Calvin, Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 8

(... continued from part 7)
Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-fifth. 
    We began yesterday to explain the passage, where the Prophet 
says, that God dwelt at Jerusalem, but that he was notwithstanding 
just, and could not possibly associate with the ungodly and the 
wicked, because he changes not his nature to suit the humor of men. 
    It now follows, "In the morning, in the morning, his judgment 
will he bring forth to light": by which words he means, either that 
God would be the avenger of wickedness, which seems to escape, as it 
were, his eyes, while he delays his punishment, or that he is ready 
to restore his people, whenever they are attentive to instruction. 
If the former view be approved, the sense will be this, - that 
hypocrites foolishly flatter themselves, when God spares them; for 
he will suddenly ascend his tribunal that he may visit them with 
punishment. Some however choose to apply this to the judgments 
executed on the Gentiles, of which the Jews had not once nor twice 
been reminded, but often, that they might in time repent. But there 
is no doubt but that the Prophet refers here to a judgment belonging 
to the Jews. 
    Let us now see whether this judgment is pronounced or 
inflicted. It would not ill suit the passage to understand it of the 
vengeance which God was hastening to execute, for the Jews were 
worthy of what had been severely threatened, because they falsely 
professed his name; and while they absurdly boasted that he dwelt 
among them, they withdrew themselves very far from him. It is 
however no less suitable to refer this to teaching, so that the 
Prophet thus enhanced the sin of the people, because they had 
hardened themselves after so many and so constant warnings, which 
continually sounded in their ears, as God elsewhere complains, that 
though he rose early, and indeed daily, this solicitude had been 
without its fruit. The verb in the future tense will thus signify a 
continued act, for God ceased not to exhort to repentance those 
wretched beings who had ears which were deaf. And this view 
strikingly corresponds with what immediately follows, that he fails 
not; for such a perseverance was a proof of unwearied mercy, when 
God continued to send Prophets one after the other. 
    He now adds, "The wicked knows no shame". He means what he has 
just referred to - that the people had become so hardened in their 
wickedness that they could not be reformed, either by instruction or 
by threats, or by the scourges of God. If we refer judgment to 
teaching, which I approve, the meaning will be - that though God, by 
making known daily his law, kindled as it were a lamp, which 
discovered all evils, yet the ungodly were not ashamed. But if we 
understand it, as they say, of actual judgment, the meaning will be 
in substance the same - that the ungodly repented not, though the 
hand of God openly appeared; and though he rose to judgment, yet he 
says, they knew not what it was to feel ashamed. As to the main 
subject there is no ambiguity; for the Prophet means only that the 
people were past recovery; for though God proved himself a judge by 
manifest evidences, and even by his own law, they yet felt no shame, 
but went on in their wicked courses. The word judgment, in the 
singular number, seems to have been put here in the sense of a rule, 
by which men live religiously and justly, and a rule which ought to 
make men ashamed. It now follows - 
Zephaniah 3:6,7 
I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their 
streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so 
that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. 
I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so 
their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but 
they rose early, [and] corrupted all their doings. 
    Here the Prophet shows in another way that there was no hope 
for a people, who could not have been instructed by the calamities 
of others, to seek to return to God's favor. For God here complains 
that he had in vain punished neighboring nations, and made them 
examples, in order to recall the Jews to himself. Had they been of a 
sane mind they might have been led, by their quiet state, while God 
spared them, to consider what they had deserved - "If this is done 
in the green tree, what at length will be done in the dry?" They 
might then have thought within themselves, that a most grievous 
calamity was at hand, except they anticipated God's wrath, which had 
grown ripe against them; and God also testified that he intended by 
such examples to stay the judgment which he might have already 
justly executed on them. As they then even hastened it, it is 
evident that their wickedness was past remedy. This is the sum of 
the whole. 
    He says first, "I have cut off nations"; by which words he 
shows that he warned the Jews to repent, not only by one example, 
but by many examples; for not one instance only of God's wrath had 
appeared, but God had on all sides manifested himself to be a judge, 
in inflicting punishment on one nation after another. Since then 
they had been so often warned, we may hence learn that they were 
wholly blinded by their wickedness. 
