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DRAFT: A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Zephaniah

Kuruvilla Thomas
Bangalore
Published on 13 March 2024 *




Zephaniah Timeline
Fig. 1


Introduction

This study treats the book of Zephaniah as a cryptochiasmus in order to arrive at a coherent reconfiguration of the text ( see definition of cryptochiasmus in [1] ). If you wish to skip the technicalities of a chiastic parse, you may read starting from Section 4 of the Discussion section, which has the reconfigured text.

With this reconstruction, we show that Zephaniah predicts the Babylonian exile of the Judahites and, around that same period, the punishment of the nations surrounding Israel in all directions. The prophet also predicts the Roman attack on Jerusalem (70AD) in some detail and the restoration of Israel at the start of the Millennial Reign.


Discussion

1. Presuppositions

We base our parse of Zephaniah on the assumption that it refers to 3 periods:

  1. The Judahites are Exiled and the Nations around Israel are Judged (c. 612BC-581BC). The Judahites are exiled by the Babylonians, and the nations surrounding Israel in all directions are punished.
  2. The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD). The Roman army prosecutes a brutal war against Judea and Jerusalem.
  3. Israel is Restored at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD). The hostile armies of the earth are assembled and defeated. Israel is restored.

2. Parsing the chiasmus

We will use the NIV Bible for this parse.

Parsing this chiasmus involves dividing portions of the text into three categories as above. We will call the period of the Punishment of nations around Israel Period 1, the First Jewish Roman War Period 2 and the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign Period 3.


Categorizing Zephaniah

Ch 1 Vs 2-3a belongs to Period 3. Hostile armies are gathered and destroyed outside the New Israel at the start of Christ's Millennial Reign.

Ch 1 Vs 3b - Ch 2 Vs 3 belong to Period 2. God punished the Judahites and devastated Judea and Jerusalem using the Romans during the First Jewish-Roman War. This period of the destruction of Jerusalem was one of the 3 "Days of the Lord" of Joel; the "Day of the Lord" is mentioned in Zeph. 1:7 and alluded to in several verses that follow, up to the closing boundary in vs 2:3.

Ch 2 Vs 4 - 3 Vs 5 belong to Period 1. Judea is punished with exile and the nations around Israel in all directions are judged. We believe the passage in 3:1-5 regarding wicked Judahites belongs to this Period, primarily because of its focus on the Old Covenant (the passage could apply to the Judahites of Period 2 as well, but the New Covenant was in effect by that time and the Old Covenant was revoked in that Period).

Ch 3 Vs 6-7 belong to Period 2. God hoped to spare His city, Jerusalem, but its people were unwilling to change.

Ch 3 Vs 8-20 belong to Period 3. The defeat of the Beast army. The remnant of the Israelites are gathered in their own nation at the start of Christ's Millennial Reign.


Original text

We color-code the chiastic units of the original text (NIV) below for easy visual identification using: red for Period 1, blue for Period 2 and green for Period 3. We have retranslated parts of the text.


Zephaniah 1 2 “I will sweep away everything on the ground [a],” declares the Lord. 3a “I will sweep away both man and beast."
3b "I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—the idols of the wicked—when I destroy all the people on the face of the land.” declares the Lord. [b]
4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests." 5 Those [c] who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the Lord and who also swear by Molek, 6 those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him,
7 be [d] silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.
8 “On the day of the Lord’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. 9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.
10 “On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. 11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who handle money [e] will be destroyed. 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’ 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”
14 The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. 15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortifications [f] and against the corner towers.
17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy the whole land [g] will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the land [h].


Retranslation notes for Zephaniah 1
[a] vs 2 "on the ground" instead of "from the face of the earth".
[b] vs 3 'I will sweep away both man and beast." "I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—the idols of the wicked—when I destroy all the people on the face of the land.” declares the Lord.' instead of 'I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea— and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the LORD,'.
[c] vs 4,5 'priests."5 Those' instead of "priests— 5 those".
[d] vs 6,7 'him, 7 be' instead of 'him.” 7 Be'.
[e] vs 11 "handle money" instead of "trade with silver”.
[f] vs 16 "fortifications" instead of "fortified cities”.
[g] vs 18 "land" instead of "earth”.
[h] vs 18 "land" instead of "earth”.


