The Biblical Illustrator
Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!
A religious city terribly degenerate
A professedly religious city terribly degenerated.
1. The princes are mentioned. They are “roaring lions.”
2. The judges are mentioned. They are “evening wolves.”
3. The prophets are mentioned. They are “light and treacherous persons.”
4. The priests are mentioned.
These “polluted the sanctuary,” by desecrating the sacred, and outraged the “law,” by distorting its meaning and misrepresenting its genius and aim.
II. A professedly religious city terribly degenerated although God was specially working in its midst. “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.”
1. The wonderful freedom which the Almighty allows to wicked men on this earth. Though He strives to improve them, He does not coerce them. He makes no invasion of their moral agency.
2. The tremendous force of human depravity. What a power sin gains over man!
She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord.
God’s lamentations of His people’s incorrigibleness
There can be no doubt that the city mentioned in the first verse of this chapter is Jerusalem; and if we duly consider the whole description of its moral state, as detailed from Zephaniah 3:1-4 inclusive, we shall be constrained to exclaim, “How is the faithful city become an harlot!” And to confirm this statement, we only need refer to the historical records of the two preceding reigns, to that of Josiah, at the beginning of the latter of which Zephaniah prophesied. Manasseh and Amen, the two preceding kings of Judah referred to, were flagrant idolaters, and filled Jerusalem with impiety, violence, and blood (2 Kings 21:3-6; 2 Kings 21:11; 2 Kings 21:16; 2 Kings 21:19; 2 Kings 21:22). What a change in that city which had been called “a city of righteousness!” Well, indeed, might Jehovah say, “Shall I not visit far these things, and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” Yes; and He assures them in verse 8 that He will punish them in an exemplary manner. The timely reformation of good King Josiah, however, averted the stroke for a time; but ultimately “wrath came upon them to the uttermost.”
I. That the four facts affirmed in the text are applicable to sinners of the present time, as well as to the Jews of old time. The facts alleged are the following--
1. Inattention to instruction, “She obeyed not the voice.” During the reign of Manasseh, God sent His prophets to remonstrate with the idolatrous king and His people, but they would not hear (2 Chronicles 33:10). Their conduct in this matter seems to have disappointed Jehovah Himself, as is evident from verse 7: “I said thou wilt fear Me, for thou wilt receive instruction, but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.” Truly, then, “They obeyed not the voice.” The fact is asserted concerning them, Jeremiah 22:21 : “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity, but thou saidst I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not My voice.” Ministers preach, conscience reproves, the Holy Spirit strives, and Providence pleads against men; yet do they not hearken nor consider. Furthermore, the text alleges against them--
2. Incorrigibleness. “She received not correction.” For the confirmation of this part of the charge let us hear the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 5:3 : “O Lord, are not Thine eyes upon the truth? Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.” And if you would know how severely and repeatedly He had stricken them, read Amos 4:6-11, There you will find that Jehovah had stricken them by want of bread, scarcity of water, blasting mildew, palmer worms, pestilence, the sword, fire, and destruction; and yet, after all, had to say, “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” How impervious must have been their hearts to withstand all these corrective measures. Call to mind, “ye hitherto incorrigible sinners, the afflictions, privations, losses, and troubles that have come upon you; still many of you have not yet heard the rod, nor Him that appointed it. Can all these things have come upon you by chance? Is there no meaning in them? He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” “Hear, therefore, and your souls shall live.” Again, our text alleges against them--
3. Perfidy, or faithlessness towards God--“She trusted not in the Lord.” This stroke makes their moral portraiture darker still. In the days of their fidelity to the God of their forefathers, in seasons of perplexity, they had confided in the all-sufficiency of His wisdom, love, power, and faithfulness. But when they turned aside after other gods, in their straits and national troubles, they looked to man alone for succour and deliverance. Hence they are reproved for this by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 30:3; Isaiah 30:15-16, and Jeremiah 2:18-36). Ah, how anxiously did they rely upon Egypt, Assyria, or any other heathen nation, in time of invasion, instead of trusting in their God. And, alas! is not this the conduct pursued by multitudes in the present day? In times of afflictive visitations they know not God, nor put their trust in Him. They look alone to human prudence and prowess; they “weary themselves in the fire”; but seek not unto Him who alone can save or deliver. But how frequently are they ashamed of their confidence, as was Israel of Egypt. No language can sufficiently describe the turpitude of this defection, from God. Finally, our text alleges against them--
4. Neglect of His worship. “She drew not near to her God.” There can be no doubt that by “drawing near to God,” His worship is meant (1 Samuel 4:36;. Psalms 73:28; Hebrews 10:22). It appears that in the days of the prophet Isaiah “they drew near with their lips”; but now they had entirely relinquished the worship of Jehovah. Manasseh, and Amon his son, had uprooted the worship of the living and true God, and established the worship of idols instead thereof, having placed images and altars in the very house of the Lord (chap. Zephaniah 1:4-5; 2 Kings 21:3-7). Thus they “forsook the Lord, and lightly esteemed the Rock of their salvation.” Solemn feasts and daily sacrifices to her God no longer graced this city. Well, indeed, might He say, I will go and return to My place till they acknowledge their iniquity” (Hosea 5:15). “I will forsake you” (Jeremiah 23:33). But what did these backsliders more than is done by multitudes in the present day? Have we need to go far to find those who walk in the same footsteps? First look at the scanty attendance at every place of worship; then visit those synagogues of Satan which abound in our land, and mark the crowds, the bustle, and the business there. We need not ask, do these draw near to God?
II. Give a general view of what is implied in this case.
1. An awful manifestation of wilful disobedience. The very facts here stated, as well as the manner of their being stated, demonstrate that all this was done by the Israelites contrary to the will of God. The doctrine of human free-agency is here, as in many other places of sacred writ, and also in the daily deportment of millions of transgressors, most decisively and irrefragably demonstrated.
