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The word of the L ord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.


The Coming Judgment on Judah


I will utterly sweep away everything

from the face of the earth, says the L ord.


I will sweep away humans and animals;

I will sweep away the birds of the air

and the fish of the sea.

I will make the wicked stumble.

I will cut off humanity

from the face of the earth, says the L ord.


I will stretch out my hand against Judah,

and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;

and I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal

and the name of the idolatrous priests;


those who bow down on the roofs

to the host of the heavens;

those who bow down and swear to the L ord,

but also swear by Milcom;


those who have turned back from following the L ord,

who have not sought the L ord or inquired of him.



Be silent before the Lord G od!

For the day of the L ord is at hand;

the L ord has prepared a sacrifice,

he has consecrated his guests.


And on the day of the L ord’s sacrifice

I will punish the officials and the king’s sons

and all who dress themselves in foreign attire.


On that day I will punish

all who leap over the threshold,

who fill their master’s house

with violence and fraud.



On that day, says the L ord,

a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,

a wail from the Second Quarter,

a loud crash from the hills.


The inhabitants of the Mortar wail,

for all the traders have perished;

all who weigh out silver are cut off.


At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,

and I will punish the people

who rest complacently on their dregs,

those who say in their hearts,

“The L ord will not do good,

nor will he do harm.”


Their wealth shall be plundered,

and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,

they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,

they shall not drink wine from them.


The Great Day of the L ord


The great day of the L ord is near,

near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the L ord is bitter,

the warrior cries aloud there.


That day will be a day of wrath,

a day of distress and anguish,

a day of ruin and devastation,

a day of darkness and gloom,

a day of clouds and thick darkness,


a day of trumpet blast and battle cry

against the fortified cities

and against the lofty battlements.



I will bring such distress upon people

that they shall walk like the blind;

because they have sinned against the L ord,

their blood shall be poured out like dust,

and their flesh like dung.


Neither their silver nor their gold

will be able to save them

on the day of the L ord’s wrath;

in the fire of his passion

the whole earth shall be consumed;

for a full, a terrible end

he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.


The Prophet addresses here generally the despisers of God, who were become hardened in their wickedness. But before he openly names them, he says that the visitation would be such, that God would search every corner, so that no place would remain unexplored. For to visit with candles, or to search with candles, is so to examine all hidden places or coverts, that nothing may escape. When one intends to plunder a city, he first enters into the houses, and takes away whatever he finds; but when he thinks that there are some hidden treasures, he descends into the secret cells; and then if there be no light there, he lights a candle, and carefully looks here and there, that he may not overlook anything. By this comparison then God intimates, that Jerusalem would be so plundered, that nothing whatever would remain. Hence he says, I will search it with candles. We indeed know that nothing is hid from God; but it is evident, that he is constrained to borrow comparisons from the common practice of men, because he could not otherwise express what is necessary for us to know. The world indeed deal with God as men do with one another; for they think that he can be deceived by their craftiness. He therefore laughs to scorn this folly, and says, that he would have candles to search out whatever was concealed.

Now, as impiety had possessed the minds of almost all the people, he says, I will visit the men, who on their lees are congealed. This may indeed be only understood of the rich, who flattered themselves in their prosperity, and feared nothing, and were thus congealed on their lees: but Zephaniah shows in the words which follow, that he had in view something more atrocious, that is, that they said that neither good nor evil proceeded from God. At the same time, these two things may be suitably joined together—that he reproves here their self-security, produced by wealth—and that he also accuses the careless Jews of that gross contempt of God which is afterwards mentioned. And I am disposed to take this view, that is, that the Jews, inebriated with prosperity, became hardened, as men contract hardness often by labor—and that they so collected lees through too much quietness and abundance of things, that they became wholly stupid, and could be touched by no truth made known to them. Hence in the first place the Prophet says, that God would visit with punishment a carelessness so extreme, when men not only slumbered in their prosperity, but also became congealed in their own stupidity, so as to be almost void of sense and understanding. When one addresses a dead mass, he can effect nothing: and so the Prophet compares careless men to a dead and congealed mass; for stupidity had so bound up all their senses, that they could not be either allured by the goodness of God, or terrified by his threatenings. Congealing then is nothing else but that hardness or contumacy, which is contracted by self-indulgences, and particularly when the minds of men become almost stupefied. 8181     There is a similar meaning in Jeremiah 48:11; but the verb is different, [שקט], which means to be still, to rest, to settle, while the verb here is [קפא], which signifies to be condensed, or to be congealed, Exodus 15:8. But as things congelaed become fixed, the verb seems to have the meaning of fixedness here; as wines on the lees, to which allusion is made, do not become congealed, the comparison seems to be, that as wine kept still on the lees increases in strength and flavor so the Jews, settling on their dregs—their sins—became strengthened and confirmed in their wickedness and atheistic notions. But Newcome and Henderson take another view of the metaphor, and consider that “the thoughtless tranquillity of the rich is compared to the fixed unbroken surface of fermented liquors.” Our version favors the former idea, as the verb is rendered “settled.”—Ed. And by lees he means sinful indulgences, which so infatuate all the senses of men, that no light nor sincerity remains.

