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The Prophecy of Zephaniah
If the editors of the King James Version of the Bible sought to order the minor prophets chronologically, then Zephaniah is probably just a little out of place, as it seems that the book should have preceded Habakkuk in order. This is because Habakkuk had made no mention of Nineveh as a world power while in Zephaniah chapter 2 we read an oracle against Nineveh, where it says: “13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.” This indicates that Assyria is about to be judged by Yahweh and therefore Zephaniah wrote his prophecy before 612 BC, which is the generally accepted year of Nineveh's destruction. Zephaniah himself tells us that he prophesied during the reign of the good king Josiah, who likely ruled Judah from about 640 BC down to about 609 BC.
We had argued while presenting the prophecy of Habakkuk that he had probably prophesied after the fall of Nineveh, since he never mentions the city or the Assyrians, and even then after the death of Josiah and before the coming of the Babylonians to Judah, which was between 608 and 601 BC. Therefore Zephaniah is probably the next-to-last of the prophets of the Kingdom of Judah whose writings have survived to us, while Habakkuk is probably the last of the Old Kingdom prophets whom we know.
Most of the Book of Zephaniah was also preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we may examine readings from that source and from the Septuagint where they may improve our understanding of the words of the prophet.
Zephaniah 1:1 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.
Zephaniah's name may be interpreted to mean “Yahweh had treasured”. The names of Zephaniah's ancestors seem to tell us a story. Hizkiah may be interpreted as “Yahweh is my strength”, Amariah as “Yahweh speaks”, as he does through the prophet, Gedaliah as “Yahweh is great”, but Cushi means only “their blackness”. It seems that the names of Hezekiah and his ancestors tell us a story, that what Yahweh has treasured will emerge from out of the blackness, or metaphorically from out of the disgrace of His people, as they are about to be disgraced. This theme is inferred later in his prophecy.
The message of Zephaniah is concise, and without much elaboration the prophet forebodes imminent destruction upon the old kingdom of Judah and some of her neighbors. Therefore we also see oracles against Assyria, Cush, Ammon, Moab and the Philistines, as well as certain cities on the coast.
It is difficult to tell exactly when Zephaniah had written, but we may conjecture that it was towards the end of the reign of the king Josiah, since Josiah was the king, and since the sons of Josiah were already old enough to go astray, as Yahweh is attributed in verse 8 of this first chapter as saying “that I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.” Josiah coming to rule Judah at a very young age, his sons would be young even towards the end of his thirty-one-year rule. After the death of Josiah, who was no older than 40 years, in 2 Chronicles chapter 36 we learn that he had at least two sons, Jehoahaz and Eliakim, who was renamed Jehoiakim, who were at that time about 23 and 25 years of age. So these men, who “did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD” after their father died, must be considered among the king's children of Zephaniah 1:8. With this, we can imagine that perhaps Zephaniah had written within the last ten years of the rule of king Josiah.
From 2 Chronicles chapter 34 we read “1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years. 2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left. 3 For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.”
Then, after describing how Josiah had cut down all of the groves and temples of the idols, we read, in part from verse 8: “8 Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God.” Then during the reparation of the temple we see in verse s14 and 15 that “Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the LORD given by Moses. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan.” Evidently the book of the law had fallen into obscurity and disuse in the temple of God. So we read further, from verse 16: “And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that was committed to thy servants, they do it…. Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go, enquire of the LORD for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do after all that is written in this book.”
After this, they chose to enquire with a prophetess concerning these things. The use of women as prophets is rare in Scripture, however we see such women elsewhere in times of Israel's apostasy and distress. There are at least six such women named in the Old Testament. From verse 22 of 2 Chronicles chapter 34: “22 And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college:) and they spake to her to that effect. 23 And she answered them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, 24 Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: 25 Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched. 26 And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the LORD, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; 27 Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD. 28 Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.”
With this event, Josiah instituted a religious revival which was even greater than that which he had earlier in his rule, where he had broken down the idols ten years before, and we read further on in that chapter, from verse 29: “Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 30 And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD. 31 And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. 32 And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. 33 And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the LORD their God. And all his days they departed not from following the LORD, the God of their fathers.”
