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Bible Commentaries
Zephaniah 3

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!

Woe to her that is filthy. Maurer translates, from a different root [mowrª'aah, from maaraah (H4784), to rebel], 'rebellious' 'contumacious' "Filthy" refers to her inward moral filth, in spite of her outward ceremonial purity (Calvin). Grotius says the Hebrew is used of women who have prostituted their virtue [from raa'aah (H7200), to look down upon: 'made a public show (or example) of' as an immodest woman, Matthew 1:19 ]. The sense 'contumacious' accords with Zephaniah 3:2, "She obeyed not the voice." There is in the Hebrew mor'aah a play on the name Moriah, the hill on which the temple was built; implying the glaring contrast between their filthiness and the holiness of the worship on Moriah, which they professed to have a share in. Jerome translates, 'provocation,' provoking: others, from a root to stuff one's self with food [ maaraa' (H4754)], and so to wax fat, wanton, and rebellious. See margin, 'gluttonous.' The English version takes it from a root [row'iy], filth.

And polluted. So most authorities translate: though a different sense is admissible [nig'aalaah, from naa'al, which means to redeem, whence Jerome and Vulgate translate here 'redeemed' - i:e., 'Woe to her who is provokingly contumacious, though she has been redeemed!' But the other meaning of the root, "pollute" and "polluted," is perhaps preferable.]

To the oppressing city - oppressing the poor, weak, widows, orphans, and strangers (Jeremiah 22:3) [ yownaah (H3123), from yaanaah (H3238), to oppress: not as Vulgate, Tirinus, and Menochius, 'silly as a dove,' rushing into the snare (Hosea 7:11): which, though a legitimate sense of the Hebrew, does not suit the context so well].

Verse 2

She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God.

She received not correction - Jerusalem is incurable, obstinately rejecting salutary admonition, and refusing to be reformed by correction (Jeremiah 5:3).

She trusted not in the Lord. Distrust in the Lord, as if He were insufficient, is the parent of all superstitions and wickednesses (Calvin).

She drew not near to her God - though God was specially "nigh unto" her (Deuteronomy 4:7) as "her God," "in all things that" she might "call upon him for," yet she draw not near to Him, but gratuitously estranged herself from Him.

Verse 3

Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.

Her princes within her are roaring lions - "roaring" for pray (Proverbs 28:15; Ezekiel 22:27; Amos 3:4; Micah 2:2).

Her judges are evening wolves - which are most ravenous at evening, after being foodless all day (Jeremiah 5:6; Habakkuk 1:8).

They gnaw not the bones until the morrow - rather, 'they put not off until tomorrow to gnaw the bones;'-literally, nothing is craunched in the morning: they gnaw no bones in the morning, but devour all at once, bones and flesh, so ragingly ravenous are they (Calvin).

Verse 4

Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.

Her prophets are light - persons in whose life and teaching there is no truth gravity, or steadiness.

Treacherous - false to Yahweh, whose prophets they profess to be (Jeremiah 23:32; Ezekiel 22:28).

Her priests have polluted the sanctuary - by their profane deeds.

Verses 5-7

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.

The Jews regard not God's justice manifested in the midst of them, nor His judgments on the guilty nations around.

Verse 5. The just Lord. Why then are ye so unjust?

Is in the midst thereof. He retorts on them their own boast, "Is not the Lord among us?" (Micah 3:11.) True, He is, but it is for another end from what ye think (Calvin) - namely, to lead you by the example of His righteousness to be righteous (Leviticus 19:2, "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy;" Deuteronomy 32:4). (Maurer.) But Calvin, 'The just in the Lord is in the midst of you, that ye may feel His hand to be the nearer for taking vengeance for your crimes: "He will not do iniquity" by suffering your sins to go unpunished.'

Every morning - literally, morning by morning: the time in the sultry East for dispensing justice.

Doth he bring his judgment to light - publicly and manifestly, by the teaching of His prophets, which aggravates their guilt; also by samples of His judgments on the guilty.

He faileth not - He is continually setting before you samples of His justice, sparing no pains. (Compare Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 50:4, "He wakeneth morning by morning.")

But the unjust knoweth no shame - the unjust Jews are not shamed by His justice into repentance.

