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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Zephaniah 3

 

 

Verse 1

Zephaniah pronounced another "woe" (cf. Zephaniah 2:5) this time on Jerusalem, which he described as rebellious, defiled, and tyrannical. Rebels are those who refuse to submit to God"s will. The defiled are those polluted by sinful practices. Tyrants disregard the rights of others, particularly those whom they can take advantage of.


Verses 1-7

D. Judgment on Jerusalem3:1-7

Having announced that divine judgment would come on the nations around Judah ( Zephaniah 2:4-15), the prophet returned to the subject of Yahweh"s judgment on the Chosen People (cf. Zephaniah 1:4 to Zephaniah 2:3), but this time he focused more particularly on Jerusalem. Though he did not mention Jerusalem by name, it is clearly in view.

"Like Isaiah and Micah , he is a prophet of the city, open-eyed to its faults; unlike them, his focus is almost wholly civic and religious. But he draws the fundamental dividing line in the same place: whatever the basis on which the world is judged, the people of God are judged for turning from revealed truth ( Amos 2:4) and for neglecting proffered spiritual privileges ( Isaiah 65:2).

"Like Amos , Zephaniah uses the rhetorical device of condemning surrounding nations, but all the while-unannounced to his hearers-bringing their own condemnation ever closer." [Note: Ibid, p941.]


Verse 2

There were four evidences that the people of Jerusalem had been rebellious against Yahweh ( Zephaniah 3:1). They had been unresponsive to the prophets whom God had sent them. They were unteachable and refused to accept any correction. They did not trust in Yahweh, and they did not draw near to God in repentance and prayer (cf. Zephaniah 1:6).


Verse 3

Evidence that they were oppressing the weak ( Zephaniah 3:1) was the greedy behavior of Jerusalem"s civil rulers and judges. Like vicious lions and wolves they gobbled up all the possessions of vulnerable people that they could as fast as they could (cf. Zephaniah 1:8; Ezekiel 3:9-10; Micah 2:1-3; Micah 2:9-10).


Verse 4

Jerusalem"s religious leaders, the (false) prophets and priests, provided examples of the city"s defiled condition ( Zephaniah 3:1). The prophets were reckless in the way they announced their own advice as divine revelation and treacherous in deceiving the people into thinking that their words were authoritative. The priests did not observe the laws of holiness that God had prescribed for worship, and they twisted the meaning of the Mosaic Law to suit their purposes (cf. Zephaniah 1:4-5).


Verse 5

In contrast to these crooked leaders, Yahweh was straight, and He was still in Jerusalem. He would do no injustice, as the civil and religious leaders did. He performed justice every day as faithfully as the rising of the sun. Yet the unjust leaders of Jerusalem knew no shame for the wickedness that they consistently practiced.


Verse 6

The Lord reminded the Jerusalemites that He had already destroyed other nations. This probably refers to the nations around Judah that He had already allowed to fall to the Assyrians. He compared such a fallen nation to a city with strong corner towers that now lay in ruin because of the enemy"s destruction. The streets of this representative "city" also lay deserted. The real cities of these already defeated nations were in ruins without any inhabitants. Samaria was one such city, and the numerous towns of the former Northern Kingdom were others.


Verse 7

The Lord expected the people of Jerusalem to learn from the fate of the Northern Kingdom and other fallen nations. They should respect Him, since He was behind the destruction, and obey His word. They should have done this so He would not similarly judge them, as He had threatened to do. But they were more eager to pursue sinful self-indulgence and to become thoroughly corrupt in their deeds.


Verse 8

E. Judgment on all nations3:8

The people of Jerusalem needed to wait a little longer. The Lord would soon rise up as a devouring animal to consume His prey. He had determined to gather nations and kingdoms that were wicked, including Judah, and pour His burning indignation and wrath on them. Yahweh"s fiery zeal would devour all nations because the world would again become thoroughly corrupt (as in the days of Noah, cf. Genesis 6:5-7; Zephaniah 1:2-3). According to Charles Feinberg, this is the only verse in the Old Testament that contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. [Note: Charles L. Feinberg, Habakkuk ,, Zephaniah ,, Haggai ,, Malachi , p66.]

