|Go to verse:|
|01 |02 |03 |04 |05 |06 |07 |08 |09 |10 |11 |12 |13 |14 |15 |16 |17 |18 |19 |20 |
Go to Bible: Zephaniah 3
“Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city!” The subject abruptly shifts from Nineveh to Jerusalem. Although Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in this section, she is the city where Yahweh Himself lives (Zeph. 3:5), and the accusation that she did not draw near to “her God” could only refer to Yahweh (Zeph. 3:2). God would never chide a pagan city for not drawing close to her chief idol. Jerusalem was “rebellious” because the people of Israel had made a covenant with Yahweh, and in disobeying it they rebelled against Him. Furthermore, the people of Jerusalem and Judah were “defiled” because as part of the covenant they agreed to God’s terms of purity, but they ignored them, eating defiled offerings and committing adultery with other gods (some translations have “polluted,” but this verse is not referring to pollution in our modern sense of the word).
“the oppressing city.” The word “oppression” is very descriptive of what happens among people when God’s laws and moral principles are abandoned: people oppress one another. Life feels “hard” and “heavy,” and living does not seem “fun” or “safe.” Sometimes people deliberately oppress others for their own benefit, and sometimes they oppress others simply by their willingness to ignore the plight of others and unwillingness to enforce godly laws and put a stop to evil.
The Devil promotes the lie that people are basically good, and if left to themselves will be fine, and many people believe that lie. The Bible says exactly the opposite. God specifically said that people are evil from childhood (Gen. 8:21), and that children who are left to themselves and raised without discipline and training will only become shameful and godless (Prov. 29:15. Cp. Ps. 58:3). That is why the Bible has much to say about properly raising children. Anyone who has observed children knows that although they can be cute and fun, they are very selfish and have to be taught to be nice, to share, and to be respectful of others; they do not have those traits from the womb. The heart of human beings is corrupt and deceitful (Jer. 17:9), and people’s sin nature inclines them to evil and sin, which is why it is difficult even for Christians to live truly godly lives (Gal. 5:17; Ecc. 7:20). It takes much effort and godly laws and morals to have a decent society. God knows that, which is why the Bible has so much information about how to treat others and have a godly society. God has given laws, moral codes, wise counsel, and many good examples of how to have a safe and godly society, and He has given those directives because without godly laws and moral codes, people end up oppressing each other.
Why would the Devil promote the lie that people are basically good? Because he himself is lawless and a rebel. He rebels against laws and rules, and therefore against God. Furthermore, he is evil and he knows the hurt and pain that exists in lawless societies; he has watched those barbarian societies for millennia. The Devil knows that if he can successfully promote the lie that people are basically good, then people will not be concerned about having and enforcing godly laws, after all, everything will be okay without them, right? Wrong!
In Zephaniah’s time, Judah had abandoned God’s laws with predictable results—the city had become full of various types of oppression. That happens any time and place that God’s laws are abandoned, and in our modern world it is happening more and more. That too, is predictable, because as Jesus said, as earth moves closer and closer to the End Times, the love of many will grow cold, so people will begin to oppress each other (Matt. 24:12). The Bible describes exactly what people are like without godly laws, and sadly, it is a prophecy about how life will be in the End Times: “But know this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For people will be self-centered, greedy for money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without family affection, unwilling to be reconciled to others, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, not interested in doing good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, friends of pleasure rather than friends of God” (2 Tim. 3:1-4).
The next life will be safe and fun because Jesus will be king and enforce godly law. That Jesus will conquer the earth and rule with a rod of iron is a well-established prophecy (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). If Jesus will need to have and enforce godly laws in his society, it goes without saying that we need to follow his example if we want our society to be godly.(top)
“She has not listened.” The literal Hebrew is “she has not listened,” or “she has not heard,” the Hebrew word means “heard” or “listened.” In this case the people did not “listen to,” that is, “obey” God, “the Voice.” In this context, the word “listen” means “obey” and some English versions translate it that way (ASV; HCSB; NIV), but the literal word “listen” carries the meaning well too.
