Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible 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.
THE BOOK OF ZEPHANIAH Commentary by A. R. Faussett
Zephaniah, ninth in order of the minor prophets, prophesied "in the days of Josiah" (Zep 1:1), that is, between 642 and 611 B.C. The name means "Jehovah hath guarded," literally, "hidden" (Ps 27:5; 83:3). The specification in the introductory heading, of not only his father, but also his grandfather, and great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, implies that the latter were persons of note, or else the design was to distinguish him from another Zephaniah of note at the time of the captivity. The Jews' supposition, that persons recorded as a prophet's ancestors were themselves endowed with the prophetic spirit, seems groundless. There is no impossibility of the Hezekiah, who was Zephaniah's great-great-grandfather, being King Hezekiah as to the number of generations; for Hezekiah's reign of twenty-nine years, and his successor's reign of fifty-five years, admit of four generations interposing between. Yet the omission of the designation, "king of Judah," is fatal to the theory (compare Pr 25:1; Isa 38:9).
He must have flourished in the earlier part of Josiah's reign. In Zep 2:13-15 he foretells the doom of Nineveh, which happened in 625 B.C.; and in Zep 1:4 he denounces various forms of idolatry, and specially that of Baal. Now Josiah's reformation began in the twelfth and was completed in the eighteenth year of his reign. Zephaniah, therefore, in denouncing Baal worship, co-operated with that good king in his efforts, and so must have prophesied somewhere between the twelfth and eighteenth years of his reign. The silence of the historical books is no argument against this, as it would equally apply against Jeremiah's prophetical existence at the same time. Jewish tradition says that Zephaniah had for his colleagues Jeremiah, whose sphere of labor was the thoroughfares and market places, and Huldah the prophetess, who exercised her vocation in the college in Jerusalem.
The prophecy begins with the nation's sin and the fearful retribution coming at the hands of the Chaldeans. These are not mentioned by name, as in Jeremiah; for the prophecies of the latter, being nearer the fulfilment, become more explicit than those of an earlier date. The second chapter dooms the persecuting states in the neighborhood as well as Judea itself. The third chapter denounces Jerusalem, but concludes with the promise of her joyful re-establishment in the theocracy.
The style, though not generally sublime, is graphic and vivid in details (compare Zep 1:4-12). The language is pure, and free from Aramaisms. There are occasional coincidences with former prophets (compare Zep 2:14, with Isa 34:11; Zep 2:15, with Isa 47:8; Zep 3:10, with Isa 18:1; Zep 2:8, with Isa 16:6; also Zep 1:5, with Jer 8:2; Zep 1:12, with Jer 48:11). Such coincidences in part arise from the phraseology of Hebrew prophetic poetry being the common language of the inspired brotherhood. The New Testament, at Ro 15:6, seems to refer to Zep 3:9.
Zep 1:1-18. God's Severe Judgment on Judah for Its Idolatry and Neglect of Him: The Rapid Approach of the Judgment, and the Impossibility of Escape.
1. days of Josiah—Had their idolatries been under former kings, they might have said, Our kings have forced us to this and that. But under Josiah, who did all in his power to reform them, they have no such excuse.
son of Amon—the idolater, whose bad practices the Jews clung to, rather than the good example of Josiah, his son; so incorrigible were they in sin.
Judah—Israel's ten tribes had gone into captivity before this.
I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.
2. utterly consume—from a root to "sweep away," or "scrape off utterly." See Jer 8:13, Margin, and here.
from off the land—of Judah.
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.
3. Enumeration in detail of the "all things" (Zep 1:2; compare Jer 9:10; Ho 4:3).
the stumbling-blocks—idols which cause Judah to offend or stumble (Eze 14:3, 4, 7).
with the wicked—The idols and their worshippers shall be involved in a common destruction.
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;
4. stretch out mine hand—indicating some remarkable and unusual work of vengeance (Isa 5:25; 9:12, 17, 21).
Judah—including Benjamin. These two tribes are to suffer, which thought themselves perpetually secure, because they escaped the captivity in which the ten tribes were involved.
Jerusalem—the fountainhead of the evil. God begins with His sanctuary (Eze 9:6), and those who are nigh Him (Le 10:3).
the remnant of Baal—the remains of Baal worship, which as yet Josiah was unable utterly to eradicate in remote places. Baal was the Ph�nician tutelary god. From the time of the Judges (Jud 2:13), Israel had fallen into this idolatry; and Manasseh lately had set up this idol within Jehovah's temple itself (2Ki 21:3, 5, 7). Josiah began his reformation in the twelfth year of his reign (2Ch 34:4, 8), and in the eighteenth had as far as possible completed it.
