Calvin, Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 4

(... continued from part 3)
Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-First. 
Zephaniah 1:13 
Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a 
desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit [them]; 
and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof. 
    Zephaniah pursues the same subject - that God, after long 
forbearance, would punish his rebellious and obstinate people. Hence 
he says, that they were now delivered, even by God himself, into the 
hands of their enemies. They indeed knew that many were inimical to 
them; but they did not consider God's judgment, as God himself 
elsewhere complains - that they did not regard the hand of him who 
smote them. (Is. 9: 13.) Our Prophet, therefore, declares now that 
they were given up to destruction, and that their enemies would find 
no trouble nor difficulty in invading the land, since all places 
would be open to plunder. And he recites what is found in Lev. 26: 
20; for the Prophets were interpreters of the law, and the only 
difference between Moses and them is, that they apply his general 
truth to their own time. The Prophet now pursues this course, as 
though he had said, that God had not in vain or to no purpose 
threatened this evil in his law; for the Jews would find by 
experience that this would really be the case, and that it had been 
truly said, that the fruit of the land, their habitations, and other 
comforts of life, would be transferred to others. It now follows - 
Zephaniah 1:14 
The great day of the LORD [is] near, [it is] near, and hasteth 
greatly, [even] the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man 
shall cry there bitterly. 
    The Prophet in this verse expresses more clearly what I have 
already stated - That God would be the author of all the evils which 
would happen to the Jews; for as they grew more insensible in their 
sins, they more and more provoked God's wrath against themselves. It 
is therefore no common wisdom to consider God's hand when he strikes 
or chastens us. This is the reason why the Prophet now calls the 
attention of the Jews to God, that they might not fix their minds, 
as it is commonly done, on men only. At the same time, he tries to 
shake off their torpor by declaring that the day would be terrible, 
and that it was also now near at hand. We indeed know that 
hypocrites trifle with God, except they feel the weight of his 
wrath, and that they protract time, and promise themselves so long a 
respite, that they never awake to repentance. Hence the Prophet in 
the first place shows, that whatever evils then impended over the 
Jews were not only from men, but especially from God. This is one 
thing; and then, in order thoroughly to touch stupid hearts, he 
says, that the day would be terrible; and lastly, that they might 
not deceive themselves by vain flatteries, he declares that the day 
was at hand. These three things must be noticed in order that we 
understand the Prophet's object. 
    But he says at the beginning of the verse, that the great day 
of Jehovah was nigh. In these words he includes the three things to 
which I have already referred. By calling it the day of Jehovah, he 
means, that whatever evils the Jews suffered, ought to have been 
ascribed to his judgment; and by calling it the great day, his 
object was to strike terror; as well as by saying, in the third 
place, that it was nigh. We hence see that three things are included 
in these words. But the Prophet more fully explains what might, on 
account of the brevity of his words, have seemed not quite clear. 
    "Near, he says, is the day, and quickly hastens". Men, we know, 
are wont to extend time, that they may cherish their sins; for 
though they cannot divest themselves of every feeling as to 
religion, or shake it off, they yet imagine for themselves a long 
distance between them and God; and by such an imagination they find 
ease for themselves. Hence the Prophet declares the day to be nigh; 
and as it was hardly credible that the destruction of which he spake 
was near, he adds, that the day was quickly hastening; as though he 
had said, that they ought not to judge by the present state of 
things what God would do, for in a moment his wrath would pass 
through from east to west like lightning. Men need long preparation 
when they determine to execute their vengeance; but God has no need 
of much preparation, for his own power is sufficient for him when he 
resolves to destroy the wicked. We now, then, see why it was added 
by the Prophet, that the day would quickly hasten. 