2. A state of dreadful impiety. The allegations contained in the text are at variance with every thing like duty to God. There is no docility, reverence, affiance, nor devotion. Notwithstanding all God had done for that people, thus did they requite Him with hatred and disobedience. So enormous was their guilt that Jehovah exclaims, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth,--I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.” But what shall be said concerning the flagrant impiety of vast numbers in our times? If possible, the latter outdoes the former. If we reflect on the vastly increased facilities we enjoy for knowing and serving God, can we hesitate to entertain this fact?
3. A view of the gradations of apostasy from God. When men depart from God, He reproves them secretly by His Spirit; if they proceed, He chastens them by various means; if they fly from Him still, and put their trust in men, He withdraws His Spirit, and frequently confirmed apostasy is the result. Let this serve as a warning beacon to us; for assuredly it is written for our admonition. Would we avoid this disgraceful conduct we must beware of turning away our ear from the warning voice of the Spirit.
4. A rational vindication of those signal acts of retribution which have fallen on incorrigible sinners at sundry times. Certainly the most appalling calamities have befallen the Jews at sundry times, especially by the Chaldeans and others of their surrounding nations, as well as the Romans. Yes, whenever God has arisen to shake terribly the nations, or sections of His Church, there has certainly been a cause; nor could that cause be other than what is indicated in our text. Apart from the necessary exercises of a probationary state, the unerring wisdom, pure benevolence, and impartial justice of our Sovereign God, necessarily prevent Him from wanton displays of His omnipotent power and terrible majesty. “The just Lord,” it was said of old, “is in the midst of us, and He will not do iniquity.” Rather than complain, therefore, when “God cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth,” be it our care to “stand in awe and sin not”; “to humble ourselves under His mighty hand.” Remark--
1. What a caution we have here against apostasy: in effect it says to professors of religion, “awake to righteousness, and sin not.”
2. What care and concern does the Almighty manifest in using so many endeavours for the preservation of His followers.
3. What an inducement for sinners to avail themselves of the mercy and forbearance of God.
4. How affecting the expressions of God’s regret at the infidelities and apostasies of His people. How pathetic His apostrophy, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (G. W. Armitage.)
I have cut off the nations.
Terrible calamities in human history
In these verses the prophet sums up all that he had said in the preceding verses of this chapter, and thus closes his admonition to repentance with the announcement of tremendous judgments. These verses remind us of the following great truths--
I. That there is a sense in which the most terrible calamities in human history may be ascribed to God. Here He is represented as cutting off the nations, destroying their “towers,” making their “streets waste,” so that “there is no man,” and “none inhabitant.”
II. That the grand design of such calamities is the promotion of moral improvement amongst mankind. As the storms, the snows, the frosts, and the cutting winds of winter help to bring on the luxuriant spring, so the calamities in human life contribute to the moral regeneration of mankind.
III. That the non-realisation of this design amongst a people exposes them to terrible retribution. “But they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.” The men of Jerusalem, instead of getting better for these terrible calamities, grew worse. They “corrupted all their doings.” This they did with assiduity. (Homilist.)
Therefore wait ye upon Me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey.
The encouraging aspects of God’s judgments
In this latter portion of his prophecy, in language pathetic, awe-inspiring, and sublime, Zephaniah foretells “the restitution of all things,” when “all the ends of the earth shall remember themselves, and turn unto the Lord.”
I. the beneficent end which the Almighty has in view in sending the judgments referred to.
1. The conversion of the heathen.
2. The bringing back of the dispersed of Judah, by the Gentiles.
II. The great effects which will follow the conversion and restoration as here predicted.
1. God will turn to the nations a pure language (Hebrews, “a pure lip “). And
2. The nations of the world shall all call upon the name of the Lord, and serve Him with one consent (Hebrews, “with one shoulder”).
III. The lessons to be drawn from the declared purpose of almighty God. These are--
1. Patience under the judgments of God.
2. Faith in the promises of God.
3. Encouragement from the partial fulfilment of the different judgments and promises of God. (C. Appleyard, B. A.)
For then will I turn to the nations a pure lip, that they may all invoke the name of the Lord, and serve Him with one shoulder.
On serving God with one shoulder
“Then!” When? In the day in which God has risen up to pour out all the heat of His fury on the nations and kingdoms of the earth. No question more frequently and deeply frets our hearts than this,--What is the meaning, what the intention of the innumerable miseries by which we are tormented? What is the true function of the sufferings of which the world is full? The best answer is this,--The miseries of men are intended to purify and elevate them, to make them perfect. Springing from their sins, they are designed to correct their sins, and to lead them to the love and pursuit of righteousness. God deals with us as the goldsmith deals with virgin ore. He tempers it with an alloy, and thus makes it hard enough to endure “the file’s tooth and the hammer’s rap,” and the keen edge of the graver. When the work is done, he washes it in “the proper fiery acid,” which eats out the base alloy, and leaves the pure gold untouched. No grain of the precious metal is lost; but its value is indefinitely enhanced by the artistic labour bestowed upon it. And thus God deals with us. The miseries and calamities which come upon us are but as the edge of the graving tool, the rap of the hammer, the grating teeth of the file. By these He gradually and patiently carries out His conception of us, His purpose in us. And at last, like the fiery acid which separates the base alloy from the pure gold, death comes to divide the carnal in us from me spiritual, and to reveal the beauty and the value of the character which the Divine Artist has wrought in and upon us. “Cure sin, and you cure sorrow,” say the reason and the conscience of man. And “the sorrow comes that the sin may be cured,” says the Word of God. The mercy of judgment is the prophet’s theme in the verso before us. To the image of the final clause of the text--they shall “serve God with one shoulder”--attention is now directed. The image the prophet had in mind was that of a number of men bearing a single burden. If they are to bear it without strain or distress, they must walk with even or level shoulders, no one of them shirking his part of the task, each of them keeping step with the rest. They must stand and move as if they had but “one shoulder “ among them. Only thus can they move freely and happily, and make the burden as little burdensome as possible to each and all. The law of God is a burden which all men haw to bear; it rests on the shoulders of the whole world. Men can only bear it without strain or distress of spirit as each of them freely assumes it, as they all help each other to bear it, as they pace together under it with a happy consent of obedience,
I. The Divine law is a burden which men are reluctant to assume. Does that need proof? Do we not ourselves find it hard to cross our wills, in order to adopt the pure and steadfast will that rules the universe? The will of God is never so full of grace and attraction for us as when it is incarnated in the life of the man Christ Jesus. And yet even this is hard. To our self-will it is hard, and cannot but be hard, to submit even to the purest and tenderest will. Take any of the most distinctively Christian precepts, and there is that in us which resents and rebels against them. We delight in the law of Christ after the inward man; but we find another law in our members, warring against the law of our mind. We can only find rest as we impose a yoke on the flesh with its passions and lusts, and compel them to bear the burden of obedience to the higher law. In the flesh, or in the spirit, we must suffer. The only option before us is--in which? Of course it is the flesh that ought to be subdued and made to serve. Shall we let these weak wavering wills of ours be the sport of the impulses, now good and now evil, which rise within us, and try to be content with yielding at one time to the flesh, and at another time to the spirit? We must get unity into our life.
