Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Judgment upon All the World, and upon Judah in Particular - Zephaniah 1
The judgment will come upon all the world (Zep 1:2, Zep 1:3), and will destroy all the idolaters and despisers of God in Judah and Jerusalem (Zep 1:4-7), and fall heavily upon sinners of every rank (Zep 1:8-13). The terrible day of the Lord will burst irresistibly upon all the inhabitants of the earth (Zep 1:14-18).
Zep 1:1 contains the heading, which has been explained in the introduction. Zep 1:2 and Zep 1:3 form the preface. - Zep 1:2. "I will sweep, sweep away everything from the face of the earth, is the saying of Jehovah. Zep 1:3. I will sweep away man and cattle, sweep away the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the offences with the sinners, and I cut off men from the face of the earth, is the saying of Jehovah." The announcement of the judgment upon the whole earth not only serves to sharpen the following threat of judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem in this sense, "Because Jehovah judges the whole world, He will punish the apostasy of Judah all the more;" but the judgment upon the whole world forms an integral part of his prophecy, which treats more fully of the execution of the judgment in and upon Judah, simply because Judah forms the kingdom of God, which is to be purified from its dross by judgment, and led on towards the end of its divine calling. As Zephaniah here opens the judgment awaiting Judah with an announcement of a judgment upon the whole world, so does he assign the reason for his exhortation to repentance in Zep 2:1-15, by showing that all nations will succumb to the judgment; and then announces in Zep 3:9., as the fruit of the judgment, the conversion of the nations to Jehovah, and the glorification of the kingdom of God. The way to salvation leads through judgment, not only for the world with its enmity against God, but for the degenerate theocracy also. It is only through judgment that the sinful world can be renewed and glorified. The verb אסף, the hiphil of sūph, is strengthened by the inf. abs. אסף, which is formed from the verb אסף, a verb of kindred meaning. Sūph and 'âsaph signify to take away, to sweep away, hiph. to put an end, to destroy. Kōl, everything, is specified in Zep 1:3 : men and cattle, the birds of heaven, and the fishes of the sea; the verb 'âsēph being repeated before the two principal members. This specification stands in unmistakeable relation to the threatening of God: to destroy all creatures for the wickedness of men, from man to cattle, and to creeping things, and even to the fowls of the heaven (Gen 6:7). By playing upon this threat, Zephaniah intimates that the approaching judgment will be as general over the earth, and as terrible, as the judgment of the flood. Through this judgment God will remove or destroy the offences (stumbling-blocks) together with the sinners. את before הרשׁעים cannot be the sign of the accusative, but can only be a preposition, with, together with, since the objects to אסף are all introduced without the sign of the accusative; and, moreover, if את־הרשׁ were intended for an accusative, the copula Vv would not be omitted. Hammakhshēlôth does not mean houses about to fall (Hitzig), which neither suits the context nor can be grammatically sustained, since even in Isa 3:6 hammakhshēlâh is not the fallen house, but the state brought to ruin by the sin of the people; and makhshēlâh is that against which or through which a person meets with a fall. Makhshēlōth are all the objects of coarser and more refined idolatry, not merely the idolatrous images, but all the works of wickedness, like τὰ σκάνδαλα in Mat 13:41. The judgment, however, applies chiefly to men, i.e., to sinners, and hence in the last clause the destruction of men from off the earth is especially mentioned. The irrational creation is only subject to φθορά, on account of and through the sin of men (Rom 8:20.).
