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Arno C. Gaeebelein

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                           THE PROPHET ZEPHANIAH


     Zephaniah is the last of the prophets before the captivity,
according to the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible. Haggai, Zechariah and
Malachi are post-exilic. His name means " Jehovah hides." His genealogy
is traced back for four generations. Zephaniah was the son of Cushi, the
son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah. We have
therefore more information concerning him than of most of the other
minor prophets. There must be a reason why these four generations are
given. We believe the reason is to show that he was of royal descent,
the great-grandson of the pious king of Judah, Hezekiah. Hizkiah is the
same as Hezekiah in the Hebrew. Jewish tradition as well as the reliable
rabbinical sources confirm this. The objection that the royal title is
not given in connection with Hizkiah is insignificant; at any rate "king
of Judah" is mentioned in connection with Josiah in the first verse of
this book of Zephaniah, so that it may have been left out in connection
with Hizkiah on purpose. As to his personal history we have no further
information. It seems as if the Lord has hidden for a good reason these
details of His chosen instruments.

                       The Date of Zephaniah

     The date is given in the first verse. He prophesied in the days of
Josiah the king of Judah. We are therefore not left in doubt about the
time in which he exercised his office as prophet; he was the
contemporary of Jeremiah and Micah. As to the exact time during the
reign of Josiah in which Zephaniah prophesied, we can be quite sure that
it was during the time of the reformation instituted by the king, that
is between the twelfth and eighteenth year; yet the reformation was
still in process and not yet fully completed. The temple must have been
purified from the idol abominations, for Zephaniah presupposes the
maintenance of the temple worship.

                      The Message of Zephaniah

     To understand the message we must consider the character of the
times in which the prophet lived, and the conditions in Judah. We have
done so already in connection with the annotations on Jeremiah, but add
here another description. As already stated a great reformation was in
progress, which, like all reformation, ended in deformation, producing a
reaction which plunged the house of Judah into the final apostasy. It
seems the reformation was mostly an outward one; in their hearts the
people still had a longing for the idols and the abominations connected
with them (1:4). We shall point out in the annotations some of the
details of the evils prevailing at that time.

     Like the other minor prophets, judgment is announced first,
followed by exhortations to repentance, with the promises of glory for
the remnant of His people when the day of Jehovah is passed and the Lord
is King over all the earth. He proclaims the judgment to come for the
whole earth, as well as upon Judah and Jerusalem, and then gives a
fuller description of the day in which that judgment is to be executed,
the still future day of Jehovah. As we have seen, Obadiah and Joel are
the earliest prophets, and both announced the day of Jehovah. The last
of the prophets before the captivity bears his additional testimony to
the same day, describing it as a day of wrath, of trouble and distress.
This is the first chapter.

     In the second chapter the exhortations begin. He exhorts the nation
to repent and to seek the Lord, so that they might be hid in the day of
the Lord's anger. Then he announced that the day is surely coming upon
all the nations, and that the isles of the nations will not escape.

     In the third chapter the prophet shows how the Lord will deal in
judgment also with the ungodly among His people. He announces His
purpose concerning the nations with the expectation that the godly
remnant among the Jews will fear Him then, and receive instruction and
wait for Him.

     Then follows the joyous message of the future salvation of the
elect people. It will be a poor afflicted remnant which trusts in the
Lord, which, born again, will be a holy people separated from evil. This
is followed by the singing times. "Sing, daughter of Zion; shout, O
Israel; be glad and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
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 Division of Zephaniah

     Like Nahum's prophecy, Zephaniah's is one great prophetic utterance.
The division into three chapters, as given in the Authorized Version, is
the correct arrangement, with the exception of the first eight verses of
chapter 3, which should be added to the second chapter. The subdivisions
will be pointed out in the analysis and annotations.

                      Analysis and Annotations

                              CHAPTER 1

              The Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment

     1. The judgment of all the world (1:1-3)
     2. The judgment will destroy the evildoers in Judah (1:4-13)
     3. The day of the Lord (1:14-18)

     Verses 1-3. The first verse is the superscription, and tells us, as
pointed out in the introduction, of the connection of Zephaniah and the
date of his prophecy.