The world is still waiting for the Lord to pour out His wrath on all nations. He has not done so yet because He is patient and is giving people time to repent (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Yet that day will surely come ( 2 Peter 3:10). In view of its coming, Christians need to be holy in conduct and godly in character looking for and hastening that day (by our prayers and preaching, 2 Peter 3:11). The great outpouring of divine wrath on the earth predicted here will take place during the Tribulation, before our Lord returns to set up His kingdom (cf. Zephaniah 2:2; Zechariah 14:2; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 16:16).

Zephaniah"s final reference to the destruction of nations all over the world ( Zephaniah 3:8) brings the section of his prophecy that deals with judgment ( Zephaniah 1:2 to Zephaniah 3:8) full circle.

A Judgment on the world Zephaniah 1:2-3

B Judgment on Judah Zephaniah 1:4 to Zephaniah 2:3

C Judgment on Israel"s neighbors Zephaniah 2:4-15

B" Judgment on Jerusalem Zephaniah 3:1-7

A" Judgment on all nations Zephaniah 3:8


Verse 9

A. The purification of the nations3:9

"Then" signals a major change in time as well as in the focus of Zephaniah"s prophecy. It is a hinge word that serves as a transition from judgment in the Tribulation to blessing in the Millennium. Then, after these judgments ( Zephaniah 1:2 to Zephaniah 3:8), the Lord promised to give the peoples of the world lips that would speak truth and grace rather than lies and defiled speech (cf. Isaiah 6:5-7).

"Lip does not stand for language, but is mentioned as the organ of speech, by which a man expresses the thoughts of his heart, so that purity of the lips involves or presupposes the purification of the heart." [Note: C. F. Keil, " Zephaniah ," in The Twelve Minor Prophets, 2:156. Cf. Isaiah 6:5-7.]

Yahweh would effect this change in all the people of the world so they would worship Him (cf. Genesis 4:26) and serve Him as one united family of nations. This event has been seen as a reversal of Babel ( Genesis 11:1; Genesis 11:6-7; Genesis 11:9). [Note: Craigie, 2:128.] This revelation indicates that everyone living on the earth at the beginning of the Millennium will be a believer in Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).


Verses 9-20

III. THE DAY OF YAHWEH"S BLESSING3:9-20

Having finished the revelation dealing with God"s judgment of the world in a coming day ( Zephaniah 1:2 to Zephaniah 3:8), Zephaniah now announced that He would bring great blessing to all humankind after that judgment ( Zephaniah 3:9-20). As in the section of the book on judgment, he revealed God"s plans for the Gentile nations briefly first and then spoke extensively about His plans for Israel.

"Why did the prophets consistently close their books with messages of hope? For at least three reasons. To begin with, hope is a great motivation for obedience, and the prophets wanted to encourage God"s people to submit to God"s will and do what He commanded. God"s covenant blessings come to His people only when they obey His covenant conditions.

"A second reason is the prophets" emphasis on the faithfulness of God. The Lord will keep His promises and one day establish the kingdom; and since God is faithful to keep His promises, we ought to be faithful obeying His Word. ...

"Finally, the closing message of hope was an encouragement to the faithful remnant in the land, who were true to God and suffered because of their devotion to Him. It"s difficult to belong to that "company of the committed" who stand true to the Lord and His Word no matter what others may do or say. Knowing that God would one day defeat their enemies and reign in righteousness would encourage the believers [sic] remnant to persist in their faithful walk with the Lord." [Note: Wiersbe, p429.]


Verse 10

The descendants of the Lord"s dispersed ones, the Jews, would bring him offerings of worship from the farthest corners of the earth. The rivers of Ethiopia, probably the Nile and its tributaries, were at the edge of the known world in the prophet"s day (cf. Zephaniah 2:12). The implication is that the Jews will come to Jerusalem, the city the Lord chose as the place where He would dwell among His people (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-10; Isaiah 66:18; Isaiah 66:20).


