For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

1:1.  “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.”

There is no readily apparent reason for the record of Zephania’s pedigree, unless, as some have suggested, it is to link him with the good king Hezekiah, but as noted above, that ancestry, even if correct, has no readily discernible bearing on his message.  Nor do the meanings of the names shed any light on the problem, for Cushi means their blackness; Gedaliah, magnified of Jehovah; Amariah, the saying of Jehovah; Hizkiah (Hezekiah), strengthened of Jehovah; Josiah, he will be sustained of Jehovah; Amon, to nourish: to be faithful.

1:2.  “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord.”

1:3.  “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.”

Others have drawn attention to the fact that this is a virtual reversal of God’s great work of remaking the earth in the six days of Genesis 1.  Because of Judah’s wickedness in worshiping the Baalim, God was going to destroy everything in the land completely, “consume” meaning to snatch away: terminate.  The stumblingblocks were the idols, and though literal idols may not be seen today, the fact is that idolatry is as rampant in Christendom as it was in Israel and Judah, the principal gods being Mammon, Pleasure, Education, together with a host of others.  Nor is the idolatry confined to the unconverted: Christians too are often guilty, without perhaps even being aware of it.  The admonition of John was never more needed than today, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen,” 1 Jn 5:21.

1:4.  “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;”

Every trace of Baal and the idolatrous worship associated with him would be removed as though it had never been, as would be also the people who had worshiped him.  The generation carried captive into Babylon died there.  It was a new generation that returned seventy years later.

Some understand the Chemarims to have been young apprentice priests, but it seems more likely that they were those of the priests of Baal who were ascetics, their counterparts being those religious zealots of any religion who make self-denial part of the expression of their devotion to the object of their worship.

1:5.  “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;”

“... the host of heaven” is the sun, moon, and stars, the worship of which was promoted by Manasseh, 2 Ki 21:3.  The housetops, being flat, accommodated this form of idolatrous worship.  The second part of the verse, “them that worship and that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham,” refers to the people of Judah, who while going through the ritual of worshiping Jehovah, also worshiped Malcham the god of the Ammonites, (Milcom, Milkom, Molech being alternative spellings of the same name).

It isn’t difficult to see in this syncretistic worship the OT forerunner of today’s ecumenism.

“... swear by” is more correctly rendered “swear to,” i.e., dedicated themselves to Jehovah, and also to Malcham.

1:6.  “And them that are turned back from the Lord; and those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him.”

“... them that are turned back from the Lord,” were they who had once worshiped only Jehovah, but now worshiped idols.  They represent those who profess faith in Christ, but who eventually abandon even the profession, and return to their old life styles, thus manifesting that they had never been born again.

The second class, “those who have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him,” didn’t even pretend to worship Jehovah: they were totally devoted to the worship of the idols which filled the land.  They represent those who today are totally indifferent to spiritual things, their gods being those mentioned above in verse 3.

1:7.  “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.”

“Hold they peace” means to be silent, reverent, awed in the presence of the Lord.

“The day of the Lord” strictly speaking, is the period that will begin immediately after the rapture of the Church and continue until the dissolution of the present heavens and earth at the end of the Millennium, and will be succeeded by the day of God, i.e., the eternal state.  The fact that the prophet speaks of the then impending Babylonian captivity of Judah, makes it clear that all of the many judgments that have happened in the past, and that will happen prior to those of the Tribulation era, are themselves foreshadowings of those that will devastate the world in that terrible seven-year period.

The “guests” are generally understood to have been the Babylonians whom God would bring to make a prey of rebel Judah; but the reference may be also to birds and beasts of prey that will feast on the carcases of the slain resulting from the Babylonian invasion, see Re 19:17-21 relative to the end of the Armageddon conflict, which declares that, “... he (the angel) cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great ... and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.”

The NAB translates “sacrifice” as “a slaughter feast.”

1:8.  “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.”

With regard to “the princes, and the king’s children,” it is instructive to note that the Babylonians slew Zedikiah’s sons, and then put out his eyes, before carrying him off to Babylon, see 2 Ki 25:7.

