ZEPHANIAH

Introduction

    We are fortunate that Zephaniah provides us with a short genealogy and tells us that he was active during the days of King Josiah (639-609 BC). Since Jeremiah began his prophetic activity around 627 BC (also during the reign of Josiah), it is possible that Zephaniah may have preceded him by a few years, but it is also possible that Jeremiah might have begun his activity first, in which case Zephaniah was then active during the early part of Jeremiah’s prophetic period. In any case, we know that Zephaniah did not prophesy any later than 609 BC, while Jeremiah’s activity continued until the Babylonian Exile in 586 BC. For that reason I am placing Zephaniah ahead of Jeremiah in our list of prophets.
    King Josiah was a religious reformer, and Zephaniah supported his efforts to eliminate the influence of the foreign cults which had corrupted religious practices in Jerusalem. Like certain other prophets, he warns of the coming “day of Yahweh” and the judgments which will accompany that event. Zephaniah may have still been alive during Lehi’s time.

Chapter 1

The disasters that will accompany the coming day of Yahweh

    1. The word of Yahweh, which came to Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah, son of Amon, king of Judah.
    2. I will surely remove everything from the face of the earth says Yahweh.
    3. I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the skies and the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked; and I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth, says Yahweh.
    4. And I will stretch forth my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, (and) the name of the false religionists1 with the priests;
    5. And those who prostrate themselves upon the roofs to the host of the heavens, and those who prostrate themselves (and) who swear by Yahweh and swear by their king; 2
    6. And those who apostatize from Yahweh, and who do not seek Yahweh or inquire after him.
    7. Be silent before the Lord Yahweh, for the day of Yahweh is near; for Yahweh has prepared a sacrifice; he has sanctified his guests.
    8. And it will come to pass on the day of the sacrifice of Yahweh, that I will hold the leaders accountable, and the princes, and all those who wear foreign clothing.
    9. And on that day, I will hold all those accountable who leap over the threshold,3 (and) those who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.
    10. And it will come to pass on that day, says Yahweh, the sound of a cry from the Fish Gate,4 and a wail from the second gate, and great destruction from the hills.
    11. Wail, Oh inhabitants of Makhtesh,5 for all the people of Canaan6 are ruined; all who are laden with silver have been cut off.
    12. And it will come to pass at that time, (that) I will search out Jerusalem with candles, and I will hold those people accountable, who are thickening on their lees,7 who say in their hearts, Yahweh will do neither good nor harm.
    13. And their wealth will become booty, and their houses (will become) a desolation; and they will build houses, but they will not dwell (in them); and they will plant vineyards, but they will not drink their wine.
    14. The great day of Yahweh is near, it is near and hastens greatly; a sound of the day of Yahweh, (and) a mighty man cries bitterly there.
    15. That day is a day of fury, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.
    16. A day of the trumpet and the alarm against the fortified cities, and against the high towers.
    17. And I will bring distress upon men, and they will walk like the blind, for they have sinned against Yahweh, and their blood will be poured out like dust, and their bowels like dung. 8
    18. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the fury of Yahweh; and all the earth will be consumed in the fire of his zeal, for he will make an end, yea, a sudden ruin, of all the inhabitants of the land.

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1. The Hebrew kemarim always refers to false priests, but it seems redundant to translate this as “false priests and priests.” However, the real question presented here is whether the second word for priests, cohanim, also refers to other priests of the idolatrous religious, or whether it refers to the Israelite priests, who are legitimate in the hereditary sense, but who have become apostate.
2. Rashi believes that “king” here refers to their pagan deity, and not to their earthly king. He explains that these people swear by Yahweh, but then, as if that were not enough, they also swear by their pagan god, thus making their reference to Yahweh a sacrilege.
3. When entering the house of the god Dagon, the Philistine priests did not step on the threshold, but had to leap over it. The reason for that is explained in I Sam. 5:1-5.
4. This gate is mentioned in II Chron. 33:14 and Neh. 3:3-4. It was a gate in the north wall of Jerusalem, a little east of the modern Damascus Gate.
5. A Makhtesh is a geological depression with steep walls of rock surrounding a deep, closed valley. However, we do not know what Makhtesh refers to in this verse. Rashi suggests that it might refer either to the Kidron Valley of Jerusalem, or to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee (which is below sea level).
6. Since the Canaanites were thought to be good businessmen, the very word “Canaanite” came to be used occasionally for “merchant.” For that reason, some translators render this phrase as “the merchant people” instead of “people of Canaan.”
7. He is using the imagery of stored wine to describe people who are living secure and undisturbed, or as one might say in our day and age, “sitting fat, dumb and happy.”
8. The Hebrew word here is gelalim and means literally “turds.” It will be used again in Ezek. 4:12.