“the Voice.” That is, God’s voice. God had spoken directly to Israel in a loud voice when He gave the Ten Commandments (see commentary on Exod. 19:9), but since that time He had spoken through the prophets (Heb. 1:1).
“did not trust…did not approach.” These statements are pregnant with meaning because it is not that Israel did not trust or approach Yahweh with an offering because they had become atheists. They did not trust or approach Yahweh because they were trusting and worshiping other gods (2 Kings 21:1-9, 19-22). Josiah tried to reform Judah and bring them back to Yahweh (2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chron. 34-35), but the idolatry was too deeply established and as soon as he was killed in battle his sons and grandson returned to idolatry (2 Kings 23:31-32, 36-37; 2 Kings 24:8-9, 17-19).
“approach.” This is the term used in the Mosaic Law for approaching God with an offering. Leviticus says, “When any one of you approaches with an approach offering to Yahweh from the livestock, you may approach with your approach offering from the herd or from the flock. If his approach offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to approach with a male without blemish. He must approach to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting so that he may be accepted before Yahweh” (Lev. 1:2-3). The point Zephaniah was making was the people were not approaching God with offerings because they were worshiping other gods instead of Yahweh.(top)
“are roaring lions.” Zephaniah uses the metaphor to express how powerful, dangerous, and fierce the leaders of Judah are. One of the inherent problems with figures of comparison (simile, metaphor, and hypocatastasis) is that one has to be very sensitive to the context to get the meaning. For example, in other places in Scripture the “lion of Judah” is strong, courageous, and protective (Rev. 5:5). The leaders are supposed to be shepherds who care for the sheep, instead, these leaders are lions who eat the sheep. [For more on figures of comparison, see commentary on Rev. 20:2].
“wolves at evening.” Wolves are fierce and merciless, and an apt metaphor for the judges who pervert justice and thus kill the dreams and aspirations of those they are supposed to protect by justice. The addition “at evening” is also apt, because just as evening wolves use the cover of darkness to make their kill, these unjust judges cover their sin and avarice with the darkness of lies, “reasons,” and wise-sounding words and “kill” justice. They don’t even leave “a bone” of justice in their decisions so the weak are helped out a little.(top)
“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 and 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.(top)
“who resides in the midst of her.” Yahweh was in His Temple in the midst of Jerusalem.
“is righteous.” That is, God treats people with justice and equity (see commentary on Matt. 5:6).
“Morning by morning.” Although this is a general phrase meaning “over and over,” it was chosen on purpose to highlight the justice and love of God, because every morning, morning after morning, the priests offer the morning sacrifice in the Temple and portray how God cares for people and atones for people’s sin.
“an unjust person knows no shame.” In the honor-shame society of the biblical world, and still in the east and Middle East today, concern about “shame” (sometimes referred to as “losing face” in Asia) is very real, and avoiding shame and being honored is very important to people and a huge motivator to behave according to societal standards. But these unjust people were so committed to their sin and had such hard hearts that they did not experience (“know”) any shame over their horrendous acts against God and other people. They refused correction and so to protect other people from them God’s only course of action was to act powerfully against them. That situation is still true today, and is why laws must be enforced by police in today’s society and why death in the Lake of Fire is God’s righteous action against willful evil (Rev. 20:11-15).(top)
“I have cut off nations.” The speaker abruptly changes from Zephaniah to Yahweh, and Yahweh reminds the people that rebellion against Him only results in destruction. It has happened in the past and will happen again, even to Judah and Jerusalem if the people do not repent and accept God’s correction (Zeph. 3:7).(top)
“because of all.” The exact meaning of this phrase in Zephaniah 3:7 and the proper way to translate the sentence is unclear, which can be seen by the many different ways it has been translated in the English versions. However, the basic meaning of the text is quite clear. As God said in Zephaniah 3:6, nations had been destroyed because of sin against God and humanity, and the Judeans also knew Israel had been destroyed by Assyria for her sin, and now Judah was in danger of being destroyed. But because of the disasters of the past, God thought, “Surely you [Judah] will fear me; you will accept correction” so that you will not be completely destroyed. But alas! The Judeans rejected God’s reproof and “rose up early” (i.e., they committed themselves) to corrupt themselves in everything they did. We know from history that as a result Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed.