    He now enhances the atrocity of the punishment inflicted, and 
says, that citadels had been demolished and streets cut off, that no 
one passed through; and then, that cities had been reduced to 
solitude, so that there was no inhabitant. For when punishment is of 
an ordinary kind, it is wont, for the most part, to be disregarded; 
but when God showed, by so remarkable proofs, that he was displeased 
with the nations, that is, with the ignorant, who in comparison with 
the Jews were innocent, how could such an instance as this be 
disregarded by the Jews, whom God thus recalled to himself, except 
that they were of a disposition wholly desperate and irreclaimable? 
We now then see why the Prophet enlarges on the punishments which, 
having been inflicted on the nations, ought to have been considered 
by the Jews. 
    He now subjoins the object which God had in view, "I said, 
Surely thou wilt fear me". Here God assumes the character of man, as 
he does often elsewhere: for he does not wait for what is future, as 
though he was doubtful; but all things, as we know, are before his 
eyes. Hence God was not deceived, as though something had happened 
beyond his expectation; but as I have already said, he undertakes 
here the character of man; for he could not otherwise have 
sufficiently expressed how inexcusable the Jews were who had 
despised all his warnings. For what was God's design when he 
punished the heathens, one nation after another, except that the 
Jews might be awakened by the evils of others, and not provoke his 
wrath against themselves? Paul makes use of the same argument. 'On 
account of these things,' he says, 'the wrath of God comes upon all 
the unbelieving.' (Rom. 1: 17.) Inasmuch as men for the most part 
deceive themselves by self-flatteries and cherish with extreme 
indulgence their own wickedness, Paul says, that the wrath of God 
comes on the unbelieving: and it is a singular proof of God's love, 
that he does not immediately assail us, but sets before us the 
examples of others. As when any one lays hold of his servant in the 
presence of his son, and punishes him severely, the son must be 
moved by the sight, except he be wholly an abandoned character: 
however, in such a case the father's love manifests itself; for he 
withholds his hand from his son and inflicts punishment on the 
servant, and this for the benefit of his son, that he may learn 
wisdom by what another suffers. God declares in this place that he 
had done the same; but he complains that it had been without 
benefit, for the Jews had frustrated his purpose. 
    It may be here asked, whether men so frustrate God that he 
looks for something different from what happens. I have already 
said, that God speaks after the manner of men, and in a language not 
strictly correct: and hence we ought not here to enter or penetrate 
into the secret purpose of God, but to be satisfied with this 
reason, - that if we profit nothing when God warns us either by his 
word or by his scourges, we are then equally guilty, as though he 
was deceived by us: and hence also the madness of those is reproved, 
who are unwilling to ascribe anything to God but what is conveyed in 
these common forms of speech: God says, that he wills the salvation 
of all, (1 Tim. 2: 4;) hence there is no election, which makes a 
distinction between one man and another; but the Lord leaves the 
whole human race to their free-will, so that every one may provide 
for himself as he pleases; otherwise the will of God must be 
twofold. So unlearned men vainly talk; and such not only show their 
ignorance in religion, but are also wholly destitute of common 
sense. For what is more absurd than to conclude, that there is a 
twofold will in God, because he speaks otherwise with us than is 
consistent with his incomprehensible majesty? God's will then is one 
and simple, but manifold as to the perceptions of men; for we cannot 
comprehend his hidden purpose, which angels adore with reverence and 
humility. Hence the Lord accommodates himself to the measure of our 
capacities, as this passage teaches us with sufficient clearness. 
For if we receive what the fanatics imagine, then God is like man, 
who hopes well, and finds afterwards that he has been deceived: but 
what can be more alien to his glory? We hence see how these insane 
men not only obscure the glory of God, but also labour, as far as 
they can, to reduce his whole essence to nothing. But this mode of 
speaking ought to be sufficiently familiar to us, - that God justly 
complains that he has been deceived by us, when we do not repent, 
inasmuch as he invites us to himself, and even stimulates us, I 
said, Surely thou wilt fear me. 
