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.
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Zephaniah 1:12-13. At that time, I will search Jerusalem with candles — I will deliver up Jerusalem into the hands of the Chaldeans, who shall let no corner of it escape them, but shall diligently search the houses, even with lights or torches, that they may plunder them of every thing. And punish the men that are settled on their lees — Who live securely in ease and plenty: see notes on Jeremiah 48:11, and Amos 6:1. That say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, &c. — Who have not God in all their thoughts, or imagine that he doth not concern himself with the affairs of the world, and that neither good nor evil is brought to pass by his providence. The prophet especially describes those men, who, trusting in their riches, paid very little regard to the threats of the prophets, and seemed entirely safe in their own eyes, while they kept their beloved treasures. Therefore their goods shall become a booty, &c. — The enemy shall plunder their goods, and turn them out of their houses and possessions, so that they shall not inherit the houses they have built, nor drink the wine of the vineyards which they have planted.

1:7-13 God's day is at hand; the punishment of presumptuous sinners is a sacrifice to the justice of God. The Jewish royal family shall be reckoned with for their pride and vanity; and those that leap on the threshold, invading their neighbours' rights, and seizing their possessions. The trading people and the rich merchants are called to account. Secure and careless people are reckoned with. They are secure and easy; they say in their heart, the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil; that is, they deny his dispensing rewards and punishments. But in the day of the Lord's judgment, it will clearly appear that those who perish, fall a sacrifice to Divine justice for breaking God's law, and because they have no interest by faith in the Redeemer's atoning sacrifice.I will search - (Literally, "diligently"). The word is always used of a minute diligent search, whereby places, persons, things, are searched and sifted one by one in every corner, until it be found whether a thing be there or no . Hence, also of the searching out of every thought of the heart, either by God Proverbs 20:27, or in repentance by the light of God Lamentations 3:40.

Jerusalem with candles - so that there should be no corner, no lurking-place so dark, but that the guilty should be brought to light. The same diligence, which Eternal Wisdom used, to "seek and to save that which was lost Luke 15:8, lighting a candle and searching diligently," until it find each lost piece of silver, the same shall Almighty God use that no hardened sinner shall escape. Cyril: "What the enemy would do, using unmingled phrensy against the conquered, that God fitteth to His own Person, not as being Himself the Doer of things so foreign, but rather permitting that what comes from anger should proceed in judgment against the ungodly." It was an image of this, when, at the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans, they "dragged out of common sewers and holes and caves and tombs, princes and great men and priests, who for fear of death had hid themselves."

How much more in that Day when "the secrets of all hearts shalt be revealed" by Him who "searcheth the hearts and reins, and to Whose Eyes" Psalm 7:9; Psalm 26:2; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 20:12; Revelation 2:23, "which are like flashing Fire, all things are naked and open!" Revelation 1:14. The candles wherewith God searcheth the heart, are men's own consciences Proverbs 20:27, His Own revealed word Psalm 119:104; Proverbs 6:23; 2 Peter 1:19, the lives of true Christians Philippians 2:15. Those, through the Holy Spirit in each, may enlighten the heart of man, or, if he takes not heed, will rise in judgment against him, and show the falsehood of all vain excuses. : "One way of escape only there is. If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged. I will "search out my" own "ways" and my desires, that He who "shall search out Jerusalem with candles," may find nothing in me, unsought and unsifted. For He will not twice judge the same thing. Would that I might so follow and track out all my offences, that in none I need fear His piercing Eyes, in none be ashamed at the light of His candles! Now I am seen, but I see not. At hand is that Eye, to whom all things are open, although Itself is not open. Once "I shall know, even as I am known" 1 Corinthians 13:12. Now "I know in part," but I am not known in part, but wholly."

The men that are settled on their lees - Stiffened and contracted . The image is from wine which becomes harsh, if allowed to remain upon the lees, unremoved. It is drawn out by Jeremiah, "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed" Jeremiah 48:11. So they upon whom "no changes come, fear not God (see Psalm 55:19). The lees are the refuse of the wine, yet stored up (so the word means) with it, and the wine rests, as it were, upon them. So do men of ease rest in things defiled and defiling, their riches or their pleasure, which they hoard up, on which they are bent, so that they, Dionysius: "lift not their mind to things above, but, darkened with foulest desires, are hardened and stiffened in sin."

