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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Zephaniah 3

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 3 The Future Hope.

In this chapter Zephaniah continues the theme of the judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem, describing her present rebellious state, but then he moves on to the eschatological hope for the future. As with many prophets he moves easily from the near to the far. They are two mountain ridges ahead and from his perspective he cannot see the distance between them.


Verses 1-7

The Condition of Judah and Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:1-7).

Zephaniah 3:1-2

‘Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted,

To the oppressing city.

She did not obey the voice.

She did not receive correction.

She did not trust in YHWH.

She did not draw near to her God.’

Zephaniah returns to God’s verdict on Jerusalem, and pronounces a woe against her. She is a city of oppression, oppressing her people. She is rebellious against God and the covenant she has made with Him, and polluted through her disobedience. She is no more a holy city. Four reasons are given,

· ‘She did not obey the voice.’ Central to all YHWH’s requirements is obedience. He had spoken, but she had refused to obey His voice, and had gone her own way.

· ‘She did not receive correction.’ The prophets had been sent by God to rebuke her and turn her back into the right way, but she had refused even to listen. She was determined to go her own way and ignore all warnings.

· ‘She did not trust in YHWH.’ She turned to other gods and other ways. Her eyes were taken off Him, and He was no longer central. She trusted rather to these strange gods, and to strange allies. Indeed it would be one of these who came against her.

· ‘She did not draw near to her God.’ YHWH had become to her an irrelevance, a God of the past Who was no longer important. Her worship of Him was perfunctory, and for all practical purposes He was ignored

Zephaniah 3:3

‘Her princes in her midst are roaring lions,

Her judges are evening wolves,

They leave nothing until the next day.’

The description is vivid. Her leaders are like animal seeking the prey, and the people are the prey. Her princes are like roaring lions, frightening with their roars, pouncing on their victims. Her judges are like wolves in the evening, hungry, unsatisfied, descending on the people to tear them apart, and so ravenous that they leave nothing for the next day (literally ‘did not gnaw bones in the morning’).

Zephaniah 3:4

‘Her prophets are light and treacherous people.

Her priests have profaned the sanctuary,

They have done violence to the law.’

The people had no word from YHWH, for the prophets were unreliable. They received no true vision. They treated all their great responsibilities lightly. They treated the truth lightly. They said what men wanted to hear, especially those in authority. They were men-pleasers. That was why Zephaniah had been raised up, so that at least someone would speak the truth and not what people wanted to hear. The priests profaned the sanctuary. They were careless, or worse, in their approach to YHWH, ignoring the rules of ‘cleanness’, and the requirements of sacrifice, and many served other gods as well. They failed to follow and teach the requirements of the Mosaic law passed down by tradition and word of mouth. (The actual book of the Law would be discovered later in the temple, which suggests that it was not being read).

Zephaniah 3:5

‘YHWH in the midst of her is righteous.

He will not do what is wrong.

Every morning he brings his judgment to light,

But the unrighteous know no shame.’

God is revealed as the opposite of all this. He is among them in His dwellingplace but is totally righteous. He will not behave in a wrong or unseemly way. He is completely open. Each day what He has done can be scanned in the light of day without anyone finding anything amiss. He does not need to hide anything. The picture would appear to be that of the steward or administrator who each morning produces details of what he has done and how he has looked after what he controls. He is not afraid to do so because he is totally honest and has acted only for good. So God is completely righteous in all His doings.

In contrast the unrighteous do not bring what they have done into the light of day. That is how they avoid knowing shame. They are secretive and dishonest. Sadly most men would not like their fellows to know the truth about some of the things that they have done. They are done in darkness, and that is where they want them to remain. Others are so wicked that they know no shame. They are even worse.

We are reminded of Jesus’ words ‘he who does truth comes to the light that his deeds may be revealed, that they are wrought in God’ (John 3:21). We too are to ‘walk in the light’ (1 John 1:7).

