The Problem of Assyria
An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (1200 word vocabulary) on the Books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah
Translators could also find the translated Bible text useful, as the writer translated from the Hebrew text.
This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.
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.
About the problem of Assyria
Assyria was a country to the north and east of Israel. For many years, it ruled most of the world. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah lived then. In 722 *B.C. the *Assyrians destroyed Israel. *B.C. means ‘years Before Christ came to the earth’. Israel was a country where 9 or 10 of the tribes (very large families) of the *Jews lived. Judah was a country to the south of Israel. It had two or three *tribes in it: Judah, Benjamin and perhaps Simeon. Jerusalem was the capital of Judah.
The *Assyrians destroyed Israel. The *Assyrians took the people who lived in Israel away to Assyria. They did not take people away from Judah. But soon the *Assyrians started to tell people in Judah what they must do. Sargon the Second and Sennacherib were kings of Assyria. They made people in Judah pay money to Assyria. After that, Judah was not really a free country. Its people were the servants of Assyria.
The *Assyrians were very cruel people. Graham Scroggie tells us some of the things that they did. (He tells us in his book, The Unfolding Drama of Redemption.) They threw away the dead bodies of soldiers. They threw them like dirt. They put lots of human heads together on the ground. They burnt the sons and daughters of their enemies. They burnt their enemies’ cities. They killed many people. The ground was red with blood. They put men on to sticks that had sharp points. They threw dead bodies on to the mountains and into the rivers. The water in the rivers could not move! They cut the hands from kings. They fixed them to walls. They left their bodies for animals to eat. They did many other bad things also.
After about 750 *B.C. Nineveh became the capital of Assyria. It was on the east side of the River Tigris. There was a wall round it. The wall was nearly 100 kilometres long and nearly 40 metres high. It was very wide. Three horses and their chariots could drive together on it. A chariot was a special box without a front or a lid. Soldiers rode in them and horses pulled them. 600 000 people lived in Nineveh. They grew food inside the walls of the city. It fed all the people. The king lived in a big house called a palace. It was very, very nice. Nineveh had beautiful gardens. The gardens had rare plants and animals. The word ‘rare’ means ‘hard to find’. Foreign slaves built all this! They built *temples, *palaces, libraries. They built many other great buildings. They met to *praise their gods in the *temples. (They told their gods that they were great.)
People thought that Assyria was very strong. They thought that nobody could destroy it. They thought that nobody would beat Assyria. They thought that nobody would destroy Nineveh! But Assyria had problems. In 626 *B.C. one of their strongest kings died. Then there were only weak kings. Two other countries became very strong. They were the Scythians and the *Babylonians. We do not know much about the Scythians. The *Babylonians destroyed Nineveh in 612 *B.C.
We want to think about how Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah come into this story.
They were prophets. They lived about 625 *B.C. A prophet tells us what God is thinking. He tells us what God will do. Bible students think that Nahum came first. He said that God would send someone to destroy Nineveh. People who *trusted God would be safe, he said. ‘*Trusted God’ means ‘believed that God would help them’. He probably said this between 660 and 620 *B.C. Then came Zephaniah, about 630 *B.C. He said that the *Assyrian Empire would soon finish. An empire was all the countries that a king ruled. God would save people that *trusted in him, Zephaniah said. Then came Habakkuk. This was about 615 *B.C. The *Babylonians (also called the Chaldeans) would destroy Assyria. Habakkuk said that. But he also said something very important. It is in the *New Testament too. God’s people would live. But they had to *trust in God.
Not all Bible students agree with the dates above. But most students agree on this: that these three *prophets lived about 650 – 600 *B.C.
In these translations, words in brackets … (…..) … are not in the *Hebrew Bible. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah wrote their books in the *Hebrew language. Words with a *star by them are in the Word List at the end. The notes explain some of these words too.