Zephaniah 2 1 Sift yourselves, Sift yourselves you shameful people [a], 2 before the decree takes effect, before time flies away like windblown chaff, [b] before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord’s wrath comes upon you. 3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.
4 Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. 5 Woe to you who live by the sea, you Kerethite people; the word of the Lord is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines. He says, “I will destroy you, and none will be left.” 6 The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks. 7 That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.
8 “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land. 9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah— a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.”
10 This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty. 11 The Lord will be terrible to them, for he will destroy all the gods of the land. Then the gods of the nations of the world will bow down to him, each of them in his own place. [c]
12 “You Cushites, too, will be slain by my sword.”
13 He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. 14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their hooting will echo through the windows, rubble will fill the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed. 15 This is the city of revelry that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am the one! And there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.


Retranslation notes for Zephaniah 2
[a] vs 1 "Sift yourselves, Sift yourselves you shameful people" instead of "Gather together, gather yourselves together, you shameful nation".
[b] vs 2 "effect, before time flies away like windblown chaff" instead of "effect and that day passes like windblown chaff”.
[c] vs 11 "The Lord will be terrible to them, for he will destroy all the gods of the land. Then the gods of the nations of the world will bow down to him, each of them in his own place." instead of "The LORD will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the earth. Distant nations will bow down to him, all of them in their own lands".


Zephaniah 3 1 Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! 2 She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God. 3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law. 5 The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.
6 “I have destroyed nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are laid waste; they are deserted and empty. 7 Of Jerusalem I thought, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her place of refuge would not be destroyed, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.
8 Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day I will stand up to plunder [a]. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. Everything on the ground [b] will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.
9 “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder. 10 From beyond the seas [c] of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings. 11 On that day you will no longer be put to shame, for you will no longer rebel against me. I [d] will remove from you your arrogant boasters. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. 12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord. 13 They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.”
14 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away your adversary [e], he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; he will love you forever and [f] will rejoice over you with singing.”
18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. 19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. 20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.


Retranslation notes for Zephaniah 3
[a] vs 8 "plunder" instead of "testify”.
[b] vs 8 "Everything on the ground" instead of "The whole world".
[c] vs 10 "seas" instead of "rivers". See same translation in Psalm 24:2 (cf. Isaiah 18:1,2,7).
[d] vs 11 "On that day you will no longer be put to shame, for you will no longer rebel against me. I" instead of "On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I".
[e] vs 15 "adversary" instead of "punishment”.
[f] vs 17 "he will love you forever and" instead of "in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but”.


3. Building the reconfigured text


From this parse, it appears that Zephaniah 1-3 form a cryptochiasmus as below:

A1   Ch 1 Vs 2-3a Period 3. Hostile peoples are defeated at the start of Christ's Reign
  B1   Ch 1 Vs 3b - Ch 2 Vs 3 Period 2. God punishes the Judahites using the Romans
    X   Ch 2 Vs 4 - 3 Vs 5 Period 1. Judea and surrounding nations are punished
  B2   Ch 3 Vs 6-7 Period 2. God is forced to destroy His own city
A2   Ch 3 Vs 8-20 Period 3. The remnant of Israel is restored at the start of Christ's Millennial reign


We now reconstruct the passages in the right order based on the chiastic structure above and based on the ordering rules of a cryptochiasmus [1].

We lead with central pivot point 'X'. The corresponding subunits (For example; subunit A1 corresponds to A2) are placed contiguously to form units (For example, A1,A2 is a unit ) so that we get a list of such units.


The sequence selected for rearrangement is:

X  [A1,A2]  [B1,B2]        (1)

Translating (1) into verse numbers, we get:

Ch 2 Vs 4 - 3 Vs 5   [Ch 1 Vs 2-3a, Ch 3 Vs 8-20]   [Ch 1 Vs 3b - Ch 2 Vs 3, Ch 3 Vs 6-7]        (2)

We arrive at the reconfigured passage in the next section by rearranging the verses so they are in sequence (2).



