Read the Passage (NRSV)    Find more resources related to this passage  Print

Zephaniah 1:2-18 – Judgment-Local and Global


The judgment of God against Judah's infidelity and exploitation is so extensive that all of creation is swept up into the devastation.


The core of the judgment announced in the first chapter is directed against Judah and Jerusalem (1:4). The Day of the Lord will not, in this case, be a day of deliverance from idolatrous nations that threaten Judah's existence. Rather, it will be a day of distress and trouble directed particularly against the idolatry internal to Judah and Jerusalem. Where there was not overt rebellion against God, there was indifference to God. The people did not inquire of or seek God (1:6). Their economic pursuits (1:11-12) did not consider God as an agent in their affairs. Neither their wealth (1:13) nor their fortifications (1:16) will be able to shield them from the judgment of God on the day that is approaching. God's searching out for destruction (1:12) will remove all forms of protection.

Once such force is unleashed, there is nothing to contain it. Zephaniah extends the description of destruction to the entire world. Creation itself is reversed and the scope is like that of the flood in Noah's day (1:2-3, 18b). The broad scope of the upheaval can be set against the disintegration of the Assyrian empire from 626 (successful rebellion in Babylon) to 612 B.C.E. (the fall of Nineveh). Zephaniah, like Amos 1-2 (in the case of Israel, the northern kingdom), would then be moving from judgment against others-which would be thought to advantage Judah, the southern kingdom-to judgment against Judah itself. An alternate reading would be to understand the destruction from the inside out. The scope of the judgment against Judah and Jerusalem, Zephaniah's own place of residence, is so thorough that it is, in effect, the collapse of the world. There is no place in the world to go to escape. The move against Judah and Jerusalem has global ramifications. It is not surprising, then, to find oracles against the nations in chapter 2 or to find that the nations have some role in the transformation described at the end of chapter 3. The events in Judah and Jerusalem have implications, both negative and positive, for the whole world.

Zephaniah 1:2-18

The Coming Judgement on Judah

2 I will utterly sweep away everything
   from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
3 I will sweep away humans and animals;
   I will sweep away the birds of the air
   and the fish of the sea.
I will make the wicked stumble.*
   I will cut off humanity
   from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
4 I will stretch out my hand against Judah,
   and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal
   and the name of the idolatrous priests;*
5 those who bow down on the roofs
   to the host of the heavens;
those who bow down and swear to the Lord,
   but also swear by Milcom;*
6 those who have turned back from following the Lord,
   who have not sought the Lord or inquired of him.

7 Be silent before the Lord God!
   For the day of the Lord is at hand;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
   he has consecrated his guests.
8 And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice
I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
   and all who dress themselves in foreign attire.
9 On that day I will punish
   all who leap over the threshold,
who fill their master’s house
   with violence and fraud.

10 On that day, says the Lord,
   a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,
   a loud crash from the hills.
11 The inhabitants of the Mortar wail,
   for all the traders have perished;
   all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
   and I will punish the people
who rest complacently* on their dregs,
   those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
   nor will he do harm.’
13 Their wealth shall be plundered,
   and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
   they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
   they shall not drink wine from them.

The Great Day of the Lord

14 The great day of the Lord is near,
   near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
   the warrior cries aloud there.
15 That day will be a day of wrath,
   a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
   a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16   a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
   and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring such distress upon people
   that they shall walk like the blind;
   because they have sinned against the Lord,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
   and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
   will be able to save them
   on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
in the fire of his passion
   the whole earth shall be consumed;
for a full, a terrible end
   he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Related Passages