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THEME:  Jerusalem and the nations in the Day of the Lord

Zephaniah uses the expression Day of the Lord more than any other prophet.

DATE:  640-621 (during Josiah’s reign before the reformation)

Zephaniah prophesied during the early years of the ministry of Jeremiah.  Zephaniah was probably the great great grandson of the godly King Hezekiah (see v. 1—“Hizkiah”).[1]

I.       The Day of the Lord in Judgment (1:2-3:8)


A.       Universal judgment (1:2-3)

B.       Judgment against Judah (1:4-2:3)

1.       No class of sinner will escape (1:4-9)

“Chemarims” (v. 4) refers to “idolatrous priests” (NASB).

“Malcham” (v. 5) is another name for Milcom or Molech, the chief god of the Ammonites.  Zephaniah condemns those who try to worship both Yahweh and Molech (syncretism).

Verse seven contains the first of 19 references (in Zephaniah) to the Day of the Lord.[2]

The preference for foreign attire (v. 8) may suggest a propensity of the heart.

Leaping on the threshold (v. 9) may be an allusion to I Samuel 5:5 or a description of those who violently plunder and steal.[3]

2.       No section of Jerusalem will escape (1:10-13)

Zephaniah 1:10-13 refers to several different sections of the city of Jerusalem.  The fish gate (v. 10) was located in the Northern wall of Jerusalem.  The “second” (v. 10) refers to the Second Quarter of Jerusalem (probably near the Fish Gate).  “Maktesh” (v. 11), better translated “Mortar,” probably refers to the Tyropoean Valley that separated the Western part of Jerusalem from the Eastern part.[4]

3.       Detailed description of the day of the Lord (1:14-18)

The Day of the Lord against Judah and Jerusalem, which probably refers to the destruction by Babylon, leads to a description of the future Day of the Lord (1:14-18).  In the prophets, there is little separation between the historical and the eschatological.[5]  Both are Days of the Lord.  Every historical Day of the Lord served as a type of the future, eschatological Day of the Lord.  Zephaniah goes back and forth between the judgment upon Judah and the judgment upon the nations.  “Zephaniah saw Judah’s destruction and universal judgment as two parts of one grand event, ‘the great day of the Lord.’ ”[6]

“Riches profit not in the day of wrath:  but righteousness delivereth from death” (Prov. 11:4).

4.       Plea to repent (2:1-3)

Zephaniah 2:1-2 is a call for the nation to assemble itself together for national repentance.[7] 

In verse 3, the righteous remnant in the nation is exhorted to continue in their meek obedience to Yahweh.  By such continuance, they might receive the Lord’s protection in the coming day of judgment.  This probably alludes to the godly remnant that would be preserved during the Babylonian invasion (e.g., Ebedmelech and Baruch in the book of Jeremiah).

C.      Against the nations (2:4-15)[8]


1.       Against Philistia (2:4-7)

2.       Against Moab and Ammon (2:8-11)

3.       Against Cush (2:12)

4.       Against Assyria (2:13-15)

While some of these prophecies against the nations were fulfilled historically, others clearly still await fulfillment, such as the prediction that Judah will inhabit the regions of Philistia (2:7) and the prediction of universal Gentile worship of Yahweh (2:11).[9]

D.      Woe upon Jerusalem (3:1-7)

Though not named specifically, Jerusalem clearly is the city in view in Zephaniah 3:1-7. 

E.       Jerusalem’s deliverance must wait until the future day of judgment upon the nations (3:8)

Jerusalem’s refusal to heed Yahweh, despite its knowledge of His judgment upon other nations, leads to God’s command to “wait.”  Jerusalem’s ultimate deliverance (from the “times of the Gentiles”) would not take place until the end-times, when God assembles the nations (in the valley of Jehoshaphat; Joel 3:2) for judgment in the future Battle of Armageddon

This great battle will then usher in a time of great restoration—the future Millennial Kingdom.

II.    The Day of the Lord in Restoration (3:9-20)


A.       Purification of the nations (3:9-10)

In the future Millennial Kingdom, the nations will all worship Yahweh (see Zech. 14:9, 16).  They will bring sacrifices to Yahweh.  Those sacrificing will also include the “daughter of my dispersed”—probably a reference to the scattered inhabitants of Judah.

B.       Regathering and purification of a remnant of Judah (3:11-13)


C.      Future Kingdom in Zion (3:14-20)


[1] See Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 456.  Bruce Waltke notes that Zephaniah is the only prophet to trace his lineage back four generations.  If Zephaniah really was a descendant of Hezekiah, “he was the only prophet of royal blood, a cousin of Josiah, and of the princes to whom he directed much of his prophecy.”  Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5:1051.  This would mean, according to Leon Wood, that Zephaniah was a second cousin to Josiah and a third cousin to Josiah’s sons.  The Prophets of Israel, 321.

[2] Bible Knowledge Commentary:  Old Testament, 1526.

[3] See C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Minor Prophets, in Commentary on the Old Testament, 10:132.

[4] ZPEB, 5:1054.

[5] “The line between historical and eschatological fulfillment is often a very fine one and difficult to discern.  Here in Zephaniah, as in all the prophets, that demarcation is blurry.  It is clear, however, that God’s judgment on Judah and the nations took place more than once in Old Testament times and that there always emerged from it a purified people who embraced his covenant terms of salvation.  It is equally true that the judgments and restorations of historical times did not exhaust what the prophets had in view, but that there yet remains a climactic and final encounter between the Lord and all humankind in which judgment and salvation will find ultimate expression.”  Merrill, 457.

[6] Bible Knowledge Commentary:  Old Testament, 1525.

[7] The vivid description of this day of the Lord was not intended, as Matthew Henry notes, “to frighten them out of their wits, but to frighten them out of their sins.”  Commentary on the Whole Bible (one-volume edition), 1559.

[8] The four nations singled out for judgment apparently represent the four points of the compass:  west, east, south, north, respectively.  All nations, of which these four are representative, will be summoned for judgment in the day of the Lord!

[9] Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, 341, 343.  Charles L. Feinberg, Minor Prophets, 228-29.

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