Calvin, Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 5

(... continued from part 4)

Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-second 
Zephaniah 2:3 
Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his 
judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be 
hid in the day of the LORD'S anger. 
    Here the Prophet turns his discourse to a small number, for he 
saw that he could produce no effect on the promiscuous multitude. 
For had his doctrine been addressed in common to the whole people, 
there were very few who would have attended. We would therefore have 
been discouraged had he not believed that some seed remained among 
the people, and that the office of teaching and exhorting had not 
been in vain committed to him by God. But he shows at the same time 
that the greater part were wholly given up to destruction. We now 
see why the Prophet especially addresses the meek of the land; for 
few undertook the yoke, though they had been already broken down by 
many calamities. And it hence appears that the fruit of correction 
was not found equal in all, for God had chastised the good and the 
bad, the whole people, from the least to the greatest; they had all 
been laid prostrate by many evils, yet the same ferocity remained, 
as God complains in Isaiah, that he labored in vain in punishing 
that refractory nation. (Isa. 1: 5.) 
    But we are here taught that though ministers of the word may 
think that they spend their labour to no purpose, while they sing to 
the deaf, as the proverb is, they ought not yet to depart from the 
course of their vocation; for there will ever be some who will 
really show, after a long time, that they had been divinely and 
wonderfully saved, so as not to perish with others. But what the 
Prophet had especially in view was to show, that the faithful ought 
not to regard what the multitude may do, or how they live; but that 
when God invites them to repentance, and gives them a hope of 
pardon, they ought without delay to come to him, that they might not 
perish with the rest. And it deserves to be noticed, that when God 
raises his voice, some harden others, and thus men lead one another 
into ruin. Thus it happens that all teaching becomes unsuccessful. 
Hence the Prophet applies a remedy, by showing how preposterous it 
is when some follow others; for in this way they increase the ranks 
of the rebellious; but that if there be any who are meek, they ought 
to be teachable, when God stretches forth his hand and shows that he 
will be propitious, provided they return to the right way. 
    He calls them meek who had profited under the scourges of God; 
for the Hebrews consider "'anawim" to be the afflicted, deriving the 
word from "'anah", to afflict, or to be humble. But as men for the 
most part are not subdued except by scourges, they call, by a 
metaphor, "'anawim" the meek, such as have been subdued: for men 
grow wanton in their pleasures, and abundance commonly produces 
insolence; but by adversity they learn to become meek. Hence our 
Prophet calls those the meek of the land who were submissive to God, 
after having been chastised by him. For we know, that though God may 
smite the wicked, they yet continue to have a stiff and iron neck 
and a brazen front: but the faithful are tamed, as Jeremiah 
confesses as to himself; for he says that he was like an untamed 
heifer before he was chastised by God's scourges. So the Prophet 
directs his discourse to the few who had felt the afflicting hand of 
God, and had been thus humbled. 
    He bids them to seek Jehovah, and yet he says that they had 
wrought his judgment. These two clauses seem inconsistent with each 
other; for if they had been previously alienated from God, justly 
might the Prophet bid them to return to the right way; but as they 
had devoted themselves to religion, and formed their life according 
to the rule of uprightness, the Prophet seems to have exhorted them 
without reason to seek God. But the passage is worthy of special 
notice; for we hence learn that even the best are roused by God's 
scourges to seek true religion with greater ardor than they had 
before done. Though then it be our object to serve God and to follow 
his word, yet when calamities arise and God appears as a judge, we 
ought to be stimulated to greater care and diligence; for it never 
is the case that any one of us fully performs his duty. Let us then 
remember, that we are roused by God whenever adversity impends over 
us, and when God himself shows by manifest signs that he is 
displeased. This is the reason why the Prophet bids the pious doers 
of righteousness to seek God, however much they were before devoted 
to what was just and upright. 
    There was also another reason: we know how grievously faith is 
tried, when the good and wicked are indiscriminately and without any 
difference chastised by God's hand; for the godly are then tempted 
to think that it avails them nothing that they have labored 
sincerely to serve God; they think that this has all been in vain 
and to no purpose, for they are brought into the same miseries with 
others. As then this temptation is enough to shake even the 
strongest, the Prophet here exhorts the faithful to persevere, as 
though he had said, that in the first confusion no difference would 
be found between the good and the wicked as to their circumstances, 
for God would afflict both alike, but that the end would be 
different; and that there was therefore no reason for them to 
despond or to think it of no advantage to seek God: for he would at 
length really show that he approved of their integrity; as though he 
had said, "God will not remunerate you at the first moment; but your 
patience will at length find that he is a just judge, who has regard 
for his people, and delivers them in their extremity." 
