Zephaniah 3 - Outline of Zephaniah (Book Notes menu page)
1. Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!
2 She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction;
she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God.
3 Her princes within her [are] roaring lions;
her judges [are] evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.
4 Her prophets [are] light [and] treacherous persons:
her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.
The city is Jerusalem.
She is characterized as filthy {ie., rebellious}, polluted {HB=ga'al, desecrated, ie., by 'redeeming themselves' from that which is holy, they purposely purchased pollution for themselves}, and oppressing {ie., suppressing, maltreating, doing injustice}. The next verses amplify each point:
  • v.2 - The city was filthy {rebellious} -
    • She obeyed not the voice - She rejected the Word of God, as spoken through His prophets.
    • She received not correction - They had not responded to the LORD's chastening (eg., droughts and famines, marauding enemies, the Assyrian threat against Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah, etc.).
    • She trusted not in the LORD - Their trust was in their wealth, their military strength, their allies, and the false gods of the nations (today, in science and technology).
    • She drew not near to her God - They were outwardly religious, but inwardly far from the God they professed to serve.
  • v.3 - Her princes and judges {ie., government leaders} were oppressing the people-
    • Roaring lions - who make a lot of noise, and prey upon others.
    • Evening wolves - who move stealthily in the shadows, for self-advantage.
    • Gnaw not the bones until the morrow {ie., they gnaw the bones immediately, not waiting for another day} - In their insatiable greed, they pursue maximum self-satisfaction, like there is no tomorrow.
  • v.3,4 - Her prophets and priests polluted {HB=chalal, defiled, desecrated} that which was holy-
    • Prophets -
      • Light {HB=pachaz, reckless, frothy}...- Their words lacked the substance and weight of Truth.
      • Treacherous {ie., deceitfully dangerous}...- They were leading their followers to destruction.
    • Priests -
      • have polluted my sanctuary - Like the sons of Eli (1Sam 2:12,17), they profaned the holy things of God, and caused worshippers to turn away in disgust.
      • have done violence to the Law - Rather than faithfully proclaiming God's Word, by which He would accomplish His purposes in the lives of His people, these spiritual leaders twisted the scriptures to justify their own crimes and to move the nation according to their own ungodly purposes. (Twisting the scriptures is a mark of apostates in all ages. 2Pet 3:16)
Six hundred years later, during His earthly ministry, Jesus also pronounced "Woe" upon Israel's leaders, whose hearts were far from God, and whose conduct was full of corruption like that of their predecessors (Mat 23:13-39).
5 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.
6 I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate;
I made their streets waste, that none passeth by:
their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant.
7 I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction;
so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them:
but they rose early, [and] corrupted all their doings.
"The just LORD" stands, in sharp contrast to the corrupt leaders.
  • He is accessible ('in the midst'). Deu 23:14
  • He is righteous ('will not do iniquity'). Deu 32:4-6
  • He is diligent ('every morning...'). Lam 3:22,23; Jer 7:13
  • He is undeniably righteous in judgment. ('...brings His judgment to light') -
    His justice will withstand all examination. His judgment, upon those who reject His Word of warning, is clearly stated. Jer 7:13-15. The phrase 'rising up early' occurs six times in Jeremiah, always in reference to the LORD's diligence in calling to His people. Each time, it is followed by a statement of what He will do because they refuse to heed His warning.
  • He is dependable ('faileth not'). Isa 42:3,4
  • He is impartial (He must judge sin, whether it is found in 'the nations' or in the city called by His name. vs. 6,7)
...but the unjust knoweth no shame...- Jer 6:15; 8:12
I have cut off the nations... I said, Surely thou will fear me...
...but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.
As the LORD is diligent to exercise righteous judgment, they were diligent (rising early) to corrupt themselves.
     The LORD had judged the sins of other nations. To make room for Israel in the land of Canaan, He drove out the nations, whose iniquity had become full. About a hundred years before Zephaniah wrote, the sinful northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to Assyria. Around that time, Assyria had also conquered the nations mentioned in 2:4-15, and had also threatened Jerusalem.
     But rather than responding to these warnings, with repentance, the nation had dug even deeper into sin (v.2). Therefore, the judgment, described in ch. 1, would no longer be withheld. 'Their dwelling' (ie., Jerusalem) would be 'cut off,' suffering the same fate as the sinful nations which had previously fallen (v.6,7). About 50 years after Zephaniah wrote, Jerusalem would be taken captive by Babylon.
