Zephaniah 1
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary


Person of the Prophet. - Zephaniah's family is traced back in the heading to his book through four members, namely, to his great-great-grandfather Hezekiah; from which it has been justly inferred, that inasmuch as the father only is mentioned as a general rule, Hezekiah must have been a celebrated man, and that in all probability the king of that name is intended. For the only other person of such a name mentioned in the earlier history is an Ephraimite called Yehizkiyâh in 2 Chronicles 28:12, and he can hardly be the person intended. The circumstance that Hezekiah is not described as the king of that name by the predicate hammelekh or melekh Yehūdâh, furnishes no decided argument against this assumption, but may probably be explained on the ground that the predicate "king of Judah" follows immediately afterwards in connection with Josiah's name. There is still less force in the objection, that in the genealogy of the kings only two generations occur between Hezekiah and Josiah, inasmuch as Manasseh reigned for fifty-five years, that is to say, for nearly two generations. The name Zephaniah (Tsephanyâh), i.e., he whom Jehovah hides or shelters, not "speculator et arcanorum Dei cognitor," as Jerome explains it according to an erroneous derivation from tsâphâh instead of tsâphân, occurs again as the name of a priest (Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 29:25, etc.), as well as of other persons (cf. Zechariah 6:10, Zechariah 6:14; 1 Chronicles 6:21). The lxx write it Σοφονίας, Sophonias, according to their usual custom of expressing צ by σ, and the Sheva by a short vowel which is regulated by the full vowel that follows; they have also changed the a into o, as in the case of Γοδολίου for Gedalyâh in Zephaniah 1:1. Nothing further is known concerning the prophet's life. The statement in Ps. Doroth. and Ps. Epiph., that he sprang "from the tribe of Simeon, from the mountain of Sarabath" (al. Baratha or Sabartharam), is quite worthless. The date at which he lived is determined by the statement in the heading to his book, to the effect that he prophesied under king Josiah the son of Amos, who reigned from 641 to 610 b.c. This agrees both with the place assigned to his book in the series of the minor prophets, namely, between Habakkuk and Haggai, and also by the contents of his prophecies. According to Zephaniah 2:13., where he predicts the destruction of the kingdom of Asshur and the city of Nineveh, the Assyrian empire was still in existence in his time, and Nineveh was not yet conquered, which took place, according to our discussions on Nahum (pp. 380ff.), at the earliest, in the closing years of Josiah's reign, and possibly not till after his death. Moreover, his description of the moral depravity which prevailed in Jerusalem coincided in many respects with that of Jeremiah, whose labours as a prophet commenced in the thirteenth year of Josiah. Along with the worship of Jehovah (Zephaniah 1:5; cf. Jeremiah 6:20), he speaks of idolatry (Zephaniah 1:4-5; cf. Jeremiah 7:17-18), of false swearing by Jehovah, and swearing by the idols (Zephaniah 1:5; Jeremiah 5:2; Jeremiah 7:9, and Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 12:16), of the wicked treatment of the thorâh (Zephaniah 3:4; Jeremiah 8:8-9), of the fruitlessness of all the admonitions that have hitherto been addressed to Judah (Zephaniah 3:2; Jeremiah 2:30; Jeremiah 7:28), and of the deep moral corruption that has pervaded all ranks - the royal family, the princes, the prophets, and the priests (Zephaniah 1:4, Zephaniah 1:8-9; Zephaniah 3:3-4; cf. Jeremiah 2:8, Jeremiah 2:26). He describes the nation as a shameless one (Zephaniah 2:1; Zephaniah 3:5; cf. Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 6:15; Jeremiah 8:12), and Jerusalem as a rebellious city (מוראה, Zephaniah 3:1; cf. Jeremiah 6:17; Jeremiah 5:23), as stained with blood and the abominations of idolatry (Zephaniah 3:1; cf. Jeremiah 2:22-23, Jeremiah 2:34), and as oppressive towards widows and orphans, and with its houses full of unrighteous possessions (Zephaniah 3:1 and Zephaniah 1:9; cf. Jeremiah 5:27-28; Jeremiah 6:6).