The judgment coming upon the whole earth with all its inhabitants will fall especially upon Judah and Jerusalem. Zep 1:4. "And I stretch my hand over Judah, and over all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and cut off from this place the remnant of Baal, the name of the consecrated servants, together with the priests. Zep 1:5. And those who worship the army of heaven upon the roofs, and the worshippers who swear to Jehovah, and who swear by their king. Zep 1:6. And those who draw back from Jehovah, and who did not seek Jehovah, and did not inquire for Him." God stretches out His hand (יד) or His arm (זרוע) to smite the ungodly with judgments (compare Zephaniah 6:6, Deu 4:34; Deu 5:15, with Isa 5:25; Isa 9:11, Isa 9:16, Isa 9:20; Isa 10:4; Isa 14:26.). Through the judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem He will cut off שׁאר הבּעל, the remnant of Baal, i.e., all that remains of Baal and of idolatry; for Baal or the Baal-worship stands per synecdochen for idolatry of every kind (see at Hos 2:10). The emphasis lies upon "the remnant," all that still exists of the Baal-worship or idolatry, even to the very last remnant; so that the emphasis presupposes that the extermination has already begun, that the worship of Baal no longer exists in undiminished force and extent. It must not be limited, however, to the complete abolition of the outward or grosser idolatry, but includes the utter extermination of the grosser as well as the more refined Baal-worship. That the words should be so understood is required by the parallel clause: the name of the consecrated servants together with the priests. Kemârı̄m are not prophets of Baal, but, as in Kg2 23:5 and Hos 10:5, the priests appointed by the kings of Judah for the worship of the high places and the idolatrous worship of Jehovah (for the etymology of the word, see at Kg2 23:5). The kōhănı̄m, as distinguished from these, are idolatrous priests in the stricter sense of the word (i.e., those who conducted the literal idolatry). The names of both the idolatrous priests of Jehovah and the literal priests of the idols are to be cut off, so that not only the persons referred to will disappear, but even their names will be heard no more. Along with the idols and their priests, the worshippers of idols are also to be destroyed. Just as in Zep 1:4 two classes of priests are distinguished, so in Zep 1:5 are two classes of worshippers, viz., (1) the star-worshippers, and (2) those who tried to combine the worship of Jehovah and the worship of idols; and to these a third class is added in Zep 1:6. The worship of the stars was partly Baal-worship, the sun, moon, and stars being worshipped as the bearers of the powers of nature worshipped in Baal and Asherah (see at Kg2 23:5); and partly Sabaeism or pure star-worship, the stars being worshipped as the originators of all growth and decay in nature, and the leaders and regulators of all sublunary things (see at Kg2 21:3). The worship took place upon the roofs, i.e., on altars erected upon the flat roofs of the houses, chiefly by the burning of incense (Jer 19:13), but also by the offering of sacrifices (Kg2 23:12; see the comm. in loc.). "They offered the sacrifices upon the roofs, that they might be the better able to see the stars in the heavens" (Theodoret). Along with the star-worshippers as the representatives of literal idolatry, Zephaniah mentions as a second class the worshippers who swear partly to Jehovah, and partly by their king, i.e., who go limping on two sides (Kg1 18:21), or try to combine the worship of Jehovah with that of Baal. Malkâm, their king, is Baal, who is distinctly called king in the inscriptions (see Movers, Phnizier, i. pp. 171-2), and not the "earthly king of the nation," as Hitzig has erroneously interpreted the Masoretic text, in consequence of which he proposes to read milkōm, i.e., Moloch. נשׁבּע with ל signifies to take an oath to Jehovah, i.e., to bind one's self on oath to His service; whereas נשׁבּע with ב (to swear by a person) means to call upon Him as God when taking an oath. The difference between the two expressions answers exactly to the religious attitude of the men in question, who pretended to be worshippers of Jehovah, and yet with every asseveration took the name of Baal into their mouth. In Zep 1:6 we have not two further classes mentioned, viz., "the vicious and the irreligious," as Hitzig supposes; but the persons here described form only one single class. Retiring behind Jehovah, drawing back from Him, turning the back upon God, is just the same as not seeking Jehovah, or not inquiring after Him. The persons referred to are the religiously indifferent, those who do not trouble themselves about God, the despisers of God.
