Walter White, Jr.


Author. Little is known about the author Zephaniah, except what is provided in the opening verse of the book. His name means "Yahweh has hidden," or "Yahweh sheltered or stored up." Unlike any of the preceding prophets, Zephaniah’s genealogy is traced through four generations, including "Hezekiah" (1:1; cf. Hs 1:1; Jl 1:1; Zch 1:1). Although there is no proof that this Hezekiah was the renowned king of Judah, this unusual genealogical structure, by comparison to other genealogies, seems to be intentional, perhaps to reveal Zephaniah’s kinship to the royal family (C. F. Pfeiffer, "Zephaniah," New Bible Dictionary, ed. I. Howard Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and Donald J. Wiseman [Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996], 1268–69). The name of Zephaniah’s father, "Cushi" (1:1) means "black" or "Cushite," sometimes describing someone of Ethiopian or Nubian (African) descent, but not necessarily. The name is also found in Jr 36:14. But there is insufficient evidence to make any firm conclusions about his ethnicity or heritage (for a full discussion of this issue, see Walter A. McCray, The Presence of Blacks in the Bible: Discovering the Black and African Identity of Biblical Persons and Nations, vols. 1 and 2 [Calumet City, IL: Urban Ministries, Inc., 1995] and William McKissic, Beyond Roots: In Search of Blacks in the Bible [New Jersey: Renaissance Productions, Inc., 1990]).

Date. The superscription (1:1) makes it clear that Zephaniah prophesied during the days of Josiah (640–609 BC). However, whether Zephaniah’s ministry occurred prior to or after Josiah’s reforms is disputed. The traditional view is that Zephaniah ministered in the early part of Josiah’s reign. Thus, the descriptions of idolatry (1:4–5, 8–9; 3:1, 3, 7) are included because Josiah’s reforms had not yet taken place. The alternate view places Zephaniah’s proclamations in the latter part of Josiah’s reign and presumes that Josiah’s initial reforms had failed, with Judah reverting to its idolatry. This alternative view is often predicated on the extensive parallelism with Deuteronomy (Zph 1:13, 15, 17; 2:2, 5, 7, 11; 3:5, 19–20), incorrectly alleged to have been written in the Josianic era in support of his reforms. In defense of the traditional view, Zephaniah did not refer to any of Josiah’s reforms. Certainly, this would be expected if he were calling them back to the most recent standard from which they had fallen.

Theme and Purpose. The theme of the book of Zephaniah is the "day of the Lord" (1:7, 8, 14, 18; 2:2, 3). The phrase, "the day of the Lord," also used by the prophet Joel (Jl 2:1–11; see the comments there), refers to a period characterized by gloom, darkness, and judgment and followed by prosperity, restoration, and blessing. Occasionally, the phrase is used in the OT in reference to judgment that had already transpired before the biblical writers wrote their books, or to imminent judgment. However, most often future climactic judgment involving the whole earth, including Israel, is in view. The purpose of Zephaniah is to warn Judah and Jerusalem of the imminent judgment and devastation coming upon them because of their rebellion and disobedience. This is designed to indicate future cataclysmic judgment and to exhort Israel to hope and trust in the Lord because of His promise of future restoration, healing, and blessings for the faithful remnant of Israel (Zph 1:2–2:7; 3:12–18).

Zephaniah is apocalyptic literature. This type of literature is defined as "a special kind of literature used to reveal mysteries about heaven and earth, humankind and God, angels and demons, and the world to come" ("Zephaniah," Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Herbert Lockyer, Sr., F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison, Ronald F. Youngblood, and Kermit Eckelbarger [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1986], 71). Zephaniah speaks a great deal about judgment, salvation, and instruction, using striking imagery to enhance communication.

Contribution. Zephaniah teaches that the Lord is sovereign over all the nations of the world and that He holds them accountable for their sin and rejection of His will. He also teaches that God will punish His covenant people Israel when they choose to live like those who do not know Him. Finally, although His holiness demands that He address sin in the lives of His chosen people, ultimately He will fulfill all of His covenant promises to Israel so that they can love and live with Him in joy, peace, and freedom forever.

