Bible Commentaries
Zephaniah 3

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Verse 1

Woe Over Jerusalem

After having expressed his woe over various nations, the prophet returns to his message for Jerusalem. Because of her high privileges and vocation, much devotion to God could be expected in the way of faith and obedience to Him. Now she is accused of rebellion: she is “the rebellious”, of defilement: she is “defiled”, and of oppression: she is “tyrannical”.

1. She rebels, because she does not want to submit to the will of God;
2. She is defiled because she sins persistently through idolatry;
3. She is tyrannical, because she tramples the rights of the poor, widows and orphans.

The polluted, defiled people wash themselves with water and perform other ceremonies that make them look clean. In reality, their whole life is polluted.

Verse 2

Four Indictments

Four indictments are brought against Jerusalem:
1. She does not listen to God’s voice through His law;
2. She does not allow herself to be corrected (cf. Zephaniah 3:7);
3. She trusts in herself, in her idols and allies and not in God;
4. She stays away from God because she does not want to be in His presence.

Verses 3-4

Four Corrupt Leaders

As the people are, so are the four classes of leaders, representing the total leadership of the entire people: princes, judges, prophets and priests.

1. “Her princes” – with the exception of Josiah – are “roaring lions”, always looking for new prey. With their roaring they frighten their subjects instead of giving them a feeling of security and safety.

2. “Her judges” are “evening wolves”: they tear the people apart instead of taking care of them and healing them. The wolf is in contrast with the shepherd; he robs and scatters (John 10:13) in his insatiable hunger and indomitable urge to tear.

3. “Her prophets” – the only time they are mentioned in this book – are guilty of “reckless” talk and behavior with which “treachery” goes hand in hand. There is no seriousness or steadfastness in doctrine and life. They are treacherous because they are unfaithful to the LORD Whom they say they represent. They encourage the people in their apostasy from the LORD.

4. “Her priests” behave unholy. They “profane the sanctuary”, which means God’s sanctuary. They do not worry about the law. Instead of teaching the law to the people, they do “violence to the law”, which means they distort it (Ezekiel 22:26).

Verse 5

The Righteous LORD

Contrary to the unfaithful princes “within her” (Zephaniah 3:3) Zephaniah states “the LORD is righteous within her”. His holy and righteous presence makes the corruption of the leaders so much worse and requires judgment about it.

Contrary to the tearing wolves at evening, He brings His justice to light every morning. This justice will actually be practiced in the realm of peace, both in Israel and among the nations (Psalms 101:8).

Despite all warnings and God’s law enforcement, the unjust does not intend to change his course of action. Unashamedly, he continues to commit injustice. He can’t get rid of his bad, shameless behavior by anything.

Verses 6-7

God Points Out His Actions to His People

God reminds His people of His dealings with other nations (Zephaniah 3:6). These are unspecified nations. It is about God’s general judgments on certain nations. Wars of people against people are ultimately God’s way of punishing peoples. Those nations think to do their own will, but in reality God uses them to execute His judgments. His people need to see that, we also need to see that in our time. God allows one people to exterminate the other, to destroy their “corner towers”, to make their “streets” desolate and impassable, to lay waste their “cities” and to completely depopulate them, without a single remaining inhabitant.

Jerusalem does not take to heart the example of God’s dealings with the peoples around her (Zephaniah 3:7). She does not allow herself to be corrected (cf. Zephaniah 3:2) and brought to a fear of the LORD. God uses His Word to instruct (2 Timothy 3:16). Instruction means bringing the people back on the right path. It is a great grace of God that He wants to do this with His people. But God’s people do not listen and do evil. They are even “eager” to do evil. This is also the case with the masses today.

Verse 8

Wait for Me

The word “therefore” with which this verse begins, indicates that what follows is based on the foregoing. In the previous verses the sinfulness of the mass of God’s people is painted. Connected to that follows the call to wait for the LORD. That call is addressed to the remnant.

The LORD says that He will rise up and return to the earth. He comes as a Man. The believing remnant may trust that He will bring judgment on the nations, which will mean salvation for His people. For this judgment He will gather the nations and then judge them (Zechariah 14:2; Joel 3:1-Leviticus :; Joel 3:12-Nehemiah :).

Verse 9

Call on the LORD and Serve Him

After the execution of judgment the LORD shall process a change among the nations. Instead of the arrogant and proud language and their worship of their idols, they will speak things that are to His honor. The judgment on Babel in the confusion of speech will be undone. Here we see that the nations learn righteousness through the judgments (Isaiah 26:9).

The purity of lips presupposes that the hearts are cleansed. The first thing clean lips do is pray and worship. Calling on His Name cannot be done other than in pure language. Calling on the Name of the LORD means that one turns to the LORD out of the feeling of need. The result or consequence of that calling is a “shoulder to shoulder” – literally ‘[with] one shoulder’ – serving or serving together God according to His pleasure.