Zephaniah 3:6

“I have cut off nations,

Their battlements are desolate,

I have made their streets waste,

So that no one travels on them,

Their cities are destroyed so that they are deserted (‘there is no man’),

There is no one living in them.’

God gives the examples from the past of nations who were once powerful, but whose cities are now desolate wastes, totally unused by man. They should be acting as a warning to the people of Judah.

Zephaniah 3:7

“I said, ‘Surely you will fear me,

You will receive correction,’

And her dwelling will not be cut off,

All that I have appointed to do with her.

But they arose early,

And corrupted all their doings.’

God’s hope was that the example of these nations who had been cut off would stir His own people to give regard to Him, to take heed to Him and hear His warnings, to seek His guidance and walk in it. Then she would be secure in her land. All would be well. Her own dwelling would not be cut off, her cities would prosper, she would receive all the good that God wanted to do for her.

But they did not take notice. They enthusiastically (arose early) went about their sinful ways. They just ignored Him, giving Him perfunctory acknowledgement. In all they did they were deceitful and treacherous in their behaviour.

It is a warning to us that we should learn the lessons of the past. If only we would do that how much anguish it would save us.


Verses 8-13

The Future Hope Will Follow Judgment (Zephaniah 3:8-13).

Zephaniah 3:8

“Therefore wait for me,” says YHWH,

“Until the day that I rise up for a witness.

For my considered decision is to gather the nations,

That I may assemble the kingdoms,

To pour on them my indignation,

even all my fierce anger.

For all the earth will be consumed,

With the fire of my jealous wrath.”

‘Wait for me.’ There will be delay. The world will have to await His timing. But God has determined that He will one day arise as a witness against the nations. He will gather them together so as to exact His anger on them, and all nations will experience His jealous wrath. Compare for this Joel 3:12-14 which depicts a similar idea (see also Zephaniah 1:2-3; Zechariah 14:2). He will call the world into judgment. For God is the God of all nations, and all of them are accountable to Him.

His anger will be on them because of their worship of other things (compare Romans 1:18-23), of idols, of wealth, of prestige and position, with the result that they have not acknowledged God, and have ignored His commandments. He is jealous for all that His name stands for, and will judge accordingly.

These pictures of judgment are all worded in terms of the understanding of those days, but are rather to be seen as depicting the reality and universality of God’s judgment than as literal descriptions of what will happen. The reality will be greater than the conception. Some of what happens in the future may, of course, come somewhere near to what is being described, nations may gather against Jerusalem, there may be catastrophes which come on those nations, but that is secondary. Such things are not required for the fulfilment of the idea. It is the idea that is important. It is God’s final judgment on all nations that is in mind, not some comparatively local battlefield.

Zephaniah 3:9

“For then I will turn to the peoples a pure mouth,

That they may call on the name of YHWH,

To serve him with one consent (literally ‘shoulder’).”

And the purpose of this judgment is to turn the nations to God, to make their mouths pure so that they truly call on the name of YHWH, and serve Him as one man (contrast Isaiah 6:5).

The prophets, with their limited vision and perspective, had no way of knowing, nor would they have understood, how this would be accomplished in ways beyond their imagination, as the good news of the Kingly Rule of God went out to the nations, bringing them to Christ in partial fulfilment of these promises, resulting one day in the nations dwelling in His presence in the glory of a new heaven and earth.

What Zephaniah saw ahead was like a series of mountains in the distance. First the nearest one, clear to the vision, the coming judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, and then the more distant ones, with no realisation of the plains and distances that might lie between them, the fact of the facing up of the nations to the word and judgment of God, of the conversion of many in those nations, and of God’s final judgment, followed by the everlasting relationship of peace between God and man.

Zephaniah 3:10

“From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants,

Even the daughter of my dispersed ones, will bring my offering.”

