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Bible Study, The Minor Prophets: Zephaniah

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Posted on CCPC's website 2022

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

      This is a long term, in depth, wide focus study of the Minor Prophets, drawing as much from the history of their times as possible, as well as looking at the original language of the prophet.
      For Zephaniah the verse we open with is 2 : 2 (ESV) "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
      who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
      perhaps you may be hidden
on the day of the anger of the Lord."

      One oddity of the book is the pedigree of the prophet in the first verse.
      Zephaniah (meaning “YHWH has concealed”) is listed as the 'two greats' grandson of Hezekiah. The only reason that anybody would go to that trouble is that would be that Zephaniah, or whoever wrote his message out, wanted to make sure that we knew that he was the 'grandkid' of the Good King, and that he wasn't happy about the way things were going in the old neighborhood. And he picked up that social justice drum that the other Minor Prophets have beat on before, for example, see verse 9.
      The verse also states that he preached during the reign of King Josiah whose dates are from about 640 to 610 BC. These dates become important late in chapter 2, stay tuned.
      There are a couple of other Zephaniahs in the OT, including one mentioned in another Minor Prophet, see Zechariah 6 : 10, but we are reasonably sure that that Zephaniah isn't our Zephaniah. The others appear in Jeremiah 29 and First Chronicles 6 in the lineage of Samuel. Jeremiah's Zephaniah came to a bad end in 2 Kings 25 : 21.
      And, oh, by the way, if you go looking for 'Zeph' in some of the older translations, look for 'Sophonias'.

Chapter 1

      The Word of YHWH came to ....
      This is Zephaniah's establishment of his lineage, which was very important to the Jews. As evidence we will call to mind all those chapters full of 'begots' and the 'son of' such as 1 Chronicles 2 and Luke 3.

      The verse begins with two forms of the same word: "'a sop” “'a sep” (gather / assemble as to be removed (such as the gathering of dead branches to be burned))
      .... "kol"” (everyone / everything / 'all') from the “pe ne” (face / surface) of the land, says YHWH.
      HE continues to speak in the next few verses.

      paraphrase: I will consume 'people and stuff'
      ... "we ham mak se lo wt” (a ruin / 'stumbling block') with “ha re sa 'im" (wicked), “we hik rat ti” (and I will cut off (eliminate)) "ha 'ad am” (man / mankind) from the face of the land says YHWH

      The 'stumbling blocks' may be idols, or other objects that cause good people to 'forget God', along with the 'wicked'. This is the genocide that comes to fruition in Revelation.

      Discussion: GOD is still speaking... He says he is going to actively eliminate all trace of Ba'al from “ye ru sa lim” (Jerusalem) and Judah, as well as the priests that serve it, pagan and otherwise.
      The terms at the end of the verse, “hak ke ma rim” and “hak ko ha nim” and are related to 'the priests'. The first is “komer” which indicates the priest to an idol. The second is “kohen” and is used over 300 times in the OT referring to the Jewish priesthood.

      these people are included in the previous verse's 'cutting off list'.
      Explanation: the 'worship on the housetop' is a type of 'high place' pagan service. This can include ashram poles all the way up to full blown pagan altars. The 'host of heaven' is generalized, it obviously includes those that consider the 'lights in the night sky' as gods, as well as the various pagan gods, today, we would say it includes those that actually worship angels.
      They swear by YHWH and Milcom. see 1 Kings 11.
      This is one of the episodes that may have kept Solomon out of the 'Faith Hall of Fame' in Hebrews 11.

      and “han ne so w gim” ('those that' turned back) from following YHWH... etc.

      The speaker changes.
      “has” (be silent (imperative)) in the presence of the Lord God...
      Now it mentions the day the Lord has prepared, which could be either the Day of Judgment, or something else. Stand by.
      YHWH has prepared a “zebah” (sacrifice), He has “hiq dis” (consecrated / sanctified) His “qe ru 'aw” (called).

      Editorial comment: at least with the end of this verse we have some idea of why some of the translators went with 'invited His guests' instead of, as in the Vulgate, “sanctificavit”, which is what is in the Hebrew.
      They have made this verse something of an echo of the parable of the Wedding Feast by Christ in Matthew 22, and the “marriage feast of the Lamb” in Revelation 19.
      Why did they have some objection to the idea that GOD has “set apart those HE has called” as seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 and 2 Timothy 1 : 10 and elsewhere?
      That is a discussion for another time.