Then in 2 Chronicles chapter 35 we see that Josiah held a Passover feast, which was evidently the first Passover kept in Jerusalem in a long time, perhaps even since the days of Hezekiah. In verse 19 of that chapter we read that “In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah was this passover kept.” However verse 20 of that same chapter jumps to the year and events resulting in Josiah's death, so little is known of the final 13 years of his tenure as king. The battle in which Josiah died is mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, in book 2 chapter 159 of his Histories, wherein the people of the kingdom of Judah are identified by the historian as Syrians, as he was writing about 170 years later.
So it seems that during these last 13 years of the life of Josiah, and especially in the 10 years from the Passover recorded in 2 Chronicles chapter 35 down to the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, that Zephaniah had published his message in Judah. Yet the prophetess Huldah and even Josiah himself had already understood that judgment upon Judah was imminent.
A few years later Habakkuk tells us of the circumstances in Judah whereby we know that the revival of Josiah was short-lived, where he opens his own prophecy by praying: “2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! 3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. 4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.” In this light the words of Habakkuk seem to be impatient, as we read in the second verse of Zephaniah that Yahweh had already pronounced His impending judgment, as he was also doing in Jeremiah and Ezekiel:
2 I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.
The word things is in italics, and was added by the translators. The Septuagint has “Let there be an utter cutting off from the face of the land, saith the Lord.”
It is demonstrable, that the earliest of the 16 prophets whose oracles are recorded in Scripture is Jonah. But Jonah's message was not directly to Israel. After Jonah is Hosea and Isaiah as well as Micah and Amos who were all roughly contemporary to the time of Isaiah. Following them are Joel and Nahum. Habakkuk and Zephaniah are both contemporary to the time of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and following them and the destruction of Jerusalem are Obadiah and Daniel. Finally, there are the second temple prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. (See Ordering and chronology of the Minor Prophets at Christogenea.)
The reason for recollecting this here is that the earliest recorded prophets, when they began issuing their oracles against Israel, had done so only a few short decades before the judgment on the northern kingdom began. The time towards the end of the reign of king Uzziah during which Hosea and Isaiah had begun their ministries was not long before 750 BC, and Samaria was destroyed and its inhabitants taken captive not long before 720 BC. Sennacherib took most of Judah captive along with Israel about 700 BC, and by the time of Esar-Haddon there was only a small and scattered remnant of Israel left in the land, while Judah was greatly reduced.
Yet the remnant of Jerusalem who became the post-Assyrian kingdom of Judah had signs and warnings and oracles commanding them to repent and return to Yahweh for another 90 years to the death of Josiah and the final turn to wickedness resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem a short time thereafter. For that reason Judah was considered much more treacherous than Israel, and the two nations are treated differently, as we shall see when we present chapter 3 of this prophecy. Continuing with the oracle against Judah, Yahweh says:
3 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.
The New American Standard Version has it better, in part, where it reads “… and the ruins along with the wicked”. The Septuagint seems to be clearer: “Let man and cattle be cut off; let the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea be cut off; and the ungodly shall fail, and I will take away the transgressors from the face of the land, saith the Lord.”
Too often are Identity Christians quick to assume that the word beast refers to the non-Adamic races. While it is true in some contexts, that beast can refer to a hominid which does not have that Spirit of Yahweh God that was imparted to the Adamic man, often the word simply refers to animals. Used here with words for birds and fish, it certainly only means to refer to cattle, as the Septuagint has it.
4 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;
The Chemarim (from Strong's # 3649) are properly ascetics, those who were evidently teaching the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from indulgence, and evidently their teaching was hypocritical and therefore they may be considered to be false priests or prophets. The Septuagint has the latter half of this verse to read only “and I will remove the names of Baal out of this place, and the names of the priests”, having no mention of Chemarim.
Since the word for man in verse 3 is adam, it is evident that this verse represents a parallelism, which can be described as something which is expressed twice consecutively but in different ways, a literary device that is common in both the New and Old Testaments.