We should pay attention to the fact that God, the Creator of the heavens, earth, and humans, sets the standards of what is “corrupt” and what is not. If you took a pole of all the people in Judea in Zephaniah’s day, no doubt many of them would say the way they lived was “normal,” “fine,” and “a matter of personal choice.” But people do not get to dictate what is right and what is not; God does. The Psalmist correctly states: “The earth is Yahweh's, and all it contains; the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1). God set standards for godly human behavior, and people ignore and defy those standards to their peril.
“But they rose early.” This is an idiom for being eager or excited to do something, thus the translations such as the NRSV: “But they were the more eager to make all their deeds corrupt.” But God shows how much He loved the people and “rose early” to guide and correct them (cp. Jer. 7:13, 25; 11:7; 25:3; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14-15; 44:4).
“corrupted all that they did.” Some 800 years earlier Moses had foretold that the Israelites would become corrupt. Here in Zephaniah that has occurred and Yahweh says that they corrupted “all” that they did.(top)
“wait for me.” We must wait for God. His promises sometimes seem delayed, but they will come. Many people think and act like there will not be a Day of Judgment, but there will be. We must be patient and faithful. God does not lie, and He tells us to wait for His judgment.
“I rise up to testify.” At the time of the End, God will testify against humanity. God’s court will be seated and judgment will take place (Dan. 7:9-10; Rev. 4:2-5). The Hebrew text, if the vowels are added differently, can read “rise up for the prey,” but although the Masoretic Hebrew Text reads that way, it seems less likely. For example, the Septuagint reads “for a witness.”
“for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth will be devoured.” Although much destruction would occur to Israel and the nations between 600 BC and the Day of Yahweh (which is still future), this prophecy is for more than those short and local destructions. In the Day of God’s wrath, the Tribulation and Armageddon, all the earth will be devoured. Indescribable devastation is foretold for the earth during that time (see commentary on Daniel 12:1).(top)
“change.” The Hebrew is “turn.” It may mean “restore” (HCSB), but that may be too much. It does mean “change” (ESV).
“speech.” The Hebrew is “lips,” here put for what is spoken by the lip, “speech” or “language.” The pure language does not mean Hebrew will be the universal language. The language people will speak in the future is unknown. The pure language in this context is the language of praise and honor to Yahweh, the Creator of all.
“shoulder to shoulder.” The Hebrew is idiomatic, “with one shoulder,” and thus picturing the people crowded together serving Yahweh and calling upon Him in worship, bowing down before Him together. However, the idiomatic phrase “with one shoulder” is somewhat unclear in English, and we often render the concept with the phrase “shoulder to shoulder.”(top)
“beyond the rivers of Cush.” “Cush” is Ethiopia, and “beyond the rivers of Cush” was a way of describing even the remotest lands, we might phrase it as, “the ends of the earth” (cp. Zeph. 2:12; Isa. 18:1).
