proceeded from the line in which Hezekiah's goodness was transmitted, and thus had more than royal blood in his veins (not always an advantage) - hereditary piety in his soul.
III. THE TIME OF HIS APPEARING.
1. The age fixed.
(1) "The days of Josiah, the son of Amen, King of Judah;" i.e. not before B.C. 640, when Josiah began to reign.
(2) Before the fall of Nineveh (Zephaniah 2:13), which took place in B.C. 625.
(3) Probably after Josiah's reformation had begun and before it was completed, since the prophet speaks of a "remnant of Baal" as existing at the time when he began to prophesy.
(4) Hence the date of Zephaniah may be placed between Josiah's twelfth and eighteenth years, or between B.C. 628-622 (Hitzig, Keil, and Delitzsch), though by some interpreters (Ewald, Havernick, Pusey) it has been fixed earlier - to wit, prior to Josiah's twelfth year.
2. Its character declared.
(1) Generally, as regards the whole land of Judah, an age of widely spread, deeply seated, and well nigh incurable wickedness, of deplorable religious apostasy, of intensely debasing idolatry, of shameless hypocrisy, and of gross worldliness and indifference to Divine things (ver. 4).
(2) Particularly, as regards Jerusalem, an age of rebellion, disobedience, irreligion, prayerlessness, unbelief, violence, treachery, desecration of Jehovah's sanctuary, insensibility to correction, and deep-seated immorality (Zephaniah 3:1-4), with all of which the metropolis and its inhabitants were chargeable (cf. Jeremiah 5.; 6.).
IV. THE SOURCE OF HIS INSPIRATION. "The word of Jehovah." Whether this came to him by direct revelation through voice (Jeremiah 1:4) or vision (Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1), or indirectly by meditation on the moral and political condition of his countrymen as well as on the character of Jehovah and the laws of righteousness by which he governs the universe, is not said and need not be inquired into. It suffices to know that the prophet claimed for his message that it had been expressly given him - put into his heart and mouth - by Jehovah; while his predictions certainly were such as could not have been announced without the aid of Divine inspiration.
V. THE BURDEN OF HIS PROPHECY. Judgment.
1. Divine. The instrument is not mentioned; the first cause alone is placed in the foreground - "I will utterly consume;" "I will cut off;" "I will stretch out mine hand." The present day tendency is to set God in the background, if not to deny his agency altogether, alike in the production of material phenomena and in the superintendence of the social, moral, and political worlds, and to concentrate attention principally, if not exclusively, upon what are merely God's instruments. The prophet's way of looking at men and things accorded more with sound philosophy and true science, not to say sincere religion, than the practice prevailing in many so called enlightened circles today.
2. Universal. The judgment should embrace the wide earth. "All" - "man and beast, the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, the stumbling blocks and the wicked" - should be arraigned at Jehovah's bar. If the language pointed not to a general judgment of men and nations at the end of the world, it at least emphasized the thought that no part of the world, no age or nation, could escape the ordeal of appearing before Heaven's tribunal or elude the grasp of Divine retribution. The terms in which Jehovah declares his purpose to visit the wicked with destruction are such as to show that the complete fulfilment of the prophecy can only be reached in the great and terrible day of the Lord at the close of time (cf. Isaiah 24:1-23).
3. Particular. While enclosing the whole world in its sweep, the threatened judgment should fall with a special stroke upon Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem - as it were beginning with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). That the instruments of judgment would be the Scythians of whom Herodotus (1:15, 103, 106; 4:10, 12) speaks as having invaded Upper and Higher Asia (Hitzig, Ewald, Bertheau), is not supported by sufficient evidence, whilst the fact that neither Herodotus nor the Old Testament reports any conquest of Jerusalem by them seems decisive against their being considered the executors of Jehovah's wrath. The agents actually employed were the Chaldeans (2 Kings 25:9), though it was not Zephaniah's purpose to indicate by whom the judgments should be carried out.
4. Complete. Thorough going; upon both the world in general and Judah in particular. "I will utterly consume all from off the face of the ground, saith Jehovah."
(1) As regards the world, the destruction should be as wide sweeping as had been that of the Deluge (Genesis 7:21).
(2) As regards Judah and Jerusalem, the purgation as effective. "The remnant of Baal should be cut off," i.e. root and branch, extirpated, or the work of extirpation, if already begun, should be carried forward till not a vestige of the hated idol worship should be seen.
(a) First, the idolatrous priests of both kinds should be swept away - the Chemarim, or "the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places round about Jerusalem" (2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5); and the priests, not "the idolatrous priests in the stricter sense" (Keil), but the unworthy priests of Jehovah who had either secretly or openly favoured the prevailing Baal worship (Fausset, Farrar).
(b) Next, the idol worshippers of both kinds should be cut off - the thorough paced devotees of the heathen cultus, who worshipped the host of heaven upon the house tops, and the temporizers who tried to combine the worship of Jehovah with that of Baal, offering oaths of allegiance partly to Jehovah and partly to their king, i.e. Baal.
