Zephaniah 3

1 Having spoke against the surrounding nations, Zephaniah returns to the charges against Judah. Jerusalem is not named specifically, probably because she no longer behaves as the "city of peace" that her name would imply. Perhaps Nineveh was discussed just prior to this because of the similarities of the charges brought against Jerusalem. Great grief would come against Jerusalem because of these three charges: They were rebellious against God, defiled because they did not obey His commands, and they oppressed people around them (and the poor within). God had given them great wealth, power, and privileges, but they abused these rather than glorify God and help those around them.
2 The Jews, like the Assyrians, had become a proud people who felt they were capable of making up their own rules and morality. They felt they could ignore and reject God. God, however, confirms that He was the rightful God of Judah. This can be taken in the general sense that there is only one God, and He is God over all (Rom 3:29-30). In another sense, God had specifically chosen Israel (of which Judah is a part) to be His people, be the recipients of His Law, to produce the Messiah, and to be a witness to the world to win people to God. Since God would destroy the mighty Assyrians and other surrounding nations, it would have been no trouble for Him to destroy the relatively feebly Jewish nation, which should have placed great fear in their hearts.
3 Zephaniah brings accusations against the civil and spiritual leaders in Jerusalem.

The leaders (princes) are compared to roaring lions. Generally, the lion is a symbol of authority, strength, and pride. For the benevolent leader, these traits are admirable, but for the corrupt leaders in Jerusalem, they had become negative. The implication is that they had ravaged people as a lion pounces on its prey. The lion roars to announce its kill and devours it unafraid. The leaders took advantage of their positions and did not feel they were accountable to anyone. As civil lawmakers, they made decrees to serve their own purposes, not the people they were entrusted to care for.

The judges were assigned the task of enforcing the laws. They too had become corrupt in Jerusalem. They likely used their positions to blackmail people and extract bribes. Dogs in general do not simply eat until they are satisfied; they gorge themselves until there is nothing left. In the same way, these judges extorted money and goods relentlessly from the people they were supposed to be protecting.

4 The spiritual leaders were no better. The prophets, who supposedly spoke for God, instead literally "boiled over" with words. Undoubtedly, most of these men were self-appointed, merely claiming to speak God's word because of the honor and influence such a position held. They were deceptive in that they used God's name in vain, that is, they would say "God said..." when God had not said anything to them. These men used God's name to persuade people who were depending on them to enlighten them about spiritual matters to rather do whatever the prophet wanted. The treachery is that the commands they gave were at best worthless, and at worst dangerous to the eternal spirits of the people who followed them.

The priests were those who interpreted, carried out, and enforced God's Scriptures. Instead, they had defiled the Temple by bringing idols into it. They had not taught or believed that there was only one God. They did not take the Scriptures seriously. They ignored or contradicted those parts they did not like and they made new laws and interpretations to justify their own evil desires.

5 God's purposes are not merely to protect His people, but also to make them holy. While the leadership was corrupted, even those who claimed to follow Him, God never compromises justice. Whether it is through rewards or punishment, God demonstrates what justice is. Despite this, those who do not live by God's standard of justice go on boldly doing whatever they please.
6 With the fall of other nations, God had and would provide vivid examples of what punishment awaits the unjust. Great cities that were well fortified would become ghost towns, some of which would be lost to history.
7 The purpose of prophecies was to warn people to repent. It would seem logical that when people realized that the prophecies had been fulfilled against other nations that the prophecies against the remaining ones would also be fulfill. Those fortunate enough to be punished last would have a chance to repent. God very much wanted His chosen people to respect and obey Him. However, God already knew that they were so corrupt and so distant from Him that they would not turn to Him. Their eagerness to get up early in the morning to start practicing evil demonstrated the completeness of their depravity.
8 Whether it is a long or short time, God would carry out His plan to judge the world. Again, the theme resembles the end times judgment. God would use the Babylonians to conquer many kingdoms, but this would be trivial compared to the Last Day when God will judge all the nations (Rev 16:14-17). God reminds them that He would not only be the Judge, but He would be the primary witness. God alone knows every action and every motivation of the heart. He alone is capable of discerning someone's guilt or innocence. Since a loving relationship with Him is the criterion for salvation, He alone can say who has really known Him. As with most of the prophecies from God, this is not merely a warning to people, but an invitation for them to know Him. People who know God wait in eager anticipation for Him, while those who do not should have a sense of foreboding, although they will most likely reject and ignore the warnings of prophets.

God's jealous anger can be taken in two senses. First, God is jealous when lifeless, manmade objects or created things are given the worship and acclamation that is due to Him alone. Second, He is jealous at the mistreatment of His people. He will take vengeance for His glory and His people.