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.
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.
This prophetic statement looks beyond the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, to the Day of the LORD,
when He will 'gather the nations' and 'pour upon them mine indignation...my fierce wrath... the fire of my jealousy.' Joel 3:9-16; Mic 4:11-13; Zech 14:2,3; Eze 36:5-7; 38:18-23.
     In Zeph 1:18, the fire of God's jealousy devoured Israel, because they had turned from Him to false gods. Here, the fire of God's jealousy devours the Gentile nations who have mistreated His people (Israel, especially the believing Remnant).
'Therefore wait ye upon me...' -
The declaration of the terrible wrath of God upon His enemies, is a comfort and encouragement to the believing remnant. Those who have sought the LORD and who are hidden in Him (2:3), take comfort that the LORD is determined to fulfill His purposes. For the good of mankind, He will purge the earth of sin and establish His reign of righteousness. Psa 37:7-11; 130:5-8
...wait ye upon me until...' -
The things hoped for will become reality, with the coming of the King. Jam 5:7,8; Mic 7:7-9
...for all {HB=kol, the whole, every, the totality of} the earth {HB='erets} shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.
In Zeph 1:2,3, the LORD promised to purge sinful man {HB=adam} from off the 'land' {HB=adamah, earth, world}. Why is the Hebrew word 'erets used here (in the phrase 'all the earth')? Perhaps to show that the armies of all the nations, which will gather against Israel in her land, will be destroyed in that land.
for then will I turn to the people a pure language... to call upon... the LORD... to serve Him with one consent...
Some speculate that the Hebrew tongue will be the 'pure language' spoken in the Messianic Kingdom. Perhaps that will be the case. However, this expression probably does not refer to a specific tongue.
     The word 'pure' {HB=barar} refers to that which has been 'purged' or 'purified.' The word 'language' {HB=saphah, lip, language} is translated 'lips' in Isa 6:5 (2x). Isaiah's unclean lips were purged, to prepare him for the LORD's service (Isa 6:6,7).
     Likewise, those who enter the Messianic Kingdom will be given pure lips, without any trace of blasphemy, vulgarity, sarcasm, cynicism, or rebellion (v.13). In all sincerity, 'every man will call upon the LORD,' for from purified hearts, they will be 'speaking the truth in love' to one another, and serving their Head as a body in perfect harmony (eg., Eph 4:14-16) ['with one consent' is literally 'with one back.']. There will be no rebellion against God, and no quarrel among His people.
     In v.9, 'the people' is plural ('the peoples'), referring to those who have been redeemed out of every kindred, tribe, nation and tongue (Rev 5:9,10; 14:6). The Messianic Kingdom will include believing Jews and Gentiles (Psa 22:27; Jer 16:19; Zech 2:11).
10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants {ie., worshippers},
[even] the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
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.
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.
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.
Several different explanations have been suggested for v.10. [The editor favors points 'c' and 'd'.]
  1. Some believe that prior to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, the Ark of the Covenant was hidden in Ethiopia. They say that this refers to the return of the Ark to Jerusalem, at the time of the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom. However, there is no scriptural indication that the Ark was ever taken to Ethiopia.
  2. Some believe this refers to the Ethiopian Jews, the "Falashas" {meaning 'immigrants'}. In 1977 AD, the Israeli government decided that the "Law of Return" applied to this people group. Programs and military operations were set in place to bring them home to Israel. In the course of the next two decades, about 120,000 Ethiopian Jews were repatriated into Israel. Obviously, this migration did not coincide with the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, although it may be seen as a prelude to it.
  3. This may refer to the return of all the dispersed people of Israel, who will be brought back to their land, from the far corners of the earth, by representatives of the Gentile nations (of which Ethiopia is mentioned, here, as one example). Since the re-establishment of the nation of Israel, in 1948 AD, there has been a substantial, though partial, return of Jews to their land. At the time of the Messianic Kingdom, the Gentile nations will bring many more Israelites back home. Isa 27:12,13; 60:4-12; 66:18-21
  4. While the Gentile nations (including Ethiopia), will bring dispersed Israelites home, in that Day, their primary motivation for going up to Jerusalem, will be to worship the King, by whose sacrifice they have been redeemed from sin and destruction. In that day, both Jews and Gentiles will be His "suppliants." Psa 68:31; 72:8-11
...in that day thou shalt not be ashamed... for then I will take away... them that rejoice in thy pride...