*Prophet of *Comfort
‘*Comfort them, *comfort my people’, says the *LORD (Isaiah 40:1). (The word ‘comfort’ means ‘stop them hurting and make them strong’. ‘*LORD’ is a special word for God. Look below at note on Nahum 1:2. The name Nahum means ‘*comfort’.)
Nahum may be short for ‘Nahumiah’. This means ‘God will *comfort’ in the *Hebrew language. Nahum wrote his book in the *Hebrew language. Nahum came from Elkosh. We do not know where this was. There is a ‘Capernaum’ in Galilee in the *New Testament. This means ‘City of Nahum’. But Bible students do not think that this was Nahum’s Elkosh. They think that Elkosh was nearer to Jerusalem. Nahum ‘saw’ these words, or things; they did not come from his mind. They came from God. Here, ‘saw’ means that God told him these words. We do not know how God did it.
‘Serious words’ (Nahum 1:1) means that they are important words and sad words. Some translations call them ‘burdens’. A burden is something heavy that you carry. But Nahum’s burden was in his mind. It was sad words. He had to say sad words about Assyria. The *Assyrians were *wicked people. ‘*Wicked’ means ‘very, very bad’. God was going to destroy Assyria. This was bad news for Assyria but it was good news for Assyria’s enemies. That included Judah, where Nahum lived. It is good news for us also. God will always destroy *wicked countries. We might have to wait a long time but he will do it.
The word ‘book’ (Nahum 1:1) may mean this: They were words that the people read aloud. They were like the words of a *play. Several people say words aloud to tell a story. That is a play. Perhaps the people said the words in the *temple at Jerusalem. God’s people met to *praise him at the temple.
Look at Nahum 3:2-3. These are only words that Nahum chose to make a nice sound. This translation does not do this all through, only in 3:2-3. Nahum made nice sounds. This special use of words is called poetry. The sounds showed people what would happen. He often did this in his book. We can hear it in 3:2-3.
Some Bible students think that Nahum lived at the time of Isaiah. These Bible students say that Sennacherib attacked Judah about 700 *B.C. They say that Nahum 1:11-12 describes this. 2 Kings chapters 18 to 19 tell us about this. But the writer of this book believes that Nahum lived about 50 years after Isaiah, about 650 *B.C.
Verse 2 ‘*LORD’ is a special word in the Bible. It translates the *Hebrew word ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’. *LORD is the *Covenant Name of God. A covenant is when two or more people agree. Here the covenant is between God and the people in Judah and Israel. God agreed to make his people safe if they obeyed him. But they did not obey him. So God is angry. So he let Assyria’s soldiers punish Judah and Israel’s people. Punish means ‘hurt them because they did wrong things’. But now God decided to punish Assyria because they did it! This is because he is a *jealous God. This means that he still loves Judah. *LORD and *Lord translate different *Hebrew words. ‘*Lord’ here translates the *Hebrew word ‘*baal’. It means ‘master’. Often in the *Old Testament ‘*Baal’ is the name of a false god. They believed that *Baal rode on the clouds. Another name for him was ‘cloud-rider’. The true God is the true cloud-rider, not a false god! Nahum makes this clear. So he calls the one true God ‘*Baal’!
Verse 3 God rides in the wind and the storm. This happens in many places in the Bible. A good example is Psalm 18. Several psalms describe God as like a storm.
Verse 4 God makes everything that is near him dry: the sea, the rivers and even the land. Bashan, Carmel and Lebanon are places near to Judah. It is so dry there that flowers will not grow!
Verse 5 The mountains are *shaking. This is an *earthquake. Then the ground *shakes and the buildings on it fall over. ‘Shake’ means ‘move very fast from one side to another many times’. The difference between the earth and the world in the *Hebrew language is this: The earth is everywhere. But the world is only that part of the earth where people live. A big earthquake destroys everything!
Verse 6 God is sometimes like a *volcano that shoots out rocks and fire. A volcano is a mountain that shoots out rocks and fire.
Verse 7 This verse is very important. It tells us about the time when all these bad things will happen. At that time, God will make everyone who *trusts him safe. Here it probably means that God will help his people, the *Jews. A castle is a strong building that keeps people safe.