9 After all the wicked are destroyed, only those who humbled themselves to God beforehand and had established a good relationship with Him will remain. The use of "peoples" indicates that this is not Jews or Israelites being discussed, but a mixture of Gentiles "from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:9).

Everyone has sinned against God, and needs to be purified. The "saved" are purified because of their faith that God would do it. God purifies people through the work that Jesus did on the Cross to pay for our sins. Our guilt was put on Him, and His righteousness is credited towards us. Then we will be able to call upon God with pure mouths speaking from pure hearts and minds.

We will all be in agreement with God and work together to perform whatever tasks are required. The idea expressed is that we will be "equally yoked" with one another, and Jesus assures us that the works of service in heaven will be light (Mat 11:30).

10 This verse speaks of the gathering of believers. "My worshipers" could refer to all believers, but "My dispersed ones" most likely refers to Jews and Israelites who have been scattered around the world. "Beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" is certainly an idiom for "far away," but built in is the idea that these worshipers would come from places in the world yet undiscovered and unknown to the audience. The desired offerings in the current age and the age to come do not include animal sacrifices, since Christ fulfilled the blood requirement for forgiveness. Instead, it includes peoples' living selves, praises, and the knowledge of God (Rom 12:1, Heb 13:15, Hosea 6:6). Isa 66:18-24 is used to support the idea that the dispersed Israelites will bring Gentile believers as offerings to God because of their witness. Verses like Deu 32:21 and Rom 11:13 have been used to support the idea that the Gentile witnesses would bring believing Israelites as an offering. Both views are probably correct. We are to offer ourselves to God completely and encourage others to do the same. Salvation is God's work, but He chooses to do so through our ministry and witness to others.
11 Undoubtedly, Jerusalem's historical reputation is riddled with sinful occurrences, but once wicked people are purged from the city Jerusalem's reputation will be nothing to be ashamed of, either before people or God. All the proud, "self-sufficient," and ungodly people will be removed. God will forgive the sins of those who reside in Jerusalem, and the city will never need to be punished again.
12 The city will be filled with people full of humility and reverence for God. There will be no more bad influences to sway people away from God. They will recognize their dependence on Him, and will never fall away in self-confident pride.
13 The environment of the end times will be much different from the modern world. People in heaven will feel secure. They will have plenty to eat and no reason to fear anything or anyone. Having all their needs met and all their sins forgiven, there will be no reason to hide or lie about anything, nor will there be any motivation to harm others. Their worship of God will be pure and unhindered by sin.
14 All Israel will rejoice. The people of Jerusalem will exalt God with all their hearts. The people who live on the holy mountain will shout for joy.
15 For God will give them forgiveness instead of judgment and permanently remove their sins and enemies. He will restore a proper relationship between Himself and people. He is the rightful King, but unlike earthly kings, He desires, and is able, to have personal relationships will all of His subjects (Rev 21:3-4). After the death of Zedekiah, Judah (Israel) would not have another king until the reign of the Messiah.
16 Throughout its history, the people of Jerusalem have had to face terrors that made them weak and despondent with fear. That would not happen to them again.
17 Israel's mighty God will conquer hr enemies.

God's victory celebration will be a bit different than what might be expected. His full attention is not on the deeds He had done, but on the people He rescued. God will celebrate with a mixture of shouts, singing, and contemplative love for the people He has cared so much for since He created the world.

18 This victory celebration would make up for those appointed celebrations that were not properly followed on earth. In the Christian world, there are some who are grieved at how Christmas and Resurrection Day (a.k.a., Easter) are celebrated. They are no longer reverent observances of the events they stand for, but have largely become a marketing opportunity for the world. People become so wrapped up in buying presents, decorating, and celebrating that they do not take time to remember what the celebration is about. Even those who do not believe the story of Christ gladly take advantage of the benefits of the holidays, although there are some who wish to completely strip the meanings so that they become generic winter and spring celebrations.

In a similar way, there were and are Jews and Israelites distressed about the neglect of the observances of the holidays God appointed in the Old Testament. It is recorded in the Scriptures that the Temple was neglected and even closed while holidays went by unnoticed (2 Chr 29:1-7), motivations were impure at times (Zec 7:5-6), and sacred events eventually became commercialized (John 2:13-16).

19 Even those who are weak and rejected in Jerusalem will be saved from their oppressors. It will not be the strong who survive, but those who have put their trust in God. In the end, even these "weak" people will be honored, not because of anything they have done, but because of their faith in God.
20 In Solomon's day, Israel was the wealthiest nation in the world. God promises to gather Israel as a nation again and make it the preeminent nation in the world. The promise is repeated for emphasis. Everyone on earth will praise Israel on account of God, and He will shower many blessings on Israel. In fulfilling the promise to Abraham, all people will be blessed on account of Israel (Gen 12:2-3). Everyone who believes in God and His Messiah will share in Israel's eternal blessings.