The book of Zephaniah occupies the ninth place among the larger group of the 12 Minor Prophets. In all cases, it follows Habakkuk and precedes Haggai. With Zephaniah’s theme of "the day of the Lord," it is fitting that it follows Habakkuk, the final chapter of which is a description of events of that day. As Zephaniah ends with promises of restoration that go far beyond the return from Babylon to the Messianic Age, it is fitting that it is followed by Haggai, which attempts to show that the return from Babylon did not fulfill the promises of the Messianic Age.

The book consists of three chapters constituting 53 verses. The introduction is relatively brief and includes a longer-than-usual genealogy. Similar to Micah, it opens with a mass judgment on the entire world (1:2–2:15). In chap. 3, Zephaniah further describes the sins of Jerusalem and the punishment that is coming in spite of God’s appeal to repent. However, the promise is given that for those who continue to wait for the Lord in faith, He will bring complete restoration and freedom from guilt to the believing remnant (3:1–20).

Background. The historical setting for Zephaniah’s ministry is the reign of "Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah" (1:1). King Josiah ruled in Judah between 640 and 609 BC. Politically, Assyria had risen to power under the leadership of three of its most cruel and aggressive kings, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal. For more than half of the seventh century BC, Israel was under its grip as well. Assyria dominated Israel during the reigns of both of Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh (696–642 BC), and his father, Amon (642–640 BC), until the empire crumbled in 626 BC. This control also meant that the deities of Assyria exercised spiritual influence over Israel as well. King Manasseh, and then his son Amon, caused Judah to depart from the Lord for more than 50 years, so that the nation embraced pagan worship of heavenly deities, Baal and Molech, and even the offering of child sacrifices (see 1Kg 11:7; 2Kg 21:1–9, 16; 23:10). It was against such idolatry, Baal worship, temple prostitution, and syncretism (1:4–5), that Zephaniah warned Judah of the Lord’s impending judgment against their rebellion (1:4–6).

As the Assyrian Empire began to weaken with the death of the last Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, in approximately 626 BC, it became possible for Josiah to advance his reforms in Judah (621 BC). In all probability, this also set the stage for the rise of the Babylonians during the period of 625 to 562 BC (Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC [Dallas: Word, 2002], 120–124).


I. Introduction to Zephaniah (1:1)

A. Source of His Message (1:1a)

B. Setting of His Ministry (1:1b–c)

II. Promise of Future Judgment (1:2–3:8)

A. Coming Judgment upon the Entire Earth (1:2–3)

B. Coming Judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem (1:4–18)

C. Coming Judgment upon the Enemies of Judah (2:1–15)

D. Coming Judgment upon Jerusalem (3:1–8)

III. Promise of Future Restoration (to Righteousness) (3:9–20)

A. Purification of the Nations (3:9–10)

B. Restoration of Israel (3:11–20)


I. Introduction to Zephaniah (1:1)

A. Source of His Message (1:1a)

1:1a. The introductory phrase, The word of the Lord which came, points back to the use of this phase by several other prophets to introduce their message (e.g., Jr 1:1; Hs 1:1; Jl 1:1; Jnh 1:1; Hg 1:1; Mal 1:1). The use of the Hebrew word hayah, translated "came," underscores the source from which the word or message originated. Here the emphasis is that the message given to Zephaniah did not originate with him, but had the Lord as its source. Thus, Zephaniah introduced his message by pointing out that his message came to him from the Lord, and thus carried His full authority.

B. Setting of His Ministry (1:1b–c)

1:1b–c. These opening words relate Zephaniah’s unusually long genealogy (see Introduction: Author). Although the reason for this lengthy genealogy is not explicit, it is possible that, in addition to tracing Zephaniah’s lineage to the royal family, the names were mentioned simply because of their meanings. It is noteworthy that God appears in each of them. Zephaniah means "whom the Lord hid"; Gedaliah means "whom the Lord made great"; Amariah, "whom the Lord promised"; and Hezekiah, "whom the Lord strengthened." Only the name of Zephaniah’s father, "Cushi," abandons this format (see Introduction: Author for a discussion of this name).