Verse 8 ‘Its place’ is a problem. It probably means ‘Nineveh’, the place that is the capital of Assyria. But the *Greek *Old Testament says that it means any city where the people fight against God. The *Jews translated their Bible from *Hebrew into *Greek in about 200 *B.C.
Verses 2-8 are a psalm (a song with music). It tells us how great God is. It is like a picture of God who is doing something. That picture includes storms, *earthquakes and *volcanoes that shoot out fire! They are pictures to show that God is angry. He is angry with his enemies. He is not angry with anyone who *trusts in him. This is still true today.
Verse 9 In these verses, God is talking to someone. We must decide who it is. The *Hebrew Bible does not say. Sometimes it is people in Nineveh (or the King of Nineveh); and sometimes it is people in Judah. In verse 9, it is the people in Nineveh. Nahum is very clever here. He uses words from Assyria itself. They said, ‘God does not say things twice.’ But Nahum changes it to: ‘Trouble will not come a second time.’ God means ‘trouble’ to the *Assyrians. This means that God will destroy Assyria. God will not have to destroy them again!
Verse 10 Here are some pictures. The *Assyrians try to run away. But, it will be as if bushes had caught them. Or they will not be able to run because they are drunks. *Wine has alcohol in it. And something will eat them as it would eat dry leaves. The Bible does not say what will eat them. Our translation suggests that it might be fire. So it translates the *Hebrew word ‘eat’ as ‘burn’.
Verse 12 ‘Many (of them)’ probably includes people from other countries that fight with the *Assyrians. ‘Punish you’ means ‘hurt you because you did wrong things’.
Verse 13 The words Nineveh and Judah are not in the *Hebrew Bible in this verse.
Verse 14 The word ‘you’ probably means the King of Assyria. He would have no children and no gods. He would not decide where his people would bury him. God would decide this. Usually kings decided for themselves where their people would bury them. Often they were very special places, like the pyramids (special buildings) where they buried *Egyptian kings. Images and idols are false gods.
In the *Hebrew Bible, verse 15 starts chapter 2 of Nahum. Here, Nahum does use the name Judah. He tells them to have their *festivals. They were special times in the *Jews’ *religion. They were like parties. The *Jews *praised God and they enjoyed good food and *wine. They sang and they danced. But think about why Nahum does not speak about Judah and Nineveh in verses 9 to 14. It is because these verses are always true. It does not matter where the bad country is. And it does not matter when it happens. But God will decide when he will become angry! Think about ‘the bad people will never attack you again’. It means the *Assyrians. People from other countries did attack Judah. For example, people from Babylon did in 586 *B.C., only a few years later. But the *Assyrians, the ‘bad people’, never attacked Judah after 612 *B.C.
In English Bibles, verse 15 finishes chapter 1 of Nahum. But in *Hebrew Bibles, it starts chapter 2. Also, many Bible students agree that Nahum 2:2 should follow Nahum 1:15. So we put it like this. But it means that verse 15 comes twice! The two verses belong together. Nahum 1:9-14 is about Nineveh. It tells us what God will do to it. Nahum 2:1 and 2:3-10 describe an army that is beating Nineveh’s people. But Nahum 1:15 and 2:2 are about God’s people. They are not about Nineveh. But Nineveh is in these verses. In verse 15, ‘the bad people’ are the people from Nineveh. The people that wasted Judah were the people from Nineveh, the *Assyrians. For nearly a century, the *Assyrians made the people in Judah obey the King of Nineveh. Judah’s people could not do what they wanted to do. They could not have all their festivals (special times), in their *religion. But now someone will bring good news. There will be no war. God will destroy their enemy. Judah’s people will be free again to have their *festivals. The *Assyrians will not stop them. Jacob and Israel will be good places again! The *Assyrians destroyed Israel in 722 *B.C. Nahum is writing 100 years later. Only Judah remains. But Nahum hopes that both countries will be beautiful places again. Christians believe that it will not happen yet. Probably it will not happen until Jesus returns to the earth. The vines were plants. Fruit called grapes grew on them. They made *wine from the grapes. ‘Them’ in Nahum 2:2 is all the people in Israel and Judah.
