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Zephaniah 1:12

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

I will search Jerusalem with candles - I will make a universal and thorough search.

That are settled on their lees - Those who are careless, satisfied with the goods of this life; who trust in their riches, and are completely irreligious; who, while they acknowledge that there is a God, think, like the Aristotelians, that he is so supremely happy in the contemplation of his own excellences, that he feels it beneath his dignity to concern himself with the affairs of mortals.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

I will search - (Literally, “diligently”). The word is always used of a minute diligent search, whereby places, persons, things, are searched and sifted one by one in every corner, until it be found whether a thing be there or no. Hence, also of the searching out of every thought of the heart, either by God Proverbs 20:27, or in repentance by the light of God Lamentations 3:40.

Jerusalem with candles - so that there should be no corner, no lurking-place so dark, but that the guilty should be brought to light. The same diligence, which Eternal Wisdom used, to “seek and to save that which was lost Luke 15:8, lighting a candle and searching diligently,” until it find each lost piece of silver, the same shall Almighty God use that no hardened sinner shall escape. Cyril: “What the enemy would do, using unmingled phrensy against the conquered, that God fitteth to His own Person, not as being Himself the Doer of things so foreign, but rather permitting that what comes from anger should proceed in judgment against the ungodly.” It was an image of this, when, at the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans, they “dragged out of common sewers and holes and caves and tombs, princes and great men and priests, who for fear of death had hid themselves.”

How much more in that Day when “the secrets of all hearts shalt be revealed” by Him who “searcheth the hearts and reins, and to Whose Eyes” Psalm 7:9; Psalm 26:2; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 20:12; Revelation 2:23, “which are like flashing Fire, all things are naked and open!” Revelation 1:14. The candles wherewith God searcheth the heart, are men‘s own consciences Proverbs 20:27, His Own revealed word Psalm 119:104; Proverbs 6:23; 2 Peter 1:19, the lives of true Christians Philemon 2:15. Those, through the Holy Spirit in each, may enlighten the heart of man, or, if he takes not heed, will rise in judgment against him, and show the falsehood of all vain excuses.: “One way of escape only there is. If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged. I will “search out my” own “ways” and my desires, that He who “shall search out Jerusalem with candles,” may find nothing in me, unsought and unsifted. For He will not twice judge the same thing. Would that I might so follow and track out all my offences, that in none I need fear His piercing Eyes, in none be ashamed at the light of His candles! Now I am seen, but I see not. At hand is that Eye, to whom all things are open, although Itself is not open. Once “I shall know, even as I am known” 1 Corinthians 13:12. Now “I know in part,” but I am not known in part, but wholly.”

The men that are settled on their lees - Stiffened and contracted. The image is from wine which becomes harsh, if allowed to remain upon the lees, unremoved. It is drawn out by Jeremiah, “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed” Jeremiah 48:11. So they upon whom “no changes come, fear not God (see Psalm 55:19). The lees are the refuse of the wine, yet stored up (so the word means) with it, and the wine rests, as it were, upon them. So do men of ease rest in things defiled and defiling, their riches or their pleasure, which they hoard up, on which they are bent, so that they, Dionysius: “lift not their mind to things above, but, darkened with foulest desires, are hardened and stiffened in sin.”

That say in their heart - Not openly scoffing, perhaps thinking that they believe; but people “do” believe as they love. Their most inward belief, the belief of their heart and affections, what they wish, and the hidden spring of their actions, is, “The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil.” They act as believing so, and by acting inure themselves to believe it. They think of God as far away, “Is not God in the height of heaven? And behold the height of the stars, how high they are! And thou sayest, How doth God know? Can He judge through the dark cloud? Thick goads are a covering to Him, that He seeth not; and He walketh in the circuit of heaven” Job 22:12-14, “The ungodly in the pride of his heart” (thinketh); “He will not inquire; all his devices” (speak), “There is no God. Strong are his ways at all times; on high are Thy judgments out of his sight” Psalm 10:4-5. “They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless, and they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it” Psalm 94:5-6.

“Such things they did imagine and were deceived, for their own wickedness blinded them. As for the mysteries of God, they knew them not” (Wisd. 2:21-22). “Faith without works is dead” James 2:20. Faith which acts not dies out, and there comes in its stead this other persuasion, that God will not repay. There are more Atheists than believe themselves to be such. These act as if there were no Judge of their deeds, and at last come, themselves to believe that God will not punish Isaiah 5:19; Malachi 2:17. What else is the thought of all worldlings, of all who make idols to themselves of any pleasure or gain or ambition, but “God will not punish?” “God cannot punish the (wrongful, selfish,) indulgence of the nature which He has made.” “God will not be so precise.” “God will not punish with everlasting severance from Him, the sins of this short life.” And they see not that they ascribe to God, what He attributes to idols that is, not-gods. “Do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and behold it together”. “Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” Jeremiah 10:5. These think not that God does good, for they ascribe their success to their own diligence, wisdom, strength, and thank not God for it. They think not that He sends them evil. For they defy Him and His laws, and think that they shall go unpunished. What remains but that He should be as dumb an idol as those of the pagan?