This judgment will speedily come. Zep 1:7. "Be silent before the Lord Jehovah! For the day of Jehovah is near, for Jehovah has prepared a slaying of sacrifice, He has consecrated His called." The command, "Be silent before the Lord," which is formed after Hab 2:20, and with which the prophet summons to humble, silent submission to the judgment of God, serves to confirm the divine threat in Zep 1:2-6. The reason for the commanding Hush! (keep silence) is given in the statement that the day of Jehovah is close at hand (compare Joe 1:15), and that God has already appointed the executors of the judgment. The last two clauses of the verse are formed from reminiscences taken from Isaiah. The description of the judgment as zebhach, a sacrifice, is taken from Isa 34:6 (cf. Jer 46:10 and Eze 39:17). The sacrifice which God has prepared is the Jewish nation; those who are invited to this sacrificial meal ("called," Sa1 9:13) are not beasts and birds of prey, as in Eze 39:17, but the nations which He has consecrated to war that they may consume Jacob (Jer 10:25). The extraordinary use of the verb hiqdiish (consecrated) in this connection may be explained from Isa 13:3, where the nations appointed to make war against Babel are called mequddâshı̄m, the sanctified of Jehovah (cf. Jer 22:7).
The judgment will fall with equal severity upon the idolatrous and sinners of every rank (Zep 1:8-11), and no one in Jerusalem will be able to save himself from it (Zep 1:12, Zep 1:13). In three double verses Zephaniah brings out three classes of men who differ in their civil position, and also in their attitude towards God, as those who will be smitten by the judgment: viz., (1) the princes, i.e., the royal family and superior servants of the king, who imitate the customs of foreigners, and oppress the people (Zep 1:8, Zep 1:9); (2) the merchants, who have grown rich through trade and usury (Zep 1:10, Zep 1:11); (3) the irreligious debauchees (Zep 1:12, Zep 1:13). The first of these he threatens with visitation. Zep 1:8. "And it will come to pass in the day of Jehovah's sacrifice, that I visit the princes and the king's sons, and all who clothe themselves in foreign dress. Zep 1:9. And I visit every one who leaps over the threshold on that day, those who fill the Lord's house with violence and deceit." The enumeration of those who are exposed to the judgment commences with the princes, i.e., the heads of the tribes and families, who naturally filled the higher offices of state; and the king's sons, not only the sons of Josiah, who were still very young (see the Introduction), but also the sons of the deceased kings, the royal princes generally. The king himself is not named, because Josiah walked in the ways of the Lord, and on account of his piety and fear of God was not to lie to see the outburst of the judgment (Kg2 22:19-20; Ch2 34:27-28). The princes and king's sons are threatened with punishment, not on account of the high position which they occupied in the state, but on account of the ungodly disposition which they manifested. For since the clauses which follow not only mention different classes of men, but also point out the sins of the different classes, we must also expect this in the case of the princes and the king's sons, and consequently must refer the dressing in foreign clothes, which is condemned in the second half of the verse, to the princes and king's sons also, and understand the word "all" as relating to those who imitated their manners without being actually princes or king's sons. Malbūsh nokhrı̄ (foreign dress) does not refer to the clothes worn by the idolaters in their idolatrous worship (Chald., Rashi, Jer.), nor to the dress prohibited in the law, viz., "women dressing in men's clothes, or men dressing in women's clothes" (Deu 22:5, Deu 22:11), as Grotius maintains, nor to clothes stolen from the poor, or taken from them as pledges; but, as nokhrı̄ signifies a foreigner, to foreign dress. Drusius has already pointed this out, and explains the passage as follows: "I think that the reference is to all those who betrayed the levity of their minds by wearing foreign dress. For I have no doubt that in that age some copied the Egyptians in their style of dress, and others the Babylonians, according as they favoured the one nation or the other. The prophet therefore says, that even those who adopted foreign habits, and conformed themselves to the customs of the victorious nation, would not be exempt." The last allusion is certainly untenable, and it would be more correct to