Zephaniah 3
Pulpit Commentary
Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!
Verses 1-5. - § 6. The prophet turns to Jerusalem, and warns her that, if God punishes the heathen, he will not spare the hardened sinners in Judah. Verse 1. - Woe to her! This is addressed to Jerusalem, as is seen by vers. 2-4. Filthy; rather, rebellious, i.e. against God. The LXX., mistaking the word, renders ἐπιφανής, "notable." So the Syriac. Jerome has provocatrix. The true sense is seen by the expansion of the term in ver. 2. polluted by her many sins. Jerome, following the Septuagint ἀπολευτρωμένη, "ransomed," has, redempta, which he explains, "Captivitatibus traditia, et rursum redempta." The oppressing city, that acts unjustly and cruelly to the weak and poor. So the three sins for which she is here denounced are that she is rebellious against God, defiled with sin in herself, and cruel to others. The Septuagiut and Vulgate translate jonah ("oppressing") "dove," which seems singularly inappropriate here, though some try to explain it as applied to Jerusalem in the sense of "silly" or "stupid" (Hosea 7:11)
She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God.
Verse 2. - The voice; i.e. of God, as heard in the Law and at the mouth of his prophets (comp. Jeremiah 7:24, etc.; Jeremiah 9:13). Received not correction. They took not to heart the chastisements sent upon them, and did not profit by them. She trusted not in the Lord, but in man. When danger threatened, she relied on human aid, made alliances with the heathen, or else had recourse to idols and prayed for help to false gods, as the next clause complains. She drew not near to her God. She broke the covenant which she had made, would not avail herself of the privilege bestowed upon her, and had no intercourse with the Lord in prayer and worship.
Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.
Verse 3. - Roaring lions. The princes, who ought to protect the people, are ready to tear them in pieces and devour them (Proverbs 28:15). Probably the violence and arrogance of the chiefs had increased during the minority of the king. This must have been written before the great reformation. Evening wolves (see note on Habakkuk 1:8). The judges, whose duty it was to administer justice and to set an example of equity and virtue, are themselves most cruel and rapacious. They gnaw not the bones till tomorrow; they gnaw no bones in the morning; that is, they are so greedy that they eat up all their prey at once and leave nothing till the morning. The versions drop the metaphor, and render, "They leave not to the morning" (comp. Ezekiel 22:27).
Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.
Verse 4. - Her prophets. These are the false prophets, who have no true mission from God (comp. Micah 2:11; Micah 3:5). Light; either, frivolous or empty boasters. The word means properly, "boiling over," like water. Vulgate, vesani; Septuagint, πνευματοφόροι, which means, probably, not "inspired by an (evil) spirit," but "carried away by the wind," "light" (comp. Matthew 11:7). Treacherous persons; literally, men of treacheries, who uttered their own fancies as if they were commissioned by God, and so really opposed him whom they professed to represent (Jeremiah 23:32). Her priests have polluted the sanctuary (what is holy). Not the temple only, but all that has to do with God's service, worship, rites, sacrifices; they make no distinction between what is sacred and what is profane (Ezekiel 22:26). They have done violence to the Law. Chiefly, doubtless, by distorting its meaning, and neither observing it themselves nor teaching others to keep it.
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.
Verse 5. - In the midst of this congregation of sinners God is continually manifesting his righteousness; he leaves not himself without witness; and therefore their iniquities are without excuse. The just Lord is in the midst thereof; or, the Lord in the midst of her is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4). His presence was associated with the temple; his moral government was always being manifested. He would not be "just" if he left sinners unpunished. Every morning; Hebrew," in the morning, in the morning." The phrase is rightly explained in our version (comp. Exodus 16:21; Psalm 87:5). Doth he bring his judgment to light. His prophets proclaim his perfect justice; his judgments on the heathen manifest it (ver. 8; Hosea 6:5). It is not from ignorance of the Law that the people sin. He faileth not; or, it faileth not; Vulgate, non abscoudetur. God never ceases thus to act; or, his justice is clear as (lay. But the unjust knoweth no shame. In spite of this hourly manifestation of God's justice, and the enactments of the Law so well known, the perverse nation will not amend its ways, feels no shame at its backslidings (Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 6:15). The Septuagint Version, according to the Vatican manuscript, is curious here, and in the latter part somewhat like St. Matthew's rendering of Isaiah 42:3, Καὶ οὐκ ἔγνω ἀδικίαν ἐν ἀπαιτήσει, καί οὐκ εἰς νεῖκος ἀδικίαν (comp. Matthew 12:20), which Jerome translates, "Nescit iniquitatem in exactione, nec insempiternum injustitiam," and explains, "When God exacts from every man the sum he has committed to him, he will not be unjust, nor allow injustice to prevail."