The opening lines also present the historical/political/religious setting of Zephaniah’s ministry: in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah (2Kg 23–24; see Introduction: Background for more information). Zephaniah, much like his contemporary Jeremiah, proclaimed God’s impending judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their idolatry and rejection of the Lord as their God. His ministry likely overlapped with the prophets Nahum and Habakkuk.

II. Promise of Future Judgment (1:2–3:8)

Beginning in v. 2 and throughout the rest of the book, Zephaniah delineates the central theme of his message, namely, the "day of the Lord" (e.g., 1:7, 8, 14, 18; 2:2, 3). He is not the first of the prophets to use this expression, but being familiar with their message, he used their terms: "Be silent before the Sovereign Lord," "the day of the Lord is near," and "the Lord has prepared a sacrifice" (See Zph 1:7; cf. Hab 2:20; Jl 1:15; Is 34:6). Moreover, Zephaniah makes reference to "the day of the Lord" 23 times in his book, using this phrase more than any other prophet (Larry L. Walker, "Zephaniah," in Daniel-Malachi, vol. 8 of EBC, rev. ed., ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland [Grand Rapids, MI, 2008], 665).

"The day of the Lord" is used here to describe intermediate judgments that would be exercised against Judah by the surrounding nations. These judgments foreshadowed a greater fulfillment at the end of the age. Indeed, if the full impact of historical, grammatical, and rhetorical methodology is followed, one must conclude the scenes and allusions Zephaniah described drive toward a greater, eschatological fulfillment. Ultimately, "the day of the Lord" is the eschatological time of God’s judgment and restoration (See Jl 3:1–21 and comments there). Just as the Scriptures depict a "day" with two parts, evening and morning (Gn 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), so the "day of the Lord" has two parts: an evening, which is the time of dark judgment known as the tribulation period, followed by the bright day, which is the one-thousand-year reign of Messiah Jesus on this earth. Therefore, Zephaniah’s view of the "day of the Lord" included both a period of severe judgment against sin and the restoration and blessing to the faithful remnant (2:3; 3:12–20).

A. Coming Judgment upon the Entire Earth (1:2–3)

In this section, Zephaniah described the "day of the Lord" in terms of the wrath of God against the sin and rebellion of both the nations and His own covenant people in Judah because of their disobedience, rejection of Him, and idolatry.

1:2. Beginning abruptly, without any transition from v. 1, God declares that He will completely remove all things from the face of the earth. Remove is used in the intensified form in v. 2 (’asop ’asep, "utterly sweep away," ESV; "destroy," NET; "completely sweep away," HCSB), and twice more in the simple form in v. 3 (’asep by itself). These words of destruction refer to literal coming destruction. The repetition of remove intensifies its force and portrays not only the certainty of God’s outpouring of judgment (note the future force of the ’asep verb, translated correctly as I willI willI will) but the cataclysmic scope of His wrath upon the earth (David J. Clark and Howard Hatton, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Zephaniah, UBS Handbook Series [New York: United Bible Societies, 1989], 145–147). The universal scope of this judgment indicates that this "day of the Lord" refers not to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem but to an eschatological judgment of the whole earth. Yet, in 1:4–2:3, it appears that Zephaniah does describe the Babylonian devastation and he calls it "the day of the Lord." Some have suggested that all references to "the day of the Lord," even the one describing universal judgment (vv. 2–3), refer to events in the sixth century BC, albeit hyperbolically. Others suggest that the events described in 1:4–2:3 are not references to a historical event at all, but to the eschatological "day of the Lord." Perhaps the best solution is to recognize that the "day of the Lord" described in 1:2–3 is indeed the universal end-of-days judgment by the Lord. At the same time the judgment in 1:4–2:3 does describe a historical judgment that also foreshadows the end-of-days judgment.