The only point open to dispute is whether Zephaniah's prophecy belonged to the first or the second half of the thirty-first year of Josiah's reign. Whilst Ewald supposes that Zephaniah wrote at a time when "not even any preparation had yet been made in Jerusalem for that important and thorough reformation of religion which king Josiah attempted with such energetic decision and such good results in the second half of his reign" (2 Kings 22-23), most of the other commentators infer from Zephaniah 1:4, where the extermination of the remnant of Baal is predicted, and with greater propriety, that Josiah's reformation of religion had already commenced, and that the outward predominance of idolatry was already broken down when Zephaniah uttered his prophecies. For the prophet could not well speak of a remnant of Baal before the abolition of the idolatry introduced into the kingdom by Manasseh and Amon had really commenced. But Ewald and Hvernick reply to this, that the prophet announces that even the remnant and the name of idolatry are to disappear, so that nothing at all will remain, and that this presupposes that in the time of the prophet not only the remnant of the worship of Baal was in existence, but the Baal-worship itself. But however correct the former remark may be, there is no ground for the conclusion drawn from it. The destruction of Baal, even to the very remnant and name, does not warrant the assumption that the worship of Baal still existed in undiminished power and extent at the time when the threat was uttered, but could be fully explained if there were only remnants of it left to which the expression "remnant of Baal" primarily refers. If nothing had been hitherto done for the abolition of idolatry, Zephaniah would certainly have spoken differently and more strongly than he does in Zephaniah 1:4-5, concerning the abomination of it. If, for example, according to Zephaniah 1:5, sacrifices were still offered upon the roofs to the army of heaven, the existence of the Jehovah-worship is also presupposed in the reproof in Zephaniah 3:4, "the priests pollute the sanctuary;" and in the words "them that swear by Jehovah, and swear by their king" (Zephaniah 1:5), Jehovah-worship and idolatry are mentioned as existing side by side. We cannot therefore regard the opinion, that "throughout the whole of the prophecy there is no trace of any allusion to Josiah's reformation," as a well-founded one. According to the more precise account given in the Chronicles, Josiah commenced the reformation of worship in the twelfth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 34:3-7), and in the eighteenth year he had the temple repaired. It was then that the book of he law was discovered, the reading of which affected the king so much, that he not only appointed a solemn passover, but after the feast was over had all the remaining traces of idolatry in Jerusalem and Judah completely obliterated (2 Kings 23:24). Now, as Zephaniah's prophecy presupposes the maintenance of the temple-worship, it can only have been uttered after the purification of the temple from the abominations of idolatry that were practised in its courts, and in all probability was not uttered till after the completion of the repairs of the temple, and the celebration of the solemn passover in the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign. The time cannot be determined more exactly.

The threat in Zephaniah 1:8, that the judgment shall fall upon the princes, and even upon the king's sons, does not warrant us in concluding that the sons of Josiah had reached a sufficient age to have occasioned the announcement of punishment, by sinful acts for which they themselves were accountable, which would not apply to the twelfth year of the king's reign, when Jehoiakim was six years old, Jehoahaz four years, and when Zedekiah was not yet born, but only to the eighteenth year, when Jehoiakim had reached his twelfth year and Jehoahaz his tenth. For "the king's sons" are not necessarily the sons of the reigning sovereign only, but may also include the sons of the deceased kings, Manasseh and Amon; and this general threat of judgment announced against all ranks may be understood without hesitation as relating to all princes or persons of royal blood. The character of the prophecy as a whole also furnishes no decisive points bearing upon the question, whether it was uttered or composed before or after the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign. For the tendency to promote the work of religious reformation which had already commenced, by means of strong prophetic encouragements, in order that it might lead to a division, and therefore to decision for the Lord (Zephaniah 2:1-3, which Hvernick and several other commentators claim for our prophecy, can no more be proved to exist in the writing before us, than the conjecture expressed by Delitzsch in Herzog's Cyclopaedia, that the prophet did not come forward with his threat till the efforts of the pious king to exterminate utterly the worship of Baal had reached their highest point, without securing their end; inasmuch as it is in accordance with the position of things and the character of prophecy, that when human efforts have done their utmost without securing the desired result, Jehovah interposes and threatens what still remains of Baal with His outstretched arm of punishment. For however correct the remark (of Delitzsch) may be, that in the form in which the prophecy lies before us it contains no trace of any intention to promote the work taken in hand by the king, and that the state of the nation as reflected therein is not a progressive one in process of reformation, but appears rather to be a finished one and ripe for judgment; the latter only applies to the mass of the nation, who were incorrigible, and therefore ripe for judgment, and does not preclude the existence of a better kernel, to which the prophet could still preach repentance, and cry, "Seek ye the Lord, seek humility; perhaps ye may be hidden in the day of Jehovah" (Zephaniah 2:3). But the nation was in this state not only after the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, but also before it; and the efforts of the pious king to exterminate idolatry, and to raise and revive the worship of Jehovah, could effect no further alteration in this, than that individuals out of the corrupt mass were converted, and were saved from destruction. The measure of the sin, which was inevitable followed by the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, had been already filled by Manasseh, and Josiah's reformation could only effect a postponement, and not avert the threatened judgment (compare 2 Kings 12:10-16 with 2 Kings 23:26-27).

2. The Book of Zephaniah does not contain two or three prophetic addresses, but the quintessence of the oral proclamations of the prophet condensed into one lengthened prophecy, commencing with the threat of judgment (ch. 1), proceeding to an exhortation to repentance (ch. 2-3:8), and concluding with a promise of the salvation which would flourish for the remnant of Israel after the termination of the judgment (Zephaniah 3:9-20). This is arranged in three sections. The first section consists of the first chapter; the second reaches from Zephaniah 2:1 to Zephaniah 3:8; and the third comprises Zephaniah 3:9-20. This division is indicated by both the contents and the form of the announcement: by the contents, since the first two parts threaten the judgment and assign the reason, whilst the third follows with the promise; by the form, inasmuch as the thought in Zephaniah 1:18, "All the earth shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy," is repeated as a refrain in Zephaniah 3:8, and the hōi in Zephaniah 2:5 answers to the hōi in Zephaniah 3:1, the former announcing the judgment upon the nations, the latter the judgment upon Jerusalem, which assigns the motive for the summons to repentance in Zephaniah 2:1-4. Zephaniah proclaims the judgment upon the whole earth, upon all the heathen nations, and upon Judah and Jerusalem, in the following order: In the first part of his prophecy he threatens the near approach of the judgment upon the whole earth (Zephaniah 1:2-7) and upon Judah (Zephaniah 1:8-13), and depicts its terrible character (Zephaniah 1:14-18); and in the second part (ch. 2-3:8) he exhorts the people to repent, and the righteous to persevere (Zephaniah 2:1-3), and assigns a reason for this exhortation, by announcing that the Lord will judge the heathen nations both near and at hand and far off for the reproach which they have cast upon His people, and by destroying their power lead them to reverence His name (Zephaniah 2:4-15), and will also bring His righteousness to light in Jerusalem and Judah by the destruction of the ungodly (Zephaniah 3:1-8). Then (the announcement of salvation commences thus in Zephaniah 3:9-10) will the nations serve Jehovah with one accord, and lead His scattered people to Him. The remnant of Israel will be made into a humble nation of God by the destruction of the wicked one out of the midst of it; and being sheltered by its God, it will rejoice in undisturbed happiness, and be exalted to "a name and praise" among all the nations of the earth (Zephaniah 3:11-20).