Verses 10-13

1. Israel"s purification3:10-13


Verses 10-20

B. The transformation of Israel3:10-20

Zephaniah had received from the Lord much more revelation about what He would do for Israel following the period of worldwide punishment. This section is also chiastic in its thought structure.

A Israel"s purification Zephaniah 3:10-13

B Israel"s and Yahweh"s rejoicing Zephaniah 3:14-17

A" Israel"s regathering Zephaniah 3:18-20


Verse 11

In that day, the day of blessing to follow the day of judgment, Zephaniah"s hearers, the Jews, would not feel any more shame for all their previous rebellion against the Lord. They would not because He would remove all the pride from their hearts (cf. Ezekiel 20:34-38; Matthew 25:1-13). They would never again lift up themselves in haughtiness against Yahweh on His holy mountain Jerusalem ( Psalm 2:6; Daniel 9:16; Joel 2:1; Obadiah 1:16; et al.). A feeling of shame comes from an awareness of guilt, but they would not be guilty any longer because they would be humble rather than proud.


Verse 12

The Israelites of that day will be humble and lowly in heart (cf. Zephaniah 2:3), and they will seek the Lord as their refuge rather than turning from Him to idols and self-exaltation. Seeking the Lord is an indication of humility whereas forsaking Him, even by not praying, demonstrates a spirit of independence from God (cf. Zephaniah 1:6).


Verse 13

In contrast to their conduct since the Exodus , the Jews would do nothing wrong, tell no lies, and practice no deceit (cf. Zephaniah 3:1-4). They will resemble a flock of sheep at peace grazing and lying down with nothing to disturb them (cf. Psalm 23; Micah 4:4).

"When the Creator is worshipped and served as he ought to be, paradise is regained." [Note: Baker, p117.]


Verse 14

In view of these wonderful prospects, Zephaniah called the people of Jerusalem and all the Israelites to shout for joy with all their hearts.

"Although the command is aimed at the future Jerusalem, no doubt the message would not be lost on the godly worshipers of Zephaniah"s own day." [Note: Patterson, p377.]

The phrase "daughter of" is a way of referring to the citizens of Zion (Jerusalem) as the children of the city. Children born in any city are the children of that city in a metaphorical sense as well as the children of their physical parents in a literal sense. Elsewhere, "daughters of Jerusalem" sometimes refers to the villages surrounding Jerusalem, those little communities that Jerusalem spawned.


Verses 14-17

2. Israel"s and Yahweh"s rejoicing3:14-17

Zephaniah arranged this psalm of joy over salvation as another chiasm.

"A Zion singing ( Zephaniah 3:14 a)

B Israel"s shouts ( Zephaniah 3:14 b)

C Jerusalem"s joy ( Zephaniah 3:14 c)

D Yahweh"s deliverance ( Zephaniah 3:15 a, b)

E Presence of Yahweh the king ( Zephaniah 3:15 c)

F No more fear ( Zephaniah 3:15 d)

G Jerusalem"s future message ( Zephaniah 3:16 a)

F" No more fear ( Zephaniah 3:16 b, c)

E" Presence of Yahweh the God ( Zephaniah 3:17 a)

D" The mighty deliverer ( Zephaniah 3:17 b)

C" God"s joy ( Zephaniah 3:17 c)

B" Yahweh"s silence ( Zephaniah 3:17 d)

A" Yahweh"s singing ( Zephaniah 3:17 e)" [Note: Baker, p87.]


Verse 15

The reason for rejoicing is that Yahweh will have removed His judgment and Israel"s enemies from her (cf. Zephaniah 3:8; Zephaniah 3:19). Yahweh, Israel"s true and omnipotent king, will be in the midst of His people (in the person of Messiah, Jesus Christ, during the Millennium; Zephaniah 3:17; cf. Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 44:6; Zechariah 14:9). Consequently they will fear disaster no more ( Zephaniah 3:13).


