Purification Leads To Remnant Blessings – Zephaniah 3:1-20

Jesus Coming

The love of the Lord for His people is amazing when set against the backdrop of unfaithfulness and rebellion. The history of Jerusalem in the OT is not a pretty one. There are only patches of obedience and faithfulness amidst extended periods of spiritual adultery and defilement. Yet the covenant-keeping God remains righteous and just while working out His kingdom program. There will be the need for purification; but there will be tremendous blessing when the King returns to triumphantly reign from her midst.



  1. A. (:1-4) Indictment Against Jerusalem – Total Failure and Spiritual Bankruptcy
    1. Summary Indictment – for Rebellion, Impurity and Exploitation: “Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the tyrannical city!
    2. Failure of People to Walk With God
      1. Failure to Obey God: “She heeded no voice, she accepted no instruction.

MacArthur: Jerusalem was soon to learn that to reject God’s correction leads to destruction (Pr 5:23). She did not draw near to her God. The Lord had taken up residence in that city, making Him easily accessible (Dt 4:7), yet they had refused to draw near to Him in proper worship.

      1. Failure to Cling to God: “She did not trust in the Lord, she did not draw near to her God.
    1. Failure of Political and Judicial Leaders
      1. Political Leaders Devour the People: “Her princes within her are roaring lions
        1. Not exactly civil servants, meeting the needs of the people
      2. Judicial Leaders Devour the People: “Her judges are wolves at evening;
        1. Exploiting instead of defending the helpless
      3. c. Summary: “They leave nothing for the morning.”

Baker: Rather than protecting and leading the flock which is entrusted to them, the leaders devour the people for their own gain (cf. Is. 56:11); Je. 23:1; Ezk. 34:2). They do their work so well that there are not even bones left to ‘gnaw’ (AV; Nu. 24:8; cf. Gn. 49:14; Pr. 17:22) by morning, a time associated with legal judgment and justice (v. 5; cf. 2 Sa. 15:2; Ps. 101:8; Je. 21:12).

    1. Failure of Religious Leaders
      1. Prophets Cannot Be Trusted: “Her prophets are reckless, treacherous men
        1. Will speak whatever serves their own agenda
      2. Priests Promote Impurity: “Her priests have profaned the sanctuary.
        1. No regard for the Lord’s holiness and majesty
      3. Summary: “They have done violence to the law.
        1. Shows the importance of God’s unchanging Law

Constable: The prophets were reckless in the way they announced their own advice as divine revelation and treacherous in deceiving the people into thinking that their words were authoritative. The priests did not observe the laws of holiness that God had prescribed for worship, and they twisted the meaning of the Mosaic Law to suit their purposes (cf. 1:4-5).

  1. (:5-7) No Failure on the Part of God – Who Remains Righteous and Just
    1. (:5) Remains True to His Righteous Standards
      1. Righteous – despite corrupt surroundings: “The Lord is righteous within her
      2. Right / Just – Consistently and Manifestly Just: “He will do no injustice. Every morning He brings His justice to light
      3. Reliable – He will follow through on Promised Judgments: “He does not fail.

Baker: Yahweh is also within the city (cf. v. 3), but his character and actions are in contradistinction to its leaders’ (vv. 1-4). In particular, his righteousness, which is explained as a lack of ‘wrongdoing’ (v. 13; cf. Mi. 3:10; Hab. 2:12; Mal. 2:6), is contrasted with their misbehaviour. His justice, too, is continually and dependably disclosed (cf. La. 3:22-23; Ho. 6:3). Yahweh himself is infallible and lacks nothing (cf. 2 Sa. 17:22; Is. 40:26), never guilty of a miscarriage of justice, as opposed to the ‘wrongdoer’ (Jb. 18:21; 27;7; 31:3) who never experiences shame (v. 19; cf. Is. 30:3, 5; Je. 2:26; Hab. 2:10). In all of the points where the city’s appointed leaders were derelict in character or in fulfilling their duty, Yahweh, their overlord, is faithful in his being and actions. In spite of Israel’s disregard of their promise to maintain a monogamous relationship with God alone (see 1:4-6), Yahweh remains committed to his people. He is there in their very capital city, even though they no longer acknowledge him.

