Notes on Zephaniah 3:14-18

I’m using the RSV translation in this post. The translation is under copyright: The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows: ‘Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.’”

Background~The opening verse of the book (called a superscription) identifies the time period of the Prophet Zephaniah ministry as taking place  in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon king of Judah. The prophecies of the book were intended as a support for the young king Josiah’s monumental reforms.  The bulk of the book, chapters 2 and 3, are basically exhortatory in character and the main message could be summarized in the words of 2:3~Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the wrath of the LORD.

God is about to come against the pagans for their sins, (Zeph 2:4-15).  This series of oracular statements against various peoples, their nations and cities, ends with a statement against Assyria and its capital, Nineveh: And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and he will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert.  Herds shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the field; the vulture and the hedgehog shall lodge in her capitals; the owl shall hoot in the window, the raven croak on the threshold; for her cedar work will be laid bare. This is the exultant city (i.e., Nineveh) that dwelt secure, that said to herself, “I am and there is none else.” What a desolation she has become, a lair for wild beasts! Every one who passes by her hisses and shakes his fist (see Zeph 2:13-15).

The oracles in chapter 2, and especially the closing statement just quoted, are intended to prepare for the description of Jerusalem in chapter 3~Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning (Zeph 3:1-3). The “oppressing city” of Jerusalem is no better than Nineveh, the “exultant city”.  The self-reliant city of Nineveh will become desolate, a place for wild animals, but Jerusalem the oppressor is in a sense already desolate, filled with wild animals! Her officials within her are “roaring lions”, her judges “evening wolves;” and this state of affairs has come about even though The LORD within her is righteous, he does no wrong; every morning he shows forth his justice, each dawn he does not fail, but still the unjust know no shame (Zeph 3:5).

God has overcome the enemies of his people thinking that Surely she will fear me, she will accept correction; she will not lose sight of all that I have enjoined upon her, but instead, all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt (Zeph 3:6-7).  This necessitates further action by God. His wrath will be manifested against the nations  in order to bring their peoples to conversion (Zeph 3:8-10).  In this judgement the people of Judah will also be effected (Zeph 3:11); and the humble and lowly who were bidden to seek the Lord (Zeph 2:3) will be left as a remnant (Zeph 3:11-12). It is at this point that our reading for today begins.

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Sing aloud…shout, rejoice and exult.  Brings to mind Psalm 47 which celebrates God as the Ruler of nations.  See also Isaiah 12:1-6 from which today’s Responsorial Psalm is taken.  This particular passage of Isaiah is in response to the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 6-11; see especially Isa 11:1-16. See also Isaiah 54:1 ff, a prophecy concerning mother Jerusalem.  The term sing aloud in the Greek Septuagint is χαιρε, (chairo), which calls to mind the angels greeting to Mary: Hail (χαιρε = chaire) full of grace (Lk 1:28).

15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has cast out your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear evil no more.

This verse give the reason for the call to celebrate in verse 14.

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you.  See Isaiah 40:2.

He has cast out your enemies. These would be both the sinners in their midst and the pagan nations who once oppressed them. These words should be seen as paralleling the first part of the verse, for the existence of enemies who trouble the people was a judgment from God (for sinners as a judgment see Job 34:30; Hosea 13:11. For enemies see  Deut 28:29-35; Jer 5:15-17). The casting out of enemies calls to mind Mary’s Magnificat (part of today’s Gospel) where she says: He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away (Lk 1:51-53).

The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst. King of Israel and LORD become messianic titles (see Jn 1:49; 20:28).

Is in your midst. Recalls the fact that earlier both God (Zeph 3:5) and evil leaders (Zeph 3:3) were both in the midst of the people.  Now, after the cleansing punishment, only God remains within them.

The Hebrew בקרבך  (“your midst”)can have the meaning of in the womb (see Gen 25:22).  It is used a second time in today’s reading (Zeph 3:17).  Some see a connection here between Zephaniah and Luke 1:31~And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son.

16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.

Do not fear is a common statement of reassurance used throughout the Bible (e.g., Isa 35:4; 40:9; 41:10; Lk 1:30). Hands which have grown weak is sometimes used as an image of distress in the face of enemies (Jer 6:24; Isa 13:7; Ezek 7:17).

17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing,
18a as on the day of festival

Note: whenever a letter accompanies a scripture verse, the reference is to a part of the verse. Thus Zeph 3:18a refers to the first part of the verse: “as on the day of festival.” 18b would indicate the second part of the verse: ”I will remove disaster from you”, ect.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst. See above on verse 15.

A warrior who gives victory. The word translated here as warrior means, literally, Mighty One.  The fact that God is a mighty one who gives victory forms the basis for the exhortation in the previous verse: Do not fear, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  It also recalls his previous battles against Israel’s enemies (Zeph 3:6), and his threat to come against sinners in the midst of Jerusalem (Zeph 1:12-18). It also calls to mind, like verse 15 (see note), Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:51-53).

The Hebrew word translated here as victory is יושׁיע, which means to be open, wide, or free.  God has freed them from the constraints of sin which made Jerusalem the oppressing (ינה = suppressing) city (Zeph 3:1).

He will rejoice over you with gladness. As a bridegroom rejoices over a bride. See Isa 63:5.  Note the thematic connection with verse 14.

He will renew you in his love.The Hebrew actually reads: He will remain silent in his love. the RSV and many other translations emend the text because they think the Hebrew text is corrupt here. The term silence was, however, used in Zeph 1:7 to introduce the day of the Lord (synonymous rather than identical word is in fact used). A day on which would come wailing from evildoers (Zeph 1:11); the cry of mighty men (Zeph 1:14); the sound of war trumpets and battle cries (Zeph 1:16). His judgment at an end, his people purified, God no longer has reason to cause such noise.

He will exult over you with loud singing. At first sight this might seem to contrast with the silence mentioned above, however, if that silence is taken only as an indication of the end of judgment and punishment, then there is no contradiction here.

As on the day of festival. a time of great rejoicing.

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One Response to Notes on Zephaniah 3:14-18

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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