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Bible Commentaries
Zephaniah 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1

(1) Hizkiah.—Or, Hezekiah; possibly the king of that name (see Introd. I.).

Verses 1-6

(1-6) Judgment on Judah and Jerusalem is impending on account of a religious apostacy of manifold forms and degrees. The wide range of this judgment.

Verses 2-3

(2, 3) In this extensive denunciation there is clearly a reminiscence of Genesis 7:23. The “fishes of the sea,” however, are substituted for the “creeping things.” The prophecy in Manasseh’s reign (2 Kings 21:13) should be compared.

Verse 3

(3) The stumblingblocks with the wicked.i.e., the enticements to sin together with the sinners. The word macshêlâh is used in Isaiah 3:6 in the sense of “a ruin.” Here, however, such a signification would not be apposite. It is exactly the πάντα τὰ σκάνδαλα of Matthew 13:41, a passage wherein we may perhaps see a reminiscence of the text before us.

Verse 4

(4) The remnant of Baal.i.e., Baal worship shall he completely and utterly abolished. Not even a remnant of it shall be left. The term “remnant” need not imply, as Kleinert argues, that a large part of the Baal-worship had been already overthrown, by Josiah’s reformation.

The Chemarims.—In 2 Kings 23:5, this is the designation of the “idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places.” The term is used again in Hosea 10:5. Even the very name of these intruders is to be abolished.

The priests.—Are probably a certain section of the Jewish priesthood who had winked at this establishment of false worship.

Verse 5

(5) The worship “on the housetops” is mentioned elsewhere as the cult of a certain class of apostates (see Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29) who ascended roots and other high places to adore the hosts of heaven. We find it mentioned as part of Josiah’s reformatory procedure that he removed “the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz” (2 Kings 23:12). The last half of the verse should be rendered, And the worshippers who swear to Jehovah, and who swear (also) by Malchami.e., those who divide their allegiance between the true God and the false. In the title given to the latter we may perhaps see a combination of “their king” (Hebrew, malcâm) and the name Moloch, or Molech. The name Malcham, however, occurs elsewhere as the name of an Ammonite deity, probably identical with Moloch. (See Jeremiah 49:1-3, Notes.) In 1 Kings 11:5, moreover, we have a deity “Milcham,” who is identified two verses later with Molech, “the abomination of the children of Ammon.” The allusion to the adoration of the “host of heaven upon the housetops” gains additional force if this deity is identical with the planet Saturn, as some have supposed. (See Gesenius, sub voce).

Verse 6

(6) Schmieder observes that the enumeration of Zephaniah 1:4-6 extends from gross external to refined internal apostasy. “The Lord will destroy (1) the idols of Baal; (2) their priests; (3) those who openly worship them on housetops; (4) the secret worshippers; (5) those who, without worshipping idols, have apostatised in their hearts; (6) those who are indifferent to religion.”

Verse 7

(7) Hold thy peace. . . .—Literally, Hush at the presence of the Lord God. This peculiar phrase is repeated in Habakkuk 2:20.

A sacrifice.—The word includes the idea of the feast in which it was customary to consume the remains of the sacrifice. (See Psalms 22:26; Psalms 22:29.) Hence the clause “He has bid his guests;” or, more literally, He has consecrated [set apart for himself] his invited ones. (Comp. Isaiah 13:3.) God’s guests are here those foreign nations whom He has selected to be His ministers of chastisement. They are invited, as it were, to banquet upon God’s apostate people. The figure is probably borrowed from Isaiah 34:6.

Verses 7-13

(7-13) The judgment, in reference to its objects.

Verse 8

(8) The king’s children.—The misfortunes which were to befall Josiah’s children, Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim (see 2 Kings 23:24), are perhaps in the prophet’s eye. But if we are correct in our view of the date of writing (see Introd. II.) these princes must have been as yet mere children, and could hardly have provoked the prophet’s curse by any extraordinary display of wickedness. It therefore appears better to suppose that the king’s brothers or uncles are meant. (Comp. the phrase in 2 Kings 11:2; 2 Chronicles 22:11.)

