Zephaniah 1
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - § 1. Title and inscription. The word of the Lord (see note on Micah 1:1). Zephaniah, "Whom the Lord shelters" (see Introduction, § II.). The son of, etc. The genealogy thus introduced shows that the prophet was of illustrious descent; or it may be inserted to distinguish him from others who bore the same name. Hizkiah. The same name which is elsewhere written in our version Hezekiah. Whether the great King of Judah is here meant may well be questioned (see Introduction). Other prophets have prefixed their genealogies to their books (see Zechariah 1:1; and in the Apocrypha, Baruch 1:1). In the days of Josiah. Zephaniah here gathers into one volume the denunciations and predictions which he had uttered daring the reign of Josiah, both before and after the great reformation effected by that good king (2 Kings 23.).
I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.
Verses 2, 3. - § 2. The prelude, announcing the judgment upon the whole world. Verse 2. - I will utterly consume; literally, taking away I will make an end. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 8:13)uses the same expression. The prophet begins abruptly with this announcement of universal judgment before he warns Judah in particular of the punishment that awaits her, because his position is that the way to salvation is through chastisement. Vulgate, congregans congregabo, where the verb must be used in the sense of "gathering for destruction." All things. More expressly defined in the following verse. This awful warning recalls the judgment of the Flood and the preliminary monition (Genesis 6:7). From off the land; from the face of the earth, not the land of Judah alone. Saith the Lord; is the saying of Jehovah. The prophet in this is merely the vehicle of the Divine announcement.
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.
Verse 3. - Man and beast, etc This is not mere hyperbole to express the utter wasting and destruction that were impending, but points to the mysterious connection between man and the lower creation, how in agreement with the primal curse even material nature suffers for man's sin (Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:22). If we expect a new heaven and a new earth, we know that God will show his wrath against the old creation defiled with sin (2 Peter 3:10; camp. Jeremiah 4:25; Jeremiah 9:9, etc.; Hosea 4:3). And the stumbling blocks with the wicked. Not the sinners only shall be swept away by this judgment, but also all offences, all causes of stumbling, whether idols or other incentives to departure from truth and right. Septuagint, καὶ ἀσθενήσουσιν οἱ ἀσεβεῖς. "and the ungodly shall be weak;" Vulgate, et ruinae impiorum erunt. These versions seem to have missed the point. I will cut off man. It is on man's account that this judgment is sent - a truth which the prophet enforces by reiteration.
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;
Verses 4-6. - § 3. The judgment will fall especially upon Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry.
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;
Verse 5. - I will also stretch out mine hand. This expression is used when God is about to do great things or inflict notable punishment (see Exodus 3:20; Exodus 15:12; Deuteronomy 4:34; Isaiah 5:25; Jeremiah 51:25, etc.). Judah. In so far as Judah was rebellious and wicked, it should incur the judicial punishment. Judgment was to begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), the sin of the chosen people being more heinous than that of heathens. Hence it is added, upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, because, having in their very midst the temple of God, with its services and priests, they ought especially to have abhorred idolatry and maintained the true faith. The remnant of Baal; i.e. the last vestige. One cannot argue from this expression that the reform was already carried so far that Baal worship had almost disappeared. The next verse shows that idolatry still flourished; but the term implies merely that God would exterminate it so entirely that no trace of it should remain. The LXX. has, "the names of Baal," τὰ ὀνόματα τῆς Βάαλ (Hosea 2:17). (For Josiah's reform of these iniquities, see 2 Kings 23:4, etc.) The name of the Chemarims (Chemarim). The word means "black-robed," and is applied to the idolatrous priests whom the kings had appointed to conduct worship in high places (2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5). "The name," says Dr. Pussy, "is probably the Syriac name of 'priest,' used in Holy Scripture of idolatrous priests, because the Syrians were idolaters" Not only shall the persons of these priests be cut off, but their very name and memory shall vanish (Zechariah 13:2). With the priests (kohanim). Together with the legitimate priests who had corrupted the worship of Jehovah (Zephaniah 3:4; Jeremiah 2:8; Ezekiel 8:11). Verse 5. - That worship the host of heaven upon the house tops. In