II. The true freedom consists in a willing assumption of this burden, a cheerful and unforced obedience to the Divine law. Doing the will of God from the heart. Sooner or later self-will makes us hateful both to ourselves and to our neighbours. It renders us incapable both of social and of spiritual life. Let a man acknowledge no higher will than his own, no law which he is bound to obey, and he becomes a burden to himself and to all about him. We must take up some burden; we must bear some yoke. All we can do is choose the law to which we will yield. The law of God it will be wise for us to accept. This is the law which really rules in human affairs. If we would enter into a true security and an enduring rest, we must make His will our will. It is not enough that we yield to the will of God; we must heartily and cheerfully adopt it if we are to be free. Obedience involves self-denial, self-sacrifice. There is hut one way in which we can make the hard yoke easy, and the heavy burden light. It is the excellent way of charity, of love. When a true and pure affection has been kindled in the soul, the most difficult tasks grow easy.
III. The happiness of obedience depends largely on the unanimity and the universality of the obedience. Only when all men serve God with one shoulder that all sense of distress and effort will pass away. And that for two reasons--
1. If we really love God and His law, we must also love men, and yearn that they should keep His law.
2. Till they love Him and do His will, they will put many hindrances in our path, strew in it many stones of stumbling and rocks of offence which cannot fail to make obedience difficult and painful for us. When the Church serves God with one shoulder, and when all “the nations” serve Him with one shoulder, then at last the pain and effort of obedience will be over, and we shall serve God with unbroken gladness because we and all men serve Him with a single and a perfect heart. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
The chosen people; their language and worship
I. The first privilege which God giveth his people in this promise is pure language. Pure Hebrew had become degenerate Hebrew in Zephaniah’s time. The language of Adam in the garden had no sin in it; it was not capable of expressing falsehood, rebellion, or error. We speak the human language, but not as God gave it. We have learnt some of the language of demons. Let man alone, and his language would be a constant opposition to the Divine will; it would be full of envy, greediness, covetousness, murmuring, rebellion, blasphemy against the Most High. When grace comes, God will restore the pure language. What is this pure language, and how may we know it? By its very letters. In those letters Christ is Alpha, and Christ is Omega. Give the soul once the pure language, and it begins to talk of Christ as its beginning, and Christ as its end. Christ becomes all in all to that man who has received Christ into his heart, You may know that language by its syntax, for the rules of that language are the law of God. Its hardest words are such as these,--implicit trust, unstaggering faith. It is the language which Jesus spoke. You may know it by its very ring and tone. Wherein does its purity lie? You may discover its purity--
1. When it is used towards God. Then a man must be humble, confident, and filial. There is a pure language with regard to providence. The child of God talks about God’s providence as being always wise and good.
2. When it is used concerning the doctrines of the Gospel.
3. In reference to our fellow-men. Where is this pure language spoken? In the Bible; from the pulpit; in Christian society.
II. Our common worship. All converted men and women do call upon the name of the Lord.
1. In public.
2. In private prayer.
3. In making Christian profession.
III. We should serve Him with one consent. When the Lord saves souls, it is that they may serve Him. “Serve and save” are two good words to put together, but you must take care which you put first. Note that the service is, and must be, altogether voluntary. It is not “with one constraint,” but with one consent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To serve Him with one consent.
The adaptation of/ the established Church to the prophesied purposes of God
The right improvement of life consists, mainly, in two grand pursuits; our personal preparation to meet our God, and the proper employment of our talents lot edification and benefit to our fellow-men. These two pursuits will generally be found to prosper the most when they are duly carried on together. Hence it is necessary to press on your attention your Christian obligations. The manifold varieties of Christian benevolence will be found resolvable into two classes: the one relating to the temporal, the other to the spiritual good of our brethren of mankind. God’s purpose is, the extension among mankind of “the knowledge of the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent”; His end is, that we, through Divine grace, should secure the eternal salvation of our perishing brethren.
1. The foundation of all our hopes and confidence for success, in the purpose of God, as shown in revelation, concerning the universal extension of religious knowledge in the world.
2. There is a peculiar adaptation in the system of our national Church for the promotion, under the Divine blessing, of the gracious purpose of Jehovah. This is seen in--
A plea for the promulgation of the scriptural principles of our Church among the rising generation. (W. Scoresby, B. D.)
In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings.
A sketch of a morally regenerated city
I. The utter absence of bad. There is an absence of--
1. Painful memories. “In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings.” Thou wilt not need to be ashamed of all thy iniquities--
2. Wicked citizens. “I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride.”
3. All crimes. “The remnant of Israel shall not do of the city cleared of such moral impurities.
II. The blessed presence of the good. “I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.” Who will be the citizens?