1:3. Zephaniah describes in detail that which was only described in summary in v. 2, namely, God’s actions to remove completely or utterly sweep across the earth. This is a reverse parallel to Gn 1–2, where Moses describes in detail God’s activity in creation in Gn 1, and then briefly summarizes God’s activity in Gn 2. The list of entities slated for destruction is man, beast, birds, and fish, just the opposite order of the original creation (see Gn 1) and a judgment that surpasses the devastation of the flood. In this judgment even the fish would come under the judgment of the Lord. (Clark and Hatton, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Zephaniah, 147; Gn 1:20–28; see the comments on Rm 8:20–21, where Paul described the curse due to the fall and its future reversal).

Moreover, humanity is singled out with the Lord’s certain warning that He will cut off man from the face of the earth. The Hebrew construction of the verb "to cut off" includes the idea of causation, indicating that God will cause the creation to be ruined, destroyed, or cut down (Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000]); (cf. 1:4). In fact, the Lord states this twice (vv. 3, 4) leaving little doubt that God is behind this impending judgment of catastrophic proportions and He will do it (Thomas L. Constable, Expository Notes on the Bible [Galaxie Software, 2003]).

B. Coming Judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem (1:4–18)

In this section, Zephaniah’s message moves from the announcement of worldwide judgment to a warning of the Lord’s terrifying judgment to come upon Judah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. His message of castigation and the promise of severe judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem begin in 1:4–18 and are later resumed in 3:1–7.

1:4–6. Although the entire world would come under His judgment, God is seen here to narrow His focus on the men and women in Judah and Jerusalem. This community had pledged its devotion to the Lord (Jos 24:16–25) but, having failed, would be judged now. The evil of kings Manasseh and Amon had seduced the people of Judah and they had become an overtly idolatrous community, a remnant of Baal (the Canaanite deity of fertility) worshippers (1Kg 16:29–33; 18:19–40; Hs 9:10) and those who swear by Milcom (another name for the Ammonite deity Molech or Moloch, 2Kg 23:13; Jr 49:1, 3, a sun god associated with human sacrifice). Among them too were those who were engaging in a form of syncretistic worship, bowing down to the Lord and yet making oaths by Milcom (v. 5). There were those as well who had turned back from following the Lord, and sadly had not sought the Lord or inquired of Him (v. 6). Consequently, God declared to the people of Judah and of Jerusalem, I will stretch out My hands not to help or rescue them, but in judgment against Judah andall the inhabitants of Jerusalem (v. 4) to cut them off (lit., "to sever, remove," the same verb used for the cutting off and discarding of foreskin at the time of circumcision; cf. Ex 4:25) (Constable, Expository Notes; Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Enhanced BDB, 503).

In this next section (1:7–18), the focus of Zephaniah’s proclamation narrowed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (v. 4). Previously, he had not specifically mentioned "the day of the Lord." But the core of his message is the imminent judgment and wrath of God against the rebellion and rejection of the Lord among the nations and among His people Judah.

1:7–9. Zephaniah began the announcement regarding the day with the imperative be silent ("Hush!" "Quiet!" "Silence!"; see Jdg 3:19; Am 6:10; Zch 2:13; Heb 2:18) before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near. On this appointed time, the Lord has prepared ("appointed," "established"), not a feast, but a sacrifice (v. 8) designed to punish the princes. They had denied the Lord through their pagan attire (related to their inclination to embrace foreign practices and make alliances with the godless nations; see 1:4–5) and through their jumping over the temple threshold (out of a fear of demons). This superstitious practice was likely connected to the incident when the Canaanite god, Dagon, fell in the presence of the ark in the temple, and the arms and head were found lying on the threshold of the temple (1Sm 5:1–5).

1:10–11. On that day, referring to "the day of the Lord," there will be in the city of Jerusalem a cry of great distress from the Fish Gate (a gate on the northern wall of Jerusalem; v. 10; cf. 2Ch 33:14; Neh 3:3; 12:39) and a wail from the nearby Second Quarter (2Ch 34:22), a section of the city. In that day, the judgment sent by the Lord will bring such pain and anguish that the screams, cries, and howling will be heard throughout the city. Even the merchants who perceive themselves secure will not escape (v. 11; cf. Jms 5:1).

