Part I. THE JUDGMENT UPON ALL THE WORLD, AND UPON JUDAH IN PARTICULAR.
§ 1. Title and inscription. The word of the Lord (see note on Micah 1:1). Zephaniah, "Whom the Lord shelters" (see Introduction, § II.). The son of, etc. The genealogy thus introduced shows that the prophet was of illustrious descent; or it may be inserted to distinguish him from others who bore the same name. Hizkiah. The same name which is elsewhere written in our version Hezekiah. Whether the great King of Judah is here meant may well be questioned (see Introduction). Other prophets have prefixed their genealogies to their books (see Zechariah 1:1; and in the Apocrypha, Baruch 1:1). In the days of Josiah. Zephaniah here gathers into one volume the denunciations and predictions which he had uttered daring the reign of Josiah, both before and after the great reformation effected by that good king (2 Kings 23:1-37.).
Zephaniah 1:2, Zephaniah 1:3
§ 2. The prelude, announcing the judgment upon the whole world.
I will utterly consume; literally, taking away I will make an end. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 8:13)uses the same expression. The prophet begins abruptly with this announcement of universal judgment before he warns Judah in particular of the punishment that awaits her, because his position is that the way to salvation is through chastisement. Vulgate, congregans congregabo, where the verb must be used in the sense of "gathering for destruction." All things. More expressly defined in the following verse. This awful warning recalls the judgment of the Flood and the preliminary monition (Genesis 6:7). From off the land; from the face of the earth, not the land of Judah alone. Saith the Lord; is the saying of Jehovah. The prophet in this is merely the vehicle of the Divine announcement.
Man and beast, etc This is not mere hyperbole to express the utter wasting and destruction that were impending, but points to the mysterious connection between man and the lower creation, how in agreement with the primal curse even material nature suffers for man's sin (Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:22). If we expect a new heaven and a new earth, we know that God will show his wrath against the old creation defiled with sin (2 Peter 3:10; camp. Jeremiah 4:25; Jeremiah 9:9, etc.; Hosea 4:3). And the stumbling blocks with the wicked. Not the sinners only shall be swept away by this judgment, but also all offences, all causes of stumbling, whether idols or other incentives to departure from truth and right. Septuagint, καὶ ἀσθενήσουσιν οἱ ἀσεβεῖς. "and the ungodly shall be weak;" Vulgate, et ruinae impiorum erunt. These versions seem to have missed the point. I will cut off man. It is on man's account that this judgment is sent — a truth which the prophet enforces by reiteration.
§ 3. The judgment will fall especially upon Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry.
I will also stretch out mine hand. This expression is used when God is about to do great things or inflict notable punishment (see Exodus 3:20; Exodus 15:12; Deuteronomy 4:34; Isaiah 5:25; Jeremiah 51:25, etc.). Judah. In so far as Judah was rebellious and wicked, it should incur the judicial punishment. Judgment was to begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), the sin of the chosen people being more heinous than that of heathens. Hence it is added, upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, because, having in their very midst the temple of God, with its services and priests, they ought especially to have abhorred idolatry and maintained the true faith. The remnant of Baal; i.e. the last vestige. One cannot argue from this expression that the reform was already carried so far that Baal worship had almost disappeared. The next verse shows that idolatry still flourished; but the term implies merely that God would exterminate it so entirely that no trace of it should remain. The LXX. has, "the names of Baal," τὰ ὀνόματα τῆς βάαλ (Hosea 2:17). (For Josiah's reform of these iniquities, see 2 Kings 23:4, etc.) The name of the Chemarims (Chemarim). The word means "black-robed," and is applied to the idolatrous priests whom the kings bad appointed to conduct worship in high places (2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5). "The name," says Dr. Pussy, "is probably the Syriac name of 'priest,' used in Holy Scripture of idolatrous priests, because the Syrians were idolaters" Not only shall the persons of these priests be cut off, but their very name and memory shall vanish (Zechariah 13:2). With the priests (kohanim). Together with the legitimate priests who had corrupted the worship of Jehovah (Zephaniah 3:4; Jeremiah 2:8; Ezekiel 8:11).
