Calvin, Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 10

(... continued from part 9)
Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-seventh. 
Zephaniah 3:14,15 
Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with 
all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. 
The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine 
enemy: the king of Israel, [even] the LORD, [is] in the midst of 
thee: thou shalt not see evil any more. 
    The Prophet confirms what he has been teaching, and encourages 
the faithful to rejoice, as though he saw with his eyes what he had 
previously promised. For thus the Prophets, while encouraging the 
faithful to entertain hope, stimulate them to testify their 
gratitude, as though God's favor was already enjoyed. It is certain, 
that this instruction was set before the Jews for this purpose, - 
that in their exile and extreme distress they might yet prepare 
themselves to give thanks to God, as though they were already, as 
they say, in possession of what they had prayed for. But we must 
remember the design of our Prophet, and the common mode of 
proceeding which all the Prophets followed; for the faithful are 
exhorted to praise God the same as if they had already enjoyed his 
blessings, which yet were remote, and seemed concealed from their 
    We now then perceive what the Prophet meant in encouraging the 
Jews to praise God: he indeed congratulates them as though they were 
already enjoying that happiness, which was yet far distant: but as 
it is a congratulation only, we must also bear in mind, that God 
deals so bountifully with his Church as to stimulate the faithful to 
gratitude; for we pollute all his benefits, except we return for 
them, as it has been stated elsewhere, the sacrifice of praise: and 
as a confirmation of this is the repetition found here, which would 
have otherwise appeared superfluous. "Exult, daughter of Sion, 
shout, be glad; rejoice with all thine heart, daughter of 
    But the Prophet was not thus earnest without reason; for he saw 
how difficult it was to console the afflicted, especially when God 
manifested no evidence of hope according to the perception of the 
flesh; but his purpose was by this heap of words to fortify them, 
that they might with more alacrity struggle with so many hard and 
severe trials. 
    He then adds, that God had taken away the judgments of Zion. By 
judgments, he means those punishments which would have been 
inflicted if it had been the Lord's purpose to deal according to 
strict justice with the Jews, as when any one says in our language, 
J'ai brule tous tes proces. He intimates then that God would no more 
make an enquiry as to the sins of his people. The word "mishpat", we 
know, has various meanings in Hebrew; but in this place, as I have 
said, it means what we call in French, Toutes procedures. In short, 
God declares that the sins of his people are buried, so that he in a 
manner cuts off his character as a judge, and remits his own right, 
so that he will no more contend with the Jews, or summon them, as 
they say, to trial. Jehovah then will take away thy judgments. 
    Then follows an explanation, "By clearing he has turned aside 
all enemies;" for we know that war is one of God's judgments. As 
then God had punished the Jews by the Assyrians, by the Egyptians, 
by the Chaldeans, and by other heathen nations, he says now, that 
all enemies would be turned away. It hence follows, that neither the 
Assyrians nor the Chaldeans had assailed them merely through their 
own inclination, but that they were, according to what has been 
elsewhere stated, the swords, as it were, of God. 
    It afterwards follows, "The king of Israel is Jehovah in the 
midst of thee". Here the Prophet briefly shows, that the sum of real 
and true happiness is then possessed, when God declares, that he 
undertakes the care of his people. God is said to be in the midst of 
us, when he testifies that we live under his guardianship and 
protection. Properly speaking, he never forsakes his own; but these 
forms of speech, we know, are to be referred to the perception of 
the flesh. When the Lord is said to be afar off, or to dwell in the 
midst of us, it is to be understood with reference to our ideas: for 
we think God to be then absent when he gives liberty to our enemies, 
and we seem to be exposed as a prey to them; but God is said to 
dwell in the midst of us when he protects us by his power, and turns 
aside all assaults. Thus, then, our Prophet now says, that God will 
be in the midst of his Church; for he would really and effectually 
prove that he is the guardian of his elect people. He had been 
indeed for a time absent, when his people were deprived of all help, 
according to what Moses expresses when he says, that the people had 
denuded themselves, because they had renounced God, by whose hand 
they had been safely protected, and were also to be protected to the 
end. (Exod. 32: 25.) 
    He lastly adds, "Thou shalt not see evil". Some read, "Thou 
shalt not fear evil," by inserting "yod"; but the meaning is the 
same: for the verb, to see, in Hebrew is, we know, often to be taken 
in the sense of finding or experiencing. Thou shalt then see no 
evil; that is, God will cause thee to live in quietness, free from 
every disturbance. If the other reading, "Thou shalt not fear evil," 
be preferred, then the reference is to the blessing promised in the 
law; for nothing is more desirable than peace and tranquillity. 
Since then this is the chief of temporal blessings, the Prophet does 
not without reason say, that the Church would be exempt from all 
fear and anxiety, when God should dwell in the midst of it, 
according to what he says in Ps. 46. It now follows - 
Zephaniah 3:16,17 
In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: [and to] 
Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. 