That say in their heart - Not openly scoffing, perhaps thinking that they believe; but people "do" believe as they love. Their most inward belief, the belief of their heart and affections, what they wish, and the hidden spring of their actions, is, "The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil." They act as believing so, and by acting inure themselves to believe it. They think of God as far away, "Is not God in the height of heaven? And behold the height of the stars, how high they are! And thou sayest, How doth God know? Can He judge through the dark cloud? Thick goads are a covering to Him, that He seeth not; and He walketh in the circuit of heaven" Job 22:12-14, "The ungodly in the pride of his heart" (thinketh); "He will not inquire; all his devices" (speak), "There is no God. Strong are his ways at all times; on high are Thy judgments out of his sight" Psalm 10:4-5. "They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless, and they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it" Psalm 94:5-6.

"Such things they did imagine and were deceived, for their own wickedness blinded them. As for the mysteries of God, they knew them not" (Wisd. 2:21-22). "Faith without works is dead" James 2:20. Faith which acts not dies out, and there comes in its stead this other persuasion, that God will not repay. There are more Atheists than believe themselves to be such. These act as if there were no Judge of their deeds, and at last come, themselves to believe that God will not punish Isaiah 5:19; Malachi 2:17. What else is the thought of all worldlings, of all who make idols to themselves of any pleasure or gain or ambition, but "God will not punish?" "God cannot punish the (wrongful, selfish,) indulgence of the nature which He has made." "God will not be so precise." "God will not punish with everlasting severance from Him, the sins of this short life." And they see not that they ascribe to God, what He attributes to idols that is, not-gods. "Do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and behold it together" . "Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good" Jeremiah 10:5. These think not that God does good, for they ascribe their success to their own diligence, wisdom, strength, and thank not God for it. They think not that He sends them evil. For they defy Him and His laws, and think that they shall go unpunished. What remains but that He should be as dumb an idol as those of the pagan?

12. search … with candles—or lamps; so as to leave no dark corner in it wherein sin can escape the punishment, of which the Chaldeans are My instruments (compare Zep 1:13; Lu 15:8).

settled on their lees—"hardened" or crusted; image from the crust formed at the bottom of wines long left undisturbed (Jer 48:11). The effect of wealthy undisturbed ease ("lees") on the ungodly is hardening: they become stupidly secure (compare Ps 55:19; Am 6:1).

Lord will not do good … evil—They deny that God regards human affairs, or renders good to the good; or evil to the evil, but that all things go haphazard (Ps 10:4; Mal 2:17).

At that time; it was

day. Zephaniah 1:10, which see.

I will search Jerusalem with candles: God speaks after the manner of man, who searcheth dark places with candles in hand. God’s omniscience seeth all things, and-needs no help for discovery, but by this expression he foretells how fully he would both discover and punish. It is like enough this was literally fulfilled when the Chaldeans did search the vaults, and cellars, and sewers of Jerusalem for men or goods hidden in them.

Settled on their lees; in allusion to liquors, which, not being poured out from vessel to vessel to refine them, grow thick and settled; so men that have known none or little changes settle in security, and fear no menaces.

Say in their heart; entertain an opinion, or begin to flatter themselves into thoughts.

The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil; no Providence to countenance the good, or to punish the bad; no God, or none that regardeth what is done on earth; or as they, Ezekiel 8:12, think God hath forsaken the earth. These atheists God will punish severely, as the sin well deserveth; they shall see it shall be well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked.

And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles,.... To find out the sins of the inhabitants of it, and the authors of them, and punish them for them, however hid and concealed from the eyes of others, or thought to be: this must be understood consistent with the omniscience of God, who knows all persons and things; nothing is hid from him; men may fancy their sins are hid, being privately and secretly committed; but all will be manifest, sooner or later; if not now, yet at the day of judgment; and sometimes they are made manifest by God in this life, as here; for what the Lord here says he would do, he did it by instruments, by the Chaldeans, whom he sent to Jerusalem; and to whom the gates of the city, the doors of houses, and the innermost recesses of them, were opened and plundered by them; and all for the sins of the people, which were hereby exposed. So the Targum,

