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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Zephaniah 1



Verse 7


‘Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God: for the day of the Lord is at hand: for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice, He hath bid His guests.’

Zephaniah 1:7

Zephaniah received his message from the Lord to Judah in the days of Josiah, the last of the godly and reforming kings, who, after the gross corruption of the preceding reigns of Manasseh and Aman, restored to a large extent the purity of the worship of God, and was the means of bringing about a certain kind and degree of repentance and amendment in the people.

His message is, first, an announcement of the judgment of Jehovah against the people, which occupies the whole of chapter 1, and Zephaniah 1:7 may be taken as its central point, containing the lesson of duty, on which all that precede and follow it converge.

I. The nature of this judgment.—At the very outside it is described in a way fitted to startle and alarm; for it is to be of a most sweeping and universal nature (Zephaniah 1:2-3). The words remind us of nothing less than the universal deluge, by which the old world was swept away. A destruction like that is impending over Judah. Because God had given Israel the land, they thought that some part of it at least must always be theirs. But now they are warned that this is a false confidence, and that in spite of the gift of the land to Abraham’s seed, the corrupt race that now inherit it shall be utterly swept away.

Moreover, this judgment, that is to be so sweeping, is also very near at hand. In the old world the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah; but now He has waited long and sent messenger after messenger, and at last the time of delay is nearly exhausted, and the judgment is close at hand; for their iniquity is all but full.

Then how terrible and irresistible is this judgment! (Zephaniah 1:15-18). Physical strength and power shall not deliver them. Skill and wisdom shall not be able to save them. These have often enabled armies very much inferior in numbers to conquer great hosts; but now there shall be perplexity and dismay; men shall be groping like blind men in the dark, unable to devise any means of resistance or escape, bewildered and disheartened.

Israel had often been saved from fierce attacks of mighty nations before, and enabled to defy their rage; but that had not been because of their wisdom or courage, but because they trusted in God and had His protection. Now, however, there was coming on them the day of the Lord’s anger; He was to hide His face from them, and therefore it would be to them a day of such darkness, dismay, and despair.

II. The causes of this judgment, announced as so sweeping, near, and terrible. These are the sins of the land, of which a long and dark catalogue is unrolled (Zephaniah 1:4-12).

First comes what was the great besetting sin of ancient times, as it has ever been of men who have not or will not receive God’s revelation of Himself—idolatry, the worship of the seen and earthly as Divine, instead of the only true God Who is invisible and spiritual; the worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator. Such was the corrupt religion of the heathen world, left by God to its own way; and against this His revelation to Israel was designed to testify, declaring Him to be a being spiritual and holy, the one living and true God.

But along with gross forms of idolatry there is also condemned the corrupt worship of Jehovah. The worship at the high places, with which the Chemarims (Zephaniah 1:4) were connected, was indeed a worship of Jehovah, but had become, in course of time, thoroughly idolatrous in its character: even the pillars placed beside the altars came to be worshipped as symbols of the Deity; and, as in Bethel and Dan, idols were identified with Him. Thus the one invisible God was degraded to the likeness of the idols of the heathen, and this worship at the high places had to be utterly condemned and swept away.

Another corruption of the pure worship of Jehovah was the combination of it with that of the heathen deities.

Such are the various forms of evil that are indicated by the prophet as the causes of the judgment which he announces. Can it be said that they are unknown in our day and in ourselves? No doubt the outward forms of idolatry and oppression then rampant are strange and repulsive to us; but are we free from the tendency to degrade the living God to a mere nature-power, which is the essence of idolatry? And are not ungodliness, neglect of God’s spiritual worship, selfish ostentation and luxury, neglect and oppression of the poor, love of money, and careless self-indulgence, but too well known among us?

III. The lesson of all this is expressed in the words, ‘Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God.’—That is the first and most urgent duty. The prophet has further directions to give in following discourses; but this is the immediate effect that the announcement of judgment shall have. A silence of awe and humility is what becomes men in the presence of God, when He rises up to judgment as the Lord of all the earth.

This implies a recognition on the one hand of the reality, and on the other hand of the justice, of God’s judgment.

It should be recognised as a real expression of God’s wrath against the sins of men.

Let us be silent also as recognising the justice of this judgment. Let us humbly acknowledge this; and in so far as these evils of ungodliness and selfishness have found place in us, let us put our hand on our mouth, acknowledging that we have nothing to answer to God, and are verily guilty in His sight.

There is hope for us if we confess our sin. There is hope in the very fact that God announces His judgment against our sin. Because the Lord loves His people with a jealous affection, in spite of all their unfaithfulness, He will, if they but silently trust themselves to Him, make the fire of His anger against their sin to purify and perfect them. Thus this coming of the Lord for judgment is the harbinger of final salvation to those who desire to be purged from those evils against which His wrath is revealed. Therefore, ‘Let Israel hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption; and He will redeem Israel from all his iniquity.’


‘From the tenth verse we have a description of the punishments which were about to befall. The Chaldean troops marched in through the Fish Gate, and, as they advanced further into the city, cry after cry arose from the terrified populace. These were terrible prognostications, which were as terribly fulfilled. It would be an interesting thing if some Christian historian would write a book, connecting the sins of nations with the judgments that have overwhelmed them. When one visits the Southern States of America, and sees the results of the old slave-days, and hears the story of what slavery really meant, one ceases to be surprised that the whole system was swept away in the great Civil War. Has Great Britain yet received her punishment for the unmitigated crime of the opium and drink traffics?’


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Zephaniah 1:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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