say with Strauss: "The prophets did not care for externals of this kind, but it was evident to them that 'as the dress, so the heart;' that is to say, the clothes were witnesses in their esteem of the foreign inclinations of the heart." In Zep 1:9 many commentators find a condemnation of an idolatrous use of foreign customs; regarding the leaping over the threshold as an imitation of the priests of Dagon, who adopted the custom, according to Sa1 5:5, of leaping over the threshold when they entered the temple of that idol. But an imitation of that custom could only take place in temples of Dagon, and it appears perfectly inconceivable that it should have been transferred to the threshold of the king's palace, unless the king was regarded as an incarnation of Dagon, - a thought which could never enter the minds of Israelitish idolaters, since even the Philistian kings did not hold themselves to be incarnations of their idols. If we turn to the second hemistich, the thing condemned is the filling of their masters' houses with violence; and this certainly does not stand in any conceivable relation to that custom of the priests of Dagon; and yet the words "who fill," etc., are proved to be explanatory of the first half of the verse, by the fact that the second clause is appended without the copula Vav, and without the repetition of the preposition על. Now, if a fresh sin were referred to there, the copula Vav, at all events, could not have been omitted. We must therefore understand by the leaping over the threshold a violent and sudden rushing into houses to steal the property of strangers (Calvin, Ros., Ewald, Strauss, and others), so that the allusion is to "dishonourable servants of the king, who thought that they could best serve their master by extorting treasures from their dependants by violence and fraud" (Ewald). אדניהם, of their lord, i.e., of the king, not "of their lords:" the plural is in the pluralis majestatis, as in Sa1 26:16; Sa2 2:5, etc.
Even the usurers will not escape the judgment. Zep 1:10. "And it will come to pass in that day, is the saying of Jehovah, voice of the cry from the fish-gate, and howling from the lower city, and great destruction from the hills. Zep 1:11. Howl, inhabitants of the mortar, for all the people of Canaan are destroyed; cut off are all that are laden with silver." In order to express the thought that the judgment will not spare any one class of the population, Zephaniah depicts the lamentation which will arise from all parts of the city. קול צעקה, voice of the cry, i.e., a loud cry of anguish will arise or resound. The fish-gate (according to Neh 3:3; Neh 12:39; cf. Ch2 33:14) was in the eastern portion of the wall which bounded the lower city on the north side (for further details on this point, see at Neh 3:3). המּשׁנה (= העיר משׁנה, Neh 11:9), the second part or district of the city, is the lower city upon the hill Acra (see at Kg2 22:14). Shebher, fragor, does not mean a cry of murder, but the breaking to pieces of what now exists, not merely the crashing fall of the buildings, like za‛ăqath shebher in Isa 15:5, the cry uttered at the threatening danger of utter destruction. In order to heighten the terrors of the judgment, there is added to the crying and howling of the men the tumult caused by the conquest of the city. "From the hills," i.e., "not from Zion and Moriah," but from the ills surrounding the lower city, viz., Bezetha, Gareb (Jer 31:39), and others. For Zion, the citadel of Jerusalem, is evidently thought of as the place where the howling of the men and the noise of the devastation, caused by the enemy pressing in from the north and north-west, are heard. Hammakhtēsh, the mortar (Pro 27:22), which is the name given in Jdg 15:19 to a hollow place in a rock, is used here to denote a locality in Jerusalem, most probably the depression which ran down between Acra on the west and Bezetha and Moriah on the east, as far as the fountain of Siloah, and is called by Josephus "the cheese-maker's valley," and by the present inhabitants el-Wâd, i.e., the valley, and also the mill-valley. The name "mortar" was probably coined by Zephaniah, to point to the fate of the merchants and men of money who lived there. They who dwell there shall howl, because "all the people of Canaan" are destroyed. These are not Canaanitish or Phoenician merchants, but Judaean merchants, who resembled the Canaanites or Phoenicians in their general business (see at Hos 12:8), and had grown rich through trade and usury. Netı̄l keseph, laden with silver.