    This word "said", ought not then to be referred to the hidden 
counsel of God, but to the subject itself, and that is, that it was 
time to repent. "Who would not have hoped but that you would have 
returned to the right way? When the next house was on fire, how was 
it possible for you to sleep, except ye were extremely stupid? And 
when so many examples were presented before your eyes without any 
advantage, it is evident that there is no more any hope of 
repentance." Thou, then, wilt fear me; that is, "God might have 
hoped for some amendment, though he had not yet touched you even 
with his smallest finger; for ye beheld, while in a tranquil state, 
how severely he punished the contempt of his justice as to the 
heathens." He uses a similar language in Isaiah 5: 4, 'My vine, what 
have I done to thee? or what could I have done to thee more than 
what I have done? I expected thee to bring forth fruit; but, behold, 
thou hast brought forth wild grapes.' God in that passage 
expostulates with the Jews as though they had by their 
perfidiousness deceived him. But we know, that whatever happens was 
known to him before the creation of the world: but, as I have 
already said, the fact itself is to be regarded by us, and not the 
hidden judgment of God. 
    He afterwards adds, "Thou wilt receive correction"; that is, 
thou wilt be hereafter more tractable: for monstrous is our 
stupidity, when we fear not God's vengeance; when yet it evidently 
appears that we are warned, as I have already said, to repent, by 
all the examples of judgments which are daily presented to us. But 
if we proceed in our wickedness, what else is it but to kick against 
the goad, as the old proverb is? In short, we here see described an 
extreme wickedness and obstinacy, which admitted of no remedy. 
    Hence the Prophet adds again, "And cut off should not be her 
habitation, howsoever I might have visited her; that is, though the 
Jews had already provoked me, so that the punishment they have 
deserved was nigh; yet I was ready to withdraw my hand and to 
forgive them, if they repented: not that God ever turns aside from 
his purpose, for there is no shadow of turning in him; but he sets 
before them the fact as it was; for the subject here, as I have 
said, is not respecting the secret purpose of God, but we ought to 
confine ourselves to the means which he employs in promoting our 
salvation. God had already threatened the Jews for many years; he 
had as yet deferred to execute what he had threatened. In the 
meantime his wrath had been manifested through the whole 
neighborhood; the heathen nations had suffered the severest 
judgments. God here declares, that he had been so lenient to his 
people as to give time to repent; and he complains that he had 
delayed in vain, for they had gone on in their wickedness, and had 
mocked, as it were, his patience. When, therefore, he says, Cut off 
should not be her habitation, howsoever I might have visited her, or 
have visited her, he pursues still the same mode of speaking, that 
is, that he was prepared to forgive the Jews, though he had before 
destined them to destruction; not that he, as to himself, would 
retract that sentence; but that he was still reconcilable, if the 
Jews had been touched by any feeling of repentance. 
    He at last adds, "Surely, (some render it, but,) surely they 
have hastened". The verb "shacham" means properly to rise early, but 
is to be taken metaphorically in the sense of hastening; as though 
he had said, "They run headlong to corrupt their ways." God had said 
that he had been indulgent to them for this end - that he might lead 
them by degrees to repentance: now he complains, that they on the 
contrary had run another way, when they saw that he suspended his 
judgments, as though it was their designed object to accelerate his 
wrath. Thus they hastened to corrupt their ways. The meaning, then, 
is that this people were not only irreclaimable in their obstinacy, 
but that they were also sottish and presumptuous, as though they 
wished to hasten the judgment, which the Lord was ready for a time 
to defer. It now follows - 
Zephaniah 3:8 
Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise 
up to the prey: for my determination [is] to gather the nations, 
that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine 
indignation, [even] all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be 
devoured with the fire of my jealousy. 