Verses 1-10 (except verse 2) describe the end of Nineveh in 612 *B.C. But Nahum wrote the verses before that. The book does not describe Nahum as a *prophet. But he was a *prophet. He told people what God thought. And he told people what God would do. These verses might confuse us. We must know whom they are about. That is why our translation puts extra words in brackets like this (…..). Not all Bible students agree, but this is a good way to make the meaning clear. So we have done it.
Verse 1 There is danger to Nineveh. An enemy will attack it, so its soldiers must be ready.
Verses 3-4 These verses describe the enemy. The enemy is the armies of Babylon. They had red *shields and clothes. Scarlet is a colour like red. Soldiers made themselves safe with *shields. *Spears were long sticks with points on the end. They could kill an enemy. The soldiers rode in *chariots. Chariots were special boxes without a front or a lid. Horses pulled them.
Verse 5 The King of Nineveh sends for his best soldiers. They run to his *palace, but many fall on the way. The *Hebrew Bible says ‘they rush to her wall’. We think that ‘her’ means the palace (special house) where the King of Nineveh lived. But maybe it was the *temple where their female god was. There were many gods and female gods in the *temple at Nineveh also. One was called Ishtar, or Huzzab. The *Assyrians thought that she was female god of the whole world. They thought that she was also female god of love.
Verse 6 They had built Nineveh next to a river. The river ran into the River Tigris. At this time, the rivers were very full with rain. The full rivers knocked down part of the city wall of Nineveh. Nahum had said that this would happen. He said, ‘The gates of the rivers are open wide.’ It means that the water in the rivers made gates (or holes). The gates were in the walls of the city. *Babylonian soldiers came in through these gates. The waters also knocked down buildings, the *palace of the King of Nineveh, for example.
Verse 7 So the *Babylonians carried away Ishtar, or Huzzab. Her female slaves cried and they were very sad. They made noises like birds called doves.
Verse 8 The people in Nineveh run away as water runs away. The *Babylonians shout ‘Stop!’ but nobody does stop! The *Assyrians all run away.
Verses 9-10 ‘Take (or rob) (their) *silver (a valuable metal like gold). Take (their) gold (their valuable things)’, says the *prophet. So they robbed it. ‘Treasure’ is ‘a very valuable thing’. ‘It’ means the capital of Assyria, called Nineveh. This frightened the *Assyrians. Remember that Nahum spoke the *Hebrew language. In the *Hebrew Bible there are only three words at the start of verse 10. The verse should start, ‘Robbed, *stolen, taken’. This gives us an idea about the *Hebrew *poetry in Nahum. Our English translation has not much poetry in it. Poetry is a special way to use words. ‘Stolen’ is another word for ‘robbed’. ‘Melt’ means ‘lose its shape’. Butter does this when it gets hot. Here it means that everybody was afraid.
Verses 11-13 are a ‘taunt song’. This means that the *prophet laughs at Assyria with these words. Assyria is the *lion in the song. A *lion is like a very large wild cat. The place where he slept has gone. The place where young *lions fed has gone. Once that place was Nineveh and Assyria. Now it is nowhere! A lioness is a female *lion. The *lions and lionesses and the baby *lions have gone because Nineveh and Assyria have gone. Babylon has destroyed them! Verse 12 tells us what Assyria’s soldiers were like. They tore and killed. They were very cruel to the people that they beat. Nahum says, ‘He fills these holes in the ground with bodies that he has torn.’ He means that Assyria’s soldiers took people away from their own countries. Verse 12 says ‘he’ because it tells us about a male *lion. A sword is a long, sharp knife that soldiers use. Some people translate ‘the *LORD of Everything’ as ‘the LORD of hosts’. It is a name for God. It means that he is King of everything. He is King of everything that we can see. And he is King of everything that we cannot see. ‘Hosts’ is a word for many people. It also means God’s armies in heaven. Heaven is where he lives.