But the fact that there were many non-Israelites, primarily Kenites and Canaanites, in high places in Jerusalem at this time cannot be ignored, and oracles found in Jeremiah chapter 2 and Ezekiel chapter 16 explain that very situation. Jeremiah chapter 2 outlines the race-mixing of Judah, and in Ezekiel Yahweh censures the nation by stating “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.” The story of Susanna which records an early event in the life of the prophet Daniel also attests to this situation.
5 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;
While only a few of the popular English translations correctly render this verse, the last words should certainly be “and them that worship that swear by Yahweh and that swear by the king.” In the Hebrew, there is no indication in the grammar that a particular idol is intended by the word melek (Strong's # 4428), which means king. However most translations and many commentaries insist that the reference is to Moloch, which was a particular idol.
In the prophecy of Jeremiah, Yahweh rebukes the children of Israel for worshiping the “host of heaven”, speaking of the same judgment to come upon Jerusalem, first in chapter 8: “1 At that time, saith the LORD, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves: 2 And they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth.” Then in chapter 19 He says: “13 And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods.” [In ancient pagan lore, the heavenly bodies represented deities. Paul warning about the worship of angels, the term “host of heaven” ostensibly refers to fallen angels at the same time that it refers to heavenly bodies. These idols were assigned attributes and personalities and were worshipped as gods.]
6 And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him.
As we have discussed, in the revival instituted in the 18th year of Josiah, the king caused the words of the Law of Yahweh to be read in all of the ears of the people. The pending judgment for apostasy was openly proclaimed by the king and the prophetess. But the people evidently did not heed these things.
7 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. 8 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.
So we see that although the words of the Law were read in the ears of the people, they still neglected to follow them. The reference to “strange apparel” is given as an example for the neglect of the law, as the law outlines what sort of apparel the children of Israel had been commanded to wear. For example, in Deuteronomy chapter 22 we read “11 Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together. 12 Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.” In the ancient world, even in Rome, clothing also served as a form of identification, and one's clothing revealed one's nation and therefore also the god which one worshiped.
Here the destruction of the enemies of God is depicted as a sacrifice, as we also see in Revelation chapter 19, that the marriage supper of the Lamb is the great feast made in the destruction of His enemies. That same event as it is prophesied in Ezekiel chapter 39 is described as a sacrifice. Here the sacrifice is in the destruction of those of the people of Yahweh who had opposed Him in their apostasy, and who are ostensibly going to be slaughtered for the good of the remnant which shall be preserved.
9 In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit.
The words “all those that leap on the threshold” are an acceptable literal translation of the corresponding Hebrew words, which perhaps represent an idiomatic expression that we do not properly understand. Some translations interpret it to be referring to the haughty or proud of heart. Verses 7 through 10 were not preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls, although they apparently had existed in those copies. Verse 9 in Brenton's Septuagint, where he follows the Greek sufficiently, reads: “And I will openly take vengeance on the porches in that day, on the men that fill the house of the Lord their God with ungodliness and deceit.”
The filling of one's master's house with violence and deceit may refer to the dedications which were made in the temples of the idols, and how they consisted of wrongfully gained wealth. Yahshua Christ used similar language where he condemned the Pharisees for filling their cups with “extortion and excess”, meaning with wine which had been bought with illicitly gained money.
10 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.
Rather than the fish gate, which was indeed one of the names of the gates of Jerusalem, the Septuagint has 'the gate of men slaying”. The fish gate seems to have been on the western end of the northern edge of the city. Therefore the verse is a warning which refers to the howling of the watchmen upon the gates as a great invading army is observed approaching the city from the hill country to the north and west.
11 Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
The word maktesh means mortar, however here it is accompanied by the definite article, referring to a particular place called The Mortar, or perhaps to a place bearing such a nickname, as it is by some commentators imagined to refer to an area within the city of Jerusalem which was set in a valley or a hollow, which was the shape of a mortar. The verse is telling us that this was the area of the city occupied by the merchant class.