(c) And finally, apostates and open despisers of the Jehovah religion should be punished - those who had turned back from serving Jehovah, and those who had never served him at all (ver. 6). Learn:
1. The value of an honoured and pious ancestry.
2. The light the Word of God (contained in Scripture) can cast upon the
3. The certainty of a day of judgment fur men and nations.
4. The impossibility of eluding the just judgment of God.
5. The inevitable ruin of them who will not serve God.
6. The impossibility of trying to serve God and idols.
7. The danger of neglecting religion hardly less than that of apostatizing from it. - T.W.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS JUDGMENT. At the very outset it is described in a way. fitted to startle and alarm; for it is to be of a most sweeping and universal nature (vers. 2, 3). The words remind us of nothing less than the universal deluge, by which the old world was swept away. A destruction like that is impending over Judah. There had been many chastisements sent on the people before; the land had been invaded, the royal treasuries rifled, the country laid waste. No fewer than ten of the twelve tribes of Israel had been not very long before carried away into Assyria. Still, these visitations had been only partial; a remnant had always been left; and many were apt to trust that so it would ever be. Because God had given Israel the land, they thought that some part of it at least must always be theirs. But now they are warned that this is a false confidence, and that, in spite of the gift of the land to Abraham's seed, the corrupt race that now inhabit it shall be utterly cut off. Moreover, this judgment, that is to be so sweeping, is also very near at hand. In the old world the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah; but now he has waited long and sent messenger after messenger; and at last the time of delay is near]y exhausted, and the judgment is close at hand, for their iniquity is all but full. The day of the Lord is represented as hasting to meet them; the sound of its coming is already heard, and very soon it will be here. Have not all these lesser judgments been foretastes of it? - the capture of Galilee by Tiglath-Pileser, the removal of the whole northern kingdom by Shalmaneser or Sargon, the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib? and has not each one of these been more sweeping and far reaching than the former? Are not these signs and harbingers of the great day of the Lord here announced? Then how terrible and irresistible is this judgment (vers. 15-18)! Physical strength and power shall not deliver the guilty nation. There are, indeed, fortified cities in the land, and high towers to bar the entrance of an enemy; and it may seem as if behind these they might defy the invader; but against them shall be raised the sound of the war trumpet, and the battleshout of a great host, before which they shall not be able to stand. Skill and wisdom shall not be able to save them. These have often enabled armies very much inferior in numbers to conquer great hosts; but now there shall be perplexity and dismay, and men shall be groping like blind men in the dark, unable to devise any means of resistance or escape, bewildered and disheartened. Wealth sometimes may be used to buy off an invading monarch or army. So in former days kings of Judah had repeatedly obtained relief from foreign foes by giving up to them the treasures of the palace and temple. But in this invasion neither silver nor gold shall be of any avail to deliver them. The prophet does not indicate more particularly from what quarter this terrible invasion shall come - that is left to be made manifest by the event. For the terribleness of the judgment did not arise merely from the fact that it was to be inflicted by a great worldly power, which would be overpowering in force and would not care for bribes; but from this, that that power, whatever it might be, was to be the instrument of Jehovah's wrath against the nation. Israel had often been saved from fierce attacks of mighty nations before, and enabled to defy their rage; but that had not been because of their wisdom or courage, but because they trusted in God, and had his protection. Now, however, there was coming on them the day of the Lord's anger; he was to hide his face from them, and therefore it would be to them a day of such darkness, dismay, and despair. This brings us somewhat nearer the centre and heart of this prophecy, and leads us to consider -
II. THE CAUSES OF THE JUDGMENT, ANNOUNCED AS SO SWEEPING, NEAR, AND TERRIBLE. These are the sins of the land, of which a long and dark catalogue is unrolled (vers. 4-12). First comes what was the great besetting sin of ancient times, as it has ever been of men who possess not or will not receive God's revelation of himself, idolatry, the worship of the seen and earthly as Divine, instead of the only true God who is invisible and spiritual, the worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, The invisible things of God, his eternal power and Godhead, are seen and understood by the things that are made; for "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork." But men, not liking to retain God in their knowledge, keep back this truth in unrighteousness, and come to regard the powers of nature as themselves Divine; and worship the heavens, the earth, the sun, the stars, as gods, instead of regarding them as the works of the true God, who is above them all. Thus they fall into a religion that is purely sensuous, requiring no elevation of the soul above what can be seen and heard and felt - a religion also that is divorced from morality, for when men come to regard the processes of nature as the highest thing that there is, they can see in them no moral law or order. Such was the corrupt religion of the heathen world, left by God to its own way, and against this his revelation to Israel was designed to testify, declaring him to be a Being spiritual and holy, the one living and true God. But the chosen people were ever tempted to fall back to that sensuous and immoral conception of God that found expression in the idolatry of the surrounding nations. Various forms of such idolatry as was then common are here alluded to. There was the Phoenician worship of Baal, which had been introduced long ago by Jezebel into the northern kingdom, and through Athaliah into Judah; and there was also the more recently imported worship of the stars and heavenly bodies, the form of idolatry that prevailed in the Eastern countries with which Judah was now beginning to be acquainted. This worship was performed by burning incense and offering sacrifices on the flat tops of the houses, looking up to the sky and host of heaven. But along with these gross forms of idolatry there is also condemned the corrupt worship of Jehovah. The worship at the high places, with which the kohanim (ver. 4) were connected, was indeed a worship of Jehovah, but had become in course of time thoroughly idolatrous in its character; the pillars or groves placed beside the altars came to be worshipped as symbols of the Deity, and, as in Bethel and Dan, idols were identified with him. Thus the true invisible God was degraded to the likeness of the idols of the heathen, and this worship at the high places had to be utterly condemned and swept away. Another corruption of the pure worship of Jehovah was the combination of it with that of the heathen deities. There were those who worshipped and swore to Jehovah, and at the same time swore by Malcham (ver. 5) their king, i.e. Baal. They thought that they could preserve their allegiance to the God of Israel while yet they paid homage also to Baal. They would thus be halting between two opinions, or trying to make a compromise, which on any view of it must degrade the true God. It could only imply either that Jehovah and Baal were both real powers over their several nations, and so Jehovah would be merely a local or national deity; or else that they were but different names of the same supreme power, which would thus be made a mere nature power, such as Baal was conceived to be, not the holy God who had revealed himself to Israel. Then the prophet speaks (ver. 6) of what is implied in all this, and lies at the bottom of it all. These corrupt forms of worship were really a forsaking the Lord; and the beginning of the evil lay in ungodliness; they did not seek the Lord, nor inquire for him. Many who might not be guilty of any of the kinds of idolatry that prevailed, might yet be liable to this reproach, which is surely the severest of all. They professed that they knew God, but they did not look to him in their times of trouble, they did not seek to know his will