this verse two classes of fame worshippers are mentioned, viz. star worshippers, and waverers. The worship of the sun, moon, and stars was a very ancient form of error, the heavenly bodies being regarded as the representatives of the powers of nature and the originators of events on earth (see Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; Job 31:26, 27; 2 Kings 17:16). It was especially prevalent in the time of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3), On the flat roofs of the houses, which were used as places of meditation, recreation, or conference (comp. Joshua 2:6; 1 Samuel 9:25; 2 Samuel 11:2; Acts 10:9), they erected altars for family worship of the heavenly bodies. Here they both burned incense (Jeremiah 19:13) and offered animal sacrifices (2 Kings 23:12). "In Syrian cities," says Dr. Thomson, "the roofs are a great comfort. The ordinary houses have no other place where the inmates, can either see the sun, smell the air, dry their clothes, set out their flower pots, or do numberless other things essential to their health and comfort. During a large part of the year the roof is the most agreeable place about the establishment, especially in the morning and evening. There multitudes sleep during the summer" ('The Land and the Book,' p. 39). Them that worship and that, etc.; rather, the worshippers who, etc. These were people who endeavoured to blend the worship of God with that of Baal, or halted between two opinions (1 Kings 18:21). Swear by the Lord; rather, swear to the Lord; i.e. bind themselves by oath to him, and at the same time swear by Malcham; swear by their king, Baal, or Moloch; call upon him as god. Septuagint, κατὰ τοῦ βασιλέως αὐτῶν, "by their king." But it is, perhaps, best to retain the name untranslated, in which ease it would be the appellation of the god Moloch, who could hardly be omitted in enumerating the objects of idolatrous worship (see Jeremiah 49:1, 3; and notes on Amos 1:15; 5:26).
And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor inquired for him.
Verse 6. - Them that are turned back from the Lord. This is a third class, vie. apostates and open despisers. Those who follow him no more, renegades who have left his service. The Vulgate reproduces the original by, qui avertuntur de post tergum Domini. Those that have not sought the Lord. These are the indifferent, who do not trouble themselves about religion. The chief classes mentioned in these two verses are three, viz. the open idolaters, the syncretists who mingled the worship of Baal with that of Jehovah, and those who despised religion altogether.
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.
Verses 7-13. - 4. The judgment is described with regard to those whom it will affect, vie. the princes, the traders, the irreligious and profligate. Verse 7. - This judgment, so fearful, is near at hand, and must needs occasion the utmost terror and dismay. Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God; literally, Hush, from the face of the Lord Jehovah! εὐλαβεῖσθε (Septuagint); silete a facie Domini Dei (Vulgate). The expression is like Habakkuk 2:20. The reason of this silent awe is next given. For the day of the Lord is at hand. The day of judgment is thus called (Joel 1:15; Isaiah 13:6; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 1:15). The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice. The words are from Isaiah 34:6 (comp. Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 39:17, 19). The sacrifice is the guilty Jewish nation. The punishment of the wicked is regarded as a satisfaction offered to the Divine justice. He hath bid his guests; he hath consecrated his called. The "called ones" are the strange nations whom God summons to execute his vengeance. Septuagint, ἡγίακε τοὺς κλητοὺς αὐτοῦ. These are said to be "sanctified," as if engaged in a holy war, when summoned to punish those who had become as heathen. So those who are called to chastise Babylon are termed "my sanctified ones" (Isaiah 13:3), as being the instruments appointed and set apart to carry out this purpose (comp. Jeremiah 22:7; Jeremiah 51:27, 28; Micah 3:5). The particular agents intended are not specified by the prophet, whose mission was not directed to any such definition. He has to speak generally of the judgment to come, not of those whom God should employ to inflict it. We know from other sources that the Chaldeans are meant, they or the Assyrians being always announced as the executors of God's vengeance on his rebellions people. The notion, adopted by Ewald, Hitzig, and others, that the prophet refers to some supposed invasion of Scythians which took place about this time, would never have been started had not such authors desired to eliminate the predictive element from prophetic utterances. The vague account of Herod., 1:105 gives no support to the assertion that the Scythians invaded Palestine in Josiah's reign; nor is there a trace of any knowledge of such irruption in Zephaniah or Jeremiah (see Introduction, § I.).