Over time, the Hebrew word for Canaan had become a synonym for merchant. Here where we see the term “merchant people” in the King James Version, the Septuagint as well as other versions which are based on the Masoretic Text have “people of Canaan”, or something similar. In the King James Version, the word for Canaan is translated as merchant in Job 41:6, Hosea 12:7, Isaiah 23:11 and Proverbs 31:24. In those passages, the context affirms that the King James reading of merchant is correct, as it should be also evident here where the Hebrew parallelism equates the merchant people to “all they that bear silver”. So here Canaan certainly stands for merchant, and not for the people of the tribe with that name.
12 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.
A more elaborate but similar analogy is made in Micah chapter 3: “11 The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.” Likewise the men here are depicted as imagining that they will not be punished for their sins. They are settled on their lees, meaning that they have become insolent in their prosperity. A similar phrase was used of Moab in Jeremiah chapter 48 to refer to relative security in prosperity. But in fact they will be punished for their sins.
13 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.
Here we have people in Jerusalem whose wealth has been gained through fraud and deceit, and then they dedicate that wealth to their idols. Amos issued a similar warning to the children of Israel who had prosperity upon injustice, in Amos chapter 5: “11 Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them. 12 For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. 13 Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.”
14 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.15 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, 16 A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. 17 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.
The “great day of the Lord” here is a reference to the judgment which is about to come upon Judah by the hand of the Babylonians as a result of their sin. Whenever our people suffer calamity, we should see it in that same way, as a punishment from God for sin. Our ancestors understood this, since the English word crisis is taken directly from the Greek word meaning judgment.
The references to the “great day of the Lord” in the prophetic writings are often interpreted as dual prophecies, meaning that they have a future fulfillment as well as a past and historical fulfillment. This is often true, and even when it is not inferred by the prophecies themselves, it is nevertheless true because we as a race continually repeat the same patterns of apostasy which cause us to be judged.
And while today our White Israelite nations have no apparent outside aggressors attacking us, we have nevertheless been overrun with aliens. We have what is called “crime” which is attributed to racism or to poverty or to a host of other supposed evils. Yet all of those attributions are lies perpetuated by the eternal enemies of our God in order to keep us deceived. In truth, we must realize that when we see criminal acts perpetrated in our streets and against our homes, those acts are part of a national suffering which is a judgment from God for our sins. From Jeremiah chapter 12: “9 Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour.”
The judgment will not end until we recognize our sins, acknowledge them and repent of them. Therefore no laws or police forces are ever going to remedy what is called “crime”, and it should be obvious in our history that they do not remedy crime.
18 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.
We read in the epistle of James, in chapter 5: “1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” In the day of Yahweh's judgment upon men, silver and gold shall not be a protection. Rather, as the apostle explains in that chapter, the possession of riches is a testimony against us, that we were not good stewards of the things by which our God has blessed us.
Zephaniah 2:1 Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired;
Judah is now an undesirable nation. The prophet Jeremiah was prophesying in Jerusalem at about this same time, or only shortly after, and in Jeremiah chapter 3 the prophet had written: “6 The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. 7 And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. 9 And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks. 10 And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD. 11 And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah. 12 Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.” Making the announcement to the north symbolically it was preached to the children of Israel in their dispersions.
2 Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD'S anger come upon you. 3 Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger.
This is one last plea for the truly humble of the people of God to repent, that they not suffer in the imminent punishment. True humility is a willingness to subject oneself to God, and therefore the “meek of the earth” are those willing to obey the Word of God. From Proverbs chapter 16: “16 How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver! 17 The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. 18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. 19 Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. 20 He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he.”
Here Yahweh promises destruction to the surrounding nations as well, first to to the cities of the Philistines, and in the next verses to the Moabites and the Ammonites. The Babylonian inscriptions of this period are apparently scarce and highly fragmented. But there are surviving inscriptions which inform us of military operations conducted by the Babylonians against many of these places in the decades after Zephaniah had written. Some of these even list the prisoners of war held at the palace in Babylon, among whom are found the sons of the king of Judah.