That worship the host of heaven upon the house tops. In this verse two classes of fame worshippers are mentioned, viz. star worshippers, and waverers. The worship of the sun, moon, and stars was a very ancient form of error, the heavenly bodies being regarded as the representatives of the powers of nature and the originators of events on earth (see Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; Job 31:26, Job 31:27; 2 Kings 17:16). It was especially prevalent in the time of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3), On the flat roofs of the houses, which were used as places of meditation, recreation, or conference (comp. Joshua 2:6; 1 Samuel 9:25; 2 Samuel 11:2; Acts 10:9), they erected altars for family worship of the heavenly bodies. Here they both burned incense (Jeremiah 19:13) and offered animal sacrifices (2 Kings 23:12). "In Syrian cities," says Dr. Thomson, "the roofs are a great comfort. The ordinary houses have no other place where the inmates, can either see the sun, smell the air, dry their clothes, set out their flower pots, or do numberless other things essential to their health and comfort. During a large part of the year the roof is the most agreeable place about the establishment, especially in the morning and evening. There multitudes sleep during the summer". Them that worship and that, etc.; rather, the worshippers who, etc. These were people who endeavoured to blend the worship of God with that of Baal, or halted between two opinions (1 Kings 18:21). Swear by the Lord; rather, swear to the Lord; i.e. bind themselves by oath to him, and at the same time swear by Malcham; swear by their king, Baal, or Moloch; call upon him as god. Septuagint, κατὰ τοῦ βασιλέως αὐτῶν, "by their king." But it is, perhaps, best to retain the name untranslated, in which ease it would be the appellation of the god Moloch, who could hardly be omitted in enumerating the objects of idolatrous worship (see Jeremiah 49:1, Jeremiah 49:3; and notes on Amos 1:15; Amos 5:26).
Them that are turned back from the Lord. This is a third class, vie. apostates and open despisers. Those who follow him no more, renegades who have left his service. The Vulgate reproduces the original by, qui avertuntur de post tergum Domini. Those that have not sought the Lord. These are the indifferent, who do.not trouble themselves about religion. The chief classes mentioned in these two verses are three, viz. the open idolaters, the syncretists who mingled the worship of Baal with that of Jehovah, and those who despised religion altogether.
4. The judgment is described with regard to those whom it will affect, vie. the princes, the traders, the irreligious and profligate.
This judgment, so fearful, is near at hand, and must needs occasion the utmost terror and dismay. Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God; literally, Hush, from the face of the Lord Jehovah! εὐλαβεῖσθε; silete a facie Domini Dei (Vulgate). The expression is like Habakkuk 2:20. The reason of this silent awe is next given. For the day of the Lord is at hand. The day of judgment is thus called (Joel 1:15; Isaiah 13:6; Amos 5:18, Amos 5:20; Obadiah 1:15). The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice. The words are from Isaiah 34:6 (comp. Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 39:17, Ezekiel 39:19). The sacrifice is the guilty Jewish nation. The punishment of the wicked is regarded as a satisfaction offered to the Divine justice. He hath bid his guests; he hath consecrated his called. The "called ones" are the strange nations whom God summons to execute his vengeance. Septuagint, ἡγίακε τοὺς κλητοὺς αὐτοῦ. These are said to be "sanctified," as if engaged in a holy war, when summoned to punish those who had become as heathen. So those who are called to chastise Babylon are termed "my sanctified ones" (Isaiah 13:3), as being the instruments appointed and set apart to carry out this purpose (comp. Jeremiah 22:7; Jeremiah 51:27, Jeremiah 51:28; Micah 3:5). The particular agents intended are not specified by the prophet, whose mission was not directed to any such definition. He has to speak generally of the judgment to come, not of those whom God should employ to inflict it. We know from other sources that the Chaldeans are meant, they or the Assyrians being always announced as the executors of God's vengeance on his rebellions people. The notion, adopted by Ewald, Hitzig, and others, that the prophet refers to some supposed invasion of Scythians which took place about this time, would never have been started had not such authors desired to eliminate the predictive element from prophetic utterances. The vague account of Herod; 1:105 gives no support to the assertion that the Scythians invaded Palestine in Josiah's reign; nor is there a trace of any knowledge of such irruption in Zephaniah or Jeremiah (see Introduction, § I.).
