Doomed Israel will return
The sinful Holy City1My goodness, what a rebellious and sinful city.
You people are so full of yourselves.
2You don’t listen to anyone.
So, you don’t learn a thing.
You don’t trust God,
So, you turn your back on him.
3Your officials and judges are lions and wolves,
Predators feeding on people then picking their bones.
4Your treacherous prophets are terrible messengers
And a poor excuse for human beings.
And your priests don’t treat anything sacred,
Including God’s laws.
5In the middle of this mess, God is good.
He never does anything wrong.
He judges fairly all day, every day.
But some people don’t care about justice
Because they’re not ashamed of anything anymore.
Jerusalem keeps right on sinning6I have ended nations.
I tore down their towers.
I plowed their paved roads
Till they’re unfit for travel.
City shells are all I left,
Rocks and ruins of empty spaces.
7I told Jerusalem: Come back to me.
Follow my instructions.
I’ve had to punish you before.
I’d rather reward you in the days ahead.
But the people woke up to a new day
And filled it with their sins. Again.
8Well okay, says the LORD, just wait.
There’s a Judgment Day coming when I’ll take the stand.
I’ll accuse all evil nations on earth.
They’ll feel the heat of my righteous wrath
For all the evil they’ve done.
Then the world will burn
In the flames of my anger.
Jews come home to new Jerusalem9After that, I’ll teach people a new language.
It’s a language suitable for talking to the LORD,
In prayer and praise and service to him.
10My scattered people will bring me offerings
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.
11You won’t be ashamed anymore
For turning your backs on me.
That’s because I’ll get rid of your arrogant leaders.
There won’t be room for that kind of pride,
Not on my holy mountain.
12Those who survive what’s coming
Will be humble enough
To ask the LORD for help and safety.
13Israel’s survivors will obey God
And keep it honest when they open their mouths.
They will leave in peace
And have nothing to fear.
God sings a happy song14Sing it loud, City of Zion
Sing for joy, Israel.
Put your heart into it
And sing out, Jerusalem.
15The LORD pardoned you.
And he got rid of your enemies.
Now the LORD is Israel’s king.
Nothing bad is going to happen to you.
16On that day people will say this about Jerusalem:
“Don’t be afraid, City of Zion.
Don’t give up or feel discouraged.”
17The LORD God is with you, a powerful force.
He’s a hero who fights for you.
You’re going to make him happy.
He’s going to start singing.
New day, fresh start18The LORD says this is a new day.
It’s a day to celebrate because you’re forgiven.
Nothing bad is going to happen to you.
19I’ll put an end to your enemies.
I’ll rescue the lame
And bring back the strays.
I’ll turn your shame inside out—to honor.
All the world will respect you.
20Scattered abroad, I’ll bring you home.
I’ll do it when the time is right.
Home again, I’ll make you famous
And honored all over the world.
All that you’ve lost, I’ll give it back.
You’ll see for yourself, says the LORD.
What city? That’s the big question. The answer that would help make sense of the doom Zephaniah predicts in this chapter. Does the writer continue the theme of Nineveh, from the end of chapter two? Is that the city? Or has the writer jumped to Jerusalem, with a warning for his own people. Some scholars say the writer is ambiguous on purpose, to engage the reader’s imagination and thought. He apparently wants the reader—his own people, in the time of King Josiah—to figure out that his descriptions of the toxic, sinful city match Jerusalem.
More literally, “the day.” 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). See also Zechariah 12:3-4 and Jeremiah 30:8.
More literally, “the fire of my passion will consume the earth.” Some scholars say this is hyperbole, to describe what God’s punishment would feel like to each of the nations, including Judah, once they’re conquered. Their entire world is gone. A new and often more difficult reality followed the fall of a nation or an empire, such as Babylon. Many didn’t live to see the changes. Other scholars say the words read like they’re apocalyptic—as a description of a worldwide disaster ahead. In the history of humanity, we no longer need an asteroid to wipe us out. We can do it ourselves, in many ways. Bombs for a quick death. Pollution and deforestation for lingering death.
Perhaps not a literal language, but a symbol for a new way of life. Bible students who take the reference literally might point to Genesis 11:7. There, God turned one language into many, which scattered people into language groups. So, we might read this as God restoring the lost language and pulling people together.
Literally “Cush,” also known as Nubia and Ethiopia. This was a region along the Nile River south of Egypt, in what is now Sudan.
Jerusalem sits on top of a ridge known as Mount Zion.
Humility is a theme Jesus later emphasized in his most famous sermon. “If you’ve been humbled in life, you’ve got a big inheritance coming. God’s world belongs to you” (Matthew 5:5).
Zion is another name for Jerusalem. An endearing nickname.
God singing? The Hebrew word is rinna. It can mean singing, songs of joy, shouts of joy, rejoicing. So, it’s possible the prophet wasn’t talking about God singing. God could have been cheering. Either way, the visual is cool.
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