The difference between the earthly people (Israel) and the heavenly people (Christians) comes out in the Scriptures in every possible way. In the chapter before us, God resting in His love, and joying over the daughter of Zion with singing, are consequent upon the accomplishment of His counsels in the restoration and blessing of His ancient people. It is the goal reached through all their past sorrows and chastisements under His mighty hand. With the Christian it is entirely different, because through the death and resurrection of Christ grace now reigns; and hence God, having Christ at His right hand as the expression of His full satisfaction with His finished work, He can already rest in His love over His redeemed. The Lord could therefore say, when addressing the Father, “I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Thus the same love, the same in kind and measure, as that which rested on the Son, when down here, can now rest upon, and be made good in present enjoyment by His people, even while in this world.
A striking illustration of the same principle may be gathered from the precious stones on Aaron’s breast-plate, as compared with those in the glorious foundations of the new and heavenly Jerusalem. In the breastplate the jasper is the last in order; in the foundations of the holy city it comes first. Now we know from Rev. 4 that the jasper is an emblem of the glory of God; and consequently we learn that while for the Christian the glory, as displayed in Christ as the Glorified One at God’s right hand, is at the outset, it is the last thing reached by Israel. The Psalmist thus speaks, “Thou wilt guide me with Thy counsel, and ‘after the glory’ [as it should read] Thou wilt receive me.” It is of the utmost importance to apprehend these distinctions, for we are ever in danger of surrendering the proper and heavenly character of Christianity. As before God everything is accomplished on His side, as may be learned from that wonderful chapter, Ephesians 2, where the whole church is already seen as seated in the heavenlies in Christ. And it is this fact which reveals the character of the Christian, and also his suited walk while passing through this scene.
Bearing in mind what has been said, we shall be the better able to enter upon a brief consideration of our chapter. It is exquisitely beautiful. Zephaniah prophesied in the days of that good king Josiah, and yet the burden of his message was judgment. It is very evident that, in spite of the efforts of the king, and of the reformation he set on foot, the people remained obstinately wedded to their heathen idolatries and superstitions. (See chapter 1: 2-6.) God could not therefore go on with them, and hence the proclamation by the prophet that “the day of the Lord was at hand.” But the Lord never gives up His people, and thus in the midst of judgment He remembers mercy: “The Lord their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.” (Chap. 2: 7.) This brings the oppressors of God’s people before him, and the prophet is commissioned to declare their coming doom. Then, in chapter 3, he turns again to Jerusalem in her sad state and condition during the time of Josiah’s reign, showing how the most debasing moral corruption could exist side by side with the professed service of Jehovah.
Let the reader carefully examine the first seven verses if he would comprehend the character of that day. The city, Jerusalem, is described as filthy and polluted, and as an oppressor: moreover, “she obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God.” What a solemn indictment! Then every class of the heads of the people – princes, judges, prophets, and priests – are shown out in their moral degradation. And yet the Lord still had His dwelling-place in the midst thereof, and laboured to bring His people to a sense of their shameful condition; “but,” the prophet laments, “the unjust knoweth no shame.” The Lord also judged the neighbouring nations; and then, as these warnings of His coming judgments on Jerusalem were thus exhibited, He said, “Surely thou wilt fear Me; thou wilt receive instruction; but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.” Their case was hopeless notwithstanding the yearning, pleading voice of their God; and they would persist in their heedless, obstinate rebellion and apostasy until God’s wrath should be poured out upon them, and there would be no remedy. Patience and longsuffering have their limits in God’s government, and His ancient people have had to learn it through centuries of chastisement and sorrow. And yet, blessed be His name, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance; and it is this truth which is unfolded in the next part of the chapter.
For what do we now find? That God takes occasion from the state of His own people to announce His purpose to gather the nations and assemble the kingdoms, in order to pour out upon them His fierce indignation, “even all My fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy.” The prophet thus views the present state of Jerusalem as prophetic of its condition (in the days of Antichrist) immediately before the appearing of the Lord. (See Zechariah 14.) Two things follow upon this judgment of the nations: first, the peoples (so it should be) shall all call (having had their language purified) upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with one consent; and God’s scattered people will be regathered, judged, and established in blessing. This is a very important declaration, as it affords the key wherewith to unlock the Old Testament prophecies. It teaches unmistakably the certainty of the accomplishment of God’s purposes concerning Israel, notwithstanding their humiliating and complete failure under responsibility; and also that the period of blessing for this world under Messiah’s reign will be introduced with judgment. It totally sets aside the prevalent idea that there will be a gradual increase of blessing on the earth until the knowledge of the Lord shall cover it as the waters cover the sea. We learn, on the other hand, that corruptions will increase and abound, until at length the Lord Himself will interpose in judgment, and that then He will judge the world in righteousness, and the people with His truth. The consequence will be universal blessing.
Next we have details concerning the restoration of Jehovah’s people, together with the moral characteristics of the remnant who will be gladdened with His presence and favour. In one verse (v. 10) the prophet describes the regathering of scattered Israel, and then we have God’s separative judgment and the blessed effect in the souls of those who bow under His mighty hand: “I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt be no more haughty [as, for example, the Pharisees were] because of My holy mountain.” And now observe that what is least and most despised among men is that wherein God finds His pleasure. It is a “poor and afflicted people” who shall be left in the midst of Jerusalem – a people poor in spirit and contrite before God because of the many sorrows through which they have passed; and it is these who shall trust in the name of Jehovah, as their Rock of Ages. (See Isaiah 26) This remnant of Israel shall be all righteous, they shall do no iniquity nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. (Compare Psalms 15 and 24: 3-6.)
Restored, and under the care of the Shepherd of Israel, who makes them to lie down in green pastures and leads them beside the still waters, the end is reached ‘in the consummation of all their hopes and blessing. Hence the cry, “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.” For their judgments have been taken away for ever; the enemy has been cast out; the Lord once more, and in a much more glorious way, dwells in the midst of His people, who shall therefore see evil no more. It is an exquisite picture of perfect happiness flowing from the presence of the Lord their God – a picture only surpassed by the description of God’s own joy over His long-loved and now restored and happy people. First He is presented as the everlasting security of His chosen: the One “in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save.” Then “He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing.” At last He can gratify the affections of His heart, His love can flow out unhinderedly, and in the joy of this He sings as it were with delight. It is the joy of God over the return of His prodigal son.
Having now found rest in His love, what will He not do for His beloved people? He will remember their past sorrows – sorrows which sprang from their fidelity to His name in an evil day; He will “undo all that afflict thee”; He 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.” Truly God is the God of all grace; and not one of His purposes will ever be frustrated. Israel’s goal is full earthly blessing under Immanuel’s sway; we look forward to the Father’s house to be there with Christ for ever, but whether they or we, we shall all alike be debtors to the sovereign grace of our God.
Edward Dennett (1896)