The prophet names the three classes of people who shall be smitten in this judgment. First, the princes. In the day of the Lord's sacrifice (see note on ver. 7). God is speaking; so the name of the Lord is employed instead of the pronoun (comp. Lamentations 3:66). I will punish; literally, visit upon (ver. 12; Amos 3:14). The princes. The heads of tribes and families, nobles and magistrates. The king's children (sons); Septuagint, τὸν οἶκον τοῦ βασιλέως, "the house of the king." The royal family, not specially the sons of Josiah, who, if they were then in existence, must have been mere children, but princes of the royal house. The reference may be particularly to the sons of the king reigning when the judgment fell (see 2 Kings 25:7). The king himself is not mentioned as subject to the judgment, inasmuch as he was pious and obedient (2 Chronicles 34:27, etc.). In the mention of these "children" Keil finds proof of the late origin of the prophecy. Such as are clothed with strange apparel. This clause must represent the sin for which the princes are "visited." "Strange" apparel means "foreign" apparel, and this implied foreign manners and habits. The Israelites were reminded by their very dress that they were a peculiar people, consecrated to God's service (Numbers 15:37, etc.; Deuteronomy 22:12). These nobles, however, assumed the dress of the Egyptians and other nations with which they came in contact, and, despising their own national customs, copied the manners and vices of foreigners (comp. Isaiah 3:16-24; Ezekiel 20:32; 1 Macc. 1:11-15).
Those that leap on (over) the threshold. These are the retainers of the princes, etc; named in ver. 8. There is no allusion to the circumstance of the priests of Dagon abstaining from treading on the threshold of their temple in consequence of what happened to the idol at Ashdod (1 Samuel 5:5). It is inconceivable that this merely local custom, which demonstrated the impotence of the false god, should hare been imported into Judah. where, indeed, the worship of Dagon seems never to have made any way. The following clause explains the meaning which the Latin version intimates, Omnem qui arroganter ingreditur super limen — all those who, carrying out their masters' wishes, violently invade the houses of others and pillage them of their contents. The expression, "to leap over the threshold," seems to have been a common term for burglary and stealing with violence. Which fill their masters' houses. These retainers plunder and steal in order that they may increase their masters' treasures. The king (though not Josiah) may be meant, the plural being the plural of majesty, or the idol temples. The LXX; followed by Jerome, renders, "who fill the house of the Lord their God." This is plainly erroneous, as there is no question here about the temple at Jerusalem. Violence and deceit; i.e. the fruits of, what they have extorted by, violence and fraud (Jeremiah 5:27).
The second class which shall be smitten, viz. the traders and usurers, the enemy being represented as breaking in upon the localities where these persons resided. The fish gate. This is generally supposed to have been in the north wall of the city towards its eastern extremity, and to have been so called because through it were brought the fish from the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, and there was a fish market in its immediate neighbourhood (see Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 12:39; 2 Chronicles 33:14). It was probably on this side that the Chaldeans entered Jerusalem, us Zedekiah seems to have escaped from the south (Jeremiah 39:4). The LXX. has, ἀπὸ πύλης ἀποκεντούντων, which Jerome notes as a mistake. From the second district, the lower city upon the hill Acra, to the north of the old town, Zion. This is so called, according to one rendering, in 2 Kings 22:14, and Nehemiah 11:9. A great crashing. Not merely the crash of falling buildings, but the cry of men when a city is taken and the inhabitants are put to the sword. The hills on which the greater part of the city was built. Keil thinks that the hills surrounding the lower city are meant, viz. Bezetha, Gareb, etc; as the hearer of the cry is supposed to be on Zion.
