Calvin, Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 9

(... continued from part 8)
Lecture One hundred and Twenty-sixth. 
Zephaniah 3:10 
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, [even] the 
daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering. 
    Interpreters agree not as to the meaning of this verse; for 
some of the Hebrews connect this with the former, as though the 
Prophet was still speaking of the calling of the Gentiles. But 
others, with whom I agree, apply this to the dispersed Jews, so that 
the Prophet here gives hope of that restoration, of which he had 
before spoken. They who understand this of the Gentiles, think that 
Atharai and Phorisai are proper names. But in the first place, we 
cannot find that any nations were so called; and then, if we receive 
what they say, these were not separate nations, but portions of the 
Ethiopians; for the Prophet does not state the fact by itself, that 
Atharai and Phorisai would be the worshipers of God; but after 
having spoken of Ethiopia, he adds these words: hence we conclude, 
that the Prophet means this, - that they would return into Judea 
from the farthest region of the Ethiopians to offer sacrifices to 
God. And as he mentions the daughter of the dispersion, we must 
understand this of the Jews, for it cannot be applied to the 
Ethiopians. And this promise fits in well with the former verse: for 
the Prophet spoke, according to what we observed yesterday, of the 
future calling of the Gentiles; and now he adds, the Jews would come 
with the Gentiles, that they might unite together, agreeing in the 
same faith, in the true and pure worship of the only true God. He 
had said, that the kingdom would be enlarged, for the Church was to 
be gathered from all nations: he now adds, that the elect people 
would be restored, after having been driven away into exile. 
    Hence he says, "Beyond the rivers of Ethiopia shall be my 
suppliants": for "'atar" means to supplicate; but it means also 
sometimes to be pacified, or to be propitious; and therefore some 
take "'atarim" in a passive sense, "they who shall be reconciled to 
God;" as though he had said, "God will at length be propitious to 
the miserable exiles, though they have been cast away beyond the 
rivers of Ethiopia: they shall yet again be God's people, for he 
will be reconciled to them." As David calls Him the God of his 
mercy, because he had found him merciful and gracious, (Ps. 59: 18,) 
so also in this place they think that the Jews are said to be the 
"'ararey", the reconciled of Jehovah, because he would be reconciled 
to them. But this exposition is too forced: I therefore retain that 
which I have stated, - that some suppliants would come to God from 
the utmost parts of Ethiopia, not the Ethiopians themselves, but the 
Jews who had been driven there. 
    To the same purpose is what is added, The daughter of my 
dispersed; for "puts" means to scatter or to disperse. Hence by the 
daughter of the dispersed he means the gathered assembly of the 
miserable exiles, who for a time were considered as having lost 
their name, so as not to be counted as the people of Israel. These 
then shall again offer to me a gift, that is, they are to be 
restored to their country, that they may there worship me after 
their usual manner. Now though this prophecy extends to the time of 
the Gospel, it is yet no wonder, that the Prophet describes the 
worship of God such as it had been, accompanied with the ceremonies 
of the Law. We now then perceive what Zephaniah means in this verse, 
- that not only the Gentiles would come into the Church of God, but 
that the Jews also would return to their country, that they might 
together make one body. It follows, - 
Zephaniah 3:11 
In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein 
thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of 
the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no 
more be haughty because of my holy mountain. 
    Here the Prophet teaches us, that the Church would be 
different, when God removed the dross and gathered to himself a pure 
and chosen people: and the Prophet stated this, that the faithful 
might not think it hard that God so diminished his Church that 
hardly the tenth part remained; for it was a sad and a bitter thing, 
that of a vast multitude a very few only remained. It could not then 
be, but that the ruin of their brethren greatly affected the Jews, 
though they knew them to be reprobate. We indeed see how Paul felt a 
sympathy, when he saw that his own nation were alienated from God. 