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.
Verses 6-8. - § 7. Obdurate and blinded as nations are, these extreme measures are the only way left to secure salvation for Israel and the whole world. Verse 6. - God speaks, showing why he has sent these judgments. I have cut off the nations. The reference is to facts well known to the hearers (though not specified here); such as the rain of Pentapolis, the destruction of the Canaanites, the defeat of the Chaldeans in Hezekiah's time, the conquest of cities and countries by the Assyrians, and the devastation of Israel itself. Their towers are desolate. Their towers (see note on Zephaniah 1:16), in which they trusted for defence, are overthrown and lie in ruins. Others translate, "street corners," where people most do congregate. Streets; perhaps, roads; signifying the open country. So Keil. None inhabitant (comp. Jeremiah 4:7).
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.
Verse 7. - Taught by such examples, the Jews might have learned to repent and amend their ways. I said. God represents himself as reasoning as a man would reason. Surely thou wilt fear me; Septuagint, "only fear me." This is the one condition for salvation. Or, according to our version, Judah must learn experience from my threats and visitations, and return unto me. Thou wilt.., receive instruction; Septuagint, "receive ye discipline," accept the correction and learn the lesson which it is meant to teach (Proverbs 24:32). Their (her) dwelling. Jerusalem or Judaea. The temple is never called the dwelling place of the people. This sudden change of person is very common in the prophets. Howsoever I punished them; rather, according to all that I appointed concerning her. God had ordained certain punishment for Jerusalem if she reformed not. The Anglican Version means that God would never cut them off wholly, however severely he might chastise them. The Hebrew will not carry this; nor are the Greek and Latin Versions quite correct. Septuagint, Οὐ μὴ ἐξολοθρευθῆτε ἐξ ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῆς πάντα δοα ἐξεδίκησα ἐπ αὐτήν, "And ye shall not be cut off from the face thereof for all the punishment that I inflicted upon it;" Vulgate, Propter omnia in quibus visitavi earn. But they rose early. Warning, reproof, and chastisement were expended in vain; the people only gave themselves up more ardently to their evil doings. "To rise early to do a thing" is a phrase used to signify the acting with zeal and full purpose (comp. Jeremiah 7:13, 25; Jeremiah 11:7, etc.). Corrupted all their doings. Like the inhabitants of the earth before the Flood (Corinthians 6:12; comp. Psalm 14:1). The Septuagint rendering is peculiar, Ἐτοι μάζου ὄρθισον ἔφθαρται πᾶσα ἡ ἐπιφυλλὶς αὐτῶν "Prepare thyself, rise early, all their produce is spoiled." St. Jerome, moralizing on this, adds, "Nisi praeparati fuerimus, non nobis orietur sol justitiae. Orto autem sole, omnes racemi de vinea Sodomorum dissipantur et pereunt; ut non solum grandes botri, sed etiam quod parvum esse videbatur in nobis, Christi lucerna radiante dispereat."
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.
Verse 8. - Therefore. Because of the outrage done to God's "long suffering," he must needs punish. Wait ye upon me; wait ye for me. The exhortation is addressed to the pious among the Jews, as in Zephaniah 2:3, and is used in a good sense (Psalm 33:20; Isaiah 8:17), urging them not to despair, but to be patient under the affliction, in the assured hope of salvation. The same expression is used in Habakkuk 2:3. I rise up to the prey. This is a phrase denoting effort and the effecting of some great object. Jehovah seizes the prey when the nations, roused by judgment inflicted, are converted unto him (Isaiah 53:12; Psalm 68:18). The LXX., pointing the last word differently (עד), renders, εἰς ἡμέραν ἀναστάσεώς μου εἰς μαρτύριον: "until the day of my rising up for testimony." Jerome, "In die resurrectionis meae in futurum." The Fathers interpreted this of the times of Messiah - some, of Christ's resurrection from the dead; some, of his rising up to divide the spoil (Genesis 49:9, 27. See St. Augustine, 'De Civil.,' 18:33; Eusebius, 'Dem. Ev.,' 2:17; and Jerome and Cyril, in loc.). But such interpretations are Mien from the intention of the passage, however allowable as glosses. For my determination is; literally, my judgment (mishpat) is. My justice is displayed, as ver. 5. The word, according to Keil, never means, "decree" or "decision." That I may assemble the kingdoms. Not for utter extermination, but to bring them to a better mind (Isaiah 26:9; Joel 3:11, etc.). Fire of my jealousy (Zephaniah 1:18). God will allow no rival anywhere (Nahum 1:2). This is the reason of the severity and universality of the judgment The Masorites note that this ' the only verse in the Bible which contains the whole Hebrew alphabet.