    He now repeats that the day of Jehovah and his voice would cry 
out bitterly. I have stated three renderings as given by 
interpreters. Some read thus - "The day of Jehovah shall be bitter; 
there the strong shall cry aloud." This meaning is admissible, and a 
useful instruction may from it be elicited; as though the Prophet 
had said, that no courage could bring help to men, or be an aid to 
them, against God's vengeance. Others give this rendering, that the 
day would bitterly cry out, for there would be the strong, that is, 
the strength of enemies would break down whatever courage the Jews 
might have. But this second meaning seems forced; and I am disposed 
to adopt the third - that the voice of the day of Jehovah would 
bitterly cry out. And he means the voice of those who would have 
really to know God as a judge, whom they had previously despised; 
for God would then put forth his power, which had been an object of 
contempt, until the Jews had by experience felt it. 
    As to the Prophet's design, there is no ambiguity: for he seeks 
here to rouse the Jews from their insensibility, who had so hardened 
themselves against all threatening, that the Prophets were not able 
to convince them. Since, then, they had thus hardened themselves 
against every instruction and all warnings, the Prophet here says, 
that the voice of God's day would be different: for God's voice had 
sounded through the mouth of the Prophets, but it availed not with 
the deaf. An awful change is here announced; for the Jews shall then 
cry aloud, as the roaring of the divine voice shall then terrify 
them, when God shall really show that he is the avenger of 
wickedness - "When therefore he shall ascend his tribunal, then ye 
shall cry. His messengers now cry to you in vain, for ye close up 
your ears; ye shall cry in your turn, but it will be in vain." 
    But if one prefers to take it as one sentence, "The voice of 
the day of Jehovah, there strong, shall bitterly cry out," the 
meaning will be the same as to the main point. I would not, 
therefore, contend about words, provided we bear in mind what I have 
already said - that Zephaniah sets here the cry of the distressed 
people in opposition to the voices of the Prophets, which they had 
despised, yea, and for the most part, as it appears from other 
places, treated with ridicule. However this may have been, he 
indirectly condemns their false confidence, when he speaks of the 
strong; as though he had said, that they were strong only for their 
own ruin, while they opposed God and his servants; for this strength 
falls at length, nay, it breaks itself by its own weight, when God 
rises to judgment. It follows - 
Zephaniah 1:15,16 
That day [is] a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day 
of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day 
of clouds and thick darkness, 
A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and 
against the high towers. 
    The Prophet shows here how foolish they were who extenuated 
God's vengeance, as hypocrites and all wicked men are wont to do. 
Hence he accuses the Jews of madness, that they thought that the way 
of reconciliation would be easy to them, when they had by their 
perverseness provoked God to come against them as an armed enemy. 
For though the ungodly do not promise to themselves anything of 
God's favor, yet they entertain vain imaginations, as though he 
might with no trouble be pacified: they do not think that he will be 
propitious to them, and yet in the meantime they deride his 
vengeance. Against this kind of senselessness the Prophet now 
inveighs. We have stated in other places, that these kinds of 
figurative expressions were intended solely for this end - to 
constrain men to entertain some fear, for they willfully deluded 
themselves: for the Prophets had to do, partly with open despisers 
of God, and partly with his masked worshipers, whose holiness was 
    This, then, was the reason why he said, that that day would be 
a day of wrath, and also a day of distress and of affliction, of 
tumult and desolation, of darkness and of thick darkness, of clouds 
and of mist. In short, he intended to remove from the Jews that 
confidence with which they flattered themselves, yea, the confidence 
which they derived from their contempt of God: for the flesh is 
secure, while it has coverts, where it may withdraw itself from the 
presence of God. True confidence cannot exceed moderation, that is, 
the confidence that is founded on God's word, for thus men come nigh 
to God: but the flesh wishes for no other rest but in the 
forgetfulness of God. And we have already seen in the Prophet Amos, 
(Amos 5: 18,) why the day of Jehovah is painted as being so 
dreadful; he had, as I have said, to contend with hypocrites, who 
made an improper use of God's name, and at the same time slumbered 
in gross insensibility. Hence Amos said, "It will be a day, not of 
light, but of darkness; not of joy, but of sorrow. Why then do ye 
anxiously expect the day of the Lord?" For the Jews, glorying in 
being the chosen people of God, and trusting only in their false 
title of adoption, thought that everything was lawful for them, as 
though God had renounced his own authority. And thus hypocrites ever 
flatter themselves, as though they held God bound to them. Our 
Prophet does not, as Amos, distinctly express these sentiments, yet 
the meaning of the words is the same, and that is, that when God 
ascends his tribunal, there is no hope for pardon. He at the same 
time cuts off from them all their vain confidences; for though God 
excludes all escapes, yet hypocrites look here and there, before and 
behind, to the right hand and to the left. 