The LORD thy God in the midst of thee [is] mighty; he will save, he 
will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will 
joy over thee with singing. 
    The Prophet proceeds still to confirm the same truth, but 
employs a different mode of speaking. It shall, he says, be then 
said everywhere to Zion, Fear not, let not thine hands be let down, 
&c. For these words may no less suitably be applied to the common 
report or applause of all men, then to the prophetic declaration; so 
that the expression, "It shall be said," may be the common 
congratulation, which all would vie to offer. The import of the 
whole is, that Jerusalem would be so tranquil that either the 
Prophets, or all with common consent would say, "Thou enjoyest thy 
rest: for God really shows that he cares for thee; there is 
therefore no cause for thee hereafter to fear." For there is 
expressed here a real change: since the Jews had been before in 
daily fear, the Prophet intimates, that they would be so safe from 
every danger, as to be partakers of the long-wished-for rest, with 
the approbation even of the whole world. Hence, it shall be said - 
by whom? either by the Prophets, or by common report: it makes no 
great difference, whether there would be teachers to announce their 
state joyful and prosperous, or whether all men would, by common 
consent, applaud God's favor, when he had removed from his people 
all wars, troubles, and fears, so as to make them live in quietness. 
    "It shall then be said to Jerusalem, fear not; Sion! let not 
thine hands be relaxed". By saying "Fear not, and let not thine 
hands be relaxed," he intimates, that all vigor is so relaxed by 
fear, that no member can perform its function. But by taking a part 
for the whole, he understands by the word hands, every other part of 
the body; for by the hands men perform their works. Hence in 
Scripture the hands often signify the works of men. The meaning then 
is - that God's Church would then be in such a state of quietness as 
to be able to discharge all its duties and transact its concerns 
peaceably and orderly. And it is what we also know by experience, 
that when fear prevails in our hearts we are as it were lifeless, so 
that we cannot raise even a finger to do anything: but when hope 
animates us, there is a vigor in the whole body, so that alacrity 
appears everywhere. The Prophet, no doubt, means here, that God thus 
succors his elect, not that they may indulge in pleasures, as is too 
often the case, but that they may, on the contrary, strenuously 
devote themselves to the performance of their duties. We ought 
therefore to notice the connection between a tranquil state and 
diligent hands; for, as I have said, God does not free us from all 
trouble and fear, that we may grow torpid in our pleasures, but that 
we may, on the contrary, be more attentive to our duty. Sion, then! 
let thine hands be no more torpid - Why? 
    "Jehovah, he says, in the midst of thee strong, will save". He 
repeats what he had said, but more fully expresses what might have 
appeared obscure on account of its brevity. He therefore shows here 
more at large the benefit of God's presence - that God will not 
dwell idly in his Church, but will be accompanied with his power. 
For what end? To save. We hence see that the word "gibur", ascribed 
to God, is very emphatical; as though he had said, that God would 
not be idle while residing in the midst of his Church, but would 
become its evident strength. And it is worthy of notice, that God 
exhibits not himself as strong that he may terrify his elect, but 
only that he may become their preserver. 
    He afterwards adds, "He will rejoice over thee with gladness. 
This must be referred to the gratuitous love of God, by which he 
embraces and cherishes his Church, as a husband his wife whom he 
most tenderly loves. Such feelings, we know, belong not to God; but 
this mode of speaking, which often occurs in Scripture, is thus to 
be understood by us; for as God cannot otherwise show his favor 
towards us and the greatness of his love, he compares himself to a 
husband, and us to a wife. He means in short - that God is most 
highly pleased when he can show himself kind to his Church. 
    He confirms and shows again the same thing more clearly, "He 
will be at rest (or silent) in his love". The proper meaning of 
"charash" is to be silent, but it means here to be at rest. The 
import is, that God will be satisfied, as we say in French, Il 
prendra tout son contentement; as though he had said that God wished 
nothing more than sweetly and quietly to cherish his Church. As I 
have already said, this feeling is indeed ascribed to God with no 
strict correctness; for we know that he can instantly accomplish 
whatever it pleases him: but he assumes the character of men; for 
except he thus speaks familiarly with us, he cannot fully show how 
much he loves us. God then shall be at rest in his love; that is, 
"It will be his great delight, it will be the chief pleasure of thy 
God when he cherishes thee: as when one cherishes a wife most dear 
to him, so God will then rest in his love." He then says, "He will 
exult over thee with joy." 
    These hyperbolic terms seem indeed to set forth something 
inconsistent, for what can be more alien to God's glory than to 
exult like man when influenced by joy arising from love? It seems 
then that the very nature of God repudiates these modes of speaking, 
and the Prophet appears as though he had removed God from his 
celestial throne to the earth. A heathen poet says, - 
        Not well do agree, nor dwell on the same throne, 
        Majesty and love. (Ovid. Met. Lib. ii. 816-7.) 