Zephaniah's prophecy has a more general character, embracing both judgment and salvation in their totality, so as to form one complete picture. It not only commences with the announcement of a universal judgment upon the whole world, out of which the judgment rises that will fall upon Judah on account of its sins, and upon the world of nations on account of its hostility to the people of Jehovah; but it treats throughout of the great and terrible day of Jehovah, on which the fire of the wrath of God consumes the whole earth (Zephaniah 1:14-18; Zephaniah 2:2; Zephaniah 3:8). But the judgment, as a revelation of the wrath of God on account of the general corruption of the world, does not form the centre of gravity or the sole object of the whole of the predictions of our prophet. The end and goal at which they aim are rather the establishment of divine righteousness in the earth, and the judgment is simply the means and the way by which this the aim of all the development of the world's history is to be realized. This comes clearly out in the second and third sections. Jehovah will manifest Himself terribly to the nations, to destroy all the gods of the earth, that all the islands of the nations may worship Him (Zephaniah 2:11). By pouring out His wrath upon nations and kingdoms, He will turn to the peoples a pure lip, so that they will call upon His name and serve Him with one shoulder (Zephaniah 3:8-9). The idolaters, the wicked, and the despisers of God will be destroyed out of Judah and Jerusalem, that the righteousness of Jehovah may come to the day (Zephaniah 3:1-7). The humble, who do God's righteousness, are to seek Jehovah, to strive after righteousness and humility, and to wait for the Lord, for the day when He will arise, to procure for Himself worshippers of His name among the nations through the medium of the judgment, and to gather together His dispersed people, and make the remnant of Israel into a sanctified and blessed people of God (Zephaniah 3:11-20).

It is in this comprehensive character of his prophecy that we find the reason why Zephaniah neither names, nor minutely describes, the executors of the judgment upon Judah, and even in the description of the judgment to be inflicted upon the heathen nations (Zephaniah 2:4-15) simply individualizes the idea of "all the nations of the earth," by naming the nearer and more remote nations to the west and east, the south and north of Judah. He does not predict either this or that particular judgment, but extends and completes in comprehensive generality the judgment, by which God maintains His kingdom on the earth. This peculiarity in Zephaniah's prophecy has been correctly pointed out by Bucer (in his commentary, 1528), when he says of the book before us: "If any one wishes all the secret oracles of the prophets to be given in a brief compendium, let him read through this brief Zephaniah." There are many respects in which Zephaniah links his prophecy to those of the earlier prophets, both in subject-matter and expression; not, however, by resuming those prophecies of theirs which had not been fulfilled, or were not exhausted, during the period of the Assyrian judgment upon the nations, and announcing a fresh and more perfect fulfilment of them by the Chaldaeans, but by reproducing in a compendious form the fundamental thoughts of judgment and salvation which are common to all the prophets, that his contemporaries may lay them to heart; in doing which he frequently appropriates striking words and pregnant expression taken from his predecessors, and applies them to his own purpose. Thus, for example, the expression in Zephaniah 1:7 is compiled from earlier prophetic words: "Be silent before the Lord Jehovah (from Habakkuk 2:20), for the day of Jehovah is at hand (Joel 1:15 and others); for Jehovah has prepared a sacrificial slaughter (Isaiah 34:6), has consecrated His invited ones (Isaiah 13:3)." (For further remarks on this point, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, p. 307). In this respect Zephaniah opens the series of the less original prophets of the Chaldaean age of judgment, who rest more upon the earlier types; whilst in more material respects his predecessor Habakkuk acted as pioneer to the prophets of this period.

