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In this chapter the character of the city of Jerusalem, and its inhabitants in general, is drawn, as it would be, and as it was, in the times of Christ and his apostles, ( Zephaniah 3:1,2) and of the principal persons of it in particular, its princes, judges, prophets, and priests, ( Zephaniah 3:3,4).
The hardness, impenitence, and shamelessness of this people, are exposed and aggravated by the just Lord being among them; who, by his example and doctrine, taught them otherwise; yet they were not amended or made ashamed, ( Zephaniah 3:5) nor received instruction, nor took warning by the judgments of God on other nations, ( Zephaniah 3:6,7) wherefore the followers of God are called upon to wait his time, who would gather many people together, and destroy the whole land of Judea, ( Zephaniah 3:8) at which time he would send his Gospel among the Gentiles, who should thereby be brought to the true worship and service of God, ( Zephaniah 3:9,10) though there should be a remnant among the Jews, according to the election of grace, that should be saved from that general calamity, ( Zephaniah 3:11-13) and the spiritual Israel are encouraged with promises of better times, when the Jews in general should be converted and gathered into the church of God, have the presence and protection of God with them, and deliverance from all their enemies, and be a praise among all people of the earth, ( Zephaniah 3:14-20).
Ver. 1 . Woe to her that is filthy, and polluted , etc.] Meaning the city of Jerusalem, and its inhabitants; not as before the Babylonish captivity, but after their return from it, under the second temple, as Abarbinel owns; and even as in the times before and at the coming of Christ, and the preaching of his apostles among them; as the whole series of the prophecy, and the connection of the several parts of it, show; and there are such plain intimations of the conversion of the Gentiles, and of such a happy state of the Jews, in which they shall see evil no more, as can agree with no other times than the times of the Gospel, both the beginning and latter part of them. The character of this city, and its inhabitants, is, that it was “filthy”, and polluted with murders, adulteries, oppression, rapine, and other sins: our Lord often calls them a wicked and an adulterous generation; and yet they pretended to great purity of life and manners; and they were pure in their own eyes, though not washed from their filthiness; they took much pains to make clean the outside of the cup, but within were full of impurity, ( Matthew 23:25-28). In the margin it is, “woe to her that is gluttonous”. The word is used for the craw or crop of a fowl, ( Leviticus 1:16) hence some render it “woe to the craw”; to the city that is all craw, to which Jerusalem is compared for its devouring the wealth and substance of others. The Scribes and Pharisees in Christ’s time are said to devour widows’ houses, ( Matthew 23:14) and this seems to be the sin with which they were defiled, and here charged with. Some think the word signifies one that is publicly, infamous; either made a public example of, or openly exposed, as sometimes filthy harlots are; or rather one “that has made herself infamous” f97 ; by her sins and vices: to the oppressing city ! that oppressed the poor, the widow, and the fatherless. This may have respect to the inhabitants of Jerusalem stoning the prophets of the Lord sent unto them; to the discouragements they laid the followers of Christ under, by not suffering such to come to hear him that were inclined; threatening to cast them out of their synagogues if they professed him, which passed into a law; and to their killing the Lord of life and glory; and the persecution of his apostles, ministers, and people: (see Matthew 23:13,37 John 9:22 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). Some render it, “to the city a dove” f98 ; being like a silly dove without heart, as in ( Hosea 7:11). R. Azariah thinks Jerusalem is so called because in its works it was like Babylon, which had for its military sign on its standard a dove; (see Gill on “ Jeremiah 25:38”) (see Gill on “ Jeremiah 46:16”) (see Gill on “ Hosea 11:11”) but the former sense is best.
Ver. 2. She obeyed not the voice , etc.] Of his servants the prophets, as the Targum, by way of explanation, adds, who warned her of her sins and of her ruin. The inhabitants of Jerusalem hearkened not to the voice of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who gave notice of his coming; nor to the voice of Christ himself, who stretched out his hand all the day to a disobedient and gainsaying people; nor to the voice of his apostles, whose doctrines they contradicted and blasphemed; and put away the word of God from them, thereby judging themselves unworthy of eternal life: she received not correction ; by the rod, by the judgments of God upon her: or “instruction” f100 ; by the Gospel preached to her inhabitants. So the Targum interprets it, “she received not doctrine;” the doctrine of baptism, repentance, and remission of sins, preached by John; but rejected the counsel of God by him against themselves, ( Luke 7:31) nor the doctrine and instruction of Christ and his apostles, though of more worth than gold and silver; but, on the contrary, slighted and despised it, and rejected it with the utmost contempt: she trusted not in the Lord ; not in the Word of the Lord, as the Targum; the essential Word, Christ Jesus; the Word made flesh, and dwelling among them; they trusted in the law of Moses, and in their obedience to it; in their rites and ceremonies, and in the observance of them, and the traditions of their elders; they trusted in the flesh, in their carnal privileges; in their own legal righteousness, and in themselves, that they were righteous, and despised others; and particularly the righteousness of Christ they submitted not unto; they trusted not in him, nor in that; though they were told, that, if they believed not that he was the Messiah, they should die in their sins: she drew not near to her God ; Immanuel, God manifest in the flesh, who was promised to the Jews, and sent unto them, whom their fathers expected, and whose God he was, and theirs also; being in his human nature of them, and God over all blessed for ever; so far were they from drawing near to him, and embracing, him, that they hid, as it were, their faces from him; they would not come to him for life and light, for grace, righteousness, and salvation; nor even to hear him preach, nor suffer others to do the same; but, as much as in them lay, hindered them from attending his ministry, word, and ordinances. The Targum is, “she drew not nigh to the worship of her God.”