Chemarims—idol priests, who had not reached the age of puberty; meaning "ministers of the gods" [Servius on Æneid, 11], the same name as the Tyrian Camilli, r and l being interchangeable (compare Ho 10:5, Margin). Josiah is expressly said (2Ki 23:5, Margin) to have "put down the Chemarim." The Hebrew root means "black" (from the black garments which they wore or the marks which they branded on their foreheads); or "zealous," from their idolatrous fanaticism. The very "name," as well as themselves, shall be forgotten.
the priests—of Jehovah, of Aaronic descent, who ought to have used all their power to eradicate, but who secretly abetted, idolatry (compare Zep 3:4; Eze 8:1-18; 22:26; 44:10). From the priests Zephaniah passes to the people.
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;
5. worship the host of heaven—Saba: whence, in contrast to Sabeanism, Jehovah is called Lord of Sabaoth.
upon the housetops—which were flat (2Ki 23:5, 6, 12; Jer 19:13; 32:29).
swear by the Lord—rather, "swear to Jehovah" (2Ch 15:14); solemnly dedicating themselves to Him (compare Isa 48:1; Ho 4:15).
and—"and yet (with strange inconsistency, 1Ki 18:21; Eze 20:39; Mt 6:24) swear by Malcham," that is, "their king" [Maurer]: the same as Molech (see on Am 5:25), and "Milcom the god of … Ammon" (1Ki 11:33). If Satan have half the heart, he will have all; if the Lord have but half offered to Him, He will have none.
And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor inquired for him.
6. This verse describes more comprehensively those guilty of defection from Jehovah in any way (Jer 2:13, 17).
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.
7. Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord—(Hab 2:20). Let the earth be silent at His approach [Maurer]. Or, "Thou whosoever hast been wont to speak against God, as if He had no care about earthly affairs, cease thy murmurs and self-justifications; submit thyself to God, and repent in time" [Calvin].
Lord … prepared a sacrifice—namely, a slaughter of the guilty Jews, the victims due to His justice (Isa 34:6; Jer 46:10; Eze 39:17).
bid his guests—literally, "sanctified His called ones" (compare Isa 13:3). It enhances the bitterness of the judgment that the heathen Chaldeans should be sanctified, or consecrated as it were, by God as His priests, and be called to eat the flesh of the elect people; as on feast days the priests used to feast among themselves on the remains of the sacrifices [Calvin]. English Version takes it not of the priests, but the guests bidden, who also had to "sanctify" or purify themselves before coming to the sacrificial feast (1Sa 9:13, 22; 16:5). Nebuchadnezzar was bidden to come to take vengeance on guilty Jerusalem (Jer 25:9).
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.
8. the princes—who ought to have been an example of good to others, but were ringleaders in all evil.
the king's children—fulfilled on Zedekiah's children (Jer 39:6); and previously, on Jehoahaz and Eliakim, the sons of Josiah (2Ki 23:31, 36; 2Ch 36:6; compare also 2Ki 20:18; 21:13). Huldah the prophetess (2Ki 22:20) intimated that which Zephaniah now more expressly foretells.
all such as are clothed with strange apparel—the princes or courtiers who attired themselves in costly garments, imported from abroad; partly for the sake of luxury, and partly to ingratiate themselves with foreign great nations whose costume as well as their idolatries they imitated, [Calvin]; whereas in costume, as in other respects, God would have them to be separate from the nations. Grotius refers the "strange apparel" to garments forbidden by the law, for example, men's garments worn by women, and vice versa, a heathen usage in the worship of Mars and Venus (De 22:5).
In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit.
9. those that leap on the threshold—the servants of the princes, who, after having gotten prey (like hounds) for their masters, leap exultingly on their masters' thresholds; or, on the thresholds of the houses which they break into [Calvin]. Jerome explains it of those who walk up the steps into the sanctuary with haughtiness. Rosenmuller translates, "Leap over the threshold"; namely, in imitation of the Philistine custom of not treading on the threshold, which arose from the head and hands of Dragon being broken off on the threshold before the ark (1Sa 5:5). Compare Isa 2:6, "thy people … are soothsayers like the Philistines." Calvin's view agrees best with the latter clause of the verse.
fill … masters' houses with violence, &c.—that is, with goods obtained with violence, &c.
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.