“the daughter of my dispersed people.” This is very telling because the fact that these were “my people,” means they were almost certainly dispersed Israelites. It would not be impossible that the Jews had been widely scattered, even to Cush and beyond by the time of Zephaniah. The people of Israel had been in Egypt for some 200 years, from their time with Joseph to the Exodus and it is likely that some of them were scattered during that time. Then, during the over 400 years of the time of Joshua and the Judges, they were attacked by many foreign nations and captives would have been taken, and the same happened during the kings period, including Judah being invaded by Shishak, Pharaoh of Egypt, soon after Solomon died (2 Chron. 12:1-9) and troops from Egypt, Libya, and Cush were part of Shishak’s army. Also, about 722 BC, before Zephaniah’s time, Israel was carried away captive by the Assyrians and scattered around the borders of Assyria. So God had “scattered people” at the ends of the earth, but they will be regathered to the land of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom. Furthermore, Gentiles who believe will also come to Jerusalem and worship (Zeph. 3:8-9; Isa. 66:18-21). [For more on the ten lost tribes of Israel being regathered in the Millennial Kingdom, see commentary on Jer. 32:37].(top)
“In that day.” “That day” is the “day of Yahweh.” Here in Zephaniah 3:11 and also in Zephaniah 3:16, the emphasis of “that day” is not the wrath of God, as was the case in the other occurrences of “that day” and the “Day of Yahweh” in the book of Zephaniah, but rather this part of “that day” refers to the peaceful reign of Christ on earth after God’s wrath has passed. The “Day of Yahweh” has many parts, and different parts are emphasized at different times (see commentary on Zeph. 1:7).
“you will not be put to shame.” The verb is feminine singular, and thus the “you” is singular, referring to Jerusalem, and thus by metonymy the people who live there. In the Millennial Kingdom, Jerusalem will be exalted (cp. Isa. 2:1-3; Micah 4:1-2; Jer. 33:15-16).
“remove from your midst.” In the coming Tribulation, Armageddon, and judgments, especially the Sheep and Goat Judgment, the proud and arrogant people will be removed from Jerusalem, indeed, at the start of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom they will be removed from the whole earth. The Tribulation and Armageddon will kill many of them, and those who survive will be weeded out and thrown into the Lake of Fire at the Sheep and Goat Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46; see commentary on Matt. 25:32). After the judgment, the people who will be left will inherit the earth, just as Jesus taught (Zeph. 3:12; Matt. 5:5). [For more on the Tribulation, see commentary on Dan. 12:1. For more on the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth’].
“your people.” The Hebrew text makes it clear that the proud people are Jews, not just Gentiles who live in the midst of the Jews. Many of God’s chosen people rejected God. It has always been that way and still is today.
“rejoice in their pride.” The Hebrew phrase refers to those people who are defiantly proud, they will not humble themselves and obey God. The phrase is translated differently in the different English versions as they try to capture the meaning of the Hebrew text: “take joy in arrogance” (CJB); “your proud, arrogant people” (HCSB); “proudly exultant ones” (ESV); “rejoice in thy pride” (KJV); “those who proudly boast” (NET); “rejoice in their pride” (NIV84); “arrogant boasters” (NIV2011).
From God’s perspective, a proud person is someone who will not humble themselves and submit to the rule of God. A humble person bows the knee to Jesus Christ and recognizes his lordship. A proud person might be a “nice guy,” but in their heart they are self-sufficient. The most recognized definition of a proud person is a person who outwardly shows that they have an excessively high opinion of themselves and/or are self-important, but from God’s perspective a proud person is also one who is satisfied with themselves and their own qualities and achievements and does not or will not recognize God’s place and lordship in their lives. Thus, Zephaniah 1:6 includes among the people who will be removed “those who have not sought Yahweh or asked anything of him.” People who do not recognize the lordship of God and Christ have no place in their kingdom.(top)
“But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people.” After the Battle of Armageddon, when Christ sets up his kingdom on earth, all the proud and arrogant people will be weeded out, and the humble, meek, and lowly people who humbled themselves and obeyed God’s commands and were saved will be in Christ’s kingdom. This was why Jesus taught that the meek will inherit the earth (see commentary on Matt. 5:5). The “humble and lowly” are humble and lowly in their heart, not just their status in life. Many “lowly” people are bitter and arrogant, and that is not the kind of people Zephaniah is speaking about. He is speaking of those humble people who obey God and thus at the Judgment are granted everlasting life.(top)
“they will feed and lie down.” This is a clear allusion to God’s people as the sheep of His pasture (cp. Isa. 40:10-11; Jer. 23:1-4; Ezek. 34:1-31).(top)
“Daughter Zion.” The Hebrew is idiomatic for Zion itself, i.e., Jerusalem (see commentary on Isa. 1:8).