1. Men of humility. Delitzsch translates the word “afflicted,” “bowed down”; and Henderson, “humble.” Humility is evidently the idea. There will be men who are “poor in spirit.” Moral humility is moral nobility. The humbler a man is, the nobler and the happier too. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
2. Men of piety “They shall trust in the name of the Lord.” Their chief confidence will be placed, not in their strength, their wealth, or their wisdom, but in God. They will centre their trust, not in the creature, but in the Creator.
3. Men of concord. “They shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.” There will be amongst them no acrimonious disputations, no commercial rivalries, no social jealousies or envyings, no painful divisions of any kind. (Homilist.)
I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.
The rich poverty
I. God’s dealings with His poor Church when He comes to visit the world. “I will leave in the midst of thee.” God will have some in the worst time. This is an article of our faith. We believe in the “holy Catholic Church.” The world should not stand were it not for a company in the world that are His. Though God’s people be but a few, yet hath He a special care of them. Sometimes, indeed, it seems otherwise. God’s children are taken away in common judgments. But He deals with HIS children as becometh His infinite wisdom, and so that they shall find most comfort in the hardest times.
II. The state and condition of these people. “An afflicted and poor people.” This is for the most part the state of God’s children and Church in the world. We must not say it is a general rule. Reasons are--
1. It is fit that the body should be conformable to the head.
2. By reason of the remainder of our corruptions it is needful.
God sanctifies outward affliction and poverty, to help inward poverty of spirit. It takes away the fuel that feeds pride. And it has a power to bring us to God. Inward and spiritual poverty is not mere want of grace. There is a poverty of spirit before we are in a state of grace, and after. Where this con Diction and poverty is, a man sees an emptiness and vanity in all things in the world whatsoever, but in Christ. There is a desire for the grace and favour of God above all things. A wondrous earnestness after pardon and mercy, and after grace It is always joined with a wondrous abasing of self. There is a continual frame and disposition of soul which Is a poverty of spirit that accompanies God’s children all the days of their life. In justification and in sanctification there must be poverty of spirit.
III. The carriage of these poor and afflicted people. Naturally every man will have a trust in himself, or out of himself. God is the trust of the poor man. What he wants in himself he has in God. Learn, then, to know God: in His special attributes, and in His promises. (R. Sibbes.)
The condition and character of the people of God
I. The condition of God’s people in this world. “An afflicted and poor people.” “A remnant.” Though trouble, vanity, and vexation of spirit attend upon believers as the children of this world, yet there are trials, difficulties, and woes of a far more grievous nature, peculiar to them as the people of God. Sin is the greatest of the great troubles of the righteous. Then there is what Scripture calls, “the hiding of God’s countenance.” They are “poor” in the sense of being “poor in spirit.” And the true Church of Christ has ever been a protesting, minority.
II. Their hope and character. Their hope is “a good hope.” “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” As to their character, God calls them to holiness, to purity, to love, to peace. The most devoted Christian cannot hope to be entirely free from sin until “mortality, is swallowed up of life.” But the believer does not love sin, or anew it to reign over him.
III. Their privileges.
1. Their wants shall he supplied.
2. They shall be free from terror and danger. (C. Arthur Maginn, M. A.)
God’s people afflicted and poor
The Book of Providence is confessedly a difficult book. Perhaps there are few more mysterious things in it than the deep trials of the family of God.
I. The Lord has a people. They are the Lord’s witnesses. Yet they are but a remnant. A remnant according to the election of grace.
II. The circumstances of his people. “Afflicted and poor.” There is not an evil in life from which they are exempt. They have afflictions common to men, and afflictions peculiar to themselves. Oftentimes they are heavy afflictions. Many of God’s people are literally poor, and certainly they are poor in the sense of being humble.
III. WHAT ARE THE BLESSINGS OF THESE CIRCUMSTANCES? Affliction is the means of bringing them to think. And it is the means of drawing out the sympathies of the saints of God. (J. Harington Evans, M. A.)
The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity.
The saved remnant
The “remnant” is those who are left after the sifting out. God is ever sifting out, and the unworthy fall through the meshes of the mighty sieve. They are swept up and east out, but the worthy remain. He sifted Israel. The Captivity tested them. He sifted the infant Church. Persecution proved its members. The text refers to the blessed privilege of those who shall endure.
I. Their number. Only a “remnant” It was but a remnant of those people who left Egypt that entered Canaan--only two men. It was only a remnant returned from the Captivity. It is only a remnant of those who hear the Gospel who are saved. Still, there is a remnant. There are always some who fear God. God never leaves Himself without witness of some sort.
II. Their character.
1. They are holy--“Shall do no iniquity.” But there must be great changes in our natures and circumstances before this promise is fulfilled.
2. They shall be faithful--“Not speak lies.” This is one branch of holiness, but it is a very important one, and is mentioned particularly in order to show us the thoroughness of their piety.
III. Their privileges. There are three here specified.
1. Provision--“They shall feed.” That is, have spiritual food. There is such a thing as spiritual starvation.
2. Rest--“They shall lie down.” There shall be no care, no anxiety, no toil.
3. Protection--None shall make them afraid.” It is a blessed thing to endure the Lord’s sifting. Those who do so shall live for ever. (Homilist.)
Sing, O daughter of Zion.
Joy: human and Divine
Here is a call to the regenerated inhabitants of Jerusalem to exult in the mercy of God, who has wrought their deliverance.
I. The joy of the regenerated man.
1. The joy of gratitude for the deliverance from evil.
2. The joy of conscious security.
II. The joy of the regenerating God. The joy of infinite benevolence. In this joy the redeemed will participate. (Homilist.)
Exhortation to joy
These words form the basis of an exhortation to joy, and are given as the reason why the Church should rejoice for her salvation, accomplished by her Saviour.
I. The great deliverance of the church.
1. The deliverer is God in Christ.
2. Her captivity, lying under judgment.
3. Imprisoned by her enemies.
4. The removal of her judgment by Christ.
5. And victory obtained over her foes.
II. Her blessed state after deliverance.
1. God is in the midst of the Church.
2. As a mighty king to protect her.
3. As a wise prince to govern her.
4. As the father of all His people, to provide for all their wants.
Hence we naturally suppose that, being thus blessed, they will gather round Him, depend upon Him, fight for Him, and live and die with Him.
