The Great Day of God
Jesus said to them, ‘You see all these things. Really, I tell you that not one stone will remain on another! Someone will knock them all down.’ (Matthew 24:2)
An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (1200 word vocabulary) on the Book of Zephaniah
Translators could also find the translated Bible text useful, as the writer translated from the Hebrew text.
Words that are in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list is at the end. It explains words with a *star by them.
The words in brackets ( ) are not in the Hebrew Bible.
Zephaniah lived about 600 years *BC. He lived in the country called Judah. Perhaps he knew Jeremiah or Habakkuk. Here is a list of the kings of Judah at that time:
· 721-694 *BC – Hezekiah
· 694-640 – Manasseh
· 640-639 – Amon
· 639-609 – Josiah
· 609 – Jehoahaz
· 609-598 – Jehoiakim
· 598 – Jehoiachin
· 597-586 – Zedekiah
These dates come from a book called ‘The Oxford Bible Atlas’.
Hezekiah was a good king. Some Bible students think that he was Zephaniah’s great-great-grandfather (his grandfather’s grandfather) (Zephaniah 1:1).
Manasseh was a bad king. He hurt many people that really loved God. And he killed many of those people. But God did not let him kill other people that loved God. Zephaniah was one of them. The word Zephaniah means ‘The *LORD hides’. ‘*LORD’ is a special name for God that his servants use. The *LORD hid Zephaniah from Manasseh.
When Amon died, Zephaniah probably helped Josiah. Josiah stopped people doing the bad things that Manasseh and Amon had made them do. We call this ‘Josiah’s reform’. ‘Reform’ means ‘to do good things instead of bad things’. Zephaniah made a list of the bad things (Zephaniah 1:4-6, 8-9). One of the things on the list was that they obeyed false gods.
Some of these false gods were gods in Assyria and Babylon. The *Assyrians ruled that part of the world until 612 *BC. This meant that they also ruled Judah. Manasseh, Amon and Josiah had to obey the kings of Assyria.
Then the *Babylonians destroyed Assyria. After that, the *Babylonians ruled that part of the world. The last kings of Judah, from Josiah to Zedekiah, had to obey the kings of Babylon. The Book of Nahum tells us about the time when the *Babylonians would destroy Assyria. Zephaniah said that God would destroy Assyria in Zephaniah 2:13.
Zephaniah’s book is short. But he wrote the words ‘the day of the *LORD’, or ‘the great day of the *LORD’, or ‘that day’ many times. In chapters 1 and 2, it is the day (or days) when God will *punish people. He will *punish the people who do not obey him. ‘Punish people’ means ‘hurt people because they have done wrong things’. But in Zephaniah 3:9-20, ‘that day’ means something else. It means: ‘On that day you will not be ashamed because of what you have done.’ (See Zephaniah 3:11.) This tells us that some people will ‘look for the *LORD’ (Zephaniah 2:3). And those people will find him. This will make God so happy that he will sing with his people, (Zephaniah 3:17)!
So we find three messages in Zephaniah:
· 1:1-2:3 and 3:1-7 God will *punish his people in Judah that do not obey him;
· 1:2-3; 2:4-15 and 3:8 God will also *punish bad people from other countries;
· 3:9-20 God will be very kind to people who look for him. And he will be kind to people who obey him.
In this translation, words in brackets … (…) … are not in the *Hebrew Bible. Zephaniah wrote his book in the *Hebrew language. The word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
Verses 2-3 God will remove everything from the earth. The *Hebrew Bible says ‘from the face of the earth’. This is how they described the outside of the earth. Bible students are not sure what ‘with all their bits of buildings’ means. It may mean their houses that God has destroyed. It may mean their false gods. Whatever it means, God will destroy everything on the earth!
Verses 4-6 we find three things that made God angry:
· his people *served (or were servants of) false gods like *Baal and Malcam; Malcam was also called Molech;
· people tried to work for the true God and false gods at the same time;
· people made the stars in the skies into their gods.
Verse 4 ‘Lift up my hand’ means ‘raise my hand to hit or *punish’. The people in Judah and Jerusalem had a false god called *Baal. The *priests were the servants of the false gods. The *LORD also had *priests. They were his servants in his house (the *Temple) in Jerusalem.