      Remember that sacrifice that GOD has prepared in the middle of verse 7? OK, good.
      It shall be “be yo wm” (in the time) of the sacrifice of YHWH, that “u pa qad ti” (numbered / charged / punished (legal implications)) “has sa rim” (prince / ruler / commander / etc) and children “ham me lek” (of the king), and all “hal lo be sim” (who wear / are clothed) “mal bus” (attire (clothes)) “na ke ri” (foreign (especially pagan / gentile)).
            - - - we're fighting the urge to make a side comment about 'Paris Fashion Week'

      paraphrase: I will punish those who 'make an entrance' and that make a profit for their bosses with treachery and lies.
      Two explanations: The terms in the verse are “had do w leg” ('those who' leap) “'al” (over / against) “ham mip tan” (threshold). The meaning in context implies... 'enthusiastically enter' to do the bad stuff later in the verse. Also see the incident and statement about pagan priests leaping it in 1 Samuel 5. Both explanations are in play here in Zephania.

      Discussion: There was no set number of gates to the ancient city. Originally there were seven, at another time twelve, and the number varied as the city was rebuilt and then changed again as need presented or 'new ruler' decided. For an example see links below.
      The 'classic era' Fish Gate was in the outer wall of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 33 : 14) also see Nehemiah 3 : 3. The idea that this gate was the closest to the 'fish market' in the city is speculation based on Nehemiah 13 : 16, but that verse does not say which gate the merchants were using. It is just as likely that it had to do with the location of Pisces 'in the north' (at the time) during the building and the Jewish Zodiac with its symbol for Naphtali.
      This gate was most likely replaced by the Damascus gate, or perhaps one of the others, during later construction.

      The "se ‘'a qah” (cry / outcry (implies 'loud')) from the Fish Gate “yelalah” (wailing / howling) in the "ham mis neh" (second (the added word 'quarter' may be implied, but is not in the Hebrew (or the Latin))) “we se ber” ('sounds of destruction') loud "me hag ge ba ‘o wt" (literally 'hills of Geba' as in Joshua 18 : 24 and 21 : 17, and 1 Chronicles 6 : 60, a region given to the Levites just north of Jerusalem.)

      Wail you people of “ham mak tes” (maktesh (general term for a valley or low spot between the mountains), for the merchants are cut off and 'the people that handle money'.
      In the previous verse we had a reference to the city and the 'low hills' of Geba, now we have the valley, and the merchants and rich.
      Yeah, we're right in the middle of a bit of social justice prophecy.

      “and it shall come to pass in that time.....”
      We're going to take this one apart and look at it and see what meaning we can come up with.
      "a hap pes” ('I will' search) “ye ru sa lim” “ban ne ro wt” (with lamps), “u pa qad ti” (charge (same as in verse 8)) "'al" (against / over) "ha 'a na sim" (men (as in: people)) "haq qo pe 'im" (congealed / settled (as in the material at the bottom of a wine vat)) who say "bil ba bam" ('in their' heart / to themselves) “lo” (not) “ye tib” (do good) YHWH, "we lo” (nor / not) “ya re a'” (do evil / bad).

      God will seek out those who sit back in their house, presumably those from the previous verses who 'have money' earned through deceit, and say to themselves that GOD won't do anything about it.
      It doesn't end well for them.

      Their goods shall become plunder, and their houses "lis ma mah" (desolated) ...
      The rest of the verse revisits Amos 5 : 11.

      Discussion: The prophet says that the “day of YHWH” is near, but he does not specify what that means, all he says is that it will be noisy and “mar” (bitter), and that “so re ah” (will cry out) “gib bor” (mighty men / warriors).
      Stay tuned, Zephaniah comes right back to what else that day involves....

      a day of “'eb rah” (wrath / fury) that day, a day of “sar rah” (adversity / anguish) “u me su qah (distress), a day of “so 'ah” (ravaging (laying waste)) “u me so ’ah” (desolation), a day of....
      In the Minor Prophets repetition is used for emphasis. They will say the exact same thing a couple of different ways, or even restate it the same way, to make sure that those hearing, or reading, their poetic words get the point. Something that some modern readers simply cannot appreciate. And we have here a very good example.
      .... a day of “ho sek” (darkness) and “’a pe lah” (darkness / gloom (like a thick fog)), a day of “'a nan” (clouds (includes: mist)) and “‘a ra pel” (thick darkness / heavy clouds).

      The idea here is that “the Day” is dark. We've seen this reference before, at the Crucifixion for one.