10. fish gate—(2Ch 33:14; Ne 3:3; 12:39). Situated on the east of the lower city, north of the sheep gate [Maurer]: near the stronghold of David in Milo, between Zion and the lower city, towards the west [Jerome]. This verse describes the state of the city when it was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar. It was through the fish gate that he entered the city. It received its name from the fish market which was near it. Through it passed those who used to bring fish from the lake of Tiberias and Jordan. It answers to what is now called the Damascus gate [Henderson].
the second—namely, the gate which was second in dignity [Calvin]. Or, the second or lower part of the city. Appropriately, the fish gate, or extreme end of the lower part of the city, first resounds with the cries of the citizens as the foe approaches; then, as he advances further, that part of the city itself, namely, its inner part; lastly, when the foe is actually come and has burst in, the hills, the higher ones, especially Zion and Moriah, on which the upper city and temple were founded [Maurer]. The second, or lower city, answers to Akra, north of Zion, and separated from it by the valley of Tyrop�on running down to the pool of Siloam [Henderson]. The Hebrew is translated "college," 2Ki 22:14; so Vatablus would translate here.
hills—not here those outside, but those within the walls: Zion, Moriah, and Ophel.
Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
11. Maktesh—rather, "the mortar," a name applied to the valley of Siloam from its hollow shape [Jerome]. The valley between Zion and Mount Olivet, at the eastern extremity of Mount Moriah, where the merchants dwelt. Zec 14:21, "The Canaanite," namely, merchant [Chaldee Version]. The Tyrop�on (that is, cheese-makers') valley below Mount Akra [Rosenmuller]. Better Jerusalem itself, so called as lying in the midst of hills (Isa 22:1; Jer 21:13) and as doomed to be the scene of its people being destroyed as corn or drugs are pounded in a mortar (Pr 27:22) [Maurer]. Compare the similar image of a "pot" (Eze 24:3, 6). The reason for the destruction is subjoined, namely, its merchant people's greediness of gain.
all the merchant people—literally, the "Canaanite people": irony: all the merchant people of Jerusalem are very Canaanites in greed for gain and in idolatries (see on Ho 12:7).
all … that bear silver—loading themselves with that which will prove but a burden (Hab 2:6).
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.
12. search … with candles—or lamps; so as to leave no dark corner in it wherein sin can escape the punishment, of which the Chaldeans are My instruments (compare Zep 1:13; Lu 15:8).
settled on their lees—"hardened" or crusted; image from the crust formed at the bottom of wines long left undisturbed (Jer 48:11). The effect of wealthy undisturbed ease ("lees") on the ungodly is hardening: they become stupidly secure (compare Ps 55:19; Am 6:1).
Lord will not do good … evil—They deny that God regards human affairs, or renders good to the good; or evil to the evil, but that all things go haphazard (Ps 10:4; Mal 2:17).
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.
13. Therefore their goods shall become a booty, &c.—Fulfilling the prophecy in De 28:30, 39 (compare Am 5:11).
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.
14. voice of … day of … Lord—that is, Jehovah ushering in that day with a roar of vengeance against the guilty (Jer 25:30; Am 1:2). They who will not now heed (Zep 1:12) His voice by His prophets, must heed it when uttered by the avenging foe.
mighty … shall cry … bitterly—in hopeless despair; the might on which Jerusalem now prides itself, shall then fail utterly.
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,
15. wasteness … desolation—The Hebrew terms by their similarity of sounds, Shoah, Umeshoah, express the dreary monotony of desolation (see on Na 2:10).
A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.
16. the trumpet—namely, of the besieging enemy (Am 2:2).
alarm—the war shout [Maurer].
towers—literally, "angles"; for city walls used not to be built in a direct line, but with sinuous curves and angles, so that besiegers advancing might be assailed not only in front, but on both sides, caught as it were in a cul-de-sac; towers were built especially at the angles. So Tacitus describes the walls of Jerusalem [Histories, 5.11.7].
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.
17. like blind men—unable to see whither to turn themselves so as to find an escape from existing evils.
flesh—Hebrew, "bread"; so the Arabic term for "bread" is used for "flesh" (Mt 26:26).
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.
18. Neither … silver nor … gold shall … deliver them, &c.—(Pr 11:4).
fire of his jealousy—(Eze 38:19); His wrath jealous for His honor consuming the guilty like fire.
make even a speedy riddance of all—rather, a "consummation" (complete destruction: "full end," Jer 46:28; Eze 11:13) "altogether sudden" [Maurer]. "A consumption, and that a sudden one" [Calvin].