Ver. 3. Her princes within her [are] roaring lions , etc.] Or, “as roaring lions”; there being a defect of the note of similitude; which is supplied by the Targum, Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions. This is to be understood, not of the princes of the blood; but of civil magistrates in common; the members of the grand sanhedrim; the princes of the Jewish world, that crucified the Lord of glory; and who gaped upon him with their mouths like ravening and roaring lions, as is foretold they should, ( Psalm 22:12,13) and who breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of Christ; and by their menaces endeavoured to frighten and deter them from preaching in his name, and from a profession of him; (see 1 Corinthians 2:8 Acts 4:5,6,18 5:27,28): her judges [are] evening wolves ; or, like them, cruel, voracious, never satisfied; especially are very ravenous in the evening, having had no food all day; not daring to go abroad in the daytime to seek their prey; (see Jeremiah 5:6). The Septuagint and Arabic versions read “wolves of Arabia”; but wrongly; (see Gill on “ Habakkuk 1:8”) such rapacious covetous judges were there in Christ’s time; who gives us an instance in one, by which we may judge of the rest, who feared not God, nor regarded men, ( Luke 18:2) such as these were hungry and greedy after gifts and bribes to pervert judgment, and to devour the poor, the widow, and the fatherless, on whom they had no mercy: they gnaw not the bones till the morrow ; or rather, “in the morning” f101 ; that is, either they leave not the bones till the morning, as Jarchi and Kimchi interpret it; they are so hungry, that they eat up bones and all at once, and reserve nothing for the next day; which expresses both the greediness of these judges, and the total consumption of the estates of men made by them: or else the sense is, that not having gnawn any bones in the morning, or eaten anything that day, hence they are so greedy in the evening; and so this last clause gives a reason why evening wolves are so voracious; for which such cruel judges are compared to them.
Ver. 4. Her prophets [are] light [and treacherous persons , etc.] The false prophets, as the Targum and Kimchi explain it: these seem to design the lawyers spoken of in the New Testament, whose business it was to interpret the law to the people; these were “light” men, good for nothing, of no worth and value; light in knowledge, as Kimchi gives the sense of the word; men of no brains; empty headed men, that had no substantial knowledge; giddy, unstable, and inconstant, and compliant with the humours and vices of the people; men of no gravity in their countenance, speech, and conversation. Schultens f102 , from the use of the word in the Arabic language, renders it “proud”, as these men were, proud boasters; for, though they had but a superficial knowledge of things, they boasted of much, and carried it with a haughty and insolent air to the common people: and they were “treacherous” to God, and to his truths, and to the souls of men, and took away the key of knowledge from them; and particularly were so to Christ, of whom they were the betrayers and murderers, delivering him up into the hands of the Gentiles to be scourged and crucified, ( Matthew 20:18,19): her priests have polluted the sanctuary ; the temple; by selling, or suffering to be sold in it, various things, whereby it became a den of thieves, which once was called a house of prayer, ( Matthew 21:12,13) and also our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the sanctuary or temple was a type, by denying, blaspheming, and reproaching him, and by shedding his blood: they have done violence to the law ; by not teaching it as they should; and by their false glosses, senses, and interpretations of it; and by the traditions of the elders they preferred unto it, and whereby they made it void; (see Matthew 5:1-48) and ( Matthew 15:1-39).
Ver. 5 . The just Lord [is] in the midst thereof , etc.] In the midst of the city of Jerusalem, where those princes, judges, prophets and priests, were, that behaved so ill, and saw and observed all their evil actions; and yet they were not deterred from them by his presence, even though he is the “just” and Holy One, who loves righteousness, and hates iniquity, and will punish for it; nor were they directed and allured to do what is righteous and good by his example. This character of the just Lord well agrees with Christ, who is perfectly righteous in both his natures, and in the execution of his offices; and is the author of righteousness to his people; and this is to be understood of his incarnation and personal presence in human nature in Jerusalem, and in the temple, where he taught his doctrine, and wrought his miracles: he will not do iniquity ; Christ was holy in his nature, harmless in his life; he knew no sin; he did not commit any; no violence was done by him, or guile found in him; he was not guilty of sin against God, nor of doing any injury to men; and should have been imitated by the men of the age in which he lived, as well as by others; and should have been valued and esteemed, and not traduced and vilified as he was, as if he had been the worst of men: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light ; the doctrine of the Gospel, which he set in the clearest light, and preached with the greatest constancy, day after day, morning by morning, and very early in the morning, when the people came to hear him in the temple; and he continued in it all the day; he waking morning by morning to this service, as was predicted of him, ( Isaiah 1:4) (see Luke 21:37,38): he faileth not ; in this work of preaching the word, with the greatest evidence and assiduity: but the unjust knoweth no shame : those unjust persons, who aspersed the character of Christ, and traduced his doctrine and miracles; though there was nothing in his life, nor in his ministry, that could be justly blamed, yet they blushed not at their sin and wickedness; and though they were sharply reproved by him, and their errors in principle, and sins in practice, were exposed by him, yet they were not ashamed; such were the hardness and obduracy of their hearts.