Maktesh; the Mortar; Septuagint, τὴν κατακεκομμένην, "her that is broken down." The word is found in 15:19 of a hollow place in a rock, and it is here used in the sense of "valley," and probably refers to the Tyropoeum, or part of it, the depression that ran down the city, having Aera and Zion on its west side, and Moriah and Ophel on its east, and extended south as far as the pool of Siloam. It does not seem a very appropriate appellation for a lengthy valley like the Tyropceum, nor is there any trace of such a name being applied to it elsewhere. It may have been a name affixed to a certain locality where a bazaar was situated or certain special industries had their seat; or it may have been invented by Zephaniah to intimate the fate that awaited the evil merchants, that they should be, as it were, brayed in a mortar by their enemies. The merchant people; literally, people of Canaan. So Septuagint and Vulgate (comp. Hosea 12:7; Hist. of Susannah 56; Zechariah 14:21). The iniquitous traders are called "people of Canaan," because they acted like the heathens around them, especially the Phoenicians, who were unscrupulous and dishonest in their transactions. Are cut down; are silenced; Vulgate, conticuit (Isaiah 6:5; Hosea 10:7). They that bear (are laden with) silver. Those who have amassed wealth by trade and usury. The LXX. has, οἱ ἐηρμένοι ἀργυρίῳ "those who are elated with silver;" St. Jerome, involuti argento.
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.,' 6:9). 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" (Psalms 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.; Psalms 10:4, etc.; Psalms 94:7).
Their goods; literally, their strength; their wealth in which they trusted shall become the prey of the enemy, and thus they shall learn that God ruleth in the affairs of men. They shall also build houses, etc. They shall prove in their own case the reality of the punishment threatened in the Law (Leviticus 26:32, etc.; Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:39; comp. Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15).
§ 5. To arouse the self-confident sinners, the prophet here enlarges upon the near approach and terrible nature of this coming judgment.
Having signified the victims of the judgment, Zephaniah recurs to what he had said in ver. 7, and enforces upon his hearers its near approach. The great day of the Lord (Joel 2:1, Joel 2:11). Even the voice of the day of the Lord. The day is so close at hand, that the sound of its coming can be heard. Some translate, "Hark! the day of Jehovah." The mighty man shall cry (crieth) there bitterly. There, on the battlefield, the hero is panic-stricken, and cries out for fear. The Greek and Latin Versions connect "bitter" with the former clause. Thus the Vulgate, Vox dies Domini amara; Septuagint, φωνὴ ἡμέρας κυρίου πικρὰ καὶ σκληρὰ τέτακται, "The voice of the day of the Lord is made bitter and harsh."
That day is a day of wrath; Vulgate, Dies irae, dies illa, words which form the commencement of the famous hymn. The better to describe the terrible nature of the judgment, the prophet crowds together all available expressions of terror and calamity. First, it is a day when God's anger shall blaze forth (Isaiah 9:18). Of trouble and distress. In its effects upon sinners (Job 15:24). Of wasteness and desolation. As if things returned to the primeval chaos (Genesis 1:2; comp. Job 30:3; Job 38:27, where there is a similar combination; see note on Nahum 2:10). Of darkness and gloominess (Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18, Amos 5:20). Of clouds and thick darkness (Deuteronomy 4:11; comp. Habakkuk 3:11).
A day of the trumpet and alarm. "Alarm" means "the sound of alarm." Among the Jews trumpets were used to announce the festivals (Numbers 29:1), and to give the signal for battle or of the approach of an enemy (Jeremiah 4:5, Jeremiah 4:19; Ezekiel 33:4). Here it is the signal of destruction (Amos 2:2). The fenced cities. The strongest fortresses shall feel the irresistible attack (Micah 5:11). The high towers. These are the turrets built at the angles of the walls for the better defence of the city, and to annoy the besiegers (Zephaniah 3:6). LXX; ἐπὶ τὰς γωνίας τὰς ὑψηλάς, "upon the lofty angles;" Vulgate, super angulos excelsos. Others take the words to mean "the battlements" on the walls. Henderson quotes Taeitus's description of the later walls of Jerusalem, "Duos colles immensum editos claudebant muri per artem obliqui aut introrsus sinuati, ut latera oppugnantium ad ictus patescerent" ('Hist.,' 5.11).