(Rom. 9: 1.) So it was necessary that some consolation should be 
given to the faithful, that they might patiently bear the diminution 
of the Church, which had been previously predicted. Hence the 
Prophet, that he might moderate their grief, says, that this would 
be for their good; for in this manner the reproaches were to be 
removed, by which the Jewish name had been polluted, and rendered 
    "Thou shalt not be ashamed, he says, for the sins by which I 
have been offended". Why? For thou shalt be cleansed; for it is 
God's purpose to reserve a few, by whom he will be purely 
worshipped. Some think that he does not speak here of the remission 
of sins, but on the contrary, of a pure and holy life, which follows 
regeneration; as though he had said, "There will be no reason any 
more for thee to be ashamed of thy life; for when I shall chasten 
you, ye will then fear me, and your correction will be conducive to 
a newness of life: since then your life will not be the same as 
formerly, and since my glory shall shine forth among you, there will 
be no cause why ye should be ashamed. But this is a strained view, 
and cannot be accommodated to the words of the Prophet; for he says, 
Thou shalt no more be ashamed of the sins by which thou hast 
transgressed against me. We hence see that this cannot be otherwise 
applied than to the remission of sins. But the last clause has led 
interpreters astray, for the Prophet adds, "For I will take away 
from the midst of thee those who exult": but the Prophet's design, 
as I have stated, was different from what they have supposed; for he 
shows that there was no reason for the Jews to lament and deplore 
the diminution of the Church because the best compensation was 
offered to them, which was, that by this small number God would be 
purely served. For when the body of the people was complete, it was, 
we know, a mass of iniquity. How then could Israel glory in its vast 
number, since they were all like the giants carrying on war against 
God? When now God collects a few only, these few would at length 
acknowledge that they had been preserved in a wonderful manner, in 
order that religion and the true worship of God should not be 
extinguished in the earth. 
    We now perceive the Prophet's design; but I will endeavor to 
render this clearer by a comparison: Suppose that in a city 
licentiousness of life so prevails that the people may seem to be 
irreclaimable; when it happens that the city itself falls away from 
its power and pristine state, or is in some other way reformed, not 
without loss, and is thus led to improve its morals, this would be a 
compensation to the good, and would give courage to the godly and 
ease their grief, so that they would patiently submit, though the 
city had not the same abundance, nor the same wealth and enjoyments. 
How so? because they who remained would form a body of people free 
from reproach and disgrace. When disease is removed from the human 
body, the body itself is necessarily weakened; and it is sometimes 
necessary to amputate a member, that the whole body may be 
preserved. In this case there is a grievous diminution, but as there 
is no other way of preserving the body, the remedy ought to be 
patiently sustained. In a similar manner does the Prophet now speak 
of the city Jerusalem: "Thou shalt not be ashamed of the sins by 
which thou hast transgressed against me". How so? Because they were 
to be separated from the profane and gross despisers of God; for as 
long as the good and the evil were mixed together, it was a reproach 
common to all. Jerusalem was then a den of robbers; it was, as it 
were, a hell on earth; and all were alike exposed to the same 
infamy, for the pure part could not be distinguished, as a mass of 
evil prevailed everywhere. The Prophet now says, "Thou shalt not be 
ashamed of thy former infamy." Why? "Because God will separate the 
chaff from the wheat, and will gather the wheat; ye shall be, as it 
were, in the storehouse of God; the chosen seed shall alone remain; 
there will be such purity, that the glory of the Lord shall shine 
forth among you: ye shall not therefore be ashamed of the 
disgraceful deeds by which ye are now contaminated." 
    We now apprehend the meaning of the words. But it may seem 
strange that the Prophet should say, that sins should be covered by 
oblivion, which the Jews ought indeed to have thought of often and 
almost at all times, according to what Ezekiel says, 'Thou wilt then 
remember thy ways, and be ashamed,' (Ezek. 36: 61;) that is, when 
God shall be pacified. Ezekiel says, that the fruit of repentance 
would be, that the faithful, covered with shame, would condemn 
themselves. Why so? Because the reprobate proceed in their wicked 
courses, as it were, with closed eyes, and as it has been previously 
said, they know no shame: though God charges them with their sins, 
they yet despise and reject every warning with a shameless front; 
yea, they kick against the goads. Since it is so, justly does 
Ezekiel say, that shame would be the fruit of true repentance, 
according to what Paul also says in the sixth chapter to the Romans, 
"Of which ye are now ashamed." He intimates, that when they were 
sunk in their unbelief, they were so given to shameful deeds, that 
they perceived not their abomination. They began therefore to be 
ashamed, when they became illuminated. The Prophet seems now to cut 
off this fruit from repentance: but what he says ought to be 
otherwise understood, that is, that the Church would be then free 
from reproach; for the reprobate would be separated, all the filth 
would be taken away, when God gathered only the remnant for himself; 
for in this manner, as it has been said, the wheat would be 
separated from the chaff. Thou shalt not then be ashamed in that day 
of evil deeds; for I will take away from the midst of thee those who 
exult. He shows how necessary the diminution would be; for all must 
have perished, had not God cut off the putrid members. How severe 
soever then and full of pain the remedy would be, it ought yet to be 
deemed tolerable; for the Church, that is the body, could not 
otherwise be preserved. 