“Strange” is usually translated “foreign,” so that the warning is of punishment to be meted out to those who wore other than Jewish clothing, the reason being that proper Jewish dress included the ornamentation of the outer garments with portions of Scripture, see, e.g., Ex 13:16, “and it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes”; Dt 6:8, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes,”; Dt 11:18.  “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hands, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.”  Strong’s Concordance defines “frontlets” as “to go around, bind; a fillet for the forehead.”  It was to this very custom that the Lord had reference when He rebuked the hypocritical outward display of the Pharisees who bound on their arms and foreheads phylacteries (guard cases for holding slips of Scripture,) see Mt 23:5, “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.”

Another command relative to dress is recorded in Nu 15:38-41.  They were to make fringes on the borders of their garments and place upon the fringe a ribband of blue to be a reminder of God’s commandments, and of His having delivered them from Egyptian bondage.  That command translates into instruction for us.  The blue ribband between their garment and the ground is the symbolic announcement of the fact that our citizenship is in heaven, and that we are to live as those who are dead to the world through the cross of Christ, never forgetting our deliverance from a bondage far worse than that of Israel in Egypt.  We are in the world, but we are not of it, and our lives should be the demonstration of that truth.

This custom was ordained by God to keep the people in remembrance of His commandments, but in Zephaniah’s day this command, like all the others, had been cast aside; and in the Lord’s day it had become a mere hypocritical outward symbol of a holiness that didn’t exist.

It is instructive to note that the instruction relative to this part of Jewish dress was in the context of teaching their children and cherishing in their own hearts, God’s Word.  Obviously Israel and Judah had both failed to give the enjoined instruction, otherwise the idolatry in which the land was steeped would have been impossible.

The present condition of Christendom and the world is due to the same delinquency.

1:9.  “In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.”

Expositors are generally agreed that the leaping on the threshold refers to the eagerness with which the people hurried to do wrong, that wrong including everything from stealing from one another, to robbing God of the glory that was His due, and that can only be given in the presentation of an obedient life.

In regard to filling “their masters’ houses with violence and deceit,” however, opinions vary widely, some taking “masters’” to mean God; and the violence and deceit, to mean “impiety and deceit” - Sept.  Others understand it to refer to those who had close ties with the royal palace, and who encouraged the king and his officers to act violently and deceitfully towards the people.  Still others take the reference to be to those who filled their own houses with the booty acquired through violence and fraud.

“Masters’” however, is possessive plural, which not only excludes God as the master, but implies that the wrongdoers were servants, who by violence and deceit, filled their masters’ houses with ill gotten gain.  Their leaping on the threshold, then, would refer to their jubilation on returning to their masters’ houses where they would be praised and undoubtedly rewarded, or to their glee on successfully completing the plunder of a house.

Whatever the exact meaning of the details, the general picture is of the utter godlessness of Judah.

1:10.  “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.”

“... that day” is the day on which the Babylonians would capture the city, which they did in 586 BC., just about thirty years after Zephaniah uttered the prophecy.

The fish gate (today called the Damascus gate) was on the north side of the city, and derived its name from the fact that it was in the vicinity of that gate that the fish market was located.  It would be through that gate that the invaders would enter, and from it therefore that the first cries of distress would ring out.

“... the second” refers to the newer part of the city to which the Babylonians would next advance, and from which the wailing, begun at the fish gate, would be taken up.  The “great crashing from the hills” refers to the final stage of the conquest, the great crashing being the noise of battle and destruction as the conquerors overcame the last resistance of the inhabitants.

The hills are generally understood to be Ophel, Moriah, and Zion, the three of them being within the city itself.

1:11.  “Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.”

Maktesh means a mortar (braying place), braying meaning “to crush fine, as in a mortar.”  It is understood by some to have been the name of a part of the city lying in a hollow resembling a mortar, hence the name.  The cutting off of the merchants, and of those who assayed or weighed silver, seems to imply that it was the general market place of the city.  Others take it to be a metaphor for the whole city which would become like a mortar in which everything would be pounded and crushed like the product pounded in a literal mortar.

1:12.  “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.”

“... that time” is the time when Babylon will invade Jerusalem; and the searching of Jerusalem with candles is another way of saying that on that day God will search out every individual with scrupulous care, there being no place where they will be able to evade His omniscient eye or escape His punishment of their evil deeds. 

