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 

3:1.  “Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!

Having declared the judgments to be poured out upon the Gentile nations, God now takes up the matter of Jerusalem’s state, and details the further judgments that are to befall her, His announcement beginning ominously with the word “woe,” followed by His assessment of her condition as being “filthy and polluted.”  They worshiped Baal and Molech, and sacrificed their children to the latter God.  Nor does His indictment stop there.  He calls her also “the oppressing city,” i.e., the city which, in addition to being tyrannous, lawless, violent: a hotbed of every criminal activity, also oppressed the poor.  There was no mitigating circumstance, but rather the aggravating factor of their engaging at the same time in the travesty of an empty religious ritual.

It isn’t difficult to see in the Jerusalem of Zephaniah’s day a picture of our own corrupt twenty-first century world upon which the judgment of God is also about to break.

3:2.  “She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God.”

She refused to listen to God’s voice, nor would she accept any of His correction of her evil ways. 

“... trusted” is related to the idea of regarding the Lord as a refuge in time of trouble.  Israel, self-confident, and very far away from God, never even thought of Him as such a refuge.  Like our present day world, she was confident of her own ability to solve every problem, to overcome every difficulty.  She was, in fact, so very far away from God that she never bothered to even think of drawing near to Him to acknowledge Him as the Giver of all her blessings, or as the One Who comforts His own in times of trouble.  The truth was that the greater the distance between her and God the better she liked it: and so is it with men today.

3:3, “Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.”

Her princes or rulers were like roaring lions in that all they thought of was where and how to find prey so as to enrich themselves by seizing the possessions of their victims.  Nor were the court judges any better.  They decided every case in favor of the litigant who could pay them the largest bribe, so that they too destroyed their victims by thus giving the victim’s possessions to the briber.

The insatiable greed of the rulers and judges is declared in the clause, “... they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.”  They were like ravenous lions and wolves which not only consumed their victims, but which by the morning light had devoured even the bones, leaving not a trace of their prey.

3:4.  “Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.”

“... light” is literally bubble: froth: be unimportant, i.e., the so-called prophets had no message from God; their words were the equivalent of bubbles or froth, void of importance.  They simply encouraged the sin of the people by their failure to denounce that sin.  In addition they were treacherous, i.e., untrustworthy, deceptive, dangerous.  Like their present day counterparts, today’s false teachers, their words would lead men to hell, not heaven.

The priests likewise were evil, the word “polluted” having a variety of bad meanings, e.g., wound, break, profane, defile, eat sacred bread as common food, prostitute, stain, enter as a wedge to break down.  They were guilty of all these things.

The sanctuary was the part of the Temple comprising both the Holy and the Most Holy Place, and since the high priest alone had access to the latter, and that only on the day of atonement, the clear implication is that he was as vile as the others.

Their having “done violence to the law,” means that they brazenly violated its precepts, Eli’s evil sons being an example of such violation, see 1 Sa 2:12-17.  The priests of Zephaniah’s day were equally vile.  With such leaders, it is little wonder that the whole nation was utterly wicked; and only sin-blinded eyes will fail to see that the same evil state is duplicated in present day society, and is about to suffer the same judgment.

The only leadership God recognizes in the Church is that of the elders, their authority being confined to their own local church. A solemn responsibility rests upon the shoulders of such men to ensure that God’s order is maintained in the church over which the Holy Spirit has set them as shepherds.  They are to rule,   fearing only God, and favoring none.  It is sadly apparent, however, that many defer to the wishes of the congregation, rather than to the Word of God, with the result that all too many assemblies have become little more than religious social clubs, catering to the wishes of the majority.

3:5.  “The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to the light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame.”

Jehovah, the One Who was the Antithesis of all this evil, dwelt in the midst of sinful Judah and beheld all the evil that they practiced, His perfect justice shining forth daily the more brightly against the background of their sin.  The reference to His bringing forth His judgment to the light every morning, probably means that through the ministry of His few faithful prophets, He daily rebuked the rampant evil.  The nation, however, without shame wallowed deeper and deeper in evil, indifferent to the fact that its contrast with God’s holiness made their sin the more heinous.  This present evil world is equally indifferent to the stark contrast between its sinful conduct and God’s holiness.

3:6.  “I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant.”