    But it may be again objected - That the Church is cleansed from 
all spots, inasmuch as the reprobate are taken away; for he says, 
Thou shalt not be ashamed of the evil deeds by which thou hast 
sinned, literally, against me, that is, by which thou hast 
transgressed against me. God here addresses, it may be said, the 
faithful themselves: He then does not speak of the evil deeds of 
those whom the Lord had rejected. But the answer is easy: When he 
says, that the Church had sinned, he refers to that mixture, by 
which no distinction is made between the wheat and the chaff. We may 
say that a city is impious and wicked, when the majority so much 
exceeds in number the good, that they do not appear. When therefore 
among ten thousand men there are only thirty or even a smaller 
number who are anxious for a better state of things, the whole 
number will be generally counted wicked on account of the larger 
portion, for the others are hid, and, as it were, covered over and 
buried. Justly then and correctly does Zephaniah declare, that the 
Jews had transgressed against God; for in that mixed multitude the 
elect could not have been distinguished from the reprobate. But he 
now promises that there would be a distinction, when God took away 
the proud, who exulted in vain boasting. For he says, "I will take 
away from the midst of thee those who exult in thy pride". 
    Some render the word in the abstract, "the exultations of thy 
pride:" but the term "'alizim" found here, is never in construction 
rendered exultations. It is therefore no doubt to be understood of 
men. He then names the pride of the people; and yet he addresses the 
elect, who were afterwards to be gathered. What does this mean? even 
what we have already stated, that before the Church was cleansed 
from her pollution and filth, there was a common exultation and 
insolence against God; for these words were everywhere heard - "We 
are God's holy people, we are a chosen race, we are a royal 
priesthood, we are a holy inheritance." (Ez. 19: 6.) Since, then, 
these boastings were in the mouth of them all, the Prophet says, 
that it was the pride of the whole people. I will then take away, he 
says, from the midst of thee those who exult in thy pride. 
    He afterwards adds, "Thou shalt no more add to take pride in my 
holy mountain". Here the Prophet points out the main spring of the 
evil, because the Jews had hardened themselves in a perverse 
self-confidence, as they thought that all things were lawful for 
them, inasmuch as they were God's chosen people. Jeremiah also in a 
similar manner represents their boasting as false, when they 
pretended to be the temple of God. (Jer. 7: 4.) So our Prophet 
condemns this pride, because they concealed their sins under the 
shadow of the temple, and thought it a sufficient defense, that God 
dwelt on Mount Sion. To show, then, that the people were unhealable, 
without being cleansed from this pride, the Prophet says, I will 
take away those who exult - How did they exult? in thy pride: and 
what was this pride? that they inhabited the holy mount of God, 
besides which there was no other sanctuary of God on earth. As then 
they imagined that God was thus bound to them, they insolently 
despised all admonitions, as though they were exempt from every law 
and restraint. Thou shalt not then add to take pride in my holy 
    We now then see how careful we ought to be, lest the favors of 
God, which ought by their brightness to guide us to heaven, should 
darken our minds. But as we are extremely prone to arrogance and 
pride, we ought carefully to seek to conduct ourselves in a meek and 
humble manner, when favored with God's singular benefits; for when 
we begin falsely to glory in God's name, and to put on an empty mask 
to cover our sins, it is all over with us; inasmuch as to our 
wickedness, to our contempt of God, and to other evil lusts and 
passions, there is added perverseness, for we persevere in our 
course, as it were, with an iron and inflexible neck. Thus, indeed, 
it happens to all hypocrites, who elate themselves through false 
pretenses as to their connection with God. It follows - 
Zephaniah 3:12,13 
I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, 
and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. 
The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither 
shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall 
feed and lie down, and none shall make [them] afraid. 