    God indeed represents himself here as a husband, who burns with 
the greatest love towards his wife; and this does not seem, as we 
have said, to be suitable to his glory; but whatever tends to this 
end - to convince us of God's ineffable love towards us, so that we 
may rest in it, and being weaned as it were from the world, may seek 
this one thing only, that he may confer on us his favour - whatever 
tends to this, doubtless illustrates the glory of God, and derogates 
nothing from his nature. We at the same time see that God, as it 
were, humbles himself; for if it be asked whether these things are 
suitable to the nature of God, we must say, that nothing is more 
alien to it. It may then appear by no means congruous, that God 
should be described by us as a husband who burns with love to his 
wife: but we hence more fully learn, as I have already said, how 
great is God's favor towards us, who thus humbles himself for our 
sake, and in a manner transforms himself, while he puts on the 
character of another. Let every one of us come home also to himself, 
and acknowledge how deep is the root of unbelief; for God cannot 
provide for our good and correct this evil, to which we are all 
subject, without departing as it were from himself, that he might 
come nigher to us. 
    And whenever we meet with this mode of speaking, we ought 
especially to remember, that it is not without reason that God 
labors so much to persuade us of his love, because we are not only 
prone by nature to unbelief, but exposed to the deceits of Satan, 
and are also inconstant and easily drawn away from his word: hence 
it is that he assumes the character of man. We must, at the same 
time, observe what I have before stated - that whatever is 
calculated to set forth the love of God, does not derogate from his 
glory; for his chief glory is that vast and ineffable goodness by 
which he has once embraced us, and which he will show us to the end. 
    What the Prophet says of "that day" is to be extended to the 
whole kingdom of Christ. He indeed speaks of the deliverance of the 
people; but we must ever bear in mind what I have already stated - 
that it is not one year, or a few years, which are intended, when 
the Prophets speak of future redemption; for the time which is now 
mentioned began when the people were restored from the Babylonian 
captivity, and continues its course to the final advent of Christ. 
And hence also we learn that these hyperbolic expressions are not 
extravagant, when the Prophets say, "Thou shalt not afterwards fear, 
nor see evil:" for if we regard the dispersion of that people, 
doubtless no trial, however heavy, can happen to us, which is not 
moderate, when we compare our lot with the state of the ancient 
people; for the land of Canaan was then the only pledge of God's 
favour and love. When, therefore, the Jews were ejected from their 
inheritance, it was, as we have said elsewhere, a sort of 
repudiation; it was the same as if a father were to eject from his 
house a son, and to repudiate him. Christ was not as yet manifested 
to the world. The miserable Jews had an evidence, in figures and 
shadows, of that future favor which was afterwards manifested by the 
gospel. Since, then, God gave them so small an evidence of his love, 
how could it be otherwise but that they must have fainted, when 
driven far away from their land? Though the Church is now scattered 
and torn, and seems little short of being ruined, yet God is ever 
present with us in his only-begotten Son: we have also the gate of 
the celestial kingdom fully opened. There is, therefore, 
administered to us at all times more abundant reasons for joy than 
formerly to the ancient people, especially when they seemed to have 
been rejected by God. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that 
the Church would be lessened by calamities, when God again gathered 
it. But that redemption of the people of Israel ought at this day to 
be borne in mind by us; for it was a memorable work of God, by which 
he intended to afford a perpetual testimony that he is the deliverer 
of all those who hope in him. It follows - 
Zephaniah 3:18 
I will gather [them that are] sorrowful for the solemn assembly, 
[who] are of thee, [to whom] the reproach of it [was] a burden. 
    He proceeds here with the same subject, but in different words; 
for except some consolation had been introduced, what the Prophet 
has hitherto said would have been frigid; for he had promised them 
joy, he had exhorted the chosen of God to offer praise and 
thanksgiving; but they were at the same time in a most miserable 
state. It was hence necessary to add this declaration respecting the 
exiles being gathered. 
    But he says "at the time". Some read, "in respect to time;" but 
this is obscure and strained. Others render it, "at the time;" but 
it means strictly "from the time;" though "mem" may sometimes be 
rendered as a particle of comparison. Interpreters do not seem to me 
rightly to understand the Prophet's meaning: for I do not doubt but 
that he points out here the fixed time of deliverance, as though he 
had said, "I will again gather thine afflicted, and those who have 
endured thy reproach." When? at the time, "mimo'ed"; that is, at the 
determined or fixed time: for "mo'ed" is not taken in Hebrew for 
time simply, but for a predetermined time, as we say in French, Un 
terme prefix. I will then gather thine afflicted, but not soon. Our 
Prophet then holds the faithful here somewhat in suspense, that they 
might continue in their watch tower, and patiently wait for God's 
help; for we know how great is our haste, and how we run headlong 
when we hope for anything; but this celerity, according to the old 
proverb, is often delay to us. Since, then, men are always carried 
away by a certain heat, or by too much impetuosity, to lay hold on 
what may happen, the Prophet here lays a restraint, and intimates 
that God has his own seasons to fulfill what he has promised, that 
he will not do so soon, nor according to the will of men, but when 
the suitable time shall come. And this time is that which he has 
appointed, not what we desire. 
    He then adds, "Who have sustained reproach for her". In this 
second clause the Prophet no doubt repeats the same thing; but at 
the same time he points out, not without reason, their condition - 
that the Jews suffered reproach and contumely at the time of their 
exile, and that on account of being the Church; that is, because 
they professed to worship their own God; for on account of his name 
the Jews were hated by all nations, inasmuch as their religion was 
different from the superstitions of all heathens. It could not hence 
be, but that the unbelieving should vex them with many reproaches, 
when they were carried away into exile, and scattered in all 
    He had said before, "I will gather the afflicted;" but he now 
adds, "I will gather those who have sustained reproach." I have 
stated that some read, "A burden upon her is reproach;" but no sense 
can be elicited from such words. The Prophet does here no doubt 
obviate a temptation which awaited God's children, who would have to 
experience in exile what was most grievous to be borne; for they 
were to be exposed to the taunts and ridicule of all nations. Hence 
he seasonably heals their grief by saying, that though for a time 
they would be laughed at by the ungodly, they would yet return to 
their own country; for the Lord had resolved to gather them. But we 
must ever remember what I have said - that God would do this in his 
own time, when he thought it seasonable. It follows - 
Zephaniah 3:19 
Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will 
save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I 
will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put 
to shame. 
    He confirms here what I have referred to in the last verse that 
God would overcome all obstacles, when his purpose was to restore 
his people. On this the Prophet, as we have said, dwells, that the 
Jews might in their exile sustain themselves with the hope of 
deliverance. As, then, they could not instantly conceive what was so 
incredible according to the perceptions of the flesh, he testifies 
that there is sufficient power in God to subdue all enemies. 
    At that time, he says, he repeats what had been stated before - 
that his people must wait as long as God pleases to exercise them 
under the cross; for if their option had been given to the Jews, 
they would have willingly continued at their ease; and we know how 
men are wont to exempt themselves from every trouble, fear, and 
sorrow. As therefore men naturally desire rest and immunity from all 
evil, the Prophet here exhorts the faithful to patience, and shows, 
that it cannot be that God will become their deliverer, except they 
submit to his chastisement; "at that time" then. It is ever to be 
observed, that the Prophet condemns that extreme haste which usually 
takes hold of men when God chastises them. However slowly then and 
gradually God proceeds in the work of delivering his own, the 
Prophet shows here, that there was no reason for them to despair, or 
to be broken down in their spirits. 
    He then subjoins, that he would "save the halting, and restore 
the driven away". By these words he means, that though the Church 
would be maimed and torn, there would yet be nothing that could 
hinder God to restore her: for by the halting and the driven away he 
understands none other than one so stripped of power as wholly to 
fail in himself. He therefore compares the Church of God to a 
person, who, with relaxed limbs, is nearly dead. Hence, when we are 
useless as to any work, what else is our life but a languor like to 
death? But the Prophet declares here, that the seasonable time would 
come when God would relieve his own people: though they were to 
become prostrate and fallen, though they were to be scattered here 
and there, like a torn body of man, an arm here and a leg there, 
every limb separated; yet he declares that nothing could possibly 
prevent God to gather his Church and restore it to its full vigor 
and strength. In short, he means that the restoration of the Church 
would be a kind of resurrection; for the Lord would humble his 
people until they became almost lifeless, so as not to be able to 
breathe: but he would at length gather them, and so gather them that 
they would not only breathe but be replenished with such new vigor 
as though they had received no loss. I cannot finish the whole 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day so scattered on 
account of our sins, and even they who seem to be collected in thy 
name and under thy authority, are yet so torn by mutual discords, 
that the safety of thy Church hangs as it were on a thread, while in 
the meantime thine enemies seem with savage cruelty to destroy all 
those who are thine, and to obliterate thy gospel, - O grant, that 
we may live in quietness and resignation, hoping in thy promises, so 
that we may not doubt, but that thou in due time will become our 
deliverer: and may we so patiently bear to be afflicted and cast 
down by thee, that we may ever raise up our groans to heaven so as 
to be heard through the name of thy Son, until being at length freed 
from every contest, we shall enjoy that blessed rest which is laid 
up for us in heaven, and which thine only begotten Son has procured 
for us. Amen. 

Calvin's Commentary on Zephaniah, Part 10

(continued in part 11...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-06: cvzep-10.txt