Ver. 6. I have cut off the nations , etc.] Utterly destroyed them, as the Philistines, Moabites, Ethiopians, and Assyrians, as in the preceding chapters; all which were done before the coming of Christ in the flesh; and by which instances the Jews should have took warning, lest by their sins they should provoke the Lord to destroy their nation, city, and temple: their towers are desolate ; built on their frontiers, or on the walls of their cities, to defend them; these were demolished, and laid waste, and of no use: or, “their corners” f103 ; towers being usually built on the angles or corners of walls. Some interpret this of their princes, nobles, and great men, who were destroyed; (see Zechariah 10:4): I made their streets waste, that none passeth by ; the streets of their cities, the houses being pulled down by the enemy, the rubbish of them lay in the streets, so that there was no passing for any; and indeed, the houses being demolished, the streets were no more in form: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant ; the houses being burnt with fire, or pulled down, and plundered of the goods and substance in them, and the people cut off by famine, pestilence, or sword; and the rest carried captive, there was scarce a man or inhabitant left; so general was the destruction.
Ver. 7. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me , etc.] This is spoken after the manner of men; as if God should say within himself, and reason in his own mind, upon a view of things, surely the people of the Jews will take notice of my judgments executed on other nations, and will stand in awe of me on account of them; and fear to offend me, lest the same calamities should come upon them; this, humanly speaking, might be reasonably thought would be the case: thou wilt receive instruction ; by these judgments, taking warning by them; repent, reform, and amend, and thereby escape the like: so their dwelling should not be cut off ; or, “its dwelling”; the dwelling of the city of Jerusalem, the houses in it; the dwelling places of the inhabitants of it; the singular being put for the plural; unless the temple should be meant, as Abendana interprets it; and so it may be rendered “his dwelling” f104 ; their house, which was left desolate to them, because they feared not the Lord; nor received instruction by the example of others; nor repented of their sins, and altered their course of life; which, if done, their dwelling would have been preserved, ( Matthew 23:38): howsoever I punished them ; or “visited” them; chastised them in a gentle manner, in order to reform them, but in vain. Some render it, “all which I committed to them” f106 ; the oracles of God, his word and ordinances, his promises, and the blessings of his goodness, which he deposited with them, in order to do them good, and bring them to repentance. The Targum is, “all the good things which I have said unto them (or promised them), I will bring unto them;” and to the same sense Jarchi. The goodness of God should have brought them to repentance, yet it did not: but they rose early, [and] corrupted all their doings ; they were diligent and industrious eager and early, in the commission of sins, in doing corrupt and abominable works; receiving and tenaciously adhering to the traditions of the elders; seeking to establish their own righteousness, not submitting to Christ’s; rejecting him the true Messiah; blaspheming his doctrines, despising his ordinances, and persecuting his people; besides other vices, which abounded among them; for which the wrath of God came upon them to the uttermost, as expressed in the following verse, ( Zephaniah 3:8).
Ver. 8. Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord , etc.] Or “nevertheless” f107 : this is said to the disciples and followers of Christ among the Jews; for there were some few that did fear the Lord, and received his doctrine, and submitted to his ordinances, and walked in his ways; and these are encouraged to wait upon the Lord; upon the Word of the Lord, as the Targum; or for him, and to expect that he would appear, and work salvation and deliverance for them, when distress should come upon the unbelieving Jews: until the day that I rise up to the prey : until the day that he rose from the dead, quickly after which he ascended to heaven, leading captivity captive; Satan, and his principalities and powers, which he made a prey and spoil of upon the cross: or, till I rise “up for a testimony”, or witness f108 ; of his being the true Messiah; for his resurrection from the dead was the signal he gave as a testimony of it, ( Matthew 12:39,40). Some render it, “till I rise up to perpetuity”: or, “for ever” f109 ; for, when Christ rose from the dead, he rose to an immortal life, never to die more; and ever live he does to make intercession for his people, to secure their happiness for them, and to preserve them unto it; and therefore they have great encouragement to wait upon him, and for him: for my determination [is] to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms ; not the Chaldeans or Babylonians, as some; nor the armies of Gog and Magog, as Kimchi; but the Romans under Titus Vespasian, with whom were people of many nations, who came against Jerusalem, according to the decree, will, and appointment of God: to pour upon them mine indignation, [even] all my fierce anger ; not upon the nations and kingdoms assembled; but by them upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea, against whom they would be gathered; who had corrupted their doings, and provoked the Lord to stir up and pour out all his wrath upon them, in utterly destroying their nation, city, and temple: and the apostle, speaking of the same thing, at least of the beginning of it, calls it “wrath upon them to the uttermost”: and which answers to the expressions of the Lord’s indignation, and all his fierce anger, here used, ( 1 Thessalonians 2:16): for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy ; not the whole world, and the several nations of it; but the whole land of Judea, and its inhabitants. The same phrase is used of the destruction of it by the Babylonians, ( Zephaniah 1:18) and which shows, that not that destruction, but the destruction by the Romans, is here meant; or otherwise a tautology is here committed; but the following words show clearly that this respects, not the former, but the latter destruction of Jerusalem; since a pure language was not given to the nations or Gentiles after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians; but has been since it was destroyed by the Romans; and which was in a few years after Christ’s resurrection from the dead, predicted in the beginning of this verse; by which may be observed the connection of things in this prophecy.