    1. (:6) Ruins the Rebellious Nations as a Warning to Jerusalem: “I have cut off nations; Their corner towers are in ruins. I have made their streets desolate, With no one passing by; their cities are laid waste, Without a man, without an inhabitant.

Hanke: Evidently Syria and Israel are meant here. This was prophetic of what the Lord was in the process of doing.

MacArthur: The desolations brought by the Lord on surrounding nations were to serve as warnings to Judah, meant to turn His people back to Him. But instead, enticed by the fruits of corruption, the people rose early to zealously and deliberately pursue the way of sin.

    1. (:7) Reaches Out One Last Time With Plea for Repentance
      1. Worship Commanded – Repentance Required: “I said, ‘Surely you will revere Me, Accept instruction.’
      2. Wrath Impending – Repentance Rewarded: “So her dwelling will not be cut off according to all that I have appointed concerning her.
      3. Wickedness Embraced – Repentance Rejected: “But they were eager to corrupt all their deeds.


  1. (:8) Wait for the Day of the Lord’s Wrath and Judgment Against the Nations
    1. Command to Wait for the Coming of the Lord: “‘Therefore wait for Me,’ declares the Lord
    2. Court Room Scene Anticipated: “For the day when I rise up as a witness
    3. Condemnation and Execution in Accordance with the Lord’s Wrath: “Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms; to pour out on them My indignation, all my burning anger;
    4. Complete Destruction Decreed: “For all the earth will be devoured.

MacArthur: The prophet transitions from the historical invasion of Judah by Babylon to the future day of the Lord. He speaks of the Great Tribulation, when the Lord will gather all the nations for judgment (cf Joel 3:1, 2, 12-17; Zec 12;2, 3; 14;2; Mt 24:21). The faithful remnant, presumably the meek of 2:1-3, are exhorted to wait in trust for Him to carry out His judgment.

  1. (:9-11) Anticipate the Day of the Lord’s Restoration of His Remnant
    1. (:9) Purified for the Purpose of Service
      1. Grace of Purification: “For then I will give to the peoples purified lips,
        1. Not just speaking of the Jews, but all peoples; context here speaks to the nations as well (Baxter)
      2. Privilege of Dependence on the One True God: “That all of them may call on the name of the Lord,
      3. Fellowship of Service: “To serve Him shoulder to shoulder.
    2. (:10) Regathered for the Purpose of Worship: “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, my worshipers, My dispersed ones, will bring My offerings.
    3. (:11) Humbled and Forgiven for the Purpose of Holy Submission: “In that day you will feel no shame Because of all your deeds by which you have rebelled against Me; for then I will remove from your midst your proud, exulting ones, and you will never again be haughty On My holy mountain.


  1. (:12-13) Six Fundamental Blessings Promised to the Purified Remnant
    1. Blessing of Humility: “But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people
    2. Blessing of Refuge: “And they will take refuge in the name of the Lord
    3. Blessing of Integrity: “The remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths;
    4. Blessing of Provision: “For they will feed
    5. Blessing of Peaceful Rest: “and lie down
    6. Blessing of Security: “With no one to make them tremble.
  2. (:14-17) Mindset of Rejoicing and Confidence because the Lord Reigns
    1. (:14) Mindset of Triumphant Rejoicing: “Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!

MacArthur: The basis for rejoicing in v. 14 is that Israel’s day of judgment is past and her King is residing in her midst. His departure just prior to Nebuchadnezzars destruction of the temple is graphically depicted in Eze 8-11; but He will return as Lord and Messiah, a fact so glorious that it is repeated in v. 17.

Baker: In a tripartite example of synonymous parallelism, where the same idea is repeated three times in different words, God’s people are called to sing, shout and joyfully exult.