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
God's day is at hand; the punishment of presumptuous sinners is a sacrifice to the justice of God. The Jewish royal family shall be reckoned with for their pride and vanity; and those that leap on the threshold, invading their neighbours' rights, and seizing their possessions. The trading people and the rich merchants are called to account. Secure and careless people are reckoned with. They are secure and easy; they say in their heart, the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil; that is, they deny his dispensing rewards and punishments. But in the day of the Lord's judgment, it will clearly appear that those who perish, fall a sacrifice to Divine justice for breaking God's law, and because they have no interest by faith in the Redeemer's atoning sacrifice.
Ellen G. White
Reflecting Christ, 322.2

The world was arrayed against God's justice and His laws, and Noah was regarded as fanatic. Satan, when tempting Eve to disobey God, said to her, “Ye shall not surely die.” Great men, worldly, honored, and wise men, repeated the same story, “Ye shall not surely die.” “The threatenings of God,” they said, “are for the purpose of intimidating, and will never be verified. You need not be alarmed. Such an event as the destruction of the world by the God who made it, and the punishment of the beings He has created, will never take place.” ... So the people did not humble their hearts before God, but continued their disobedience and wickedness, the same as though God had not spoken to them through His servant. RC 322.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 271

“And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil.” “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy: for He shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.” 3T 271.1

When a crisis finally comes, as it surely will, and God speaks in behalf of His people, those who have sinned, those who have been a cloud of darkness and who have stood directly in the way of God's working for His people, may become alarmed at the length they have gone in murmuring and in bringing discouragement upon the cause; and, like Achan, becoming terrified, they may acknowledge that they have sinned. But their confessions are too late and are not of the right kind to benefit themselves, although they may relieve the cause of God. Such do not make their confessions because of a conviction of their true state and a sense of how displeasing their course has been to God. God may give this class another test, another proving, and let them show that they are no better prepared to stand free from all rebellion and sin than before their confessions were made. They are inclined to be ever on the side of wrong. And when the call is made for those who will be on the Lord's side to make a decided move to vindicate the right, they will manifest their true position. Those who have been nearly all their lives controlled by a spirit as foreign to the Spirit of God as was Achan's will be very passive when the time comes for decided action on the part of all. They will not claim to be on either side. The power of Satan has so long held them that they seem blinded and have no inclination to stand in defense of right. If they do not take a determined course on the wrong side, it is not because they have a clear sense of the right, but because they dare not. 3T 271.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 99

“And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil.” 5T 99.1

“Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger come upon you. Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger.” 5T 99.2

We are near the close of time. I have been shown that the retributive judgments of God are already in the land. The Lord has given us warning of the events about to take place. Light is shining from His word; yet darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people. “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them; ... and they shall not escape.” 5T 99.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 211

The class who do not feel grieved over their own spiritual declension, nor mourn over the sins of others, will be left without the seal of God. The Lord commissions His messengers, the men with slaughtering weapons in their hands: “Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.” 5T 211.1

Here we see that the church—the Lord's sanctuary—was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God. The ancient men, those to whom God had given great light and who had stood as guardians of the spiritual interests of the people, had betrayed their trust. They had taken the position that we need not look for miracles and the marked manifestation of God's power as in former days. Times have changed. These words strengthen their unbelief, and they say: The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil. He is too merciful to visit His people in judgment. Thus “Peace and safety” is the cry from men who will never again lift up their voice like a trumpet to show God's people their transgressions and the house of Jacob their sins. These dumb dogs that would not bark are the ones who feel the just vengeance of an offended God. Men, maidens, and little children all perish together. 5T 211.2

The abominations for which the faithful ones were sighing and crying were all that could be discerned by finite eyes, but by far the worst sins, those which provoked the jealousy of the pure and holy God, were unrevealed. The great Searcher of hearts knoweth every sin committed in secret by the workers of iniquity. These persons come to feel secure in their deceptions and, because of His long-suffering, say that the Lord seeth not, and then act as though He had forsaken the earth. But He will detect their hypocrisy and will open before others those sins which they were so careful to hide. 5T 211.3

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