He then mentions what they said in their hearts. He expresses here what that carelessness which he condemned brings with it—even that wicked men fearlessly mock God. What it is to speak in the heart, is evident from many parts of Scripture; it means to determine anything within: for though the ungodly do not openly proclaim what they determine in their minds, they yet reason within themselves, and settle this point—that either there is no God, or that he rests idly in heaven. ‘Said has the ungodly in his heart, No God is.’ Why in the heart? Because shame or fear prevents men from openly avowing their impiety; yet they cherish such thoughts in the heart and assent to them. Now here is described by the Prophet the height of impiety, when he says, that men drunk with pleasures robbed God of his office as a judge, saying, that he does neither good nor evil. And it is probable that there were then many at Jerusalem and throughout Judea who thus insolently despised God as a judge. But Zephaniah especially speaks of the chief men; for such above all others deride God, as the giants did, and look down as from on high on his judgments. There is indeed much insensibility among the common people; but there is more madness in the pride of great men, who, trusting in their power, think themselves exempt from the authority of God.

But what I have just said must be borne in mind, that an unhealable impiety is described by the Prophet, when he accuses the Jews, that they did not think God to be the author either of good or of evil; because God is thus deprived of his dignity; for except he is owned as the judge of the world, what becomes of his dignity? The majesty, or the authority, or the glory of God does not consist in some imaginary brightness, but in those works which so necessarily belong to him, that they cannot be separated from his very essence. It is what peculiarly belongs to God, to govern the world, and to exercise care over mankind, and also to make a difference between good and evil, to help the miserable, to punish all wickedness, to check injustice and violence. When any one takes away these things from God, he leaves him an idol only. Since, then, the glory of God consists in his justice, wisdom, judgment, power, and other attributes, all who deny God to be the governor of the world entirely extinguish, as much as they can, his glory. Even so do heathen writers accuse Epicures; for as he dared not to deny the existence of some god, like Diagoras and some others, he confessed that there are some gods, but shut them up in heaven, that they might enjoy there their leisure and delights. But this is to imagine a god, who is not a god. It is then no wonder that the Prophet condemns with so much sharpness the stupidity of the Jews, as they thought that neither good nor evil proceeded from God. But there was also a greater reason why God should be so indignant at such senselessness: for whence was it that men entertained such an opinion or such a delirious thought, as to deny that God did either good or evil, except that they attempted to drive God far away from them, that they might not be subject to his judgment. They therefore who seek to extinguish the distinction between right and wrong in their consciences, invent for themselves the delirious notion, that God concerns not himself with human affairs, that he is contented with his own celestial felicity, and descends not to us, and that adversity as well as prosperity happens to men by chance.

We hence see how men seek willfully and designedly to indulge the notion, that neither good nor evil comes from God: they do this, that they may stupefy their own consciences, and thus precipitate themselves with greater liberty into sin, as though they were free to do anything with impunity, and as though there was no judge to whom an account is to be rendered.