Ver. 9. For then will I turn to the people a pure language , etc.] That is, at or about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans; when the Jews, both in their own land, and in the Gentile world, would have the Gospel first preached to them, but would reject it; upon which the apostles and first ministers of the word would turn to the Gentiles, as the Lord commanded them; when he would turn or change his speech and language towards them, and their speech and language towards him would be turned and changed also: for the words may be taken either way; either of God’s speech to the Gentiles, which is his Gospel sent unto them; as it was quickly after Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the rejection of it by the Jews; for many hundred years the Lord took no notice of them; winked at the times of their ignorance; sent no prophet to them, nor any message by anyone to instruct them; yea, he spake roughly to them, in a providential way; in the way of his judgments; particularly they raging and imagining vain things against his Messiah, he spake to them in his wrath, and vexed them in his sore displeasure; (see Acts 17:30 Psalm 2:1,5) but now he alters the tone of his voice, changes his language, and sends his Gospel to them; which is a “language” of love, grace, and mercy; of peace, pardon, righteousness, and salvation; encouraging souls to believe in Christ for those things: and this is a “pure” speech or language; a pure doctrine, fetched out of the sacred Scriptures; free from the dross of error; unmixed, consistent, and all of a piece; and which has a tendency to promote purity of heart, life, and conversation: or, is a “choice speech” f110 ; as some render it; it speaks of choice things, more valuable than gold and silver, pearls, and precious stones; the doctrines of it being an inestimable treasure, the unsearchable riches of Christ; and this, by the commission of Christ, upon his resurrection from the dead, was ordered to be spoke unto all nations, ( Matthew 28:19 Mark 16:15) or this may respect the different language spoken by the converted Gentiles, when the Gospel should come with power to them; who should speak, as all converted persons do, a different language than they spake before; instead of swearing and cursing, lying, filthy, and frothy speaking, now they speak the language of repentance towards God, confessing their sins, and praying for the pardon of them; the language of faith in Christ, first in a more weak and feeble manner, then with more strength and assurance, believing their interest in him, and in the everlasting love of God, and the covenant of grace; the language of love to Christ, his people, truths, and ordinances; a soul abasing, Christ exalting, and free grace magnifying language; the language of praise and gratitude for mercies received, temporal and spiritual; and especially for Christ, and grace and glory by him: they then speak the language of gracious experience to one another; and in the language of the Scriptures, in the taught words of the Holy Ghost; and, in common conversation, their language is pure, and free from that corruption and vitiosity it was before tainted with: this arises from pureness of heart; from a rich experience of the grace of God; from the teachings of the Spirit of God; and which betrays a man, and shows that he has been with Jesus; this is the language of Canaan, ( Isaiah 19:18): that they may all call upon the name of the Lord ; which sometimes takes in the whole worship and service of God; but, since that is later expressed, it rather intends, in particular, prayer to God; for which men are fitted and qualified, by having a pure language turned to them; or through the Gospel coming with power on them; and by virtue of efficacious grace converting them, and causing them to speak differently from what they did before; and then it is their voice is heard in prayer to God; and which is delightful and pleasant to him, ( Acts 9:11 Song of Solomon 2:14) and this is the case of “all” such that have this pure language; there is not a prayerless soul among them: it follows, to serve him with one consent ; or, “with one shoulder” f111 ; the allusion is, either to bearers of burdens, that join together in carrying any burden, who put shoulder to shoulder as they carry it; or else to oxen drawing in a yoke, who are yoked together shoulder by shoulder; hence the Septuagint version renders it “under one yoke”: in which it is followed by the Syriac and Arabic versions. The phrase signifies, that the Gentiles having the Gospel brought to them, and they called by it, and all speaking the same language, should join in fellowship with one another, and sing the praises of God together; agree in prayer to ask of God the same things; stand fast in the faith of the Gospel, and strive for it, being of the same mind; meet constantly together to carry on the several branches of religious worship, and promote the Redeemer’s interest; all drawing the same way, like a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots; having one heart, and one way given them to fear the Lord; and so, with one mind and one mouth, glorify God; so Kimchi and Ben Melech interpret it with one heart and one mind.
This passage is applied to the times of the Messiah by the Jews, ancient and modern f112 .
