Things looked very bad with Jerusalem in the Zeph. 3:1-7; she has got into a very bad name, and seems to be incorrigible, incurable, mercy-proof and judgment-proof. Now one would think it should follow, Therefore expect no other but that she should be utterly abandoned and rejected as reprobate silver; since they will not be wrought upon by prophets or providences, let them be made a desolation as their neighbours have been. But behold and wonder at the riches of divine grace, which takes occasion from man’s badness to appear so much the more illustrious. They still grew worse and worse, therefore wait you upon me, saith the Lord, Zeph. 3:8. “Since the law, it seems, will make nothing perfect, the bringing in of a better hope shall. Let those that lament the corruptions of the church wait upon God, till he send his Son into the world, to save his people from their sins, till he send his gospel to reform and refine his church, and to purify to himself a peculiar people both of Jews and Gentiles.” And there were those who, according to this direction and encouragement, waited for redemption, for this redemption in Jerusalem; and long-looked-for came at last, Luke 2:38. For judgment Christ will come into this world, John 9:39.
I. To avenge what has been done amiss against his church, to bring down and destroy the enemies of it, its spiritual enemies, of which the destruction of Babylon, and other oppressors of God’s people, in the Old-Testament times, was a type, and would be a happy presage. He will rise up to the prey, to lead captivity captive (Ps. 68:18), to conquer and spoil the powers of darkness, and the powers on earth that set themselves against the Lord and his anointed; he will break them with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:5, 9; 11:5, 6); his determination is to gather the nations and to assemble the kingdoms. By the gospel of Christ preached to every creature all nations are summoned, as it were, to appear in a body before the Lord Jesus, who is about to set up his kingdom in the world. But, since the greatest part of mankind will not obey the summons, he will pour upon them his indignation, for he that believes not is condemned already. At the time of the setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah, there shall be on earth distress of nations with perplexity (Luke 21:25), great tribulation, such as never was, nor ever shall be, Matt. 24:21. Then God pours upon the nations his indignation, even all his fierce anger, for their indignation and fierce anger against the Messiah and his kingdom, Ps. 2:1, 2. Then all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of his jealousy; both Jews and Gentiles shall be reckoned with for their enmity to the gospel. Principalities and powers shall be spoiled, and made a show of openly, and the victorious Redeemer shall triumph over them. The end of those that continue to be of the earth, and to mind earthly things, after God has set up the kingdom of heaven among men, shall be destruction (Phil. 3:19); they shall be devoured with the fire of God’s jealousy.
II. To amend what he finds amiss in his church. When God intends the restoration of Israel, and the revival of their peace and prosperity, he makes way for the accomplishment of his purpose by their reformation and the revival of their virtue and piety; for this is God’s method, both with particular persons and with communities, first to make them holy and then to make them happy. These promises were in part accomplished after the return of the Jews out of Babylon, when by their captivity they were thoroughly cured of their idolatry; and this was all the fruit, even the taking away of sin. But they look further, to the blessed effects of the gospel and the grace of it, to those times of reformation in which we live, Heb. 9:10.
1. It is promised that there shall be a reformation in men’s discourse, which had been generally corrupt, but should now be with grace seasoned with salt (Zeph. 3:9): “Then will I turn to the people a pure language; I will turn the people to such a language from that evil communication which has almost ruined all good manners among them.” Note, Converting grace refines the language, not by making the phrases witty, but the substance wise. Among the Jews, after the captivity, there needed a reformation of the dialect, for they had mingled the language of Canaan with that of Ashdod (Neh. 13:24), and that grievance shall be redressed. But that is not all: their language shall be purified from all profaneness, filthiness, and falsehood. I will turn them to a choice language (so some read it); they shall not speak rashly, but with caution and deliberation; they shall choose out their words. Note, An air of purity and piety in common conversation is a very happy omen to any people; other graces, other blessings, shall be given where God gives a pure language to those who have been a people of unclean lips.
2. That the worship of God, according to his will, shall be more closely applied to, and more unanimously concurred in. Instead of sacrifice and incense, they shall call upon the name of the Lord. Prayer is the spiritual offering with which God must be honoured; and, to prepare and fit us for that duty, it is necessary that we have a pure language. We are utterly unfit to take God’s name into our lips, unless they be pure lips. The purifying of the language in common conversation is necessary to the acceptableness of the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart on our devotion; for how can sweet waters and bitter come out of the same fountain? Jas. 3:9-12. It is likewise promised that their language being thus purified they shall serve God with one consent, with one shoulder (so the word is), alluding to oxen in the yoke, that draw even. When Christians are unanimous in the service of God the work goes on cheerfully. This is the effect of the pure language, purified from passion, envy, and censoriousness. Note, Purity is the way to unity; the reformation of manners is the way to a comprehension. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable.
