Zephaniah’s prophecy of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem emphasizes, perhaps more than any other prophecy, the devastation and death that divine judgment will bring. Described as the day of the Lord, the day of judgment is pictured as a time of darkness, of anguish and distress, of destruction and plunder of cities, and of threat to all life, human and animal alike. The major sins motivating this judgment, in Zephaniah’s view, are Judah’s worship of other deities (1:4–9) and its unjust and abusive leadership (3:1–4).
The title of the prophecy informs us that the ministry of Zephaniah took place during the reign of Josiah (640–609 B.C.), not long before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The protest against the worship of false gods and the condemnation of foreign practices (1:8–9) may indicate that Zephaniah spoke during the height of Assyrian influence in the early years of Josiah’s reign, before Josiah launched the religious reforms praised by Israel’s historians (2 Kgs 22:1–23:30). If so, the prophecy of Zephaniah would be contemporary with the early prophecy of Jeremiah, with which it shares both language and ideas.
Following are the book’s four sections:
1The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah,* in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah.
2I will completely sweep away all things
from the face of the land—oracle of the LORD.
3I will sweep away human being and beast alike,
I will sweep away the birds of the sky,
and the fish of the sea.
I will make the wicked stumble;
I will eliminate the people
from the face of the land—oracle of the LORD.a
4I will stretch out my hand against Judah,
and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
I will eliminate from this place
the last vestige of Baal,
the name of the idolatrous priests.
5And those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of heaven,*
And those who bow down to the LORD
but swear by Milcom;b
6And those who have turned away from the LORD,
and those who have not sought the LORD,
who have not inquired of him.
7Silence in the presence of the Lord GOD!
for near is the day of the LORD,
Yes, the LORD has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.* c
8On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice
I will punish the officials and the king’s sons,
and all who dress in foreign apparel.
9I will punish, on that day,
all who leap over the threshold,*
Who fill the house of their master
with violence and deceit.
10On that day—oracle of the LORD—
A cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,*
loud crashing from the hills.
11Wail, O inhabitants of Maktesh!
for all the merchants are destroyed,
all who weigh out silver, done away with.
12At that time,
I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
I will punish the people
who settle like dregs in wine,*
Who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
13Their wealth shall be given to plunder
and their houses to devastation;
They will build houses,
but not dwell in them;
They will plant vineyards,
but not drink their wine.d
14Near is the great day of the LORD,
near and very swiftly coming.
The sound of the day of the LORD! Piercing—
there a warrior shrieks!
15A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloom,
a day of thick black clouds,e
16A day of trumpet blasts and battle cries
against fortified cities,
against lofty battlements.f
17I will hem the people in
till they walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the LORD;
And their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their bowels like dung.
18Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them.
On the day of the LORD’s wrath,
in the fire of his passion,
all the earth will be consumed.
For he will make an end, yes, a sudden end,
of all who live on the earth.g
* [1:1] Hezekiah: it is possible, but not certain, that Zephaniah’s ancestor was King Hezekiah who reigned in Judah from 715 to 687 B.C. (2 Kgs 18–20).
* [1:5] The host of heaven: the sun, moon, planets, and stars, the worship of which became widespread in Judah under Assyrian influence. Milcom: the god of the Ammonites; cf. 1 Kgs 11:5, 7, 33; 2 Kgs 23:13.
* [1:7] He has consecrated his guests: God has consecrated the troops, presumably foreign, who have been invited to share in the spoil on the day of slaughter.
* [1:9] Leap over the threshold: the reference may be to a religious ritual like that practiced by the priests of the Philistine deity Dagon (1 Sm 5:5).
* [1:10–11] The Second Quarter…Maktesh: sections of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Kgs 22:14).
* [1:12] Settle like dregs in wine: those who are overconfident because, like the sediment that settles to the bottom of a bottle of wine, they have remained at peace and undisturbed for a long time.
a. [1:3] Hos 4:3.
b. [1:5] Jer 8:2; 2 Kgs 23:13.
c. [1:7] Is 34:6; Am 5:18.
d. [1:13] Am 5:11.
e. [1:15] Is 13:9; Jl 2:1–2.
f. [1:16] Am 2:2.
g. [1:18] Zep 3:8; Jer 4:26–27.
1* Gather, gather yourselves together,
O nation without shame!
2Before you are driven away,
like chaff that disappears;
Before there comes upon you
the blazing anger of the LORD;
Before there comes upon you
the day of the LORD’s anger.
3Seek the LORD,
all you humble of the land,
who have observed his law;
Perhaps you will be sheltered
on the day of the LORD’s anger.a
4For Gaza shall be forsaken,
and Ashkelon shall be a waste,
Ashdod they shall drive out at midday,
and Ekron* shall be uprooted.b
5Ah! You who dwell by the seacoast,
the nation of Cherethites,*
the word of the LORD is against you!
O Canaan, land of the Philistines,
I will leave you to perish without an inhabitant!
6You shall become fields for shepherds,
and folds for flocks.
7The seacoast shall belong
to the remnant of the house of Judah;
by the sea they shall pasture.