And hence I have said, that it is the very summit of impiety when men strengthen themselves in this error, that God rests in heaven, and that whatever miseries they endure in this world happen through fortunes and that whatever good things they have are to be ascribed either to their own industry or to chance. And so the Prophet briefly shows in this passage that the Jews were past recovery, that no one might feel surprised, that God should punish with so much severity a people who had been his friends, and whom he had adopted in preference to the whole world: for he had set apart the race of Abraham, as it is well known, as his chosen and holy people. God’s vengeance on the children of Abraham might have appeared cruel or extremely rigid, had it not been expressly declared that they had advanced so far in impiety as to seek to exclude God from the government of the world, and to deprive him of his own peculiar office, even that of punishing sin, of defending his own people, of delivering them from all evils, of relieving all their miseries. Since, then, they thus shut up God in heaven, and gave the governing power on earth to fortune, it was an intolerable stupidity, nay, wholly diabolical. It was therefore no wonder that God was so severely indignant, and stretched forth his hand to punish their sin, as their disease had become now incurable.

Zephaniah pursues the same subject—that God, after long forbearance, would punish his rebellious and obstinate people. Hence he says, that they were now delivered, even by God himself, into the hands of their enemies. They indeed knew that many were inimical to them; but they did not consider God’s judgment, as God himself elsewhere complains—that they did not regard the hand of him who smote them. Isaiah 9:13. Our Prophet, therefore, declares now that they were given up to destruction, and that their enemies would find no trouble nor difficulty in invading the land, since all places would be open to plunder. And he recites what is found in Leviticus 26:20; for the Prophets were interpreters of the law, and the only difference between Moses and them is, that they apply his general truth to their own time. The Prophet now pursues this course, as though he had said, that God had not in vain or to no purpose threatened this evil in his law; for the Jews would find by experience that this would really be the case, and that it had been truly said, that the fruit of the land, their habitations, and other comforts of life, would be transferred to others. It now follows—

The Prophet in this verse expresses more clearly what I have already stated—That God would be the author of all the evils which would happen to the Jews; for as they grew more insensible in their sins, they more and more provoked God’s wrath against themselves. It is therefore no common wisdom to consider God’s hand when he strikes or chastens us. This is the reason why the Prophet now calls the attention of the Jews to God, that they might not fix their minds, as it is commonly done, on men only. At the same time, he tries to shake off their torpor by declaring that the day would be terrible, and that it was also now near at hand. We indeed know that hypocrites trifle with God, except they feel the weight of his wrath, and that they protract time, and promise themselves so long a respite, that they never awake to repentance. Hence the Prophet in the first place shows, that whatever evils then impended over the Jews were not only from men, but especially from God. This is one thing; and then, in order thoroughly to touch stupid hearts, he says, that the day would be terrible; and lastly, that they might not deceive themselves by vain flatteries, he declares that the day was at hand. These three things must be noticed in order that we understand the Prophet’s object.

But he says at the beginning of the verse, that the great day of Jehovah was nigh. In these words he includes the three things to which I have already referred. By calling it the day of Jehovah, he means, that whatever evils the Jews suffered, ought to have been ascribed to his judgment; and by calling it the great day, his object was to strike terror; as well as by saying, in the third place, that it was nigh. We hence see that three things are included in these words. But the Prophet more fully explains what might, on account of the brevity of his words, have seemed not quite clear.

Near, he says, is the day, and quickly hastens. Men, we know, are wont to extend time, that they may cherish their sins; for though they cannot divest themselves of every feeling as to religion, or shake it off, they yet imagine for themselves a long distance between them and God; and by such an imagination they find ease for themselves. Hence the Prophet declares the day to be nigh; and as it was hardly credible that the destruction of which he spake was near, he adds, that the day was quickly hastening; as though he had said, that they ought not to judge by the present state of things what God would do, for in a moment his wrath would pass through from east to west like lightning. Men need long preparation when they determine to execute their vengeance; but God has no need of much preparation, for his own power is sufficient for him when he resolves to destroy the wicked. We now, then, see why it was added by the Prophet, that the day would quickly hasten.