from his Law or his prophets, they did not call on him for help in time of need - he was to them, in fact, but a name or an idea, not a real, living, personal God. If this was all their religion, it was no wonder that they should be easily led to adopt some visible symbol of the Deity, or to cover up the hollowness of their profession by abundance of rites of worship, or to associate their belief in one Lord with the service of the deities of neighbouring countries, which seemed to be more realities to their devotees. Such were the corruptions of religion in Israel. With these were associated great social evils. Along with the foreign religious rites there were introduced also foreign customs, that marred the simplicity of the national character. This appeared most prominently in dress, which is here especially mentioned (ver. 8); but that was doubtless only an outward symptom of much more radical evils. According to the Law, Israel was to be distinguished from other nations by their dress as well as by their religion. Their characteristic dress was to be marked, on the one hand, by simplicity and decency (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11, 12), and on the other hand, by having fringes as a memorial of Jehovah's Law (Numbers 15:38). But now they were growing ashamed of this outward mark of their religion, and came to adopt the more varied and splendid costume of their neighbours. This probably indicated in general habits of luxury and ostentation, which would naturally begin and be most prevalent among the princes and courtiers, though from them they would spread to other classes. Such selfish indulgence was especially to be condemned at a time when the nation was far from being in a secure or prosperous state. It had suffered serious losses, and barely escaped from imminent dangers; and even now the land was much impoverished compared with its former state, and the great empires around were becoming more powerful and threatening. Surely this was not a time to imitate foreign luxurious customs, and to be ashamed of the ancient and godly simplicity of Israel's manners. Such luxury could only be maintained by the rich and the princes by means of oppression and extortion; and this is another evil described as the cause of the judgment (ver. 9). Those who leap on the threshold may refer, as some think, to the Philistines, who formed, with other foreigners, the royal bodyguard; or they may simply indicate, as others think, the eagerness with which the satellites of the princes intruded into the houses of the citizens, in order, by their oppressive exactions, to fill the houses of their masters. Anyhow, the verse indicates that, in order to keep up the splendour and luxury of the court, the people were oppressed, and exorbitant taxes or contributions levied from them by a system of fraudulent charges, or forcible domiciliary visitation. This is the natural accompaniment of a selfish oligarchy in an impoverished and declining state. Then, further, the merchant people in Jerusalem, who seem to have had as their place of business the valley between the hills of the old and new city, are as Canaanites in their transactions; the balances of deceit are in their hand; they have laden themselves with silver by usury and fraud. Such ill-gotten gains seem to be alluded to in ver. 11, and threatened with destruction when the enemy shall burst into the city by the fish gate at the northwest, its most exposed side; when the cry from it shall only be answered by a helpless howling from the new city and crashing from the higher parts, and the hollow valley where merchants most did congregate shall be, as it were, a mortar (Maktesh), in which they shall be trodden down and bruised to pieces by the invading host. At least there is described a prevailing avarice and hasting to be rich, as one of the causes on account of which this crushing judgment comes. Finally, we have set before us the careless self-indulgence of those who are at ease amid all this prevailing evil, who have had no changes, and have no fear of change, who say or think that neither good nor evil, blessing nor judgment, is to be looked for from God (ver. 12). All things continue as they were; and the thought of a present, living God, the Judge of the earth, and the Avenger of wrong, has faded from men's minds. Such are the various forms of evil that are indicated by the prophet as the cause of the judgment which he announces. Can it be said that they are unknown in our day and in ourselves? No doubt the outward forms of idolatry and oppression then rampant are strange and repulsive to us; but are we free from the tendency to degrade the living God to a mere nature power, which is the essence of idolatry? And are not ungodliness, neglect of God's spiritual worship, selfish ostentation and luxury, neglect and oppression of the poor, love of money, and careless self-indulgence, but too well known among us? The picture is not one of mere historical or antiquarian interest, but of ever present moral significance. It teaches us that such evils always lead to ruin, that they lay a nation helpless at the feet of its enemies, and make its continued existence impossible. All history confirms this lesson; and revelation bids us look beyond all merely historical catastrophes to that final judgment of the Lord which shall, in the fullest sense, be universal, embracing, not one nation only, but all mankind, and searching out each individual, to be confronted with his Judge and with the fruit of his own doings.
III. THE LESSON OF ALL THIS IS EXPRESSED IN THE WORDS, "HOLD THY PEACE AT THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD GOD." (Ver. 7.) This is the first and most urgent duty. The prophet has further directions to give in following discourses; but this is the immediate effect that the announcement of judgment should have. A silence of awe and humility is what becomes men in the presence of God, when he rises up to judgment as the Lord of all the earth. "Be still, and know that I am God," is his voice as the day of the Lord approaches. This implies a recognition, on the one hand, of the reality, and on the other hand, of the justice, of God's judgment. It should be received as a real expression of God's wrath against the sins of men. Let not the evils that come upon nations or individuals in consequence of their sins be regarded as mere accidents, or as only due to the operation of natural laws. They may be brought about immediately by such second causes, but behind all these we are to recognize the mind and will of the living God. He speaks to us as truly by the ordinary courses of nature as by the most stupendous miracle, and if he shows us that earthly conceptions of the Divine degrade and brutalize man, that selfishness and selfish indulgence, luxury and oppression, bring a people to ruin and lay them helpless at the feet of their foes, that is a real and most solemn judgment of God against these things. Let us be silent also as recognizing the justice of this judgment. These things are evil, deserving of abhorrence and destruction; and God, who in his laws of nature appoints ruin to be their consequence, shows himself just and holy. Let us humbly acknowledge this; and in so far as these evils of ungodliness and selfishness have found place in us, let us put our hand on our mouth, acknowledging that we have nothing to answer to God, and are verily guilty in his sight. There is hope for us if we thus confess our sin. There is hope in the very fact that God announces his judgment against our sin. For what is the announcement? It is that God will utterly sweep away the evils that are done in the land; it is against those that the fire of his wrath is kindled; and if men will cling to these evils, and hug their sins to their bosom, he will sweep away the wicked with the stumbling blocks. Both together shall be destroyed, for God will be rid at last of sin. But if any are willing to be separated from their sins, by however humble and painful a process that may be, then the assurance that God will utterly sweep away the evil will have hope for them. The fire that is to devour the whole land is a fire of jealousy as well as of wrath. Because the Lord loves his people with a jealous affection, in spite of all their unfaithfulness, he will, if they but silently trust themselves to him, make the fire of his anger against their sin to purify and reflect them. Thus this coming of the Lord for judgment is the harbinger of final salvation to those who desire to be purged from those evils against which his wrath is revealed. Therefore "let Israel hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption; and he will redeem Israel from all his iniquity." - C.