III. Her promised prospects. “Not see evil any more.”
1. Sin shall not destroy her.
2. Satan shall not prevail against her.
3. The world shall not ruin her.
4. The law cannot condemn her.
IV. Her appointed proceedings. “Let not thine hands be slack.”
1. We are commanded not to fear, either Satan, the world, sin, the law, the anger of God, or wrath to come.
2. We are to be courageous. Inferences. See what encouragement--
Let not thine hands be slack.
The Church of Christ exhorted to diligence
I. These words suggest to the Church of Christ that there is a work to be performed. The caution “not to be slack” implies an injunction to be diligent, and is supposed to refer first to the rebuilding of the temple, and then to the spread of the Church of Christ in Gospel days. To assertain the special work to be performed we have only to acquaint ourselves with the sacred character and required employment of the persons addressed. A people of holy character are called to exertion, and their work must be in unison with their character. The work to be accomplished by the inhabitants of Zion is a work of grace. As such--
1. The work to be performed is spiritual in its nature. Being a spiritual work, it has special regard to the interests of the souls of men, and embraces every duty calculated to promote the purity and happiness, the present and eternal salvation, of intelligent beings. The inhabitants of Zion, collectively or individually, ii they would promote the happiness of men, must lead them to an acquaintance with that Saviour, “whom to know is life eternal.”
2. The work to be performed is beneficial in its operations. Contemplate the effects in their immediate subjects. The dark mind is enlightened, the hard heart is softened, the perverse will is subjected, the drowsy conscience is roused, the inverted affections are rightly directed, the carnal nature regenerated, and the profligate life is changed into purity of deportment. Contemplate the effects in their direct tendency. The operations of grace are visible in all the kindred relations of life, and in all the relations of society. Contemplate the effects in their extended influence.
3. The work to be performed is important in its character. This is seen if we reflect on the exalted interest which it engages. The spiritual interest of man engages all the perfections of God, and all the persons of the sacred Trinity. Reflect also on the honour it secures to man.
4. The work to be performed is indispensable in its obligations. These arc numerous, powerful, and binding. The obligation arises from man’s misery, through sin, and should be felt and acknowledged by all who have found mercy in God.
II. The words under consideration also suggest unto the Church a power to be exerted. Hands, in Scripture, signify power. They are also expressive of an agent employed. Zion should employ--
1. The mighty power of truth.
2. The necessary power of union.
3. The extensive power of influence.
4. The consecrated power of wealth.
5. The prevailing power of prayer.
III. By this scripture we are further instructed that supineness of spirit must be avoided. “Slackness of hands” indicates a disposition that is most enervating in its influence.
1. Supineness of spirit is unworthy of a work of grace.
2. It is unequal to a work of grace.
3. It would fail to accomplish the work of grace.
4. It is very offensive to the God of Grace.
IV. From these words we are taught that an exhortation is to be given.
1. This is the voice of God from His sovereign throne.
2. This is the voice of ministers from the towers of Zion.
3. This is the voice of thousands whose state demands assistance.
1. The work of grace is the work of Zion.
2. The members of Zion have a hand, a power for this work.
3. The members of Zion are called to unwearied exertions. (William Naylor.)
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.
God in the midst of His Church
Almost all the messages of the prophets to the ancient Church begin with the most awful threatenings and end with the most animating promises.
I. What is here said to the Church by way of encouragement.
1. The Church is encouraged by the assurance that Jehovah is her God, her own covenant God.
2. By assurances of God’s everlasting, unchanging love, and of His gracious designs respecting her. He has formed an unalterable determination to save her.
3. That God rejoices in His love, and in all its sanctifying, saving effects upon His people.
4. That her God is no less able than willing to effect her salvation. He is a God at hand, and not afar off. “The Lord Thy God is in the midst of thee.”
II. What is said by way of exhortation. “Fear thou not.” There are various kinds of fear mentioned in the Scriptures,--filial fear, reverential fear, humble fear, unbelieving fear, slavish fear, etc. The text forbids the Church--
1. To indulge unbelieving fears; or
2. Slavish fear; or
3. A desponding, pusillanimous fear.
The second exhortation is, “Let not thine hands be slack.” Slackness is opposed to zeal and diligence. The remark is no less applicable to our spiritual than to our temporal concerns. Slackness or indolence is the principal cause why so few Christians are eminently pious or useful. Inferences--
1. All the doctrines and promises of God’s Word, and all the gracious assurances of His love, have a practical tendency, and are designed to produce holy zeal and activity.
2. Learn whether our belief of the Divine promises, and the hopes and consolations which we derive from them, are real and scriptural.
3. Is God in the midst of us, resting in His love to us, and rejoicing over us with joy? Then with what emotions does it become us to receive and embrace Him! (E. Payson, D. D.)
This text is cast in the Gospel mould. It has the true evangelical mark. It discovers the revelation of God’s character, which the teaching of Christ and His apostles fully confirms.
I. God’s work upon the earth. This is one of the fundamental facts of our religion,--God is in our very midst. Think of the unworthy conceptions the heathen formed of God, and the imperfect conceptions Jews formed. Christianity brought God in Christ to the homes of men, to the workshops; God became God with us in the very breath we breathe. But Christianity is more than teaching. It is not a school; it is a Church. Doctrine by itself might enlighten men’s minds; the doctrine and Christ’s presence together will conquer the heart. God is great in salvation; God is mighty to save.
II. How does God think about His work? What is His attitude in it, His personal interest in it? The activities of man go into two great divisions--
1. Those who labour for bread.
2. Those who find their wages in the work itself.
The one is the labourer, the other the artist. God takes delight in His work. (William Pierce.)
The connection existing between God and His people
In religious concerns men are always prone to run into the opposite extremes of presumption and despair. Both these mistakes arise from defective or partial views of the character and design of Jehovah.