3. That those that were driven from God shall return to him and be accepted of him (Zeph. 3:10): From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, that is, from Egypt (so described, Isa. 18:1) or from some other very remote country—my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring my offering. Those that by reason of their distance had almost forgotten God, their obligations to him, shall be put in mind of him, as the prodigal son was of his father’s house, in the far country. Those that by reason of their dispersion, under the tokens of his displeasure, might be afraid of coming to him, yet even they shall be gathered under his wings; the daughter of his dispersed, that is afar off, will be found among those whom the Lord our God shall call; and, though they are dispersed, he will own them for his; his calling them my dispersed puts honour upon them, sufficient to counterbalance all the disgrace of their dispersion. These shall come, (1.) With their humble petitions: They are my suppliants. Note, True converts are suppliants to God; they do not plead, but make supplication to their Judge (Job 9:15); and wherever they are, though beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, a great way off from his house of prayer, he has his eye upon them and his ear open to them; they are his suppliants. (2.) With their spiritual sacrifices: They shall bring my offering, shall bring themselves as spiritual sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1); the conversion of the Gentiles is called the offering up of the Gentiles (Rom. 15:16); and with themselves they shall bring the gospel-sacrifices of prayer, and praise, and alms, with which God is well pleased.
4. That sin and sinners shall be purged out from among them, Zeph. 3:11. God will take away, (1.) Their just reproach: In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings. They shall be ashamed as penitents, and shall continue to be so (see Ezek. 16:63), but they shall not be ashamed as sinners that return to folly again. “Thou shalt not be ashamed, that is, thou shalt no more do a shameful thing, as thou hast done.” The guilt of sin being taken away by pardoning mercy, the reproach of it shall be rolled away from the sinner’s own conscience, that being purified, and pacified, and cleansed from dead works. When wickedness and wicked people abound in a nation those few in it that are good are ashamed of them and of their land; but when sinners are converted, and the land reformed, that shame and the cause of it are removed. (2.) Their unjust glorying: “I will take away out of the midst of thee, not only the profane, who are a shame to thy land, but the hypocrites, who appear beautiful outwardly, and rejoice in thy pride, in the holy city, the holy house.” These were indeed Israel’s glory, but they made them their pride, and rejoiced in them, as if they were an invincible bulwark to secure them in their sinful ways; they relied on them as their righteousness and strength, boasting of the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord (Jer. 7:4); they were haughty because of the holy mountain, were conceited of themselves, scornful of others, and set even the judgments of God at defiance. Note, Church-privileges, when they are not duly improved as they ought to be, are often made the matter of men’s pride and the ground of their security. But that haughtiness is the most offensive to God which is supported and fed by the pretensions of holiness. This God will silence and take away.
5. That God will have a remnant of holy, humble, serious people among them, that shall have the comfort of their relation to him and interest in him (Zeph. 3:12): I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people. When the Chaldeans carried away the Jews into captivity they left of the poor of the land for vine-dressers and husbandmen, a type and figure of God’s distinguished remnant, whom he sets apart for himself. They are afflicted and poor, low in the world; such God has chosen, Jas. 2:5. The poor are evangelized, low in their own eyes, afflicted for sin, poor in spirit. They are God’s leaving, for it is a remnant according to the election of grace. I have reserved them to myself, says God (Rom. 11:4, 5), and they shall trust in the name of the Lord. Note, Those whom God designs for the glory of his name he enables to trust in his name; and the greater their affliction and poverty in the world are the more reason they see to trust in God, having nothing else to trust to, 1 Tim. 5:5.
6. That this select remnant shall be blessed with purity and peace, Zeph. 3:13. (1.) They shall be blessed with purity, both in words and actions: They shall neither do iniquity nor speak lies. Justice and veracity shall command them and govern them, though they be ever so much against their secular interest. They shall not only not speak a direct deliberate lie, but there shall not be a deceitful tongue found in their mouth, not in the mouth of any of them; not the least equivocation shall come from them. (2.) They shall be blessed with peace. They shall, as the sheep of God’s pasture, feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. They shall not be fearful themselves, nor shall any about them be frightful to them. Note, Those that are careful not to do iniquity need not be afraid of any calamity, for it cannot hurt them, and therefore should not terrify them.