4. Zephaniah Reconfigured

The Judahites are Exiled and the Nations around Israel are Judged (c. 612BC-581BC) (Ch 2 Vs 4 - 3 Vs 5)

Chiasmus 1: The nations surrounding Judea in all directions are punished

Ch 2 4 Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. 5 Woe to you who live by the sea, you Kerethite people; the word of the Lord is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines. He says, “I will destroy you, and none will be left.” 6 The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks. 7 That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.
8 “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land. 9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah— a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.” 10 This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty. 11 The Lord will be terrible to them, for he will destroy all the gods of the land. Then the gods of the nations of the world will bow down to him, each of them in his own place.
12 “You Cushites, too, will be slain by my sword.” 13 He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. 14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their hooting will echo through the windows, rubble will fill the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed. 15 This is the city of revelry that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am the one! And there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.

Chiasmus 2: The reasons for Judah's punishment through Babylon

Ch 3 1 Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! 2 She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God.
3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.
5 The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.


Israel is Restored at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD) (Ch 1 Vs 2-3a, Ch 3 Vs 8-20)

Chiasmus 1: Israel is restored after the Beast army is defeated

Ch 1 2 “I will sweep away everything on the ground,” declares the Lord. 3a “I will sweep away both man and beast." Ch 3 8 Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day I will stand up to plunder. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. Everything on the ground will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.
Ch 3 9 “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder. 10 From beyond the seas of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings. 11 On that day you will no longer be put to shame, for you will no longer rebel against me. I will remove from you your arrogant boasters. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. 12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord. 13 They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.” 14 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your adversary, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; he will love you forever and will rejoice over you with singing.”

Chiasmus 2: The Israelites are gathered in the New Israel and the nation is restored

Ch 3 18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. 19a At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you.
19b I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. 20a At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.
20b I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.


The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (Ch 1 Vs 3b - Ch 2 Vs 3, Ch 3 Vs 6-7)

Chiasmus 1: The idol worshippers of Judah and Jerusalem are destroyed

Ch 1 3b "I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—the idols of the wicked—when I destroy all the people on the face of the land.” declares the Lord. 4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests."
5 Those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the Lord and who also swear by Molek, 6 those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him, 7a be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near.
7b The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. 8 “On the day of the Lord’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. 9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.

Chiasmus 2: Jerusalem is destroyed on the "Day of the Lord"

Ch 1 10 “On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. 11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who handle money will be destroyed.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’ 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.” 14a The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly.
14b The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. 15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortifications and against the corner towers.

Chiasmus 3: The righteous are saved from the Roman slaughter

17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” In the fire of his jealousy the whole land will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the land.
Ch 2 1 Sift yourselves, Sift yourselves you shameful people, 2 before the decree takes effect, before time flies away like windblown chaff, before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord’s wrath comes upon you. 3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.
Ch 3 6 “I have destroyed nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are laid waste; they are deserted and empty. 7 Of Jerusalem I thought, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her place of refuge would not be destroyed, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.



5. A commentary on the reconfigured text

5.0 Introductory Statement (Ch 1 Vs 1)

Chapter 1 1 The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:

Zephaniah ministered to the Judahites during the reign of Josiah (640–609BC). We propose that this prophecy was made shortly before 612BC, the start of Period 1. Four of Zephaniah's forefathers are mentioned here, apparently to trace his lineage to king Hezekiah. The name Zephaniah means "One whom God protects".



5.1 The Judahites are Exiled and the Nations around Israel are Judged (c. 612BC-581BC) (Ch 2 Vs 4 - 3 Vs 5)

This Period is structured as a series of 2 chiasmi.