    The Prophet therefore intimates, that there would be everywhere 
darkness and thick darkness, clouds and mists, affliction and 
distress, - Why? because it would be the day of wrath; for God, 
after having borne patiently a long time with the Jews, and seen 
that they perversely abused his patience, would at length put forth 
his power. And that they might not set up their own strongholds 
against God, he says, that war was proclaimed against the fortified 
cities and high citadels. We hence see that he deprives the Jews of 
all help, in order that they might understand that they were to 
perish, except they repented, and thus return into favor with God. 
It shall then be a day of the trumpet and of shouting, - How? on all 
fortified cities. For the Jews, as it is usually done, compared the 
strength of their enemies with their own. It was not their purpose 
to go forth beyond their own borders: and they thought that they 
would be able to resist, and be sufficiently fortified, if any 
foreign enemy invaded them. The Prophet laughs to scorn this notion, 
for God had declared war against their fortified cities. It follows 
Zephaniah 1:17 
And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind 
men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood 
shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. 
    He confirms what I have already stated - that though other 
enemies, the Assyrians or Chaldeans, attacked the Jews, yet God 
would be the principal leader of the war. God then claims here for 
himself what the Jews transferred to their earthly enemies: and the 
Prophet has already often called it the day of Jehovah; for God 
would then make known his power, which had been a sport to them. He 
therefore declares in this place, that he would reduce man to 
distress, so that the whole nation would walk like the blind - that, 
being void of counsel, they would stumble and fall, and not be able 
to proceed in their course: for they are said to go astray like the 
blind, who see no end to their evils, who find no means to escape 
ruin, but are held as it were fast bound. And we must ever bear in 
mind what I have already said - that the Jews were inflated with 
such pride, that they heedlessly despised all the Prophets. Since 
then they were thus wise in themselves, God denounces blindness on 
    He subjoins the reason, "Because they had acted impiously 
towards Jehovah". By these words he confirms what I have already 
explained - that the intermediate causes are not to be considered, 
though the Chaldeans took vengeance on the Jews; for there is a 
higher principle, and another cause of this evil, even the contempt 
of God and of his celestial truth; for they had acted impiously 
towards God. And by these words the Prophet reminds the Jews, that 
no alleviation was to be expected, as they had not only men hostile 
to them, but God himself, whom they had extremely provoked. 
    Hence he adds, "Poured forth shall be your blood as dust." They 
whom God delivered up to extreme reproach were deserving of this, 
because he had been despised by them. "Their flesh, he says, shall 
be as dung". Now, we know how much the Jews boasted of their 
preeminence; and God had certainly given them occasion to boast, had 
they made a right and legitimate use of his benefits; but as they 
had despised him, they deserved in their turn to be exposed to every 
ignominy and reproach. Hence the Prophet here lays prostrate all 
their false boastings by which they were inflated; for they wished 
to be honorable, while God was despised by them. At last he adds - 
Zephaniah 1:18 
Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in 
the day of the LORD'S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by 
the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance 
of all them that dwell in the land. 
    He repeats what he has already said - that the helps which the 
Jews hoped would be in readiness to prevent God's vengeance would be 
vain. For though men dare not openly to resist God, yet they hope by 
some winding courses to find out some way by which they may avert 
his judgment. As then the Jews, trusting in their wealth, and in 
their fortified cities, became insolent towards God, the Prophet 
here declares, that neither gold nor silver should be a help to 
them. "Let them," he says, "accumulate wealth; though by the mass of 
their gold and silver they form high mountains for themselves, yet 
they shall not be able to turn aside the hand of God, nor be able to 
deliver themselves," - and why? He repeats again the same thing, 
that it would be the day of wrath. We indeed know, that the most 
savage enemies are sometimes pacified by money, for avarice 
mitigates their cruelty; but the Prophet declares here, that as God 
would be the ruler in that war, there would be no redemption, and 
therefore money would be useless: for God could by no means receive 
them into favor, except they repented and truly humbled themselves 
before him. 