I. What does the text say concerning God’s relation to us? “The Lord thy God.” He is our Maker; the former of our bodies; and the former of our spirits within us. But as far as we are sinners we are not the work of His own hands.
II. What does the text tell us concerning His residence? “In the midst of thee.” God is everywhere, but not everywhere as Friend and Saviour.
II. What says our text concerning His sufficiency? “Is mighty.” “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
IV. What says our text concerning his work? “He will save.” Save from what?--From our supreme calamity and peril. But some may say, We are saved already. But you may know more of this salvation, feel more of it, rejoice more in it, and communicate it more to others.
V. What does the text tell us concerning His heart? Here is a love accompanied with three characters.
1. A character of Divine delight.
2. A character of Divine permanency.
3. A character of Divine expression. “With singing.” (Willlam Jay.)
The presence of God in the midst of His Church
A revelation of the Divine goodness is essential, in proportion, to human affliction and sorrow This is true in personal and individual experience, and also in the general history of the Church. Where affliction is found, there consolation is found.
I. God is in the midst of the church. He is in the midst of them for gracious purposes. There He is to record His name; there He is by the sweet experience of His promises and there He is by the most abundant communications, beyond all they ask, of that grace which is requisite for their comfort.
II. God is in thy midst of his people to save them. There He communicates the immense blessings of salvation. So gracious is God, so dependent and necessitous is man, that everything may be considered as coming to us in the way of salvation. All that we receive we receive from the hand of God freely. It is one thing to find a Helper, but another thing to find a Saviour.
III. He is mighty to accomplish that salvation. It is not every effort in favour of another that can be considered as salvation. Wherever salvation is wrought by one individual in favour of another it implies weakness on the part of the one, and power on the part of the other. Consider the “mightiness” of the Son of God as essential to qualify Him to become a Saviour. He must be mighty to save, so as to overcome the defects in our own strength, to satisfy the outstanding claims of justice against the sinner, to bring us with Divine approbation before God.
IV. He is resolved on that salvation. “He will save.” The declaration is so put as to pledge the will of God to the accomplishment of the work. It is not on our determination and resolves that the work is suspended, but on the resolution, the determination of Christ.
V. Christ our Saviour delights in our salvation. Though it has cost Him so much, there is nothing gives Him half the pleasure. He is said to “rest in His love.” Infer from this subject two things--
1. The nature of sin.
2. The danger of an unconverted state. (Andrew Reed, B. A.)
God and His people
God is everywhere. His special presence in His Church is the present theme.
I. God’s dwelling among his people.
1. Under the former dispensations of mercy.
2. Under the present administration of the kingdom of God, the dispensation of the fulness of times; the ministration of the Spirit.
3. In the heavenly world.
II. God’s deliverance of His people.
1. The power of God. Including physical power, mental power, moral power.
2. God is mighty in the use of intellectual power to save His people.
3. God is mighty in moral and spiritual power to save His people. God is mighty--
III. God’s delight in His people. He fills Himself with joy over His redeemed Church.
1. The presence of God in His Church is its glory.
2. The power of God is the strength of His people (T. E. Thoresby.)
A transfiguring presence
One of Goethe’s tales is of a rude fisherman’s hut which was changed to silver by the setting in it of a little silver lamp. The logs of which the hut was built, its floors, its doors, its roof, its furniture--all were changed to sider by this magic lamp. The story illustrates what takes place in the life when Christ comes into it. The character is transformed, but not the character only; all life is made new when one becomes -a child of God. Everything after that is different. The outward conditions and circumstances may be the same, but they shine now with a new beauty.
He will save.
Mighty to save
These words are full of encouragement.
I. The exhortation which god here addresses to his people. They are called upon--
1. To banish every alarming apprehension. There is much to excite their anxiety.
2. To prevent faint-heartedness and lukewarmness. They were to be up and doing.
II. The grounds on which the above exhortation rests.
1. The deliverance they were to experience. Regarding the passage as applicable to our great and glorious salvation, we are shown--
2. The consolations they were to realise.
3. The honour they were to receive. It is only for the heirs of salvation that this honour is reserved, and it is by them alone that true consolation is enjoyed. (Author of “Footsteps of Jesus.”)
He will rejoice over thee with joy.--
God’s joy in salvation
It is obvious, He can save--for He is in the midst of them, and mighty. Here is nearness and power. But He will save--He is inclined, He is engaged. He will save, He will rejoice over them with joy. What is this salvation? It does not exclude temporal preservation and deliverance. We are not to look for miracles, but we may look for Him who performed them. Temporal deliverances are promised conditionally. Salvation includes redemption from the curse of the law, deliverance from the powers of darkness, freedom from the sting of death, release from the dominion and being of sin. This salvation is ensured. This salvation is begun. (William Jay.)
Christ’s joy in His people:--In the time of Zephaniah the iniquity of the Jews was very great, and as a nation they were fast ripening for punishment. Battle and defeat, exile and slavery, were in store for them, but these would pass away, and days of rejoicing would come again. Referring to that time, the prophet calls for songs of hope.
I. The Lord God in the midst of thee is mighty. He doeth what He will with His own, and all things are His. The greatest feel His power, and the least are not exempt from His care.
II. He will save--From all useless dread and alarm, from all unnecessary trials and assaults. There is no promise that a believer shall be saved from suffering and sorrow and temptation; what is promised is, that he shall not be overcome of these. Christ will show Himself as Saviour in the days to come, as truly as in days past. He has saved. He will save.
III. He will rejoice over thee with joy. His people are His by creation, purchase, adoption, and by a begun and progressive sanctification. There is nought in the contemplation of the natural man to call forth the joy of the Saviour.
IV. He will rest in His love. Margin, “He will be silent,” or “keep silence in His love.” This suggests the idea of a love too great for utterance.
V. He will joy over thee with singing. If this is not an amplification of the preceding promises, rather than a new promise, it speaks of a time when the watchful care of the Saviour will be followed by a feeling of ecstatic joy--of a time when the silence of unutterable emotion will be broken in upon by the triumphant voice of Him whose voice is as the sound of many waters. Then, if these things be so, let me say, “What manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness?” (J. B. Omond.)