In the houses of Ashkelon
they shall lie down in the evening.
For the LORD their God will take care of them,
and bring about their restoration.
8I have heard the taunts uttered by Moab,
and the insults of the Ammonites,*
When they taunted my people
and made boasts against their territory.c
9Therefore, as I live—
oracle of the LORD of hosts—
the God of Israel,
Moab shall become like Sodom,
the Ammonites like Gomorrah:
A field of weeds,
a salt pit,
a waste forever.
The remnant of my people shall plunder them,
the survivors of my nation dispossess them.
10This will be the recompense for their pride,
because they taunted and boasted against
the people of the LORD of hosts.
11The LORD shall inspire them with terror
when he makes all the gods of earth waste away;
Then the distant shores of the nations,
each from its own place,
shall bow down to him.
12You too, O Cushites,*
shall be slain by the sword of the LORD.d
13He will stretch out his hand against the north,
to destroy Assyria;
He will make Nineveh a waste,
dry as the desert.e
14In her midst flocks shall lie down,
all the wild life of the hollows;
The screech owl and the desert owl
shall roost in her columns;
The owl shall hoot from the window,
the raven croak from the doorway.f
15Is this the exultant city*
that dwelt secure,
That told itself,
“I and there is no one else”?
How it has become a waste,
a lair for wild animals!
Those who pass by it
hiss, and shake their fists!
* [2:1–3] This oracle is a classic description of the day of the Lord as an overwhelming disaster, concluding with a call for repentance and reform. Nation without shame: Judah.
* [2:4] Gaza…Ashkelon…Ashdod…Ekron: cities of the Philistine confederation.
* [2:5] Cherethites: a synonym for, or subgroup of, the Philistines, which may be associated with Crete, a part of the larger Aegean area from which the Philistines came.
* [2:8] Moab…Ammonites: Judah’s neighbors to the East across the Jordan.
* [2:12] Cushites: the Ethiopians, who had ruled Egypt a generation before Zephaniah’s career.
* [2:15] The exultant city: Nineveh. Hiss, and shake their fists: gestures of derision.
a. [2:3] Am 5:14–15.
b. [2:4] Jer 47:5; Am 1:6–8.
c. [2:8] Jer 48:1; 49:1.
d. [2:12] 2 Chr 14:7–14.
e. [2:13] Na 3:7.
f. [2:14] Is 34:11.
1Ah! Rebellious and polluted,
the tyrannical city!*
2It listens to no voice,
accepts no correction;
In the LORD it has not trusted,
nor drawn near to its God.a
3Its officials within it
are roaring lions;
Its judges are desert wolves
that have no bones to gnaw by morning.b
4Its prophets are reckless,
Its priests profane what is holy,
and do violence to the law.c
5But the LORD in its midst is just,
doing no wrong;
Morning after morning rendering judgment
unfailingly, at dawn;
the wicked, however, know no shame.
6I have cut down nations,
their battlements are laid waste;
I have made their streets deserted,
with no one passing through;
Their cities are devastated,
with no one dwelling in them.d
7I said, “Surely now you will fear me,
you will accept correction;
They cannot fail to see
all I have brought upon them.”
Yet the more eagerly they have done
all their corrupt deeds.
8Therefore, wait for me—oracle of the LORD—
until the day when I arise as accuser;
For it is my decision to gather nations,
to assemble kingdoms,
In order to pour out upon them my wrath,
all my blazing anger;
For in the fire of my passion
all the earth will be consumed.e
9For then I will make pure
the speech of the peoples,
That they all may call upon the name of the LORD,
to serve him with one accord;
10From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia
and as far as the recesses of the North,
they shall bring me offerings.
11On that day
You will not be ashamed
of all your deeds,
when you rebelled against me;
For then I will remove from your midst
the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself
on my holy mountain.
12But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD—f
13the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
They shall pasture and lie down
with none to disturb them.g
14Shout for joy, daughter Zion!
sing joyfully, Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
15The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
16On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, Zion,
do not be discouraged!
17The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
Who will sing joyfully because of you,i
18as on festival days.
I will remove disaster from among you,
so that no one may recount your disgrace.
19At that time I will deal
with all who oppress you;
I will save the lame,
and assemble the outcasts;
I will give them praise and renown
in every land where they were shamed.j
20At that time I will bring you home,
and at that time I will gather you;
For I will give you renown and praise,
among all the peoples of the earth,
When I bring about your restoration
before your very eyes, says the LORD.k
* [3:1] The tyrannical city: Jerusalem.
a. [3:2] Jer 2:30; 7:28.
b. [3:3] Ez 22:27; Mi 3:11.
c. [3:4] Ez 22:26; Hb 1:4.
d. [3:6] Jer 2:15.
e. [3:8] Zep 1:18; Jl 4:2.
f. [3:12] Is 57:13; Ob 17.
g. [3:13] Mi 4:4.
h. [3:14] Zec 9:9.
i. [3:17] Jl 2:27.
j. [3:19] Mi 4:6.
k. [3:20] Jl 4:1.