From a note on page 308 of Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard and published by Princeton University Press, 1969: “From administrative documents found in Babylon, some information concerning the fate of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, can be gathered.... E. F. Weidner, Jojachin, König von Juda, in babylonischen Keilschrifttexten [in a German book of which the title may be translated Jehoiachin, King of Judah, in Babylonian cuneiform texts] … has published a small group of texts excavated by the German expedition in Babylon and dating from the 10th to the 35th year of Nebuchadnezzar II. The tablets list deliveries of oil for the subsistence of individuals who are either prisoners of war or otherwise dependent upon the royal household. They are identified by name, profession, and/or nationality. The two tablets, so far published, also mention, beside Judeans, inhabitants of Ashkelon, Tyre, Byblos, Arvad, and, further, Egyptians, Medeans, Persians, Lydians, and Greeks.”
4 For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up. 5 Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites! the word of the LORD is against you; O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant. 6 And the sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks. 7 And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening: for the LORD their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.
The word Cherethites literally means executioners, but seems to refer to mercenaries, as it was used in the accounts of David in Samuel. The Babylonians had employed mercenaries in the destruction of Jerusalem and its other wars, something which is mentioned by the early Greek lyric poets.
For better or worse, because by this time they were wrongly converting the heathens to the religion of Judaea, by the time of Alexander Janneus who ruled Judaea from 103 to 76 BC, we read in Josephus' Antiquities, Book 13: “395 Now at this time the Judaeans were in possession of the following cities that had belonged to the Syrians, and Idumeans, and Phoenicians: at the seaside, Strato's Tower, Apollonia, Joppa, Jamnia, Ashdod, Gaza, Anthedon, Raphia, and Rhinocolura; 396 in the middle of the country, near to Idumea, Adorn, and Marisa; near the country of Samaria, Mount Carmel, and Mount Tabor, Scythopolis, and Gadara; of the country of Gaulonitis, Seleucia and Gabala; 397 in the country of Moab, Heshbon, and Medaba, Lemba, and Oronas, Gelithon, Zara, the Valley of the Cilices, and Pella; which last they utterly destroyed, because its inhabitants would not bear to change their religious rites for those peculiar to the Judaeans. The Judaeans also possessed others of the principal cities of Syria, which had been destroyed.”
While Ashkelon is not specified in that list, the other cities mentioned by Zephaniah are, and Josephus does tell us elsewhere that Ashkelon is in the possession of the Judaeans. First, in the time of Herod, he had built many public works in that city (Wars, 1:185-187, 422). Later, the city was granted to Herod Archelaus by Caesar (Wars, 2:98). However the original city is said to have been totally destroyed by the Babylonians in the campaigns of Nebuchadnezzar II in 604 BC.
Many of these cities and their inhabitants were destroyed once again in the 65-70 AD uprising against the Romans. However in any event, the prophecy of Zephaniah was certainly fulfilled in the remnant 70-weeks Kingdom of Judaea.
8 I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified themselves against their border. 9 Therefore as I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them. 10 This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the LORD of hosts.
By the time of the Hellenistic period, Josephus is referring to Arabians who are Moabites, ostensibly speaking of Moab geographically, and the people of the remnant of Judah had taken and occupied towns in what was formerly Moab which, as we have seen above, Josephus had listed in Antiquities Book 13. As Josephus describes in Book 12 of his Antiquities, under the Hasamoneans and Judas Maccabeus the Judaeans had also made war against and defeated the people he calls Ammonites, and destroyed the cities in the lands they were occupying across the Jordan. From that time, Ammonites are not mentioned again by Josephus, and Moabite as a tribal distinction had also disappeared. Therefore it is also clearly evident that this prophecy was fulfilled in the remnant 70-weeks kingdom of Judaea.
11 The LORD will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen. 12 Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword.
By Ethiopians we must understand that the original text said only Cushites, and that there were Cushites in Mesopotamia and Arabia as well as those to the south of Egypt. The Babylonians as well as the later Persian king Cambyses had made war against all of these peoples, however by that time Ethiopia [which is properly the Kingdom of Cush] to the south of Egypt appears to have absorbed large numbers of Nubians, and the historic details are sketchy. In the popular histories, Nubians and Cushites are always confused, because it was very wrongly taken for granted that Cushites were originally black, which is quite ridiculous.
