James Nisbet Commentary - Zephaniah 2:6 - 2:7

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James Nisbet Commentary - Zephaniah 2:6 - 2:7

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‘The sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks. And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening.’


It is with the imagery of this prophecy we have to do now. The weary and perilous day is ended, and the time of rest is come for the sheep of God’s pasture. So they are led by Him as their Shepherd to their place of rest. In the prophecy this is Ashkelon, a strong Philistine fortress by the Mediterranean, a terror to Israel. Now, in the seer’s eyes, it is the site of a permanent pastoral settlement, with its dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks, whence in the morning the shepherds lead out their flocks to pasture grounds; thither in the evening they lead them to the shelter and safety of the permanent folds.

I. The prophecy is a parable whose fullest expression is found, not in Israel resting in the houses of Ashkelon, but in the flock of Christ resting in the fold of Paradise.—The contrast between Ashkelon, the dread of Judah, as the stronghold of her ancient foes, and her desire as her quiet resting-place at eventide, is great. Yet it is but a type of the greater contrast between man’s old conception of death and Hades and the Christian conception of them. Of old, darkness rested over the world beyond death. It was known as Hades, the unseen, the unknown land. Read the prayer of Hezekiah after his recovery from his sickness, and see how a devout Israelite of his day trembled at the prospect of death. Pass from this to weigh the utterances of a St. Paul: ‘To me to die is gain. I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.’ ‘The time of my departure is at hand; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.’ Ah, Ashkelon has become indeed a ‘fold for flocks,’ where in the evening the sheep of the Lord lie down. What was a terror becomes a thing of desire. How is this? The Lord Jesus has transfigured Death and Hades. ‘He was crucified, dead, and buried, and descended into Hades.’ By His death He conquered death, and transformed it into birth, into a state of bliss. He has even changed its name; Hades has become Paradise. It is more than Eden regained; it is Eden restored under deeper conditions of bliss. It is indeed the land of rest. There is the rest of perfect security; they who are there dwell safely, and none can make them afraid. There is the rest of them that feast in the ever-growing knowledge which satisfies the intellect; in the vision of Christ’s beauty, which satisfies the heart; in increasing conformity to His likeness, which is the repose of the will. And even as He speaks to them He bears them to the fair scene of calm repose, and there makes them to lie down in the evening, and rest until the morning dawns, when He will call them with His voice to awake and come forth to the joys of His eternal Easter Day. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd in His morning and midday ministries to His flock, how truly is He this to the very end in His evening care? Is this joy yours? It shall be so if you will but abandon yourself to the pastoral care of the living Jesus. He cheers His own as He cheered the saint of old who fell at His feet as one dead.

II. Jesus, then, is the Great Shepherd of the sheep in Paradise, as on earth.—Christian life, both here and there, is a life lived under His pastorate. Paradise is a quiet resting-place. It is the sphere of the great Sabbath of the people of God. The intermediate state is to them what Holy Saturday was to the Lord. Rest is the one arresting feature of this life as it is revealed to us by God. They rest in safety, in repose, in satisfaction, in expectancy. But the condition of their rest is their living under the pastoral ministries of Jesus. Paradise is a state of activity. The rest of that land is not the rest of inactivity. Is inactivity a possible condition for the spirit when once it is awakened to intelligence? The spirit’s rest is not in inactivity; its rest is like the rest of God in this His Sabbath Day. God’s rest is a rest of reposeful activity. Inactivity is the condition of restlessness. No one is so restless as he who has no work in life. And this law of rest rules the life of Paradise. Man carries into it an untouched personality. In his personality he lives a life of consciousness. ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord.’ And therefore he is capable of activity in this condition of being. His life is a life of restful progress. It is a life of ever-growing knowledge, of ever-increasing conformity to God’s will, of advancing purification, and therefore of ever-brightening hopes. Paradise is not Heaven. It is the rest of progress to perfection; it is the rest of an ever-brightening anticipation of the coming of the perfect day. And this rest is the gift of Jesus. It is His gift to those who live in Paradise under His pastoral ministries, Who is their sun, their life, their hope. Winsome, indeed, is the life of those who in Paradise, dwelling in the vision of Jesus, rest in Him and wait patiently for Him. Such are the conditions in which we are privileged to anticipate the evening of life as we live now in the Good Shepherd’s fold and under His care. How blessed is the lot of him who can see this gathering of the clouds in the consciousness of the presence of Jesus in the evening of the hour of death, and all through the night of rest in the land beyond it! God grant us to know this blessedness.

But this knowledge must be gained, this grace found, this act of commendation learned now if they are to be our consolation then; we must take Jesus to be our pastor now if we are to have Him for our guide and comfort then; we must learn in life how to follow Him if we are consciously to follow Him into His paradise. The science of Christian dying is taught in the school of Christian living by Him Who is the Lord of life and death.

Canon Body.