‘Beyond the rivers of Ethiopia’ (compare Isaiah 18:1) represented a world unknown from which traders occasionally came, i.e. from beyond the furthest tributaries of the Nile. But even the people ‘out there’, converted to the true God by the witness of His dispersed ones, distant colonists, (compare the Ethiopian eunuch who was a God-fearer - Acts 8:27) will come to God with their offerings. For all the world will come to know of His glory.

This vision of the missionary movement, first of the dispersed Jews, preparing the way for the Gospel, then of the early church, ‘the new Israel’, (and indeed of the late one of the last two centuries, also by missionaries of ‘the new Israel’), reveals wonderful insight. And today around the world such converts daily bring their offerings of worship, praise and thanksgiving to Him, just as Zephaniah describes.

Zephaniah 3:11

“In that day you will not be ashamed for all your doings,

By means of which you have transgressed against me,

For then will I take away out of your midst,

Those who proudly exult in their behaviour,

And you will no more be haughty in my holy mountain,

But I will leave among you an afflicted and poor people,

And they will trust in YHWH.”

The work of God will bring about a transformation among His people. They will no longer need to be ashamed of their doings. For those who in their pride misbehave, and glory in the fruits of their misbehaviour, will be no more, and those who remain will be ‘an afflicted and poor people’. In the Old Testament ‘the poor’ were often the equivalent of the godly and pious and paralleled with ‘the meek’, those who were humble before God (Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 25:4; Amos 2:7), on the grounds that in a society like Israel’s it was the violent, the dishonest and the ungodly who accumulated riches.

‘You will no more be haughty in my holy mountain.’ To be haughty in God’s holy mountain was a contradiction in terms. Man can have no pride in the presence of God. He can only confess his sinfulness and need. It was indeed a strange contradiction, only possible among human beings, that Israel could delight in having in their midst the holy mountain of God, and the awesomeness of His presence, and yet at the same time set themselves up against Him by worshipping idols and living contrary to His law. It is only paralleled by the way that today people can speak loudly of, and even exult in, the wonderful holiness of God and then go away and behave like devils. For the concept of ‘the holy mountain’ compare Psalms 2:6; Isaiah 65:11; Isaiah 65:25; Jeremiah 31:23; Daniel 9:16; Daniel 11:45; Joel 2:1; Joel 3:17; Obadiah 1:16.

‘But I will leave among you an afflicted and poor people, and they will trust in YHWH.’ The sufferings of Israel (and of the world) had in it a good purpose (Isaiah 48:10; Malachi 3:2-3), that through its afflictions a people of God might result whose trust would be fully in God, a humble and lowly people made strong in God. They may seem unimportant to the world, but they are God’s jewels.

But as the New Testament shows us, when we hear of Israel, we must not just think in terms of the old Israel in the land, but in terms of the full Israel which includes all who call on His name, whether ex-Jew or ex-Gentile (Ephesians 2:19, compare 12; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Romans 11:17; James 1:1).

Zephaniah 3:13

“The remnant of Israel will not do iniquity, nor speak lies,

Nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths,

For they will feed and lie down,

And none will make them afraid.”

‘The remnant of Israel.’ It is a regular stress in the Old Testament that only a remnant of those who profess to be God’s people will actually prove to be so (Isaiah 6:13; 1 Kings 19:18; Zechariah 13:9; Obadiah 1:17).

Once the suffering is finally over there will be a pure remnant who will for ever done with sin (Isaiah 60:21), who will speak only truth and be totally honest (compare Revelation 14:5; Psalms 32:2; Isaiah 63:8; John 1:47). This can only happen in the new heaven and the new earth.

‘For they will feed and lie down, and none will make them afraid.’ They will be like sheep under a good shepherd (Micah 5:4; Isaiah 40:11). It is a picture of perfect serenity, and applies to all His people.


Verses 14-20

The Sing Of The Redeemed (Zephaniah 3:14-20).

Zephaniah 3:14

‘Sing, O daughter of Zion, shout, O Israel,

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem,

YHWH has taken away your judgments,

He has cast out your enemy.