     Then comes the announcement of the judgment. It is to consume all
things from off the face of the land, man and beast, the fowls of heaven,
the fishes of the sea, and end the stumbling blocks of the wicked, that
is, their idols and idol worship. The land is not to be understood as
being Israel's land exclusively; it means the earth. That the judgment
vision of Zephaniah has a wider scope than the land and the people is
fully confirmed by other passages. The great day comes upon men
everywhere (1:17); it is universal (2:4-15); all the isles of the
nations are mentioned (2:11).

     Verses 4-13. It will fall especially upon the house of Judah and
Jerusalem. In the verses which follow we have a description of the moral
conditions of the Jews when Josiah started his reformation, which
prophetically gives us a picture of the conditions among the Jews when
this age closes, and a portion of them is back in the land of their
fathers, as they are attempting to get it back now through political

     The hand of the Lord will be stretched out upon Judah and Jerusalem.
The remnant of Baal will be cut off and the Chemarim, with the priests.
Idolatry, whatever remains of it, should then be completely abolished.
"Baal" was the idol of god of the Phoenicians and Canaanites; the word
means "lord" or "possessor." With the worship of this god licentious
practices were connected. Chemarim is the name of the idolatrous priests
which conducted the high places, appointed for this service by the kings
of Judah (2 Kings 23:5). In verses 5 and 6 other forms of idolatry are
mentioned. They worshipped the hosts of the heavens from housetops. They
worshipped the stars, and studied their movements as if they could give
them help and a revelation. Astrology, so widely practiced among
civilized nations today, is an old cult (2 Kings 21:3, 5; Jer. 8:2;
19:13). Others used the Holy Name of Jehovah, and at the same time they
used the name of Malcham. All was a turning back from Jehovah and
dishonoring His Name.

     As to the future curse of idolatry among the Jews, the passage in
Matthew 12:43, 45, the words of our Lord, gives us the full information.
The unclean spirit there is the spirit of idolatry, from which the Jews
in their dispersion are free; the unclean spirit has left the house, but
it is to return, and the last state is worse than the first: "Even so
shall it be also unto this wicked generation." They will worship the man
of sin, the masterpiece of Satan, who in the end of the age will take
his place in the temple of God (2 Thess. 2).

     The day of the Lord is at hand; a statement which verifies our
interpretation that this prophecy refers to the future day. The Lord
has prepared His sacrifice and bidden his guests. It is the supper of
the great God, to which He invites His guests. Read in connection with
this Revelation 19:17-18. What that day will bring is described in
verses 8-13. All the evil doers will be dealt with by the Lord.

     Verses 14-18. The great day of the Lord is now more fully described.
It is the day when the announced judgment will take place. Higher
criticism sees nothing but some invasion of the land by hostile forces.
But it is the same great day, the culmination of the past ages, when
Jehovah is revealed, so vividly described in Joel 2:11. On that day the
voice of the Lord will be heard (Psa. 29; Isa. 66:6). When that day
comes the mighty man will cry out in bitterness, for he is unable to
save himself from the judgment tempest. In two verses the prophet
describes vividly the greatness of that day.

     A day of wrath is that day,
     A day of trouble and distress,
     A day of ruin and desolation,
     A day of darkness and gloom,
     A day of clouds and cloudy darkness;
     A day of the trumpet and the war cry
     Against the fortified cities,
     And against the lofty battlements.

     Thomas of Celano used in 1250 the Vulgate translation of the first
sentence "Dies irae, dies illa" in writing his famous judgment hymn. It
is well to compare Scripture with Scripture about that day. (For
instance verse 15 with Joel 3; Amos 5:18, 20; 8:9; Isaiah 13:10, and
many other passages.) When that day comes the wicked will perish;
distress will be upon all. They will walk like blind men, that is,
trying to find a way to escape, but not able to find one. Nothing will
be able to deliver from the fury of that day, neither silver nor gold
will avail anything.

                           CHAPTERS 2-3:8

                     The Call to Repentance in View of the Judgment

     1. The call to repentance (2:1-3)
     2. The judgment of the Philistines (2:4-7)
     3. The judgment of Moab and Ammon (2:8-10)
     4. The judgment of the other nations (2:11-15)
     5. The woe and warning to Jerusalem and His people (3:1-8)

     Verses 1-3. As we found it in Joel, so it is here. In view of the
coming of the day, the call goes forth to the nation to humble
themselves and to repent. On the near horizon in Joel the Assyrian
invasion was threatening. In Zephaniah it is the Babylonian power. But
all points to the future day of the Lord. They are to gather themselves
together. The word used for "gather" has the meaning of gathering
stubble or wood for burning. In their unbelief they were worthless as
stubble and dry wood, fit for the burning. The phrase "not desired" has
been translated "which does not turn pale." But this cannot be sustained.
The better meaning is "unashamed."