Verse 5 ‘*Bow down’ means ‘bend in front of and become the servant of’.
Verses 7-8 A *sacrifice was something that people burned for their gods. Usually it was an animal. But sometimes it was a man, a woman or a child. In this verse, ‘the people that he has asked to come’ are the *sacrifice. The *LORD says that he will kill many of his people in Judah. This is how he will *punish them.
The ‘people with authority’ are the leaders of Judah. To ‘wear foreign clothes’ may mean ‘to do what the *Assyrians do’. That is, bend down to false gods. Perhaps the *Jews also dressed like *Assyrians.
Verse 9 To ‘jump over a doorstep’ means this: They did not step on the stone on the floor where the door was. Perhaps they thought that the false gods wanted them to jump over it. (See 1 Samuel 5:4-5.) The LORD did not want them to jump over it.
Verses 10-11 These verses give a name to several places in Jerusalem:
· The *Fish Gate was in the north of the city. You went through it to the *Second Quarter, where people bought and sold things.
· *The Hills may be another part of the city that we do not know about.
· *The Market was an important place in Jerusalem, where people bought and sold things.
*Silver is a metal of great value, like gold.
Verse 12 Here is a picture of God who is looking for bad people. These are people that are ‘like *wine on their *lees’. ‘*Wine’ is a drink with alcohol in it. People make it. Bad material falls under the *wine. They cannot use the bad material. This bad material is *lees. Some people think that everything is good. They are ‘people that are like *wine on their *lees’. They think that everything bad has fallen away.
‘Say in their hearts’ means ‘think’. The *Jews believed that you thought in your heart. They thought that God would not do anything good or bad. He would not give them help or *punish them. Today, we say that people like this do not believe in God.
Verse 13 Vines are plants that have fruit called grapes. People make *wine from the grapes. The verse means that God will *punish the people. He will kill them. The grapes that they grow will not become *wine. He will destroy them before that happens.
Verse 14 ‘*Bitter’ means the opposite of sweet. The day of the *LORD is like something bitter. So people will not like it. Even strong soldiers will think that it is very bad!
Verse 16 The *trumpets made a noise a bit like music when they blew into them. Sometimes people had to come and fight in a war. They used *trumpets to tell the people.
The *towers were strong parts at the corners of city walls. They were usually higher than the walls.
Verse 17 On the day of the *LORD, people will be unhappy (the opposite of happy). They will not be able to walk easily. They will walk as if they were drunks.
Verse 18 The word *jealousy means two things in English:
· bad thoughts that you have because someone has something (or somebody). And you want that thing or person
· when you do good things for somebody that you love.
God loves his people. So he kills their enemies. So he makes his people safe. This is not good for the enemies, but it is good for God’s people!
Verses 1-3 The *LORD is saying to people, ‘Come back to me, before I *punish you.’ The dead part of a plant is sometimes called ‘chaff’. The wind easily blows it away. ‘*Humble’ people means ‘people who do not think that they are very important’. Only God is very, very good. ‘Try to do what is very, very good’ means ‘try to be like God’.
Verses 4-15 In these verses, the *LORD says what will happen to the countries round Judah. There are 4 parts: verses 4-7; verses 8-11; verse 12 and verses 13-15.
Verses 4-7 are about the people called Philistines. They lived to the west of Judah. They lived between Judah and the Mediterranean Sea. Their important cities were Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron.
Canaan was an old name for all the country where the *Jews lived. Chereth may be another name for the country where the people called Philistines lived. Or it may be a name for a country that we do not know about.
The *Hebrew word for ‘pull out’ in verse 4 is what you do to a weed. You pull it out from the ground so that it dies.
In verse 7, there is the word ‘*remnant’. A *remnant is a small bit of something much bigger. It is a special Bible word. Isaiah often used it. It means a small number of God’s people. They remain after the enemy has killed all the other people. Zephaniah does not say who the enemy will be.
‘They’ in verse 7 may mean the sheep in verse 6. The place where the people called Philistines lived will be grass. Enemies will destroy their houses so only animals can live in them. But ‘they’ may be God’s people. At the end of verse 7, there are some important words:
1) visit: Here this means more than ‘come to see’. It means that God himself will do something special to make his people safe.