“Daughter Jerusalem.” The Hebrew is similar to that of Daughter Zion (see commentary on Isa. 1:8). In typical poetic fashion, Jerusalem is referred to twice in the verse by two different names, “Daughter Jerusalem” and “Daughter Zion.”(top)
“the judgments against you.” The Hebrew is more literally, “your judgments,” which can also include God’s “punishments” on Judah, and some versions read “punishments.” But translating the sentence literally and saying, “Yahweh has taken away your judgments” could be misunderstood to be saying that the people will no longer be judgmental, and that is not what the verse is saying. When Christ comes back and sets up His kingdom God’s judgments and punishments against Judah and Jerusalem will be over. The people will be in a New Covenant and will have a new heart and new spirit (Jer. 32:36-41; Ezek. 11:17-20; 36:26).
“You will not be afraid of evil any more.” Feeling and being safe in one’s person and possessions is so vital to people’s enjoying life that it is no wonder that God has much to say about Christ’s future kingdom on earth being safe: (cp. Isa. 11:6-9; 32:18; 54:14-17; 60:11,17,18; 65:17-25; Jer. 23:4; 30:10; 32:37; 33:6; Ezek. 28:26; 34:25-31; Mic. 5:4,5; Zeph. 3:13-17). [For more on the wonderful attributes of the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
“in that day.” “That day” is the Day of Yahweh. See commentary on Zephaniah 3:11.
“Do not let your hands fall limp.” Letting the hand “fall limp” is idiomatic and based on the experience of being afraid and/or discouraged. Often when a person is physically scared, discouraged, confused, etc., they do not have the motivation and strength to get to work and deal with the situation they are in. Some English versions translate the idiom out of the text: “do not be discouraged” (NAB); “Don’t be afraid” (NLT); “Do not lose courage” (GWN). But being that specific in the translation leaves out all the other possibilities that a person’s hands might fall limp, so in this case it is best to leave the idiom in the text.(top)
“He will calm you with his love.” The Hebrew is more literally, “He will be silent in his love,” but that God would be “silent” makes very little sense in the context and especially so since the preceding sentence is about God rejoicing with joy over the people, and rejoicing is not silent. Quite a few English versions and commentaries, along with the REV, say that God will calm His people with His love, and given all the other verses about the blessings people will have in the Millennial Kingdom that is a most plausible meaning. Some scholars believe that the text saying God will be “silent” in His love refers to Him feeling His love for people very deeply and contemplating plans for the good of His people, but although the Hebrew can read that way, expressing that would be rare and unusual. Some English translations see the difficulty in the Hebrew text and so follow the Septuagint, which reads “He will renew you in his love,” but leaving the Hebrew text for the Greek is not necessary here. The Hebrew text can be understood to mean “He will calm [or “quiet”] you with His love, and many English versions including the REV have a reading similar to that (cp. Barker and Bailey, The New American Commentary: Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah).
We can see why God would have a wonderful verse about Him quieting the worries and fears of His people here at the end of Zephaniah. The first two and a half chapters of Zephaniah were about destruction coming on Judah and the world, and those prophecies of destruction are echoed in the books of Zephaniah’s contemporaries, Jeremiah and Nahum, and it is likely that Habakkuk was a contemporary as well. Given the destruction the prophets foretold for Judah and Jerusalem, we can see why the people would be worried and anxious. But although God does not promise health and well-being in this life, it is comforting to know that there is another life coming that will be full of joy and good things.
Ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, there has always been a lot of anxiety and fear in human life. Life is uncertain and there are innumerable things to worry about. Life itself is fragile and death or disability can come without warning at any time for oneself or loved ones. Staying healthy is never guaranteed, and neither are the simple comforts of having food to eat, clothes to wear, or a bed at night. The Bible has many verses about worry and anxiety, and almost 1,000 years before Christ, Solomon said, “Anxiety in a person's heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad” (Prov. 12:25). But in contrast to the constant worries of this life, Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom will be a time of great joy. Many verses attest that people will be healthy, safe, well-fed, and joyful. What a wonderful promise of the future God gives us here in Zephaniah, that God will calm people with His love. Having a peaceful heart and mind is a wonderful blessing from God.
[For more on Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
“I will.” The text abruptly changes from the third person to God speaking directly to the people via the prophet’s mouth and pen, and the close of Zephaniah, Zephaniah 3:18-20, is spoken by Yahweh.
“gather together those who grieve.” The Hebrew text of this verse is very choppy and it is unclear exactly how to construct it in English, which explains the large number of different renderings in the English versions. The marginal note in the NET Bible says, “Any translation of this difficult verse must be provisional at best.” Nevertheless, the overall meaning of the end of Zephaniah is clear: despite the opening of the book which speaks of disaster, God shows that there will be a happy final end for good people.
“they came from you.” The scattered people in this immediate context came from Judah, so here Judah, or more likely even Jerusalem, is the “you.” The speaker and the subject often change abruptly in the prophetic books, and this is an example. Usually a knowledge of the scope of Scripture and a careful study of the context allows the reader to figure out the meaning of the text.
“the reproach of exile is a burden.” Jerusalem (and Judah) was constantly degraded, derided, and mocked due to the judgments of God that fell upon her. The nations ridiculed her, and that reproach was a burden.
“to you.” To Jerusalem (and Judah). The Hebrew text reads “her,” but many English versions nuance the English to “you” for clarity. The reproach was a burden to Jerusalem.(top)
“those who are lame.” God is portraying the people as sheep, and in that context, the word “lame” is not only an allusion, but a synecdoche of the part, where “lame” stands for more than just “lame,” it refers to people who are injured or hurt or wounded in any way.
“gather.” Many prophecies speak of the future time when God will gather together the scattered people of Israel and bring them back to their land (see commentary on Jer. 32:37).
“scattered.” This continues the allusion to the people of God being sheep. In other contexts it would be “driven away” or “banished,” but when used of animals “scattered” is the implication (HALOT Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament). The NET has “scattered sheep” for clarity.
“I will change their shame into praise and a name in all the earth.” There are two major ways in which this sentence has been translated (and there are also some other variations), and the scholars and translations are divided. Part of it has to do with whether the Hebrew word erets (#0776), refers to “land” (an individual country) or to “earth” (the whole earth). Both meanings are valid, and there are arguments in support of both translations. The two major ways of translating can be seen in the difference between the ESV (“and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth”) and the KJV (“and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame”).
Zephaniah 3:19 is about Christ’s conquest of the earth and the glory of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom. After the Tribulation, Jesus will come and fight the Battle of Armageddon and conquer the earth (Isa. 63:1-6; Rev. 19:11-21). At that time God “deals” with the wicked (Isa. 11:4), and reestablishes the kingdom of Israel (Ezek. 40-48) which will be the glory of the earth; it will be a thing of praise and renown.
Some scholars see this verse in Zephaniah as referring to Judah returning from the Babylonian Captivity, but although many Judeans did return from Babylon, there are a number of reasons why that was not the fulfillment of this prophecy. For one thing, God’s “sheep” had been being scattered for centuries, and this prophecy is more universal than just referring to the Babylonian Captivity. Also, although many Judeans returned back to Judah from Babylon, historical records show that more people stayed in Babylon and Persia than returned, so God’s sheep were not gathered to Israel as they will be in the future. Also, although many Judeans returned to Israel from the Babylonian Captivity, Israel was not the praise and renown of all the earth, the people were disgraced and Judah was in ruins (cp. Neh. 1:3).
[For more on the future Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
“restore your fortunes.” See commentary on Zephaniah 2:7.(top)