Chiasmus 1: The nations surrounding Judea in all directions are punished

The passage below in 2:4-15 is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 2:4-7 The nations that are punished before Judah's exile (before 587BC)
    X 2:8-11 The nations that are punished after Judah's exile (after 587BC)
A2 2:12-15 The nations that are punished before Judah's exile (before 587BC)

The pagan nations that face judgement in this Period are located in the four directions of the compass around Israel: the Philistines to the East, Ammon and Moab to the West, Cush/Ethiopia to the South, and Assyria to the North. The Babylonian defeat and destruction of Jerusalem and the Judahite journey into exile (587BC) took place within this period of punishment of the surrounding nations (c. 612BC-581BC). This chiasmus indicates that nations outside of Israel are also judged and punished by God, though they are controlled by fallen angels.


Subunit A1: The nations that are punished before Judah's exile: the Philistines to the east (before 587BC) (2:4-7)

Chapter 2 4 Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. 5 Woe to you who live by the sea, you Kerethite people; the word of the Lord is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines.

In preparation for a campaign against Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar II defeated the Philistines in the coastal region of southern Canaan and took the people into slavery in Mesopotamia c. 604BC. Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron were prominent Philistine cities - they are enumerated in geographic order from north to south. Ashkelon's defeat by 'midday' indicates a short campaign lasting half a day, from morning to noon. The Philistines were also called Kerethites, apparently because many of them were immigrants from Crete (see also Ezekiel 25:15-17).



Chapter 2 6 The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks. 7 That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.

With the population exiled, this once thriving region of the Philistines became desolate grazing grounds. After their return from exile, the Judahites apparently informally used the abandoned lands of the Philistines for a while. Note that vs 2:7 effectively predicts the Judahites' exile and restoration.



Pivot X: The nations that are punished after Judah's exile: Moab and Ammon to the west (after 587BC) (2:8-11)

Chapter 2 8 “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land. 9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah— a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.” 10 This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty.

The Moabites and Ammonites were punished for their actions against God's people, mainly for their insults and their threats at the fall of Jerusalem c 587BC (see also Isaiah 16: 6,7, Jeremiah 48:27).

Nebuchadnezzar extended his campaign against the nations in the region of the Holy Land with a devastating assault on the Transjordan around 581BC (Josephus Ant., 10:181–2), destroying the nations of Moab and Ammon (see also Isa. 15-16, Jer. 48, 49:1-6, Eze. 25:1-14); these nations were as utterly destroyed as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Judahites, some time after their return from exile, controlled this region for a period under the Maccabees (1 Macc. 5:6-8).



Chapter 2 11 The Lord will be terrible to them, for he will destroy all the gods of the land. Then the gods of the nations of the world will bow down to him, each of them in his own place.

God will destroy the gods (fallen angels) that control Moab and Ammon when he devastates these lands (fallen angels rule the nations outside Israel - Psalm 82:1,2). The gods of the nations of the world will see God's wrath against the gods of Moab and Ammon, and they will bow down in fear to the Almighty.



Subunit A2: The nations that are punished before Judah's exile: the Cushites to the south and Assyrians to the north (before 587BC) (2:12-15)

Chapter 2 12 “You Cushites, too, will be slain by my sword.”

The Cushites, who occupied southern Egypt, will also be punished with a massacre. Perhaps this is a reference to the Egyptian sack of the capital of Kush, Napata, in 593BC, that forced the Cushites to move the capital to Meroe.



Chapter 2 13 He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert.
14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their hooting will echo through the windows, rubble will fill the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed.

The Babylonian king Nabopolassar allied with the Medes and others to defeat the Assyrians and ransack the wealthy and powerful city of Nineveh in 612 BC. The city was never again a political or administrative centre; it was de-urbanized and depopulated ("dry as the desert" - water represents people - see also Nahum 2:8) over the next few centuries (see also Nahum 2:6-10). Verse 2:14 poetically expands on this idea of devastation and desolation.



Chapter 3 15 This is the city of revelry that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am the one! And there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.