In verses 1-7, Nahum curses the *Assyrians. ‘Curse somebody’ means ‘hope that bad things will happen to somebody’. He says that trouble will come because of these things:
· They killed people, (blood).
· They said things that were not true, (lies).
· They took things from people, (rob).
Verses 2-3 Nahum describes the war that will happen. His words here make sounds like what will happen:
· the ‘noise’ (sharp sound) of a *whip,
· the ‘rattle’ (sound of wood when it hits wood) of *chariot *wheels,
· the ‘gallop’ of horses (sound of their feet on the ground),
· the ‘scream’ (like someone who is crying) of the *chariots.
People use a *whip to hit other people with. A *chariot was a special box without a front or a lid. Soldiers rode in them. Horses pulled them. *Chariots had *wheels that went round and round. An injury is where someone has hurt you, here probably with a *sword. There will be dead bodies everywhere. Note that these words do not say anything. They sound like something! Say them fast and loud. Make them sound like war!
Verse 4 Nahum gives the reason. Nineveh is like a harlot. A harlot is a woman that has sex with a man for money. Nahum means this as a picture. People pay money to Nineveh (Assyria). So the *Assyrians do not hurt or kill them. But he also says that Nineveh’s people use *magic. God’s rules do not let us do *magic. This means to let bad *spirits do things for us and by us.
Verses 5-7 God says ‘I am against you.’ He will take Nineveh’s clothes away. This again is a picture. It means that people will see Nineveh’s people and the *Assyrians as they really are. They are very, very bad. ‘*Scorn’ is ‘to laugh in a way that is not kind’.
Verses 8-10 tell us about the end of Thebes. Thebes was a city in Egypt. The *Assyrians destroyed it in 663 *B.C. It (Thebes) had the River Nile to make it safe. It had countries like Put and Libya to help it. But the *Assyrians still destroyed Egypt.
Verses 11-19 tell Assyria’s people that Assyria will be like Egypt. Someone will destroy Assyria.
Verses 11-13 contain three pictures:
1) Nineveh will be like a woman who is drunk. She will run away and hide.
2) Nineveh will be like a fig-tree when its figs are ready for you to eat. Figs are fruits. When someone *shook the tree, those figs fell off. Assyria will fall when someone *shakes the tree. This means ‘attacks it’.
3) Nineveh’s soldiers will be like women. This means that they will not be as strong as men. So its enemies will destroy Nineveh.
Again Nahum tells the people in Nineveh to prepare themselves for the enemy to attack.
Verse 14 Nahum tells Nineveh’s people to:
a) make sure that there is enough water in the city;
b) make the buildings strong. This might mean that they have to get more cement from the ground. Cement fixes the stones together in a building.
Verses 15-19 Here are *grasshoppers and *locusts. *Locusts are big *grasshoppers. Millions of them flew into Bible countries. They ate everything green. They left nothing for the people to eat. Nahum tells the *Assyrians to make their numbers grow like these *grasshoppers. But someone will still kill them. They can have as many people with shops as there are stars. Someone will still kill them. The leaders of Assyria will give no help. When trouble comes, nobody will find them. They will fly away like *locusts on a hot day! To ‘clap’ is to ‘hit your hands together so that they make a noise’.
1. If you can, find a map. Look for the places that Nahum wrote about.
2. Make a list of all the dates in the notes at the beginning of each one of these three books.
3. Read the beginning of Psalm 18 and Nahum 1:3-7. Are they like each other?
4. Say some of the verses aloud, like Nahum 3:2-3.
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)
Zephaniah lived about 600 years *B.C. (*B.C. means ‘years Before Christ came to the earth’.) 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:
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 *B.C. 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. There is more about Assyria in the notes at the beginning of Nahum in this set of books.