    To do the judgment of God in this place is to form the life 
according to the righteousness of the law. The word "mishpat" has 
various meanings in Scripture. Sometimes, and indeed often, it 
designates the punishment which God allots to the wicked: but it 
frequently means equity or the rule of right living. Hence to do 
judgment is to observe what is righteous and just, to abstain from 
what is wrong and injurious. But the Prophet calls it the judgment 
of God, because it is what he prescribes in his word and what he 
approves. For we know that men blend various things, by which they 
would prove themselves to be just and righteous: but they deceive 
themselves, except they form their life especially according to what 
God requires. We now perceive what the Prophet means; and he 
afterwards defines what it is to seek God; for the latter part of 
the verse is added as an explanation, that the faithful might 
understand how God is to be sought. 
    For hypocrites, as soon as God invites them, accumulate many 
rites, and weary themselves much in things of no value. In short, 
they think that they have sufficiently sought God when they have 
performed a number of ceremonies. But by over-acting they trifle as 
it were with God, and thus deceive themselves. Thus we see 
repentance profaned. They under the Papacy prattle enough about 
repentance, but when they are asked to define it, they begin with 
contrition; and yet no displeasure at sin is mentioned by them, nor 
any real love of righteousness, but they talk about attrition and 
contrition, and then immediately they leap to confession; and this 
is the principal part of repentance: they afterwards come to 
satisfactions. Thus repentance among the Papists is nothing else but 
a some kind of mistaken solicitude, by which they labour to pacify 
God, as though they came nigh him: nay, the satisfactions of the 
Papacy are nothing else but obstructions between God and men. 
    This evil has been common in all ages. The Prophet, therefore, 
does not without reason define what the true and rightful way of 
seeking God is, and that is, when righteousness is sought, when 
humility is sought. By righteousness he understands the same thing 
as by judgment; as though he had said, "Advance in a righteous and 
holy course of life, for God will not forget your obedience, 
provided your hearts grow not faint, and ye persevere to the end." 
We hence see that God complains, not only when we obtrude external 
pomps and devices I know not what, as though he might like a child 
be amused by us; but also when we do not sincerely devote our life 
to his service. And he adds humility to righteousness; for it is 
difficult even for the very best of men not to murmur against God 
when he severely chastises them. We indeed find how much their own 
delicacy embitters the minds of men when God appears somewhat severe 
with them. Hence the Prophet, in order to check all clamors, exhorts 
the faithful here to cultivate humility, so that they might 
patiently bear the rigor by which God would try them, and might 
suffer themselves to be ruled by his hand. Peter had the same thing 
in view when he said, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of 
God." (1 Pet. 5: 6.) We now then see why the Prophet requires from 
the faithful not only righteousness but also humility; it was, that 
they might with composed minds wait for the deliverance which God 
had promised. They were not in the interval to murmur, nor to give 
vent to their own perverse feelings, however severely God might 
treat them. 
    We may hence gather a profitable instruction: The Prophet does 
not address here men who were depraved and had wholly neglected what 
was just and right, but he directs his discourse to the best, the 
most upright, the most holy: and yet he shows that they had no other 
remedy, but humbly and patiently to bear the chastisement of God. It 
then follows that no perfection can be found among men, such as can 
meet the judgment of God. For were any to object and say, that they 
devoted themselves to righteousness, there is yet a just reason why 
they should humble themselves; for we are all guilty before God, and 
no one can clear himself, inasmuch as when any one examines his own 
conscience, he finds that he is not free from sin. However conscious 
then we may be of acting uprightly, and God himself may be a judge 
to us, and the Holy Spirit the witness of our true and real 
integrity; yet when the Lord summons us before his tribunal, let us 
all, from the least to the greatest, learn to confess ourselves 
guilty and exposed to judgment. 