      A paraphrase? “it'll be the day all the alarms in town go off”
      No, that's exactly what it says.

      and “ha se ro w ti” (I will 'cause them cramps' / distress), and they will walk “ka ‘iw rim” (like the blind) because against YHWH “ha ta 'u” (sinned) and “sup pak” (poured / shed) their blood like dust, and their “u le hu mam” (bowels (internal organs)) like “kag ge la lim” (renewable bovine-based organic fertilizer).

      paraphrase: their money won't be able to save them in That Day,
      ... but the fire of “qin 'a tow” ('His' jealousy) “te ’a kel” (consumed / devoured (as in: eaten)) ...
      paraphrase: He will get rid of them quickly.

Chapter 2

      Another repetition, two forms of the same word, the second with an added affirmation.
      “hit qo wo se su”, “wa qo wos su” (gather together - yes, gather together) “hag go w” (people /nation) not “nik sap” (?ashamed? (original meaning is in question))

      More repetition.
      Before is issued “hoq” (decree) like chaff passes on the day...
      ... before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you....
      ... before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you.

      You'd think the prophet was about to say that there is something important to do before “that day”.
      There is.

      The translations are good on this one, we opened with it from the ESV, this is the 1611:
"Seeke ye the Lord all ye meeke of the earth, which haue wrought his iudgement, seeke righteousnesse, seeke meeknesse: it may be, ye shall be hid in the day of the Lords anger."

      This is a list of Philistine cities along the coast.
      They will be, in order “‘a zu bah” (forsaken), “lis ma mah” (devastated / laid waste), “ye ga re su ha” (driven out) 'at midday', “te 'a qer” (uprooted).

      Discussion: Nothing is certain about the people named the Cherethites. They are mentioned several times in 2 Samuel, including 8 : 18, 20 : 7 and 23, and in 1 Kings 1, also in Ezekiel 25 : 16. But the context is of no help identifying them. Some traditions regard them as a second wave of sea peoples, possibly from Crete, that invaded and then settled among the Philistines.
      The one thing that is certain is that they had the same sort of issues that those they lived among.

      And the "he bel" (measure (also: cord / rope)) "hay yam" (seacoast) will be for pastures "ke rot" (wells) for "ro 'im" (sheep herders) "we gid rot" (folds (pens / shelters)) for "son" (flocks)

      The seacoast will also be for the remnant of the house of Judah...
      The prophecy here that one of the Philistine's major cities will become a stable is somewhat humorous.
      ... "yip qe dem" (take care / charge of) Lord GOD will return their captives.

      "sa mati" ('I have' heard (and) listened to) "her pat" (reproach / scorn)... and the "we gid du pe" (reviling words (abuse))...
      Moab was the kingdom due East of Judah, across the Dead Sea, in the modern state of Jordan. Ammon was to Moab's north, East of Israel, the name survives in the capital of the current country. As the Jew's closest neighbors they had seen, and influenced their fair share of the goings on there, and, in turn, been influenced by them, and some of the other prophets had something to say about them, most notably Amos in his tour of the area.
      ... which "he re pu" (insults (with the added flavor of blaspheme)) My people, "way yag di lu" (made 'great' (includes a bit of boasting) threats) against their borders.

      therefore "hay 'a ni" (as live I) says YHWH "se ba 'o wt" (of hosts (literally 'the army of Heaven')), "'e lo he" (the God) of "yis ra 'el" ...
      The allusion is to the deep past, calling to mind what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and that they are now an uninhabitable wasteland.

      paraphrase: "this will happen because of their pride, and their boasting threats against the people of YHWH"

      "now ra" (dreadful / astonishing) YHWH 'will be' to them, He will "ra zah" (starve) "'e lo he" (the gods (same word, different usage)) of "ha 'a res" (earth / country), and people shall worship Him, each "mim me qo mow" (in /from his place), all the regions "hag go w yim" ('foreign' nations)

      also you "kus im" (Land of (K)Cush (grandson of Noah) Ethiopia) "hal li" (pierced 'to death') "har bi" (sword) are.
      While this Ethiopia isn't exactly the same as the modern state, it's close. Kush was just south of what we think of as Egypt, and was part of what was also referred to as Nubia extending into Sudan. Today's Ethiopia is just south and east of the ancient land. At one time, about 700 BC, Kush controlled the entire Nile valley from the confluence of the Blue and White Niles North (downstream) through Egypt, to the sea. In about 550 the kingdom literally fell apart and several smaller, less dramatic kingdoms emerged from the shards.