Ewald's view bears evidence of a strong misapprehension of the nature of the prophecy generally, and of the special peculiarities of the prophecy before us. "The book of Zephaniah," he says, "must have originated in a great commotion among the nations, which threw all the kingdoms round about Judah far and wide into a state of alarm, and also threatened to be very dangerous to Jerusalem," - namely, on account of the invasion of Upper and Hither Asia by the Scythians, which is mentioned by Herodotus in i. 15, 103-6, iv. 10ff. For there is not a trace discoverable in the whole book of any great commotion among the nations. The few allusions to the fact that a hostile army will execute the judgment upon Jerusalem and Judah (in Zephaniah 1:12-13, Zephaniah 1:16, and Zephaniah 3:15) do not presuppose anything of the kind; and in the threatening of the judgment upon Philistia, Moab and Ammon, Cush, and Asshur with Nineveh, Jehovah only is named as executing it (Zephaniah 2:4-15). Moreover, neither Herodotus nor the historical books of the Old Testament mention any conquest of Jerusalem by the Scythians; whilst, even according to the account given by Herodotus, the Scythian hordes neither destroyed Nineveh nor made war upon the Cushites (Aethiopians), as would be predicted by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 2:12-15), if he had the Scythians in his eye; and lastly, Jeremiah, upon whose prophecies Ewald, Hitzig, and Bertheau have principally based their Scythian hypothesis, knows nothing of the Scythians, but simply expects and announces that the judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem will come from the Chaldaeans. Zephaniah found the historical occasion for his prophecy in the moral depravity of Judah and Jerusalem, in the depth to which his people had fallen in idolatry, and in their obstinate resistance to all the efforts made by the prophets and the pious king Josiah to stem the corruption, and thus avert from Judah the judgment threatened even by Moses and the earlier prophets, of the dispersion of the whole nation among the heathen. On the ground of the condition of his people, and the prophetic testimonies of his predecessors, Zephaniah, under the impulse of the Spirit of God, predicted the near approach of the great and terrible day of Jehovah, which came upon Judah and the heathen nations far and wide through the instrumentality of the Chaldaeans. For Nebuchadnezzar laid the foundation of the empire which devastated Judah, destroyed Jerusalem with its temple, and led the degenerate covenant nation into exile. This empire was perpetuated in the empires of the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans, which arose after it and took its place, and in whose power Judah continued, even after the return of one portion of the exiles to the land of their fathers, and after the restoration of the temple and the city of Jerusalem during the Persian rule; so that the city of God was trodden down by the heathen even to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, whereby the desolation of the holy land, which continues to the present day, was produced, and the dispersion of the Jews to all quarters of the globe accomplished, and both land and people were laid under the ban, from which Israel can only be liberated by its conversion to Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all nations, and from which it will assuredly be redeemed by virtue of the promise of the faithful covenant God. For the exegetical literature, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, pp. 305-6.

Judgment upon All the World, and upon Judah in Particular - Zephaniah 1

The judgment will come upon all the world (Zephaniah 1:2, Zephaniah 1:3), and will destroy all the idolaters and despisers of God in Judah and Jerusalem (Zephaniah 1:4-7), and fall heavily upon sinners of every rank (Zephaniah 1:8-13). The terrible day of the Lord will burst irresistibly upon all the inhabitants of the earth (Zephaniah 1:14-18).

The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.
Zephaniah 1:1 contains the heading, which has been explained in the introduction. Zephaniah 1:2 and Zephaniah 1:3 form the preface. - Zephaniah 1:2. "I will sweep, sweep away everything from the face of the earth, is the saying of Jehovah. Zephaniah 1:3. I will sweep away man and cattle, sweep away the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the offences with the sinners, and I cut off men from the face of the earth, is the saying of Jehovah." The announcement of the judgment upon the whole earth not only serves to sharpen the following threat of judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem in this sense, "Because Jehovah judges the whole world, He will punish the apostasy of Judah all the more;" but the judgment upon the whole world forms an integral part of his prophecy, which treats more fully of the execution of the judgment in and upon Judah, simply because Judah forms the kingdom of God, which is to be purified from its dross by judgment, and led on towards the end of its divine calling. As Zephaniah here opens the judgment awaiting Judah with an announcement of a judgment upon the whole world, so does he assign the reason for his exhortation to repentance in Zephaniah 2:1-15, by showing that all nations will succumb to the judgment; and then announces in Zephaniah 3:9., as the fruit of the judgment, the conversion of the nations to Jehovah, and the glorification of the kingdom of God. The way to salvation leads through judgment, not only for the world with its enmity against God, but for the degenerate theocracy also. It is only through judgment that the sinful world can be renewed and glorified. The verb אסף, the hiphil of sūph, is strengthened by the inf. abs. אסף, which is formed from the verb אסף, a verb of kindred meaning. Sūph and 'âsaph signify to take away, to sweep away, hiph. to put an end, to destroy. Kōl, everything, is specified in Zephaniah 1:3 : men and cattle, the birds of heaven, and the fishes of the sea; the verb 'âsēph being repeated before the two principal members. This specification stands in unmistakeable relation to the threatening of God: to destroy all creatures for the wickedness of men, from man to cattle, and to creeping things, and even to the fowls of the heaven (Genesis 6:7). By playing upon this threat, Zephaniah intimates that the approaching judgment will be as general over the earth, and as terrible, as the judgment of the flood. Through this judgment God will remove or destroy the offences (stumbling-blocks) together with the sinners. את before הרשׁעים cannot be the sign of the accusative, but can only be a preposition, with, together with, since the objects to אסף are all introduced without the sign of the accusative; and, moreover, if את־הרשׁ were intended for an accusative, the copula Vv would not be omitted. Hammakhshēlôth does not mean houses about to fall (Hitzig), which neither suits the context nor can be grammatically sustained, since even in Isaiah 3:6 hammakhshēlâh is not the fallen house, but the state brought to ruin by the sin of the people; and makhshēlâh is that against which or through which a person meets with a fall. Makhshēlōth are all the objects of coarser and more refined idolatry, not merely the idolatrous images, but all the works of wickedness, like τὰ σκάνδαλα in Matthew 13:41. The judgment, however, applies chiefly to men, i.e., to sinners, and hence in the last clause the destruction of men from off the earth is especially mentioned. The irrational creation is only subject to φθορά, on account of and through the sin of men (Romans 8:20.).