It is interesting that Egypt was not mentioned by the prophet, even though Josiah, the king of Zephaniah's time, would fall at the hands of Pharaoh Necho II, who was in turn defeated by the Babylonians as he himself had designs on taking Carchemish after the fall of Assyria. Egypt had been invaded and overrun by the kingdom of Cush in the 8th century BC, just over a hundred years before Zephaniah's time. But Necho II was evidently a native Egyptian. His predecessor, Psamtik I, had supposedly driven out any vestige of control by the Cushite pharaohs of the 25th dynasty, but evidently could never remove the blood of the Cushites from Egypt.
13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.
As we have already noted, this oracle helps to date Zephaniah's prophecy to before 612 BC, which is when Nineveh and the rest of the cities of Assyria fell and were destroyed by a coalition of Scythians, Medes, Persians, Babylonians and others. Babylonia, however, did not begin to assert a hegemony of its own until the ascension of Nebuchadnezzar II in 605 BC.
14 And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work.
This is exactly what had happened to the cities of the Assyrians, as Nineveh was the greatest city of its time, and the prescience of Scripture proves the veracity of the Word of God beyond all doubt.
15 This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.
Nineveh, as well as every formerly great capital city of every formerly great empire, had fallen into the same pattern of deceit by becoming convinced of its own indestructibility. The words to Shelley's Ozymandias are timeless. The poet portrayed Ozymandias as an Egyptian pharaoh who had boasted of his own mighty works, which lay in ruins in the barren desert sands, a monument to the vanity of men:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
In Zephaniah chapter 3, the attention of the prophet is turned back to the city of Jerusalem:
Zephaniah 3:1 Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! 2 She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God.
The revival of Josiah was the last chance of many for the people of Jerusalem to hearken to Yahweh.
3 Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.4 Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. 5 The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame.
This seems to mean that Yahweh shall indeed repay injustice with His own justice, which forebodes that vengeance shall indeed come upon the unjust.
6 I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant.
The children of the twelve tribes of Israel are first called nations in Deuteronomy 32:43, where (after we remove one word which the King James translators had admittedly added, we read: “43 Rejoice, O ye nations,
with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.”
Here once again, the term “the nations” refers to the tribes of Israel, as the context of the statement which follows is directed towards them:
7 I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.
The punishment of the nations referred to here was in the Assyrian captivity of the twelve tribes of Israel: for while most of those who were left behind in Jerusalem, which the Assyrians could not take, were identified as Judah and Benjamin and Levi, large portions of all twelve tribes were indeed taken.
From Jeremiah chapter 30, which is also meant for all of Israel: “11 For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.”
8 Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.
If the phrase “the nations” in verse 6 refers to the twelve tribes of Israel, as the context insists that it does, then it also refers to the twelve tribes of Israel here in verse 8. The people of the verse which follows is also a reference to the children of Israel in their dispersions:
9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.
The phrase pure language does not necessarily refer to what we call the language of a people, but rather only to the speech. In other words, it may indicate that their speech would be without the idolatry and hypocrisy that they had formerly practised. In Christ, it is evident that this prophecy is being fulfilled.
10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
The reference to the rivers of Ethiopia is certainly not a reference to the land called Ethiopia which is below Egypt, but rather refers to the rivers of Cush. The rivers of Genesis chapter 2 are identifiable as follows [quoting from our Pragmatic Genesis presentation]:
The land of Havilah can be identified as having been in Arabia, from Genesis 25:18 and 1 Samuel 15:7. Therefore the first river, the Pishon (Pison), may be identified with a river which is now dried-out that once flowed through the Arabian Desert, ostensibly before it was a desert. Archaeologists call this river the Kuwait River. It evidently had its sources in the mountains of Western Arabia, near the Red Sea, and flowed eastward to the Euphrates. The second river, the Gihon, seems to refer to the Karun River, which flows from the Zagros Mountains and currently empties into the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The third river appears to be the Tigris, and the fourth the Euphrates, which together encompass Mesopotamia.
In Genesis chapter 2, the Gihon river was said to encompass “the whole land of Ethiopia”, or Cush in Hebrew, whereby we see that the original land of Cush was beyond Mesopotamia. Since Nimrod was a son of Cush, and since his was the first empire in Mesopotamia, and since Cush was a son of Ham and in Hebrew the word for the Hittite city Carchemish means “city of the people of Ham”, as the Hittites were Canaanite descendants of Ham, we see that “beyond the rivers of Cush” is poetic Biblical language referring to the rivers of Mesopotamia. [The strict identification of Ham with Africa made by most Bible commentators is entirely wrong.]