1:12–13. Next, the Lord is portrayed as One going through the streets of Jerusalem with lamps in search of the men who are stagnant in spirit that He might punish them. The phrase stagnant in spirit is literally "thick in their sediment" and derives from an expression about wine that fermented too long so that it became thick or syrupy, and thus unpalatable. It indicates men who have become spiritually stuck, unmoved, unconcerned, and unaffected by the circumstances surrounding them. These say in their hearts, even as people say today, that the Lord will not do good or evil, meaning that God does not care what people do or how they live (Dt 29:19; Jb 15:31; Ps 30:6; Is 28:15; 31:1; Jr 17:5; 23:17; Am 6:1, 3). But the Lord did care, and judgment would come so that their wealth would be plundered and they would not enjoy the homes and vineyards they had made for themselves (v. 13).

1:14–16. Next Zephaniah gave a description of that dreadful and terrifying great day of the Lord. By twice announcing that it was near (v. 14), and in fact, that it was comingquickly, he indicated that it would arrive with great speed and with tremendous intensity and force.

1:17–18. The pain and distress that would come on that day would cause men to walk like the blind, groping and staggering (v. 17). Their sin and hardening against the Lord would cause God to have their bloodpoured out as indiscriminately as dust and their flesh (their corpses) to be piled as dung (animal waste) in the streets. Wealth and position would not be able to buy an exemption from the Lord’s wrath against the sin of the people He so jealously loves (v. 18).

C. Coming Judgment upon the Enemies of Judah (2:1–15)

2:1–3. Few things so powerfully demonstrate God’s sovereign rule over the earth as His ability to bring the nations of the world into accountability (Ps 33:10; Is 13:3–5; 45:1–5; Jr 51:20; Dn 4:3, 17, 35). But prior to describing this end-of-days judgment, God calls Israel to return to Him. At the outset, Zephaniah exhorted the people of Judah to gather yourselves together, yes, gather (v. 1). Although this could be a call to collective repentance, it could also be a call to return to the land of Israel prior to the eschatological "day of the Lord." The word used for "gather" (qashash) is used only here in Zephaniah, but two other synonyms for "gather" (‘asaph, 3:8, 18; and qabats, 3:19, 20) are also used in the book. Since both of these uses refer to a physical and literal gathering, it is also likely that in this context the word should be taken literally as well. Thus, it refers to the Lord literally regathering Judah back to the land prior to the "day of the Lord," the seven-year tribulation period (Dn 9:27). The nation would be returned to the land of Israel before the decree (of judgment) takes effect (v. 2). Here is the evident mercy of God, even in the face of certain dreadful judgment.

Zephaniah pronounced God’s judgment against many of the hostile nations that surrounded Israel—they too would be devastated in the eschatological "day of the Lord." However, before the Lord addressed these nations, in view of Judah’s imminent and certain judgment, Zephaniah appealed to Judah to seek the Lord (v. 3) in humility, so that possibly they will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger. Although the decision to punish cannot be averted, mindful of His covenant with Israel and his "chesed" (His steadfast, covenantal love), God offered mercy through forgiveness and providential care amid their suffering (See 2:7, 9; Neh 9:27–28; Ps 25:6; Is 30:18–26; Ezk 39:25–29).

2:4–15. In these verses several nations are identified and slated for destruction in the "day of the Lord" (vv. 4–7). Some were close by, such as Philistia, Moab, and Ammon (vv. 5–8), while others were far away, like Cush and Assyria (vv. 9–15). Nonetheless, the nations included here were major enemies to King Josiah and Judah either because of their proximity and/or because of their historical ominous relationship with the Israelites (cf. Jdg 3:12–14; 1Sm 31:1–7; 1Ch 18–19; Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, NAC, vol. 20 [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999], 453).

2:4–7. The first nation that will be judged is Philistia, in the western part of the land of Israel. From south to north, Zephaniah named four of the five Philistine cities, likely excluding Gath because it had already become subject to Judah (2Kg 18:8; 2Ch 26:6). As a result of this judgment, the seacoast was to become pasture for Judah (Zph 2:6). Thus, the Lord would settle the remnant ofJudah throughout the promised land (2:7).