Verse 6. I have cut off the nations. I had hoped that my people, by judgments on other nations, would be led to amendment: but they are not; so blinded by sin are they. Their towers - literally, angles or corners; hence, the towers built at the angles of their city walls.

I made their streets waste ... their cities are destroyed. Under Josiah's long and peaceful reign the Jews were undisturbed, while the great incursion of Scythians into Western Asia took place. The judgment on the ten tribes in a former reign also is here alluded to.

Verse 7. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction. God speaks after the manner of men, in condescension to man's infirmity; not as though God was ignorant of the future contingency, but in their sense, surely one might have expected ye would under such circumstances repent: but no!

Thou - at least, O Jerusalem! Compare "thou, even thou, at least in this thy day" (Luke 19:42).

So their dwelling - the sanctuary (Buxtorf). Or, the city. Compare Jesus' words (Luke 13:35, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate;" Leviticus 26:31-32; so the prophetic curse, "Let their habitation be desolate;" Psalms 69:25); and used as to the temple (Micah 3:12, "The mountain of the house (shall become) as the high places of the forest"). "Their" is used instead of 'thy;' this change of person implies that God puts them to a greater distance.

Should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them - howsoever I might have punished them, I would not have cut off their dwelling. Or, as Calvin, 'howsoever I had marked them out for punishment' because of their provocations, still, if even then they had repented, taught by my corrections, I was ready to have pardoned them. [ Kol (H3605) 'ªsher (H834) paaqadtiy (H6485) `aaleyhaa (H5921)] - literally, 'all that I visited upon her' or them - i:e., whatsoever punishment I intended to visit her with should not descend upon her-`her (their) dwelling should not be cut off' (Maurer) 'altogether, in accordance with what I had long ago decreed (ordained) concerning you' (Deuteronomy 28:1-14); and, on the other hand, Deuteronomy 28:15-68; Deuteronomy 27:15-26. The English version or Calvin's view is better.

But they rose early, and corrupted all their doings ... - early morning is in the East the best time for transacting serious business, before the relaxing heat of mid-day comes on. Thus it means, with the greatest earnestness they set themselves to "corrupt all their doings" (Genesis 6:12; "They rose up early in the morning to follow strong drink," Isaiah 5:11; whereas God "rose early" to send His prophets, saying, "Obey my voice;" Jeremiah 11:7; Jeremiah 25:3).

Verse 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.

Therefore wait ye upon me. Here Yahweh turns to the pious Jews. Amidst all these judgments on the Jewish nation, look forward to the glorious time of restoration to be ushered in by God's previous outpouring of wrath on all nations (Isaiah 30:18-33; where the same phrase, "blessed are all they that wait for Him" is used as to the same great event.) Calvin erroneously makes this verse an address to the ungodly: and so Maurer, 'Ye shall not have to wait for me in vain;' I will presently come armed with indignation: I will no longer contend with you by my prophets.

Until the day - i:e., waiting for the day, etc. So elsewhere the believing are told to "wait for" the fulfillment of God's word, though it seem to "tarry" (Habakkuk 2:3).

That I rise up to the prey - like a savage beast rising from his lair greedy for the prey. (Compare Matthew 24:28, Where "the carcass" of corruption is, there God's justice is ready, like "the eagles," to pounce upon "the prey.") Or, rather, as a warrior leading Israel to certain victory, which is expressed by "the prey," or booty, which is the reward of victory. The Septuagint and Syriac versions read the Hebrew [ lª`eed (H5707), instead of lªad], 'I rise up as a witness' (cf. Job 16:8; Malachi 3:5). Yahweh being in this view witness, accuser, and judge (cf. Isaiah 33:22). The English version is better.

For my determination is to gather the nations - against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2), to pour out mine indignation upon them there (Joel 3:2; Zechariah 12:2-3).

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.

For. The blessed things promised in this and Zephaniah 3:10 are to be the immediate results of the punishment about to be inflicted by God, in behalf of Israel, on the nations mentioned in Zephaniah 3:8 (cf. Zephaniah 3:19).