     The second verse gives the reason why they should humble themselves
and be ashamed of all their evil doings. Because the decree of judgment
has gone forth, the fierce anger of the Lord in His day is about to pass
as the chaff. This is followed by the appeal to seek the Lord. This is
addressed to the meek in the land, the godly remnant which fears the
Lord, both in Zephaniah's day and in the end of the age, when "that day"
comes. They are meek and seek to keep the statutes and judgments of the
Lord in a righteous life. Still they are exhorted to seek meekness. For
it is this, meekness and lowliness, that pleases the Lord. The promise
is held out that they would be hid in the day of the Lord's anger.
Zephaniah means "hidden by the LORD" or "whom the LORD hides;" His name
comes into play as a comfort that the godly will be hid in the day of
the Lord. In Isaiah we have a more direct word about this. "Come, My
people, enter thou in thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself
as it were for a moment, until the indignation be overpast" (Isa. 26:20).
This has often been used as a proof text that the true Church is not to
pass through the great tribulation period. But it has nothing whatever
to do with the Church, but is the promise given to the godly remnant
(Rev. 12, the preservation of the seed of the woman). It is the teaching
of the New Testament that the true Church will be taken to her heavenly
abode by the coming of the Lord for His saints (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2
Thess. 2).

     Verses 4-7. Judgment is to come in that day upon Gaza and Ashkelon,
upon Ashdod and Ekron, the chief cities of Philistia. The inhabitants of
the seacoast, the nation of the Cherethites, and all the land of the
Philistines, will undergo judgment. The seventh verse gives the
connection with the opening message of the chapter, the call to
repentance. "And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of
Judah; they shall feed thereupon; in the house of Ashkelon shall they
lie down in the evening; for the LORD their God shall visit them, and
turn away their captivity." Because the remnant is to possess this
territory when Philistia is judged they ought to repent and seek the
Lord. That this is still unaccomplished hardly needs to be pointed out.
It was not fulfilled in the remnant which returned from the Babylonian
captivity. Since the day of their rejection, when they rejected Christ,
they have been out of the land. Here is a prophecy of ultimate blessing
to the remnant in the day of the Lord, when they will be regathered.

     Verses 8-10. Moab and Ammon had sinned against Israel, they reviled
them and magnified themselves against their border. Their judgment is
announced, as it is in the former prophets, like Joel, Amos, and Ezekiel.
Moab will be overthrown like Sodom, and Ammon will become like Gomorrah.
Then when the judgment of Moab and Ammon finally takes place, as it will
in His day, the remnant of His people shall spoil them, and the remnant
shall possess them. It is obvious this also remains to be fulfilled.

     This judgment of Moab and Ammon is the harvest which their pride
and self-exaltation has brought to them (verse 10).

     Verses 11-15. The Lord, in that day, will be terrible unto all
these nations. The idol gods will all be abolished. In their place He
alone will be worshipped (Zech. 14). All the isles of the nations will
turn in worship to Him. The Ethiopians, the African nations, will fall
under the judgment. He will stretch out His hand against Assyria, the
power of the north, including both the Assyrian which then was and the
Assyrian of the end-time, still to come. It is evident from verse 13
that when Zephaniah penned these words Nineveh had not yet fallen. Her
utter desolation is predicted by Zephaniah as it was predicted by Nahum.
The fate of Nineveh announced was literally accomplished. And some day
all the proud cities of the nations, steeped in iniquity, will also fall
as Nineveh was dethroned from her place of mistress of the world.

     Chapter 3:1-8. The filthy, polluted and oppressing city is
Jerusalem. Four charges are laid against her.

     1. She obeyed not the voice.
     2. She received not correction.
     3. She trusted not in the Lord.
     4. She drew not near to her God.

And because she was untrue to her God and Lord, oppressive cruelty and
evil persisted. It was the outcome of her wrong attitude toward the Lord.
Her leaders, the princes, were like roaring lions, devouring the prey.
Her judges in oppressing the poor were like ravening wolves, ferocious
and destructive. How all this fits Christendom today. There is
disobedience to the Lord, no faith in Him, no humiliation and no
repentance. Hence the moral conditions of today.