    Here the Prophet pursues the same subject - that God would 
provide for the safety of his Church, by cutting off the majority of 
the people, and by reserving a few; for his purpose was to gather 
for himself a pure and holy Church, as the city had previously been 
full of all uncleanness. It ought, then, to have been a compensation 
to ease their grief, when the godly saw that God would be propitious 
to them, though he had treated them with great severity. And we must 
bear in mind what I have before stated - that the Church could not 
have been preserved without correcting and subduing that arrogance, 
which arose from a false profession as to God. Zephaniah takes it 
now as granted, that pride could not be torn away from their hearts, 
except they were wholly cast down, and thus made contrite. He then 
teaches us, that as long as they remained whole, they were ever 
proud, and that hence it was necessary to apply a violent remedy, 
that they might learn meekness and humility; which he intimates when 
he says, that the residue of the people would be humble and 
afflicted; for if they had become willingly teachable, there would 
have been no need of so severe a correction. In short, though the 
faithful lament that God should thus almost annihilate his Church, 
yet in order that they might not murmur, he shows that this was a 
necessary remedy. How so? because they would have always conducted 
themselves arrogantly against God, had they not been afflicted. It 
was, therefore, needful for them to be in a manner broken, because 
they could not be bent. I will, then, he says, make the residue an 
afflicted and a poor people. 
    The word, "'ani" means humble; but as he adds the word "dal", 
he no doubt shows that the Jews could not be corrected without being 
stripped of all the materials of their glorying. They were, indeed, 
extremely wedded to their boastings; yea, they were become hardened 
in their contempt of God. He therefore says, that this fruit would 
at last follow, that they would trust in the Lord, that is, when he 
had laid them prostrate. 
    This verse contains a most useful instruction: for first we are 
taught that the Church is subdued by the cross, that she may know 
her pride, which is so innate and so fixed in the hearts of men, 
that it cannot be removed, except the Lord, so to speak, roots it 
out by force. There is then no wonder that the faithful are so much 
humbled be the Lord, and that the lot of the Church is so 
contemptible; for if they had more vigor, they would soon, as is 
often the case, break out into an insolent spirit. That the Lord, 
then, may keep his elect under restraint, he subdues and tames them 
by poverty. In short, he exercises them under the cross. This is one 
    We must also notice the latter clause, when he says, "They 
shall trust in the Lord", that is, those who have been reduced to 
poverty and want. We hence see for what purpose God deprives us of 
all earthly trust, and takes away from us every ground of glorying; 
it is, that we may rely only on his favor. This dependence ought 
not, indeed, to be extorted from us, for what can be more desirable 
than to trust in God? But while men arrogate to themselves more than 
what is right, and thus put themselves in the place of God, they 
cannot really and sincerely trust in him. They indeed imagine that 
they trust in God, when they ascribe to him a part of their 
salvation; but except this be done wholly, no trust can be placed in 
God. It is hence necessary that they who ascribe to themselves even 
the smallest thing, should be reduced to nothing: and this is what 
the Prophet means. Let us further know, that men do not profit under 
God's scourges, except they wholly deny themselves, and forget their 
own power, which they falsely imagine, and recomb on him alone. 
    But the Prophet speaks of the elect alone; for we see that many 
are severely afflicted, and are not softened, nor do they put off 
their former hardihood. But the Lord so chastises his people, that 
by the spirit of meekness he corrects in them all pride and 
haughtiness. But by saying, They shall trust in the name of Jehovah, 
he sets this trust in contrast with the pride which he had 
previously condemned. They indeed wished to appear to trust in the 
name of God, when they boasted of Mount Sion, and haughtily brought 
forward the adoption by which they had been separated from heathen 
nations; but it was a false boasting, which had no trust in it. To 
trust, then, in the name of Jehovah is nothing else than sincerely 
to embrace the favor which he offers in his word, and not to make 
vain pretenses, but to call on him with a pure heart and with a deep 
feeling of penitence. 