    He afterwards adds, "If it may be (or, it may be) ye shall be 
concealed in the day of Jehovah's anger". The Prophet speaks not 
doubtingly, as though the faithful were uncertain as to God's favor: 
but he had another thing in view, - that though no hope remained as 
to the perceptions of men, yet the faithful would not lose their 
labour, if they sought God; for in their worst circumstances they 
would find him propitious to them and their safety secured by his 
kindness. Hence we see, that the Prophet in these words points out 
the disastrous character of the event, but no deficiency in the love 
of God. Though the Lord is ready to pardon, nay, of his own self 
anticipates his people, and kindly invites them to himself; it is 
yet necessary for them to consider how wonderful is his power in 
preserving his elect, when all things seem desperate. It may then 
be, he says, when the Jews understood that all things were in a 
state of extreme despair: and the Prophet said this, partly that the 
reprobate and the perverse might know that they were to perish, and 
partly that the faithful might appreciate the more the favor of God, 
when they saw themselves delivered from death by a miracle, and 
found that it would be a kind of resurrection, when God became their 
deliverer. Hence the Prophet, in order to commend to God's children 
his salvation, which he offers them, and to render more illustrious 
God's favor, makes use of the particle "'ulay", it may be. In the 
meantime he fulminates, as I have already said, against the 
reprobate, that they might understand that it was all over with 
them. It follows - 
Zephaniah 2:4,5 
For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall 
drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up. 
Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the 
Cherethites! the word of the LORD [is] against you; O Canaan, the 
land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall 
be no inhabitant. 
    The Prophet begins here to console the elect; for when God's 
vengeance had passed away, which would only be for a time against 
them, the heathens and foreigners would find God in their turn to be 
their judge to punish them for the wrongs done to his people; though 
some think that God's judgment on the Jews is here described, while 
yet the Prophet expressly mentions their neighbors: but the former 
view seems to me more suitable, - that the Prophet reminds the 
faithful of & future change of things, for God would not perpetually 
afflict his chosen people, but would transfer his vengeance to other 
nations. The meaning then is - that God, who has hitherto threatened 
the Jews, would nevertheless be propitious to them, not indeed to 
all the people, for a great part was doomed to destruction, but to 
the remnant, whom the Lord had chosen as a seed to himself, that 
there might be some church remaining. For we know, that God had 
always so moderated the punishment he inflicted on his people, as 
not to render void his covenant, nor abolish the memory of Abraham's 
race: for this reason he was to come forth as their Redeemer. 
    Since then the Prophet speaks here against Gaza, and Ashkelon, 
and Ashdod, and Akron, and the Philistine, and the Cretians and 
others, he intended no doubt to add courage to the faithful, that 
they might not despair of God's mercy, though they might find 
themselves very grievously oppressed; for he could at length put an 
end to his wrath, after having purged his Church of its dregs. And 
this admonition the faithful also need, that they may not envy the 
wicked and the despisers of God, as though their condition were 
better or more desirable. For when the Lord spares the wicked and 
chastens us, we are tempted to think that nothing is better than to 
shake off every yoke. Lest then this temptation should have assailed 
the faithful, the Prophet reminded them in time, that there was no 
reason why the heathens should flatter or congratulate themselves, 
when God did not immediately punish them; for their portion was 
prepared for them. 
    He mentions Gaza first, a name which often occurs in scripture. 
The Hebrews called it Aza; but as "'ayin" is the first letter, the 
Greeks have rendered it Gaza, and heathen authors have thought it to 
be a Persia word, and it means in that language a treasure. But this 
is a vain notion, for it is no doubt a Hebrew word. He then adds 
Ashkelon, a city nigh to Gaza. In the third place he mentions 
Ashdod, which the Greeks have translated Azotus, and the Latins have 
followed the Greeks. He names Ekron in the last place. All these 
cities were near to the Jews, and were not far from one another 
towards the Moabites and the Idumeans. 
    He then adds, Ho! (or, woe to, "ho") the inhabitants of the 
line of the sea. The region of the sea he calls Galilee; and he 
joins the Kerethites and the Philistine. Some think that he alludes 
to the troops, who carried on war under David; for he had chosen his 
garrison soldiers from that nation, that is, from the people of 
Galilee, and had called them Kerethites and Philistine. But I know 
not whether the Prophet spoke so refinedly. I rather think, that he 
refers here to those heathen nations, which had been hostile to the 
Jews, though vicinity ought to have been a bond of kindness. Hence 
he includes them all in the name of Canaan: for I do not take it 
here, as some do, as signifying merchants; for the Prophet evidently 
means, that however called, they were all Canaanites, who had been 
long ago doomed to destruction. Since then those regions had been 
enemies to the Jews, the Prophet intimates that God would become the 
defender of his chosen people. 