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.
Verse 8. The prophet names the three classes of people who shall be smitten in this judgment. First, the princes. In the day of the Lord's sacrifice (see note on ver. 7). God is speaking; so the name of the Lord is employed instead of the pronoun (comp. Lamentations 3:66). I will punish; literally, visit upon (ver. 12; Amos 3:14). The princes. The heads of tribes and families, nobles and magistrates. The king's children (sons); Septuagint, τὸν οϊκον τοῦ βασιλέως, "the house of the king." The royal family, not specially the sons of Josiah, who, if they were then in existence, must have been mere children, but princes of the royal house. The reference may be particularly to the sons of the king reigning when the judgment fell (see 2 Kings 25:7). The king himself is not mentioned as subject to the judgment, inasmuch as he was pious and obedient (2 Chronicles 34:27, etc.). In the mention of these "children" Keil finds proof of the late origin of the prophecy. Such as are clothed with strange apparel. This clause must represent the sin for which the princes are "visited." "Strange" apparel means "foreign" apparel, and this implied foreign manners and habits. The Israelites were reminded by their very dress that they were a peculiar people, consecrated to God's service (Numbers 15:37, etc.; Deuteronomy 22:12). These nobles, however, assumed the dress of the Egyptians and other nations with which they came in contact, and, despising their own national customs, copied the manners and vices of foreigners (comp. Isaiah 3:16-24; Ezekiel 20:32; 1 Macc. 1:11-15).
In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit.
Verse 9. - Those that leap on (over) the threshold. These are the retainers of the princes, etc., named in ver. 8. There is no allusion to the circumstance of the priests of Dagon abstaining from treading on the threshold of their temple in consequence of what happened to the idol at Ashdod (1 Samuel 5:5). It is inconceivable that this merely local custom, which demonstrated the impotence of the false god, should have been imported into Judah. where, indeed, the worship of Dagon seems never to have made any way. The following clause explains the meaning which the Latin version intimates, Omnem qui arroganter ingreditur super limen - all those who, carrying out their masters' wishes, violently invade the houses of others and pillage them of their contents. The expression, "to leap over the threshold," seems to have been a common term for burglary and stealing with violence. Which fill their masters' houses. These retainers plunder and steal in order that they may increase their masters' treasures. The king (though not Josiah) may be meant, the plural being the plural of majesty, or the idol temples. The LXX., followed by Jerome, renders, "who fill the house of the Lord their God." This is plainly erroneous, as there is no question here about the temple at Jerusalem. Violence and deceit; i.e. the fruits of, what they have extorted by, violence and fraud (Jeremiah 5:27).
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.
Verse 10. - The second class which shall be smitten, viz. the traders and usurers, the enemy being represented as breaking in upon the localities where these persons resided. The fish gate. This is generally supposed to have been in the north wall of the city towards its eastern extremity, and to have been so called because through it were brought the fish from the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, and there was a fish market in its immediate neighbourhood (see Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 12:39; 2 Chronicles 33:14). It was probably on this side that the Chaldeans entered Jerusalem, us Zedekiah seems to have escaped from the south (Jeremiah 39:4). The LXX. has, ἀπὸ πύλης ἀποκεντούντων, which Jerome notes as a mistake. From the second district, the lower city upon the hill Acra, to the north of the old town, Zion. This is so called, according to one rendering, in 2 Kings 22:14, and Nehemiah 11:9. A great crashing. Not merely the crash of falling buildings, but the cry of men when a city is taken and the inhabitants are put to the sword. The hills on which the greater part of the city was built. Keil thinks that the hills surrounding the lower city are meant, viz. Bezetha, Gareb, etc., as the hearer of the cry is supposed to be on Zion.
Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
Verse 11.p - Maktesh; the Mortar; Septuagint, τὴν κατακεκομμένην, "her that is broken down." The word is found in Judges 15:19 of a hollow place in a rock, and it is here used in the sense of "valley," and probably refers to the Tyropoeum, or part of it, the depression that ran down the city, having Aera and Zion on its west side, and Moriah and Ophel on its east, and extended south as far as the pool of Siloam. It does not seem a very appropriate appellation for a lengthy valley like the Tyropceum, nor is there any trace of such a name being applied to it elsewhere. It may have been a name affixed to a certain locality where a bazaar was situated or certain special industries had their seat; or it may have been invented by Zephaniah to intimate the fate that awaited the evil merchants, that they should be, as it were, brayed in a mortar by their enemies. The merchant people; literally, people of Canaan. So Septuagint and Vulgate (comp. Hosea 12:7; Hist. of Susannah 56; Zechariah 14:21). The iniquitous traders are called "people of Canaan," because they acted like the heathens around them, especially the Phoenicians, who were unscrupulous and dishonest in their transactions. Are cut down; are silenced; Vulgate, conticuit (Isaiah 6:5; Hosea 10:7). They that bear (are laden with) silver. Those who have amassed wealth by trade and usury. The LXX. has, οι  ῾ἐηρμένοι ἀργυρίῳ "those who are elated with silver;" St. Jerome, involuti argento.
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.
Verse 12. - The third class which shall be smitten, viz. the profligate and riotous. I will search Jerusalem with candles (lights). No evil doer shall escape. The enemy whom God summons to execute his wrath shall leave no corner unsearched where the debauchees hide themselves (comp. Luke 15:8). Jerome and commentators after him refer to Josephus's account of the last siege of Jerusalem for a parallel to these predicted proceedings of the Chaldeans. Here we read how princes and priests and chieftains were dragged from sewers, and pits, and caves, and tombs, where they had hidden themselves in fear of death, and were mercilessly slain wherever they were found (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 6:09). The men that are settled on their lees; i.e. confirmed, hardened, and inveterate in their evil habits. The metaphor is derived from old wine not racked off; which retains all its flavour and odour, and becomes thick and viscid (see Isaiah 25:6; Jeremiah 48:11). The LXX. paraphrases, Υοὺς καταφρονοῦντας ἐπὶ τὰ φυλάγματα αὐτῶν, which Jerome renders, qui contemnunt custodias suas. That say in their heart. They do not openly scoff at religion, but think within themselves these infidel thoughts. The Lord will not do good, ere. Just what God says of idols (Isaiah 41:23). These "fools" (Psalm 14:1) deny God's moral government of the world; they will not see the working of Divine providence in all that happens, but, secure and careless in their worldly prosperity, they assign all events to chance or natural law, placing Jehovah in the same category as the idols worshipped by heathens (comp. Job 22:12, etc.; Psalm 10:4, etc.; Psalms 94:7).
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.
Verse 13. - Their goods; literally, their strength; their wealth in which they trusted shall become the prey of the enemy, and thus they shall learn that God ruleth in the affairs of men. They shall also build houses, etc. They shall prove in their own case the reality of the punishment threatened in the Law (Leviticus 26:32, etc.; Deuteronomy 28:30, 39; comp. Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15).
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.