He now repeats that the day of Jehovah and his voice would cry out bitterly. I have stated three renderings as given by interpreters. Some read thus—The day of Jehovah shall be bitter; there the strong shall cry aloud. This meaning is admissible, and a useful instruction may from it be elicited; as though the Prophet had said, that no courage could bring help to men, or be an aid to them, against God’s vengeance. Others give this rendering, that the day would bitterly cry out, for there would be the strong, that is, the strength of enemies would break down whatever courage the Jews might have. But this second meaning seems forced; and I am disposed to adopt the third—that the voice of the day of Jehovah would bitterly cry out. And he means the voice of those who would have really to know God as a judge, whom they had previously despised; for God would then put forth his power, which had been an object of contempt, until the Jews had by experience felt it. 8282     The Rabbinical punctuation has destroyed the simplicity of this passage by connecting "bitter” with the latter clause. Jerome, Pagninus, Newcome, as well as the Septuagint, connect it with the former clause. The literal rendering of the two lines is as follows—
   The voice of the day of Jehovah shall be grievous;
Roar out there (or then) shall the brave.

   “The voice of the day,” etc., means the voice uttered on that day, as Drusius explains it. [מר] is no doubt “bitter;” but it is often applied in scripture to express what is grievous, afflictive, or sorrowful. If we render [שט], “there,” it refers to Jerusalem, verse 12; but it is sometimes used as an adverb of time, “then,” see Psalm 14:5; Nehemiah 3:15. “The meaning is,” says Drusius, “that the voice of that day, which they who excel in strength of mind and body shall utter, shall be bitter.” The whole verse is remarkably concise and emphatical,—

   14. Nigh is the great day of Jehovah,
Nigh and hastening quickly:
The voice of the day of Jehovah shall be grievous;
Roar out then shall the brave.

   Then the following verse is not to begin, as in our version, which has been followed by Newcome and Henderson, “That day is a day of wrath,” but thus—

   A day of wrath shall be that day.

   This is the order of the original, and as there is no verb, it must be supplied and regulated as to its tense by the context.—Ed.

As to the Prophet’s design, there is no ambiguity: for he seeks here to rouse the Jews from their insensibility, who had so hardened themselves against all threatening, that the Prophets were not able to convince them. Since, then, they had thus hardened themselves against every instruction and all warnings, the Prophet here says, that the voice of God’s day would be different: for God’s voice had sounded through the mouth of the Prophets, but it availed not with the deaf. An awful change is here announced; for the Jews shall then cry aloud, as the roaring of the divine voice shall then terrify them, when God shall really show that he is the avenger of wickedness—When therefore he shall ascend his tribunal, then ye shall cry. His messengers now cry to you in vain, for ye close up your ears; ye shall cry in your turn, but it will be in vain.

But if one prefers to take it as one sentence, The voice of the day of Jehovah, there strong, shall bitterly cry out, the meaning will be the same as to the main point. I would not, therefore, contend about words, provided we bear in mind what I have already said—that Zephaniah sets here the cry of the distressed people in opposition to the voices of the Prophets, which they had despised, yea, and for the most part, as it appears from other places, treated with ridicule. However this may have been, he indirectly condemns their false confidence, when he speaks of the strong; as though he had said, that they were strong only for their own ruin, while they opposed God and his servants; for this strength falls at length, nay, it breaks itself by its own weight, when God rises to judgment. It follows—

The Prophet shows here how foolish they were who extenuated God’s vengeance, as hypocrites and all wicked men are wont to do. Hence he accuses the Jews of madness, that they thought that the way of reconciliation would be easy to them, when they had by their perverseness provoked God to come against them as an armed enemy. For though the ungodly do not promise to themselves anything of God’s favor, yet they entertain vain imaginations, as though he might with no trouble be pacified: they do not think that he will be propitious to them, and yet in the meantime they deride his vengeance. Against this kind of senselessness the Prophet now inveighs. We have stated in other places, that these kinds of figurative expressions were intended solely for this end—to constrain men to entertain some fear, for they willfully deluded themselves: for the Prophets had to do, partly with open despisers of God, and partly with his masked worshipers, whose holiness was hypocrisy.