Zephaniah 2:14 with Isaiah 13:21 and Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:15 with Isaiah 47:8). "The genealogy of Zephaniah is given through Cushi, Gedaliah, and Amariah to Hezekiah; for in the original Hebrew the words 'Hizkiah' and 'Hezekiah' are the same. As it was unusual that the descent of prophets should be given with such particularity, it has been assumed with some probability that Hezekiah was the king of that name; though in this case we should have expected the addition, 'King of Judah.' The chemarim are the idol priests; that is, priests devoted to idol worship. In 2 Kings 23:5, where the writer is speaking of the reformation under Josiah, the word is translated idolatrous priests; in Hosea 10:5, simply priests, which is its meaning in the Syriac language. Some have maintained that the invasion of Judah to which Zephaniah refers was that of the Scythians described by Herodotus; but this is very improbable. From the fact that the king's children are included in the threatened invasion - in the Hebrew, 'I will visit upon the princes and the king's children' - some have inferred that they must have been already grown and addicted to idolatrous practices; consequently, that Zephaniah wrote later than the eighteenth year of Josiah. But, as Keil and others have remarked, the mention of the king's children may have been added simply to indicate the universality of the approaching visitation; not to say that the prophetic vision of Zephaniah may have anticipated the sin and the punishment of these king's children, Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim" (Barrows). In these verses we learn two things.
I. THE DISTINGUISHING CAPACITY OF MAN, AND THE WONDERFUL CONDESCENSION OF GOD.
1. The distinguishing capacity of man. What is that? To receive the word of Jehovah. "The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi," etc. This Zephaniah, who from the fulness of his genealogy here given, was perhaps a person of note, was, however, mainly distinguished by this - viz, that he received a word from Jehovah. What is it to receive a word from another? Not merely to hear it, to remember its sound, or to write it down, but to appreciate its meaning. This is the grand distinction of man as a mundane existence, it is not the reasoning principle that distinguishes man from other creatures on earth, for other creatures possess this in some degree; not the durability of his existence, for other creatures may live as long as he; but the capacity of taking in ideas from the Infinite Mind, to understand and realize God's thoughts. In a sense, there is a greater distance between me as a man and the most intelligent animal on this earth, than there is between me and my Maker. The highest animal cannot take in and understand my thoughts; but I can take in and understand the thoughts of my Maker. "The word of the Lord" comes to every man at times - comes in visions of the night, comes in the intuitions of conscience, comes in the impressions that nature makes on the heart.
2. The wonderful condescension of God. How amazing the condescension of God to speak to man! Many of the pour little wretched creatures who are called emperors and empresses would, perhaps, not deign to speak to paupers, to hold converse with them; but the "Lord, though he be high, yet hath respect unto the humble; .... Thus saith the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, To that man will I look who is of a contrite heart."
II. THE MORAL CORRUPTION OF MAN, AND THE EXCLUSIVE PREROGATIVE OF GOD.
1. The moral corruption of man. There are three great moral evils indicated in these verses.
(1) Idolatry. "I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests; and them that worship the host of heaven upon the house tops." The remains of Baal worship, which as yet Josiah was unable utterly to eradicate in remoter places. Baal was the Phoenician tutelary god. His name means lord; and the feminine god corresponding and generally associated with him was Ashtaroth. As he was represented by the sun, so she was the goddess answering to the moon and the rest of the heavenly host. In fact, it was the worship of nature; a worship to which corresponds the pantheistic and scientific exaltation of Nature and her laws in our own days, as if God were the slave of his own world and its laws, instead of the Lord, Creator, and Sustainer, who can and will modify, alter, and suspend the order of the present system of things, according to his own sovereign pleasure, and in furtherance of the higher moral laws, in subserviency to which the laws of nature exist. From the time of the judges (Judges 2:13) Israel had fallen into this idolatry; and Manasseh had lately set up this idol within Jehovah's temple itself (2 Kings 21:3-7): "He reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove [symbol of the goddess Ashtaroth]... and worshipped all the host of heaven... And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my Name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he set a graven image of the grove [the symbol of the heavenly host] that he had made in the house, of which the Lord said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put my Name forever." Josiah began his reformation in the twelfth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 34:3, 4, 8), and in the eighteenth had as far as possible completed it. "And the name of the Chemarims with the priests." These chemarim were in all probability subordinate ministers of the idolatrous priests, and their duty was to assist them at the altar. "Them that worship the host of heaven upon the house tops." The houses in the East had flat roofs, open to the heavens, and there the worship was performed. Idolatry is one of the great sins of the world; it is confined to no age or laud. Its spirit is loving the creature more than the Creator.
(2) Backsliding. "Them that are turned back from the Lord." Indeed, idolatry is an apostasy, and so is all sin. All sin is a going back from the Lord. "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13).
