Zephaniah 2

The Prophet Warns the People

1Bunch yourselves together like straw,
The Hebrew text combines a Hitpolel imperative of קָשַׁשׁ (qashash) with a Qal imperative of the same root. Elsewhere this root appears in the polel stem with the meaning “gather stubble.” Zephaniah’s command is ironic, implying the people are like stubble or straw. As such, they are vulnerable to the Lord’s fiery judgment that will quickly consume them (see 1:18). See Adele Berlin, Zephaniah (AB 25A), 96.
you undesirable
Some relate this word to an Aramaic cognate meaning “to be ashamed.” With the negative particle it would then mean “unashamed” (cf. NIV “shameful”; NRSV “shameless”). However, elsewhere in biblical Hebrew the verb means “to desire,” or with the negative particle “undesirable.” Cf. also NEB “unruly.”
2 before God’s decree becomes reality
Heb “before the giving birth of a decree.” For various alternative readings, see J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (OTL), 187–88.
and the day of opportunity disappears like windblown chaff,
The second half of the line reads literally, “like chaff it passes by a day.” The translation above assumes the “day” is the brief time God is giving the nation to repent. The comparison of this quickly passing opportunity to chaff is consistent with the straw imagery of v. 1.

before the Lord’s raging anger
Heb “the fury of the anger of the Lord.” The synonyms are combined to emphasize the extreme degree of the Lord’s anger.
Heb “comes upon.” This phrase occurs twice in this verse.
you –
before the day of the Lord’s angry judgment overtakes you!
3 Seek the Lord’s favor,
Heb “seek the Lord,” but “favor” seems to be implied from the final line of the verse.
all you humble people
Or “poor.” The precise referent of this Hebrew term is unclear. The word may refer to the economically poor or to the spiritually humble.
of the land who have obeyed his commands!
The present translation assumes the Hebrew term מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat) here refers to God’s covenantal requirements and is a synonym for the Law. The word can mean “justice” and could refer more specifically to the principles of justice contained in the Law. In this case the phrase could be translated, “who have promoted the justice God demands.”

Strive to do what is right!
Heb “Seek what is right.”
Strive to be humble!
Heb “Seek humility.”

Maybe you will be protected
Heb “hidden.” Cf. NEB “it may be that you will find shelter”; NRSV “perhaps you may be hidden.”
on the day of the Lord’s angry judgment.

Judgment on Surrounding Nations

4 Indeed,
Or “for” (KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV).
Gaza will be deserted
There is a sound play here in the Hebrew text: the name Gaza (עַזָּה, ’azzah) sounds like the word translated “deserted” (עֲזוּבָה, ’azuvah).

and Ashkelon will become a heap of ruins.
Or “a desolate place.”

Invaders will drive away the people of Ashdod by noon,
Heb “[As for] Ashdod, at noon they will drive her away.”
The reference to noon may suggest a sudden, quick defeat (see Jer 6:4; 15:8).

and Ekron will be overthrown.
Heb “uprooted.” There is a sound play here in the Hebrew text: the name “Ekron” (עֶקְרוֹן, ’eqron) sounds like the word translated “uprooted” (תֵּעָקֵר, teaqer).

5 Those who live by the sea, the people who came from Crete,
Heb “Kerethites,” a people settled alongside the Philistines in the coastal areas of southern Palestine (cf. 1 Sam 30:14; Ezek 25:16). They originally came from the island of Crete.
are as good as dead.
Heb “Woe, inhabitants of the coast of the sea, nation of Kerethites.” The Hebrew term הוֹי (hoy, “ah, woe”), is used to mourn the dead and express outwardly one’s sorrow (see 1 Kgs 13:30; Jer 22:18; 34:5). By using it here the prophet mourns in advance the downfall of the Philistines, thereby emphasizing the certainty of their demise (“as good as dead”). Some argue the word does not have its earlier connotation here and is simply an attention-getting interjection, equivalent to “Hey!”