This, then, was the reason why he said, that that day would be a day of wrath, and also a day of distress and of affliction, 8383     The original words are similar in sound and meaning; the first, [צרה], comes from a verb which means to inclose, to confine, to straiten, and it may be rendered, narrowness, confinement, straitness, distress. The other, [מצוקה], is oppression, as the verb means to press down, to press close. of tumult and desolation, 8484     Waste or confusion is, [משואה ,שאה], derived from the same root, may be rendered desolation. The two next words, “darkness” and “thick darkness,” occur in Joel 2:2. In the same passage we have also “the day of cloudiness and of entire darkness,” literally, bare or naked darkness; for the word is, [ערפל], derived, as I conceive, from [ער], bare, and [אפל], thick darkness. There is a gradation in the words used in each line; the second word is stronger than the first.—Ed. of darkness and of thick darkness, of clouds and of mist. In short, he intended to remove from the Jews that confidence with which they flattered themselves, yea, the confidence which they derived from their contempt of God: for the flesh is secure, while it has coverts, where it may withdraw itself from the presence of God. True confidence cannot exceed moderation, that is, the confidence that is founded on God’s word, for thus men come nigh to God: but the flesh wishes for no other rest but in the forgetfulness of God. And we have already seen in the Prophet Amos, (Amos 5:18,) why the day of Jehovah is painted as being so dreadful; he had, as I have said, to contend with hypocrites, who made an improper use of God’s name, and at the same time slumbered in gross insensibility. Hence Amos said, It will be a day, not of light, but of darkness; not of joy, but of sorrow. Why then do ye anxiously expect the day of the Lord? For the Jews, glorying in being the chosen people of God, and trusting only in their false title of adoption, thought that everything was lawful for them, as though God had renounced his own authority. And thus hypocrites ever flatter themselves, as though they held God bound to them. Our Prophet does not, as Amos, distinctly express these sentiments, yet the meaning of the words is the same, and that is, that when God ascends his tribunal, there is no hope for pardon. He at the same time cuts off from them all their vain confidences; for though God excludes all escapes, yet hypocrites look here and there, before and behind, to the right hand and to the left.

The Prophet therefore intimates, that there would be everywhere darkness and thick darkness, clouds and mists, affliction and distress,—Why? because it would be the day of wrath; for God, after having borne patiently a long time with the Jews, and seen that they perversely abused his patience, would at length put forth his power. And that they might not set up their own strongholds against God, he says, that war was proclaimed against the fortified cities and high citadels. We hence see that he deprives the Jews of all help, in order that they might understand that they were to perish, except they repented, and thus return into favor with God. It shall then be a day of the trumpet and of shouting, 8585     Rather “acclamation,” the triumphant voice of conquerors. As an attempt to preserve the distinctive character of each word in this singular passage, I offer the following version—
   15. A day of extreme wrath shall be that day,
A day of distress and oppression,
A day of waste and of desolation,
A day of darkness and of thick darkness,
A day of cloudiness and of entire darkness;

   16. A day of the trumpet and of acclamation
Over the cities that are inclosed,
And over the towers which are lofty.

   The word [עברה], “extreme wrath,” means such wrath as passes over all bounds—overflowing wrath. We are obliged to use the word darkness three times for lack of suitable terms. The first is the common darkness of the night, the second is a grosser darkness, and the third is complete darkness. The words “gloominess” and “obscurity,” used by Newcome and Henderson, are not sufficiently strong, and convey not the meaning.—Ed.
—How? on all fortified cities. For the Jews, as it is usually done, compared the strength of their enemies with their own. It was not their purpose to go forth beyond their own borders: and they thought that they would be able to resist, and be sufficiently fortified, if any foreign enemy invaded them. The Prophet laughs to scorn this notion, for God had declared war against their fortified cities. It follows —

He confirms what I have already stated—that though other enemies, the Assyrians or Chaldeans, attacked the Jews, yet God would be the principal leader of the war. God then claims here for himself what the Jews transferred to their earthly enemies: and the Prophet has already often called it the day of Jehovah; for God would then make known his power, which had been a sport to them. He therefore declares in this place, that he would reduce man to distress, so that the whole nation would walk like the blind —that, being void of counsel, they would stumble and fall, and not be able to proceed in their course: for they are said to go astray like the blind, who see no end to their evils, who find no means to escape ruin, but are held as it were fast bound. And we must ever bear in mind what I have already said—that the Jews were inflated with such pride, that they heedlessly despised all the Prophets. Since then they were thus wise in themselves, God denounces blindness on them.