(3) Indifferentism. "And those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him." This is the most prevalent of all sins, and is one of the great roots of all immoralities - an utter neglect of religion. Religious indifferentism is the great sin of England today. God and his claims are everywhere practically ignored. This indifferentism, like a vast pool of mud, generates all that is morally noxious, pernicious, and vile in our midst.
2. The exclusive prerogative of God. What is that? To destroy. "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 stumbling blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord."
(1) No one can really destroy but God. "I kill, and I make alive." Annihilation is as far behind the power of the creature as is the work of creation. Man may crush the forms of things, but the essences lie infinitely beyond his touch.
(2) God has a right to destroy human life. He has a right because it belongs to him. He has a right because through sin it has forfeited its existence.
(3) His destructive work is as beneficent as his sustaining and creating. Destruction is a principle in all nature; one plant destroys another, one animal destroys another, and there are elements in nature whose work is destruction. From destruction new life and beauty come; destruction keeps the universe alive, fresh, and healthy. - D.T.
I. THE INTENDED VICTIMS.
1. Their persons catalogued.
(1) The royal household. Josiah exempted on account of his piety (2 Kings 22:19, 20; 2 Chronicles 34:27, 28) - a testimony at once to Divine faithfulness and to the superior advantage of godliness (Psalm 17:7; Psalm 91:9, 10; 2 Peter 2:9; Revelation 3:10). But included were the princes, or "the heads of the tribes and families who naturally filled the higher offices of state" (Keil); the king's sons, either Josiah's children, then quite young, Jehoiakim being six and Jehoahaz four years of age, and Zedekiah not yet born; or Josiah's brothers and uncles who were also king's sons; and the superior servants of the palace, who are probably referred to as those who "leap over the threshold and fill their masters' house with violence and deceit" (ver. 9).
(2) The rich merchants of Jerusalem. Described by their residence, their occupation, their prosperity, and their doom. The part of the city in which they were located, named most likely by the prophet himself, Maktesh, or "The Mortar," was "most probably the depression which ran down between Acra on the west, and Bezetha and Moriah on the cast, as far as the fountain of Shiloah" (Keil), "the cheese makers' valley" of Josephus, styled by the present day inhabitants El-Wad, or "The Valley." There they traded, lending money upon usury, and were called by the prophet "people of Canaan," because of their resemblance to Canaanitish or Phoenician merchants. With such success had they carried on their business, that they were "laden with silver." Yet were they doomed to be destroyed, ground to pieces, and bruised to death, by the Babylonian conquerors, like corn in a mortar when the pestle descendeth.
(3) The irreligious debauchees and rioters of the metropolis generally. Characterized as persons who had settled on their lees, and said in their hearts, "The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil." (For an explanation of the figure, consult Exposition, and see homily on ver. 12.) The language pointed to those whose material. prosperity had been their moral and religious ruin, who, having grown wealthy and luxurious, had also become atheistical at least in practice, saying in their hearts, and acting as if they believed, that either there was no God at all, or if there were, that he was perfectly indifferent to their characters and conduct - a form of infidelity that has seldom lacked representatives among foolish and ungodly men (Job 22:12-14; Psalm 10:4; Psalm 14:1, 94:6, 7).
2. Their sins specified.
(1) Of the royal household, two - wearing foreign clothes and leaping over the threshold. The former referred to the custom of copying the dress and with that the manners and luxuries of heathen peoples, and in particular, in Josiah's time, of Egypt and Assyria, or Babylon. Among the Egyptians "the dress of the king was most gorgeous, consisting of robes of the most beautiful stuffs and the richest ornaments" (Budge, 'Dwellers on the Nile,' p 181). Nahum (Nahum 2:3) describes the Assyrian soldiery as arrayed "in scarlet;" while Ezekiel (Ezekiel 23:12, 15) depicts the Assyriam warriors as "clothed most gorgeously," and speaks of the Chaldeans as "girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads." Of course, the sin against which the prophet inveighed was not the mere adoption of Egyptian, Assyrian, or Babylonian habiliments, but the inclination to look to and lean upon, to follow after and copy, these nations in their luxuries and idolatries rather than to remain faithful to Jehovah's Law and worship, which the imitation of their dress revealed. Clothes, according [o Carlyle ('Sartor Resartus,' 1:1), are "the vestural tissue which man's soul wears as its outmost wrappage and overall, wherein his whole other tissues are included and screened, his whole faculties work, his whole self lives, moves, and has its being." Hence a person's dress is no mean indication of a person's inner self. "Outward dress," says Pusey, "always betokens the inward mind, and in its turn acts upon it." In Isaiah's tim, the Jerusalem ladies were distinguished for gay attire and wanton hearts (Isaiah 3:23). Peter (1 Peter 3:3) exhorts Christian women to adorn themselves," not with that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." The latter of the two sins charged against the royal household, that of leaping over the threshold, is believed (Calvin, Keil, Ewald, Pusey, Farrar) to allude, not to the custom of leaping over the threshold of the king's palace (Hitzig) in imitation of Dagoa's priests, who, when they entered their idol's temple in Ashdod, trode not upon its threshold (1 Samuel 5:5); but to the practice, observed probably by "dishonourable servants of the king," of intruding into other people's houses in order to deprive them of their property through violence and fraud, and with the spoils so obtained to enrich the king, whose dependants they were, and whose favour they desired to retain. Should this interpretation be correct, it suggests useful thoughts about the distribution of guilt, or the mutual responsibility of masters and servants for each other's evil deeds. If the king's servants merely carried out the orders of their royal master, they were no less criminal in Heaven's sight than he; if they acted on their own motion, the king who profited by their plunder became a partner of their guilt.
(2) Of the merchants, also two - avarice and usury. Had they been merely successful traders who, had prospered through honest dealing, they had not been condemned; but they were "laden with silver," acquired through nefarious practices such as deceit and usury. Wealth honourably obtained is no offence against Hearers, and, if righteously employed, may contribute to the happiness and influence of both the individual possessor and the community of which he is a member; riches heaped up by wicked arts are a curse to those who have them, and often go as they have come by violence and fraud. To "provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:17) should be the aim of all, but especially of Christians. "On the bells of the horses of trade and commerce should be, Holiness unto the Lord" (Zechariah 14:20). Happy the nation "whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth" (Isaiah 23:8).