Neo-Assyria, considered to be the first world-conquering empire (it is the first 'king' of Rev.17:10), was the nation from which Satan ruled the earth ("I am the one! And there is none besides me." - cf. Isaiah 47:8) (see also Nahum 2:11-12). The sacking of the mighty Nineveh marked the beginning of the end of Assyria, because control over the world passed to the Babylonians a few years later. So the powerful, wealthy Nineveh, a city of revelry, has become a ruin ("a lair for wild beasts") and an object of scorn ("scoff, shake their fists - apparently 'shaking the fist' was an expression of mockery).



Chiasmus 2: The reasons for Judah's punishment through Babylon

After predicting the punishment of the nations surrounding Judah, Zephaniah pronounces woe on God's own nation, for God will punish the Judahites during the reign of the wicked king Zedekiah. This chiasmus details the reasons for the punishment.


The passage below in 3:1-5 is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 3:1-2 The unrighteous Judahites have fallen away from God
    X 3:3-4 The political and spiritual leadership is wicked
A2 3:5 The unrighteous Judahites have fallen away from God

Subunit A1: The unrighteous Judahites have fallen away from God (3:1-2)

Chapter 3 1 Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! 2 She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God.

Jerusalem is a corrupt city in which the poor are oppressed (Eze. 22:29). The people have fallen away from their God; they refuse to obey Him, they do not trust Him, and instead they are defiled with the wickedness of idol worship (Jer. 7:1-20, Jer. 5:3).



Pivot X: The political and spiritual leadership is wicked (3:3-4)

Chapter 3 3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning.

The political leaders ("officials" and "rulers") are greedy (they eat everything and "leave nothing for the morning") and cruel exploiters of the poor and weak (like "roaring lions" tearing at the prey - see also Ezekiel 22:25).



Chapter 3 4 Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.

The religious leaders (prophets and priests) are also wicked. The prophets mislead the people with false prophecies that are not from God, and they tell the people what they want to hear (Ezekiel 22:28). The priests do not follow the Law of God (Ezekiel 22:26).



Subunit A2: The unrighteous Judahites have fallen away from God (3:5)

Chapter 3 5 The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.

The Judahites are controlled by a righteous God. But though God tries to correct them with His judgements, the unrighteous Judahites continue in their shameful ways (Jere. 7 25-29, cf. Jer. 3:3).



5.2 Israel is Restored at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD) (Ch 1 Vs 2-3a, Ch 3 Vs 8-20)

This Period is structured as a series of 2 chiasmi.

Chiasmus 1: Israel is restored after the Beast army is defeated

The passage below in 1:2-3a,3:8-17 is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 1:2-3a, 3:8 The Beast army is defeated
    X 3:9-14 Israel is restored
A2 3:15-17 The Beast army is defeated

Subunit A1: The Beast army is defeated (1:2-3a, 3:8)

Chapter 1 2 “I will sweep away everything on the ground,” declares the Lord. 3a "I will sweep away both man and beast."
Chapter 3 8 Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day I will stand up to plunder. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. Everything on the ground will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.

God will incite the Beast (of Rev. 13) and other hostile nations from around the world to gather for a war at the borders of the New Israel (see Ezekiel 39:1-3 and Rev 14:18-19). He will then utterly destroy ("sweep away") and plunder this massed army. (see also, ,see Ezekiel 39 in [7], Rev. 19:19,20 and Rev. 14:18-20 in [8], the judgement in the "Valley of Jehoshaphat" in Joel 3). Note that the "man and beast" of 1:3a represents the soldiers and vehicles of this army (see also, the "horses and riders" of Rev 19:18).

The people of Israel are to wait patiently during the tyrannical reign of the Beast ("wait for me") until this war at the end of its 3 1/2 year reign.



Pivot X: Israel is restored (3:9-14)

Chapter 3 9 “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder. 10 From beyond the seas of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings.

All the Israelites will stop worshipping other gods and forever worship the one true God ("lips will be purified") (Ezekiel 37:23). They will be gathered from the parts around the world to which God had scattered them, even from the farthest places ("beyond the seas of Cush"), into the New Israel to form a faithful congregation of Christians. ( We take "Cush" to synecdochically represent all of Africa and the "seas" to represent the seas beyond Africa, so that "beyond the seas of Cush" represents the remotest places from Israel - cf Isa. 18:1).



