For New King James text and comment, click here.
Zephaniah 1-3 Listen
An introduction to Zephaniah
Verse 1:1 tells us that Zephaniah prophesied to Judah during the reign of King Josiah. Judah's first Babylonian exiles were taken in 605 B.C. and the city of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C., seen in II Kings 24-25 (see notes). With only three chapters, this prophet was determined to convey the message of God's approaching wrath. The word "day" (Hebrew: yowm) is used 20 times in these three chapters, and it's referring to an approaching day of judgment.
So, exactly how big is this judgment? (Zephaniah 1)
1 The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.
2 I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.
3 I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD.
4 I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests;
5 And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham;
6 And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him.
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.
8 And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
9 In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.
10 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, and a great crashing from the hills.
11 Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
12 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.
13 Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof.
14 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.
15 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,
16 A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.
17 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.
18 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.
There is no question about the theme of Zephaniah; because of Judah's wickedness, they are going to be destroyed. The question arises from the usage of the word "land" by Zephaniah, as in 1:2-3 and 18. Does that mean this judgment of Zephaniah's is world wide? Two Hebrew words are used for "land" in this passage, "adamah" and "erets." They are used interchangeably by Zephaniah, and both are translated in the Old Testament as either "earth" or "land," based upon context. So, here's the question: Is this passage talking about a judgment on the earth at the end of the tribulation or a judgment on the land by the Babylonians from 605 B.C. to the middle of the sixth century? When you look at verses 1:2-3, it seems global - accompanied by complete destruction. However, the references to activities of the remnant/survivors in this book have led many (including myself) to conclude that Zephaniah is probably describing the utter devastation that the Babylonian troops will cause when they ransack the land of Judah/Jerusalem and the surrounding nations on their destructive trek through the land. Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C., and the other surrounding nations fell at various times before and after that year.
Since we have concluded that Zephaniah's prophecy of utter destruction refers directly to the Babylonian attack upon Jerusalem, the "great day of the LORD" of verse 14 looks, not to the Battle of Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation as some have maintained, but rather to the Babylonian event in 586 B.C. (II Kings 24-25, see notes). The term "in that day" (Hebrew: yowm) is frequently used in the context of judgment by the Old Testament prophets. It is used to describe a period of time when the judgment takes place, not literally a 24-hour period of time. As a matter of fact, the judgment referred to with the term "day" in chapters 1-2 points, in each instance, to this Babylonian destruction of the regional nations in the sixth and seventh centuries B.C. Prior to the Babylonian onslaught, the Egyptians tromped into Jerusalem. In actuality, the fall of Jerusalem lasted over 20 years at the hands of the Egyptians and then the Babylonians, beginning after the death of King Josiah in 609 B.C. It does injustice to the consistency of the text to interpret some of these "day" references to the Babylonian destruction and others to the yet-future battle of Armageddon found in Revelation 19:11-21 (see notes). It seems that Zephaniah is certainly applying "that day" to the impending overthrow of the "land" by the Babylonians.
As a side note to these verses, notice verse 5 as Zephaniah is itemizing pagan worship in Judah, "And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops;" It would appear that this prophet is condemning the practice of astrology by the Jews. It is a fact that using the stars as predictors goes back to the Babylonians, as found in Hammurabi's tablets, predating Moses by at least 200 years. Other ancient notations on stone tablets clearly establish a belief that the stars were valid indicators of future events. More extensive collections of astronomical observations and attendant predictions have been found on cuneiform tablets known as the "Enema Anu Enlil" series. They date to sometime between 1350 and 1100 B.C., and seem to have been created for the purpose of summarizing contemporary astrological ideas. Therefore, without question, astrology had existed well over 1,000 years prior to Zephaniah's prophecy here. And...by the way, Zephaniah lists astrology as a form of pagan worship.
