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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Zephaniah

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1.1 :

Superscription. Cushi, in principle, may also mean “Cushite” (i.e., Ethiopian). Because of the context in which it appears, however, it can only be a personal name. The last of the ancestors mentioned in the list is Hezekiah. Some interpreters maintained that this Hezekiah was the famous king of Judah (Ibn Ezra, but contrast with Radak). Again, such a claim is not advanced in the text. (The Sages understood the list as pointing at Zephaniah as a righteous man who is himself a son of a righteous man; see b. Meg. 15a.) On the reference to the reign of Josiah, see introduction.

1.2–9 :

Announcement of doom.

2–3 :

The translation suggests a universal scenario of destruction. The Heb is more ambiguous. It can certainly be understood in such a way, but also as pointing to the total destruction of a particular area.

3 :

I will make the wicked stumble reflects an emendation of the Masoretic Text. The latter may be translated as “[I will sweep away] the stumbling blocks along with the wicked” or “[I will sweep away] the stumbling blocks of the wicked” or “[I will sweep away] what makes the wicked stumble.” The text does not identify these stumbling blocks, but readers throughout generations filled this information gap, and by doing so they expressed their worldview and particular circumstances. For instance, many associated them with the animals previously mentioned in the text. But if so, why do the animals make people stumble? According to Gen. Rabbah, because they provide abundance, and abundance may lead to sin. According to many others, because they may lead to idolatrous worship (b. A. Z. 55a).

5 :

Malcam, or “their king.” Medieval Jewish interpretation tends to follow the Targum and to associate “their king” with “false deities” (Rashi, Radak), a rendering supported by the poetic parallelism of the v. Similarly, some modern interpreters see here Milcom, the head of the pantheon of Ammon (1 Kings 11.5; 33; 2 Kings 23.13 ); or Molech, a deity to whom children were sacrificed or passed through fire (see Lev. 18.21; 20.2; 2 Kings 23.10; cf. 1 Kings 11.7 ). Other modern scholars maintain that “their king” means just “their king” (cf. Exod. 22.27; 1 Kings 21.10; Isa. 8.21 ). It has also been suggested that “their king” points to the LORD, wrongly worshipped.

7 :

The last two lines in the v. can be translated as “the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.” This translation communicates better the double entendre of the Heb. Are the guests consecrated so they can take part in the sacrificial meal? Or, are they consecrated because they are about to be slaughtered for the meal? Are they going to be at the meal, or be the “meal”? The Heb is likely intentionally ambiguous.

8 :

King's sons refers to the royal family in general, and perhaps even to royal officers; in other words, to the elite of the kingdom, which was understood as the “king's house(hold)” over which the king rules as a “father.”

9 :

There are two main interpretations to everyone who steps over the threshold. According to the first, this is a reference to an imitation of the ways of idolaters in general or Philistines (see 1 Sam. 5.4–5 ) in particular (e.g., Targum, and most of recent scholarship); according to the second it points to social injustice, oppression, and thievery (e.g., Radak; Ibn Ezra). The reference to their master's palace is ambiguous: It may refer to the Temple of the LORD or to the palace of the king, or to both.

1.10–18 :

Description of doom.

10 :

The Mishneh or “Second Quarter” probably refers to the Upper City of Jerusalem, the Western Hill, where the upper social strata of Jerusalem dwelled.

12 :

It is God who will be searching Jerusalem with lamps. The Targum, and some later interpreters, reinterpreted the v. to avoid the anthropomorphism that this image involves.

13 :

The text sounds as a reverberation of the curse in Deut. 28.30 , and it points to the futility of human actions contrary to divine will.

14–18 :

The traditional prophetic Day of the Lord imagery is employed to reflect the great disaster (see Joel 1.15 n.).

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