Verse 10

My Offerings

The change that has taken place with the nations inwardly will have external consequences. Ethiopia represents all countries far away. From everywhere, from all parts of the earth, the LORD will restore His people. Those who were first haters of God’s people will bring the dispersed ones of God’s people as offerings to the LORD (Isaiah 18:1; cf. Zephaniah 1:7-Ruth :). This will be the result of the fervent prayer of the dispersed.

Verse 11

Haughtiness Is Removed

“In that day” refers to the future, in this case to the future restoration of God’s people. When they are back in the land, they will not have to be ashamed, because everything that would work that has been removed by the LORD. He has done so either in the exercise of judgment on the arrogant, or because the Lord Jesus has borne the judgment over them. Every arrogant act of His own is reconciled. Pride and overconfidence are removed.

If Christ rules, the flesh will no longer be able to uplift itself. He rules on His holy mountain. Where He is and reigns, everything must be in accordance with His holiness. What is unholy cannot assert itself.

Verses 12-13

The Remnant of Israel

A “humble and lowly people” is the remnant with which God continues (Zephaniah 3:12). Therein is nothing of man and everything of God that He Himself has worked in His sovereignty. God desires to see His attributes represented by His people. They cannot do this in their own power. Yet the people will show them because “they will take refuge in the name of the LORD”.

These attributes are described in Zephaniah 3:13. The remnant is free from doing injustice and speaking deception. When God has worked everything to His pleasure, there is only food in abundance for the people, they will “feed”, they will “lie down” in rest and safety for there is “no one to make them tremble” (cf. Micah 4:4).

Verses 14-15

Joy for Israel

In view of the future happy day, Zion is called to be cheerful, to sing, and to rejoice (Zephaniah 3:14). “The time has arrived for singing” (Song of Solomon 2:12). All the heart is focused on the LORD and His deeds in favor of them and can therefore be full of joy.

In Zephaniah 3:15 the reason for the joy of Zephaniah 3:14 is given. The judgments are over; every opponent has been conquered and removed and cleared away. It is not possible for the enemy to rise again and attack again. The guarantee for this is that “the King of Israel, the LORD”, that is the Lord Jesus, is in their midst. Where He is and rules, evil has no chance of ever asserting itself again (cf. Nahum 1:9).

Verses 16-17

The LORD Your God Is in Your Midst

In these verses the encouragement and comfort for a frightened and plagued remnant continues. The LORD does everything He can to reassure them that it is truly and definitively over with all persecution and oppression. They do not have to be afraid anymore and not to lose courage (Zephaniah 3:16). Because He is in their midst, there is no reason for that either (Zephaniah 3:17). Fear takes away the power to serve. When fear is gone, there is strength to serve again. The LORD their God is in their midst as a victorious Warrior, literally: a Warrior Who saves (cf. Jeremiah 14:9). He is the “strong God” (Isaiah 10:21).

In the application for us, we may say that the Lord Jesus – He is that strong God – is in the midst of the assembled church, even though there are only two or three gathered together (Matthew 18:20). Though they are a weak and small people, the assembled believers will rejoice that He is in their midst (John 20:19-Proverbs :).

The climax of joy is that the marriage contract, broken by the unfaithfulness of the people, is restored (Isaiah 62:5; Isaiah 65:19; Hosea 2:19-Proverbs :). God Himself will remain quiet in His love for His people Israel in unlimited joy and delight. What a certainty that is for Israel. He will be quiet in His love about all her past sins because they are gone forever. Quietness is not only the absence of talking, but it is also the enjoyment of the simple presence of the beloved. It is being quiet about the other. There is complete rest about each other. God looks so much in joy at His people that their presence gives Him complete satisfaction.

The silence is broken by His cheering, through which He expresses His joy over her. It is the delight of the Groom about His bride (cf. Isaiah 62:5), as we hear in the song of the King of Israel when He says: “How beautiful and how delightful you are, [My] love, with [all] your charms!” (Song of Solomon 7:6).

Verse 18

God’s People Gathered

There was sadness because the feasts could not be celebrated in the foreign country where they were (Psalms 137:1-Numbers :). That sadness will be over because they will be able to celebrate the feasts again. The LORD will gather them together and bring them together to those who are already in the land. The ten tribes in the scattering and the two tribes in the land belong together. They are one people.

Now the reproach of imprisonment in the foreign country still presses as a burden on them. That reproach will be taken away by the LORD by bringing them back to their own land.

Verses 19-20

God’s People Turned Into Praise and Renown

The LORD will repay the oppressors for the evil they have done to His people (Zephaniah 3:19; Isaiah 60:14). The LORD shall take action against them. God’s people were an easy prey for the oppressors, for they were lame and outcast (cf. Micah 4:6-Judges :). God’s people had no strength in themselves because they were lame. They were also powerless because of the loss of cohesion, because they were outcast. The LORD will see to it that His people will be honored wherever they formerly were objects of mockery and exploitation.

In Zephaniah 3:20 the LORD repeats the promise of Zephaniah 3:19 in slightly different words. This gives the promise extra emphasis. Then the people will fulfill the purpose God has set for them (Deuteronomy 26:19).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Zephaniah 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.