    "The word of Jehovah is against you". "God, who has hitherto 
threatened his own people, summons you to judgment. Think not that 
you will escape unpunished for having vexed his Church." For though 
God designed to prove the patience of his people, yet neither the 
Moabites, nor the rest, were excusable when they cruelly oppressed 
the Jews; yea, when they purposed through them to fight with God 
himself, the creator of heaven and earth. He afterwards adds, There 
shall be no inhabitant, for God would destroy them all. We now see 
that the Prophet had no other design but to alleviate the bitter 
grief of the faithful by this consolation, - that their miseries 
would be only for a time, and that God would ere long punish their 
enemies. It follows - 
Zephaniah 2:6,7 
And the sea coast shall be dwellings [and] cottages for shepherds, 
and folds for flocks. 
And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they 
shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down 
in the evening: for the LORD their God shall visit them, and turn 
away their captivity. 
    The Prophet confirms what he has before said respecting the 
future vengeance of God, which was now nigh at hand to the Moabites 
and other neighbouring nations, who had been continually harassing 
the miserable Jews. Hence, he says, that that whole region would 
become the habitation of sheep. It is a well known event, that when 
any country is without inhabitants shepherds occupy it; for there is 
no sowing nor reaping there, but grass alone grows. Where, 
therefore, there is no cultivation, where no number of men are 
found, there shepherds find a place for their flocks, there they 
build sheep cots. It is, therefore, the same as though the Prophet 
had said, that the country would be desolate, as we find it 
expressed in the next verse. 
    He immediately adds, but for a different reason, that the coast 
of the sea would be a habitation to the house of Judah. And there is 
here a striking divergence from the flocks of shepherds to the tribe 
of Judah, which was as it were, the chosen flock of God. The Prophet 
then, after having said that the region would be waste and desolate, 
immediately adds, that it would be for the benefit of the chosen 
people; for the Lord would grant there to the Jews a safe and secure 
rest. But the Prophet confines this to the remnant; for the greater 
part, as we have already seen, were become so irreclaimable, that 
the gate of mercy was completely closed against them. The Prophet, 
at the same time, by mentioning a remnant, shows that there would 
always be some seed from which God would raise up a new Church; and 
he also encourages the faithful to entertain hope, so that their own 
small number might not terrify them; for when they considered 
themselves and found themselves surpassed by a vast multitude, they 
might have thought that they were of no account. Lest then they 
should be disheartened the Prophet says that this remnant would be 
the object of God's care; for when he would visit the whole coast of 
the sea and other regions, he would provide there for the Jews a 
safe habitation and refuge. 
    "That line then, he says, shall be for the residue of the house 
of Judah; feed shall they in Ashkelon, and there shall they lie down 
in the evening"; that is, they shall find in their exile some 
resting-place; for we know that the Jews were not all removed to 
distant lands; and they who may have been hid in neighboring places 
were afterwards more easily gathered, when a liberty to return was 
permitted them. This is what the Prophet means now, when he says, 
that there would be a refuge in the night to the Jews among the 
Moabites and other neighboring nations. 
    A reason follows, which confirms what I have stated, "for 
Jehovah their God, he says, will visit them". We hence see that the 
Prophet mitigates here the sorrow of exile and of that most grievous 
calamity which was nigh the Jews, by promising to them a new 
visitation of God; as though he had said, "Though the Lord seems now 
to rage against you, and seems to forget his own covenant, yet he 
will again remember his mercy, when the suitable time shall come." 
And he adds, he will restore their captivity; and he added this, 
that he might show that his favor would prove victorious against all 
hindrances. The Jews might indeed have raised this objection, "Why 
does not the Lord help us immediately; but he, on the contrary, 
allows our enemies to remove us into exile?" The Prophet here calls 
upon them to exercise patience; and yet be promises, that after 
having been driven into exile, they should again return to their 
country; for the Lord would not suffer that exile to be perpetual. 
It now follows - 
Zephaniah 2:8 
I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children 
of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified 
[themselves] against their border. 
    The Prophet confirms what I have just said of God's vengeance 
against foreign enemies. Though all the neighboring nations had been 
eager in their hostility to the Jews, yet we know that more hatred, 
yea and more fury, had been exhibited by these two nations than by 
any other, that is, by the Moabites and the Ammonites, 
notwithstanding their connection with them by blood, for they 
derived their origin from Lot, who was Abraham's nephew. Though, 
then, that connection ought to have turned the Moabites and the 
Ammonites to mercy, we yet know they always infested the Jews with 
greater fury than others, and as it were with savage cruelty. This 
is the reason why the Prophet speaks now especially of them. Some 
indeed take this sentence as spoken by the faithful; but the context 
requires it to be ascribed to God, and no doubt he reminds them that 
he looked down from on high on the proud vauntings of Moab which he 
scattered in the air, as though he had declared that it was not 
hidden or unknown to him how cruelly the Moabites and Ammonites 
raged against the Jews, how proud and inhuman they had been. And 
this was a very seasonable consolation. For the Jews might have been 
swallowed up with despair, had not this promise been made to them. 