Chapter 3 11 On that day you will no longer be put to shame, for you will no longer rebel against me. I will remove from you your arrogant boasters. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. 12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord. 13a They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths.

The New Israel ("holy hill") will never again be punished ("put to shame") for its sins, as it has been in the past. For it will be purged of its arrogant, deceitful, unfaithful people during the time of Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:6,7), and the remnant will be meek, humble (cf. Matt. 5:5), honest and righteous.



Chapter 3 13b They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.” 14 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!

This righteous remnant will live in peace and calm during the Millennial Reign, under God's protection (see also Jeremiah 30:10). The people of the New Israel ("Daughter Zion/Jerusalem") will sing and shout for joy at their blessings (see also Jeremiah 30:19).



Subunit A2: The Beast army is defeated (3:15-17)

Chapter 3 15 The Lord has taken away your adversary, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17a The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.

The people of Israel ("Jerusalem", "Zion") are to rejoice, for God has defeated their enemies, particularly the Beast army (Ezekiel 39). They need not fear ("hands hang limp"), because God, their King, will be their protector throughout the Millennial Reign (see also Isaiah 31:4-5).



Chapter 3 17b He will take great delight in you; he will love you forever and will rejoice over you with singing.”

God will preserve the Israelites, because He will always love the New Israel - He will no longer need to punish the people as He had in the past. He will delight in them and He will sing over the Israelites with blissful joy (see also Isaiah 62:4,5).



Chiasmus 2: The Israelites are gathered in the New Israel and the nation is restored

The passage below in 3:18-20 is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 3:18-19a Israel is restored: the wicked are destroyed
    X 3:19b-20a The Israelites are gathered in the New Israel
A2 3:20b Israel is restored: the righteous are honoured

Subunit A1: Israel is restored: the wicked are destroyed (3:18-19a)

Chapter 3 18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.

At the start of the Millennial Reign, most of the Israelites turn away from their pagan religions, for when God opens their hearts to Himself, their idolatry becomes a matter of shame to them ("burden", "reproach"). The few Israelites who do not reject their pagan religion, as indicated by their mourning the loss of pagan festivals, are killed at the time of Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:6,7).



Chapter 3 19a At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you.

God will punish those who oppressed the Israelites during the reign of the Beast (for example, the people of the organizations known as "Tyre, Sidon and the regions of Philistia" - see Joel 3:2b-8)



Pivot X: The Israelites are gathered in the New Israel (3:19b-20a)

Chapter 3 19b I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. 20a At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.

God will gather the scattered Israelites from around the world into the New Israel. Many of them had been ill-treated during the reign of the Beast, but now their shame will be replaced with praise and honour (see also Jeremiah 31:8-10). Under the metaphor of the Israelites as a flock of sheep, the word "lame" in vs 19 refers to the weak and suffering, those that need help.



Subunit A2: Israel is restored: the righteous are honoured (3:20b)

Chapter 3 20b I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.

The remnant of the Israelites will be respected and honoured around the world. Their blessings as God's own nation will be restored in a short time ("before your very eyes" indicates a quick transformation) (see also Joel 2:18).



5.3 The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (Ch 1 Vs 3b - Ch 2 Vs 3, Ch 3 Vs 6-7)

This Period is structured as a series of 3 chiasmi. Note that every unit and pivot in these regular chiasmi have has at least one "Day of the Lord" phrase in it.

Chiasmus 1: The idol worshippers of Judah and Jerusalem are destroyed

The passage below in 1:3b-9 is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 1:3b-4 The idol worshippers of Judah will be destroyed
    X 1:5-7a The idol worshippers must repent
A2 1:7b-9 The idol worshippers of Judah will be destroyed

Subunit A1: The idol worshippers of Judah will be destroyed (1:3b-4)

Chapter 1 3b "I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—the idols of the wicked—when I destroy all the people on the face of the land.” declares the Lord. 4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests."