Ver. 10. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia , etc.] Either the African Ethiopia, or Arabia Chusea, which lay between Judea and Egypt: here some particular places and people are mentioned, in whom the preceding prophecy would be fulfilled. If these rivers of Ethiopia are such as ran in the midst of the country, and so point at some parts of it, though on the other side of them, then this prophecy might have its accomplishment, at least when the Evangelist Matthew went thither, and preached the Gospel, and very likely the Apostle Paul; as also when the Ethiopian eunuch was converted, who doubtless did what in him lay to promote the interest of Christ in those parts. Ben Melech makes this parallel with and illustrates it by ( Isaiah 18:1,7), (see Gill on “ Isaiah 18:1”), (see Gill on “ Isaiah 18:7”); but if these design rivers on the furthermost borders of the country, which divided it from others, then Egypt, which lay beyond it, seems to be intended; and so the prophecy, in connection with the foregoing verse ( Zephaniah 3:9), is the same with ( Isaiah 19:18) “in that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan”; of these rivers of Ethiopia, whether in Africa or Arabia Chusea, (see Gill on “ Isaiah 18:1”). The Targum renders it “beyond the rivers of India:” my suppliants, [even] the daughter of my dispersed : Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Abarbinel, and Ben Melech, take the words “Atharai Bathpusai” to be the proper name of a nation or family beyond the rivers of Ethiopia f113 ; whereas they are characters which describe persons there, who should have the pure language turned to them, and call on the name of the Lord; even such, who, being made sensible of sin, and of their danger, would be humble supplicants at the throne of grace, and pray to the Lord for the discovery and application of pardoning grace and mercy to them, agreeably to the prophecy in ( Psalm 68:31) “princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God”; that is, in prayer: and these are the sons and daughters of the Almighty, who are scattered abroad in the several parts of the world, and among the rest here; but as they are gathered together by Christ in redemption, so they are found out and reached by efficacious grace in calling, whether Jews or Gentiles. Some think the Jews are here meant, even the elect of God among them, who were dispersed in several nations, and particularly in Egypt and Ethiopia; who were met with by the Gospel, and converted in the first times of it; to these Peter and James direct their epistles: and of whom, being called by grace, it is said, they shall bring mine offering ; themselves as an offering to the Lord, souls and bodies, with all other spiritual sacrifices of prayer, praise, and well doing; and likewise such persons they may be the instruments of the conversion of, called the offering of the Gentiles, ( Romans 15:16).
Ver. 11. In that day shall thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me , etc.] Because these shall not be continued in, but repented of, and forsaken; and, besides, shall be forgiven, blotted out, covered, and remembered no more; so that they shall not be charged with them, condemned for them, or be confounded before God, angels, and men, on account of them; not but that shame always arises from a true sense of sin; and the more, as it is beheld in the glass of pardoning love, which is a branch of true evangelical repentance, at least a fruit and evidence of it, ( Ezekiel 16:63) but then such are not ashamed to appear before God; but can with a holy confidence stand in his sight, their sins being pardoned, and their persons justified. This respects the Christian church or churches in Judea, the few that believed in Christ, called in a following verse the remnant of Israel ( Zephaniah 3:13), at the time when the generality of the people of the Jews rejected the Messiah, and their city and temple were destroyed, and the Lord turned the pure language of the Gospel to the Gentiles: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride ; the Scribes and Pharisees, and those that adhered to them of the Jewish nation, who rejoiced in those things which that people generally prided themselves in and boasted of; their descent from Abraham; their observance of the rites and ceremonies of the law, and the traditions of their elders, and their external legal righteousness; and they rejoiced in their boastings of these things, which rejoicing was evil; and they, in the pride of their hearts, despised Christ and his righteousness, his Gospel, ordinances, and people, which were the things in which they transgressed against the Lord, and for which they were taken away by the sword, famine, and pestilence, at the destruction of Jerusalem: this is further explained by the next clause: and thou shall no more be haughty because of mine holy mountain : the temple; or, “in” it; since it should now be destroyed: the Jews gloried in the temple, and behaved proudly and haughtily on the account of it; reckoned themselves secure, because of that; and trusted and gloried in the sacrifices there offered up, and the services there performed; (see Jeremiah 7:4).
Ver. 12 . I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people , etc.] Of a character just the reverse of the proud and haughty, that should be removed from Jerusalem and Judea by death or captivity; these are they that should be preserved from the general calamity, as the Christians were, and were left in the church of God: these were an “afflicted” people, as the Lord’s people in all ages are afflicted with a body of sin; with the temptations of Satan; with the hidings of God’s face; with bodily infirmities, and with the reproaches and persecutions of men; the first Christians, both among Jews and Gentiles, justly bore this character, especially with respect to the last article: and they were also “poor”, for the most part the poor of this world, being stripped of their worldly enjoyments for the sake of Christ; but especially poor in spirit, broken hearted, contrite, lowly ones; that had a mean opinion of themselves, modest, meek, and humble; sensible of their spiritual poverty, and seeking after the true riches of grace and glory. The Targum renders it, “a meek people, and receiving injuries;” quietly and patiently: and they shall trust in the name of the Lord ; not in men, but in the Lord; not in descent from men, from the patriarchs, as the Jews were wont to do; not in Moses, as they, in his law, and obedience to it; not in any creature or creature enjoyment; not in wealth and riches: nor in their own hearts, or in their own righteousness; but in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; in his person for acceptance with God; in his righteousness for justification; in his blood for pardon and cleansing; in his sacrifice for atonement; in his fulness for supplies of grace; in his power and strength for protection and preservation; and in his obedience, sufferings, and death, for salvation and eternal life. This trust signifies, according to the sense of the word f115 , a betaking of themselves to Christ as a refuge; a hiding themselves under the shadow of his wings; under his person, blood, and righteousness, where they are covered and sheltered from the avenging justice of God; from the curses of the law, and wrath to come: it is a committing themselves into the hands of Christ; a leaning and staying upon him, expecting grace and glory from him; trusting him with all they have, and for all they want in time and eternity: and this the chosen, redeemed, and called ones, “shall do”; for, through the efficacious grace of God, faith is given to them, and wrought in them; and this is drawn forth into act and exercise by the same grace, and is continued in them, and shall never fail, through the powerful intercession of Christ for them; they shall believe, and go on believing, to the saving of their souls.