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Chapter 2

Devastation will also come upon the neighboring cities and countries

    1. Gather1 yourselves together, and gather, Oh nation not desired. 2
    2. Before the decree is born, the day will have passed by like chaff; before the fierce anger of Yahweh comes upon you; before the day of Yahweh’s anger comes upon you.
    3. Seek Yahweh, all you humble ones of the earth, who have performed his judgments; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden on the day of Yahweh’s anger.
    4. For Gaza will be abandoned,3 and Ashkelon will become a desolation. They will expel Ashdod at noon, and Ekron will be uprooted. 4
    5. Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, a nation of Kerethites!5 The word of Yahweh is against you, Oh Canaan, land of the Philistines, and I will destroy you so there will not be an inhabitant (remaining).
    6. And the seacoast will be pastures (with) the wells of shepherds and fences for sheep.
    7. And it will be an area for the remnant of the house of Judah, where they will pasture, (and) in the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon, for Yahweh, their God, will visit them and rescind their captivity.
    8. I have heard the reproaches of Moab, and the reviling’s of the Ammonites, who reproached my people, and did horrible things 6 at their border.
    9. Therefore, as I live, says Yahweh of the Heavenly Hosts, the God of Israel, Moab will become like Sodom, and the Ammonites like Gomorrah: a place possessed by chickpeas7 and a salt pit, and a desolation for ever. The remnant of my people will plunder them, and what remains of my nation will inherit them.
    10. This is what they will have in place of their pride, for they taunted and did horrible things against the people of Yahweh of the Heavenly Hosts.
    11. Yahweh will be feared by them, for he has weakened all the gods of the land, and every man will bow down to him from his position (in) all the isles of the nations.
    12. Also you, Oh Cushites!8 They will be slain by my sword.
    13. And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria, and he will make Nineveh a desolate wasteland like the desert.
    14. And flocks will lie down in its midst, all the beasts of the nations. Both the pelican and the hedgehog will lodge on its lintels. 9 A voice will sing in the window; ruination in the door post, for he will uncover the cedar work.
    15. This is the joyful city which sits securely, which says to herself, I am, and there is none beside me. How did it become a desolation, a resting place for beasts? Anyone who passes by her will whistle (in amazement) and wave his hand.

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1. Wellhausen thought this entire verse was corrupt. The first verb seems to be from a root קשש, but it is a hapax legomenon and the reading is very uncertain. There is a suggestion in the BDB sub II. (קשש) that perhaps the word should be read as stemming instead from the root בוש, “to be ashamed.” That might make more sense and would then be the recommended preparation for what is coming, as listed in verse 2.
2. This word is from the root כסף, and the meaning in this context is also very uncertain.
3. There is a play on words here. Gaza in Hebrew is ‘azah, and “abandoned” is ‘azuvah (two of any three root letters will suffice in Hebrew for a play on words).
4. This is another play on words. Ekron (=Tel Miqne, which my wife and I helped excavate in 1994) is ‘eqron while “uprooted” is from the root ‘eqr.
5. This refers to Philistines, presumably because of their presumed origin on the island of Crete (The Hebrew word is very much like the word “Crete”).
6. The phrase is literally “did great things,” but the term “great things” has a positive connotation in English, whereas in Hebrew it can be used in a negative sense to mean things that are “greatly bad.” Hence, the rendering of “horrible things.”
7. Chickpeas have been grown in the Middle East for thousands of years, and they can tolerate very desolate conditions.
8. Several translations render this word as “Ethiopians,” but it almost certainly refers to the Cushite or Nubian empire which was the 25th Dynasty in Egypt, and they ruled part or all of Egypt from 760-656 BC, and fought the Assyrians, who will be mentioned in the next verse.
9. According to Rashi, the Hebrew word here refers to rounded knobs on the top of the roof.
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Chapter 3