13 and 14
      discussion, Assyria makes an appearance, the downfall of Nineveh is predicted, etc.
      Fourteen describes the great power as what we'd call a 'wildlife refuge', as the buildings crumble.

      discussion, the verse describes the people Nineveh as 'rejoicing' in their security, full of pride in how great their town was. Now, it's that animal sanctuary we mentioned, and everybody that passes by 'hisses' (a mild curse) and 'shakes his fist' (evidently they lost their investment portfolio when it collapsed).

Chapter 3

      The subject has changed, but it doesn't directly say who it is, yet. As the 1611 puts it:
"Woe to her that is filthie and polluted, to the oppressing citie."
      The New American Standard renders word "mo re 'ah" (filth) as 'rebellious', which comes later, they used the second term like the KJV, "we nig 'a lah" (polluted) which includes 'defiled (ceremonially unclean)', the 'city oppressing' he last word of the in the Hebrew is "hay yo w nah" which is 'oppression' with a dash of 'tyranny'.

      not "sa me 'ah" (heard / listened (implies: obey)) "be qo wl" ('His' voice), not has she "la qe hah" (taken / accepted) "mu sar" (instruction (and) discipline) in YHWH, not "ba ha tah" (trust / rely), to her GOD not "qa re bah" (come near).

3 and 4
      paraphrase: the leading citizens are a bunch of wild animals that spend all night chewing bones.
      the prophets are rude and arrogant people 'full of' treachery', and the priests have "hil le lu" (made profane / unclean (includes 'sexually violated') the "qo des" ('holy place'), "ha me su" (done violence) to Torah

      Verse four is the most direct and damning accusation yet, throughout the Book of the Twelve of the City of Jerusalem, and those that run it. In three the prophet runs off about how the princes and judges are lions and wolves. OK, fine, we've called our own politicians (we're in Illinois!) worse. But then in the next breath the 'grandson' of the king specifies what is happening to the very core of Judaism and who is doing it.

      Discussion: This verse is a overview of how YHWH is the GOD of Justice. Zephaniah just pointed a finger squarely at the religious leaders and called 'foul'. He states that GOD will bring justice like the morning light, He never fails, but....
      .... "'aw wal" (unjust / unrighteous / 'intentionally' wicked) know no "bo set" (shame).
(should we mention those local politicians again? ..... no, we'll skip that and move on)

      The previous verses talked about GOD in the Third Person. Now, HE is speaking:
      This verse is a reminder of what YHWH has done to other nations. And a review of how the previous section ended talking about Assyria.

      "'a mar ti" ('I' said) surly "ti ri 'i" ('you will hold in reverence') Me, you will 'take instruction' (as in verse 2) 'so that you wouldn't be cut off in your house, after everything I did', "his ki mu" ('you got up early') and "his hi tu" ('intentionally' corrupt (do wrong)) "'a li lo w tam" (acts / deeds (especially 'shameful' ones)

      The tone changes, the Speaker does not.
      Therefore "hak ku" (wait) for Me says YHWH, "le yo wm" (until the time / day) "qu mi" (rise / stand up) "le 'ad" (prey / plunder (as in 'to take everything worth taking)), "mis pa ti" (my judgment / ordinance) to gather the nations "le qa be si" (to a gathering / assembling) of nations, to pour on them all my "za' mi" (indignation), "ha ro wn" (burning / fierce) "'ap pi" (anger / wrath), for "be 'es" ('with the' fire /flame) "qin 'a ti" (jealousy) "te 'a kel" (devoured / consumed) all "ha 'a res" (earth (the planet)).
      Is this The Judgment in Revelation 20? If not, it's the next best thing.

9 This Verse Even Surprised The Desk By What It Actually Says!
      Word By Word. Remember, GOD is speaking here:
      "ki" (for) "'az" (at that time) "'eh pok" (turn / change / overthrow / etc) "'el" (to) "'am mim" (peoples (inclusive as 'humanity')) "sa pah" (lips / speech / talk (as in: language)) "be ru rah" (pure / purified (cleansed)), "liq ro" (proclaim / call / etc) "kul lam" (everyone / whoever) "be sem" (name) of YHWH, to serve Him with "sakem" (shoulder (as in 'carrying a burden') "'e had" (one).

      The NIV and the Good News miss the fine point. Let's drop back and see it in the 1611, and then in a couple of other translations, see links below:
"For then will I turne to the people a pure language, that they may all call vpon the Name of the Lord, to serue him with one consent."

