Christianity 201

November 21, 2014

Changed to a Pure Speech

NIV Zeph. 3:8 Therefore wait for me,”
    declares the Lord,
    “for the day I will stand up to testify.
I have decided to assemble the nations,
    to gather the kingdoms
and to pour out my wrath on them—
    all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed
    by the fire of my jealous anger.

“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.

Recently, I encountered verse nine in the ESV and I was especially struck by the wording of the first line, underlined below:

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.

Some other translations offer:

  • For then [changing their impure language] I will give to the people a clear and pure speech from pure lips (AMP)
  • I will purify each language
    and make those languages
        acceptable for praising me.  (CEV)
  • In the end I will turn things around for the people.
        I’ll give them a language undistorted, unpolluted,
    Words to address God in worship
        and, united, to serve me… (The Message)
  • Know for sure that I will then enable
    the nations to give me acceptable praise.  (NET)
  •  And then I will transform the words spoken by the nations to pure words,
            and the people will finally hear My truth.
        Then all the people will be able to pray to and serve the Eternal One,
            standing together as part of the same people. (The Voice)

The Reformation Study Bible considers this phrase:

To purify the lips is either to cleanse from sin in general

Is. 6:5  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

or to remove the names of foreign gods from the lips of a worshiper

Hos. 2:17  For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.

One of the resources on BibleGateway.com is the Asbury Bible Commentary which covers verses 9-20.

Zephaniah closes with a joyful note of redemption. Jerusalem, the city of God, will be cleansed from the arrogant so that Yahweh himself might dwell among his people. They also will be cleansed so that their language and their deeds might reflect the moral nature of the God they serve. With Yahweh, the Mighty Warrior, dwelling among them, the people will not fear their enemies but will rejoice in the care he will provide.

There is no distinctive break between vv. 8 and 9. They are linked by the concept of fire, which on the one hand consumes the world but on the other purifies God’s people. The prophet, in vv. 9 and 10, draws upon the imagery of the Tower of Babel incident (Ge 11:1-9) to portray a once-scattered but soon to be united people whose lips (speech) have been purified. This reestablished community will be characterized by worship, the natural activity of a redeemed people.

The theme of purification continues in v. 11 in that the proud will be removed from their midst. The holy habitation of God (“holy hill”) is in the midst of the meek and humble (v. 12). He will not dwell with the arrogant but must first humble and purify the people of all that is contrary to his nature. Because he will purify them of their sin and dwell among his people Israel, they will be free from wrong, lies, and deceit (v. 13) The ethical character of the people of God will reflect the nature of Yahweh himself. Thus these verses teach the normative paradigm of redemption: Yahweh removes sin and arrogance from the midst of his people and then comes to occupy that vacated throne of values, filling it with his holy presence and shaping their lives to conform to his own righteous nature.

In a brief hymn of salvation (vv. 14-17), the people of God are summoned to rejoice in the presence of Yahweh. The recurring word qirbek, “your midst” (NIV “within you,” v. 12; “with you,” vv. 15, 17), contains the central theological idea of the passage, Yahweh dwells among his people. They may rejoice and not be afraid, for they will be protected from any harm. Yahweh will be their God, a warrior of salvation. His people will rest securely in his covenantal love (v. 17).

The final verses of the book (vv. 18-20) are spoken by Yahweh himself as he promises to reverse the fortunes of his people who must go through the destruction measured out to the nations in the Day of Yahweh. For them judgment becomes remedial, not final. Strong emphasis lies in the repeated “I will.” All that they will gain—relief from burdens, salvation from oppression, return from exile, honor and praise—will be due to the direct action of Yahweh. Salvation belongs to him alone.

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