Zephaniah closes with a joyful note of redemption. Jerusalem, the city of God, will be cleansed from the arrogant so that Yahweh himself might dwell among his people. They also will be cleansed so that their language and their deeds might reflect the moral nature of the God they serve. With Yahweh, the Mighty Warrior, dwelling among them, the people will not fear their enemies but will rejoice in the care he will provide.
There is no distinctive break between vv. 8 and 9. They are linked by the concept of fire, which on the one hand consumes the world but on the other purifies God's people. The prophet, in vv. 9 and 10, draws upon the imagery of the Tower of Babel incident (Ge 11:1-9) to portray a once-scattered but soon to be united people whose lips (speech) have been purified. This reestablished community will be characterized by worship, the natural activity of a redeemed people.
The theme of purification continues in v. 11 in that the proud will be removed from their midst. The holy habitation of God (“holy hill”) is in the midst of the meek and humble (v. 12). He will not dwell with the arrogant but must first humble and purify the people of all that is contrary to his nature. Because he will purify them of their sin and dwell among his people Israel, they will be free from wrong, lies, and deceit (v. 13) The ethical character of the people of God will reflect the nature of Yahweh himself. Thus these verses teach the normative paradigm of redemption: Yahweh removes sin and arrogance from the midst of his people and then comes to occupy that vacated throne of values, filling it with his holy presence and shaping their lives to conform to his own righteous nature.
In a brief hymn of salvation (vv. 14-17), the people of God are summoned to rejoice in the presence of Yahweh. The recurring word qirbek, “your midst” (NIV “within you,” v. 12; “with you,” vv. 15, 17), contains the central theological idea of the passage, Yahweh dwells among his people. They may rejoice and not be afraid, for they will be protected from any harm. Yahweh will be their God, a warrior of salvation. His people will rest securely in his covenantal love (v. 17).
The final verses of the book (vv. 18-20) are spoken by Yahweh himself as he promises to reverse the fortunes of his people who must go through the destruction measured out to the nations in the Day of Yahweh. For them judgment becomes remedial, not final. Strong emphasis lies in the repeated “I will.” All that they will gain—relief from burdens, salvation from oppression, return from exile, honor and praise—will be due to the direct action of Yahweh. Salvation belongs to him alone.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Nahum-Malachi. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1986.
Dunning, H. Ray. “Zephaniah.” BBC. 10 vols. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1966. Vol. 5.
Fensham, F. C. “Zephaniah, Book of.” IDB Supp. Vol. Edited by Keith Crim et al. Pp. 983-94. Nashville: Abingdon, 1976.
Smith, Ralph. Micah-Malachi. WdBC. Waco: Word, 1984.
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