Verses 14-18. - § 5. To arouse the self-confident sinners, the prophet here enlarges upon the near approach and terrible nature of this coming judgment. Verse 14. - Having signified the victims of the judgment, Zephaniah recurs to what he had said in ver. 7, and enforces upon his hearers its near approach. The great day of the Lord (Joel 2:1, 11). Even the voice of the day of the Lord. The day is so close at hand, that the sound of its coming can be heard. Some translate, "Hark! the day of Jehovah." The mighty man shall cry (crieth) there bitterly. There, on the battlefield, the hero is panic-stricken, and cries out for fear. The Greek and Latin Versions connect "bitter" with the former clause. Thus the Vulgate, Vox dies Domini amara; Septuagint, Φωνὴ ἡμέρας Κυρίου πικρὰ καὶ σκληρὰ τέτακται, "The voice of the day of the Lord is made bitter and harsh."
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,
Verse 15. - That day is a day of wrath; Vulgate, Dies irae, dies illa, words which form the commencement of the famous hymn. The better to describe the terrible nature of the judgment, the prophet crowds together all available expressions of terror and calamity. First, it is a day when God's anger shall blaze forth (Isaiah 9:18). Of trouble and distress. In its effects upon sinners (Job 15:24). Of wasteness and desolation. As if things returned to the primeval chaos (Genesis 1:2; comp. Job 30:3; Job 38:27, where there is a similar combination; see note on Nahum 2:10). Of darkness and gloominess (Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18, 20). Of clouds and thick darkness (Deuteronomy 4:11; comp. Habakkuk 3:11).
A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.
Verse 16. - A day of the trumpet and alarm. "Alarm" means "the sound of alarm." Among the Jews trumpets were used to announce the festivals (Numbers 29:1), and to give the signal for battle or of the approach of an enemy (Jeremiah 4:5, 19; Ezekiel 33:4). Here it is the signal of destruction (Amos 2:2). The fenced cities. The strongest fortresses shall feel the irresistible attack (Micah 5:11). The high towers. These are the turrets built at the angles of the walls for the better defence of the city, and to annoy the besiegers (Zephaniah 3:6). LXX., ἐπὶ τὰς γωνίας τὰς ὑψηλάς, "upon the lofty angles;" Vulgate, super angulos excelsos. Others take the words to mean "the battlements" on the walls. Henderson quotes Taeitus's description of the later walls of Jerusalem, "Duos colles immensum editos claudebant muri per artem obliqui aut introrsus sinuati, ut latera oppugnantium ad ictus patescerent" ('Hist.,' 5:11).
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.
Verse 17. - In this storming of cities and universal ruin, sinners shall perish without hope. I will bring distress upon men. I will drive them into the utmost straits (comp. Deuteronomy 28:52, 53). They shall walk like blind men. Not knowing where they go in their terror and confusion, seeking a way of escape and finding none (see Deuteronomy 28:29, on which this passage is founded; comp. Job 5:14; Isaiah 59:10). Because they have sinned, as shown in vers. 4-12. Their blood shall be poured out as dust. The point of comparison is rather in the worthlessness than in the abundance of dust. Bloodshed is as little regarded as dust that is trodden under foot (comp. 2 Kings 13:7). The comparison with water is found elsewhere (cf. Psalm 79:3). Their flesh as the dung. The verb from the preceding clause may be taken by zeuguna with this clause; then the meaning is that their dead bodies are left unburied to rot on the ground (Jeremiah 9:22). Or the substantive verb may be supplied (comp. Job 20:7).
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.
Verse 18. - Neither their silver, etc. They cannot bribe this enemy; their wealth cannot win for them immunity (Isaiah 13:17; Ezekiel 7:19). The fire of his jealousy (Zephaniah 3:8). The whole earth (for, as we have seen in Zephaniah 1:2, 3, the judgment is universal) shall be punished in the wrath of the Lord, who will not have the honour which is due to him given to any other. He shall make even a speedy riddance; more closely, he shall make an end, yea, a speedy end (comp. Nahum 1:8; Isaiah 10:23, which our text imitates). (For the sudden and unexpected arrival of the day of the Lord, see Luke 17:26, etc.)

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