In this storming of cities and universal ruin, sinners shall perish without hope. I will bring distress upon men. I will drive them into the utmost straits (comp. Deuteronomy 28:52, Deuteronomy 28:53). They shall walk like blind men. Not knowing where they go in their terror and confusion, seeking a way of escape and finding none (see Deuteronomy 28:29, on which this passage is founded; comp. Job 5:14; Isaiah 59:10). Because they have sinned, as shown in vers. 4-12. Their blood shall be poured out as dust. The point of comparison is rather in the worthlessness than in the abundance of dust. Bloodshed is as little regarded as dust that is trodden under foot. The comparison with water is found elsewhere (cf. Psalms 79:3). Their flesh as the dung. The verb from the preceding clause may be taken by zeuguna with this clause; then the meaning is that their dead bodies are left unburied to rot on the ground (Jeremiah 9:22). Or the substantive verb may be supplied (comp. Job 20:7).
Neither their silver, etc. They cannot bribe this enemy; their wealth cannot win for them immunity (Isaiah 13:17; Ezekiel 7:19). The fire of his jealousy (Zephaniah 3:8). The whole earth (for, as we have seen in Zephaniah 1:2, Zephaniah 1:3, the judgment is universal) shall be punished in the wrath of the Lord, who will not have the honour which is due to him given to any other. He shall make even a speedy riddance; more closely, he shall make an end, yea, a speedy end (comp. Nahum 1:8; Isaiah 10:23, which our text imitates). (For the sudden and unexpected arrival of the day of the Lord, see Luke 17:26, etc.)
Zephaniah 1:1-3. - The prophet and his times.
I. HIS PEDIGREE. (Zephaniah 1:1.) This is the solitary instance in which the lineage of a prophet is traced back in Scripture four generations. The reason would seem to be in order to indicate his relationship to Hezekiah, the pious King of Judah. Note:
1. The honour connected with a pious ancestry.
2. The perpetuity of the influence of a good life.
II. HIS AUTHORITY. This was not derived from his royal descent, but from his being under the inspiration of the Almighty. "The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah" (ver. 1). The words of those high in rank are often invested with a value they do not intrinsically possess, but the utterances of this prince of Judah claim our regard as the words of one taught by the Spirit of God.
III. HIS AGE. He prophesied "in the days of Josiah the son of Anion, King of Judah" (ver. 1). Unhappily, the reforms instituted by the good Hezekiah had not been sustained during the succeeding reigns, so that the nation, both politically and spiritually, had relapsed into a thoroughly corrupt state by the time that the boy-king Josiah came to the throne. Consecrated from early life to the service of the true God, the youthful monarch devoted the energies of his early manhood to the rooting out of idolatry from his land, and to the restoration and re-establishment of the temple and its services. Zephaniah, doubtless, prophesied shortly before this work of reformation commenced, and the influence of his faithful ministry would be helpful to the royal reformer in carrying out his noble work.
IV. THE CHARACTER OF THE MESSAGE WITH WHICH HE WAS DIVINELY ENTRUSTED, This was:
1. Very dark. He was, indeed, a messenger of judgment; the solemn responsibility devolved upon him of announcing "the terrors of the Lord" (vers. 2, 3). The anger of the Lord was kindled against Judah, and though to be delayed until Josiah should be gathered to his rest, it must at length fall (2 Kings 22:8-20; 2 Kings 23:21-27; 2 Chronicles 34:8-33; 2 Chronicles 35:1-19).
2. Very comprehensive. His predictions of judgment were not limited to Judah, but were directed also against heathen nations — Philistia, Moab and Ammon, Ethiopia, and Assyria (Zephaniah 2:1-15.).
3. Yet withal not lacking encouragement; for whilst he told of impending judgment, he called to repentance, unfolded the mercy of the Most High, and indicated how that even the darkest events impending would be overruled for the well being of the race.
