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Zep 1:1-18. God's Severe Judgment on Judah for Its Idolatry and Neglect of Him: The Rapid Approach of the Judgment, and the Impossibility of Escape.
1. days of Josiah—Had their idolatries been under former kings, they might have said, Our kings have forced us to this and that. But under Josiah, who did all in his power to reform them, they have no such excuse.
son of Amon—the idolater, whose bad practices the Jews clung to, rather than the good example of Josiah, his son; so incorrigible were they in sin.
Judah—Israel's ten tribes had gone into captivity before this.
2. utterly consume—from a root to "sweep away," or "scrape off utterly." See Jer 8:13, Margin, and here.
from off the land—of Judah.
with the wicked—The idols and their worshippers shall be involved in a common destruction.
Judah—including Benjamin. These two tribes are to suffer, which thought themselves perpetually secure, because they escaped the captivity in which the ten tribes were involved.
the remnant of Baal—the remains of Baal worship, which as yet Josiah was unable utterly to eradicate in remote places. Baal was the Phœnician tutelary god. From the time of the Judges (Jud 2:13), Israel had fallen into this idolatry; and Manasseh lately had set up this idol within Jehovah's temple itself (2Ki 21:3, 5, 7). Josiah began his reformation in the twelfth year of his reign (2Ch 34:4, 8), and in the eighteenth had as far as possible completed it.
Chemarims—idol priests, who had not reached the age of puberty; meaning "ministers of the gods" [Servius on Æneid, 11], the same name as the Tyrian Camilli, r and l being interchangeable (compare Ho 10:5, Margin). Josiah is expressly said (2Ki 23:5, Margin) to have "put down the Chemarim." The Hebrew root means "black" (from the black garments which they wore or the marks which they branded on their foreheads); or "zealous," from their idolatrous fanaticism. The very "name," as well as themselves, shall be forgotten.
the priests—of Jehovah, of Aaronic descent, who ought to have used all their power to eradicate, but who secretly abetted, idolatry (compare Zep 3:4; Eze 8:1-18; 22:26; 44:10). From the priests Zephaniah passes to the people.
5. worship the host of heaven—Saba: whence, in contrast to Sabeanism, Jehovah is called Lord of Sabaoth.
and—"and yet (with strange inconsistency, 1Ki 18:21; Eze 20:39; Mt 6:24) swear by Malcham," that is, "their king" [Maurer]: the same as Molech (see on Am 5:25), and "Milcom the god of … Ammon" (1Ki 11:33). If Satan have half the heart, he will have all; if the Lord have but half offered to Him, He will have none.
7. Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord—(Hab 2:20). Let the earth be silent at His approach [Maurer]. Or, "Thou whosoever hast been wont to speak against God, as if He had no care about earthly affairs, cease thy murmurs and self-justifications; submit thyself to God, and repent in time" [Calvin].
bid his guests—literally, "sanctified His called ones" (compare Isa 13:3). It enhances the bitterness of the judgment that the heathen Chaldeans should be sanctified, or consecrated as it were, by God as His priests, and be called to eat the flesh of the elect people; as on feast days the priests used to feast among themselves on the remains of the sacrifices [Calvin]. English Version takes it not of the priests, but the guests bidden, who also had to "sanctify" or purify themselves before coming to the sacrificial feast (1Sa 9:13, 22; 16:5). Nebuchadnezzar was bidden to come to take vengeance on guilty Jerusalem (Jer 25:9).
8. the princes—who ought to have been an example of good to others, but were ringleaders in all evil.
the king's children—fulfilled on Zedekiah's children (Jer 39:6); and previously, on Jehoahaz and Eliakim, the sons of Josiah (2Ki 23:31, 36; 2Ch 36:6; compare also 2Ki 20:18; 21:13). Huldah the prophetess (2Ki 22:20) intimated that which Zephaniah now more expressly foretells.
all such as are clothed with strange apparel—the princes or courtiers who attired themselves in costly garments, imported from abroad; partly for the sake of luxury, and partly to ingratiate themselves with foreign great nations whose costume as well as their idolatries they imitated, [Calvin]; whereas in costume, as in other respects, God would have them to be separate from the nations. Grotius refers the "strange apparel" to garments forbidden by the law, for example, men's garments worn by women, and vice versa, a heathen usage in the worship of Mars and Venus (De 22:5).