    God here declares that the last end was near, since he had 
found by experience that he effected nothing by long forbearance, 
and since he had even found the Jews becoming worse, because he had 
so mercifully treated them. Some think that the address is made to 
the faithful, that they might prepare themselves to bear the cross; 
but this view is foreign to the subject of the Prophet: and though 
this view has gained the consent of almost all, I yet doubt not but 
that the Prophet, as I have now stated, breaks out into a complaint, 
and says, that God would not now deal in words with a people so 
    Look for me, he says; that is, "I am now present fully 
prepared: I have hitherto endeavoured to turn you, but your hearts 
have become hardened in depravity. But inasmuch as I have lost all 
my labour in teaching, warning, and exhorting you, even when I 
presented to you examples on every side among heathen nations, which 
ought to have stimulated you to repentance, and inasmuch as I have 
effected nothing, it is now all over with you - Look for me: I shall 
no more contend with you, nor is there any ground for you to hope 
that I shall any more send Prophets to you." Look then for me, until 
I shall rise - for what purpose? to the prey. Some render the word 
"le'od" forever; but the Prophet means, that God was so offended 
with the contumacy o the people, that he would now plunder, spoil 
and devour, and forget his kindness, which had been hitherto a sport 
to them - "I shall come as a wild beast; as lions rage, lacerate, 
tear, and devour, so also will I now do with you; for I have 
hitherto too kindly and paternally spared you." We hence see that 
these things are not to be referred to the hope and patience of the 
godly; but that God on the contrary does here denounce final 
destruction on the wicked, as though he had said - "I bid you adieu; 
begone, and mind your own concerns; for I will no longer contend 
with you; but I shall shortly come, and ye shall find me very 
differentfrom what I have been to you hitherto." We now see that 
God, as it were, repudiates the Jews, and threatens that he would 
come to them with a drawn sword; and at the same time he compares 
himself to a savage and cruel wild beast. 
    He afterwards adds - For my judgment is; that is, I have 
decreed to gather all nations. We have elsewhere spoken of this verb 
"asaf"; it is the same in Hebrew as the French trousser. It is then 
my purpose to gather, that is, to heap together into one mass all 
nations, to assemble the kingdoms, so that no corner of the earth 
may escape my hand. But he speaks of all nations and kingdoms, that 
the Jews might understand that his judgment could no longer be 
deferred; for if a comparison be made between them and the heathen 
nations, judgment, as it is written, is wont to begin with the house 
of God, (1 Pet. 4: 17 ;) and further, they were less excusable than 
the unbelieving, who went astray, which is nothing strange, in 
darkness, for they were without the light of truth. God then 
threatens nations and kingdoms, that the Jews might know that a most 
dreadful punishment was impending over their heads, for they had 
surpassed all others in wickedness and evil deed. He afterwards adds 
Zephaniah 3:9 
For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may 
all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent. 
    The Prophet now mitigates the asperity of his doctrine, which 
might have greatly terrified the godly; nay, it might have wholly 
disheartened them, had no consolation been applied. God then 
moderates here what he had previously threatened; for if the Prophet 
had only said this - "My purpose is to gather all the nations, and 
thus the whole earth shall be devoured by the fire of indignation," 
what could the faithful have concluded but that they were to perish 
with the rest of the world? It was therefore necessary to add 
something to inspire hope, such as we find here. 
    We must at the same time bear in mind what I have reminded you 
of elsewhere - that the Prophet directs his discourse one while to 
the faithful only, who were then few in number, and that at another 
time he addresses the multitude indiscriminately; and so when our 
Prophet threatens, he regards the whole body of the people; but when 
he proclaims the favor of God, it is the same as though he turned 
his eyes towards the faithful only, and gathered them into a place 
by themselves. As for instance, when a few among a people are really 
wise, and the whole multitude unite in hastening their own ruin, he 
who has an address to make will make a distinction between the vast 
multitude and the few; he will severely reprove those who are thus 
foolish, and live for their own misery; and he will afterwards shape 
his discourse so as to suit those with whom he has not so much fault 
to find. Thus also the Lord changes his discourse; for at one time 
he addresses the ungodly, and at another he turns to the elect, who 
were but a remnant. So the Prophet has hitherto spoken by reproofs 
and threatening, for he addressed the whole body of the people; but 
now he collects, as I have said, the remnant as it were by 
themselves, and sets before them the hope of pardon and of 
    Hence he says, But then (for I take "ki" as an adversative) 
will I turn to the people a pure lip. God intimates that he would 
propagate his grace wider, after having cleansed the earth; for he 
will be worshipped not only in Judea, but by foreign nations, and 
even by the remotest. For it might have been objected, "Will God 
then extinguish his name in the world? For what will be the state of 
things when Judea is overthrown and other nations destroyed, except 
that God's name will be exposed to reproach! It will nowhere be 
invoked, and all will outvie one another in blasphemies against 
him." The Prophet meets this objection, and says, that God has in 
his own hand the means by which he will vindicate his own glory; for 
he will not only defend his Church in Judea, but will also gather 
into it nations far and wide, so that his name shall be everywhere 
    But he speaks first of a pure lip, I will turn, he says, to the 
nations a pure lip. By this word he means, that the invocation of 
God's name is his peculiar work; for men do not pray through the 
suggestion of the flesh, but when God draws them. It is indeed true, 
that God has ever been invoked by all nations; but it was not the 
right way of praying, when they heedlessly cast their petitions into 
the air: and we also know, that the true God was not invoked by the 
nations; for there was no nation then in the world which had not 
formed for itself some idol. As then the earth was full of 
innumerable idols, God was not invoked except in Judea only. 