Judah had witnessed the destruction of other nations - including her own evil sister Israel, the ten northern tribes, completely destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC for similar sin - their cities now lying in ruins, their sinful inhabitants swept away by the righteous judgment of the God Whose patience they had exhausted.  But Jerusalem failed to read in their destruction the assurance of her own impending desolation, she herself being the prototype of today’s sinful society which  also fails to read its own doom in that which overtook these older civilizations.  It too is complacently self-assured, unaware that a fearful storm of Divine wrath is also about to burst upon it in the form of the impending terrible Tribulation judgments.

3:7.  “I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.”

In this soliloquy God muses, as it were, upon the difference between the response that might have been expected and that which was actually given, as a result of the admonishments that were designed to turn Jerusalem from her evil course, so that He might bless her.  She, however, rejected His warnings, and plunged the deeper and more eagerly into sin.  It is instructive to note that the word “corrupted” incidentally, is related to the idea of decay: causing ruin.  It was her evil that would bring about Jerusalem’s utter ruin.

The change of person from “thou” to “they” and “their” is generally taken to mean that their rejection of His counsel, and their continuing in sin, had required God to place them at a greater distance from Him.

3:8.  “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.”

This clearly introduces a new section in which the Lord turns from announcing irrevocable judgment upon the Jerusalem of Zephaniah’s day, to announce the outpouring of similar irrevocable judgment upon all nations in the Great Tribulation, “for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.”

“... wait upon me” is generally understood to mean simply that the nations are to live in the assurance that such a time of destruction as is foretold, will come upon the earth, there being nothing that can avert it, God in His omniscience knowing that man’s wickedness will only increase more and more.

“... I will rise up to the prey” portrays a God very different from the One presented by today’s false teachers who declare Him to be too loving to send anyone to hell.  This clause balances the portrait of God.  His hatred of sin is as great as His love of sinners, and having provided at incalculable cost for the sinner’s cleansing, He will consign to hell and the lake of fire every sinner who refuses that cleansing.  As the One Whose judgments will ravage the Tribulation age earth, He is presented here as a ravenous beast devouring its prey. 

The NT counterpart of this section is Re 16:16 which records God’s gathering together of the nations to the great conflict of Armageddon, “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”

3:9.  “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”

There can be little question that this verse relates to the Millennium, it being understood by some that the “pure language” describes the reversal of the confusion of tongues imposed as punishment for disobedience, see Ge 11.  In that halcyon age all men will serve the Lord, though it is to be noted that after the first generation (who will all be believers), the service of some (the unbelievers among succeeding generations) will be by compulsion rather than choice.

Some understand the “pure language” to be, not a universal language, but rather the worship of Jehovah without any taint of accompanying idolatry.

3:10.  “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.”

Ethiopia (also called Cush) is mentioned here because it was the farthest known limit of the world of that day, so in the present context it is simply a metaphor for the whole world.  The rivers mentioned are the numerous tributaries of the Nile in that region.

The dispersed here are generally taken to be the converted  descendants (their conversion occurring in the Tribulation) of the Jews who have been scattered over the face of the earth since the Diaspora of 70 AD, and who, in the Millennium, will be gathered back into Palestine, being brought there by the Gentile converts from the Tribulation, as an expression of their thanksgiving and praise to God.  Isa 66:20 refers to this same event, “And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters (coaches), and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord,” confirming the view that here in Zeph 3:10 it is the converted Gentiles who will bring the scattered converted Jews back to Palestine as an offering to God.

This is the only place in the Bible where the word “suppliants” is found, and it is connected in meaning with the burning of incense, so that it means literally burners of incense, i.e., worshipers.  Unquestionably the returning Jews will also offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, praise, and worship.

It is significant too that those returning are described as a daughter, for in Scripture the male speaks of activity of the will; and the female, of passivity.  The emphasis therefore is upon the fact that these returning ones will be perfectly submissive to God’s will.

3:11.  “In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain.”

“... that day” is the Millennium, and the Israel entering it will be the godly remnant that will have physically survived the Great Tribulation judgments, which will have concluded with Christ’s judgment of the surviving Jews and Gentiles, and His consignment of every unbeliever into hell.  These addressed here will all be believers, the assurance given them being the fulfillment of Jer 31:31-34, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah .... And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  The same promise is reiterated in Heb 8:12.

The latter half of the verse refers to Christ’s judgment of the nations at the end of the Great Tribulation when the proud and haughty religious, but unbelieving professors, will be amongst those banished into hell. 