(3) Of the debauchees and rioters, two - self-indulgence and infidelity. "Settled upon their lees," they abandoned themselves to the gratification of their sinful desires and corrupt inclinations, closed their minds and hearts against better things, and proceeded to daring and presumptuous unbelief, denying the Divine providence if not challenging the Divine existence. All sin tends to lead the soul away from God, to cause it first to shut out thoughts of God, and finally to conclude that God has ceased to be.
3. Their punishments proclaimed.
(1) The sinners of the royal house would be called to account for their iniquities. Though God seemed to be at a distance from them, like a man upon a far journey, he would return and visit upon them the evil deeds of which they had been guilty. Nations no more than individuals, and persons in high station no more than persons in low, can escape the just judgment of God (Romans 2:3).
(2) The merchants would be despoiled of their unjust games (Isaiah 33:1), and themselves overwhelmed with ruin (Jeremiah 17:11). If good men are sometimes deprived of wealth at a stroke, as Job was, and thus seem to have no advantage above their wicked neighbours, they are never, as these are, utterly undone by the loss of material possessions. In the fall of their houses they do not themselves perish, but find in God a Portion larger, more satisfying and secure, than their silver or gold (Habakkuk 3:17, 18).
(3) The debauchees and rioters would be dragged forth from their darkest retreats and requited for their sensuality and unbelief. "The same diligence which Eternal Wisdom used to seek and to save that which was lost, lighting a candle and searching diligently till it find each lost piece of silver, the same shall Almighty God use that no hardened sinner shall escape" (Pusey).
II. THE OFFICIATING PRIESTS.
1. Jehovah himself. "I will punish;" "I will punish; "I will search;" and "I will punish," saith the Lord. Whatever subordinate agents or secondary causes may be employed to inflict Divine vengeance upon rebellious nations and wicked men, the hand that directs these agents and wields these causes is God's. He is "the Judge of all the earth" (Genesis 18:25), and "shall judge the people righteously" (Psalm 67:4), rendering to every man "according to his work" (Psalm 62:11). He "shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). "He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world" (Acts 17:31).
2. Jehovah's ministers. Described as his called and sanctified ones; i.e. not personally holy, but specially consecrated for the work to which they were appointed.
(1) In the case under consideration these were to be the Chaldean armies, which in little more than thirty years were to fall upon Jerusalem, and pour out upon it the vials of Jehovah's wrath (2 Chronicles 36:16, 17).
(2) In the world generally the events of his providence are the instruments selected for the execution of his victims (Psalm 111:7).
(3) The last minister of judgment will be his Son, into whose hands he hath committed all judgment (John 5:22), and before whose tribunal all must appear (2 Corinthians 5:10). To him belong the epithets "called" and "sanctified" in their highest sense.
III. THE ENCOMPASSING SPECTATORS. The faithful remnant of Israel, those who still adhered to Jehovah and mourned as did Josiah, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah, Huldah the prophetess, Hilkiah the priest, and others, over the degenerate condition of the nation. So in the world still are God's believing people called to witness, and often actually do witness, the execution of God's judgments upon the ungodly. So in the last day, when the vials of Divine indignation will be outpoured upon the finally impenitent, the saints who have been counted worthy to attain Christ's kingdom and glory will behold the appalling scene, as Abraham beheld the burning of the cities of the plain, and will say, "Hallelujah I salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God; for true and righteous are his judgments" (Revelation 19:1, 2).
IV. THE RESULTING IMPRESSIONS. Pointed to in the solemn "Hush! be still" (ver. 7), with which the prophet opened his roll of woe. When he summoned the spectators to be silent before the face of Jehovah, he signified that silence was to be the effect produced upon their spirits by the spectacle they were about to witness. And this silence would be one:
1. Of awe; as they contemplated the overpowering revelation of the majesty of God, of his holiness and justice, of his power and fidelity, which would be afforded by his judgments upon the wicked.
2. Of submission; as they recognized the equity of those judgments by which sin was punished, the Divine Law vindicated, and God's glory proclaimed.
3. Of amazement; as they marvelled how ever they who had once themselves been sinful, had through grace escaped those calamities which they saw overtaking the wicked. Learn:
1. That God deals with men and nations upon the principle of moral retribution.
2. That neither national nor individual wickedness, if unrepented of, can evade its just recompense of reward.
3. That God's judgments upon both will ultimately be approved by all. - T.W.
III. A SILENCE OF EXPECTATION. As a praying soul maintains when looking out for a response to his supplications (Psalm 62:1, 5, margin), or a perplexed spirit when waiting for God to clear up the mystery of his providence (Psalm 37:7, margin).
V. A SILENCE OF APPROBATION. As God's judgments will enforce upon all who behold them (Psalm 46:10). - T.W.
I. AS A DAY OF ENORMOUS SACRIFICE. "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." .4. sacrifice!
1. It is an enormous sacrifice of life. Several classes are referred to here as the victims of this war.
(1) Royalty. "I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and. all such as and clothed with strangle apparel." The reference is here probably to the princes of the royal house, to the children of the king who would be on the throne at the time of the fulfilment of the prophecy. In 2 Kings 25:7 it is said that Nebuchadnezzar slew the sons of King Zedekiah before his eyes. When the savage and bloodthirsty lions of war are let loose, they are regardless of all social distinction; they seize the princes as well as paupers. No class in society, perhaps, as a rule, deserve the destruction more than the rulers of the people. They for the most part create the wars, and often deserve to be struck down. Through all history they have generally been the war makers. War is their own child, and their child sometimes strikes them down.