9. those that leap on the threshold—the servants of the princes, who, after having gotten prey (like hounds) for their masters, leap exultingly on their masters' thresholds; or, on the thresholds of the houses which they break into [Calvin]. Jerome explains it of those who walk up the steps into the sanctuary with haughtiness. Rosenmuller translates, "Leap over the threshold"; namely, in imitation of the Philistine custom of not treading on the threshold, which arose from the head and hands of Dragon being broken off on the threshold before the ark (1Sa 5:5). Compare Isa 2:6, "thy people … are soothsayers like the Philistines." Calvin's view agrees best with the latter clause of the verse.
fill … masters' houses with violence, &c.—that is, with goods obtained with violence, &c.
10. fish gate—(2Ch 33:14; Ne 3:3; 12:39). Situated on the east of the lower city, north of the sheep gate [Maurer]: near the stronghold of David in Milo, between Zion and the lower city, towards the west [Jerome]. This verse describes the state of the city when it was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar. It was through the fish gate that he entered the city. It received its name from the fish market which was near it. Through it passed those who used to bring fish from the lake of Tiberias and Jordan. It answers to what is now called the Damascus gate [Henderson].
the second—namely, the gate which was second in dignity [Calvin]. Or, the second or lower part of the city. Appropriately, the fish gate, or extreme end of the lower part of the city, first resounds with the cries of the citizens as the foe approaches; then, as he advances further, that part of the city itself, namely, its inner part; lastly, when the foe is actually come and has burst in, the hills, the higher ones, especially Zion and Moriah, on which the upper city and temple were founded [Maurer]. The second, or lower city, answers to Akra, north of Zion, and separated from it by the valley of Tyropœon running down to the pool of Siloam [Henderson]. The Hebrew is translated "college," 2Ki 22:14; so Vatablus would translate here.
hills—not here those outside, but those within the walls: Zion, Moriah, and Ophel.
11. Maktesh—rather, "the mortar," a name applied to the valley of Siloam from its hollow shape [Jerome]. The valley between Zion and Mount Olivet, at the eastern extremity of Mount Moriah, where the merchants dwelt. Zec 14:21, "The Canaanite," namely, merchant [Chaldee Version]. The Tyropœon (that is, cheese-makers') valley below Mount Akra [Rosenmuller]. Better Jerusalem itself, so called as lying in the midst of hills (Isa 22:1; Jer 21:13) and as doomed to be the scene of its people being destroyed as corn or drugs are pounded in a mortar (Pr 27:22) [Maurer]. Compare the similar image of a "pot" (Eze 24:3, 6). The reason for the destruction is subjoined, namely, its merchant people's greediness of gain.
all the merchant people—literally, the "Canaanite people": irony: all the merchant people of Jerusalem are very Canaanites in greed for gain and in idolatries (see on Ho 12:7).
all … that bear silver—loading themselves with that which will prove but a burden (Hab 2:6).
settled on their lees—"hardened" or crusted; image from the crust formed at the bottom of wines long left undisturbed (Jer 48:11). The effect of wealthy undisturbed ease ("lees") on the ungodly is hardening: they become stupidly secure (compare Ps 55:19; Am 6:1).
14. voice of … day of … Lord—that is, Jehovah ushering in that day with a roar of vengeance against the guilty (Jer 25:30; Am 1:2). They who will not now heed (Zep 1:12) His voice by His prophets, must heed it when uttered by the avenging foe.
mighty … shall cry … bitterly—in hopeless despair; the might on which Jerusalem now prides itself, shall then fail utterly.
15. wasteness … desolation—The Hebrew terms by their similarity of sounds, Shoah, Umeshoah, express the dreary monotony of desolation (see on Na 2:10).
16. the trumpet—namely, of the besieging enemy (Am 2:2).
alarm—the war shout [Maurer].
towers—literally, "angles"; for city walls used not to be built in a direct line, but with sinuous curves and angles, so that besiegers advancing might be assailed not only in front, but on both sides, caught as it were in a cul-de-sac; towers were built especially at the angles. So Tacitus describes the walls of Jerusalem [Histories, 5.11.7].
17. like blind men—unable to see whither to turn themselves so as to find an escape from existing evils.
flesh—Hebrew, "bread"; so the Arabic term for "bread" is used for "flesh" (Mt 26:26).
18. Neither … silver nor … gold shall … deliver them, &c.—(Pr 11:4).
fire of his jealousy—(Eze 38:19); His wrath jealous for His honor consuming the guilty like fire.