This is the word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
I. MEANING OF HIS NAME. Zephaniah, "One whom Jehovah hides." Hiding in the day of calamity a blessing promised to them that fear Go(Psalm 31:19, 20), who are therefore styled God's hidden ones (Psalm 83:4), and may confidently reckon upon God's extending to them his protecting care in the midst of peril (Psalm 27:5), yea, may even boldly flee unto him to hide them (Psalm 143:9).
II. THE DIGNITY OF HIS PERSON. The scion of a kingly house, "the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah." Mentioned here, not because they had been prophets, but probably because they had been celebrated persons, perhaps good men, these ancestors of Zephaniah - three of them, like himself, with Jehovah in his name - may have been introduced to show that the prophet, while descended from the good King Hezekiah, belonged to a different branch of the family from Manasseh and Amon; proceeded from the line in which Hezekiah's goodness was transmitted, and thus had more than royal blood in his veins (not always an advantage) - hereditary piety in his soul.
III. THE TIME OF HIS APPEARING.
1. The age fixed.
(1) "The days of Josiah, the son of Amen, King of Judah;" i.e. not before B.C. 640, when Josiah began to reign.
(2) Before the fall of Nineveh (Zephaniah 2:13), which took place in B.C. 625.
(3) Probably after Josiah's reformation had begun and before it was completed, since the prophet speaks of a "remnant of Baal" as existing at the time when he began to prophesy.
(4) Hence the date of Zephaniah may be placed between Josiah's twelfth and eighteenth years, or between B.C. 628-622 (Hitzig, Keil, and Delitzsch), though by some interpreters (Ewald, Havernick, Pusey) it has been fixed earlier - to wit, prior to Josiah's twelfth year.
2. Its character declared.
(1) Generally, as regards the whole land of Judah, an age of widely spread, deeply seated, and well nigh incurable wickedness, of deplorable religious apostasy, of intensely debasing idolatry, of shameless hypocrisy, and of gross worldliness and indifference to Divine things (ver. 4).
(2) Particularly, as regards Jerusalem, an age of rebellion, disobedience, irreligion, prayerlessness, unbelief, violence, treachery, desecration of Jehovah's sanctuary, insensibility to correction, and deep-seated immorality (Zephaniah 3:1-4), with all of which the metropolis and its inhabitants were chargeable (cf. Jeremiah 5.; 6.).
IV. THE SOURCE OF HIS INSPIRATION. "The word of Jehovah." Whether this came to him by direct revelation through voice (Jeremiah 1:4) or vision (Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1), or indirectly by meditation on the moral and political condition of his countrymen as well as on the character of Jehovah and the laws of righteousness by which he governs the universe, is not said and need not be inquired into. It suffices to know that the prophet claimed for his message that it had been expressly given him - put into his heart and mouth - by Jehovah; while his predictions certainly were such as could not have been announced without the aid of Divine inspiration.
V. THE BURDEN OF HIS PROPHECY. Judgment.
1. Divine. The instrument is not mentioned; the first cause alone is placed in the foreground - "I will utterly consume;" "I will cut off;" "I will stretch out mine hand." The present day tendency is to set God in the background, if not to deny his agency altogether, alike in the production of material phenomena and in the superintendence of the social, moral, and political worlds, and to concentrate attention principally, if not exclusively, upon what are merely God's instruments. The prophet's way of looking at men and things accorded more with sound philosophy and true science, not to say sincere religion, than the practice prevailing in many so called enlightened circles today.
2. Universal. The judgment should embrace the wide earth. "All" - "man and beast, the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, the stumbling blocks and the wicked" - should be arraigned at Jehovah's bar. If the language pointed not to a general judgment of men and nations at the end of the world, it at least emphasized the thought that no part of the world, no age or nation, could escape the ordeal of appearing before Heaven's tribunal or elude the grasp of Divine retribution. The terms in which Jehovah declares his purpose to visit the wicked with destruction are such as to show that the complete fulfilment of the prophecy can only be reached in the great and terrible day of the Lord at the close of time (cf. Isaiah 24:1-23).