(2) Another class referred to is the nobility. "In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit." Some suppose that there is a reference here. to the Philistine custom of not treading on the "threshold," which arose from the head and hands of Dagon being cut off on the threshold before the ark (1 Samuel 5:5). It scarcely matters; reckless men in power are referred to - men that fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit. "The servants of princes," says Calvin, "who have gotten prey like hounds for their masters, leap exultingly on their masters' threshold, or on the threshold of the houses which they break into." War sometimes, and insurrectionary war always, strikes savagely at the higher classes. It plays sad havoc with aristocracies; it sets manors in flames, and treads coronets in the dust. (See another and more probable interpretation in the Exposition.)
(3) Another class referred to is that of the traders. "Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down: all they that bear silver are cut off." Some translate Maktesh, "Mortar," a name employed for the valley of Siloam, from its hollow shape. It was a valley at the eastern extremity of Moriah, where the merchants dwelt. The invading army seizes the wealth of the country. Greedy conquerors have always had a keen eye to this.
(4) Another class referred to is the masses. "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." This is not a bad description of the masses of people in all ages. They are:
(a) Unconspicuous. Pretty well all alike, they do not stand out in the country from the generality. War has no particular aim at them, though it strikes them indiscriminately; still, though unconspicuous, war will find them out. "I will search Jerusalem with candles."
(b) Religiously indifferent. "Settled on their lees." This means crusted, hardened, like wines long left at the bottom undisturbed. "That say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil." Religious indifferentism has always been the leading characteristic of the masses. Note the sacrifice of life in all these classes - the rulers and the ruled, the rich and the poor, the ignorant and the learned, the innocent and the guilty, the young and the old, all in war form one huge sacrifice of blood. It is overwhelmingly awful to think of the lives that have been sacrificed in war even since the year 1852. In the Crimean War (1854) it is estimated that 750,000 fell; in the Italian War (1859), 45,000; in the war at Schleswig-Holstein, 3000; in the American Civil War, 800,000; in the war between Prussia, Austria, and Italy (1866), 45,000; expeditions to Mexico, Cochin China, Morocco, Paraguay, 65,000; in the FrancoGerman War, 215,000; Turkey massacres in Bulgaria, 25,000; total, 1,948,000. This is one of the sacrifices that war has made, not only in civilized lands, but even in Christendom during the last thirty-five years; and the perpetrators of these enormities call themselves Christians, professed disciples of him who said, "I came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." "If thine enemy hunger, feed him."
2. It is an enormous sacrifice of property. "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." Who can estimate the amount of property that the wars during the last thirty years have utterly destroyed? The Crimean War cost £340,000,000; the Italian, £60,000,000; the American Civil War, £1,400,000,090; the Franco-Prussian, £500,000,000; and the comparatively smaller wars, £1,000,000; an amount altogether of £2,400,000,000 - a sufficient stun to supply every inhabitant of the globe, not only with the necessaries, but with the comforts and educational advantages of life. "Give me," says Stebbins, "the amount that has been spent in war, and I will purchase every foot of land of the globe. I will clothe every man, woman, and child in an attire that kings and queens might be proud of. I will build a school house upon every hillside and in every valley over the habitable earth. I will supply that school house with a competent teacher. I will build an academy in every town, and endow it; and a college in every state, and fill it with able professors. I will crown every hill with a church consecrated to the promulgation of the gospel of peace. I will support in its pulpit an able teacher of righteousness, so that on every sabbath morning the chime of one hill shall answer to the chime of another around the earth's broad circumference; and the voice of prayer and the song of praise shall ascend like the smoke of a universal holocaust to heaven." To talk of the glories of war is to exult in the horrors of hell. I confess that a quivering seizes my nerves, and a chilly sadness comes over my spirits, when I hear men calling themselves Christians, especially ministers, uttering one word in favor of war, whether defensive or aggressive. The man who defends war defends the devil himself.
II. AS A DAY OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION. All, these horrors of war are here represented as judgments from the Almighty. It is called the "day of the Lord." He is represented as having "prepared a sacrifice," referring to the awful sacrifice of life and property; as having summoned his guests - the warriors, men of blood - to battle. Indeed, it is called the "Lord's sacrifice." He is represented as saying, "I will punish the princes;" "I will search Jerusalem with candles;" "I will bring distress upon men." And again, "The whole land shall be devoured by the fire" of his jealousy; "for he shall make even a speedy riddance." In Bible phraseology, the Almighty is often represented as the Author of that which he merely permits. He does not originate wars. The consciousness of warriors attests this. All the passions of greed, revenge, and ambition, whence all wars spring, are self generated in the breast of the man of blood. His moral constitution will not allow him to ascribe them to his Maker; he charges them on himself. He feels that he is not their Author, and he knows that they stand in awful contrast with the holy and beneficent will of the almighty Maker of the universe. He does not instigate these abominations, but allows, uses, and controls them. In using war as a punishment for sin, three things are to be observed.
1. That all who perish in war righteously deserve their fate. God says here, "I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned." War, in its most savage recklessness, does not strike one man down who has not sinned, and whose sin does not deserve death. The penalty of death that comes to men in war would, by the moral laws of the universe, come to them sooner or later in some other form. "It is appointed to all men once to die;" "The wages of sin is death."
2. That warriors, in executing the Divine justice, demonstrate the enormity of the evil requiring punishment. Where can sin be seen in aspects so complete in all that is morally horrific, outrageous, and infernal, as in the battlefield? No thoughtful man can gaze on it there without feeling that the righteous Governor of the universe, for the happiness of his creation, is bound to visit it with his hot displeasure.