"and it shall be at that time that I will appoint searchers, and they shall search Jerusalem, as they that search with candles;''

and no doubt but this was literally true of the Chaldeans, who with candles might search vaults and cellars, and such like dark places, where they supposed goods and riches were concealed. The allusion may be to the searching with lamps for leaven on the fourteenth of Nisan, when the passover began, in every corner of a house, and, when they found it, burnt it (u); or in general to searching for anything which lies concealed in dark places, where the light of the sun comes not, and can only be discovered by the light of candles; and denotes that nothing should escape the sight and knowledge of God, by whom a full discovery would be made of their persons and sins, and cognizance taken of them in a vindictive way, as follows:

and punish the men that are settled on their lees; like wine on the lees, quiet and undisturbed; in a good outward estate and condition, abounding in wealth and riches, and trusting therein; and which, as the Targum paraphrases it, they enjoy in great tranquillity; Moab like, having never been emptied from vessel to vessel, Jeremiah 48:11 and so concluded they should ever remain in the same state, and became hardened in sin, or "curdled", and thickened, as the word (w) signifies; and were unconcerned about the state of religion, or the state of their own souls; and fearless and thoughtless of the judgments of God; but should now be visited, disturbed in their tranquil state, and be troubled and punished:

that say in their heart; not daring to express with their lips the following atheism and blasphemy; but God, who searched and tried their hearts, knew it:

The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil; which is a flat denial of his providence; saying that he takes no notice of what is done by men on earth, whether good or bad; and neither rewards the one, nor punishes the other. So the Targum, as Kimchi quotes it,

"it is not the good pleasure of God to do good to the righteous, or to do evil to the wicked;''

than which nothing is more false! the Lord does good to all in a providential way, and to many in a way of special grace; and rewards with a reward of grace all good men, both here and hereafter; and though he does not do any moral evil, yet he executes the evil of punishment in this world, and in that to come, on evildoers.

(u) Vid. Misn. Pesachim, c. 1. sect. 1, 4. (w) "concreti sunt", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "congelati", Calvin; "coagulatos", Montanus, Cocceius; "qui concreverunt glaciei, vel casei ad instar", Burkius.

And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with {h} candles, and punish the men that are settled {i} on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.

(h) So that nothing will escape me.

(i) By their prosperity they are hardened in their wickedness.

12. I will search Jerusalem with candles] lit. with lamps, or, lanterns, Luke 15:8. The darkest places shall be penetrated and those lurking in them discovered. Jehovah searches, though it may be by the hand of the enemy that He performs the search. It is out of these obscurist places that the men settled on their lees will have to be dragged. These are not enthusiasts who throng public places and are always in the light of day; they are the indifferent, who withdraw from public concerns, who have no zeal because no faith. In the pictures of Zephaniah as a saint he is represented carrying a lantern.

settled on their lees] lit. thickened on their lees. The figure is taken from wine that has sat long undisturbed, and is finely expanded in Jeremiah 48:11-12, “Moab hath been at ease from his youth and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel … I will send unto him them that pour off, and they shall pour him off.” Those referred to are men who have lived at ease, without trouble or vicissitude in life, and who have therefore sunk down into unfeeling indifference or even into incredulity regarding any interference of a higher power in the affairs of mankind (next clause).

The Lord will not do good] The phrase “do good or do evil” has come to mean little more than “do aught” (Isaiah 41:23), but properly it is used in a literal way; Jeremiah 10:5, “Be not afraid of them (the idols), for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” An Arab, poet says: “I sing a man, on whom the sun never rose a day but he did good and did evil,” i.e. to his friends and foes respectively. The persons referred to by the prophet say this “in their hearts.” The saying differs little from the other, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1), no living God who observes and interposes in the affairs of human life. Though in a different atmosphere of thought Renan expresses himself to the same effect: “it has, in fact, never been established by observation that a superior being troubles himself, for a moral or an immoral purpose, with the things of nature or the affairs of mankind” (Hist. of Israel, ii p. ii.).