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.
Verses 9-20. - Part III. PROMISE OF THE CONVERSION OF THE WORLD AND THE HAPPINESS OF ISRAEL. Verses 9, 10. - § 1. The heathen shall be converted, and shall help in the restoration of Israel. Verse 9. - Will I turn to the people (peoples) a pure language (lip). When his judgments have done their work, God will bring the heathen to the knowledge of him. He will purify their lips, which have been polluted with the names of idols and the worship offered to false gods (Psalm 16:4; Hosea 2:17); the confusion of Babel shall be done away, and all shall speak the language of faith in one God. This, of course, points to Messianic times. For "pure lip," the Vulgate has, labium electum; the LXX., by a mistake of a letter (bhedurah for bherurah), γλῶσσαν εἰς γενεὰν αὐτῆς (so. γῆς), "a tongue for her generation." With one consent; literally, with one shoulder; ὑπὸ ζυγὸν ἕνα, "under one yoke" (Septuagint); humero uno (Vulgate). The metaphor implies that all will help to carry the same burden, and to accomplish the same work, bearing the gospel throughout the world, and being all of one mind in the service of Jehovah (Jeremiah 32:39; Isaiah 19:23, 24; Revelation 11:15).
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
Verse 10. - From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia (Cush); i.e. from the distant south, a type of the remotest parts of the world (Zephaniah 2:12). The rivers of Cush (Isaiah 18:1), are the Nile, the Atbara, and their affluents. My suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering. From the ends of the earth, the Jews who have continued faithful to Jehovah, and have not lost their nationality among the Gentiles, but have considered themselves as belonging to "the dispersion," shall be again received of the Lord, and bring their oblations unto him. This may be the sense intended: but looking to the thought in Isaiah 66:20 (where it is said that the Gentiles shall bring the Israelites out of all nations as a meat offering unto the Lord), we had better render the passage as the Revised Version margin, "They shall bring my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, for an offering unto me." The remote Gentiles shall show their faith in God by aiding the Hebrews among them to turn to the Lord; this shall be their offering to the true God, whom they have learned to adore. When they themselves are converted, they shall be evangelists to the Hebrews of the Dispersion. For this work of the Gentiles in converting the Hebrews, Wordsworth compares Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 8:8, 9; Isaiah 61:5, 6; Isaiah 65:18-21. St. Paul speaks to the same effect in Romans 6. Offering (minehah). The pure meal offering (Malachi 1:10, 11, where see notes; comp. Romans 15:16; Philippians 2:17). Dr. Briggs renders, "From beyond the rivers of Gush will be my incense (athar); the daughter of Phut will bring a minchah." This brings out the parallelism. The universal worship of Messianic times is expressed in the ceremonial terms of the old dispensation, but has a very real applicableness to the Christian religion (see note on Malachi 1:11).
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.
Verses 11-13. - § 2. Israel, restored to God's favour, shall be cleansed and sanctified. Verse 11. - In that day. When the Lord rises to seize the prey (ver. 8), when the Gentiles are converted, and Judah returns to her obedience. Shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings. God addresses Israel repentant and converted, and assures her that she shall not have to reproach herself any more, or to blush for her iniquities, because God blots them out, or because she sins no more as she has done. And the great help to this improvement is the abolition of the cause and incitement to sin. I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride (thy proud triumphers, Isaiah 13:3). God will cut off all those who gloried in their temporal prosperity without thought of God, who in the pride of their heart walked as they pleased, deeming themselves accountable to no one, subject to no law. Such shall no longer be found in the holy nation. Haughty because of (in) my holy mountain; i.e. in the temple (Isaiah 11:9). They shall no longer exult in the exclusiveness of their privileges, or feel a vain glorious confidence in their own election, or the sanctity of their temple or its provision of worship. The Gentiles should be admitted to the covenant, and share in their privileges. Here we see adumbrated the nature of the Christian Church, an organized body no longer local, insulated, but Catholic - a spiritual temple open to all believers.