God used the Roman army to destroy (He "stretched out His hand") all the people in the land of Judea. One of the primary reasons for this punishment was that many of the Judahites worshipped other gods (see also Isaiah 1:4). So at this time, God destroys all the idols of these pagan gods in Judea; these idols take many forms, for instance, idols in the form of birds and fish, and those used in the worship of Baal. God also kills the wicked Judahites who acted as priests of these pagan gods; he destroys them so completely that even their names will not be remembered.



Pivot X: The idol worshippers must repent (1:5-7a)

Chapter 1 5 Those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the Lord and who also swear by Molek, 6 those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him, 7a be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near.

The Lord God will punish the Judahites who worship Satanic gods like Baal and Moloch - the 'starry host' refers to fallen angels that are worshipped as gods (Deut. 17:3, 4:19, Acts 7:42). Three categories of idol-worshipping Judahites are mentioned here: some privately worship other gods from the rooftops (cf. Jer. 19:13) while pretending to be adherents of Judaism; some openly worship ("swear by") both God and other demon gods; and some have turned away from God completely (see also Zech. 13:1-7 in [6]).

All of them must sincerely repent and turn back completely to their God ("be silent before the Lord"), failing which they will be killed in the "Day of the Lord". The "Day of the Lord" in this Period, one of the 3 "Days of the Lord" of Joel, refers to this time of extreme punishment for the Judahites - the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the slaughter of its people (around Jul.-Sep. 70AD).



Subunit A2: The idol worshippers of Judah will be destroyed (1:7b-9)

Chapter 1 7b The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.

The Judahite nation had been prepared as a "sacrifice", and the Romans had been "consecrated" and "invited" as executioners - God had made a covenant that enabled them to destroy the Judahites (Dan 9:27). ( See more details on this Period in our parse of the "70 Weeks of Daniel" [2].)



Chapter 1 8 “On the day of the Lord’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes.

The leadership and the "king's sons" (probably the Herodians, members of the Herodian royal family and its supporters - see also Mark 3:6, 12:13) have been singled out for punishment, as we have seen in other parses (like Isaiah 2-4 [3]). The leadership of that time were the chief priests and other religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians) who had led the people astray with their false doctrines. The Herodians were Hellenistic Jews, a Jewish sect that sought to corrupt Judaism with Greek culture and religion; they showed their affinity for heathen ways by wearing foreign clothes (see also 1 Maccabees 1:13-15).



Chapter 1 9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.

God will punish Dagon's worshippers, those who avoid stepping on the threshold because that idol had fallen on the threshold (1 Samuel 5:4), and other worshippers of demon gods. He will punish those who fill the temples of their gods with the proceeds of violence and deceit.



Chiasmus 2: Jerusalem is destroyed on the "Day of the Lord"

The passage below in 1:10-16 is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 1:10-11 The beginning of the Roman attack on Jerusalem
    X 1:12-14a The end of the Roman assault on Jerusalem
A2 1:14b-16 The beginning of the Roman attack on Jerusalem

Subunit A1: The beginning of the Roman attack on Jerusalem (1:10-11)

Chapter 1 10 “On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. 11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who handle money will be destroyed.

This subunit details the Romans' initial breach of the outer city walls of Jerusalem - the beginning of the end of Jerusalem. A loud crash was heard when the Romans broke through the northern outer walls (the Third Wall, founded by Herod Agrippa I) at the "hills" of the north-western quadrant of the city. At the breach of the outer wall, a cry goes up along the northern inner walls (Second North Wall) of the city - from the Fish Gate (in the north-east quadrant) and the Second Quarter (or "New Quarter" in the north-west quadrant).

After breaching the outer wall, the Romans made their way through the valley (the word translated "market district" can also be rendered "hollow place") between the hills of the North that leads from the Third Wall to the Second Wall. The merchants living in this valley were the first in Jerusalem to be wiped out.



Pivot X: The end of the Roman assault on Jerusalem (1:12-14a)

Chapter 1 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’
13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.” 14a The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly.