2:8–15. Next the Lord foretold the judgment of Moab and Ammon, east of Israel, whose destiny would be like Sodom and Gomorrah, a perpetual desolation (2:9). God will judge them because they were arrogant against the people of the Lord of hosts (2:10; See Nm 22; 24:17; Jdg 3:12, 10:7; 1Sm 11:1–5; 2Sm 12:26–31; Is 25:10–11; Jr 48:29–30). In much the same way, the apostle Paul warned Gentile Christians against becoming arrogant toward believing and unbelieving Israel (Rm 11:18–20). As Charles Feinberg says, "The nations are exceedingly dull in learning how greatly they displease the Lord when they deal in pride against the nation whom He has chosen as His medium for world-wide blessing" (Charles Lee Feinberg, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets Series [New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews, 1951], 57). After this judgment, the prophet foretold conditions in the millennial kingdom when the Lord will end all false worship and all nations will bow down to Him (2:11).

D. Coming Judgment upon Jerusalem (3:1–8)

Having condemned the surrounding nations (2:1–15), Zephaniah creates a stunning effect by shifting to the judgment of the city of Jerusalem (3:1–8), the same literary technique that the prophet Amos used (Am 1:3–2:16; Barker, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, 471–473; Smith, Micah-Malachi, 137).

3:1–2. With the opening word Woe, Zephaniah used this onomatopoeic expression to call attention to an event of profound pain, calamity, and disaster. Here, it introduces God’s impending judgment against rebellious Jerusalem as it did against sinful Philistia (2:5). Although the city is not identified by name, Zephaniah speaks of a location that has a sanctuary (3:4) and the Lord present within it (3:5). Hence, the prophet is describing Jerusalem as the tyrannical city, made so by rejecting God’s word (heeded no voiceaccepted no instruction) and refusing to exercise faith in God (did not trust in the Lorddid not draw near to her God).

3:3–5. Besides the people, the prophet indicted the city’s leaders because of their unrighteous and faithless example, beginning with the civil rulers and then moving to the spiritual leaders. The princes cared little for the people, but devoured them like lions (v. 3) and the judges behaved like ravenous wolves administering justice to their own benefit (v. 4). The prophets were reckless and treacherous, while the priestsprofaned the sanctuary and did violence to the law, making no distinction between what is holy and what is secular (v. 5; Smith, Micah-Malachi, 138; Clark and Hatton, A Translators Handbook on the Book of Zephaniah, 185–187).

In contrast, in v. 5, the Lord is righteous within her (Jerusalem). Consequently, He has not done nor will He do injustice. In spite of the people’s rebellion and disobedience, the Lord has been faithful to His covenant to provide justice and righteousness. Nevertheless, the unjust remained without shame for their rebellious deeds (v. 5).

3:6–7. Having described Jerusalem’s rebellion, the Lord alerted the city of the potential danger of ignoring Him. Therefore, the Lord reminded them that He judged and even destroyed nations in the past so that their cities were laid wastewithout an inhabitant (v. 6). It was His desire that, having witnessed God’s power and judgment on other rebellious peoples, Judah would have come to fear Him, accept His instruction and obey Him, so that their dwelling will not be cut off (v. 7; see Am 2:9; Mc 6:5). Sadly, they did not learn from the Lord but rather became all the more eager to corrupt all their deeds.

3:8. In the final verse of the judgment section, the prophet returned to the beginning. Even as he began with a prediction of universal judgment (1:2–3), so he once again predicted that God will judge all the earth. At the end of the future tribulation, the Lord will gather nations and assemble kingdoms against Jerusalem (see Zch 12:2–9 and 14:1–2 and the comments there) for the campaign of Armageddon (Rv 16:14–16). It is during this time of Jacob’s distress (Jr 30:6) that God will purge Israel and bring them back to Himself.

III. Promise of Future Restoration (to Righteousness) (3:9–20)

This last section has a dramatic transition, from judgment (the evening portion of "the day of the Lord") to blessing (the morning portion of "the day of the Lord"). The goodness and grace of God will be poured out on the Gentile nations and upon His people Israel when He effects an unparalleled transformation within them.

