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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Zephaniah 1

Verse 1

Zephaniah


Apart from what we have in this verse, nothing of the prophet is known with certainty. Zephaniah means ‘Yahweh hides’. His ancestry is given up to four generations back, to his great-great-grandfather Hezekiah. This is remarkable. We don’t find anything like this with any other writing prophet.

In most other prophets, only the father is mentioned. Only Zachariah also mentions the grandfather. This extensive mention of his ancestry indicates that he was a man of stature and perhaps the great-grandson of the God-fearing King Hezekiah and in that case, - of royal blood.

He prophesied about half a century after Nahum, during the reign of King Josiah over Judah – ca. 640-609 BC. The ten tribes were taken away by the Assyrians about eighty years ago. Under Josiah a great reformation took place in Judah. Unfortunately, it had no effect on the mindset of the heart of the people. The people have not converted to the LORD. Zephaniah does not mention the reform of Josiah, but speaks to a people who live in rebellion against the LORD.

Verses 2-3

Announcement of a General Judgment


A devastation is announced over “all [things]” (Zep 1:2). That the LORD will remove everything completely “from the face of the earth”, reminds us of what He said and did at the deluge (Gen 6:7). It implies a general judgment, sometimes referring more specifically to the judgment of a certain area.

Zephaniah describes who is removed by the judgment (Zep 1:3). He does this in pairs, which we can deduce from the twice added word “remove”. Man and beast – created on the sixth day of creation – and birds and fish – created on the fifth day of creation – are removed. The animals are under the curse because of the sin of man (Rom 8:20). The same fate undergo “the ruins” (or: “stumbling blocks”) that are the idols, and “the wicked,” that are the idolaters. They too are removed.

The deluge is a prelude to the global judgment in the end time. The Lord Jesus says that in that time it will be like in the time of Noah (Lk 17:24-27). People thought in Noah’s days that it would all stay as it always was. That is what people think today. But suddenly the cycle of daily events is broken by the coming of the day of the LORD.

Verses 4-6

The Judgment of Judah and Jerusalem


After the announcement of general judgment the prophet narrows the scope of his message and announces the special judgment on Judah and Jerusalem (Zep 1:4). God extends His hand in judgment against them (cf. Isa 5:25; Isa 9:12; 17; 21). They have been the recipients of God’s special revelation; now they will become the recipients of His special judgment. God will carry out that judgment in the short term by the Babylonians.

During his reign, Josiah removed much of the Baal’s service (2Chr 34:4), but not everything. God cannot tolerate any of it with His people. What is left of it calls for His judgment and extermination. Baal means ‘lord’. The “idolatrous priests” are not only exterminated as persons, but even their names are erased. God even exterminates the memory of them. The “priests” here are those of the LORD, but they are priests who do not care about the honor of the LORD.

In Zep 1:5-6 some idolaters and what they do are described. They too will be judged. “Who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven”, are the worshippers of celestial bodies. These are people we know today as esoteric and new age people, people who seek ‘light’ in themselves and in creation and not in God. On the housetops they can better look at the sky. Moses vehemently warned against it (Deu 4:19).

The flat roofs are perfectly fit for erecting an altar (Jer 8:2; Jer 19:13; Jer 32:29). Manasseh and his successors have practiced it widely, making every house an idolatrous house (2Kgs 21:3; 5; 2Kgs 23:5-6; Jer 7:17-18; Jer 44:17-19; 25).

Others have a compromise religion that includes worship of God and at the same time worship of the Milcom. This is unacceptable to God and in fact impossible (cf. Lk 16:13; Acts 3:6). Milcom also means ‘king’. This looks ahead to the Antichrist, the false king in Israel in the end time that they will worship as a god.

The next group to be judged will be those of the apostates. These are the ones who first shared in the reform of Josiah, but later returned to idolatry. There are also the indifferent ones, “who have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him”. Every form of iniquity is noticed and listed. Nothing is hidden from God’s eye.

Verse 7

Be Silent


Before the prophet continues to announce the judgment on all the aforementioned iniquities, he first calls for silence before God (Hab 2:20). The reason for this is that “the day of the LORD”, the day of judgment, the day of reckoning, “is near” (cf. Joel 1:15; Oba 1:15). Man must be silent, for God has the last word.

The “sacrifice” prepared for the LORD is … Judah. The “guests” who have been “consecrated” by Him are the Babylonians (Isa 13:3; Isa 34:6; Jer 46:10; Eze 39:17; cf. Rev 19:17-18). How bitter it must be that God consecrates the pagan Babylonians to be His ‘priests’ to slaughter His people as sacrificial animals. If the sinner does not repent and offer himself to God as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1), he will become the victim of his own sins.

Verses 8-9

The Punishment of the LORD


“The day of the LORD’s sacrifice” is the day of judgment He brings on the apostates and unbelievers (Zep 1:8). They have rejected the Sacrifice, His Son, and will now themselves be sacrificed to the judgment. The first to be slaughtered are “the princes” who have adopted the customs of the nations. They are the most responsible. They should have been leaders for good instead of evil. “The king’s sons” are probably those of Zedekiah (2Kgs 25:7; Jer 39:6).

The “foreign garments” may refer to the garments of the Babylonians, in which the Judeans liked to walk (Eze 23:14-15). Their fondness for it betrays the bad mind of their hearts. The LORD wants to see in their garments that they are a people set apart for Him (Num 15:38; Deu 22:11-12).

In the application, “foreign garments” refer to all kinds of outward appearances that God’s people adopt from the world and through which an inner alienation from God and His Word is shown. Our language and our way of life, including the way we dress, betray the orientation of our hearts. Garments can have a lot to do with paganism. Garments are often immoral. Whoever wears such garments preaches apostacy from God through their body language.