2) give them back what is valuable: This also may have another meaning. Bible students do not agree how to translate these *Hebrew words. But many say that it means ‘turn away their captivity’. This also may mean two things!
a) bring the *Jews back from *exile. The *Exile was when the *Babylonians took the *Jews from Judah to Babylon. This happened in 586 *BC. They were in prison in Babylon, or ‘in captivity’ until 536 *BC.
b) bring all God’s people back from a bad world to a good world. This will happen when Jesus returns to the earth.
Verses 8-11 are about Moab and Ammon. They were countries to the east of Judah.
Sodom and Gomorrah were cities that God destroyed. He destroyed them because the people in them did not obey his rules. The story is in Genesis chapter 19.
A waste place is somewhere where there is nothing valuable. The *remnant have taken away everything that anyone would want to keep. Look at the note on verse 7 for ‘*remnant’.
‘*Proud’ (verse 10) means ‘to think that you are important’.
Verse 11 says that one day ‘everybody will *bow down to’ God. In other words, everyone in the world will say that God is very great! Christians believe that this will happen when Jesus comes back to the earth as its king. Some parts of the Bible are about Jesus’ return. We call them by the word ‘*eschatological’. That means that Zephaniah is an *eschatological book. Revelation and parts of Isaiah, Daniel and Zechariah are the same.
‘As I live’, in verse 9, means ‘it really will happen’. God is alive. So ‘as I live’ means this: ‘It is sure that God is alive. So what he says is also sure. It will happen as he has said’ It is a special promise that we call an oath.
Verse 12 is about the people in Cush. This was an old name for countries in the Nile Valley, maybe Egypt or Ethiopia, both south of Judah.
Some of the *Jews had to go to Egypt. Jeremiah was one of them. God says that his *sword will kill the people from Cush. A *sword is a long sharp knife that soldiers used to kill people. Zephaniah meant that God would send a foreign army to destroy Cush.
Verses 13-15 are about Assyria. A foreign army destroyed Assyria in 612 *BC.
In verse 13, ‘the north’ means ‘Assyria and other countries near it’.
‘(The *LORD) will lift his hand’. You lift your hand before you hit someone with your hand. Here, Zephaniah describes a foreign army as God’s hand. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria.
God will use a foreign army to destroy Nineveh. Then only animals will live there.
*Owls are birds that catch their food at night. They make a noise. We say that they ‘*hoot’. Some *owls make a long ‘ooo’ noise; other *owls make a loud scream.
*Ravens are big black birds that eat dead bodies. We say that they ‘*croak’.
These may not be the right names for the birds that Zephaniah wrote about. Bible students are not sure.
‘*Shake’ means ‘move fast from side to side’. People *shake their fists when they are angry. Or they *shake them when something has happened to make them happy.
Verses 1-5 Now God says what will happen to Judah. The *Hebrew Bible does not say that these verses are about Jerusalem. But Bible students are sure that they are about Jerusalem.
In verse 1, the words ‘not obey’, ‘dirty’ and ‘cruel’ mean a lot in the *Hebrew Bible:
· ‘not obey’ means ‘fight against’;
· ‘dirty’ means ‘very bad’ or ‘*unclean’;
· ‘cruel’ means ‘rich people make poor people work for them. And they give them very little for their work’.
These people do not *trust their *LORD. Remember this: *LORD is a special word that only God’s servants should use. ‘Trust’ means ‘believe that he (the *LORD) will do things. He will do what he has promised to do’.
These people in Jerusalem do not think that God will make them safe from their enemies. So they do not ‘come near’ (or pray) to their God. But he promised to do this if they obeyed him.
They neither believe nor obey God. Instead, they *trust their leaders. But their leaders are like wild animals. They make a lot of noise, like *lions. *Lions are very large wild cats. Also, the leaders are like *wolves. *Wolves are wild animals. They eat every animal that they find, including people. Bible students think that this means, ‘the leaders promise to do a lot for their people. But they only take away everything that their people have.’