Ver. 13 . The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity , etc.] This is the remnant, according to the election of grace, the few the Lord reserved for himself, left in the land, and in his church, for his own glory; who, being truly convinced of sin, and brought to believe in Christ, should leave and forsake their former course of sinning; not that they should be without sin, or none be committed by them; but should not live in it, and be workers of it; make a trade of sinning, and continue therein; or should not commit the sin against the Holy Ghost, as great numbers of the Jews did, in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, against clear evidence, and the light of their own consciences: nor speak lies ; in common talk and conversation; which a child of God, a true believer in Christ, a real Christian, should not and dare not do, ( Isaiah 63:8) or doctrinal lies, lies in hypocrisy; such doctrines as are not of the truth of the Gospel, but contrary to it; such as the doctrine of justification by works; atonement by ceremonial sacrifices; acceptance with God, through the merits of their fathers; and keeping the traditions of the elders; and other Jewish lies and fables of the same stamp; but rejected by those who have embraced the truth, as it is in Jesus: neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth ; having clean hearts created and right spirits renewed in them; being Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile, and true followers of Jesus, in whom nothing of this kind could be found: for they shall feed , like a flock of sheep, to which they may be compared for their innocence and harmlessness, meekness and patience; feed in the fat pastures of the word and ordinances of Christ, under the care and guidance of him the good Shepherd; and so go in and out, and find pasture, food, and fulness of it, in him, his flesh, and blood; in his precious truths, and Gospel provisions made in his house: and lie down ; in green pastures of ordinances, beside the still waters of everlasting love and divine grace, and in the good fold of the church; all which is a reason why they do not and cannot sin as others do; nor tell lies, and be guilty of deceit and falsehood; for they are better taught; and the grace of God, in giving them spiritual food and rest, influences and engages them to such a conduct and behaviour: or, “therefore they shall feed” f116 , etc. being truly gracious and sincere souls, who cannot indulge themselves in sin, nor act a false and deceitful part: and none shall make [them] afraid ; of feeding in those pastures, and lying down in those folds; or shall deter them from an attendance on the word and ordinances; or joining in fellowship with the churches of Christ therein; neither Satan, the roaring lion, nor false teachers, and persecuting tyrants, those grievous wolves, and cruel bears; or so frighten them, that in their fright they shall tell lies, and use deceit.
Ver. 14. Sing, O daughter of Zion , etc.] The congregation of Zion, as the Targum; the church of Christ in Gospel times, which has great reason to sing and rejoice, because of the coming of Christ, redemption by him, and all other benefits and blessings of grace; because of the Gospel, and the ordinances of it, and the numbers of souls converted, both among Jews and Gentiles; especially the church in the latter day is here called upon to sing for joy, when the Jews will be converted; to which these words and what follow relate: shout, O Israel ; the ten tribes, as Kimchi and Ben Melech interpret it; which shall now return, and all Israel shall be saved, ( Romans 11:26) and therefore just cause of shouting, and of keeping a jubilee on that account: be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem ; the metropolis of the two tribes; for now the children of Israel and of Judah shall be together, and seek the Lord their God, and the true Messiah, and find him; and shall embrace him, profess and serve him; which will be matter of great joy; and this will be sincere and hearty, and devoid of all hypocrisy. Several terms are used, describing the people of the Jews, to comprehend them all; and several words to express their joy, in order to set forth the greatness of it, as their happy case would require; as follows:
Ver. 15 . The Lord hath taken away thy judgments , etc.] Both outward and inward; not only exile, poverty, contempt and reproach among the nations of the earth; but hardness of heart, blindness of mind, impenitence and unbelief, to which the Jews are now given up, in a judicial way; but at this time these shall be removed, through the goodness of God unto them, and the power of divine grace upon them: they will be brought to a sense of sin, and an acknowledgment of it; their iniquities will be pardoned; and, the cause being removed, the effects will cease; and all calamities, corrections and punishment, will end; and they will be put into the possession of their own land, and enjoy all the privileges of the church of God; and so will have just reason to sing, shout, and rejoice: he hath cast out thine enemy ; that is, the Lord has removed the enemy that was in possession of their land, and so made way, and prepared it for them; he has swept him away, as the word signifies, with great force, with much ease, and like so much dirt and filth; he stood in their way, nor could they have easily removed him; but the Lord did it, or will do it; though it may be by instruments, by means of the Christian princes. This is to be understood of the eastern antichrist, the Turk, now in possession of the land of Israel f118 ; but shall be obliged to depart from it, when this prophecy shall take place, for a reason following: the King of Israel, [even] the Lord, [is] in the midst of thee ; that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Messiah; one of whose titles is the King of Israel, of the spiritual Israel, King of saints, both Jews and Gentiles; in whose hearts he rules by his Spirit and grace; and to this passage the Jews in Christ’s time seem to have respect, allowing this to be the character of the Messiah, ( Matthew 27:42) and also Nathanael, ( John 1:49) now at this time Christ will be in the midst of the converted Jews, by his spiritual and gracious presence, as their King, to reign over them, to whom they will be subject; and to protect and defend them, and deliver them out of the hands of all their enemies; and so he is in all his churches, and will be to the end of the world: thou shalt not see evil any more ; the evil of affliction or punishment; the evil of captivity, disgrace, and contempt. This shows that this prophecy does not respect the Babylonish captivity, and deliverance from that; for, since that time, they have seen evil by Antiochus Epiphanes, in the times of the Maccabees; and by the Romans; and have had a large and long experience of it; but when they are converted, and returned to their own land in the latter day, all their afflictions and troubles will be at an end, they will know them no more. The Vulgate Latin version renders it, “thou shalt not fear evil any more”. So the Targum, “thou shalt not be afraid from before evil any more.”