    He therefore adds, that the land would be devoured by the fire 
of God's jealousy, or indignation. He compares God's wrath to fire; 
for no agreement can be made when fire rages, but the more materials 
there are the more will there be to increase the fire. So then the 
Prophet excludes the Jews from any hope of deliverance, except they 
reconciled themselves to God by true and sincere repentance; for a 
consummation, he says, he will make as to all the inhabitants of the 
land, and one indeed very quick or speedy. In short, he means, that 
as the Jews had hardened themselves against every instruction, they 
would find God's vengeance to be such as would wholly consume them, 
as they would not anticipate it, but on the contrary enhance it by 
their pride and stupidity, and even deride it. Now follows - 
Chapter 2. 
Zephaniah 2:1,2 
Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not 
Before the decree bring forth, [before] the day pass as the chaff, 
before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of 
the LORD'S anger come upon you. 
    The Prophet, after having spoken of God's wrath, and shown how 
terrible it would be, and also how near, now exhorts the Jews to 
repentance, and thus mitigates the severity of his former doctrine, 
provided their minds were teachable. We hence learn that God 
fulminates in his word against men, that he may withhold his hand 
from them. The more severe, then, God is, when he chastises us and 
makes known our sins, and sets before us his wrath, the more clearly 
he testifies how precious and dear to him is our salvation; for when 
he sees us rushing headlong, as it were, into ruin, he calls us back 
by threatening and chastisements. Whenever, then, God condemns us by 
his word, let us know that he will be propitious to us, if, touched 
with true repentance, we flee to his mercy; for to effect this is 
the design of all his reproofs and threatening. 
    There follows then a seasonable exhortation, after the Prophet 
had spoken of the dreadfulness of God's vengeance. "Gather 
yourselves, he says, gather, ye nation not worthy of being loved". 
Others read - "Search among yourselves, search;" and interpreters 
differ as to the root of the verb; some derive it from "kashash", 
and others from "kush"; while some deduce the verb from the noun 
"kash", which signifies chaff or stubble. But however this may be, I 
consider the real meaning of the Prophet to be - "Gather yourselves, 
gather;" for this is what grammatical construction requires. I do 
not see why they who read "search yourselves," depart from the 
commonly received meaning, except they think that the verb gather 
does not suit the context; but it suits it exceedingly well. Others 
with more refinement read thus - "Gather the chaff, gather the 
chaff," as though the Prophet ridiculed the empty confidence of the 
people. But as I have already said, he no doubt shows here the 
remedy, by which they might have anticipated God's judgment, with 
which he had threatened them. He indeed compares them to stubble, as 
we find in the next verse, but he shows that still time is given 
them to repent, so that they might gather themselves, and not be 
dissipated; as though he said - "The day of your scattering is at 
hand; ye shall then vanish away like chaff, for ye shall not be able 
to stand at the breath of the Lord's wrath. But now while God 
withholds himself, and does not put forth his hand to destroy you, 
gather yourselves, that ye may not be like the chaff." There are 
then two parts in this passage; the first is, that if the Jews 
abused, as usual, the forbearance of God, they would become like the 
chaff, for God's wrath would in a moment scatter them; but the 
Prophet in the meantime reminds them that a seasonable time for 
repentance was still given them; for if they willingly gathered 
themselves, God would spare them. Before then the day of Jehovah's 
wrath shall come; gather, he says, yourselves. 
    But the way of gathering is, when men do not vanish away in 
their foolish confidences, or when they do not indulge their own 
lusts; for whenever men give loose reins to wicked licentiousness, 
and thus go astray in gratifying their corrupt lusts, or when they 
seek here and there vain confidences, they expose themselves to a 
scattering. Hence the Prophet exhorts them to examine themselves, to 
gather themselves, and as it were to draw themselves together, that 
they might not be like the chaff. Hence he says, - "gather 
yourselves, yea, gather, ye nation not loved." 