The RSV:
"Yea, at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord."

      This is not the same sort of 'lip purification' we see in Isaiah 6, where the prophet says he is a 'man of unclean speech' and an angel takes care of that problem because God had a job in mind for Isaiah. This is GOD doing something to Everybody at once.
      In all of its sitting through various classes, sermons, Bible studies, doing academic work in Alchemy and Metaphysics, and the research for the study in Revelation and this work in the Minor Prophets, the Desk has NEVER run across anything or anybody that said that GOD is going to Undo the Confusion of Languages from the Tower of Babel.
            This Just Did.

      paraphrase: "the dispersed worshipers", they'll come from everywhere with offerings.
      The 'rivers of Ethiopia' is the tributaries of the Nile mentioned earlier.

      "bay yo wm" (in time) that "lo" (not) "te bo wo si" (feel shame / disappointment) "mik kol" (for all / the whole) "'a li lo ta yik" (deeds / actions), in which you "pa sa at" (transgress / rebel) against Me, for then "'a sir" (remove / turn away) "miq qir bek" (among / within (includes the 'inner man') you) "'al li zi" (exult / rejoice) "ga 'a wa tek" (pride (especially 'empty pride')), and no "to w si pi" (more / again) "le ga be hah" ((literally 'puffed up) haughty / proud) "'o wd" (still / any longer / more) 'My holy mountain'.

      The image here is beautifully poetic, and recalls some things Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. The Speaker has not changed.
      "we his 'ar ti" ('and I will' left / remain) "be qir bek" (among / within (same word as in 11)) people "'a ni" (afflicted / poor) "wah dal" (needy / weak (the 'low')) "we ha su" (take / seek refuge) "be sem" (name) YHWH

a few verses, then a discussion:

      Paraphrase: The 'remnant of Israel' shall be entirely new...
      The middle of the verse outlines the things they HAD been doing and have been warned about.
      ... they'll tend their sheep and lie down "we 'en" (and nothing) "ma ha rid" ('tremble with fear')

      The verse isn't a suggestion....

      .... this is why.

16 and 17
      The promise is epic and glorious, and we see it again in John's vision.       Except for the end of 17
      .... "ya gil" (('HE' is implied from the previous clause) rejoice) "'a la yik" (because / over (you is implied...) "be rin nah" (includes 'tears of joy' / happy shouts / singing).
      Whether or not GOD is so happy with the 'new them' that HE sings about it remains to be seen. However, it is an interesting thought.

      This is a more 'man on the street' overview of the New Jerusalem than what we see in Revelation. There, we see the City, Here, we see the people in it. Not only the who, but some of what they are doing. Such as... Evidently... there will be 'sheep' that need to be tended there. Which, if this is the restoration of the Garden of Eden, is entirely possible.
      We also get the flavor that those who are the new residents will not be those who are self important and arrogant about what they've done or are doing. This is the tie in from the Sermon, these Are the Meek and 'Poor in Spirit'.

      "nu ge" ('those who' grieve) "mim mo w ed" (appointed feasts / festivals (implied: assemblies)) I will gather, those who "mas 'et" (?burden?) "a le ha" (because / according) "her pah" (reproach)

      The prophet rings that 'social justice bell' one more time. But with a bit of a twist.
      GOD is still speaking.
      Behold "'o seh" ('I will' do / make) "'et kal" (with all / every) "me 'an ya nik" (deal harshly / oppress) at that time, and I will save "has so le 'ah" (the lame), "we han nid da hah" (the banished / those driven out) gather, "we sam tim" (make / appoint / put them) "lit hil lah" (praise / 'song of praise') "u le sem" (?name?) 'everywhere' "ba se tam" (shamed).

      paraphrase: Then I will bring you back...
      The verse is describing the return of the remnant of Israel, and by extension, all the faithful, and HE will do so "be su bi" (bring back / restore / etc) "et" "se bu te kem" (captives) "le 'e ne kem" ('in your' sight) says YHWH.

End Zephaniah

Selected Sources for this book:

The Jewish Zodiac

Jerusalem’s Old City walls, built in the early 16th century by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, have eight gates. All but one (the Gate of Mercy) still serve Jerusalemites and visitors streaming to its markets, and sacred and historic sites.


Cherethites or Cherethim

Zephaniah 3 in Latin

And the 1611 KJV



Sources used throughout entire study:

the 1611 KJV

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.

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