Prophets tell people what God is saying. But these are false prophets, (verse 4). They are saying, ‘We are not afraid of what will happen.’ But God (by Zephaniah) says that nobody should believe them.
The *priests in Jerusalem were God’s special servants in his house. We call that house ‘the *temple’. But they destroyed the *law. So, it was like they made the *temple dirty.
God’s *law was the rules that he gave to his people. Many of them are in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They destroyed the *law because they did not obey it.
Because God’s house was dirty (or unclean), God could not live there. God is not like the *priests. God is righteous. In other words, he always does what is right. If we listen, he speaks to us every day. He tells us the right thing to do. If we obey him, we will not be ashamed like those *priests in Jerusalem. They were ashamed when the *Babylonians destroyed the *temple. That was only about 40 years after Zephaniah said this!
Verses 6-8 Here we read about what God will do to all the countries near Judah and also to Judah itself. These are the countries in Zephaniah 2:4-15. But it also includes Judah, (3:1-5).
‘Cut off’ here is another word for destroy.
In the *Hebrew Bible, ‘strong buildings’ is ‘corner *towers’. These were tall buildings at the corners of their cities’ walls.
Verse 7 is about Judah. God wanted them to love and to obey him. But they wanted to do bad things very much. So, they got up early to do them!
In verse 8, to ‘say what I have seen’ is from the *Greek Bible. The *Hebrew Bible says, ‘to attack’. Most translations think that the *Greek Bible is correct.
The ‘fire of my *jealousy’ is the love that God has for his people. He wanted them to love him only, but they wanted to work for other gods also, (chapter 1:5-6). This made God *jealous.
He *punished the people that would not obey him, (verse 7). But he also *punished foreign people that hurt his own people, the *Jews. This was because some of the *Jews still loved him. And they still obeyed him.
Verses 9-11 Here God spoke (by Zephaniah) to all the people in the world.
Our translation of verse 9 explains the *Hebrew words. It does not really translate them. The *Hebrew Bible says, ‘Then I will *change the peoples to one *pure lip, to *call on the name of the *LORD. And they will *serve him with one shoulder.’
‘*Change’ means ‘make a change’. ‘*Pure’ means ‘only one material in it’. ‘*Call’ means ‘shout out’. And ‘*serve’ means ‘be the servant of’.
‘One pure lip’ makes Bible students think about the story about the *Tower of Babel. It is in Genesis 11:1-9. Everybody spoke the same language until God confused their words. Now we have about 6000 languages in the world. But Zephaniah says that it will change! One day we will all speak the same language again. But we do not know when we will do so.
Many Bible students think that this is another *eschatological part of Zephaniah’s book. It will happen when Jesus comes back to the earth.
In verse 11, ‘rebelled against me’ means ‘fought against me’. Or it means ‘they did not obey me’. The ‘*holy mountain’ is *Zion in Jerusalem. The *Temple was there. The *Jews *worshipped God at the *Temple. Because God is *holy (very, very good) the place was *holy.
Verses 12-20 The Book of Zephaniah has a happy end! God will bring back the *remnant of his people from *exile.
If they are poor, they will ask the *LORD for help, verse 12.
They will not tell lies (words that are not true). Their tongues will speak what is true, verse 13. Our tongues in our mouths help us to speak. Because they are not afraid, verse 13, they will sing. And they will shout for *joy, verse 14. ‘*Joy’ is when you feel very, very happy deep inside you.
The *LORD has sent the enemies of the *Jews away, (verse 15), and he ‘will do something’ to them, (verse 19). This means that he will *punish them. He will beat them, or he will kill them, (verse 17).
The *Jews will not be ashamed any longer. They will be famous and people will say good things about them, (verses 19 and 20).
The *LORD will give them back all the good things that they lost in the *exile (verse 20).
All this will make the *LORD God very happy too! He is King of Israel, verse 15. ‘It will be like a big party’, (verse 18).
Bible students ask, ‘When did, or when will, all this happen?’ Maybe there are two answers:
· it happened when the *Jews came back from *exile in Babylon, in 536 *BC.
· it will happen again when Jesus comes back to the earth. Bible verses that are about that time are called *eschatological verses.