Then will I turn to the people a pure language - changing their impure language, I will give to them again a pure language (literally, lip). The confusion of languages was the penalty of the sin (probably including idolatry) committed at Babel (margin, Genesis 11:1-6; where also "lip" expresses language, and perhaps also religion; Genesis 9:4, "a tower whose top may reach unto heaven;" or rather, points to heaven-namely, dedicated to the heavens idolized, or Bel); certainly, it was the penalty of rebellion against God's will. An earnest of the removal of this penalty was the gift of tongues on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47); the full restoration of the earth's unity of language and of worship is yet future, and is connected with the restoration of the Jews, to be followed by the conversion of the world. Compare Isaiah 19:18; Zechariah 14:9; Romans 15:6, "with one mind and one mouth glorify God." The Gentile's lips have been rendered impure through being the instruments of calling on idols and dishonouring God (cf. Psalms 16:4, "nor take up their (the idols') names into my lips;" Hosea 2:17). Whether Hebrew shah be the one universal language or not, the God of the Hebrews shall be the one only object of worship. Until the Holy Spirit purify the lips "with a live coal from off the (heavenly) altar," we cannot rightly call upon God (Isaiah 6:5-7).

To serve him with one consent - literally, with one shoulder or back; metaphor from a yoke or burden "borne between two," as the grapes of Eshcol were carried by the spies (Numbers 13:23): helping one another with conjoint effort. Compare for this Hebrew idiom, 1 Samuel 10:9, margin. If one of the two bearers of a burden, laid on both conjointly, give way, the burden must fall to the earth (Calvin). Christ's rule is called a burden (Matthew 11:30; Acts 15:28; Revelation 2:24: cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14, "yoked," for the same image).

Verse 10

From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.

From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants [ `ªtaaray (H6282), from `aatar (H6279), to burn incense] - literally, burners of incense (cf. Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8, "odours (incense), which are the prayers of saints;" and Revelation 8:3-4).

Even the daughter of my dispersed. The Israelites are meant, called "the daughter of my dispersed," a Hebrew idiom for my dispersed people. "The rivers of Ethiopia" are those which enclose it on the north. In the west of Abyssinia there has long existed a people called Falashas, or 'emigrants' (akin to the synonym Philistine). These trace their origin to Palestine, and profess the Jewish religion. In physical traits they resemble the Arabs. When Bruce was there they had a Jewish king, Gideon, and his queen, Judith. Probably the Abyssinian Christians were originally in part converted Jews. They are here made the representatives of all Israel, which is to be restored.

Shall bring mine offering - i:e., the offering that is my right. I prefer, with DeWette and the Chaldaic version, making 'suppliants' the objective case, not the nominative. The peoples (Zephaniah 3:8-9), brought to fear me by my judgments, 'shall bring as mine offering my suppliants (an appropriate term for the Jews, on whom then there shall have been poured "the spirit of supplications," Zechariah 12:10), the daughter of my dispersed.' So Isaiah 66:20, "They shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord." Compare Horsley's view cf Isaiah 18:1-2; Isaiah 18:7. England in this view may be the naval power to restore Israel to Palestine (Isaiah 60:9). The Hebrew for Ethiopia is Cush, which may include not only Ethiopia, but also the region of Tigris and Babylon, where Nimrod, Cush's son (Genesis 10:8-12), founded Nineveh and acquired Babylon, and where the ten tribes are mentioned as being scattered (1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 5:13); and from which quarter ("from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar") "the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people" (Isaiah 11:11). The restoration under Cyrus of the Jews transported by Pharaoh-necho to Egypt and Ethiopia was an earnest of the future restoration under Christ.

Verse 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.

In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings. Not a question, Shalt thou not? but, 'Thou shalt not

(i:e., thou shalt no more) he ashamed:' thou shalt then have no cause to be ashamed: for I will then take away out of the midst of thee those who by their sins gave thee formerly cause for shame (Zephaniah 3:7).

For then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride - those priding themselves on that which thou boastest of, thy temple ("my holy mountain"), thy election as God's people, etc., in the Pharisaic spirit (Jeremiah 7:4; Micah 3:11; Matthew 3:9). Compare Jeremiah 13:17, "mine eye shall weep for your pride." The converted remnant shall be of a humble spirit, "mourning" over their national and individual sin (Zephaniah 3:12; Isaiah 66:2; Isaiah 66:10).

Verse 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.