The historic sins of Israel were something of which to be ashamed. However, these words are addressed, not to the sinful nation, but to the believing remnant, in that Day (the Day of the LORD), following His purging of His people.
     During the long night of sin, the believing remnant had grieved and sighed over the condition of the nation. The leaders had boasted in the external trappings of their religion, taking pride in Mount Zion, the Temple and its rituals, even as they lived in arrogant disregard for the LORD and His Word (Jer 7:4,9-14; Mic 3:11; Mat 3:9-12). When the domineering unbelievers are taken out of the midst of Israel, God's people will be free to serve Him, as they ought.
...I also will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people... they shall trust in... the LORD...
When Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, they did not take all of the Jews captive. Some of the poor people were allowed to remain in the land as caretakers (Jer 52:16). However, those people did not trust the LORD, and refused to obey His Word (Jer 43:1-4). Therefore, that event did not fulfill v.12.
     In the future Day of the LORD, God's people, being 'afflicted and poor' {ie., 'humble and lowly'} will trust Him wholly (Isa 61:1-3; Mat 5:3-6; 1Cor 1:27-31).
...they shall do no iniquity, nor speak lies... and they shall feed and lie down... none shall make them afraid.
The LORD's purified sheep, will be fully satisfied and safe under their Shepherd's care. Isa 49:8-10
14. Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel;
be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
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.
16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not:
[and to] Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
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.
Great joy will permeate the people of Israel, in the Millennial Kingdom of the Messiah,
because the LORD...
  • hath taken away thy judgments...- The judgment upon their sin, having been fully executed (at the cross of Christ), is finished, never to be repeated.
  • hath cast out thine enemy...- Satan and the Antichrist will be banished to the Lake of Fire.
  • is the King, in the midst of His people. Isa 12:5-6
The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty...-
  • In v.5, He was Present and powerful to judge the sinful nation(s), which He cut off to captivity and sorrows.
  • Here, His Presence and power bring deliverance and joy. Joel 2:27
He will rejoice...with joy... He will rest in His love... He will joy...-
While His people rejoice greatly in His deliverance, His unbounded joy will be in His purified people. Heb 12:2
     Verse 17 rings mightily with the joy of the Mighty One. Three different Hebrew words for joy cannot suffice to express it. He breaks forth into singing. He will rest in His love, because His work of love toward His own will finally be complete. The One whose love purchased our redemption, will rejoice in the people whom He has perfected for His Presence (Titus 2:13,14; 1Pet 2:9). The ones who were hidden in Him, will be revealed as His glorious treasure (Mal 3:17).
Three times in this chapter, we read of "the LORD in the midst of thee"...
  • v.5, in the midst, to cleanse His own from sin, Joh 19:18.
  • v15, in the midst, to conquer the enemies and fears of His own, Joh 20:19.
    (v.16) '...fear not... let not thine hands be slack' {ie., hanging down in despondency}.
  • v.17, in the midst, to crown His own with joy and fruitfulness, Rev 7:17.
    [These three points were adapted from GWms.]
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.
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.
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 turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.
The "solemn assembly" {HB=mow'ed, appointed place / time / season, sacred meeting}...
This word is used of prescribed religious events (eg., Ex 9:5 'a set time'; 13:10 'his season'; 2Chr 8:13 'solemn feasts') and also of the 'congregation' which gathered to observe them (Ex 27:21).
     The people, place and appointed times were all supposed to be for the glory of the LORD. But over many years, the nation had fallen away from Him, and brought disgrace upon His Name (v.1-4). During that time, the believing remnant had grieved over Israel's shameful miss-representation of the LORD. While the nation sunk ever lower in their prideful sin, the remnant humbly sought to serve the LORD, and trusted Him for the future (2:3).
I will gather... I will undo all that afflict thee... I will save... gather... get them praise... where they have... shame.
The LORD had judged the nation for their shameful ways. He had scattered its people among the nations, where they had suffered derision and persecution. But in the Millennial Kingdom of the Messiah, the judgment for sin and the cause for derision will be past. The wicked men, who had troubled God's people, will no longer be among them (v.11,12). The LORD will gather the believing remnant into His Kingdom, and place them in positions of honor. At that time, the whole world will understand that it was the LORD who did this, in fulfillment of His prophetic Word (Eze 28:25,26; Amos 9:14,15).

This concludes the study in Zephaniah..
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