3. War, as an officer of Divine justice, reveals the amazing freedom allowed to the sinner in this world, and God's controlling power over hostile forces. Who will say that man is a slave when he sees the warrior going forth with a free step on a mission directly hostile to the beneficent laws of the universe, the moral institutions of his own nature, and the revealed will of Heaven? He allowed men even to put to death his own Son upon the cross. Here is liberty. Whilst human freedom is revealed, God's controlling power is also most strikingly manifest. "He maketh the wrath of man to praise him." He has servants who serve him against their will, as well as servants who serve him with their will. Warriors and devils are of the former class. "Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good" (Genesis 1:20); "I have raised thee up for to show in thee my power" (Exodus 9:16); "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ." Out of the wars and tumults of his enemies he will bring something glorious, a Lord and Christ.
"Patiently received from thee,
I. A BOND OF INTERNATIONAL UNION. The interchange of commodities among the different peoples of the earth one of the surest means of promoting peace and causing wars to cease.
II. A SIGN OF ADVANCING CIVILIZATION. When a nation's wants multiply beyond its own power directly to meet them, it naturally draws upon the resources of lands and peoples beyond itself. Thus while the existence of these wants marks the upward progress of the nation itself, the effort needed to supply them acts as a stimulus to other peoples to join in the onward march.
III. A SYMPTOM OF DECLINING PATRIOTISM. No truer indication that the national sentiment amongst a people is becoming feeble than the slavish imitation of the manners and customs, speech and dress, of a stronger neighbour.
IV. A SYMBOL OF RELIGIOUS DECLENSION. In this light regarded by the Egyptian or Chaldean raiment worn by Judaean princes and peasants meant that their hearts were hankering after Egyptian or Chaldean idolatry. So when Christians conform to the world's ways, adopting its maxims and principles, manners and customs, thoughts and feelings, sentiments and practices - all of which should be to them what foreign clothes were to Israel - there is reason to suspect that a backward movement in religion has begun. - T.W.
I. A PICTURE OF PROSPEROUS EASE. The image - that of wine which has been allowed to settle in its cask, without having ever been drawn off or emptied from vessel to vessel - naturally suggests the condition of one who has become prosperous and affluent, who has never been visited by misfortune, agitated by calamity, or disturbed by affliction, but who through long years has been left to feast and fatten, like an ox in his stall, or (adhering to the metaphor) to fill and settle like a cask of wine.
II. A SYMBOL OF RELIGIOUS (OR, RATHER, IRRELIGIOUS) DEGENERATION. As wine, left upon its lees, retains its flavour - good or bad, as the case may be - so does the soul acquire a moral flavour from the things in which it delights, and on which, as it were, it rests. Nay, as good wine becomes better and bad wine worse from being allowed to settle on its lees, so do pious souls become stronger and more fixed in goodness, but ungodly souls more confirmed and rooted in wickedness, by being suffered to rest, the one on the holy inclinations and the other on the sinful lusts which form the lowest strata respectively of their beings.
III. A PRECURSOR OF APPROACHING DOOM. As bad wine allowed to settle on its lees rapidly deteriorates and reaches such a state of badness as to be unfit for use, so wicked men that settle on their lees, gratifying their sensual desires and venting their atheistical opinions, ultimately sink to such a point of moral degeneration as not to admit of recovery, and as allows nothing to be anticipated for them but swift and sudden destruction.
1. The danger of prosperity.
2. The value of adversity. - T.W.
I. RAPIDLY APPROACHING. "The great day of the Lord is near, it is Dear, and hasteth greatly" (ver. 14). This was true of the Chaldean invasion, then little more than one generation distant - so near, in fact, that the prophet could hear the bitter cry of the mighty man who saw himself confronted by its terrors; and is true of that other and greater day of the Lord, the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:9; 1 John 4:17; Revelation 6:17), which the Christian is directed always to consider as at hand (Philippians 4:5; James 5:8, 9; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 22:12), because the exact moment of its coming no one can tell (Matthew 24:36; Matthew 25:13, 42).
II. TERRIBLY ALARMING. What the Chaldean invasion should prove to the guilty city of Jerusalem and nation of Judah the prophet depicts by heaping together all the images of horror that his mind can conceive or his language express, calling the time of that visitation a day of wrath and fury, in which Jehovah should pour out his indignation upon the land and its inhabitants, letting loose upon them the ferocious warriors of Babylon; a day of trouble and distress, in which men should be hemmed in on every side by calamity and pressed down by anguish, walking like blind men and falling like wounded and dying soldiers; a day of wasteness and desolation, in which fields should be devastated, houses overthrown, and men and women put to the edge of the sword; a day of darkness and gloominess, of clouds and thick darkness, in which not so much as a single star of hope should appear in the political firmament; a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities and against the high battlements, in which their fortified towns and cities should experience the shock of pitiless assailants. But even more appropriately will these images apply to the day of judgment, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed in flaming fire and with his holy angels (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
III. FIERCELY DESTROYING.
1. Absolutely unavoidable. "The mighty man crieth bitterly there, .... because he cannot save himself, and must succumb to the power of the foe" (Keil). So would it be in the hour of Babylon's descent upon Judah and Jerusalem; so will it be in the day of the revelation of the wrath of the Almighty (Revelation 6:15-17).
2. Utterly consuming. "Their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as dung. 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 an end, yea., a terrible end, of all them that dwell in the land" (comp. Ezekiel 7:19). The same doom of utter extermination will overtake the finally impenitent in the day when God awakes in terrible majesty to execute judgment on the ungodly. Of these "God shall make an utter, terrific, speedy destruction, a living death, so that they shall at once be and not be; be, as continued in being; not be, as having no life in God, but only a continued death in misery" (Pusey). Lessons.
1. Gratitude to God, who hath made provision through the gospel of his Son from delivering men from the wrath to come.
2. The duty of all to whom that gospel is made known to embrace its provisions and escape from impending peril, while yet the day of mercy lasts.
3. The wisdom of living in constant anticipation of that day, and of perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.
4. The urgency of making known to men the gospel, that they may flee from the wrath to come. - T.W.