Zephaniah must be hailed as the Old Testament prophet who made it clear that the Prophet who would dwell among the people of his kingdom would actually be God Himself.
“Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not fear evil any more.”
This remarkable passage is one of the most amazing in the Old Testament. As for who “the King of Israel” is, who was prophesied to dwell in the midst of the redeemed people, Nathaniel identified him absolutely, “Rabbi (addressed to Jesus), Thou are the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:48). Dummelow and others missed the significance here in their complaint that, “Not the Messiah, but Jehovah himself is the promised King and Deliverer.” But why should this be hailed as something different? Is not Jesus Christ himself God come in the flesh? Of course, he is; and John’s gospel is totally dedicated to proving that very point; and Nathaniel’s great confession hailing Christ as “King of Israel” and “Son of God” has the status of a topic sentence for John’s entire gospel.
Thus, Zephaniah must be hailed as the Old Testament prophet who made it clear that the Prophet who would dwell among the people of his kingdom would actually be God Himself. The Greek New Testament declares no less than ten times that Jesus of Nazareth is that divine Person, the Dayspring from on High who has visited us, and who promised his church, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Deane, therefore, properly understood this passage as a reference “to the perpetual presence of Christ in the Church.”
“Daughter of Zion … daughter of Jerusalem …” These are both synonyms for Israel”; but, of course, not the old Israel, but the New Israel of God (Galatians 3:29; Romans 9:6, etc.) is the Israel which is meant here.
If there had been any doubt of the Messianic thrust of this whole section, Zephaniah 3:14-15 are sufficient to have removed it. As Hanke confidently wrote: “This is a prophetic anticipation of the day when the King Messiah shall reign.”
“In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not; O Zion let not thy hands be slack.”
According to Ironside, these words, “will be their joy and blessing throughout the Millennium.” This is profoundly true, of course, provided that the Millennium is understood to be the present period of the Church’s sojourn in the wilderness of her probation. The current theories of some kind of a Golden Age called the Millennium to take place after the Second Advent of Christ have no support in the Bible. The expression “a thousand years” is applied in the Book of Revelation to the entire current dispensation of God’s love; and the same period is also called “a little time,” and “a thousand, two hundred and three score days,” and “forty two months,” and “time and times and half a time”; and a careful study of Revelation requires all of them to be understood as a reference to the current age of the Church on earth. (See a full discussion in this in my commentary on Revelation, pp. 459-464.)
Both these verses (Zephaniah 3:16,17) are encouragement to the Church. They include admonition against fear, exhortation to diligence in the work of the Lord, and stimulate confidence and a feeling of security in the knowledge of the love and blessing of the Father.
“Jehovah thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.”
(See the comment under Zephaniah 3:16, which is also applicable here.)
All of these verses are part of the Messianic prophecy which concludes Zephaniah, and all of them deal with the felicity, confidence, security, and joy of Christ’s kingdom.
“Singing …” is especially noticeable. The savage beats his tom tom; the Muslim shouts, “To prayer, to prayer!” from his minaret; the Jew intones the words of the Torah; but the Christian SINGS! In Christ has come to pass the marvelous prophecy of those “with songs of everlasting joy upon their heads!”
“I will gather them that sorrow for the solemn assembly, who were of thee, to whom the burden upon her was a reproach.”
“I will gather them that sorrow …” Christ seems to have been very familiar with this passage, for, in the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The great concern of Christianity has always been for the meek, the poor, the lowly, the sorrowful. Thus, Zephaniah is still speaking of conditions within the kingdom of Christ. As Keil said:
“The fulfillment of all this commenced with the founding of the Christian church by the apostles for Judah and for the whole world, and has been gradually unfolded more and more through the spread of the name of the Lord and his worship among all nations.”
In Micah 4:6-7, a similar promise brings into the solemn assembly the lame, that which has been driven away, and the afflicted. No other system ever known to mankind has ever concerned itself with the downtrodden and dispossessed in the same degree as that which marks the onward sweep of the Christian religion.
We do not wish to leave this passage without pointing out that such scholars as Eaton and Carson believe there is a reference in these verses, by implication, to the Bridegroom, Christ, and to his holy Bride, the Church. Whether or not this is so may be questioned, but the intimacy of the terminology surely seems to suggest it. “He is further represented as the Bridegroom, who in his love for his Bride, now proclaims his joy, now falls into rapt silence.”
“Behold, at that time I will deal with all them that afflict thee; and I will save that which is lame, and gather that which was driven away; and I will make them a praise and a name, whose shame hath been in all the earth.”
This verse is addressed to the suffering saints of the new dispensation who continually suffer shame and contumely all over the earth; and if so, “at that time” would refer to the period of the final judgment upon the earth. It is most natural that the persecuted and oppressed should wonder, “O Master, the holy and true, How long I dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth” (Revelation 6:9). This verse is a promise that God will do it “at that time.” In the meanwhile, there is a lot of suffering in store for the redeemed still upon earth. The answer here corresponds to that which came from the throne of God, “That they should rest yet for a little while till their fellow servants … and brethren … shall have fulfilled their course” (Revelation 6:11). The glorious reward shall yet come in due season.
“In these closing verses of Zephaniah, the Messianic light burns brightest. In some verses, it is difficult to know; but here there is no doubt. The enemies of the people have been destroyed; the gathering of the faithful has been accomplished; Jehovah is in their midst; a praise and a name are theirs among all the people of the earth.”
“At that time will I bring you in, and at that time will I gather you; for I will make you a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I bring back your captivity before your eyes, saith Jehovah.”
Such a marvelous promise as that of Zephaniah 3:19 required the repetition of it, which is featured in the greater part of this verse; but perhaps it was for the sake of emphasizing “at that time,” as the moment of fulfillment, which from all indications points far away to the times of the end.
“When I bring back your captivity …” This is sometimes applied to the return of the Babylonian exiles, and in which there doubtless was a partial and token fulfillment of this promise. However, we believe that something far more than that is intended here.
“The expression is often (and possibly here) used metaphorically for the abolition of misery and the restoration to a happy condition (Deuteronomy 30:3; Job 42:10,15; and Jeremiah 29:14).”
Jesus referred to conversion from sin as “the release of the captives” (Luke 4:18).
“Before your eyes …”
“So that we shall see what we now believe and hope for, the end of all our sufferings and chastisements, and losses, even the fullness of our Redemption. That which our eyes have looked for, our eyes shall behold and not another, the everlasting God as HE IS, face to face, saith the Lord!
Carson’s concluding comment was:
“Finally the Bridegroom brings home his Bride, and she sees at last with her own eyes all that her Lover and Lord has done for her …
Zephaniah ends his prophecy with a shout of triumphant assurance echoing out of his heart and into ours,
“The Lord hath said it!
That God Himself is the speaker in this prophecy is dramatically emphasized in these closing verses. As Hailey pointed out:
Note the use of the personal pronouns:
I will gather…
I will deal…
I will save…
I will make…
I will bring you in…
I will gather you…
I will make…
When I bring back your captivity before your eyes.
Note also that the word “gather” occurs no less than three times in Zephaniah 3:18-20, a term suggestive of the harvest at the end of the world, indicating that it is the final judgment of the Great Day that dominates the prophecy throughout, although there also appear many promises and blessings characteristic of the age of the church itself.
We praise the Lord for this inspired and inspiring prophecy of the ultimate triumph of righteousness over evil, which also provides the utmost confidence and assurance of the blessings of the Lord upon them who love his Name forever and ever. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.