I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.
Verse 12. - A further characteristic of Messiah's kingdom is here unfolded. No worldly pomp or splendour shall be found in it; its members are not proud, conceited, self-reliant. I will also leave in the midst of thee. I will leave over, as a remnant saved in the judgment (camp. Romans 9:27; Micah 2:12, and the note there). An afflicted and poor people. The two epithets and elsewhere joined together (Job 34:28; Isaiah 26:6) to express the feeling of patience under affliction and inability to help one's self by one's own efforts. The spirit signified is just the contrary of the haughty, complacent, self-satisfied temper previously mentioned (1 Corinthians 1:26; James 2:5). They shall trust in the Name of the Lord. All self-confidence shall be abolished, and the religion of the remnant shall be characterized by quiet trust in God.
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.
Verse 13. - The remnant of Israel (see note on ver. 12). Though they claim no worldly eminence, the true Israelites shall be conspicuous for spiritual graces. Shall not do iniquity. Their acts shall be just and holy; their daily conduct such as becomes the children of God's election (Leviticus 19:2; 1 John 3:9). Nor speak lies. There shall be no lying prophets there, and all fraud and double-dealing shall be abolished. The proof of their righteous conduct is found in the favour of the Lord and the security in which they shall live. For they shall feed, etc. The remnant is compared to a "little fleck" (Luke 12:32), of which the Lord is the Shepherd (comp. Micah 7:14). The blessing is that promised to Israel in the Law if she kept the commandments (Leviticus 26:5, 6). Vers 14-20. - § 3. Israel shall be cam forted and largely blessed by the presence of Jehovah and exalted to honour in the eyes of all the world.
Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Verse 14. - in view of the coming blessing, the prophet bursts forth in exultation, yet with a vein of prophecy running through all the canticle. After the late denunciation of woe and judgment, he soothes the faithful with the promise of the grace and peace which the time of Messiah shall bring. Sing, O daughter of Zion (Isaiah 1:8; Zechariah 2:14; 9:9). He calls on the restored remnant of Judah to show its joy by outward tokens. O Israel. All the tribes are to unite in praising God. This is one of the passages where "Israel" is supposed to have been written by mistake for "Jerusalem." So Jeremiah 23:6. The LXX. gives, θύγατερ Ἱερουσαλήμ, "daughter of Jerusalem" (see note on Zechariah 1:19). The prophet enjoins a triple note of exultation in order to confirm the universal joy. (On the use of the number "three" in this passage, see Dr. Pusey's note, p. 480.)
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.
Verse 15. - In this and following verses the prop. hot gives the reasons why Zion should rejoice. Thy judgments. The chastisements inflicted on thee in judgment, rendered necessary by thy iniquity (Ezekiel 5:8). These God has removed; this is the first ground for rejoicing. Septuagint, τὰ ἀδικήματα σου, "thine iniquities." When God removes the punishments, he forgives the sin. He hath cast out (cleared quite away) thine enemy. The enemies who executed the judgment are utterly dispersed. The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee (Obadiah 1:21). The theocracy is restored. Under the judgments which fell upon Israel, Jehovah seemed to have left his people; now he is in the midst of them as their icing (Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 52:7; Hosea 11:9). The perpetual presence of Christ in the Church is here adumbrated. Thou shalt not see evil any more. So the Septuagint. Another reading adopted by Jerome is, "Thou shalt not fear." In view of the following verse, this seems rather tautological. With God in their midst, the people shall see, i.e. experience (Jeremiah 5:12), no evil (Revelation 21:3, 4).
In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
Verse 16. - It shall be said. So obvious to all men shall be the happy and secure, position of Zion under God's favour and rule, that they shall join in bidding her east away fear and exult in the Divine protection. Fear thou not (comp. Matthew 14:27; Matthew 28:5, 10; Luke 12:7, 32). And to Zion. Probably vocative, O Zion. Let not thine hands be slack. Be not despairing or faint hearted, but work with energy and confidence (comp. Isaiah 13:7; Hebrews 12:12); or the sentence may be rendered, "Jerusalem will be called Fear not, and Zion, Let not thine hands be slack." In this case we may compare the names Hephzibah and Beulah given to Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:4), and Jehovah-Tsidkenu (Jeremiah 33:16).
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.