Therefore the suppliants of Yahweh must be the dispersed of the tribes of Israel, who at that time were dwelling beyond the rivers of Mesopotamia, beyond the Euphrates in northern Anatolia and around the Black Sea, and beyond the Gihon in Bactria, Sogdiana and in the Oxus and Jaxartes river valleys which for a long time were the home of the Sakae and the Massagetae, who thereafter became the Saxons, Goths, Huns and other tribes that invaded Europe from the 3rd century AD and later. These same tribes were the “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” of the prophecy of Daniel chapter 2, who were prophesied to destroy the Roman empire, and they did.
This passage in Zephaniah may be cross-referenced to Isaiah chapter 18. We will await an opportunity to present an Isaiah commentary to remark at length on that chapter.
While these last few verses referred to the children of Israel of the dispersions, this oracle is still being directed at the people of Jerusalem, and Zephaniah's attention turns once again to them:
11 In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain.
And this seems to be a reference to the Canaanites who had infiltrated among the rulers and offices and intermingled with the principle families of ancient Jerusalem, as both Ezekiel and Jeremiah attest, and all of those who descended from them.
12 I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.
The earthly bloodlines of the families of both Yahshua Christ and John the Baptist represented the displaced but legitimate rulers of the people of Judah, and they along with the rest of the true people of Judah had been left a poor and afflicted people at the time of Christ.
13 The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
By this we know that the Jews who opposed Christ were not of the remnant of Israel, since He had told them that “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” [John 8:44-45].
By the words “remnant of Israel” we see the “poor and afflicted people” to be left in the midst of Jerusalem. This refers to the true Israelites of the 70-weeks Kingdom, who ultimately turned to Christ.
There is a marked contrast given in this chapter, between the suppliants, who were the dispersed of the nations (or tribes) of Israel and who were already in captivity “beyond the rivers of Cush”, and the people of Jerusalem who were about to be judged and who would be left as a remnant of “afflicted and poor people”.
As we have already illustrated here, because the tribes of Israel taken captive by the Assyrians had only a short time with the words of the prophets, and little room to repent, those tribes of Israel would be given mercy with little expected in return. Yet the remnant of Judah in Jerusalem observed what had happened to Israel, and still refused to repent themselves, for which they would be judged more harshly. So we shall repeat what Jeremiah the prophet wrote, in Jeremiah chapter 3 : “6 The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. 7 And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. 9 And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks. 10 And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD. 11 And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah. 12 Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.” The people in the north to whom Jeremiah had proclaimed those words were the captives of the twelve tribes taken away “beyond the rivers of Cush” by the Assyrians.
After all of this, the prophet offers a song of hope:
14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. 15 The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.
By taking the nation from its position, the infiltrators who perverted and corrupted it were also taken away. For this the people should rejoice.
16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. 17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
Regardless of the harsh penalties of judgment which we face for our sin, we should be comforted in the promises of salvation given to us by our God.
18 I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.
The corruption of the nation is a burden to those who fear God. Likewise, those who fear God are sorrowful for the people of God, the “solemn assembly”, who are in a state of sin and facing impending doom. The enemies of God have no fear or concern for these things.
19 Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. 20 At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.
The language goes to show that the people whom Christ had come to gather are the same people whom He had driven out so many centuries before. They still await deliverance from that same captivity, even though they are no longer aware of it.
The language here evokes Micah chapter 4, where many of the same terms are used in precisely the same context: “6 In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; 7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. 8 And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.”
The further the dispersed children of Israel had traveled, the stronger are the nations which they became. However Micah and also Zephaniah promise salvation and a gathering to their God for all of them, those who halted, and those who were driven far away. So Paul says to the Ephesians, a people who also descended from the outcasts of Israel, “but now you among the number of Yahshua Christ, who at one time being far away, have become near by the blood of the Christ.”