Verse 12. - The third class which shall be smitten, viz. the profligate and riotous. I will search Jerusalem with candles (lights). No evil doer shall escape. The enemy whom God summons to execute his wrath shall leave no corner unsearched where the debauchees hide themselves (comp. Luke 15:8). Jerome and commentators after him refer to Josephus's account of the last siege of Jerusalem for a parallel to these predicted proceedings of the Chaldeans. Here we read how princes and priests and chieftains were dragged from sewers, and pits, and caves, and tombs, where they had hidden themselves in fear of death, and were mercilessly slain wherever they were found (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 6:09). The men that are settled on their lees; i.e. confirmed, hardened, and inveterate in their evil habits. The metaphor is derived from old wine not racked off; which retains all its flavour and odour, and becomes thick and viscid (see Isaiah 25:6; Jeremiah 48:11). The LXX. paraphrases, Υοὺς καταφρονοῦντας ἐπὶ τὰ φυλάγματα αὐτῶν, which Jerome renders, qui contemnunt custodias suas. That say in their heart. They do not openly scoff at religion, but think within themselves these infidel thoughts. The Lord will not do good, ere. Just what God says of idols (Isaiah 41:23). These "fools" (Psalm 14:1) deny God's moral government of the world; they will not see the working of Divine providence in all that happens, but, secure and careless in their worldly prosperity, they assign all events to chance or natural law, placing Jehovah in the same category as the idols worshipped by heathens (comp. Job 22:12, etc.; Psalm 10:4, etc.; Psalms 94:7). Zephaniah 1:12The debauchees and rioters generally will also not remain free from punishment. Zephaniah 1:12. "And at that time it will come to pass, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and visit the men who lie upon their lees, who say in their heart, Jehovah does no good, and no evil. Zephaniah 1:13. Their goods will become plunder, and their houses desolation: they will build houses, and not dwell (therein), and plant vineyards, and not drink their wine." God will search Jerusalem with candles, to bring out the irreligious debauchees out of their hiding-places in their houses, and punish them. The visitation is effected by the enemies who conquer Jerusalem. Jerome observes on this passage: "Nothing will be allowed to escape unpunished. If we read the history of Josephus, we shall find it written there, that princes and priests, and mighty men, were dragged even out of the sewers, and caves, and pits, and tombs, in which they had hidden themselves from fear of death." Now, although what is stated here refers to the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus, there can be no doubt that similar things occurred at the Chaldaean conquest. The expression to search with candles (cf. Luke 15:8) is a figure denoting the most minute search of the dwellings and hiding-places of the despisers of God. These are described as men who sit drawn together upon their lees (קפא, lit., to draw one's self together, to coagulate). The figure is borrowed from old wine, which has been left upon its lees and not drawn off, and which, when poured into other vessels, retains its flavour, and does not alter its odour (Jeremiah 48:11), and denotes perseverance or confirmation in moral and religious indifference, "both external quiet, and carelessness, idleness, and spiritual insensibility in the enjoyment not only of the power and possessions bestowed upon them, but also of the pleasures of sin and the worst kinds of lust" (Marck). Good wine, when it remains for a long time upon its lees, becomes stronger; but bad wine becomes harsher and thicker. Shemârı̄m, lees, do not denote "sins in which the ungodly are almost stupefied" (Jerome), or "splendour which so deprives a man of his senses that there is nothing left either pure or sincere" (Calvin), but "the impurity of sins, which were associated in the case of these men with external good" (Marck). In the carnal repose of their earthly prosperity, they said in their heart, i.e., they thought within themselves, there is no God who rules and judges the world; everything takes place by chance, or according to dead natural laws. They did not deny the existence of God, but in their character and conduct they denied the working of the living God in the world, placing Jehovah on the level of the dead idols, who did neither good nor harm (Isaiah 41:23; Jeremiah 10:5), whereby they really denied the being of God.

(Note: "For neither the majesty of God, nor His government or glory, consists in any imaginary splendour, but in those attributes which so meet together in Him that they cannot be severed from His essense. It is the property of God to govern the world, to take care of the human race, to distinguish between good and evil, to relieve the wretched, to punish all crimes, to restrain unjust violence. And if any one would deprive God of these, he would leave nothing but an idol." - Calvin.)

To these God will show Himself as the ruler and judge of the world, by giving up their goods (chēlâm, opes eorum) to plunder, so that they will experience the truth of the punishments denounced in His word against the despisers of His name (compare Leviticus 26:32-33; Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:39, and the similar threats in Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15).

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