    Some take the participle "nichsaf" in an active sense, as 
though the Prophet had said that the Jews were void of every 
feeling, and had become wholly hardened in their stupidity. But I 
know not whether this can be grammatically allowed. I therefore 
follow what has been more approved. The nation is called not worthy 
of love, because it did not deserve mercy; and God thus amplifies 
and renders illustrious his own grace, because he was still 
solicitous about the salvation of those who had willfully destroyed 
themselves, and rejected his favor. Though then the Jews had by 
their depravity so alienated themselves from God, that there was no 
reason why he should save them, he yet still continued to call them 
back to himself. It is therefore a remarkable proof of the unfailing 
grace of God, when he shows love to a nation wholly worthy of being 
hated, and is concerned for its safety. 
    He then adds, "before the decree brings forth." Here the 
Prophet asserts his own authority, and that of God's other servants: 
for the Jews thought that all threatening would come to nothing, as 
it is the case with most men at this day who deride every true 
doctrine, as though it were nothing but an empty sound. Hence the 
Prophet ascribes birth to his doctrine. It is indeed true, that the 
word decree has a wider meaning; but the Prophet does not speak here 
of the hidden counsel of God. He therefore calls that a decree, 
which God had already declared by his servants: and the meaning is, 
that it is not beating the air when God denounces his vengeance on 
sinners by his Prophets, but that it is a fixed and unchangeable 
decree, which shall at length be effected. But the similitude of 
birth is most apposite; for as the embryo lies hid in the womb, and 
then emerges in due time into light; so God's vengeance, though hid 
for a time, will yet in due season be accomplished, when God sees 
that men's wickedness is past a remedy. We now understand why the 
Prophet says, that the time was near when the decree should bring 
    Then he says, "Pass away shall the chaff in a day". Some read, 
"Before the day comes, when the stubble (or chaff) shall pass away." 
But I take "yom" in another sense, as meaning that the Jews shall 
quickly pass away as the chaff; the like expression we have also met 
in Hosea. He says then that the Jews would perish in a day, in a 
short time, and as it were in a moment; though they thought that 
they would not be for a long time conquered. Pass away, he says, 
shall they like chaff. 
    Then he adds, "Before it comes, the fury of Jehovah's wrath"; 
the day of Jehovah's wrath, gather ye yourselves. He says first, 
"before it comes upon you, the fury of wrath," and then, "the day of 
wrath." He repeats the same thing; but some of the words are 
changed, for instead of the fury of wrath, he puts in the second 
clause, the day of wrath; as though he had said, that they were 
greatly deceived if they thought that they could escape, because the 
Lord deferred his vengeance. How so? For the day, which was nigh, 
though not yet arrived, would at length come. As when one trusting 
in the darkness of the night, and thinking himself safe from the 
danger of being taken, is mistaken, for suddenly the sun rises and 
discovers his hiding-place; so the Prophet intimates, that though 
God was now still, it would yet be no advantage to the Jews: for he 
knew the suitable time. Though then he restrained for a time his 
wrath, he yet poured it forth suddenly, when the day came and the 
iniquity of men had become ripe. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we continue in various ways to provoke 
thy wrath, we may at length be awakened by the blasting of that 
trumpet which sounds in our ears, when thou proclaimest that thou 
wilt be the judge of the world, and testifies also the same so 
plainly in the gospel, so that we may, with our minds raised up to 
thee, learn to renounce all the depraved lusts of the world, and 
that having shaken off our torpidity, we may so hasten to repent, 
that we may anticipate thy judgment, and so find that we are 
reconciled to thee, as to enjoy thy goodness, and ever to retain the 
taste of it, in order that we may be enabled to renounce all the 
allurements and pleasures of this world, until we shall at length 
come to that blessed rest, where we shall be filled with that 
unspeakable joy, which thou hast promised to us, and which we hope 
for in Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 4

(continued in part 5...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06: cvzep-04.txt