I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.
I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD.
I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests;
The judgment coming upon the whole earth with all its inhabitants will fall especially upon Judah and Jerusalem. Zephaniah 1:4. "And I stretch my hand over Judah, and over all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and cut off from this place the remnant of Baal, the name of the consecrated servants, together with the priests. Zephaniah 1:5. And those who worship the army of heaven upon the roofs, and the worshippers who swear to Jehovah, and who swear by their king. Zephaniah 1:6. And those who draw back from Jehovah, and who did not seek Jehovah, and did not inquire for Him." God stretches out His hand (יד) or His arm (זרוע) to smite the ungodly with judgments (compare Zephaniah 6:6, Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 5:15, with Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 9:11, Isaiah 9:16, Isaiah 9:20; Isaiah 10:4; Isaiah 14:26.). Through the judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem He will cut off שׁאר הבּעל, the remnant of Baal, i.e., all that remains of Baal and of idolatry; for Baal or the Baal-worship stands per synecdochen for idolatry of every kind (see at Hosea 2:10). The emphasis lies upon "the remnant," all that still exists of the Baal-worship or idolatry, even to the very last remnant; so that the emphasis presupposes that the extermination has already begun, that the worship of Baal no longer exists in undiminished force and extent. It must not be limited, however, to the complete abolition of the outward or grosser idolatry, but includes the utter extermination of the grosser as well as the more refined Baal-worship. That the words should be so understood is required by the parallel clause: the name of the consecrated servants together with the priests. Kemârı̄m are not prophets of Baal, but, as in 2 Kings 23:5 and Hosea 10:5, the priests appointed by the kings of Judah for the worship of the high places and the idolatrous worship of Jehovah (for the etymology of the word, see at 2 Kings 23:5). The kōhănı̄m, as distinguished from these, are idolatrous priests in the stricter sense of the word (i.e., those who conducted the literal idolatry). The names of both the idolatrous priests of Jehovah and the literal priests of the idols are to be cut off, so that not only the persons referred to will disappear, but even their names will be heard no more. Along with the idols and their priests, the worshippers of idols are also to be destroyed. Just as in Zephaniah 1:4 two classes of priests are distinguished, so in Zephaniah 1:5 are two classes of worshippers, viz., (1) the star-worshippers, and (2) those who tried to combine the worship of Jehovah and the worship of idols; and to these a third class is added in Zephaniah 1:6. The worship of the stars was partly Baal-worship, the sun, moon, and stars being worshipped as the bearers of the powers of nature worshipped in Baal and Asherah (see at 2 Kings 23:5); and partly Sabaeism or pure star-worship, the stars being worshipped as the originators of all growth and decay in nature, and the leaders and regulators of all sublunary things (see at 2 Kings 21:3). The worship took place upon the roofs, i.e., on altars erected upon the flat roofs of the houses, chiefly by the burning of incense (Jeremiah 19:13), but also by the offering of sacrifices (2 Kings 23:12; see the comm. in loc.). "They offered the sacrifices upon the roofs, that they might be the better able to see the stars in the heavens" (Theodoret). Along with the star-worshippers as the representatives of literal idolatry, Zephaniah mentions as a second class the worshippers who swear partly to Jehovah, and partly by their king, i.e., who go limping on two sides (1 Kings 18:21), or try to combine the worship of Jehovah with that of Baal. Malkâm, their king, is Baal, who is distinctly called king in the inscriptions (see Movers, Phnizier, i. pp. 171-2), and not the "earthly king of the nation," as Hitzig has erroneously interpreted the Masoretic text, in consequence of which he proposes to read milkōm, i.e., Moloch. נשׁבּע with ל signifies to take an oath to Jehovah, i.e., to bind one's self on oath to His service; whereas נשׁבּע with ב (to swear by a person) means to call upon Him as God when taking an oath. The difference between the two expressions answers exactly to the religious attitude of the men in question, who pretended to be worshippers of Jehovah, and yet with every asseveration took the name of Baal into their mouth. In Zephaniah 1:6 we have not two further classes mentioned, viz., "the vicious and the irreligious," as Hitzig supposes; but the persons here described form only one single class. Retiring behind Jehovah, drawing back from Him, turning the back upon God, is just the same as not seeking Jehovah, or not inquiring after Him. The persons referred to are the religiously indifferent, those who do not trouble themselves about God, the despisers of God.