They saw the Moabites and the Ammonites burning with fury, when yet 
they had not been injured or provoked. They also saw that they made 
gain and derived advantage from the calamities of a miserable 
people. What could the faithful think? These wicked men not only 
harassed them with impunity, but their cruelty and perfidy towards 
them was gainful. Where was God now? If he regarded his own Church, 
would he not have interposed? Lest then a temptation of this kind 
should upset the faithful, the Prophet introduces God here as the 
speaker, - 
    "I have heard, he says, the reproach of Moab; I have heard the 
revilings of Amman": "Nothing escapes me; though I do not 
immediately show that these things are regarded by me, yet I know 
and observe how shamefully the Moabites and the Ammonites have 
persecuted you: they at length shall find that I am the guardian of 
your safety, and that you are under my protection." We now apprehend 
the Prophet's design. Near]y the same words are used by Isaiah, ch. 
16, and also by Jeremiah ch. 48: but they both pursue the subject 
much farther, while our Prophet only touches on it briefly, for we 
see that what he says is comprised in very few words. But by saying 
that the reproach of Moab and the revilings of the children of Amman 
had come into remembrance before God, what he had in view was - that 
the Jews might be assured and fully persuaded that they were not 
rejected and forsaken, though for a time they were reproachfully 
treated by the wicked. The Prophet indeed takes the words reproach 
and revilings, in an active sense. 
    He then adds, "By which they have upbraided any people". God 
intimates here that he does not depart from his elect when the 
wicked spit, as it were, in their faces. There is indeed nothing 
which so much wounds the feelings of ingenuous minds as reproach; 
there is not so much bitterness in hundred deaths as in one 
reproach, especial]y when the wicked licentiously triumph, and do 
this with the applauding consent of the whole world; for then all 
difference between good and evil is confounded, and good conscience 
is as it were buried. But the Prophet shows here, that the people of 
God suffer no loss when they are thus unworthily harassed by the 
wicked and exposed to their reproach. 
    He at last subjoins that they had enlarged over their border. 
Some consider "mouth" to be understood - "they have enlarged the 
mouth against their border;" and the word, it is true, without any 
addition, is often taken in this sense; but in this place the 
construction is fuller, for the words "'al-gevulam", over their 
border, follow the verb. The Prophet means that God's wrath had been 
provoked by the petulance of both nations, for they wished to break. 
up, as it were, the borders, which had been fixed by God. The land 
of Canaan, we know, had been given to the Jews by an hereditary 
right; - "When the Most High," says Moses, "divided the nations, he 
set a line for Jacob." (Deut. 32: 8.) It is indeed true that the 
possessions of the nations were allotted to them by the hidden 
counsel of God; but there was a special reason as to his chosen 
people; for the Lord had made Abraham the true possessor of that 
land, even for ever. (Gen. 17: 8.) Now the Moabites were confined, 
as it were, to a certain place; the Lord had assigned to them their 
own inheritance. When, therefore, they sought to go beyond and to 
invade the land of the Jews, God's wrath must have been kindled 
against them; for they thus fought, not against mortals, but against 
God himself; for by removing the borders fixed by him, they 
attempted to subvert his eternal decree. We now then understand why 
the Prophet says that the children of Moab and of Ammon had enlarged 
over the border of those who had been placed in the land of Canaan 
by God's hand; for they not only sought to eject their neighbors, 
but wished and tried to take away from God's hand that inheritance 
which the Lord had given to Abraham, and given, as I have said, in 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast been pleased to consecrate us 
a peculiar people to thyself, we may be mindful of such an 
invaluable favor, and devote ourselves woody to thee, and so labour 
to cultivate true sincerity as to bear the marks of thy people and 
of thy holy Church: and as we are so polluted by so many of the 
defilements of our own flesh and of this world, grant that thy Holy 
Spirit may cleanse us more and more every day, until thou bringest 
us at length to that perfection to which thou invites us by the 
voice of thy gospel, that we may also enjoy that blessed glory which 
has been provided for us by the blood of thy only begotten Son. 

Calvin's Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 5

(continued in part 6...)

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