Verse 16-17

"The battle cry on the day of judgment ( Zephaniah 1:14) will be replaced by the poignant hush of the reuniting of two lovers." [Note: Baker, p119.]

In that day of blessing the people of Jerusalem will have plenty of reasons not to fear. One reason is that Yahweh their God will be in their midst ( Zephaniah 3:15). He will be a victorious warrior having defeated all His enemies and all opposition worldwide ( Zephaniah 1:2-3; Zephaniah 3:8). Like a bridegroom He will take joy in His people Israel, and they will rest quietly in the security of His love for them as His bride. Yahweh will even shout with joy over His beloved Israel!

"Most often the Lord"s love is expressed by the Hebrew word hesed. This is the love that issues in commitment, the "ever-unfailing" fidelity of love, love that lives in the will as much as in the heart. Here, however, the word is "ahaba, the passionate love of Jacob for Rachel ( Genesis 29:20) and of Michal for David ( 1 Samuel 18:28), the fond love of Jacob for Joseph ( Genesis 37:3), Uzziah"s devotion to gardening ( 2 Chronicles 26:10), Jonathan"s deep friendship with David ( 1 Samuel 18:3), the devotee"s delight in the Lord"s law ( Psalm 119:97). This too is the Lord"s love for his people ( Hosea 3:1), a love that delights him ( Zephaniah 3:17 c), makes him contemplate his beloved with wordless adoration ( Zephaniah 3:17 d), a love that cannot be contained but bursts into elated singing ( Zephaniah 3:17 e)." [Note: Motyer, p958.]

"We can find hope in times of difficulty if we focus on God"s power, God"s deliverance, and God"s love. He is our King ( Zephaniah 3:15), our Savior ( Zephaniah 3:16-17 a), and our Beloved ( Zephaniah 3:17 b)." [Note: Dyer, p812.]


Verse 18

In the past, Jews who lived far from Jerusalem were very sad because they could not travel to Jerusalem to observe Israel"s annual feasts. They suffered a certain criticism from their fellow Jews for living far away from Jerusalem. But in this time of blessing (the Millennium) the Lord will enable them to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts. The feasts of Israel during the Millennium will be somewhat different from those that the Old Covenant specified, but there will be annual feasts in Jerusalem in the Millennium (cf. Ezekiel 45:9 to Ezekiel 46:24).

"Why would the Lord restore religious practices that have now been fulfilled? Possibly as a means of teaching Israel the meaning of the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ." [Note: Wiersbe, p432.]


Verses 18-20

3. Israel"s regathering3:18-20


Verse 19-20

Having dealt with the Jews" oppressors (cf. Zephaniah 3:8-15; Zephaniah 2:4-15; Genesis 12:3), the Lord will deliver even the weak and dispersed of His people and give them a worldwide reputation for goodness (cf. Deuteronomy 26:19). He will regather them in their land and give them a good reputation when He restores their fortunes (cf. Zephaniah 3:15; Genesis 12:1-7; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:7-21; Genesis 17:7-8; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalm 89:3-4; Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 7:27).

Zephaniah concluded his book by affirming that such was Yahweh"s declaration. He would indeed restore His people.

"The whole message of Zephaniah is finally united in one grand inclusio, in that it begins and ends with Yahweh, Israel"s just but caring covenant God, whose word ( Zephaniah 1:1) is spoken ( Zephaniah 3:20)." [Note: Baker, p88.]

An inclusio is a repetition of key elements, either words or motifs, at the beginning and end of a literary unit.

Eight times in Zephaniah 3:18-20, in the NASB, the Lord said, "I will," "I am going to," or "When I." The future restoration and blessing of Israel in the world will be something that Yahweh Himself will accomplish "in that day" (i.e, the day of the LORD). No one but He could ever accomplish it, and no one but He would.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Zephaniah 3:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/zephaniah-3.html. 2012.

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