“... because of my holy mountain” is generally taken to be a reference to mount Zion, the site of the Temple, that was the basis for the pride which the Lord rebuked so vehemently when He was here on earth, and which is rebuked here by the prophet.  Their proud self-confidence was based on their erroneous belief that because God had placed His Temple there He would never permit any harm to come to it or to them.  They were mistaken, for in 589 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed both city and Temple, and in 586 BC led the people into captivity in Babylon; and again in AD 70 God used the Romans to destroy both city and Temple, since which time the Jews have remained scattered amongst the Gentiles, with the exception of those who have begun to return to Palestine since 1948.  It will be that returned nation now back in the land that is the subject of this prophecy.  Another temple will be built in Jerusalem, and in the imminent Tribulation God will again permit the Gentile armies to ravish Jerusalem, but this time the Lord Himself, returning in power and glory to inaugurate His millennial kingdom, will intervene, and a godly remnant of Jews and Gentiles will be delivered to enter the Millennium.

3:12.  “I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.”

Those few left in the land by Nebuchadnezzar were the poor, as recorded in 2 Ki 25:12, “But the captain of the guard left of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen,” and while the reference here may certainly include them, the context indicates that the ultimate application is to the believing remnant that will be preserved alive through the coming Tribulation.

3:13.  “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”

The description continues to be of the converted remnant of Israel that will pass into the Millennium; and the absence of iniquity (moral evil), lies, and deceit (fraud), declares that that era will be one of near perfection on the earth.  It is to be remembered, however, that the children born to that believing remnant will be unbelievers, some of whom will refuse to trust in Christ as Savior in order to fit themselves to enter heaven at the end of the Millennium.  Their obedience will be feigned, for under Christ’s rule the punishment for overt sin will be similar to that which befell Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu in Le 10:1-2, and Ananias and Sapphira in Ac 5.

Feeding speaks of satisfaction; and lying down, of rest and peace.  These blessings will be characteristic of the millennial earth.

3:14.  “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.”

Joy and singing will be universal in the Millennium, for all the things that have caused sorrow and mourning in the preceding ages will be banished in that halcyon era.

It is instructive to find Israel referred to as “daughter of Zion,” and “daughter of Jerusalem,” for while Zion was the mount upon which the Temple was built, it is also used as a synonym for the whole city of Jerusalem.  Zion, meaning parched place, seems at first a strange name for the Temple site, but a review of Israel’s sorry history reveals the propriety of the name, because for the most part the Temple has indeed been a parched place spiritually.  For virtually all of its long history it was the center of a loveless ritualistic so-called worship that was an abomination to God, hence His destruction of it, once by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, and again by Rome in AD 70.

Jerusalem has a very different meaning: dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace. As the capital of an earth that will bask in the joy of universal peace during the reign of the Prince of Peace, she will finally be true to her name.  Well might her “daughter,” who for so many weary centuries has mourned in the “parched place” because of her rebellion, sing and shout for the joy that is concomitant with obedience not only in the Millennium, but in any age.

As noted already, the male represents activity of the will; and the female, passivity.  The twice repeated reference to Israel as a daughter rather than as a son, speaks symbolically of her obedience in the Millennium.

3:15.  “The Lord hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.”

“... judgments” here means literally the just sentence of guilt pronounced by God upon Israel for her multiplied sins.  The justification of that remnant will be on the same basis as is the exoneration of every sinner in every age: the sin-atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The believer’s sins aren’t just “swept under the rug:” they are forgiven on a perfectly just basis.  They carried with them the irrevocable sentence of death, and Christ has died that death as the sinner’s Substitute, God imputing our sins to Christ at Calvary, and imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness to every believer of every age.

While the casting out of “thine enemy” certainly refers to God’s consignment to hell of all Israel’s foes following the Lord’s judgment of the nations at the end of the Great Tribulation, the ultimate reference is to the casting out of Satan at Calvary, and to his imprisonment in the bottomless pit during the Millennium; for no matter what instrument is used, Satan is the one using it to afflict all men, but particularly God’s people.

Millennial Israel, walking in obedience, and with her rightful King in her midst, will have no foe, nor will she ever again have reason to fear, it being pertinently noted in the JFB Commentary on the Old and New Testaments that, “After the taking away of sin (v.13) follows the taking away of trouble.  When the cause is removed, the effect will cease.  Happiness follows in the wake of holiness.”