In the same sense Aben Ezra understands it, “thou shalt not be afraid of the enemy any more;” taking the word to come from another root f119 .
Ver. 16. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, fear thou not , etc.] Do not be afraid of any enemies; neither outward ones, the armies of Gog and Magog, the Turk, who will threaten, and will attempt to dispossess them of their land, now returned to it; nor inward and spiritual enemies, sin, Satan, death, and hell, being all vanquished and subdued by Christ: this will be said, not by the enemies themselves, who will confess they have no power to stand before the mighty God, as Aben Ezra; but either by the prophets of the Lord, or by the people themselves, encouraging one another, every man his neighbour, as Kimchi; or rather by the Lord himself, as the Septuagint and Arabic versions supply it, “the Lord shall say to Jerusalem;” this will be said at the time of the Jews’ conversion, when reinstated in their own land, and shall be threatened with another remove from it, which they will have no reason to fear: [and to] Zion, Let not thine hands be slack ; weak, remiss, hang down through fear of mind, and fainting of spirit; and so unfit to meet the enemy, or perform duty; but, on the contrary, pluck up a good heart, be of good courage, fear not the enemy, be vigorous, active, and diligent, in the performance of the service of the Lord, animated by the following considerations:
Ver. 17 . The Lord thy God in the midst of thee [is] mighty , etc.] Every word carries in it something very encouraging to the church and people of God; and is an antidote against those fears and faintings they are subject to; Christ “is in the midst of” them; near at hand to support and supply them, to assist and strengthen them, to protect and defend them; he is not only near by his essential presence, which is everywhere; and by his providential presence, which is concerned with all his creatures; but by his gracious presence, peculiar to his church and people; and which gives them unspeakable joy, and is a sufficient security from all fears and dismayings; (see Isaiah 41:10) and he, who is in the midst of them, is the Lord, Jehovah, the Being of beings, eternal, immutable, and all sufficient, possessed of all divine perfections; and their “God”, God in their nature, “Immanuel”, God with us; and who is “mighty”, the Almighty God, the mighty Mediator, who has all power in heaven and earth; and, as man, the man of God’s right hand, made strong for himself, and so able to save his people to the uttermost; to deliver them out of the hands of every enemy; to raise up his interest when ever so low, and to maintain and support it; to help and assist his people in every duty and service he calls them to: he will save ; he is as willing to save as he is able; he readily undertook in counsel and covenant to save the chosen ones; he came in the fulness of time to seek and to save that which was lost; he has wrought out salvation for them, and sees that it is applied unto them, and will come again to put them into the full possession of it: he saves them freely, fully, and everlastingly; he saves them from sin, Satan, the law, hell and wrath, and every spiritual enemy; nor has the church of Christ anything to fear from any temporal enemy; the converted Jews will have no reason to fear the Turk that will come against them with a vast army; for Christ, who will be in the midst of them, and at the head of them, will save them from him; to which salvation this passage has chiefly a respect; he will rejoice over thee with joy ; with exceeding great joy, not to be conceived of, or expressed; as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride: this will be the time of the open marriage of the Lamb with the Jewish church; and there will be strong expressions of joy on this occasion; Christ will rejoice over them to do them good; and there will be such singular instances of his goodness to them as will abundantly show the joy he will have in them: he will rest in his love ; continue in his love, without any variation or change; nothing shall separate from it; it shall always remain the same; he will take up his contentment and satisfaction in it; he will solace himself with it; it will be a pleasing thing to him to love his people, and to show it to them; he will take the utmost complacency and delight in expressing his love by words and deeds unto them: or, as some render it, “he will be silent because of his love” f120 ; and not upbraid them with their sins; or reprove, correct, and chastise them in his hot displeasure; or say one word in a way of vindictive wrath: and he “will make” all others “silent”; every enemy, or whatever is contrary to them; such is his great love to them f121 ; he will forgive their iniquities, and cover their sins, and in love to them cast them behind his back: or, “will be dumb” f122 ; and not speak; as sometimes persons, when their affections are strong, and their hearts are filled with love at the sight of one they bear a great regard unto, are not able to speak a word. The phrase expresses the greatness of Christ’s love to his people; the strength, fulness, and continuance of it: words seem to be wanted, and more are added: he will joy over thee with singing ; there is a pleonasm of joy in Christ’s heart towards his people, and so a redundancy in his expression of it; he rejoices with joy, and joys with singing; which shows how delighted he is with his people, as they are his chosen, redeemed, and called ones; as they have his own righteousness upon them, and his own grace in them; they are his “Hephzibah”, in whom he delights; his “Beulah”, to whom he is married; and it is his love of complacency and delight, which is the source of all the grace and glory he bestows upon them; (see Isaiah 62:3-5 Luke 15:23-25).