I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the ... Lord - the blessed effect of sanctified affliction on the Jewish remnant. Entire trust in the Lord cannot be except where all cause for boasting is taken away (Isaiah 14:32, end; Zechariah 11:11).

Verse 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.

The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies - worshipping God in truth, and toward man having love without dissimulation: the characteristic of the 144,000 sealed of Israel (Revelation 14:4-5).

None shall make them afraid - either foreign foe or unjust prince (Zephaniah 3:3), "treacherous" prophet or "violent" and "polluting" priest (Zephaniah 3:4).

Verse 14

Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.

Sing, O daughter of Zion. The prophet in mental vision sees the joyful day of Zion present, and bids her rejoice at it.

Verse 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.

The Lord hath taken away thy judgments. The cause for joy: "The Lord hath taken away thy judgments" - namely, those sent by Him upon thee. After the taking away of sin (Zephaniah 3:13) follows the taking away of trouble. When the cause is removed the effect will cease. Happiness follows in the wake of holiness.

The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee - though He seemed to desert thee for a time, He is now present as thy safeguard (Zephaniah 3:17).

Thou shalt not see evil anymore - thou shalt not experience it (Jeremiah 5:12; Jeremiah 44:17).

Verse 16

In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.

In that day it shall be said ... to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack - (Hebrews 12:12). Do not faint in the work of the Lord.

Verse 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.

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee ... he will rejoice over thee with joy - even "as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride" (Isaiah 62:5); so will the Lord "rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in His people" (Isaiah 65:19).

He will rest in his love - content with it as His supreme delight, even as "there is joy in heaven ... in the presence of the angels of God ... over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10) (Calvin). Or, He shall be silent [from chaarash, to be silent] - namely, as to thy faults, not "imputing" them to thee (Maurer). (Psalms 32:2; Exodus 33:16.) I prefer explaining it of that calm silent joy, in the possession of the object of one's love, too great for words to express; just as God, after the six days of creation, rested with silent satisfaction in His work, because "behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31; Genesis 2:2). So the parallel clause, by contrast, expresses the joy, not kept silent, as this, but uttered in good" (Genesis 1:31; Genesis 2:2). So the parallel clause, by contrast, expresses the joy, not kept silent, as this, but uttered in "singing."

Verse 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.

I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly - pining after the solemn assembly which they cannot celebrate in exile (Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 2:6). They who would not "gather themselves" to it when they could (Zephaniah 2:1), could not when they would. But hereafter they shall have both the will and the power.

Who are of thee - i:e., who are of thy true citizens; and whom therefore I will restore.

To whom the reproach of it was a burden - i:e., to whom thy reproach ("the reproach of my people," Micah 6:16, their ignominious captivity) was a burden. "Of it" (Hebrew) is put for of thee, as the person is often changed. Those who shared in the burden of reproach which fell on my people. Compare Isaiah 25:8, "The rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth."

Verse 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.

Behold, at that time I will undo. Maurer translates [ `oseh (H6213) 'eet (H853)], 'I will deal with' - i:e., as they deserve. Compare Ezekiel 23:25, where the Hebrew is similarly translated. The destruction of Israel's foes precedes Israel's restoration (Isaiah 66:15-16).

And I will save her that halteth - all that are helpless. Their weakness will be no barrier in the way of my restoring them. So in Psalms 35:15 (margin), 'halting' is used for adversity. Also Ezekiel 34:16; Micah 4:6-7.

And I will get them praise and fame - literally, I will make them (to become) a praise and a name, etc.

In every land where they have been put to shame - (Ezekiel 34:29, "Neither (shall they) bear the shame of the pagan anymore").

Verse 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

I will make you a name and a praise - I will make you to become celebrated and praised.

When I turn back your captivity - when I bring back your captives (Maurer). The Hebrew is plural, 'captivities;' to express the captivities of different ages of their history, as well as the diversity of places in which they were and are dispersed.

Before your eyes - incredible as the event may seem, your own eyes with delight shall see it. You will scarcely believe it for joy, but the testimony of your own eyes shall convince you of the delightful reality (cf. Luke 24:41).