God’s delight in saving souls
A knowledge of ourselves will show us how much need we have of repentance; and a knowledge of God will encourage us to repent.
I. God’s power to save. We shall not speak of God’s power in general, but as it is manifested in the salvation of His Church and people.
II. His determination to save. If He should leave us to ourselves none of us would be saved. He takes the matter into His own hands, and determines to save those whom He has given to His Son. He does not destroy our free agency; but He overcomes our reluctance, and draws us to Himself by an operation no less powerful than that which He exerted in raising His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead.
III. His delight to save. Not merely will He feel an inward pleasure; but as a man, overjoyed at any event, involuntarily expresses his joy by singing, or some other outward token, so will God manifest His pleasure to the returning soul.
IV. His immutability towards those whom He intends to save. Man is often alienated from the object of his affections, either by means of some unexpected evil He has discovered, or through his own fickleness and inconstancy. But God changeth not. In this glorious character of God we may see--
1. The evil of sin. Under whatever circumstances it may be committed, sin is directly levelled against Him.
2. The danger of dying in an unconverted state. Will it be no aggravation of our guilt in the day of judgment to have despised such a loving and gracious God?
3. The obligation that lies upon believers to serve the Lord. What should you render unto the Lord for all His benefits? Have no end, no aim, no wish, but to please and honour the God of your salvation. (Skeletons of Sermons.)
The joy of God over His own
This is one of those revelations of the character of God which are sometimes called anthropomorphic. And it is argued that to ascribe human attributes to God is to limit Him. But we may fearlessly rejoice in the inspiring revelation of the text, that society is necessary to the fulness of the Divine nature. God cannot do without His children; He finds His joy in them.
I. It is the joy of a strong being. “The Lord thy God is mighty.” Little natures are capable of little happiness. In our gladdest hours we can but dimly guess what is the bliss of an infinite Being. This joy God found in creation, in which His might was revealed.
II. It is the joy of a helpful presence. “In the midst of thee.” There is delight in being with and doing for those we love. This is God’s joy in His providence.
III. It is the joy of giving. “He will save.” Not in receiving, but in giving, is found the highest and deepest joy. God finds this blessedness in the work of redemption. The incarnation and atonement are but the self-giving of God.
IV. It is a silent joy. “He will rest in His love”; literally, “He will be silent in His love.” Sometimes joy is too deep for speech. It is the unheard running of the still waters.
V. It is an excellent joy. “He will joy over thee with singing.” Not silent all the time. Sometimes He sings. What are some of the notes of God’s song? We may make God glad. The sweetest words that can climb to heaven are, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He will stop the music of glory, and hush the converse of the angels, to hear it stealing up to His throne. (George Elliott.)
He will rest in His love.--
The Almighty resting in His love
God rules in an unquiet world. Yet is He ever at rest. “He will rest in His love.” The idea in the text is of Deity in repose--silent--looking calmly on all the disorders of the Church and the world, as knowing that there is one attribute of His nature which will suffice to rectify all things for the deliverance of His people.
I. The nature of this rest.
1. It is the rest of a moral satisfaction with all the arrangements He had made for man’s spiritual and everlasting happiness. In this sense God rested from His work of creation. But this contentment of God with the results of His own doings was to receive a yet higher illustration. It was great to make a soul like ours; how much greater to redeem! The Almighty has delight in the provisions made for the spiritual recovery of our race. Behold, then, the great Father of spirits reposing with delighted tranquillity on the appointments and provisions of Messiah’s kingdom.
2. It is the rest of a Divine foreknowledge and purpose. The quietness of an Omniscient mind which, seeing the end from the beginning, will not allow itself to be moved from the fixed order of its determinations. This abstaining from interference is observable in the general order of earthly affairs, and in the lot of individual believers. To all human seeming things are left to take their course. This resting of God in His own moral determination is often remarkably illustrated in Scriptures as in our Lord’s delay in going to sick Lazarus.
II. It is descriptive of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ resting in His love as the great means for the salvation of mankind. It must be a sight of the goodness of God, if anything, that will lead a man to repentance. Then if God so rest in His love, how should we rest in it. How assured and tranquil should we feel in this, God loves me. There is always a firm footing there. (Daniel Moore, M. A.)
The unchangeable nature of God’s love to man
God is not only lovely and loving, He is pure unmixed love itself. This love has numerous objects. Among these His own perfection is the chief. This is a theme so sublime that we are scarcely able to form any conception of it. A number taken from two classes of His own rational creatures are distinguished as the objects of His love,--elect angels and elect men. In what of His love does God rest?
I. In the principle of His love. It is as impossible that this love in itself, or in the essence of it, can ever be anything different from what it is, or hath been, as it is that God Himself can ever be anything different from what He is now, or hath been from eternity. Love, as it exists in Himself, is unchanging and ever-during
II. In the objects of His love. God knows not only how many He has chosen, but knows also every individual object of His choice. There will be no voluntary transference of Divine love from one object, or one class of objects, to another.
III. He will rest in the degree of His will. As God’s love always has been, so it will always continue to be, of the same extent and dimensions. God loves not His people more or less at one time than another.
IV. In the fruits of His love cannot speak of the fruits of His love in detail. They embrace a mighty compass. They include everything, from the first particle of imparted grace to a seat with God the Lamb on His throne. Learn--
1. That believers ought to love their God with the greatest ardour and constancy of which they are capable.
2. In whatever manner God may act by them, His love is neither changed nor diminished.
3. Believers may be encouraged to smile defiance at every attempt to separate them from the love of God. (Robert Muter.)
God’s people comforted
No sooner had Zephaniah laid open the abounding wickedness of Judah than he pointed forward to brighter scenes--to the returning suppliants, under the power of the Spirit, ashamed of their doings, to the remnant of Israel, which shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies. The text is consolatory.