Zephaniah’s book is a short one. 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!
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 had his *priests also. 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’. In 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.
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 They made trumpets from the hard bones that grew on the heads of cows and goats. 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 In this verse, there is an important word from the Book of Isaiah. It is the word *jealousy. It 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 *B.C. They were in prison in Babylon, or ‘in captivity’ until 536 *B.C.
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. We believe that Sodom and Gomorrah are under the salt sea. We call it the Dead Sea. 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 *B.C. 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 the foreign army from Persia 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 ‘oooo’ 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 believed that God lived in the *Temple. So that made the place like God. Because God was *holy (very, very good) the place was *holy too.
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 will live among his people as King of Israel, verse 15. Because he is so happy, he will dance. And he will shout (or sing) for his people, (verse 17). ‘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 *B.C.
· 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!’
Do Not Be Afraid
Jesus said, ‘You will hear about wars and stories about wars. Be sure that this does not frighten you.’ (Matthew 24:6)
Habakkuk lived about 600 years B.C. (B.C. means ‘years Before Christ came to the earth’.) He lived in the country called Judah. There is a list of the kings of Judah in the notes at the beginning of Zephaniah in this set of books.
The country that ruled that part of the world until 612 *B.C. was Assyria. In 612 *B.C. a country called Babylon beat Assyria. Then the *Babylonians ruled that part of the world. Both the *Assyrians and the *Babylonians loved and obeyed false gods. Habakkuk thought that the king and other leaders of the people of Judah did not rule well. Many leaders did bad things and nothing could stop them. These leaders did very cruel things to the people in Judah. We call this ‘oppression’. These leaders did not obey the covenant that they had with God. A covenant is when two people or groups agree. Here the two are God and the people in Judah. God said that wanted to be kind to Judah’s people. They should love him and they should obey him. If they did that, he would be kind to them. But the leaders did not love and obey God. So, God said that he would punish Judah’s people. Punish means ‘hurt someone when they do something wrong’.
God chose the *Babylonians to *punish the leaders of Judah. The trouble was that they *punished the people in Judah with the leaders. Since 625 *B.C. Babylon had become a powerful country. They destroyed many countries and, in 612 *B.C., they destroyed Assyria. Then they destroyed Egypt in 605 *B.C. Later, in 586 *B.C., they destroyed Judah also. There is more about Assyria in the notes at the beginning of Nahum in this set of books.
Habakkuk did not understand this. He knew that someone must *punish Judah. But he did not know why it should be the *Babylonians. The *Babylonians were very bad and cruel people. The *Babylonians loved and obeyed false gods. In his book, Habakkuk talks to God:
· in chapter 1 he asks God a question. Would God ever answer when Habakkuk prayed to God?
· in chapter 2 he waits for God’s answer. God says that he will *punish the *Babylonians later. The whole world would see what God would do.
· in chapter 3 Habakkuk says that he believes that God will do this. God will *punish the *Babylonians and he will make Judah safe.
In this translation, words in brackets … (…..) … are not in the *Hebrew Bible. Habakkuk wrote his book in the *Hebrew language.
We know very little about Habakkuk. The name means ‘he who holds somebody close to him’. Bible students think that he lived about 600 B.C. (B.C. means ‘years Before Christ came to the earth’.)
This was a very important time in the history (or story) of the *Jews. After Kings Saul, David, Solomon and Rehoboam, their country became two countries. The north part was called Israel. The south part was called Judah. About 720 *B.C. the *Assyrians destroyed the north part. This was because Israel’s people did not obey God’s rules. But the south part did not think that this would happen to them. They too did not obey God’s rules. But Habakkuk said that it would happen. He was right. In 586 *B.C. the *Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. They took the people away to Babylon. We call this ‘the *exile’.
Habakkuk had two problems:
1) In Judah, people did not obey God’s rules. Habakkuk did not understand why God did nothing to make them obey him (Habakkuk 1:2-4).
