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Zephaniah 3:4

4. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.

4. Prophetae ejus leves (vel, futiles,) viri transgressionum; sacerdotes ejus polluerunt sanctum (vel, sanctuarium,) sustulerunt legem.


The Prophet again reverts to the pollution and filth of which he has spoken in the first verse. He shows that he had not without reason cried against the polluted city; for though the Jews used their washings, they could not yet make themselves clean in this manner before God, as the whole of religion was corrupted by them.

He says that the Prophets were light. He alone speaks here, and he condemns the many. We hence see that there is no reason why the ungodly should allege their great number, when God by his word accuses them, as the Papists do at this day, who deny it to be right in one or two, or few men, to speak against their impiety, however bad the state of things may be; there must be the consent of the whole world, as though the Prophet was not alone, and had not to contend with a great many. It is indeed true that he taught at the same time with the Prophet Jeremiah, as we have elsewhere seen; but yet hardly two or three did then discharge faithfully their office of teaching; and from this and other places we learn that the false Prophets, relying on their number, were on that account bolder. But Zephaniah did not for this reason cease to cry against them. However much then the false Prophets raged against him, and terrified him by the show of their number, he still exercised his liberty in condemning them. So at this day, though the whole world should unite in promoting impiety, there is yet no reason why the few should be disheartened when observing the worship of God perverted; but they ought on the contrary to encourage themselves by this example, and strenuously to resist thousands of men if necessary; for no union formed by men can possibly lessen the authority of God.

It now follows that they were men of transgressions. What we render light, others render empty; (vacuous;) but the word פוחזים, puchezim, means strictly men of nought, and also the rash, and those who are void of judgment as well as of all moderation. In short, it is the same as though the Prophet had said that they were stupid and blind; and he says afterwards that they were fraudulent, than which there is nothing more inconsistent with the Prophetic office. But Zephaniah shows that the whole order was then so degenerated among the people, that the thickest darkness prevailed among those very leaders whose office it was to bring forth the light of celestial truth. And he makes a concession by calling them Prophets. The same we do at this day when we speak of Popish bishops. It is indeed certain that they are unworthy of so honorable a title; for they are blinder than moles, so that they are far from being overseers. We also know, that they are like brute beasts; for they are immersed in their lusts: in short, they are unworthy to be called men. But we concede to them this title, in order that their turpitude may be more apparent. The Prophet did the same, when he said, that the Jews did not draw nigh to their God; he conceded to them what they boasted; for they ever wished to be regarded as the holy and peculiar people of God: but their ingratitude did hence become more evident, because they went back and turned to another object, when God was ready to embrace them, as though they designedly meant to show that they had nothing to do with him. It is then the same manner of speaking, that Zephaniah adopts here, when he says, that the Prophets were light and men of transgressions. 108108     Her prophets are light, they are treacherous men.—Newcome.
   Her prophets are vainglorious, hypocritical men.—Henderson.

   The word rendered “light,” as a river, and not “unstable,” as in our version. It is applied as a participle in Judges 9:4, to designate persons overflowing in wickedness, dissolute, licentious, dissipated; and as a noun in Jeremiah 23:32, to set forth the licentious conduct of the false prophets, who like the priests under the Papacy, were given to lasciviousness, and “committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives,” Jeremiah 29:23. See also Jeremiah 23:14. As Zephaniah was contemporary with Jeremiah, his description of the Prophets is thus seen to be the same, “Her Prophets are licentious,” or lascivious.

   Men of dissimulations or deceits, [אנשי בגדות], signify, that under the pretense of telling the truth, they delivered what was false; or in the words of Jeremiah, they “caused the people to err by their lies,” while they pretended to deliver true messages from God: so that Jeremiah 23:32, contains an explanation of this clause. “Deceiving men” would perhaps be the best rendering. Though they were licentious, yet they deceived men, and made them to believe that they were true Prophets. They were impostors, and notwithstanding their immoral character, they persuaded deluded men that they were true and faithful.—Ed.

He then adds, The priests have polluted the holy place. The tribe of Levi, we know, had been chosen by God; and those who descended from him, were to be ministers and teachers to others: and for this reason the Lord in the law ordered the Levites to be dispersed through the whole country. He might indeed have given them as to the rest, a fixed habitation; but his will was, that they should be dispersed among the whole population, that no part of the land should be without good and faithful ministers. The Prophet now charges them, that they had polluted the holy place. By the word קדש, kodash the Prophet means whatsoever is holy; at the same time he speaks of the sanctuary. Moreover, since the sanctuary was as it were the dwelling-place of God, when the Prophets speak of divine worship and religion, they include the whole under the word, Temple, as in this place. He says then that the sanctuary was polluted by the priests, and then that they took away or subverted the law. 109109     The word, [קדש], as Calvin intimates, does not specifically mean the sanctuary, but holiness, or, as Henderson renders it, “what is sacred,” or holy. Both our version and Newcome improperly render it “the sanctuary.” The explanation of what is meant may be found in Ezekiel 12:2. The word for sanctuary is [מקדש]. See Ezekiel 23:38,39
   The words, [חמסו תורה], have been taken to mean,—either, “They violated the law,” as the words are rendered in Ezekiel 12:26, that is, transgressed it by acting contrary to it; or, “They perverted the law,” forcing it, as it were, out of its plain meaning by subtle glosses. The Septuagint render the verb ηθετησαν—set aside or abolished, in Ezekiel, and here ἀσεβουσι—act impiously. “Trangressed,” says Grotius; “Do violence to,” say Piscator and Drusius, that is, by wresting its words. It occurs much oftener as a noun than as a verb, and it commonly means a wrong or injustice done in an outrageous and violent manner. According to this general idea, we may render the phrase here, “they have outraged the law,” either by their conduct, or by their comments. It was in either case a wrong done to the law, that was enormous, passing all reason and decency. So that to transgress or to violate, or to do violence to, or to pervert the law, does not convey the full meaning.—Ed.

We here see how boldly the Prophet charges the priests. There is then no reason why they who are divinely appointed over the Church should claim for themselves the liberty of doing what they please; for the priests might have boasted of this privilege, that without dispute everything was lawful for them. But we see that God not only calls them to order by his Prophets, but even blames them more than others, because they were less excusable. Now the Papists boast, that the clergy, even the very dregs collected from the filthiest filth, cannot err; which is extremely absurd; for they are not better than the successors of Aaron. But we see what the Prophet objects now to them,—that they subverted the law: he not only condemns their life, but says also, that they were perfidious towards God; for they strangely corrupted the whole truth of religion. The Papists confess, that they indeed can sin, but that the sin dwells only in their moral conduct. They yet seek to exempt themselves from all the danger of going astray. Though the Levitical priests were indeed chosen by the very voice of God, we yet see that they were apostates. But God confirms the godly, that they might not abandon themselves to impiety, though they saw their very leaders going astray, and rushing headlong into ruin. For it behaved the faithful to fortify themselves with constancy, when the priests not only by their bad conduct withdrew the people from every fear of God, but also perverted every sound doctrine; it behaved, I say, the faithful to remain then invincible. Though then at this day those who hold the highest dignity in the Church neglect God and even despise every celestial truth, and thus rush headlong into ruin, and though they attempt to turn God’s truth into falsehood, yet let our faith continue firm; for John has not without reason declared, that it ought to be victorious against the whole world. 1 John 5:4. It follows—

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