1. The consolation is addressed only to true Christians. No encouragement is therefore given here to open transgressors, or to persistent backsliders. It is necessary to make this distinction, because none are so prone to take to themselves the promises of the Gospel as those to whom they clearly do not belong.
2. The text is spoken on the supposition that the people of God will often be overwhelmed with anxiety--that they shall “fear,” and their “hands shall be slack.” No greater mistake can be made than that of supposing a Christian’s life is a period of continual sunshine. Now illustrate the grounds of confidence which all Christians may have in the unchanging love of their Almighty Redeemer.
I. What are the marks of love?
1. Our love toward an object may be known by the direction of our thoughts; for on the beloved object our thoughts chiefly dwell.
2. By our anxiety in regard to its welfare.
3. By the extent of suffering which we are willing to undergo for the person beloved.
4. By the prominence given to the object beloved.
II. This love, and the relationships implied in it. There is a close relationship between God and His people. He is their God in a peculiar sense. Consider by what names He is called. Mediator, Advocate, Captain, Surety, Head, King of Saints, etc.
III. Consider what Christ has already done for His people. They are His by choice, by purchase, by a new creation, by covenant. And we have the whole past experience of the Christian Church to prove the truth of the text. (James Begg, D. D.)
A duster of grapes
These words were primarily addressed to the daughter of Zion, to Israel the chosen people; and they undoubtedly foreshadow blessings which are yet to be realised. Ten times over in this chapter God assures His people of what He will most certainly do on their behalf. But a much wider circle than the chosen race may appropriate the blessed comfort of these words. Twice over in this paragraph we are told that the Lord, the King of Israel, is in the midst of His people. This is an indisputable fact. He is in the midst of His Church, so that it shall not be moved. Well would it be if each Christian were to devote some portion, however brief, in each day, to meditation upon this marvellous fact. “The mighty God, the King, is in the midst of me. I am God-tenanted, God-possessed. The High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity has taken up His abode in my heart.” And this marvellous indwelling--more wonderful than if an angel were to indwell an emmet or a humming-bird--is not dependent on frames or feelings or aught in us; but endures through all our changes and fluctuations unto the eternal ages. But if the mighty God is indeed in us, why is there so much weakness and failure in our lives? Alas, the answer is not far to seek--we have limited the Holy One of Israel. What now shall hinder us ridding ourselves of all which has hindered Him from doing His mighty works, so that He may do that which He so much loves, and which we so much need? Then we may expect Him to accomplish the four blessed “I wills” of this precious verse.
I. “He will save.” As God took the side of His people against their foes, and will do so again in the final struggle, when His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives, so will He take our side against our sins. He has saved us from the penalty of sin. He will also save us from its power. Your foes may be numerous as the devils in hell, strong and wily; but He will save. Your temperament may be as susceptible to temptation as an aspen leaf is to the wind; but He will save. Your past years, by repeated acts of indulgence, may have formed habits strong as iron bands; but He will save. Your circumstances and companions may be most unfavourable to a life of victory; but He will save. Difficulties are nought to Him; the darkness shineth as the day.
II. He “will rejoice over thee with joy.” The great evangelic prophet gives the key to understand this promise when he says, “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” Plato held that love is the attraction to each other of twin souls, made each for the other, and moving towards each other; until each finds in the other the complement and supply of the needs of its own nature. As we need God, so does God need us. There is something in us which satisfies Him, and without which His nature would not be perfectly content. We should have thought that our sin would alienate Him from us for ever. But His yearning for us is greater than His hatred of our sin.
III. “He will rest in His love.” The margin suggests an exquisite alternative, “He will be silent in His love.” Of old the Psalmist said that his soul was silent in its calm expectancy for God’s salvation. Here we are told that God is silent in His brooding tenderness. All the deepest emotion is silent. When we are told, then, that God’s love will be a silent one, we know that it is too intense, too deep, too infinite to find expression. It will break silence presently; but in the meanwhile be still, and know that God is love.
IV. “he will joy over thee with singing.” It is much to hear a lark sing, as if its throat must be torn by the torrent of melody; more to hear a child sing as it comes down a woodland path in spring, chequered with sunlight falling on blue hyacinths and yellow primroses; more still to hear an angel sing, as the lone messenger of God breaks into melody to cheer himself on some distant journey from the Home of Song; more still to have heard our Saviour sing in the days of His earthly ministry, when He joined His disciples in the Jewish Hallel: but what will it not be when the great God Himself breaks into song, to celebrate an accomplished work, an emancipated world, a redeemed race, a Bride won for His Son! (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
I will gather them that are sorrowful.
Comfort to mourners for the loss of solemn assemblies
I. God doth sometimes suffer the solemn assembly to lie under reproach.
1. When does it lie under reproach?
2. Why doth God suffer it to lie under reproach at any time? That He may roll away the reproach. There is a sinful reproach and a penal reproach of the solemn assembly. Sometimes the members are accessary to the reproach. Sometimes they are exceeding barren and unfruitful under the enjoyment of the solemn assembly. Sometimes the members do bear themselves out in their sins upon their enjoyment of the solemn assembly. There is a bearing of ourselves in opposition to false worshippers.
II. How should the members be affected under reproach? There are two sorts of members, false and true. They will not be so affected as to be incapable of the teachings of God. Nor so as to be unthankful for what they have. Nor will they be so affected as if it were barely their own concernment. They look upon this as their great affliction. The saints and people of God will search into their own ways, and turn from the evil of those ways which have had a hand in bringing in this reproach, what is there in this reproach that the saints and people of God should be so much affected by it?
1. There is a darkness upon the greatest organ of light.
2. The name of the Lord is dishonoured.
The whole generation of the righteous are afflicted. The world is scandalised. The devil gets up again. There is a certain presage of a famine of hearing the Word. And God is departed. When the members are sensible of the reproach and carry it as a burthen, the Lord will turn former sorrow into future comforts. He will cause their after comforts to run parallel with their former trouble. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zephaniah 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24