(1) Filthiness of heart and oppression in practice entail a heritage of "woe." Such was the state of Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:1). Nor would she profit even by "correction" (Zephaniah 3:2). Disobedience to "the voice" of the Lord, distrust of His word, were her great sins, and the source of all her other transgressions. No wonder, then, that she "drew not near to her God." Let us avoid her sins, as we would escape her punishment. Let us "draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to us" (James 4:8).

(2) The presence of the "just Lord in the midst" of an apostate people (Zephaniah 3:5), so far from saving them from wrath, only brings it the nearer to them. Where the "prince," "judges," and "nobles" are rapacious, and God's ministers are 'light and treacherous,' God must indicate His own righteousness by punishing the guilty.

(3) God's "unfailing" patience in "bringing His judgment to light," sparing no pains to lead His people from iniquity to repentance, might be supposed to be enough to melt the hardest heart. "But the unjust knoweth no shame" (Zephaniah 3:5). Had Jerusalem taken warning by the judgments of God on foreign nations (Zephaniah 3:6-7), and on the kingdom of the ten tribes, her "dwelling" would not have been "cut off." But she was at as much pains to "corrupt" and destroy herself as God was at to reform and save her. So the fatal stroke, long deferred by the forbearance of God, at last fell. Let us take warning by her example, and learn that outward privileges, abused and slighted only increase men's condemnation.

(4) The effect of the judgments of God will at last be, that the elect remnant will be moved by the Spirit of God to "wait upon Yahweh" (Zephaniah 3:8). Then shall He pour out "the fire of His jealousy" on the "assembled" enemies of His people. He "will be jealous for His land, and pity His people" (Joel 2:18). And the result of the fearful punishment of the God-opposed nations shall be, that "the Lord will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent" (Zephaniah 3:9). Lips polluted with sin, blasphemy, and idolatry heretofore, shall then be purified by the Spirit of God, and through the blood of Jesus Christ. The nations that remain after God's judgments on the rebels shall, with conjoint effort, putting as it were all shoulders together (margin, Zephaniah 3:9), serve Him. Disunion of heart, indicated by the Babel-confusion of tongues, shall cease; and all "with one mind and one mouth shall glorify God" (Romans 15:6). The nations shall gladly bring as an "offering" to the Lord "His dispersed" people from all the distant regions wherein they are now scattered (Zephaniah 3:10).

(5) The characteristics given of those who shall share in that coming blessedness are such as are common to all the true people of God, of every age and every country. God will exclude all boasting. They that pride themselves on outward spiritual privileges, as the Jews of old "rejoiced in their" temple on God's holy mountain, which was their "pride," shall at last be taken away "out of the midst" of the true Israel. The spiritually "poor," who have no self-sufficiency or haughtiness, who are "an afflicted people," as their Lord was "afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4), and who "trust in the name of the Lord" alone (Zephaniah 3:12), shall be "left" as heirs of the coming glory and blessedness. Let us see that we have the marks of the saved "remnant of Israel" "not doing iniquity, nor speaking lies" (Zephaniah 3:13); being "Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile" (John 1:47). Let us search our motives, that there be no latent hypocrisy or self-deceit, "no deceitful tongue found in our mouth." Then shall the Lord at His coming cause us to "feed and lie down" (Zephaniah 3:13) in heavenly pastures, as His sheep, "in whose mouth is found no guile," and who "are without fault before the throne of God" (Revelation 14:5).

(6) The true Israel may well "be glad and rejoice with all the heart" (Zephaniah 3:14), in anticipation of the day when the Lord shall have "cast out her enemy," Satan, and Satan's representative, Antichrist, and when she "shall not see evil anymore" (Zephaniah 3:15). Though the promise belongs to the literal Israel, it also belongs to the spiritual. And it should cause the fearful believer to take courage, and "lift up the hands that hang down" (Zephaniah 3:16; Hebrews 12:12). Now, it is true, "sorrow" and "reproach" (Zephaniah 3:18) are often the portion of God's people; but all this is coming to a glorious end. Instead of their past "shame," God "will make them a name and a praise among all people" (Zephaniah 3:20). Instead of the mocking of enemies, and even at times the hiding of God's countenance, because of temporary backslidings, the true Israel shall experience in all its fullness the precious promise realized, "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" (Zephaniah 3:17).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Zephaniah 3". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/zephaniah-3.html. 1871-8.
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