    1. (:15) Refrain: The Lord Reigns As Victorious Warrior
      1. No Condemnation: “The Lord has taken away His judgments against you,
      2. No Opposition: “He has cleared away your enemies.
      3. The Lord Reigns: “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
      4. No Future Calamities: “You will fear disaster no more.
    2. (:16) Mindset of No Fear – but Confidence and Courage: “In that day it will be said to Jerusalem: ‘Do not be afraid, O Zion; do not let your hands fall limp.’
    3. (:17) Refrain: The Lord Reigns As Victorious Warrior
      1. The Lord Reigns: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.
      2. The Joy of the Lord: “He will exult over you with joy,

Hanke: After saving them, the Messiah will find in the redeemed Israel his ground of rejoicing (cf. Jn. 15:11).

Piper: When I think of the voice of God singing I hear the booming of Niagara Falls mingled with the trickle of a mossy mountain stream. I hear the blast of Mt. St. Helens mingled with the a kitten’s purr. I hear the power of an East coast hurricane and the barely audible puff of a night snow in the woods. And I hear the unimaginable roar of the sun 865,000 miles thick, one million three hundred thousand times bigger than the earth, and nothing but fire, 1,000,000 degrees centigrade on the cooler surface of the corona. But I hear this unimaginable roar mingled with the tender, warm crackling of the living room logs on a cozy winter’s night.

      1. The Love of the Lord: “He will be quiet in His love,
      2. The Joy of the Lord: “He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
  1. (:18-20) Six Sovereign Acts of the Lord’s Initiative in Blessing His People
    1. Removing all Reproach and Sorrow: “I WILL GATHER those who grieve about the appointed feasts – They came from you, O Zion; the reproach of exile is a burden on them.

Hannah: Many Jews, scattered from their homeland, had sorrows because they were unable to take part in the appointed feasts. But the Lord will remove those sorrows when He regathers His people to Jerusalem where they will enjoy His blessings. No longer will their feasts be a burden, something they hate to do, and a reproach, a cause for God’s displeasure because of their sinful ways.

    1. Punishing all Oppressors: “Behold, I AM GOING TO DEAL at that time with all your oppressors
    2. Reversing the Shame of the Helpless: “I WILL SAVE the lame and GATHER the outcast, and I WILL TURN their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
    3. Restoring the People to Their Promised Land: “At that time I WILL BRING you in, even at that time when I GATHER you together
    4. Bestowing Honor: “Indeed, I WILL GIVE you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth
    5. Restoring Fortunes: “‘When I RESTORE your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the Lord.’


  1. What are some of the steps and safeguards to listening to the voice of the Lord and heeding His correction and walking closely with Him?
  2. How does the Lord defend His own justice and vindicate His own judgments?
  3. Which of these blessings apply right now to the Lord’s people?
  4. How does the Lord express His great joy over His redeemed flock?


Baker: Jerusalem, rather than being God’s faithful, covenant city in contrast to her pagan neighbours, is in fact one with them in her sinfulness and unfaithfulness (cf. Is. 1:21). She is addressed in a lament (cf. Je. 22:18; 34;5) as her fate is sealed because of her rebelliousness (cf. Je. 4:17; 5:23; Ho. 14:1), defilement (cf. Is. 59:3; 63;3; Mal. 1:7, 12) and oppressive brutality (cf. Je. 25:38; 46:16; 50:16).

Kenneth Trent: The spiritual shortcomings of Jerusalem were evident over an extended period. Except for occasional revival and rededication, the city, loved so greatly by God, was a continuing disappointment to Him. Our text tells us of one such period, cir. 625 B.C.

Feinberg: Zephaniah’s message centers about judgment and especially that of the fearful Day of the Lord. No nation is exempt. But we do him an injustice if we think of him only in the light of chastisement. He concludes his prophecy with words of blessing and promise for the nations and Israel. But these promises to the nations can only be realized when the blessings of God are upon the nation Israel. The King of Israel in the midst of Israel is the Lord God Himself. Would God that were already fulfilled! Every day that the salvation of Israel draws nearer, that of the world’s salvation draws nearer also (Ps 67).

Hannah: The word “then” in verse 9 signifies a major pivot in the prophet’s message both in tone and in content; he shifted from frightful predictions of destruction to prophecies of blessing and peace. After destroying the nations’ armies, God will restore the nations to His favor. Instead of horrifying threats, here are comforting promises of love, mercy, and restoration. These promises look forward to the Millennium when Christ will rule as King on the earth.