Relative to Israel’s King being in her midst in the Millennium, it is necessary to note that Christ Himself will be ruling from the throne in heaven, His administration being exercised through a theocracy as in the days of David and Solomon.  The king occupying the throne in the earthly Jerusalem will be a literal descendant of David who will worship and offer sacrifices (see Ezk 46:2, 12, 16-18), something Christ does not do: He is worshiped, and receives sacrifices.

3:16.  “In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.”

This continues the description of millennial conditions, and continues to emphasize the truth that during that era Israel will have no cause for fear.

“Let not thine hands be slack” is an archaic expression meaning, “Don’t let your hands hang limp and unnerved by fear.”  In this present context it seems that Jerusalem is being used synonymously for the every-day life and activity of the nation, while Zion relates to her religious life, in relation to which the references to hands speak of their being lifted up in contrast to their hanging limply, see e.g., Ps 141:2, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”  Fervent worship is to be the response of millennial Israel for the phenomenal blessings of that glorious age. 

The exhortation is no less to us today, for we are heirs of even better blessings than those which are millennial, as it is written, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” Eph 1:3; and again, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” 1 Cor 2:9.

3:17.  “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”

This word of encouragement will mean much to the remnant that will be suffering sorely under the hand of the Beast in the Tribulation, when refusal to receive his mark will be tantamount to a death sentence.  Their comfort and assurance will be that their God is the omnipotent One Who not only works all things according to His “good, and acceptable, and perfect will,” Ro 12:2, but Who also gives the assurance that, “all things work together for good to them that love God,” Ro 8:28.  Whether by His permissive will they are transported by physical death from the midst of Tribulation misery into the eternal bliss of heaven, or are preserved through it to enter the Millennium, their assurance is that their God is in control, the Beast being but a puppet in His hand to accomplish His Own eternal purposes.

Beyond the terrible Tribulation judgments lies the time when that same omnipotent God will rejoice over His redeemed, whether they are in heaven or on the millennial earth, the Beast and the false prophet having been consigned bodily into the lake of fire; and those who aided and abetted them, into hell, to await with every other unbeliever, final consignment into that same awful lake of fire to endure eternal torment.  Tears will be dried, sighing exchanged for singing, and sorrow for laughter.

“... he will rest in his love” is taken by some to mean that He will be silent as to their faults, not imputing them to them; while others understand it to mean a silent joy too great for words.  It may also be a reference to the fact that in the Millennium God will be able to “rest” in the sense that because all people will obey His will in that glorious age, there will be no need for Him to be active in judgment against sin.

3:18.  “I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.”

The reference here is to those who, in the Tribulation, will grieve that the sacred feasts of Jehovah are not being kept.  “... who are of thee” i.e., all who are of the same sorrowful spirit.  “... to whom the reproach of it was a burden,” i.e., all those who were burdened or moved to prayer by their inability to keep the appointed feasts.  God will gather all such together back to Palestine after the Tribulation, their sorrow being turned to joy as they will be thus enabled to keep those solemn feasts of worship. 

It should be noted incidentally that in the Millennium the Levitical order of worship will be reinstated and will be universal.  This, of course, raises the obvious question, Why would God reinstate an order of worship that clearly pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ?  The answer is simple.  As in the OT age it was used to anticipate Christ’s sacrifice, so in the Millennium will it be used to commemorate that great work.

3:19.  “Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.”

“... undo” means to bruise, requite, vex.  This is what God will do to all who have afflicted His people not only in the past, but who will afflict them in the Tribulation.  When the Lord Jesus Christ judges the nations at the end of the Tribulation He will cast these and all other offenders into hell.  Then He will regather into Palestine from every quarter of the earth the godly remnant of Israel.  “Halteth” means helpless.  Whatever their state, He will bring them into Palestine to enjoy millennial blessing.  And with Israel then become the head rather than the tail of the nations, He will cause the nations to praise and honor those whom they had formerly despised and hated.  Nor will this praise and honor be compelled, for it is to be remembered that when the Millennium begins, every person on earth will be a believer, all unbelievers having been banished into hell at the end of the Tribulation.  The adulation of Israel by the nations will be unfeigned.

3:20.  “At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord.”

The time of regathering is clearly the Millennium, and God reiterates His promise to exalt His regathered people to the place of supremacy amongst the nations.  “... captivity” is plural in the original, so that the assurance is that that will be the last regathering: there will be no more captivities.

“... before your eyes” means simply that even though the promise may seem unbelievable, their own eyes will behold its fulfillment.



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