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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Zephaniah 2

Verses 1-3

THE DAY OF JEHOVAH A DAY OF TERROR ONLY ONE WAY OF ESCAPE, Zephaniah 1:2 to Zephaniah 2:3.

The prophecy of Zephaniah opens with the announcement of a world judgment (Zephaniah 1:2-3); the heaviest blow will fall upon Judah and Jerusalem for their deeds of violence and their religious apostasy (Zephaniah 1:4-9). The prophet pictures the execution of judgment (Zephaniah 1:10-11), and chapter 1 closes with a vivid picture of the terrible day of Jehovah, which “is near and hasteth greatly” (Zephaniah 1:14-18). Only an immediate return to Jehovah can save from the worst (Zephaniah 2:1-3).

Verses 4-7

4-7. The doom of Philistia.

Gaza… Ashkelon… Ashdod… Ekron See on Amos 1:6-8. Gath is again absent.

Shall be forsaken Depopulated. The original contains a word play which it is difficult to reproduce in English; some attempt it by reading, “Gaza shall be forgotten.”

Drive out Ashdod That is, the inhabitants of Ashdod.

At the noonday Of uncertain meaning. Perhaps the thought is that it will be taken after a brief assault, lasting only from morning till noon, that is, with ease (compare Jeremiah 15:8). A similar expression is found in an inscription of Esarhaddon, “Memphis, his capital, I took in the half of the day” at noonday; here also the emphasis seems to be on the brevity of time in which the city was taken.

Shall be rooted up Another word play in the original. The expression implies complete destruction.

Zephaniah 2:5 continues the threat upon the Philistines in the form of a woe.

Inhabitants of the seacoast Literally, the line of the sea; that is, the narrow strip stretching along the sea. The territory of the Philistines was located along the Mediterranean coast.

Nation of the Cherethites In apposition to the preceding (see on Amos 1:6-8; Amos 9:7; compare 1 Samuel 30:14).

O Canaan Since the prophet is concerned only with the Philistines, Canaan must denote Philistia, as is made clear also by the phrase which immediately follows, “the land of the Philistines.” According to Joshua 13:1-3, the territory of the Philistines was thought a part of Canaan, but it is doubtful whether Canaan could be used as a synonym of Philistia. The text is improved if the word is omitted “The word of Jehovah is against you (or, better, against thee), O land of the Philistines.” The destruction is to be so complete that not a single inhabitant will be left. If these threats were written originally in the Kinah meter (see on Amos 5:1-3), the rhythm becomes greatly improved by an additional alteration of the text, so that Zephaniah 2:5 will read, “Woe, inhabitants of the seacoast, nation of the Cherethites! I will destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant, land of the Philistines.”

The general thought of Zephaniah 2:6 is clear, but in details there is much uncertainty. The text may have suffered in transmission; LXX., which differs considerably from the Hebrew, reads, “And Crete shall become dwelling places for shepherds, and folds for flocks.” This involves the omission of one expression from the Hebrew, “the seacoast,” which might have been repeated accidentally from Zephaniah 2:5, the transposition of two words, and a change in the vocalization of another.

Crete Not the island of Crete, but Philistia; the former is supposed to have been the original home of the Philistines (see on Amos 9:7). The term “Cherethites” (Zephaniah 2:5) is derived from the same word. To improve the rhythm some omit even the word translated “Crete,” which might be “a mere transcriptional duplicate of the preceding word, as the letters forming the two words are frequently confused.” With this omission Zephaniah 2:6 would read, “And it (the land of the Philistines) shall become dwellings (or, pastures, Amos 1:2) for shepherds, and folds for flocks.” Marti goes still further and, continuing 5b, reads, “And thou shalt become.…” Whether any of these emendations are accepted or not, the meaning remains the same; the land of the Philistines is to be so completely deserted that shepherds will be able to pasture and fold their flocks wherever they like.

Zephaniah 2:7 adds to the threat of the destruction of the Philistines the promise that the “remnant of Judah” shall possess the territory deserted by its present inhabitants. A similar promise is found in Amos 9:12. The English translation of the first clause, “And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah,” disregards the grammatical construction of the original, which can be rendered only, “And it (the land of the Philistines, Zephaniah 2:5) shall be a portion for the remnant of the house of Judah.” The ordinary English translation follows substantially LXX., which reads, however, “the seacoast.”

Remnant of the house of Judah Must be identical with the “meek” of Zephaniah 2:3, who escape the judgment by heeding the prophet’s exhortation.

Shall feed R.V. adds rightly, “their flocks.”

They The remnant. The grammatical construction is according to sense.

Thereupon Upon what? If the text is correct the reference must be to the “pastures” of Zephaniah 2:6 (for the grammatical inaccuracy involved in the use of a masculine pronoun referring to a feminine noun compare G.-K., 135o). Wellhausen divides the word and transposes one letter, so that it reads “by the sea” instead of “upon them.” This would remove the grammatical peculiarity.

In the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening During the day they will feed their flocks in the fields of the Philistines; when darkness sets in they seek shelter in their towns. Ashkelon represents the Philistine towns in general; it seems to be selected rather than any other for rhythmical reasons. The closing sentence gives the cause of the transformation in the fortunes of Judah, or at least of the remnant.

God shall visit them In mercy. The same word is used frequently in the sense of “punish,” that is, visit in judgment (compare Zephaniah 1:8-9).

Turn away their captivity R.V., “bring back their captivity,” or, restore their fortune. The expression does not presuppose the exile as accomplished, nor even the expectation of an exile (see on Hosea 6:11; Amos 9:15; and p. 133).

Marti and others reject Zephaniah 2:7 in its present form as a later addition (see p. 518), but the former thinks that the verse contains some original elements. These he finds, in a corrupt form, in the second and third clauses of the verse; as restored by him they read, continuing Zephaniah 2:6, “In thy ruins they lie down, they shall feed by the sea.” The subject of the verbs he takes to be Arab nomads.

Verses 4-15

THE JUDGMENT UPON THE NATIONS, Zephaniah 2:4-15.

It is high time to look for shelter, for already the judgment is falling upon the surrounding nations, and soon it will reach Judah and Jerusalem (see introductory remarks on Zephaniah 1:2-18, and on Zephaniah 2:1-3). The nations whose destruction is announced are (1) Philistia (Zephaniah 2:4-7), (2) Moab, (3) Ammon (Zephaniah 2:8-10), (4) Ethiopia (Zephaniah 2:12), (5) Assyria (Zephaniah 2:13-15). On the originality of these verses see Introduction, pp. 518ff.

Verses 8-11

8-11. The doom of Moab and Ammon. On the location of these nations see comments on Amos 1:13-15; Amos 2:1-3.

I have heard The evil deeds and words of the Moabites and Ammonites have reached the ear of Jehovah (compare Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:20).

Reproach… revilings Expressed not only in words, but also in hostile attacks upon the territory of the Hebrews. These were not confined to any one period, but continued throughout the entire history (compare Numbers 22 ff.; Judges 3:12 ff; Judges 10:7 ff.; 1 Samuel 11:1-5; 2 Samuel 8:2 and passages mentioned below). Other prophets condemn these two nations for their hostile attitude toward the people of Jehovah (Moab, Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 15, 16, Jeremiah 48:0; Ezekiel 25:8 ff.; Ammon, Amos 1:13-15; Jeremiah 49:0; Ezekiel 25:1-7).

Reproached my people Every attack and every act of hostility constituted an insult to the people that was under the special protection of Jehovah.

Magnified themselves against their border That is, the border of my people; LXX. reads “my borders,” that is, the borders of Jehovah’s land (compare Jeremiah 48:26; Jeremiah 48:42). “Magnified themselves” is literally “they made great” or “did great things,” which means not only “they uttered great things” but “they did great things” as well. The great and arrogant deeds consisted chiefly in violating the boundaries of Israel and endeavoring to annex Israelitish territory (Amos 1:13; Jeremiah 49:1).

Zephaniah 2:9-10 announce the judgment.

As I live A formula of asseveration, which is very common in Ezekiel (see on Amos 4:2; Amos 8:14). The accumulation of the divine titles serves to add solemnity to the utterance (compare Isaiah 1:24).

Jehovah of hosts See on Hosea 12:5.

God of Israel Emphasizes the peculiar relation of Jehovah to Israel, and his special interest in its welfare.

Sodom,… Gomorrah The overthrow of the cities of the Plain (Genesis 19:25) is frequently used as a type of utter destruction (Isaiah 1:9; Deuteronomy 29:23). The next three expressions describe the completeness of the destruction.

Breeding of nettles R.V., “possession of nettles”; margin, “of wild vetches.” The territories shall remain uncultivated and desolate, so that nothing but nettles will grow there. The meaning of the first word is not quite certain; “possession” expresses the right idea. The precise plant meant is uncertain. Post thinks that the word is a generic term which may be applied to any wild thorn or shrub. Tristram identifies it with the “prickly acanthus, a very common and troublesome weed… abundant among ruins” (compare Isaiah 14:23).

Salt pits Where salt pits exist vegetation is dead; hence the presence of salt pits symbolizes desolation and barrenness (compare Deuteronomy 29:23; Isaiah 13:19; Jeremiah 49:18; also, “he sowed it with salt,” Judges 9:45).

Perpetual desolation There is to be no restoration.

Residue… remnant See on Zephaniah 2:7; compare Zephaniah 2:3, and reference there.

Shall spoil them Better, shall take them as spoil; the expression is identical in meaning with “shall possess [R.V., “inherit”] them,” in the last clause. “Them” some commentators refer to the people of Moab and Ammon in distinction from the land, which is threatened with utter destruction and desolation. This distinction is made “because a land turned into an eternal desert and salt steppe would not be adapted for a possession for the people of Jehovah.” It is very doubtful, however, that the author meant to make this distinction. The description must not be pressed too literally, and there can be no serious objection to the supposition that the prophet means to threaten two distinct calamities, complete destruction and annexation to Judah.

Zephaniah 2:10 repeats the statement of the guilt which is responsible for the judgment (see on Zephaniah 2:8). In the last clause LXX. omits “the people of,” and reads, “against Jehovah of hosts” (see on their border, Zephaniah 2:8).

In Zephaniah 2:8-9 Jehovah is the speaker, so also in Zephaniah 2:12; therefore Zephaniah 2:12 forms a natural continuation of Zephaniah 2:9. In Zephaniah 2:10-11 Jehovah is spoken of in the third person, which makes it quite probable that these verses contain the words of another speaker. If Zephaniah 2:10 is original (see pp. 519f.) it must be explained as a repetition by the prophet, in his own words, of the condemnation which in Zephaniah 2:8 he places in the mouth of Jehovah. In a similar manner would have to be explained Zephaniah 2:11. The prophet has announced, in the words of Jehovah, the complete destruction of Moab and Ammon; before turning to another nation he makes a comment out of his own heart: “Jehovah will be terrible unto them.…”

Terrible In causing utter destruction. When they see his terrible power they will recognize him as the God (Malachi 1:14).

Unto them The people of Moab and Ammon.

For Better, yea; introducing a new act of Jehovah (G.-K., 148d). He will not be satisfied with overawing the two nations; before the whole world he will show himself supreme.

He will famish all the gods of the earth A peculiar expression; literally, he will make lean. If the verb is original the thought of the prophet seems to be that by his terrible manifestations, Jehovah will prove himself the true God with such effectiveness that he will take away from the deities now worshiped by the other nations their devotees with their gifts. By the withdrawal of these gifts the deities are made lean, and finally they will starve to death. In other words, the prophet looks forward to the time when the nothingness of all the other deities will be recognized, and when all men will worship Jehovah.

Every one from his place The most natural interpretation of these words is that every one will worship Jehovah wherever he lives, that is, without going to a central sanctuary. This marks a distinct advance over passages like Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4, and moves in the direction of the utterances of Jesus in John 4:20 ff. The interpretation of Kleinert and others, which makes the prophet say that everyone will go from his home to Jerusalem to worship there, is less natural.

All the isles of the heathen R.V., “of the nations”; margin, “coast lands.” The term seems to have been applied in the beginning to the coast lands and islands of the Mediterranean, but in time it became equivalent to “distant regions” (Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 59:18).

Verse 12

12. The doom of Ethiopia.

Ethiopians Or, Cushites. The inhabitants of the vast and undefined territory immediately south of Egypt. The country Hebrews Kush is mentioned frequently in connection with Egypt (Nahum 3:9; Isaiah 20:3-5). During the flourishing period of Egyptian history, Ethiopia was subject to the kings of Egypt, but toward the close of the eighth century B.C. an Ethiopian dynasty usurped the throne of the latter, which it was able to hold for only a brief period. At the time of Zephaniah, the Ethiopian rulers had been expelled again; nevertheless, some have supposed that in this passage Ethiopia stands for Egypt. It is undoubtedly true that a threat against the near and powerful Egypt would make a deeper impression upon the people of Judah than a threat against the distant Ethiopia, and, as a matter of fact, the Scythians never went farther than the northern borders of Egypt; yet there seems insufficient warrant for identifying the two. It is preferable to retain Ethiopia and take it as a representative of the remote south, just as the islands of the nations represent the west and Assyria the east or northeast; the dreaded enemy comes from the north.

Ye shall be slain Hebrew, “they shall be slain”; the ancient versions read the second person, which is to be preferred. The terrible invader will make a terrible end of the Ethiopians.

Verses 13-15

13-15. The doom of Nineveh.

Stretch out his hand See on Zephaniah 1:4.

Against the north From Ethiopia in the far south Jehovah will turn northward to strike Assyria.

Assyria The beginnings of the Assyrian empire are shrouded in obscurity, but from about the middle of the twelfth century until near the close of the seventh century B.C. it was the great Asiatic world power. Nearly all the prophets, beginning with Amos, look upon it as the divinely appointed agent to execute judgment upon the rebellious Israel; but several of them are convinced that it has gone beyond its commission and that its cruel policy of conquest is contrary to Jehovah’s will; therefore they heap upon Assyria the severest denunciations (for example, Isaiah 10:5 ff.; Micah 5:6; the entire Book of Nahum).

Nineveh The capital of Assyria in the days of Zephaniah (see on Jonah 3:2-3).

Desolation,… dry like a wilderness To make Nineveh dry like a wilderness would require a manifestation of extraordinary power, for the city was situated on the banks of one river, the Tigris, while another, the Choser, flowed right through it.

Verse 14

14. In the ruins desert animals will take up their abode.

Flocks R.V., “herds.” A word used elsewhere only of animals tended by herdsmen, but since the rest of Zephaniah 2:14 seems to be an expansion of the term, it must be used here of wild beasts and creatures of the desert. Wellhausen changes one letter and transposes two, which gives the name “Arabians.”

All the beasts of the nations Margin R.V., “all beasts of every kind”; LXX., “all the beasts of the field.” The common English translation is the most literal reproduction of the Hebrew text, but the meaning of the phrase is not clear. Some have understood “beasts” figuratively of wild and ferocious men, perhaps the shepherds of the flocks (but see preceding comment), as if the prophet wanted to say that wild men coming from different nations would lodge in the ruins of Nineveh. This figurative use of “beasts” is not very probable. The LXX. reading gives better sense, and we may be justified in altering the present Hebrew text to make it agree with it. The marginal translation also gives good sense, but to get it from the present Hebrew text is a difficult task. The present text may be retained, if we give to the word translated “nations” a meaning which it does not have ordinarily, “mass” or “swarms” (compare Joel 1:6; Proverbs 30:25), and render the whole phrase “all kinds of beasts in mass.” This, in apposition to the preceding “flocks,” would express the idea that great masses of desert animals of every kind will settle in the ruins of the destroyed city.