Guzik: We often underestimate the joy God has in His people, and too often think God is annoyed or irritated with us. “Faulty as the church is, the Lord rejoices in her. While we mourn, as well we may, yet we do not sorrow as those that are without hope; for God does not sorrow, his heart is glad, and he is said to rejoice with joy – a highly emphatic expression.” (Spurgeon)

Constable (quoting Alex Motyer): (vv. 16-17) “Most often the Lord’s love is expressed by the Hebrew word hesed. This is the love that issues in commitment, the ‘ever-unfailing’ fidelity of love, love that lives in the will as much as in the heart. Here, however, the word is ‘ahaba, the passionate love of Jacob for Rachel (Gen. 29:20) and of Michal for David (1 Sam. 18:28), the fond love of Jacob for Joseph (Gen. 37:3), Uzziah’s devotion to gardening (2 Chron. 26:10), Jonathan’s deep friendship with David (1 Sam. 18:3), the devotee’s delight in the Lord’s law (Ps. 119:97). This too is the Lord’s love for his people (Hos. 3:1), a love that delights him (Zeph. 3:17c), makes him contemplate his beloved with wordless adoration (v. 17d), a love that cannot be contained but bursts into elated singing (v. 17e).”

Piper: The first thing to notice here is that even though the amazing promises of this section relate most directly to the converted and restored people of Israel (v. 10), nevertheless it is a necessary implication of the prophecy that the blessings promised flow out beyond the bounds of Israel and include us who through faith in Christ become Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise (Gal. 3:29). Verse 9 shows that God intends to save more than just Jews: “Yea, at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.”

Piper: We must banish from our minds forever any thought that God admits us begrudgingly into his Kingdom, as though Christ found a loophole in the law, did some fancy plea-bargaining and squeaked us by the Judge. No way! God himself, the Judge, put Christ forward as our substitutionary sacrifice, and when we trust him God welcomes us with bells on. He puts a ring on our finger, kills the fatted calf, throws a party, shouts a shout that shakes the ends of creation and leads in the festal dance.

Someone may ask: Isn’t that a bit unseemly and undignified of God to get so excited and shout and carry on this way? But I answer: Remember David’s wife, Michal. When David danced with joy before the Lord with all his might, Michal despised this immoderate display of emotion. And the Lord struck her barren for the rest of her life! For he intends to be mightily enjoyed, and one day he will show us how to rejoice with all his might.

Another may ask: But doesn’t it belittle God to have him rejoicing over us? Not necessarily. It would be unrighteous if he made us his god — if we and not he himself were the ultimate spring of his joy. But we aren’t. We are not his god. He is his own God. And when we stand before him redeemed in Christ Jesus he will behold his own handiwork. “We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus.” According to 3:12 it is God himself who will see to it that there is in the midst of Zion a humble and lowly people who take refuge in his name. Does it belittle the designer of the IDS tower to exult over the beauty of that building at dawn in September? Does it belittle Michelangelo to rejoice with tears as he looks at the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel? Nor does it belittle God when the divine work of your redemption is done and all the millions are gathered before his throne, the humble and lowly, that God should break forth in singing and rejoice over you with all his heart and with all his soul.

Michael Goodfellow: There is a sense in Zephaniah that the new people of God are a very separate and holy people. That is in fact what the word holy means, separate. And that becomes a very difficult concept in our world, where we all seek to fit in. Where we seek to be as similar to everyone else as is possible. But Zephaniah speaks of the wall of division that God will bring down, ejecting the proud and rising up the humble and meek. “On that day you will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.”

The church has obliterated the line of separation that exists between righteousness and unrighteousness. No longer do we have higher moral expectations for our clergy. We no longer expect Christians to act and speak any differently from their neighbors. They watch the same TV programs, listen to the same music, go to the same movies. We have a higher calling. We are called to be holy and separate not out of negativity. Not because we are against the world, but because we are for our God. It is to God that we make our first priority. It is to God that we pledge our lives in this fellowship.