And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham;
And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor inquired for him.
Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests.
This judgment will speedily come. Zephaniah 1:7. "Be silent before the Lord Jehovah! For the day of Jehovah is near, for Jehovah has prepared a slaying of sacrifice, He has consecrated His called." The command, "Be silent before the Lord," which is formed after Habakkuk 2:20, and with which the prophet summons to humble, silent submission to the judgment of God, serves to confirm the divine threat in Zephaniah 1:2-6. The reason for the commanding Hush! (keep silence) is given in the statement that the day of Jehovah is close at hand (compare Joel 1:15), and that God has already appointed the executors of the judgment. The last two clauses of the verse are formed from reminiscences taken from Isaiah. The description of the judgment as zebhach, a sacrifice, is taken from Isaiah 34:6 (cf. Jeremiah 46:10 and Ezekiel 39:17). The sacrifice which God has prepared is the Jewish nation; those who are invited to this sacrificial meal ("called," 1 Samuel 9:13) are not beasts and birds of prey, as in Ezekiel 39:17, but the nations which He has consecrated to war that they may consume Jacob (Jeremiah 10:25). The extraordinary use of the verb hiqdiish (consecrated) in this connection may be explained from Isaiah 13:3, where the nations appointed to make war against Babel are called mequddâshı̄m, the sanctified of Jehovah (cf. Jeremiah 22:7).

And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD'S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
The judgment will fall with equal severity upon the idolatrous and sinners of every rank (Zephaniah 1:8-11), and no one in Jerusalem will be able to save himself from it (Zephaniah 1:12, Zephaniah 1:13). In three double verses Zephaniah brings out three classes of men who differ in their civil position, and also in their attitude towards God, as those who will be smitten by the judgment: viz., (1) the princes, i.e., the royal family and superior servants of the king, who imitate the customs of foreigners, and oppress the people (Zephaniah 1:8, Zephaniah 1:9); (2) the merchants, who have grown rich through trade and usury (Zephaniah 1:10, Zephaniah 1:11); (3) the irreligious debauchees (Zephaniah 1:12, Zephaniah 1:13). The first of these he threatens with visitation. Zephaniah 1:8. "And it will come to pass in the day of Jehovah's sacrifice, that I visit the princes and the king's sons, and all who clothe themselves in foreign dress. Zephaniah 1:9. And I visit every one who leaps over the threshold on that day, those who fill the Lord's house with violence and deceit." The enumeration of those who are exposed to the judgment commences with the princes, i.e., the heads of the tribes and families, who naturally filled the higher offices of state; and the king's sons, not only the sons of Josiah, who were still very young (see the Introduction), but also the sons of the deceased kings, the royal princes generally. The king himself is not named, because Josiah walked in the ways of the Lord, and on account of his piety and fear of God was not to lie to see the outburst of the judgment (2 Kings 22:19-20; 2 Chronicles 34:27-28). The princes and king's sons are threatened with punishment, not on account of the high position which they occupied in the state, but on account of the ungodly disposition which they manifested. For since the clauses which follow not only mention different classes of men, but also point out the sins of the different classes, we must also expect this in the case of the princes and the king's sons, and consequently must refer the dressing in foreign clothes, which is condemned in the second half of the verse, to the princes and king's sons also, and understand the word "all" as relating to those who imitated their manners without being actually princes or king's sons. Malbūsh nokhrı̄ (foreign dress) does not refer to the clothes worn by the idolaters in their idolatrous worship (Chald., Rashi, Jer.), nor to the dress prohibited in the law, viz., "women dressing in men's clothes, or men dressing in women's clothes" (Deuteronomy 22:5, Deuteronomy 22:11), as Grotius maintains, nor to clothes stolen from the poor, or taken from them as pledges; but, as nokhrı̄ signifies a foreigner, to foreign dress. Drusius has already pointed this out, and explains the passage as follows: "I think that the reference is to all those who betrayed the levity of their minds by wearing foreign dress. For I have no doubt that in that age some copied the Egyptians in their style of dress, and others the Babylonians, according as they favoured the one nation or the other. The prophet therefore says, that even those who adopted foreign habits, and conformed themselves to the customs of the victorious nation, would not be exempt." The last allusion is certainly untenable, and it would be more correct to say with Strauss: "The prophets did not care for externals of this kind, but it was evident to them that 'as the dress, so the heart;' that is to say, the clothes were witnesses in their esteem of the foreign inclinations of the heart." In Zephaniah 1:9 many commentators find a condemnation of an idolatrous use of foreign customs; regarding the leaping over the threshold as an imitation of the priests of Dagon, who adopted the custom, according to 1 Samuel 5:5, of leaping over the threshold when they entered the temple of that idol. But an imitation of that custom could only take place in temples of Dagon, and it appears perfectly inconceivable that it should have been transferred to the threshold of the king's palace, unless the king was regarded as an incarnation of Dagon, - a thought which could never enter the minds of Israelitish idolaters, since even the Philistian kings did not hold themselves to be incarnations of their idols. If we turn to the second hemistich, the thing condemned is the filling of their masters' houses with violence; and this certainly does not stand in any conceivable relation to that custom of the priests of Dagon; and yet the words "who fill," etc., are proved to be explanatory of the first half of the verse, by the fact that the second clause is appended without the copula Vav, and without the repetition of the preposition על. Now, if a fresh sin were referred to there, the copula Vav, at all events, could not have been omitted. We must therefore understand by the leaping over the threshold a violent and sudden rushing into houses to steal the property of strangers (Calvin, Ros., Ewald, Strauss, and others), so that the allusion is to "dishonourable servants of the king, who thought that they could best serve their master by extorting treasures from their dependants by violence and fraud" (Ewald). אדניהם, of their lord, i.e., of the king, not "of their lords:" the plural is in the pluralis majestatis, as in 1 Samuel 26:16; 2 Samuel 2:5, etc.