The debauchees and rioters generally will also not remain free from punishment. Zep 1:12. "And at that time it will come to pass, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and visit the men who lie upon their lees, who say in their heart, Jehovah does no good, and no evil. Zep 1:13. Their goods will become plunder, and their houses desolation: they will build houses, and not dwell (therein), and plant vineyards, and not drink their wine." God will search Jerusalem with candles, to bring out the irreligious debauchees out of their hiding-places in their houses, and punish them. The visitation is effected by the enemies who conquer Jerusalem. Jerome observes on this passage: "Nothing will be allowed to escape unpunished. If we read the history of Josephus, we shall find it written there, that princes and priests, and mighty men, were dragged even out of the sewers, and caves, and pits, and tombs, in which they had hidden themselves from fear of death." Now, although what is stated here refers to the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus, there can be no doubt that similar things occurred at the Chaldaean conquest. The expression to search with candles (cf. Luk 15:8) is a figure denoting the most minute search of the dwellings and hiding-places of the despisers of God. These are described as men who sit drawn together upon their lees (קפא, lit., to draw one's self together, to coagulate). The figure is borrowed from old wine, which has been left upon its lees and not drawn off, and which, when poured into other vessels, retains its flavour, and does not alter its odour (Jer 48:11), and denotes perseverance or confirmation in moral and religious indifference, "both external quiet, and carelessness, idleness, and spiritual insensibility in the enjoyment not only of the power and possessions bestowed upon them, but also of the pleasures of sin and the worst kinds of lust" (Marck). Good wine, when it remains for a long time upon its lees, becomes stronger; but bad wine becomes harsher and thicker. Shemârı̄m, lees, do not denote "sins in which the ungodly are almost stupefied" (Jerome), or "splendour which so deprives a man of his senses that there is nothing left either pure or sincere" (Calvin), but "the impurity of sins, which were associated in the case of these men with external good" (Marck). In the carnal repose of their earthly prosperity, they said in their heart, i.e., they thought within themselves, there is no God who rules and judges the world; everything takes place by chance, or according to dead natural laws. They did not deny the existence of God, but in their character and conduct they denied the working of the living God in the world, placing Jehovah on the level of the dead idols, who did neither good nor harm (Isa 41:23; Jer 10:5), whereby they really denied the being of God.
(Note: "For neither the majesty of God, nor His government or glory, consists in any imaginary splendour, but in those attributes which so meet together in Him that they cannot be severed from His essense. It is the property of God to govern the world, to take care of the human race, to distinguish between good and evil, to relieve the wretched, to punish all crimes, to restrain unjust violence. And if any one would deprive God of these, he would leave nothing but an idol." - Calvin.)
To these God will show Himself as the ruler and judge of the world, by giving up their goods (chēlâm, opes eorum) to plunder, so that they will experience the truth of the punishments denounced in His word against the despisers of His name (compare Lev 26:32-33; Deu 28:30, Deu 28:39, and the similar threats in Amo 5:11; Mic 6:15).