Verse 17. - In the midst of thee; better, is in the midst of thee (see note on ver. 15). Is mighty; he will says; rather, a Mighty One who will save; LXX., Ὀ δυνατὸς σώσει σε, "The Mighty One shall save thee." This is the real ground of confidence: the Lord wills their salvation. He will rejoice over thee with joy, now that thy iniquity is purged, and thou art united again to him, as a chaste and comely bride (Isaiah 52:5; Jeremiah 32:41; Hosea 2:19). He will rest (Hebrew, be silent) in his love. This is a human expression, denoting that perfect love which needs no outward demonstration. For the very greatness of his love God rests, as it were, in quiet enjoyment of it. Some take it to mean that in his love for his people he is silent about, makes no mention of, past sins; but this seems less suitable, as this clause is merely an expansion of the preceding one. The Septuagint and Syriac Versions render, "He will renew thee in his love;" and Ewald has proposed to alter the present reading to, "He will do a new thing." But there is no sufficient reason for making the change. With singing. Again he gives to his ineffable love outward expression. The LXX. paraphrases accurately, "He will rejoice over thee with delight as on a day of festival" (Isaiah 65:19).
I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.
Verse 18. - The love which God feels he shows in action. He cares for the exiled and dispersed, and will gather them again and comfort them for all their sorrows. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly; or, far removed from the solemn, assembly. Those who grieve because by their exile from the Holy Land they are debarred from duly attending the periodical festivals, these God will restore, and enable them again to participate in the sacred feasts. The above version and explanation are undoubtedly right, as the Latin Version is certainly wrong, Nugas, qui a lege recesserant, congregabo; that is, the light and fickle persons, who have estranged themselves from the Law, God will reclaim, and join them to the congregation of the true Israel; and this, quia ex te erant, for their origin's sake, because they are descendants of the chosen people. Who are of thee; they are of thee, O Zion. These are the true Israelites; this is why they mourn for the cessation of the festivals, and why they shall be restored to the Holy Land. To whom the reproach of it was a burden; i.e. who felt the desolation of Zion and the reproaches uttered against her by enemies (Psalm 137.) as a burden grievous to be borne. The Vulgate has, Ut non ultra habeas super eis opprobrium; i.e. "That they may be no more a disgrace to thee;" the LXX. reads somewhat differently, Οὐαὶ τίς ἔλαβεν ἐπ αὐτὴν ὀνειδισμόν; "Alas! who took up a reproach against her?"
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.
Verse 19. - I will undo all that afflict thee; I will deal with in punishment (Jeremiah 18:23); Vulgate, "I will slay." The restoration of Israel is preceded by the destruction of the enemies of God and the Church. Septuagint, Ποιῶ ἐν σοὶ ἕνεκέν σου ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ λέγει Κύριος, "Dominus dicet ad Sion, Ecce, ego faciam in te propter te, id est, faciam ultionem tuam" (St. Jerome). Her that halteth (Micah 4:6). The afflicted of Israel, here compared to a lame and footsore flock of sheep. Septuagint, τὴν ἐκπεπιεσμένην, "pressed," like grapes or olives, to extract the juice. Her that was driven out. The exiled and dispersed. I will get them praise and fame; I will make them to be a praise and a name. This is in accordance with the promise in Deuteronomy 26:19. In every land where they have been put to shame; literally, in every land of their shame. The scene of their shame should be the scene of their glorification. The prophet does not consider that the restored theocracy shall be confined to the geographical limits of the Holy Land; he looks to its dissemination throughout the world. Wide as the dispersion itself shall be the diffusion of the knowledge of Goal and the admiration of his doings towards Israel (comp. Zephaniah 2:11; Zephaniah 3:9; Ezekiel 20:41; Ezekiel 28:25; Zechariah 8:23).
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.
Verse 20. - Will I bring you again (in). He repeats the promise with some slight verbal changes. I will lead you like a flock to the pastures of Zion. People; peoples. When I turn back your captivity; i.e. when God brings them all home into the spiritual Zion from which they were long exiled (but see note on Zephaniah 2:7; and comp. Hosea 6:11; Amos 9:14). Before your eyes. Most certainly and evidently, so that what they hoped for they shall plainly see (Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 30:3, etc.; Isaiah 52:8, 10). Saith the Lord. All this shall assuredly come to pass, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. In the prophet's eye the restoration from captivity and the times of Messiah are synchronous, or the former is so closely connected in idea with the latter that he speaks of both under one set of terms, applying the same imagery to both.

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