1. Read Zephaniah. Count how many times you can find:
· on/in the day of the *LORD,
· on/in that day,
· on/in that great day of the *LORD.
2. Read Zephaniah 3:1-5. Why do you think that it is about Jerusalem and not about Nineveh?
3. Read the *eschatological parts of Zephaniah. You will find where they are in the notes. Pray every day for Jesus to return to the earth soon. That will really be ‘the great day of God’!
4. Zephaniah said, ‘Do not let your hands become weak’, 3:16. Learn to say this verse without looking at the words. Every time there is difficulty or trouble, say this verse to yourself. Then pray to God, ‘Make me strong!’
as I live ~ (here) because I, God, am alive, it really will happen!
Assyrians ~ these people came from the country called Assyria.
BC ~ BC means ‘years Before Christ came to the earth’.
Baal ~ a false god; people in the countries called Judah and Israel *served him before the *Jews came.
Babylonians ~ these people came from the country called Babylon.
bitter ~ the opposite of sweet.
bow down ~ bend in front of and become the servant of.
call ~ shout out.
change ~ make a change to.
croak ~ make a noise like a *raven.
Cush ~ an old name for countries in the Nile Valley, like Egypt or Ethiopia.
cut off ~ here, it is another word for ‘destroy’.
descendant ~ a child, grandchild, and so on; a person in your family who lives after you are dead.
desert ~ land full of sand; it is so dry that not many plants grow there.
doorstep ~ the stone on the floor where the door is.
eschatological ~ about the end of time, when Jesus returns to earth as king.
exile ~ away from your own country.
Fish Gate ~ a place in Jerusalem.
Greek ~ a language.
Hebrew ~ the language that the *Jews spoke.
holy ~ very, very good; only God is really holy.
holy mountain ~ the mountain called *Zion in Jerusalem; they built the *temple on it.
hoot ~ make a noise like an *owl.
humble ~ humble people do not think that they are very important.
in their hearts ~ what they thought.
jealous/jealousy ~ perhaps someone else loves the person that you love; then you feel jealous; or, when you do good things for somebody that you love.
Jew ~ a person who is born from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.
joy ~ something that makes people very, very happy.
law ~ the rules of a country; here, God’s rules for men and women.
lees ~ the dirt that falls under the *wine when people make *wine.
lies ~ words that are not true.
lion ~ a wild animal like a very large cat.
LORD ~ a special name for God that only his servants should use.
owl ~ a big bird that catches food at night.
praise ~ tell someone how great they are (or words that do it).
priest ~ a special servant of God, or a false god.
prophet ~ he or she says what God is saying; or he says what God will do.
proud ~ to think that you are important when perhaps you are not.
punish ~ hurt people because they have done bad things.
pure ~ contains only one material.
raven ~ a big black bird that eats dead bodies.
rebel ~ fight against.
remnant ~ a small part that remains from a larger piece.
righteous ~ very, very good; only God is really righteous.
sacrifice ~ something that people burned for their gods; usually it was animals but sometimes it was food or people.
Second Quarter ~ a place in Jerusalem.
serve ~ to be servants of somebody like a king or a god.
shake ~ move something fast from one side to another and back again many times.
silver ~ a metal of great value, like gold.
sword ~ a long, sharp knife that soldiers used.
temple ~ God’s house in Jerusalem; or the house of any god.
The Hills ~ a place in Jerusalem.
The Market ~ a place in Jerusalem.
tongue ~ our tongues in our mouths help us to speak.
tower ~ a tall building.
trumpet ~ people blew into a trumpet; it made a noise a bit like music.
trust ~ believe that someone will be good to you; believe what someone says.
unclean ~ the opposite of clean; in Zephaniah it means ‘to do what is wrong’.
unhappy ~ the opposite of happy.
vine ~ a plant that grows a fruit called the grape.
waste ~ something that has no value or use that people throw away.
wine ~ a drink with alcohol in it; people make it from grapes (a fruit).
wolves (one is a wolf) ~ a wild animal that kills and eats other animals, including people.
worship ~ to *praise God and to show that we love him. To say that God is great. Often we worship God together with other people, with prayers and songs.
Zion ~ a hill in Jerusalem; sometimes another name for Jerusalem.
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This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words)
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