The Word Made Fresh
1See the dirty, defiled, once boasting city!
2They refuse to listen; they refuse correction;
they do not trust in the LORD and have not drawn near to God.
3The officials in the city are like roaring lions;
their judges are wolves that attack in the evening
and leave nothing for the morning.
4The prophets are dangerous and faithless.
The priests desecrate the sanctuary
and misinterpret the law.
5The LORD within the sanctuary is righteous and does no wrong,
pronouncing judgments each morning at dawn without fail;
but those who are unjust have no shame.
6“I have destroyed nations, leaving their fortresses in ruins.
I have ripped up their streets so that no one can walk in them.
Their cities are desolate, without people or inhabitants.
7I said, ‘The city will certainly fear me and will accept correction;
surely they cannot forget all that I have done for them.’
But they were only more determined to be corrupt.
8You must wait for me,” says the LORD.
“Wait for the day I appear as a witness,
for I have decided to gather the nations
and assemble the kingdoms
to subject them to my anger and indignation,
for the fire of my passion will consume the earth.
9“Then I will correct the words of the people to make them pure
so that all of them can call on the name of the LORD
and serve the LORD together.
10From beyond the rivers of Cush
my scattered servants will bring my offering.
11You will not be put to shame on that day
for all the ways in which you have rebelled against me;
instead, I will take your proud, exulting ones out of your midst.
You will never again be proud in my sacred mountain.
12I will leave only the humble and lowly ones among you.
They will seek safety in the LORD’s name.
13Those left in Israel will do no wrong and speak no lies.
No deceit will be found in their words.
They will lie down and rest, with no one to make them afraid.”
14Sing out loud, daughter Zion! Shout, Israel!
Rejoice! Be exultant with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!
15The LORD has dismissed all the judgments against you
and has turned your enemies away.
The LORD, the true king of Israel, is among you
and you need never again be troubled.
16On that day Jerusalem will be told not to be afraid;
Zion will be told not to fear nor let their hands be weak.
17The LORD your God is with you as a warrior who leads you to victory.
The LORD will happily rejoice over you,
calm you with love and sing loudly with joy.
18It will be as a festival celebration.
I will take every disaster away from you
and you will not be rebuked.
19On that day I will deal with your enemies.
I will rescue the lame and the outcast.
Their shame will be removed,
and they will receive praise and honor throughout the world.
20Then I will bring you home when I have gathered you.
I will show your fame and renown to all the people of the earth
and restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.
1-2: Zephaniah’s primary pronouncements are against his own people. At first these verses seem to be related to the word against Nineveh in 2:13-15, but it becomes clear by the end of verse 2 that Jerusalem is now the target.
3-5: So often the prophets focused on the corruption of the rich and powerful — the officials and judges — comparing them to wild beasts that devour indiscriminately. But here the prophets and priests are also denounced. Only the LORD, surprisingly pictured as being within the city, is righteous.
6-7: God is speaking directly in these verses. God has laid whole nations low. Surely that fact alone should have sufficed as a warning, but the officials, judges, priests and prophets in Jerusalem paid no heed.
8: God’s wrath has risen to the boiling point, and threatens to destroy the world, a threat which reminds us of the story of the Great Deluge in Genesis.
9-10: Evoking again images of the stories of Genesis — here the Tower of Babel can be faintly seen in the background — Zephaniah can nonetheless imagine God reversing the multiplication of languages that scattered the people of Shinar across the world, seeing people come from afar to do homage to the LORD. Christians, of course, are reminded of the story of Pentecost in Acts 2.
11-13: A day of peace and restoration lies in the future. Nearly all the prophets who pronounced gloom and doom nevertheless saw God’s wrath resulting finally in the kind of world God wants us to have.
14-20: The book ends with an exultant song of victory for God over all the enemies of Zion, and the restoration and exaltation of God’s people among all the peoples of the earth.
God’s anger and wrath never result in abandoning the LORD’s people. No matter how far we have strayed, the LORD always provides a way for us to return, sending prophets and a Savior to guide us.