Verse 5 is interesting in another aspect as well - the mixing of worship of the one true God with paganism. Notice the last part of that verse 5, "them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham." In that verse, "Malcham" is the same as "Molech." You will recall that Molech is the god to which the pagans (and sometimes the Israelites) worshipped by sacrificing their children on his altar. Leviticus 20 (see notes) deals harshly with the issue of Molech worship where it is stated in verse 2, "Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones." Well...here's a news flash: Here they are being indicted for the sinful practice of mixing the two (worship of God and Molech), even though they were so mutually exclusive to one another.
And Judah's enemies too! (Zephaniah 2)
1 Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired;
2 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.
3 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.
4 For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up.
5 Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites! the word of the LORD is against you; O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant.
6 And the sea coast shall be dwellings AND cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks.
7 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: for the LORD their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.
8 I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified themselves against their border.
9 Therefore as I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them.
10 This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the LORD of hosts.
11 The LORD will be TERRIBLE UNTO THEM: FOR HE WILL FAMISH ALL THE GODS OF THE EARTH; AND MEN SHALL WORSHIP HIM, EVERY ONE FROM HIS PLACE, EVEN all the isles of the heathen.
12 Ye Ethiopians also, ye SHALL BE slain by my sword.
13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, AND dry like a wilderness.
14 And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; THEIR VOICE SHALL SING IN THE WINDOWS; DESOLATION SHALL BE in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work.
15 This IS THE REJOICING CITY THAT DWELT CARELESSLY, THAT SAID IN HER HEART, I AM, AND THERE IS NONE BESIDE ME: HOW IS SHE BECOME A DESOLATION, A PLACE FOR BEASTS TO LIE DOWN IN! EVERY ONE THAT PASSETH BY HER SHALL HISS, AND wag his hand.
Notice the mention of Judah's neighbors as victims of this devastation. Most noteworthy is Assyria's mention along with its capital city, Nineveh, way east several hundred miles in modern-day Iraq (verse 13). Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C. The Babylonians approached around the mountain range through the fertile crescent when they attacked and always appeared from the North in so doing. Of course, all of these nations were overcome by the Babylonians.
You will notice in verses 4-5 here that a clear geographical pattern of defeat is shown. The initial defeat (though short lived) of Jerusalem was at the hand of the Egyptian king who naturally approached from the south along the coast. Look at the cities listed in verse 4, Gaza, then Ashkelon, then Ashdod (all coastal cities listed from south to north) and Ekron (inland 11 miles from Ashdod in a direct line toward Jerusalem). That's the route the Egyptian king would have taken to attack Jerusalem. Of course the Egyptian king fell to the Babylonians shortly thereafter. All of those coastal Philistine cities are to be destroyed along with the Ethiopians, Moabites and Ammonites. It seems obvious that the Egyptian/Babylonian siege is in view here.
The yet-future restoration of Israel (Zephaniah 3)
1 Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!
2 She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God.
3 Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.
4 Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.
5 The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame.
6 I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant.
7 I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, AND corrupted all their doings.
8 Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.
9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.
10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
11 In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain.
12 I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.
13 The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
15 The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.
16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
18 I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.
19 Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.
20 At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.
Here's a chapter prophesying Israel's restoration. You will notice from the wording of this chapter that we're not talking a mere return to their land which began in 535 B.C. under the Persians (Ezra 1, see notes). We're talking about the world being ruled from Israel, and specifically Jerusalem. Notice verse 9, "For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent." It's impossible to make a valid case that this is not a world-wide worship of "the LORD."
Then there are references to a pure remnant and complete destruction of the enemy. That can only be millennium talk. There can be little question that this passage is Messianic and millennial. Verse 15 seems to seal this conclusion, "The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more." There is no time in history that fulfills this scenario. And verse 20 is the capper, "At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD." Yup, definitely Messianic in the yet-future millennium!
So...in summary, the fall of chapters 1 and 2 is obviously that of Jerusalem and the region to the Babylonians in the 6th century B.C., but the restoration of chapter 3 looks to the yet-future millennium under the Messiah.