Face it, you’re doomed
Family tree1The LORD asked Zephaniah to deliver a message for him. Josiah  was king of Judah at the time. Zephaniah was the son of Cushi, grandson of Gedaliah, great-grandson of Amariah, and great-great-grandson of Hezekiah. 
The end is near2The LORD says this:
I’m going to kill everything.
I’m going to sweep the earth clean.
3I’ll kill all the people  and animals,
birds of the sky, and fish of the sea.
I’ll take down evil people.
I’ll take down everyone.
I’ll erase them from the face of the earth.
4I’ll raise my fist like a hammer against Judah.
I’ll crush everyone in Jerusalem.
I’ll destroy every sign of devotion to Baal. 
I’ll kill every idol-worshiping priest.
5Doomed are those who pray on rooftops,
Worshiping gods in the sky.
And those who think they can worship the LORD
And the foreign god Milcom,  as well.
6And doomed are those who turned their backs,
To walk away from the LORD.
And those who ignored him,
Never giving him a thought.
7Silence, the LORD God is here.
Judgment Day  is about to take place.
The LORD fixed a meal from sacrificed meat. 
His guests are purified and ready for the feast.
8When I offer the sacrifice
I’ll punish government leaders,
All the sons of the king, 
And all who adopt foreign clothes, customs, and gods. 
9That’s the day I’ll punish the superstitious—
People who step over a threshold to avoid demons. 
They come to the king’s palace
Bringing their lies and violence.
It’s crying time again10The LORD says this about that day:
People will cry at the Fish Gate, 
Wail in Jerusalem’s Mishneh  quarter,
And echo their screams off the hills.
11They’ll wail in Jerusalem’s Machtesh quarter,
For the artisans there will be dead.
Bankers and merchants gone, too.
12When the time comes,
I’m going to light up Jerusalem.
I’ll punish people who just sit around
Like scum at the bottom of a wine jug.
They say, “The LORD won’t get involved.
He won’t hurt or help anyone.”
13They’ll watch as their wealth gets plundered,
And as their homes get torn to the ground.
They’ve built their houses,
But they won’t get to live there.
They’ve planted their vineyards,
But they won’t drink the wine.
Doomsday and death14It’s almost here, and coming fast,
The jaw-dropping day of the LORD.
A bitter day it will certainly be,
When warriors scream where they stand.
15Wrath is coming on that wretched day, 
A day of fear and trouble,
A day of disaster and ruin,
A day of darkness and the death of all hope,
A day of clouds and the end of light.
16It’s a day of trumpets and clashing swords
In cities once protected behind walls,
And in settlements high in the hills.
17I’ll hit people so hard they’ll wobble.
They’ll stagger and walk like they’re blind.
They’ve sinned against the LORD.
Now they pay with their body.
Their blood will cover the earth like dust.
Their bodies will lie like poop on the ground.
18Their silver and gold won’t save them.
Not on this LORD’s Day of Wrath.
For fire in his anger will consume the earth.
So, everyone alive here and now
Waits for that terrible end.
Josiah was the last good king of Judah. He ruled from about 640-609 BC. He tried to revive the nation’s religion by tearing down shrines and worship centers devoted to other gods. But his effort on behalf of Judah seemed too little, too late. Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq destroyed Jerusalem about 20 years later, in 586 BC. Babylonians leveled the city and Temple, deported most of Judah’s survivors, and wiped Judah off the map.
Zephaniah is the only prophet to climb this high up his family tree, to four generations. Some scholars say he may have done this to get to his relative, King Hezekiah. If that’s so, Zephaniah was also related to the current king, Josiah. All the kings of Judah descended from King David. But other scholars say if Zephaniah wanted to name-drop King Hezekiah, he would have made it clear which Hezekiah he was talking about because Hezekiah was a common name. If Zephaniah was talking about King Hezekiah here, then Amariah would have been Hezekiah’s son. But the Bible doesn’t list him with Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son and successor.
Look at the order of God’s targets for termination: people, then animals, then birds, then fish. And then everything is gone. Now go to Genesis 1 and look at the order of creation: fish (Genesis 1:20), birds (1:20), animals (1:24), humans (1:27). Zephaniah’s list is in the opposite order of creation. It’s the reverse of creation. Destruction. If Zephaniah was talking about Judah’s destruction in 586 BC, falling to Babylon, this message was hyperbole—exaggeration to make a point. But if part of the message is for a day yet to come in a sinful age, perhaps it’s not exaggeration, some would say. Humans have reached the point now when they can do pretty much what Zephaniah says God planned to do. We tend to not want to think about that very long. Okay, let’s move on.
Baal was the main Canaanite god, worshiped in what became the Jewish nations of Israel and Judah. Baal was considered a god of fertility in family, flocks, and fields. Some scholars say the idea behind one worship ritual was to entertain Baal by letting him watch people have sex. They did this so he would make it rain. It’s a tad gross, but some taught that the rain was Baal’s semen. So, if the sex of worshipers got Baal stimulated enough, he would make it rain in this predominately dry part of the world.
Milcom was a fertility god from Ammon, in what are now parts of Jordan and Syria. But the word might also mean “their king.” And it could be a variant spelling of the god Molech, a local god that some Israelites worshiped.
More literally, “day of the LORD.” Bible writers talk about a “day of the LORD” or “on that day” or “day of visitation” or “there’s a time coming.” It’s a day that can go in one of two directions. It can be a good day—a day God comes to save his people. It’s something to look forward to. Some scholars trace the idea back to what happened when God came to Egypt and with 10 plagues, he freed the Israelites. But it can also be a fearful day to people at odds with God. To them, it is Judgment Day. But to people on good terms with God, his arrival for Judgment Day or any other reason is welcome. The prophet Joel describes it in graphic terms as a terrible day when invaders destroy sinful Jerusalem (Joel 1:15; 2:11). Obadiah uses the phrase that way as well. But to God’s people, the “day” is the day of salvation (Joel 2:32).
The sacrificed animal may symbolize what God is going to do to the people of Judah. Babylonian invaders will kill many of them.
All of King Josiah’s sons left a sad legacy. Jehoiakim, perhaps most of all. He burned the scroll containing God’s messages about the fall of Judah, which Jeremiah delivered (Jeremiah 36:23).
The original Hebrew text says only “all who dress in foreign clothes.” We have to guess what was wrong with that, though the people in Zephaniah’s day likely knew exactly what he was talking about.
The verse doesn’t say why the person is avoiding the threshold. But 1 Samuel 5:5 says Philistines weren’t allowed to stop on the threshold of the temple devoted to their god, Dagon.
Fish Gate was one entrance into the city. Location is uncertain. Many scholars place it on the northwest wall, above the Tyropoeon Valley. Merchants often set up shop near the busy city gates, to catch people coming and going. Perhaps this was where most fish venders sold fish from the Mediterranean Sea and from the lake in the northland, the Sea of Galilee.
Mishneh and Machtesh (1:11) were neighborhoods inside the walled city of Jerusalem. Perhaps the point is that cries will come from every corner of the city. Babylonians invaders, for the first of two times in known history, leveled Jerusalem. Romans did it again in AD 70.
This distressing prophecy reads like the consequences Moses promised if Israel abandoned God. “The LORD was happy to show kindness to you and help you grow into such a large nation. But now, the LORD will be happy to vacate you from his property and get you out of here” (Deuteronomy 28:63).
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