Yahweh will gather Israel and be in the midst of Jerusalem

    1. Woe to her who is filthy and defiled, the oppressive city.
    2. She did not obey, she did not accept correction, she did not trust in Yahweh, she did not draw near to her God.
    3. Her leaders in her midst are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves. They have saved nothing for the morning.
    4. Her prophets are reckless, men of treachery; her priests have profaned the temple, they have violated the gospel. 1
    5. Yahweh is righteous in her midst; he does no wrong. Every morning he sheds light on his laws; he does not fail; but the unrighteous one knows no shame.
    6. I have cut off the nations, their towers have become desolate. I have laid waste to her streets, so that there is no one passing by. Their cities are laid waste, there is no one (left), no inhabitant.
    7. I said, Surely you will fear me, you will accept correction, and her dwelling will not be cut off (by) all which I have decreed against her. But they persistently2 corrupted all their doings.
    8. Therefore, wait for me, says Yahweh, for the day when I arise for the testimony,3 for it is my judgment to gather the nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out my fury upon them, all my burning anger, for all the earth will be consumed by the fire of my jealousy.
    9. For then I will restore4 a purified language to the people, so that all of them may call upon the name of Yahweh, to serve him with one accord. 5
    10. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, my supplicants, the daughter of my dispersed,6 will bring my meal offering.
    11. On that day you will not be ashamed of all your deeds, when you transgressed against me, for then I will remove from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you will no longer be haughty on my holy mountain.
    12. And I will allow to remain in your midst a humble and poor people, and they will seek refuge in the name of Yahweh.
    13. The remnant of Israel will not do wrong or speak lies, nor will deceitful speech be found in their mouths, for they will graze and lie down with none to make (them) afraid.
    14. Sing, Oh daughter of Zion! Shout, Oh Israel! Rejoice and be happy with all your heart, Oh daughter of Jerusalem.
    15. Yahweh has removed your punishments, he has turned away your enemy. The king of Israel, Yahweh, is in your midst. You will no longer fear evil.
    16. On that day it will be said to Jerusalem, Do not fear, Oh Zion! Do not let your hands be slack.
    17. Yahweh, your God, is in your midst; a mighty man who will save (you). He will happily rejoice over you. He will be silent in his love. He will exult over you in song.
    18. I will gather those who are grieved (and driven)7 from the place of assembly; they were of you. It is a burden of reproach upon her.
    19. Behold, at that time I will make (and end of) all who afflict you, and I will save the one who limps, and I will gather the one who has been expelled, and I will give them praise and fame in every land where they put to shame.
    20. At that time I will bring you, when I gather you, for I will give you a name and praise among all the people of the earth when I rescind your captivity before your eyes, says Yahweh.

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1. Or “instruction” (torah).
2. A more literal translation would be “ but they arose early and . . .” That expression is used among the prophets to indicate dogged persistence, and hence the translation given above.
3. This translation is based on the assumption that the word in question should be pointed as עֵד instead of as עַד.
4. Interestingly, the value of “restore” for הפך is found in the BDB sub הפך with reference to this particular verse.
5. Lit. “with one shoulder.”
6. The section of this verse which reads “my supplicants, the daughter of my dispersed. .” is probably corrupted, and there is a suggestion in the footnotes of the BHS, that it should probably read “to the northern extremities.” In that case, the verse would read “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia to the northern extremities they will bring my meal offering.” This would make more sense.
7. The addition of “and driven” is actually suggested in the BDB sub מועד concerning this particular verse.
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