This judgment will not be delayed. To terrify the self-secure sinners out of their careless rest, Zephaniah now carries out still further the thought only hinted at in Zep 1:7 of the near approach and terrible character of the judgment. Zep 1:14. "The great day of Jehovah is near, near and hasting greatly. Hark! the day of Jehovah, bitterly crieth the hero there. Zep 1:15. A day of fury is this day, a day of anguish and pressure, a day of devastation and desert, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of cloud and cloudy night. Zep 1:16. A day of the trumpet and battering, over the fortified cities and high battlements." The day of Jehovah is called "the great day" with reference to its effects, as in Joe 2:11. The emphasis lies primarily, however, upon the qârōbh (is near), which is therefore repeated and strengthened by מהר מאד. מהר is not a piel participle with the Mem dropped, but an adjective form, which has sprung out of the adverbial use of the inf. abs. (cf. Ewald, 240, e). In the second hemistich the terrible character of this day is described. קול before yōm Yehōvâh (the day of Jehovah), at the head of an interjectional clause, has almost grown into an interjection (see at Isa 13:4). The hero cries bitterly, because he cannot save himself, and must succumb to the power of the foe. Shâm, adv. loci, has not a temporal signification even here, but may be explained from the fact that in connection with the day the prophet is thinking of the field of battle, on which the hero perishes while fighting. In order to depict more fully the terrible character of this day, Zephaniah crowds together in Zep 1:15 and Zep 1:16 all the words supplied by the language to describe the terrors of the judgment. He first of all designates it as yōm ‛ebhrâh, the day of the overflowing wrath of God (cf. Zep 1:18); then, according to the effect which the pouring out of the wrath of God produces upon men, as a day of distress and pressure (cf. Job 15:24), of devastation (שׁאה and משׁואה combined, as in Job 38:27; Job 30:3), and of the darkest cloudy night, after Joe 2:2; and lastly, in Zep 1:16, indicating still more closely the nature of the judgment, as a day of the trumpet and the trumpet-blast, i.e., on which the clangour of the war-trumpets will be heard over all the fortifications and castles, and the enemy will attack, take, and destroy the fortified places amidst the blast of trumpets (cf. Amo 2:2). Pinnōth are the corners and battlements of the walls of the fortifications (Ch2 26:15).
In the midst of this tribulation the sinners will perish without counsel or help. Zep 1:17. "And I make it strait for men, and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against Jehovah; and their blood will be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Zep 1:18. Even their silver, even their gold, will not be able to save them on the day of Jehovah's fury, and in the fire of His wrath will the whole earth be devoured; for He will make an end, yea a sudden one, to all the inhabitants of the earth." והצרתי reminds of the threat of Moses in Deu 28:52, to which Zephaniah alluded in Zep 1:16. And in הלכוּ כּעורים the allusion to Deu 28:29 is also unmistakeable. To walk like the blind, i.e., to seek a way out of the trouble without finding one. This distress God sends, because they have sinned against Him, by falling away from Him through idolatry and the transgression of His commandments, as already shown in Zep 1:4-12. But the punishment will be terrible. Their blood will be poured out like dust. The point of comparison is not the quantity, as in Gen 13:16 and others, but the worthlessness of dust, as in Kg2 13:7 and Isa 49:23. The blood is thought as little of as the dust which is trodden under foot. Lechūm, which occurs again in Job 20:23, means flesh (as in the Arabic), not food. The verb shâphakh, to pour out, is also to be taken per zeugma in connection with this clause, though without there being any necessity to associate it with Sa2 20:10, and regard lechūm as referring to the bowels. For the fact itself, compare Kg1 14:10 and Jer 9:21. In order to cut off all hope on deliverance from the rich and distinguished sinners, the prophet adds in Zep 1:18 : Even with silver and gold will they not be able to save their lives. The enemy will give no heed to this (cf. Isa 13:17; Jer 4:30; Eze 7:19) in the day that the Lord will pour out His fury upon the ungodly, to destroy the whole earth with the fire of His wrathful jealousy (cf. Deu 4:24). By kol-hâ'ârets we might understand the whole of the land of Judah, if we looked at what immediately precedes it. But if we bear in mind that the threat commenced with judgment upon the whole earth (Zep 1:2, Zep 1:3), and that it here returns to its starting-point, to round off the picture, there can be no doubt that the whole earth is intended. The reason assigned for this threat in Zep 1:18 is formed after Isa 10:23; but the expression is strengthened by the use of אך־נבהלה instead of ונחרצה, the word round in Isaiah. Kâlâh: the finishing stroke, as in Isaiah l.c. (see at Nah 1:8). אך, only, equivalent to "not otherwise than," i.e., assuredly. נבהלה is used as a substantive, and is synonymous with behâlâh, sudden destruction, in Isa 65:23. The construction with 'ēth accus. as in Nah 1:8.