“Leap on the threshold” seems to refer to the zeal with which slaves of rich lords leap over the threshold of their homes, i.e. leave their homes, to rob the property of others to make their lords even richer. In doing so, they use violence and deceit, so that the houses of the rich are filled with goods they have obtained through violence and deceit.

Verse 10

A Cry, a Wail, a Loud Crash


By “that day” is meant the day of the LORD, the time when there will be crying and wailing from all parts of the city. The Fish Gate (Neh 3:3; Neh 12:39; 2Chr 33:14) is located in the north of the city. Through this gate the enemy, coming from the north, enters Jerusalem. This gate owes its name to the nearby fish market where the fish caught in Lake Tiberias are brought. This gate is now called the Damascus Gate.

“The Second Quarter” is the district where the prophetess Huldah lives (2Kgs 22:14). With all the cries from the above mentioned places comes the sound of a loud crash from the hills. Everything is caused by the advancing armies of Babel.

Verse 11

The People of Merchants Will Be Killed


“The Mortar” is a part of Jerusalem where merchants trade (Canaan means merchant). The word “mortar” is used to grind corn. This will happen to the dishonest merchants: they will be silenced because they will be cut off, i.e. they will be killed.

Verse 12

The LORD Searches Jerusalem With Lamps


No one will be able to escape the judgment that God brings on Judah and Jerusalem. The LORD Himself will see to it that no one escapes His judgment. As with the light of lamps, He will search the most remote places and bring all iniquity to light. His judgment will strike those who live in indifference and indolence. No sin escapes God’s attention. He will bring it to light. He does not do this for Himself, but for His people, so that they may know this and judge sin in themselves.

When we think of a lamp and light, we can apply that to the light of conscience, where the mind of man is like a lamp of the Lord, through which He speaks to man about his sins. There is also the light of an event through which the Lord speaks and can call us to order. He can therefore suddenly and unexpectedly shed light on certain things in our lives that are not good. We have a third light in the Word of God. God’s Word spreads light on our lives and points out what is wrong.

The search with lamps is reminiscent of the search by the Israelite of his house in view of the Passover to see if there remains any sour leaven, so that it can be removed (Exo 13:7). It is still customary for the father to go through the house with a light on the eve of the Passover. Spiritually, the lamp is still used to search for the lost sinner (Lk 15:8-10).

The people whom the LORD will punish will be compared with wine that is not removed from the lees or dregs. The sediment is the dregs. If the wine is not poured from the barrel into another barrel, while the dregs are left in the old barrel, the wine spoils. So it is about people who continue to live on in their wickedness (Jer 48:11).

They also have a heart in which they say they have to deal with the LORD. They do not deny His existence, but say that He does not live. In any case He does not show Himself. They attach this foolish conclusion to their equally foolish view that He does no good and does no evil, He does not bless and He does not judge. They see nothing of His presence, so He does nothing. He does not prove Himself, so the question is whether He is there. It is the modern agnostics who say that it is possible that God is there, but that it is also possible that He is not there. One cannot know. Such people are fools and blind.

Verse 13

God Shows That He Is There


Because of their complacency and indolence, God will bring the curse of the law upon them. This means that they will not be able to enjoy their prosperity, their homes and the fruit of their vineyards (Lev 26:32-33; Deu 28:30; 39; Amos 5:11; Mic 6:15). In this way God will show that He is there and directs the world. He fulfills His promises to His people, also in judgment.

Verses 14-16

The Great Day of the LORD


It is “the great day of the LORD” (Zep 1:14). That day is great because of his terrible judgments and their consequences (Joel 2:11). He is first presented as near and as a day that is fast approaching. He is much closer than the people realize and he rushes to his full revelation. If they listen carefully, to which they are emphatically called, “listen”, they will already be able to hear the sound of it. They will also hear the bitter cries of the warrior.

How awful that day is, is indicated in several ways in this description (Zep 1:15-16). Words are used that indicate the horrors of that day.
1. It is a day of “wrath” of the LORD over sins (Zep 1:15). He is angry and deeply displeased with the behavior of His people.
2. When He brings His wrath upon them, it causes “trouble and distress” in those over whom He brings His wrath.
3. The consequences are “destruction and desolation”.
4. The atmosphere in which God’s wrath manifests itself is one “of darkness and gloom” and “of clouds and thick darkness”.

The LORD reveals Himself as a warrior blowing the trumpet and shouting a war cry against every stronghold built by men to protect themselves (Zep 1:16). “Fortified cities” and “high corner towers” will be to no avail. There is no protection against the unfolding wrath of the LORD, as the following verse shows.

Verse 17

The Reason for Judgment


Because the LORD Himself oppresses people, they will not be able to find a way out of this desperate misery. As a result, the people of Judah will walk like the blind (Deu 28:29). That is the result of having “sinned against the LORD”. People who turn their backs on God and are not willing to repent are also seen and treated with contempt by God. Their worthlessness is expressed by comparing their blood with “dust” and their flesh, i.e. their body, with “dung”.

Verse 18

The Fire of God’s Jealousy


To underline the hopelessness of their situation, the prophet points out that there is no way out either. All their wealth does not benefit at that moment. Their silver and their gold offer no protection against the judgment of God (cf. 1Pet 1:18-19). The land and all its inhabitants will be consumed by the fire of God’s jealousy. With the description of this general judgment the chapter ends as it began (Zep 1:2-3).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Zephaniah 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/zephaniah-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.