    For the same purpose he adds, "The residue of Israel shall no 
more work iniquity nor speak falsehood; nor shall there be found a 
deceitful tongue in their mouth". The Prophet continues the same 
subject - that the Church is not to be less esteemed when it 
consists only of a few men; for in the vast number there was great 
filth, which not only polluted the earth by its ill savor, but 
infected heaven itself. Since then Jerusalem was full of iniquities, 
as long as the people remained entire, the Prophet adduces this 
comfort, that there was no reason for sorrow, if from a vast number 
as the sand of the sea, and from a great multitude like the stars, 
God would only collect a small band; for by this means the Church 
would be cleansed. And it was of great importance that the filth 
should be cleansed from God's sanctuary; for what could have been 
more disgraceful than that the holy place should be made the lodging 
of swine, and that the place which God designed to be consecrated to 
himself, should be profaned? As then Jerusalem was the sanctuary of 
God, ought not true religion to have flourished there? But when it 
became polluted with every kind of filth, the Prophet shows that it 
ought not to have seemed grievous that the Lord should take away 
that vast multitude which falsely boasted that they professed his 
name. They shall not then work iniquity. 
    Under one kind of expression he includes the whole of a 
righteous life, when he says, "They shall not speak falsely, nor 
will there be found a deceitful tongue". It is indeed sufficient for 
the practice of piety or integrity of life to keep the tongue free 
from frauds and falsehood; but as it cannot be that any one will 
abstain from all frauds and falsehood, except he purely and from the 
heart fears God, the Prophet, by including the whole under one 
thing, expresses under the word tongue what embraces complete 
holiness of life. 
    It may be now asked, whether this has ever been fulfilled. It 
is indeed certain, that though few returned to their own country, 
there were yet many hypocrites among that small number; for as soon 
as the people reached their own land, every one, as we find, was so 
bent on his own advantages, that they polluted themselves with 
heathen connections, that they neglected the building of the temple, 
and deprived the priests of their tenths, that they became cold in 
the worship of God. With these things they were charged by Haggai, 
Zechariah, and Malachi. Since these things were so, what means this 
promise, that there would be no iniquity when God had cleansed his 
Church? The Prophet speaks comparatively; for the Lord would so 
cleanse away the spots from his people that their holiness would 
then appear more pure. Though then many hypocrites were still mixed 
with the good and real children of God, it was yet true that 
iniquity was not so prevalent, that frauds and falsehood were not so 
rampant among the people as they were before. 
    He afterwards adds, "For they shall feed and lie down, and 
there will be none to terrify them". He mentions another benefit 
from God - that he will protect his people from all wrongs when they 
had repented. We must ever bear in mind what I have stated - that 
the Prophet intended here to heal the sorrow of the godly, which 
night have otherwise wholly dejected their minds. That he might then 
in some measure alleviate the grief of God's children, he brings 
forward this argument - "Though few shall remain, it is yet well 
that the Lord will cleanse away the filth of the holy city, that it 
may be justly deemed to be God's habitation, which was before the 
den of thieves. It is not then a loss to you, that few will dwell in 
the holy land, for God will be a faithful guardian of your safety. 
What need then is there of a large multitude, except to render you 
safe from enemies and from wild beasts? What does it signify, if God 
receives you under his protection, under the condition that ye shall 
be secure, though not able to resist your enemies? Though one cannot 
defend another, yet if God be your protector, and ye be made to live 
in peace under the defense which he promises, there is no reason why 
ye should say, that you have suffered a great loss, when your great 
number was made small. It is then enough for you to live under God's 
guardianship; for though the whole world were united against you, 
and ye had no strength nor defense yourselves, yet the Lord can 
preserve you; there will be no one to terrify you. 
    And this argument is taken from the law; for it is mentioned 
among other blessings, that God would render safe the life of his 
people; which is an invaluable blessing, and without which the life 
of men, we know, must be miserable; for nothing is more distressing 
than constant fear, and nothing is more conducive to happiness than 
a quiet life: and hence to live in quietness and free from all fear, 
is what the Lord promises as a chief blessing to his people. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since the depravity of our nature is so 
great, that we cannot bear prosperity without some wantonness of the 
flesh immediately raging in us, and without becoming even arrogant 
against thee, - O grant, that we may profit under the trials of the 
cross; and when thou have blest us, may we with lowly hearts, 
renouncing our perverseness, submit ourselves to thee, and not only 
bear thy yoke submissively, but proceed in this obedience all our 
life, and so contend against all temptations as never to glory in 
ourselves, and feel also convinced, that all true and real glory is 
laid up for us in thee, until we shall enjoy it in thy celestial 
kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 9

(continued in part 10...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06: cvzep-09.txt