Zephaniah 1:4, Zephaniah 1:5. - A corrupt priesthood and its pernicious influence.
The work of reformation carried on by Hezekiah was unquestionably great, yet it cannot be correctly described as having been complete. The weeds of idolatry were extensively destroyed by him, yet many roots remained, and, springing up, bore a fresh harvest of evil in the succeeding reigns, so that the godly Josiah found himself confronted with a powerful remnant of idolatry. In dealing with this he must have been materially assisted by the bold denunciations of Zephaniah; and these were fittingly directed first of all against the corrupt priesthood (ver. 4). We have here —
I. AN EXALTED OFFICE. That of the priest. The Jewish priesthood was of Divine appointment, chosen and set apart by God to the most sacred duties, and the whole being typical of the character and mission of the great High Priest who was in the fulness of time to appear. And whilst in his work these functions received their consummation, and the Aaronic priesthood passed away, yet Christ when he ascended upon high "gave gifts unto men," etc. (Ephesians 4:11-13). The work of the ministry is scriptural, noble, honourable. Those divinely called to it have to teach the truth of God, to seek to win men to righteousness and heaven, to lead worshippers to the very throne of the Eternal, to direct the activities of the Church, and to shepherd the flock of Christ. The work is "a good work" (1 Timothy 3:1), and faithfully to do it is to secure present and eternal honour.
II. THEIR HIGH OFFICE CORRUPTED. Those here styled "the Chemarims" were Jewish priests, some of whom were of the tribe of Levi, and others chosen from the lowest of the people, who sold themselves to the faithless kings of Judah, and at their bidding offered polluted rites at the altar of God, and joined with the heathen priests in serving the altars of Baal (2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5). The highest and holiest functions may still be perverted. This is the case when motives other than those of love to God and to the souls of men impel to engaging in ministerial service, or when in rendering such service any compromise is made with error and sin.
III. THE PERNICIOUS INFLUENCE RESULTING FROM SUCH CORRUPTION, "Like priests, like people." Hence, immediately following the allusion to the corrupt priesthood, reference is made to the people as worshipping the host of heaven upon the house tops (ver. 5). Luther says, "The chemarim produced an erroneous opinion among the people that they were of all others the most assiduous in religion and Divine worship," and if so, their influence over the people would be proportionately increased through their zeal, and no wonder that, following these false guides, idolatry and irreligion so widely prevailed in the land. A faithless and disloyal ministry in any age must prove a blight and a curse.
IV. THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS PRONOUNCED AGAINST THESE FAITHLESS ONES AND THEIR ADHERENTS. Their followers should be visited with retribution, whilst as to these false leaders, they should be "cut off," and their very name be blotted out. Their fate speaks silently and solemnly to all who claim to be ministers of God. His charge to all such is, "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman," etc. (Ezekiel 2:1-10 :17-21), and this is his promise attached to fidelity, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
Zephaniah 1:5. - Divided service.
"That worship and that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham." It is not two distinct classes of persons that are here referred to, but one and the same class. The allusion is to such as sought to be identified both with the service of God and the service of Malcham. It is an example of divided service that is here presented to us, an illustration of men attempting that which the great Teacher in a later age declared to be altogether impracticable, even to serve two masters.
I. AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK ATTEMPTED, AND RESULTING IN FAILURE AND SHAME.
1. The task, Malcham, or Malkam, or "king," was a term used for Baal, and who is thus described on the Phoenician inscriptions. The times being corrupt, and idolatry being popular in the land, there were those who, from considerations of policy and interest doubtless, attempted to combine the worship of Jehovah and that of Baal, or Malcham. The same spirit prevails still; men desire to serve both God and mammon,'and too much resemble those who were "willing to serve God so that they did not offend the devil."
2. The task is an impossible one; it cancel be accomplished,
3. To attempt it can only result in defeat and disgrace. They who sought to worship God and Malcham were to be "cut off." Their conduct met with the Divine displeasure, and was followed by such manifestations of his disapproval as filled them with confusion and shame. Other instances: Meroz ( 5:23); the young ruler (Matthew 19:22); Peter in the high priest's hall (Matthew 26:75).