In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit.
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, and a great crashing from the hills.
Even the usurers will not escape the judgment. Zephaniah 1:10. "And it will come to pass in that day, is the saying of Jehovah, voice of the cry from the fish-gate, and howling from the lower city, and great destruction from the hills. Zephaniah 1:11. Howl, inhabitants of the mortar, for all the people of Canaan are destroyed; cut off are all that are laden with silver." In order to express the thought that the judgment will not spare any one class of the population, Zephaniah depicts the lamentation which will arise from all parts of the city. קול צעקה, voice of the cry, i.e., a loud cry of anguish will arise or resound. The fish-gate (according to Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 12:39; cf. 2 Chronicles 33:14) was in the eastern portion of the wall which bounded the lower city on the north side (for further details on this point, see at Nehemiah 3:3). המּשׁנה ( equals העיר משׁנה, Nehemiah 11:9), the second part or district of the city, is the lower city upon the hill Acra (see at 2 Kings 22:14). Shebher, fragor, does not mean a cry of murder, but the breaking to pieces of what now exists, not merely the crashing fall of the buildings, like za‛ăqath shebher in Isaiah 15:5, the cry uttered at the threatening danger of utter destruction. In order to heighten the terrors of the judgment, there is added to the crying and howling of the men the tumult caused by the conquest of the city. "From the hills," i.e., "not from Zion and Moriah," but from the ills surrounding the lower city, viz., Bezetha, Gareb (Jeremiah 31:39), and others. For Zion, the citadel of Jerusalem, is evidently thought of as the place where the howling of the men and the noise of the devastation, caused by the enemy pressing in from the north and north-west, are heard. Hammakhtēsh, the mortar (Proverbs 27:22), which is the name given in Judges 15:19 to a hollow place in a rock, is used here to denote a locality in Jerusalem, most probably the depression which ran down between Acra on the west and Bezetha and Moriah on the east, as far as the fountain of Siloah, and is called by Josephus "the cheese-maker's valley," and by the present inhabitants el-Wâd, i.e., the valley, and also the mill-valley. The name "mortar" was probably coined by Zephaniah, to point to the fate of the merchants and men of money who lived there. They who dwell there shall howl, because "all the people of Canaan" are destroyed. These are not Canaanitish or Phoenician merchants, but Judaean merchants, who resembled the Canaanites or Phoenicians in their general business (see at Hosea 12:8), and had grown rich through trade and usury. Netı̄l keseph, laden with silver.

Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.
The debauchees and rioters generally will also not remain free from punishment. Zephaniah 1:12. "And at that time it will come to pass, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and visit the men who lie upon their lees, who say in their heart, Jehovah does no good, and no evil. Zephaniah 1:13. Their goods will become plunder, and their houses desolation: they will build houses, and not dwell (therein), and plant vineyards, and not drink their wine." God will search Jerusalem with candles, to bring out the irreligious debauchees out of their hiding-places in their houses, and punish them. The visitation is effected by the enemies who conquer Jerusalem. Jerome observes on this passage: "Nothing will be allowed to escape unpunished. If we read the history of Josephus, we shall find it written there, that princes and priests, and mighty men, were dragged even out of the sewers, and caves, and pits, and tombs, in which they had hidden themselves from fear of death." Now, although what is stated here refers to the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus, there can be no doubt that similar things occurred at the Chaldaean conquest. The expression to search with candles (cf. Luke 15:8) is a figure denoting the most minute search of the dwellings and hiding-places of the despisers of God. These are described as men who sit drawn together upon their lees (קפא, lit., to draw one's self together, to coagulate). The figure is borrowed from old wine, which has been left upon its lees and not drawn off, and which, when poured into other vessels, retains its flavour, and does not alter its odour (Jeremiah 48:11), and denotes perseverance or confirmation in moral and religious indifference, "both external quiet, and carelessness, idleness, and spiritual insensibility in the enjoyment not only of the power and possessions bestowed upon them, but also of the pleasures of sin and the worst kinds of lust" (Marck). Good wine, when it remains for a long time upon its lees, becomes stronger; but bad wine becomes harsher and thicker. Shemârı̄m, lees, do not denote "sins in which the ungodly are almost stupefied" (Jerome), or "splendour which so deprives a man of his senses that there is nothing left either pure or sincere" (Calvin), but "the impurity of sins, which were associated in the case of these men with external good" (Marck). In the carnal repose of their earthly prosperity, they said in their heart, i.e., they thought within themselves, there is no God who rules and judges the world; everything takes place by chance, or according to dead natural laws. They did not deny the existence of God, but in their character and conduct they denied the working of the living God in the world, placing Jehovah on the level of the dead idols, who did neither good nor harm (Isaiah 41:23; Jeremiah 10:5), whereby they really denied the being of God.

(Note: "For neither the majesty of God, nor His government or glory, consists in any imaginary splendour, but in those attributes which so meet together in Him that they cannot be severed from His essense. It is the property of God to govern the world, to take care of the human race, to distinguish between good and evil, to relieve the wretched, to punish all crimes, to restrain unjust violence. And if any one would deprive God of these, he would leave nothing but an idol." - Calvin.)

