3:1-4 – The prophet’s attention switches from the nations back to the capital of Judah, Jerusalem. The moral, religious and political state of the city is described in verse 1.

  • Rebellious – The A.V. uses the word ‘filthy’ which it draws from the Hebrew meaning “bitter or unpleasant, to rebel.”
  • Defiled – To soil or desecrate.
  • Tyrannical – To rage or be violent. To suppress, to maltreat. The opposite of loving one’s neighbour as oneself (Leviticus 19:33, cf. Exodus 22:21).

With these definitions in mind it is worth considering Paul’s words concerning first century A.D. Jerusalem in Galatians 4:25.

Vs. 2 clearly illustrates how Jerusalem came to be as she was at the time of Zephaniah’s ministry. She, her leadership and populace, had placed herself beyond all counselling and teaching. Perhaps the most damning were the last two on the list which can be summed up as a failure to believe (Hebrews 11:6).

Vs. 3 – The tyranny of the leadership is clearly shown in the analogy of roaring lions. It is said that the roaring of a lion spreads fear across the savannah. In the same way a tyranny holds a populace in fear. God’s form of government is not like that (Romans 14:17; I Peter 5:1-4; cf. I Timothy 3:6).

God is a God of justice (Genesis 18:25; Deuteronomy 32:4), those charged with the judicial leadership of the city were anything but (Deuteronomy 1:16&17; Matthew 23:23).

The last line of the verse describes the greed of the rulers and the judiciary. Like the predators used to describe them they are devoid of any thought of tomorrow and consume, with no thought of sharing, all that they have in one go.

Vs. 4 – Those with the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the city and nation had failed as completely as the secular leaders. Verses 3&4 illustrate how grave a situation young Josiah inherited when he assumed the throne.

Zephaniah describes the prophets as:

  • Reckless – Rooted in a word which means to ‘bubble up or froth’, i.e. to be unimportant.
  • Treacherous – To act covertly, to pillage.

The priests had failed as well:

  • Profaned the sanctuary – Defile (originally sexual – Genesis 49:4 -, pollute, to prostitute, to make common.
  • Done violence to the Law – Sinful violence, extreme wickedness (Job 15:33; Jeremiah  13:22).

Vs. 5 – He holds Himself up as justice and righteousness, the God who does not fail. In spite of that fact the shameless remain untouched by the wondrous virtues of the living God (Romans 1:28-32).

In verses 6&7 God reminds all who would listen of the manner in which He had already dealt with other surrounding nations. The verse 7 illustrates God’s astonishment, again as if He were man, at Jerusalem’s unwillingness and seeming inability to revere Him and receive Divine instruction (cf. Matthew 23:37-39).

Produced by: Adrian Tamblyn-Watts

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