II. A MORE EXCELLENT COURSE OF ACTION.
1. Weigh well the respective claims of God and of Malcham, Christ and mammon. This is the way in which men wisely act in reference to temporal things, and they should also act thus in reference to religion.
2. Yield yourself faithfully, wholly, and irrevocably to the master whose claim you feel to be the strongest. "If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." Multitudes, as they have thus reflected upon the claims of Christ, have felt these to be paramount; as they have thought of his bright and beautiful teaching, his wonderful, self-sacrificing human life, and as, gathering at Calvary, they have contemplated his humiliation unto death, they have been constrained to acknowledge his undoubted right to their loving confidence and entire service, and, yielding themselves up to him without reservation, have found in so doing happiness and peace.
Zephaniah 1:6. - The sin of apostasy.
"And them that are turned back from the Lord." Some biblical expositors regard the whole of this verse as referring to one class, even to such as are utterly indifferent and unconcerned in reference to God's claims; whilst other commentators regard this class as referred to in the latter part of the verse, and view the expression, "And them that are turned back from the Lord" as an allusion to those who, having professed loyalty to God and his truth, had allowed themselves to be drawn away and to walk no more with him. Concerning this sin of apostasy, note —
I. THE CAUSES WHICH HAVE RESULTED IN MEN FALLING INTO THIS SIN.
1. Temporal success. Favourable progress in the affairs of this life has proved the ruin of many spiritually. They have set their hearts upon their treasures, and have bowed down before the golden image (Deuteronomy 32:15)
2. Temporal adversity. "The cares of life, as well as "the deceitfulness of riches," will often choke the Word. The very troubles which should unite men to God by a closer bond (for if all else fail, he abides) have been permitted to drive them away from the Source of consolation and help.
3. Mental difficulties. Forgetful that Truth is boundless and immeasurable, and that after the most earnest research there must remain profound depths yet to be explored, the inquirer has wanted to understand fully now, and, failing in this, has, through pride of intellect, brought himself into a state of mental unsettledness, so that even the plainly declared truths of revelation have lost their charm to him, and he has taken shelter in unbelief.
4. Worldliness; by which term is meant love of the untrue and unsubstantial; regard only for the outward, the transient, the unreal; the world becoming invested with ruling power over the man, instead of the man reigning over it. So Paul wrote of Demas, that he had yielded here (2 Timothy 4:10).
II. THE INTENSE SADNESS ASSOCIATED WITH THIS COURSE OF ACTION,
1. It involves the violation of the most solemn and sacred vows.
2. It is attended by separation from the most holy and helpful associations.
3. It hinders the progress of the cause of God.
4. It grieves and dishonours the Lord.
III. THE SPIRIT WHICH SHOULD BE CHERISHED BY THE FAITHFUL IN REFERENCE TO THOSE THAT ARE TURNED BACK FROM THE LORD.
1. There must be no palliation of their sin. Zephaniah uttered burning words of condemnation with reference to these transgressors, and we shall not really help such by making light of their sin.
2. Yet we should earnestly seek their recovery. We should endeavour by kindness and gentleness to restore these erring ones. Although they may be darkly stained by sin, they are still our brethren. Whilst they have stumbled and fallen in the path, it is in very weakness that we ourselves have trodden it. The tender, loving word may perchance win them back to holiness and to God. In voyaging, some vessels are completely lost, — they go down through the storm, and utterly perish; others arrive at the port, but with masts broken and sails torn through battling with wind and wave; whilst others outride every storm, and with full sail enter the destined haven. Thus was it, one has pointed out, with the three associates of St. Paul who are specially referred to in 2 Timothy 4:1-22.; and thus is it in the spiritual life. Demas, wrecked; Mark, overpowered by adverse gales and seemingly crushed, yet rising again and reaching the harbour at length in safety; but Luke, "the beloved physician," holding peacefully and tranquilly on his course all through, and having ministered to him an abundant entrance to the heavenly kingdom. May our course be as the last named of these disciples, unmarked either by failure or even by temporary estrangement, but being steadfast and immovable! May no place be found by us amongst those "that have turned themselves back from following after the Lord"! May we, escaping the perils of the sea of life — all its shoals and quicksands — reach at last the haven of eternal rest and felicity!