To these God will show Himself as the ruler and judge of the world, by giving up their goods (chēlâm, opes eorum) to plunder, so that they will experience the truth of the punishments denounced in His word against the despisers of His name (compare Leviticus 26:32-33; Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:39, and the similar threats in Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15).

Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof.
The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.
This judgment will not be delayed. To terrify the self-secure sinners out of their careless rest, Zephaniah now carries out still further the thought only hinted at in Zephaniah 1:7 of the near approach and terrible character of the judgment. Zephaniah 1:14. "The great day of Jehovah is near, near and hasting greatly. Hark! the day of Jehovah, bitterly crieth the hero there. Zephaniah 1:15. A day of fury is this day, a day of anguish and pressure, a day of devastation and desert, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of cloud and cloudy night. Zephaniah 1:16. A day of the trumpet and battering, over the fortified cities and high battlements." The day of Jehovah is called "the great day" with reference to its effects, as in Joel 2:11. The emphasis lies primarily, however, upon the qârōbh (is near), which is therefore repeated and strengthened by מהר מאד. מהר is not a piel participle with the Mem dropped, but an adjective form, which has sprung out of the adverbial use of the inf. abs. (cf. Ewald, 240, e). In the second hemistich the terrible character of this day is described. קול before yōm Yehōvâh (the day of Jehovah), at the head of an interjectional clause, has almost grown into an interjection (see at Isaiah 13:4). The hero cries bitterly, because he cannot save himself, and must succumb to the power of the foe. Shâm, adv. loci, has not a temporal signification even here, but may be explained from the fact that in connection with the day the prophet is thinking of the field of battle, on which the hero perishes while fighting. In order to depict more fully the terrible character of this day, Zephaniah crowds together in Zephaniah 1:15 and Zephaniah 1:16 all the words supplied by the language to describe the terrors of the judgment. He first of all designates it as yōm ‛ebhrâh, the day of the overflowing wrath of God (cf. Zephaniah 1:18); then, according to the effect which the pouring out of the wrath of God produces upon men, as a day of distress and pressure (cf. Job 15:24), of devastation (שׁאה and משׁואה combined, as in Job 38:27; Job 30:3), and of the darkest cloudy night, after Joel 2:2; and lastly, in Zephaniah 1:16, indicating still more closely the nature of the judgment, as a day of the trumpet and the trumpet-blast, i.e., on which the clangour of the war-trumpets will be heard over all the fortifications and castles, and the enemy will attack, take, and destroy the fortified places amidst the blast of trumpets (cf. Amos 2:2). Pinnōth are the corners and battlements of the walls of the fortifications (2 Chronicles 26:15).

That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.
And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.
In the midst of this tribulation the sinners will perish without counsel or help. Zephaniah 1:17. "And I make it strait for men, and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against Jehovah; and their blood will be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Zephaniah 1:18. Even their silver, even their gold, will not be able to save them on the day of Jehovah's fury, and in the fire of His wrath will the whole earth be devoured; for He will make an end, yea a sudden one, to all the inhabitants of the earth." והצרתי reminds of the threat of Moses in Deuteronomy 28:52, to which Zephaniah alluded in Zephaniah 1:16. And in הלכוּ כּעורים the allusion to Deuteronomy 28:29 is also unmistakeable. To walk like the blind, i.e., to seek a way out of the trouble without finding one. This distress God sends, because they have sinned against Him, by falling away from Him through idolatry and the transgression of His commandments, as already shown in Zephaniah 1:4-12. But the punishment will be terrible. Their blood will be poured out like dust. The point of comparison is not the quantity, as in Genesis 13:16 and others, but the worthlessness of dust, as in 2 Kings 13:7 and Isaiah 49:23. The blood is thought as little of as the dust which is trodden under foot. Lechūm, which occurs again in Job 20:23, means flesh (as in the Arabic), not food. The verb shâphakh, to pour out, is also to be taken per zeugma in connection with this clause, though without there being any necessity to associate it with 2 Samuel 20:10, and regard lechūm as referring to the bowels. For the fact itself, compare 1 Kings 14:10 and Jeremiah 9:21. In order to cut off all hope on deliverance from the rich and distinguished sinners, the prophet adds in Zephaniah 1:18 : Even with silver and gold will they not be able to save their lives. The enemy will give no heed to this (cf. Isaiah 13:17; Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 7:19) in the day that the Lord will pour out His fury upon the ungodly, to destroy the whole earth with the fire of His wrathful jealousy (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24). By kol-hâ'ârets we might understand the whole of the land of Judah, if we looked at what immediately precedes it. But if we bear in mind that the threat commenced with judgment upon the whole earth (Zephaniah 1:2, Zephaniah 1:3), and that it here returns to its starting-point, to round off the picture, there can be no doubt that the whole earth is intended. The reason assigned for this threat in Zephaniah 1:18 is formed after Isaiah 10:23; but the expression is strengthened by the use of אך־נבהלה instead of ונחרצה, the word round in Isaiah. Kâlâh: the finishing stroke, as in Isaiah l.c. (see at Nahum 1:8). אך, only, equivalent to "not otherwise than," i.e., assuredly. נבהלה is used as a substantive, and is synonymous with behâlâh, sudden destruction, in Isaiah 65:23. The construction with 'ēth accus. as in Nahum 1:8.

Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD'S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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