3. Particular. While enclosing the whole world in its sweep, the threatened judgment should fall with a special stroke upon Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem - as it were beginning with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). That the instruments of judgment would be the Scythians of whom Herodotus (1:15, 103, 106; 4:10, 12) speaks as having invaded Upper and Higher Asia (Hitzig, Ewald, Bertheau), is not supported by sufficient evidence, whilst the fact that neither Herodotus nor the Old Testament reports any conquest of Jerusalem by them seems decisive against their being considered the executors of Jehovah's wrath. The agents actually employed were the Chaldeans (2 Kings 25:9), though it was not Zephaniah's purpose to indicate by whom the judgments should be carried out.
4. Complete. Thorough going; upon both the world in general and Judah in particular. "I will utterly consume all from off the face of the ground, saith Jehovah."
(1) As regards the world, the destruction should be as wide sweeping as had been that of the Deluge (Genesis 7:21).
(2) As regards Judah and Jerusalem, the purgation as effective. "The remnant of Baal should be cut off," i.e. root and branch, extirpated, or the work of extirpation, if already begun, should be carried forward till not a vestige of the hated idol worship should be seen.
(a) First, the idolatrous priests of both kinds should be swept away - the Chemarim, or "the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places round about Jerusalem" (2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5); and the priests, not "the idolatrous priests in the stricter sense" (Keil), but the unworthy priests of Jehovah who had either secretly or openly favoured the prevailing Baal worship (Fausset, Farrar).
(b) Next, the idol worshippers of both kinds should be cut off - the thorough paced devotees of the heathen cultus, who worshipped the host of heaven upon the house tops, and the temporizers who tried to combine the worship of Jehovah with that of Baal, offering oaths of allegiance partly to Jehovah and partly to their king, i.e. Baal.
(c) And finally, apostates and open despisers of the Jehovah religion should be punished - those who had turned back from serving Jehovah, and those who had never served him at all (ver. 6). Learn:
1. The value of an honoured and pious ancestry.
2. The light the Word of God (contained in Scripture) can cast upon the
3. The certainty of a day of judgment fur men and nations.
4. The impossibility of eluding the just judgment of God.
5. The inevitable ruin of them who will not serve God.
6. The impossibility of trying to serve God and idols.
7. The danger of neglecting religion hardly less than that of apostatizing from it. - T.W.
The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah.
Homilist.I. THE DISTINGUISHING CAPACITY OF MAN, AND THE WONDERFUL CONDESCENSION OF GOD.
1. The distinguishing capacity of man. To receive the word of Jehovah. To receive a word from another is to appreciate its meaning. The word of the Lord comes to every man at times, — comes in visions of the night, comes in the intuitions of conscience, comes in the impressions that nature makes on the heart.
2. The wonderful condescension of God. Even to speak to man. "The Lord hath respect unto the humble."
II. THE MORAL CORRUPTION OF MAN AND THE EXCLUSIVE PREROGATIVE OF GOD.
1. The moral corruption of man. There are three great moral evils indicated in these verses.(1) Idolatry. "I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests; and them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops." The remains of Baal worship, which as yet Josiah was unable utterly to eradicate in remoter places.(2) Backsliding. "Them that had turned back from the Lord." The other evil here is —(3) Indifferentism. "And those that have not sought the Lord nor inquired for Him."
2. The exclusive prerogative of God. What is that? To destroy. "I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord."(1) No one can really destroy but God. "I kill and I make alive." Annihilation is as far behind the work of the creature as the work of creation.(2) God has a right to destroy human life.(3) His destructive work is as beneficent as His sustaining and creating. Destruction is a principle in all nature: one plant destroys another, one animal destroys another, and there are elements in nature whose work is destruction. From destruction new life and beauty come; destruction keeps the universe alive, fresh, and healthy.
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