The King of Israel, even YHWH, is in the midst of you.

You will not fear evil any more.’

The final glorious triumph of God is here depicted. He has become King of all His people. He has delivered fully. No evil will ever trouble His people again. This can only refer to the eternal state, the everlasting kingdom (Ezekiel 27:24-28; Daniel 7:14; Daniel 7:27). This is the eschatological vision of the prophets. The ‘daughter’ of Zion includes all who have responded to God through His word going forth from Zion, who are the new and faithful Israel, having become part of the house of Jacob (compare Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 56:7-8; Zechariah 8:23; John 10:16; Ephesians 2:19, compare 12; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Romans 11:17; James 1:1).

Zephaniah 3:16-17

‘In that day it will be said to Jerusalem,

“Do not be afraid, O Zion,

Do not let your hands be fearful.

YHWH your God is among you,

A mighty one who saves.

He will rejoice over you with joy,

He will be silent in his love,

He will joy over you with singing.” ’

This would, of course, partly be fulfilled in His church, the new Israel. But it is Revelation 21-22 which brings out the full meaning of these words. In their lives lived in heavenly places, in the Jerusalem that is above (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22), and then in the new heavenly Jerusalem, which replaced the old after the death of Christ brought the old under a curse (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:1-2; Galatians 4:26 see also Daniel 9:26), there will be no need for fear. God will openly dwell among them as the great Protector and Deliverer, mighty in deliverance, and His love will be on them, He will rejoice over them, He will enjoy with them the silence of a lover who is so content that he does not speak, He will sing with joy over them.

Zephaniah 3:18

“I will gather those who have been afflicted from the congregation,

Who were from you. The burden on it was a reproach.’

Those who have been afflicted (see Zephaniah 3:12) are to be ‘gathered’ by God ‘from the congregation, those who were from Zion’, (that is from the congregation of all Israel). These afflicted ones are those who will have been purified by their afflictions. They will be gathered by God as His true people.

‘The burden on it was a reproach.’ ‘It’ is feminine and probably therefore looks back to ‘love’ which is a feminine noun. This is probably referring to the fact that Israel’s sin was a burden on God’s love, which brought reproach on the majority of Israel, that is on those whom affliction did not bring to repentance.

Zephaniah 3:19

“Behold at that time I will deal with all those who afflict you,

And I will save her who is lame, and gather her who was driven away.

And I will make them a praise and a name,

Whose shame has been in all the land (or earth).”

But those who cause the affliction of God’s true people will be dealt with by God, while the lame and the outcast will be saved by God. They have been a shame throughout the land, but they will be made ‘a praise and a name’, that is will be made someone important and praiseworthy because they are those whom God has delivered. The deliberate contrast is that the so called worthies will be brought low and brought to judgment, while the weak and the shameful who repent will be exalted (as Jesus regularly taught - e.g. Matthew 21:31; Luke 13:30; Luke 14:11).

Note the reference to the lame. It was to the lame and the blind that Jesus manifested His power (Isaiah 35:5-6; Matthew 11:5; Matthew 21:14).

Zephaniah 3:20

“At that time I will bring you in,

And at that time I will gather you,

For I will make you a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth,

When I change your fortune before your eyes.”

Zephaniah finishes with the promise of restoration of the people of Israel, which will make them a witness to all the world of God’s power and goodness, for their fortunes will be reversed. This restoration has a near, a middle and a far view. The literal restoration to the land is the near view, which will take place after the exile, the gathering of those who responded in belief to the name of Christ is the middle view, but the final restoration comes when Gods people share glory with Him in the new heaven and the new earth.

So the message of Zephaniah is one of judgment that is coming, both in the near future and the far future, and of how God will use it to call out a people for Himself who will be purified through the afflictions they endure, and who in the end will rejoice in His presence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zephaniah 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/zephaniah-3.html. 2013.

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