“Lees” is the insoluble matter remaining after the liquid (usually wine) has been drunk or has evaporated, and the figure is of men stupefied from drinking, and being therefore incapable of proper thinking.  They are men who have continued so long in sin that they have lost all sense of propriety, and who have become indifferent to God, as though He were incapable of doing either good or bad to men.  Such were the men of Judah. 

Other translations of this section are, “... punish all who sit in stupor over the dregs of their wine, who say to themselves, the Lord will do nothing, good or bad,” - NEB; “... those who sit contented in their sins, indifferent to God, thinking he will let them alone,” - Taylor.

1:13.  “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.”

Their possessions - many of those of the rich having been acquired through fraud or violence - would be taken as booty by the Babylonians, thus repaying the evil of the rich Jews in their own coin.  As they had done to others so would the Babylonians do to them.  The houses filled with sinfully obtained treasures, would be ransacked, the invader carrying away everything of value, and again it would be repayment in kind for their own wrongdoing.  They would never live in expensive houses newly built with money taken wrongfully from others; nor would they ever drink the wine produced by well-tended vineyards, many of them also acquired by crooked means.

1:14.  “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.”

For comments on the day of the Lord see verse seven.

Since time is uniform in the speed of its passage, “hasteth greatly” is to be understood as a figure of speech related to the unexpectedness of the coming catastrophe; but literally also Judah’s destruction was near, for it came in three stages: (1)in 605 BC in the days of Jehoiakim (2)in 597 BC in the reign of Jehoiachin, and (3)in 586 BC in the reign of Zedekiah, when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city completely, so that the first stage came in less than twenty years, and the final stage in just a little over thirty years from the time Zephaniah delivered his prophecy.

“... even the voice of the day” is literally sound: noise: cry: thunder, i.e., the noise of battle and destruction; and the bitter crying of the warriors will be, not the normal cries heard in battle, but rather wails of terror, and if the warriors are thus terror-struck, who can begin to imagine what the experience of the ordinary citizens will be!  They refused to listen to the voices of the prophets calling them to repentance, in response to which God would have extended grace, and now having crossed over the invisible line that separates His mercy from His wrath, they were compelled to hear His voice thundering their doom without hope of mercy.

Such will be the ultimate end of those of every age who refuse to listen to the Gospel.  The end of their lives will find them compelled to hear God’s voice proclaiming their hopeless doom in the eternal torment of the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire.

1:15.  “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,”

Wrath here means an outburst of passionate anger: and “distress,” narrowness: trouble: rage; “wasteness,” rush over: tempest: storm: devastation: “desolation,” ruin: wreck: waste; “gloominess,” misfortune.  All these descriptions combine to paint a picture of unimaginable horror and destruction, and clearly they are themselves foreshadowings of even more terrible judgments that will envelop the whole world in the imminent Tribulation.

1:16.  “A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.”

The trumpet here is usually taken to be that of the invader charging to the attack against the fortified towns with their walls and high corner towers.

1:17.  “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.”

The destruction and carnage will be so great that the men of Judah will stagger around bewildered, like blind men, knowing not what to do, while the slain carcasses will lie unburied, rotting on the ground.

1:18.  “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in that 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.”

Their silver and gold, much of it ill-gotten, that had been able to buy them everything, was now worthless to deliver them from God’s wrath exercised by means of the Babylonians (Chaldeans).  Jealousy for His own glory would impel Him to such destructive retribution as would leave the land as completely devastated as if swept by fire.  And while His patience had waited for centuries - causing the prophet Habakkuk to ask in exasperation whether God didn’t see the wickedness, see Hab 1:2-4 - now with His patience finally exhausted, His judgment falls with the speed of lightning, and the nation that had been given centuries in which to repent, is destroyed in a day.

So will it be with every man who dies unrepentant.  That instant that sweeps his soul from earth into eternity, will find him also plunged into everlasting destruction.

And as it is with individuals, so will it be also with this present evil world.  The swiftly approaching Tribulation judgments, the expression of God’s righteous wrath, will leave the world also in ruins and chaos; and the Christ they had mocked and rejected will return in an instant, to complete the destruction by banishing into hell every unbeliever remaining on the devastated earth.

[Zephaniah 2]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough