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Her prophets are arrogant
and treacherous people;
her priests have profaned the holy place;
they have done violence to the law. Bible

“arrogant.” The Hebrew word is pachaz (#06348 פָּחַז), which has a basic meaning of boiling up, boiling over, overflowing, and thus many versions take it to mean reckless or undisciplined, as if they speak whatever comes up for them, but it can also mean “haughty” (BDB Hebrew-English lexicon), and thus proud or arrogant. The NET translates the word as “proud” (cp. “arrogant” NIV84; NLT) and the NET text note says, “Applied to prophets, the word פֹּחֲזִים (pokhazim, ‘proud’) probably refers to their audacity in passing off their own words as genuine prophecies from the LORD (see Jer. 23:32).” However, both “arrogant” and “reckless” apply. Jeremiah was a contemporary of Zephaniah during the time of Josiah, and he had much to say about the prophets.

For example, according to Jeremiah 23, the false prophets were not sent by God and were ungodly, wicked, liars, and adulterers. They prophesied by Baal and led Judah astray, and they filled people with false hope as they spoke from their own minds, not from Yahweh (see commentary on Jer. 23:9). The word “arrogant” fit those false prophets very well. Furthermore, Zephaniah 3:4 adds that the prophets were treacherous; they were deceivers, believing their words and following their advice led only to destruction, personally and nationally.

“her priests have profaned the holy place.” The Hebrew could also be read, “her priests have profaned that which is holy.” Both readings can be found in the English versions, and both statements are true, but the emphasis is likely on the fact that the priests defiled the Temple, the dwelling place of Yahweh. It was the job of the priests to ensure that Israel would stay holy before Yahweh, but they did not do their job. In fact, they did worse than ignore their job, they themselves actually defiled the Temple and perverted the pure worship of God by bringing pagan gods and pagan and ungodly practices into the Temple.

What the priests in Zephaniah’s time did was not new. Hundreds of years before Zephaniah’s time the sons of Eli the High Priest were perverting the sacrifices and having sex with the women who served at the Tabernacle (1 Sam. 2:12-17; 22, 29). Also, many years after Zephaniah’s time the priests were still defiling God’s holy ways, and God said that He would rather have the priests close the Temple than pervert it (Mal. 1:6-10). The arrogance and ungodliness of the priests was one of the reasons God abandoned His Temple (Ezek. 8:6). Eventually the ungodliness of the leaders—the kings, officials, prophets, and priests—resulted in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and the people of Judah being carried captive to Babylon.

It would be naïve to think that the religious leaders of Israel were more or less perverted for thousands of years and there have been horrible perversions among the Christian leaders in centuries past but there is no such perversion today. There is perversion in Christian leadership today, and it comes out regularly in the news. Christian leaders have even higher standards of godliness than the average Christian, and it is up to the Christian believers to help leaders resist the temptations of their office and stay pure and godly, and but also to remove them if they become ungodly. Specific guidance for how Christian leaders are to live can be found in places such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

“they have done violence to the law.” The priests “did violence” to God’s Law, His Torah, by perverting it and twisting its meaning. The demonic pressure to pervert God’s Law and the evil or ignorant people who carry it out are still active today, which is why Christians need to learn God’s commandments for themselves, so they know how to rightly walk before God and obey Him.


Commentary for: Zephaniah 3:4