     Their prophets and priests were also corrupt, as we have learned
before in the former prophets. Yet the holy and just Jehovah was in the
midst of them. Yet the unjust was not ashamed, but continued in

     Then Jehovah addresses the nation: "I have cut off nations; their
towers are desolate; I have made their streets waste, that none passeth
by; their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is
none inhabitant. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive
instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off; howsoever I
punished them, they rose early, and corrupted all their doings." But
they did not heed His plea. They did not take warning from what happened
to other nations.

                            CHAPTER 3:8-20

                         judgment and Glory

     1. The waiting for the end (3:8)
     2. The glory that follows (3:9-20)

     Verse 8. "Therefore wait for me, saith Jehovah, for the day when I
arise for the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, to
assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, all my fierce
anger; for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy."
This verse leads us back to the opening exhortation of this chapter.
They are as a nation to wait for Him, till the day comes in which He
arises to execute the judgment of the nations. It has been a long
waiting. Centuries have come and gone; His earthly people have been the
wanderers among the nations of the world, where they have been a byword
and a curse, yet witnesses for Him also. Still they are waiting for
"that day," the day which closes the times of the Gentiles, when the
stone strikes the great man image and becomes a mountain filling the
whole earth (Daniel 2).

     Verses 9-20. The opening verse of this glory section has been
variously interpreted. It has been used by the "Pentecostal-delusion" as
being a prophecy concerning their imagined gift of tongues restoration.
In the first place it must be noticed that in the Hebrew the word people
is in the plural. We read therefore this verse as follows: "For then
will I turn to the nations a pure lip, that they may all call upon the
name of Jehovah, to serve Him with one shoulder." Luther paraphrased
this verse in the following way: "Then will I cause that nations to be
preached to otherwise, with friendly lips, that they may call upon the
name of the Lord." But this interpretation is not sustained by the text.
It means that the nations which escaped the judgment-wrath of the day of
the Lord will be converted, and as a result of their conversion they
will call upon the Lord with pure lips; all idolatry will cease and all
serve the Lord as one man.

     While the peoples in verse 9 are the Gentiles, the suppliants in
verse 10 are Jews brought back from the dispersion. They are brought
back by the converted Gentiles as an offering unto the Lord (Isa. 66:20).
When that takes place the restored nation will not have need to be
ashamed for all their doings, for the Lord in infinite grace will have
cleansed them from their iniquity, and now they are no longer proud and
haughty, but a remnant humbled, trusting in the Lord. The great chapter
in Ezekiel tells us of the conversion of this remnant (Ezek. 36). They
will then be a righteous nation, do no iniquity, nor speak lies. The
speaking of lies, the use of deceit, is one of the traits of the Jews
today, and has often been responsible for their sufferings among the
Gentiles. But when that day comes the deceitful tongue will not be found
in their mouth. They will feed and lie down and none shall make them
afraid. They have become once more "the sheep of His pastures, gathered
by the Good Shepherd. The time of singing and rejoicing has come.

     Sing, O daughter of Zion!
     Shout, O Israel!
     Be glad and rejoice
     With all thy heart,
     O Daughter of Jerusalem.

     Jehovah has removed thy judgments;
     He has cast out thine enemy;
     The King of Israel, Jehovah,
     Is in the midst of thee,
     Thou wilt see evil no more.

     In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem,
     Fear not, Zion, let not thy hands be feeble.

     Jehovah, thy God is in the midst of thee,
     A mighty One who saves;
     He rejoices over thee with gladness;
     He rests in His love;
     He rejoices over thee with singing.

     What a glorious day that will be! It will be glory for Him and
glory for His people. The great prophetic song recorded by Isaiah
(chapter 12) will then be heard in the midst of His redeemed people. The
great Psalms of praise and worship will fill Jerusalem. Judgments are
forever gone; no enemy will threaten them again. He Himself is in their
midst, none other but He whom their fathers delivered once into the
hands of the Gentiles, over whom they cried, "His blood be upon us and
our children." He is King. The throne of His father David is now filled.
The Mighty One saves, and rejoices over His redeemed people. He has the
travail of His soul to the full and is satisfied.

     Then He will make them a name and a praise among all the peoples of
the earth. Thus ends the great message of Zephaniah, the
great-great-grandson of the pious King Hezekiah.

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