The Lord has decreed your downfall,
Heb “the word of the Lord is against you.”
Canaan, land of the Philistines:
“I will destroy everyone who lives there!”
Heb “I will destroy you so there is no inhabitant [remaining].”

6 The seacoast
The NIV here supplies the phrase “where the Kerethites dwell” (“Kerethites” is translated in v. 5 as “the people who came from Crete”) as an interpretive gloss, but this phrase is not in the MT. The NAB likewise reads “the coastland of the Cretans,” supplying “Cretans” here.
will be used as pasture lands
The Hebrew phrase here is נְוֹת כְּרֹת (nevot kerot). The first word is probably a plural form of נָוָה (navah, “pasture”). The meaning of the second word is unclear. It may be a synonym of the preceding word (cf. NRSV “pastures, meadows for shepherds”); there is a word כַּר (kar, “pasture”) in biblical Hebrew, but elsewhere it forms its plural with a masculine ending. Some have suggested the meaning “wells” or “caves” used as shelters (cf. NEB “shepherds’ huts”); in this case, one might translate, “The seacoast will be used for pasturelands; for shepherds’ wells/caves.”
by the shepherds
and as pens for their flocks.
7 Those who are left from the kingdom of Judah
Heb “the remnant of the house of Judah.”
will take possession of it.
Or “the coast will belong to the remnant of the house of Judah.”

By the sea
Heb “on them,” but the antecedent of the masculine pronoun is unclear. It may refer back to the “pasture lands,” though that noun is feminine. It is preferable to emend the text from עֲלֵיהֶם (’alehem) to עַל־הַיָּם (’al-hayyam, “by the sea”) an emendation that assumes a misdivision and transposition of letters in the MT (cf. NEB “They shall pasture their flocks by the sea”). See J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (OTL), 192.
The referent of the pronominal subject (“they”) is unclear. It may refer (1) to the shepherds (in which case the first verb should be translated, “pasture their sheep,” cf. NEB), or (2) to the Judahites occupying the area, who are being compared to sheep (cf. NIV, “there they will find pasture”).
will graze,
in the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down in the evening,
for the Lord their God will intervene for them
Or “will care for them.”
and restore their prosperity.
Traditionally, “restore their captivity,” i.e., bring back their captives, but it is more likely the expression means “restore their fortunes” in a more general sense (cf. NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV).

8 “I have heard Moab’s taunts
and the Ammonites’ insults.
Heb “who.” A new sentence was begun here in the translation for stylistic reasons.
taunted my people
and verbally harassed those living in Judah.
Heb “and they made great [their mouth?] against their territory.” Other possible translation options include (1) “they enlarged their own territory” (cf. NEB) and (2) “they bragged about [the size] of their own territory.”

9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” says the Lord who commands armies, the God of Israel,
“be certain that Moab will become like Sodom
and the Ammonites like Gomorrah.
They will be overrun by weeds,
The Hebrew text reads מִמְשַׁק חָרוּל (mimshaq kharul, “[?] of weeds”). The meaning of the first word is unknown. The present translation (“They will be overrun by weeds”) is speculative, based on the general sense of the context. For a defense of “overrun” on linguistic grounds, see R. D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (WEC), 347. Cf. NEB “a pile of weeds”; NIV “a place of weeds”; NRSV “a land possessed by nettles.”

filled with salt pits,
The Hebrew text reads וּמִכְרֵה־מֶלַח (umikhreh-melakh, “and a [?] of salt”). The meaning of the first word is unclear, though “pit” (NASB, NIV, NRSV; NKJV “saltpit”), “mine,” and “heap” (cf. NEB “a rotting heap of saltwort”) are all options. The words “filled with” are supplied for clarification.

and permanently desolate.
Those of my people who are left
Or “The remnant of my people.”
will plunder their belongings;
Heb “them.” The actual object of the plundering, “their belongings,” has been specified in the translation for clarity.

those who are left in Judah
Heb “[the] nation.” For clarity the “nation” has been specified as “Judah” in the translation.
will take possession of their land.”
10 This is how they will be repaid for their arrogance,
Heb “this is for them in place of their arrogance.”

for they taunted and verbally harassed
Heb “made great [their mouth?] against” (cf. the last phrase of v. 8).
the people of the Lord who commands armies.
11 The Lord will terrify them,
Heb “will be awesome over [or, “against”] them.”