Ver. 18. I will gather [them that are] sorrowful for the solemn assembly , etc.] Who are grieved and troubled, because they cannot meet at the time and place of religious worship, or attend the word and ordinances of the Lord; either through distance of place, or infirmity of body; or through the menaces and persecutions of men: and to be prevented the use of the means of grace, upon any account, is a great concern of mind to truly gracious souls: or who are filled with grief and sorrow “for the appointed time” f123 ; for the time of the Jews’ deliverance from their present exile, and return to their own land, which seems to be delayed, and thought long; and so it may seem to some of them in distant parts, after they are converted; and for whose encouragement this is said, that the Lord will in his own due time and way gather such out of all places where they are, into his church, and among his people, to join with them in religious worship, and partake of all the ordinances and privileges of his house; and also gather them into their own land, and comfortably settle them there: [who] are of thee ; belong to the church of Christ; or however have a right to, and meetness for, a place in it; are her true and genuine children, being born again; and which appears by the taste they have for, and their desire after, the word and ordinances: [to whom] the reproach of it [was] a burden ; it being grievous and burdensome to them to hear the enemy reproach them with their exile and dispersion; with their distance from the place of worship, and their want of opportunity of attending to it: this was intolerable, a burden too heavy for them; it was like a sword in their bones, when they were asked, where is your God? and where are the ordinances of divine worship? and when will it ever be that you will attend them? (see Psalm 42:1-3,10).
Ver. 19. Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee , etc.] Or, “I will do” f124 ; their business for them; “slay” them, as the Vulgate Latin version; and make an entire destruction of them, as the Targum; bring them to utter ruin. This must be understood of antichrist, both eastern and western, the Turk and Pope, and all the antichristian states that have afflicted the Jews, or shall attempt to distress them at the time of their conversion; and will be fulfilled at the time of the pouring out of the seven vials of God’s wrath upon them, which will issue in the entire undoing and ruin of them, especially the seventh and last of them; which, when poured out, will clear the world of all the enemies of Christ, his church and people; and because this will be a wonderful event, and of great moment and importance, hence the word “behold” is prefixed to it, as exciting attention, as well as a note of admiration and asseveration: “and I will save her that halteth”, that has sinned, and is weak in faith, and cannot walk, at least but haltingly; which is like a lame and maimed sheep, of which there is danger of its being left behind and lost; but the Lord here promises he will take care of such, and save them from all their sins, and out of the hands of all their enemies; and bring them through all difficulties and discouragements into his church, and to their own land; they shall none of them be lost, even the meanest and weakest of them, any more than the healthful and strong: and gather her that was driven out ; even everyone that was scattered abroad in each of the nations of the world; (see Gill on “ Micah 4:6-7”) and I will get them praise and fame in every land, where they have been put to shame ; being converted, they shall be spoke well of everywhere; they shall be praised for their ingenuous acknowledgment of their sins; for their sincere repentance of them; and for their faith in Christ, and for their ready submission to his Gospel and ordinances; and the fame of their conversion shall be spread everywhere; and they shall be in great credit and esteem in all Christian countries, where their name has been used for a taunt and a proverb; and so, “instead of their shame”, as R. Moses interprets it, they shall have glory and honour in all places.
Ver. 20. At that time I will bring you [again], even in the time that I gather you , etc.] That is, at the time that the Lord will gather them in the effectual calling to himself and to his church, he will return them to their own land; and, as soon as the Jews are converted, they will not only be gathered into Christian churches, but will be gathered together in one body, and appoint themselves one head; and will go up out of each of the lands wherein they have been dispersed, and enter into their own land, and possess it; at the same time they are made partakers of the grace of God, they will enjoy all their civil privileges and liberties; (see Hosea 1:11): for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth ; this is repeated from the preceding verse ( Zephaniah 3:19), for the confirmation of it; and in connection with the following clause, to show when it will be: when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord ; or “captivities” f125 ; meaning not the several captivities of the kings of Judah in Babylon, as of Manasseh, Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah; but the two fold captivity of this people, literal and spiritual; their present outward exile from their own land, captivity and dispersion among the nations; and their spiritual captivity or bondage, to sin, Satan, the law, and the traditions of their elders; from both which they will be delivered at one and the same time; and which will be notorious and manifest; what their eyes will see with pleasure and admiration; and which may he depended upon will be done, since the Lord has said it, whose purposes, promises, and prophecies, never fail of their accomplishment: he is God omniscient and knows with certainty what will be done; he is God omnipotent, and can and will do whatever he has determined, promised, or said should be done.