Besides, though the unbelieving had an intention to pray to God, yet 
they could not have prayed rightly, for prayer flows from faith. God 
then does not without reason promise, that he would turn pure lips 
to the nations; that is, that he would cause the nations to call on 
his name with pure lips. We hence then learn what I have stated - 
that God cannot be rightly invoked by us, until he draws us to 
himself; for we have profane and impure lips. In short, the 
beginning of prayer is from that hidden cleansing of the Spirit of 
which the Prophet now speaks. 
    But if it be God's singular gift, to turn a pure lip to the 
nations, it follows that faith is conferred on us by him, for both 
are connected together. As God then purifies the hearts of men by 
faith, so also he purifies their lips that his name may be rightly 
invoked, which would otherwise be profaned by the unbelieving. 
Whenever they pretend to call on God's name, it is certain that it 
is not done without profanation. 
    As to the word "all", it is to be referred to nations, not to 
each individual; for it has not been that every one has called on 
God; but there have been some of all nations, as Paul also says in 
the first chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians: for in 
addressing the faithful, he adds, 'With all who call on the name of 
the Lord in every place' - that is, not only in Judea; and elsewhere 
he says, 'I would that men would stretch forth hands to heaven in 
every place.' (1 Tim. 2: 8.) 
    He afterwards adds, "That they may serve him with one 
shoulder"; that is, that they may unitedly submit to God in order to 
do him service; for to serve him with the shoulder is to unite 
together, so as to help one another. The metaphor seems to have been 
derived from those who carry a burden; for except each assists, one 
will be overpowered, and then the burden will fall to the ground. We 
are said then to serve God with one shoulder when we strive by 
mutual consent to assist one another. And this ought to be carefully 
noticed, that we may know that our striving cannot be approved by 
God, except we have thus the same end in view, and seek also to add 
courage to others, and mutually to help one another. Unless then the 
faithful thus render mutual assistance, the Lord cannot approve of 
their service. 
    We now see how foolishly they talk who so much extol free-will 
and whatever is connected with it: for the Lord demands faith as 
well as other duties of religion; and he requires also from all, 
love and the keeping of the whole law. But he testifies here that 
his name cannot be invoked, as the lips of all are polluted, until 
he has consecrated them, cleansing by his Spirit what was before 
polluted: and he shows also that men will not undertake the yoke, 
unless he joins them together, so as to render them willing. I must 
not proceed farther. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since it is the principal part of our 
happiness, that in our pilgrimage through this world there is open 
to us a familiar access to thee by faith, - O grant, that we may be 
able to come with a pure heart to thy presence: and when our lips 
are polluted, O purify us by thy Spirit, so that we may not only 
pray to thee with the mouth, but also prove that we do this 
sincerely, without any dissimulation, and that we earnestly seek to 
spend our whole life in glorifying thy name, until being at length 
gathered into thy celestial kingdom, we may be truly and really 
united to thee, and be made partakers of that glory, which has been 
procured for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 8

(continued in part 9...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06: cvzep-08.txt