Zephaniah 1:6. - The sin of indifference.
"And those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him." Various classes of transgressors are alluded to in these verses (vers. 4-6). The corrupt priests and their followers, those dividing their allegiance between God and Baal, the backsliders in heart, are all spoken of in brief and forcible sentences. And now, in the expression before us, allusion is made to the unconcerned and indifferent, and who are described as "those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him." This class is, in some respects, the most hopeless of all. An idolater is interested in worship, and may become convinced of his folly in rendering this to "the work of his own hands." The divided heart is partially directed to God, and may be won over to complete loyalty. The backslider may remember the joys he has forfeited, and, by the sacred memories of the past, which even his estrangement cannot obliterate, may be constrained to return unto the Lord. But in proportion as a man is callous and indifferent to the claims of God, he places himself outside the circle within which holy and gracious influences operate. Less fear need be cherished of the pernicious influence of the scepticism of the age than of the fatality attendant upon the spirit of indifferentism to God and his claims which so widely prevails. Observe —
I. THE PREVALENCE OF THIS SPIRIT MAY BE ACCOUNTED FOR.
1. The reason of it is to be found in the fact of possession. Nothing is more calculated to lead a man to be indifferent in reference to higher claims than to find property increasing in his hands. The consciousness of independence, the sense of self-sufficiency, and the feeling of comfort, all tend to lead him to think and act as though he had "need of nothing." "A certain man made a great supper, and bade many." One thus invited said, "I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused" (Luke 14:16-18). See. well to it, ye who have secured the possessions of earth, that ye do not, through the influence of these material things, come short of participation in the true festal joys.
2. Another reason lies in the fact of familiarity. Is it not so that our very familiarity with anything is likely to lead us in a sense to be somewhat indifferent to it? A walk may appear long, and may be long; but take it frequently, and the distance will appear to lessen, and in time it will cease to affect you. View constantly the scenery of some charming dale, and however much of quiet enjoyment you will get out of it perpetually if you are a lover of natural beauty, yet you will not be so enthusiastic as a stranger who gazes upon it for the first time. And much of the prevailing indifference concerning God and his truth may be traced to this cause. When King Clovis heard for the first time the story of Calvary, it is said he grew excited, and cried out, "I wish I'd been there with my Franks; I'd soon have settled those Jews!" The novelty charmed the rude king; but men all around us are so familiar with the Story that they are not moved thus; and multitudes are so unconcerned respecting these great themes as that they may be described as "those who have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him,"
3. This indifference may also be traced to custom. The power of habit is very strong. Men became confirmed in their ways (Jeremiah 13:23).
II. THEY WHO CHERISH THIS SPIRIT RUN THE RISK OF INCURRING INFINITE LOSS. Loss may be incurred unintentionally and through indifference and neglect. You neglect to insure your property, and perchance a fire breaks out and destroys it, and yon find yourself thrown back for years to come; or you neglect your health and fail to heed the first symptoms of disease, and it may end in the disease gaining too firm a hold for it ever to be eradicated; and so spiritual and eternal honour may be forfeited, not wilfully, but through indifference and unconcern.
III. HENCE THE SUPREME VALUE OF THE PRESENT TIME WITH ITS OPPORTUNITIES. Our great dramatist has it —
"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
And it is so that there is a tide in the spiritual affairs of men. Human feelings, sentiments, desires, ebb and flow like the sea; and there are seasons in which this tide sets towards piety; and such a season, if only improved, "is the accepted time," "the day of salvation." Use it, and it shall not be said that you belong to those "that have not sought the Lord," etc. (ver. 6).
Zephaniah 1:7-18. - The day of the Lord.
The reader of this brief book of Scripture, forming his conclusions from this opening chapter exclusively, is likely to get a very false impression respecting the spirit a