Clothed with strange apparel.—Zephaniah means those who have imitated the luxurious dress of foreign nations: e.g., perhaps the gorgeous apparel of Assyria and Babylonia (Ezekiel 23:12-15). This desire for strange clothing is specially noticed as a mark of apostasy, because the national dress, with its blue riband at the fringe, was appointed that the Jews might “look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them” (Numbers 15:38-39).

Verse 9

(9) Their masters’ houses.—Better, their lords house, meaning the temple of their idol-deity. Probably the true interpretation of this obscure verse is that the idolaters had adopted a usage prevalent in the Philistine temples of Dagon—that of leaping over the threshold on entering the idol’s temple. (See 1 Samuel 5:5.) When they entered it they filled it with “violence and deceit” by bringing thither offerings acquired by fraud and oppression. Another interpretation makes the verse relate exclusively to plunder and unjust acquisition of goods. “Leaping the threshold” is then expounded as “a sudden rushing into houses to steal the property of strangers,” and the offenders are identified as “servants of the king, who thought they could best serve their master by extorting treasures from their dependants by violence and fraud” (Ewald). It does not seem likely that such malpractices would have been tolerated among the retainers of the pious Josiah; it is possible, however, to suppose that he had not yet acquired sufficient authority to check them.

Verse 10

(10) The fish gate.—See Note on 2 Chronicles 33:14; Nehemiah 3:3.

The second.—The word “city” is to be supplied. The new or lower city is meant. The same expression occurs in 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 11:9.

From the hills.—The “hills” are probably, Mount Zion and Mount Moriah, the sites of the old Davidic city and the Temple. Thus all parts of the city are to be included in this destruction.

Verse 11

(11) Maktesh.—Better, the mortar, a term indicating probably some part of the city lying in a hollow: perhaps that part which was in the valley of Tyropœon. This quarter is described by Josephus as “full of houses” (B.J. V. iv. § 1). Hence some detect in the name “mortar” an allusion to the noisy din of the commerce here conducted. The name occurs here only. Some suppose that it is a term coined by Zephaniah, to signify how everything in Jerusalem should be bruised to pieces as in a mortar.

Merchant people.—Literally, people of Canaan, a phrase used elsewhere for traders and merchants, and therefore not to be restricted to its original signification here.

All they that bear silver.—Literally, all they that are laden with silver. Another mode of designating this commercial class.

Verse 12

(12) The men that are settled on their lees.—The figure is taken from wine which has become harsh from being allowed to stand too long on the lees. The persons intended are selfish sybarites, whose souls have stagnated in undisturbed prosperity, and whose inexperience of affliction has led them to deny the agency of God in the world: men like the rich fool in the parable of Luke 12:16-20.

Verse 13

(13) Part of the curse on apostasy in Deuteronomy 28:0 is, “Thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof.”

Verse 14

(14) Even the voice of the day.—Better, Hark to the day! What is heard is the cry of the baffled warrior, unable either to fight or flee.

Verses 14-18

(14-18) The judgment, in reference to its destructive character.

Verse 15

(15) Clouds and thick darkness.—As when Jehovah revealed Himself on Mount Sinai: see Deuteronomy 4:11.

Verse 16

(16) Alarm.—Better, war cry.

Verse 17

(17) Walk like blind men.i.e., groping about in fancied insecurity. The metaphor is taken from Deuteronomy 28:29. Their blood shall be poured out as recklessly as dust, and their flesh cast aside like the vilest refuse. Compare the sentence on Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:19): “He shall be buried with the burial of an ass,” &c.

Verse 18

(18) He shall make even a speedy riddance.—Literally, He shall effect a destruction, yea, a terrible one. Comp. Isaiah 10:23, from which passage this phraseology is probably borrowed.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Zephaniah 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/zephaniah-1.html. 1905.
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