A. Purification of the Nations (3:9–10)

3:9–10. The God of Israel is the God of all the earth. Thus, He promised that after He gathers the nations for judgment, those who call on His name will be transformed and He will give to the peoples purified lips (v. 9). Words are a reflection of the inner person (Mt 12:33–37), hence the image of purification of speech (Is 6:5–7). In that day, the nations will come from distant lands ("from beyond the rivers of Cush," Zph 3:10, HCSB), to worship the Lord in Jerusalem (see Zch 14:16–19 and comments there).

B. Restoration of Israel (3:11–20)

What follows is the depiction of restored Israel in the future messianic kingdom. Having purged Israel during the tribulation, the Lord foretold the many benefits that would come to penitent Israel.

3:11–13. The first benefit God promised is the purification of Israel. God promised that in that day, the beginning of the millennial kingdom, He would remove Israel’s shame for their past evil deeds (v. 11). Not only would He purge them of sin, but He would also remove the proud, exulting ones who led Israel astray. The nation will become humble and lowly, finding refuge in the name of the Lord (v. 12). This remnant of Israel will be utterly transformed, doing no wrong and exhibiting transformed speech (v. 13), even as the nations were promised (v. 9).

3:14–17. The second benefit God promised is the joy that Israel will experience. Calling upon Jerusalem to shout for joy (v. 14), the Lord gave three reasons for their exultation. First, God has acquitted them, taking away His judgments (v. 15a). Second, He has delivered them from their enemies (v. 15b). Third, and most important, their longed-for King Messiah, the Lord, will be ruling in their midst (v. 15c). Obviously this reflects that day during the tribulation period when Israel as a nation has turned in faith to Jesus as Messiah (see the comments on Zch 12:10; Mt 23:39; Ac 3:19; Rm 11:25–27). As a result, the nation will not be afraid or despairing (let your hands fall limp; v. 16). They need not do so because the Lordin [their] midst will protect them (as a victorious warrior), rejoice over them (He will exult over you with joy), and love them (He will be quiet in His love) (v. 17).

3:18–20. The third benefit God promised is the regathering of Israel. Although God would have regathered some of Israel before the "day of the Lord" (see 2:1), many Jewish people will still be scattered in exile when Messiah Jesus returns. Thus He will gather them so that they no will longer need to grieve about being unable to celebrate the biblical feasts (Lv 23) far from Jerusalem (Zph 3:18). God promises to gatheroutcast Israel (v. 19), at which time He will transform them from shame to praise and renown in all the earth. Thus, all the covenant promises made to the patriarchs would be fulfilled.

Some object that these verses merely describe the restoration from exile when Israel returned from Babylon in 539 BC. However, this description goes far beyond the events of those days. Certainly, when the people returned from exile, all Israel did not know the Lord, nor were all the captives restored physically to the land, nor did the nation become a reason for praise in all the earth. These verses anticipate their fulfillment in the millennial kingdom. At best, the prophets used the return from Babylon as a mere foreshadowing of the future Messianic Age when the Lord would be faithful to keep His covenant with Israel literally and completely. The prophet Zephaniah, by focusing on "the day of the Lord," continually forced the reader to look for that day when Israel comes to know her Messiah, and He will fulfill every promise He made to the nation.


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Hannah, John D. "Zephaniah." In The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 1, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Feinberg, Charles Lee. Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai and Malachi. The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets Series. New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews, 1951.

Keil, Carl Friedrich. The Twelve Minor Prophets, 2 vols. Translated by James Martin. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949.

Motyer, J. Alec. "Zephaniah." In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expositional Commentary, 3 vols., edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992, 1993, and 1998.

Patterson, Richard D. Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah: An Exegetical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Biblical Studies Press, 2003.

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

Smith, J. M. Zephaniah and Nahum, a Critical and Exegetical Commentary. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911.

Walker, Larry L. "Zephaniah." In Daniel-Malachi. Vol. 8 of Expositor’s Bible Commentary, revised edition, edited by Tremper Longman, III, and David E. Garland. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.


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