This pivot details the closing stages of this "Day of the Lord", the destruction of Jerusalem; for the Romans, acting as God's arm, made sure that no one in the city survived. The wicked Judahites had become complacent in their wealth and power, thinking they were secure, like wine on the dregs that is usually let be (cf. Jer. 48:11). But no one was spared in this slaughter, and the wicked Judahites of the time did not get to enjoy the fruits of their labour ("Though they build houses, they will not live in them..."). According to Josephus, in a city of 1.1 million, 1 million Judahites were killed and 100,000 taken captive.



Subunit A2: The beginning of the Roman attack on Jerusalem (1:14b-16)

Chapter 1 14b The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. 15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortifications and against the corner towers.

The Romans, after laying siege to Jerusalem for a few months, breached the city walls in the summer of 70AD ("battle cry against the fortifications"), marking the beginning of this "Day of the Lord" (around Jul.-Sep. 70AD) (see also Joel 1:15). This subunit, that continues from the corresponding subunit A1, describes the day (the literal day) on which the outer wall of Jerusalem was breached. For the Romans, it was day of battle cries against the fortifications and corner towers, and for the Judahites, it was a day of bitterness, physical suffering, loss, and mental anguish ("darkness and gloom", "clouds and blackness").



Chiasmus 3: The righteous are saved from the Roman slaughter

The passage below in 1:17-18, 2:1-3, 3:6-7 is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 1:17-18 Judea and its people will be destroyed
    X 2:1-3 Those who seek righteousness will be spared
A2 3:6-7 Judea and its people will be destroyed

Subunit A1: Judea and its people will be destroyed (1:17-18)

Chapter 1 17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” In the fire of his jealousy the whole land will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the land.

God, in His great wrath, will punish the Judahites, and He will bring on them great distress, confusion ("grope around like blind men") and a cruel massacre ("Their blood will be poured out like dust..."). The wealthy among the Judahites might have tried to pay off the Roman soldiers with their silver and gold, but the Romans were not interested in sparing anyone (see also Isaiah 13:17).



Pivot X: Those who seek righteousness will be spared (2:1-3)

Chapter 2 1 Sift yourselves, Sift yourselves you shameful people, 2 before the decree takes effect, before time flies away like windblown chaff, before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord’s wrath comes upon you.

In His anger at their wickedness, God decrees the desolation of Judea and Jerusalem and executes it through a covenant with the Romans (see Daniel 9:26,27 in [2]). The Judahites are to 'sift themselves' or self-select by making a decision regarding Christ before that decree comes into effect - only those that believe in Christ will be spared.



Chapter 2 3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.

Those that believe in Christ and humbly heed his words that lead to righteousness are spared a cruel death - they take Jesus' advice to flee to the mountains and are sheltered from the Roman massacre (Matt. 24:15-19). The word 'perhaps' does not indicate doubt that the true believer will be saved from death, rather, we take it to mean, "perhaps some of you will sincerely turn to Christ and be sheltered".



Subunit A2: Judea and its people will be destroyed (3:6-7)

Chapter 3 6 “I have destroyed nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are laid waste; they are deserted and empty. 7 Of Jerusalem I thought, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her place of refuge would not be destroyed, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.

God had utterly ruined many nations and cities for their sins (as in Period 1). He hoped to spare His city, Jerusalem, this fate, but most of the Judahites would not mend their ways (see also Matt. 23:37).




Conclusion

This paper is a chiastic reconstruction of the text which shows that the passage contains three interwoven prophetic passages. The prophecy, after the reconstruction, seems to imply that the defeat of nations in all directions of the compass around Israel at the time of Nebuchadnezzar is a type of the defeat of Israel's enemies around the world at the start of Christ's Millennial Reign.



References

[1] A Definition of Cryptochiasmus
[2] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel"
[3] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Isaiah 2-4
[4] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Joel
[5] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Isaiah 2-4
[6] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Zechariah 12-14
[7] A Commentary on Ezekiel 39
[8] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Revelation 4-22:Part 2





* First version published on 3 March 2020.