He subjoins the reason, Because they had acted impiously towards Jehovah 8686     The Hebrew words are literally,
   For against Jehovah have they sinned.

By these words he confirms what I have already explained—that the intermediate causes are not to be considered, though the Chaldeans took vengeance on the Jews; for there is a higher principle, and another cause of this evil, even the contempt of God and of his celestial truth; for they had acted impiously towards God. And by these words the Prophet reminds the Jews, that no alleviation was to be expected, as they had not only men hostile to them, but God himself, whom they had extremely provoked.

Hence he adds, Poured forth shall be your blood as dust 8787     “Copiously and in contempt,” says Marckius; “as a thing of no value,” says Grotius; “as worthless as dust,” says Drusius. The comparison is evidently intended to show that their blood, or their life, would be treated with contempt, and no more regarded than dust.—Ed. They whom God delivered up to extreme reproach were deserving of this, because he had been despised by them. Their flesh, 8888     The word is [לחט], usually rendered food; here it means what is fed, the carcass, the body. It is rendered “flesh” by the Septuagint.—Ed. he says, shall be as dung. Now, we know how much the Jews boasted of their preeminence; and God had certainly given them occasion to boast, had they made a right and legitimate use of his benefits; but as they had despised him, they deserved in their turn to be exposed to every ignominy and reproach. Hence the Prophet here lays prostrate all their false boastings by which they were inflated; for they wished to be honorable, while God was despised by them. At last he adds—

He repeats what he has already said—that the helps which the Jews hoped would be in readiness to prevent God’s vengeance would be vain. For though men dare not openly to resist God, yet they hope by some winding courses to find out some way by which they may avert his judgment. As then the Jews, trusting in their wealth, and in their fortified cities, became insolent towards God, the Prophet here declares, that neither gold nor silver should be a help to them. Let them, he says, accumulate wealth; though by the mass of their gold and silver they form high mountains for themselves, yet they shall not be able to turn aside the hand of God, nor be able to deliver themselves,—and why? He repeats again the same thing, that it would be the day of wrath. We indeed know, that the most savage enemies are sometimes pacified by money, for avarice mitigates their cruelty; but the Prophet declares here, that as God would be the ruler in that war, there would be no redemption, and therefore money would be useless: for God could by no means receive them into favor, except they repented and truly humbled themselves before him.

He therefore adds, that the land would be devoured by the fire of God’s jealousy, or indignation. He compares God’s wrath to fire; for no agreement can be made when fire rages, but the more materials there are the more will there be to increase the fire. So then the Prophet excludes the Jews from any hope of deliverance, except they reconciled themselves to God by true and sincere repentance; for a consummation, he says, he will make as to all the inhabitants of the land, and one indeed very quick or speedy. 8989     Quickness rather than terror is what is evidently meant. See version 14. Most agree in this respect. Newcome renders it “speedy,” and Henderson “sudden.” The word “riddance,” for [כלה], in our version, is improper. It is rendered “full end” by Newcome, and “consummation” by Henderson, and “συντέλειαν—end” by the Septuagint. The particle [אך] does not mean “altogether,” as rendered by Henderson, but it is an asseveration—surely, indeed, certainly, doubtless. The [אח] before “inhabitants” has evidently here the meaning of κατα, with regard to. It is rendered επι, upon, in the Septuagint, and “with” by Marckius and Newcome. The whole verse is as follows,—
   18. Neither their silver nor their gold
Shall be able to deliver them
In the day of the extreme-wrath of Jehovah;
By the fire of his jealousy
Shall be consumed the whole land;
For an end, doubtless sudden, will he make,
As to all the inhabitants of the land.
In short, he means, that as the Jews had hardened themselves against every instruction, they would find God’s vengeance to be such as would wholly consume them, as they would not anticipate it, but on the contrary enhance it by their pride and stupidity, and even deride it. Now follows—

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