Or “certainly.”
he will weaken
The meaning of this rare Hebrew word is unclear. If the meaning is indeed “weaken,” then this line may be referring to the reduction of these gods’ territory through conquest (see Adele Berlin, Zephaniah [AB 25A], 110–11). Cf. NEB “reduce to beggary”; NASB “starve”; NIV “when he destroys”; NRSV “shrivel.”
all the gods of the earth.
All the distant nations will worship the Lord in their own lands.
Heb “and all the coastlands of the nations will worship [or, “bow down”] to him, each from his own place.”

12 “You
Though there is no formal introduction, these words are apparently spoken by the Lord (note my sword).
Heb “Cushites.” This is traditionally assumed to refer to people from the region south of Egypt, i.e., Nubia or northern Sudan, referred to as “Ethiopia” by classical authors (not the more recent Abyssinia).
will also die by my sword!”
Heb “Also you Cushites, who lie dead by my sword.”

13 The Lord
Heb “He”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
will attack the north
Heb “he will stretch out his hand against the north.”

and destroy Assyria.
He will make Nineveh a heap of ruins;
it will be as barren
Or “dry.”
as the desert.
14 Flocks and herds
Heb “flocks.” The Hebrew word can refer to both flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.
will lie down in the middle of it,
as well as every kind of wild animal.
Heb “[and] all the wild animals of a nation.” How גוֹי (goy, “nation”) relates to what precedes is unclear. It may be a corruption of another word. See J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (OTL), 193.

The Hebrew text reads here גַּם־קָאַת גַּם־קִפֹּד (gam-qaat gam-qippod). The term קָאַת refers to some type of bird (see Lev 11:18; Deut 14:17) that was typically found near ruins (Isa 34:11); one of the most common translations is “owl” (cf. NEB “horned owl”; NIV, NRSV “desert owl”; contra NASB “pelican”). The term קִפֹּד may also refer to a type of bird (cf. NEB “ruffed bustard”; NIV, NRSV “screech owl”). Some suggest a rodent may be in view (cf. NASB “hedgehog”); this is not unreasonable, for a rodent or some other small animal would be able to sleep in the tops of pillars which would be lying in the ruins of the fallen buildings.
will sleep in the tops of its support pillars;
they will hoot through the windows.
Heb “a sound will sing in the window.” If some type of owl is in view, “hoot” is a more appropriate translation (cf. NEB, NRSV).

Rubble will cover the thresholds;
Heb “rubble [will be] on the threshold.” “Rubble” translates the Hebrew word חֹרֶב (khorev, “desolation”). Some emend to עֹרֵב (’orev, “raven”) following the LXX and Vulgate; Adele Berlin translates, “A voice shall shriek from the window – a raven at the sill” (Zephaniah [AB 25A], 104).

even the cedar work
The meaning of the Hebrew word translated “cedar work” (so NASB, NRSV) is unclear; NIV has “the beams of cedar.”
will be exposed to the elements.
Heb “one will expose.” The subject is probably indefinite, though one could translate, “for he [i.e., God] will lay bare.”

15 This is how the once-proud city will end up
Heb “this is the proud city.”

the city that was so secure.
Heb “the one that lived securely.”

She thought to herself,
Heb “the one who says in her heart.”
“I am unique! No one can compare to me!”
Heb “I [am], and besides me there is no other.”

What a heap of ruins she has become, a place where wild animals live!
Everyone who passes by her taunts her
Heb “hisses”; or “whistles.”
and shakes his fist.
Hissing (or whistling) and shaking the fist were apparently ways of taunting a defeated foe or an object of derision in the culture of the time.

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