Cormorant R.V., “pelican.” There is much uncertainty about the animals or birds mentioned in this verse. Undoubtedly all are such as are accustomed to inhabit ruins and desolate places. The translation of R.V. is generally accepted as correct (compare “pelican of the wilderness,” Psalms 102:6). H. Duhm ( Die bosen Geister im Alten Testament) sees here a reference to demons that were thought to dwell in ruins.

Bittern R.V., “porcupine.” The latter is the meaning which LXX. gives to the word and is accepted by most commentators. The two words occur together in a similar description in Isaiah 34:11 (compare Isaiah 14:23).

The upper lintels R.V., “capitals.” See on Amos 9:1. These capitals are thought of as lying on the ground, so that even porcupines can make their homes in them. “The seer has such a mass of ruins in view as Baalbek presents to-day; the giant capitals which encircled the buildings lie like broken cornstalks; on the other hand, the walls still stand in ruin, with desolate threshold and window, through which the wind whistles.”

Their voice will sing in the windows Literally, a voice shall sing; or, better, since it is an exclamation, Hark! they sing! (See on Zephaniah 1:14.) The prophet imagines himself standing in the midst of the ruins, and, hearing a voice, he exclaims, “Hark! they sing!” The subject of “sing” must be the creatures inhabiting the ruins; hence “sing” must be understood in the general sense of making a noise or uttering a sound, a meaning which the verb does not have ordinarily. Instead of “voice” (= hark) many read “owls”; the whole clause, “owls shall sing in the windows.” If the emendation suggested for the next clause is correct, a comparison with Isaiah 34:11, suggests that “owl” was read here originally. It is even possible that the two words translated “a voice shall sing” should be read as one, and that this one word is the corrupt form of a noun meaning “owls,” so that the whole clause would read, “owls shall be in the windows.”

Desolation shall be in the thresholds LXX, reads, with a change of one letter, “ravens” for “desolation,” and this fits admirably in the context, “ravens shall be in the thresholds.”

For he shall uncover the cedar work A much-discussed clause whose meaning is uncertain. It seems to state the reason why the city will become the habitation of desert birds and animals. “He shall uncover” might be understood in the indefinite sense “one shall uncover” they shall uncover, that is, the enemies who will execute the divine judgment. The same verb is translated in Psalms 137:7, “rase” (to the foundation), and implies destruction. The word translated “cedar work” occurs in this form only here; if original it must refer to the costly woodwork in the palaces and temples of Nineveh. In order to remove the peculiar form some change the vocalization so as to read “her cedar”=her cedar work, that is, the cedar work of the city. Others see in the word a corrupt form of a verb similar in meaning to the other verb, so that the whole clause would read, “they shall destroy, they shall ruse.” All these suggestions are more or less unsatisfactory, and much uncertainty remains; perhaps the text is in disorder.

Zephaniah 2:15 contains a taunt-song over the fallen city.

This The ruin inhabited by desert animals and birds.

The rejoicing city R.V., “joyous.” Good fortune seemed to smile on Nineveh, hence all was joy and exultation.

Dwelt carelessly Added to the natural strength of its site were extensive fortifications, so that the city seemed impregnable; in consequence her inhabitants were careless and boastful.

I am, and there is none beside me Literally, I am, and none else (compare Isaiah 47:8). Her armies had conquered almost the whole known world, from all directions tribute and countless treasures were being brought to the city, hence there was some ground for the boast. But pride always comes before the fall. The glory of Nineveh will be turned into shame.

Desolation See on Zephaniah 2:13.

A place for beasts See on Zephaniah 2:14.

Shall hiss An expression of derision and scorn (Micah 6:16; Jeremiah 18:16).

Wag his hand Also a gesture of scorn, equivalent to wag his head (Jeremiah 18:16; compare Nahum 3:19).

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zephaniah 2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/zephaniah-2.html. 1874-1909.