2) God told Habakkuk that he would do something. But Habakkuk thought that this was not possible. He did not understand how God could use *wicked people (like the *Babylonians) to *punish Judah’s people. Judah’s people were not as *wicked as the *Babylonians! (See Habakkuk 1:12-17.)
We still have these problems today. Many countries say that they are Christian. But their people do not live like Christians. When we pray about this, nothing seems to happen. So many people say that God is dead! But God is not dead! He is doing something. If we wait, we will see this. Sometimes he uses people that are not Christians. They can do his work for him. Or he brings good things from the bad things that people do. God still has authority! We must believe it. Even if it does not seem that he has. This is called ‘to live by *faith’. Habakkuk 2:4 says, ‘*righteous people will live by their *faith (in God)’.
This means two things:
· they will continue to believe all through their lives that God will give them help;
· after they die on this earth, they will live with God.
At the end of his book, Habakkuk writes a psalm. A psalm is a song with music. In it, he *praises God. He also says that whatever happens, he will still *praise God. That is the message of Habakkuk to us: Whatever happens, *praise God!
Verses 2-4 The *prophet is writing about what happens in his own country. There is *violence. And the *law cannot do anything to stop it. More than this, ‘*justice becomes turned round’. This means that people can do wrong things. But they make it seem like they are doing good things.
Verse 5-11 The *LORD says that he will do something. He will *punish his people in Judah. But he will use the *Babylonians to do it! This will surprise people like Habakkuk. It will surprise them because the *Babylonians have false gods. They are *wicked people. There is a lot of sand in the *desert. So verse 9 means that they will put a lot of people into prison.
Verse 12 - 2:1 Habakkuk shows his surprise. Surely God cannot use people like the *Babylonians! God is *holy and clean and *righteous! Surely he cannot even look at these *wicked people! The *prophet says that he will watch for the answer. He will stand on something high, like the walls of the city (of Jerusalem) or one of its towers. A tower is a high building.
Verses 2-20 The *LORD says that someone will destroy Babylon. In verse 5 we read, ‘*wine will destroy Babylon’. The Book of Daniel tells us that this really happened, about 70 years later! God may use *wicked people. But he makes sure that someone destroys their country later. Sometimes we see God use *wicked people. Then we must wait for someone to *punish them. It always happens because God has authority! ‘*Sheol and death never have enough’ in verse 5 means that people are always dying.
In this part of the book, we find 5 things that bad people (and bad countries) do:
· they rob other people, verse 6
· they are not honest, verse 9
· they kill people, verse 12
· many people become drunk, verse 15
· they have false gods, verse 18
People that do not obey God still do these things. So God will still *punish them. He may still use *wicked people to do it. But later, he will *punish those *wicked people. If we wait long enough, it will happen! We must be quiet until this happens. That is what verse 20 means.
The book ends with a psalm (a song with music)! Habakkuk may have worked with one of the music groups in the *temple in Jerusalem. He tells them what music to use, and what *musical instruments, (verses 1 and 19). The psalm remembers what God did. He led his people out of Egypt. That was 800 years before Habakkuk. If God did great things then, he can do great things now! (That is still true for us.) The *plagues and *pestilences in verse 5 are what happened to the *Egyptians. This was when they did not obey God. The sea in verses 8 and 10 was the Red Sea. God led his people through it, and they did not even get their feet wet! Verses 6-12 describe a great storm. The ‘leader of the *wicked country’ in verse 13 was Pharaoh, King of Egypt.
All this makes Habakkuk afraid, verse 16. But he says this: Whatever happens he will still *praise the *LORD (verse 17).
He knows that God is still in authority! That is why he can still *praise God. Even when times are bad, he will be like an animal. This animal can climb mountains with no difficulty! The animal is called the deer.
1. If you have a Bible, read Psalm 73. (It is the first Psalm in Book 3 of The Psalms.)
2. When there is war, pray to God about it. Tell him that you still have *faith in him. And look for what God is doing.
anger ~ when someone is angry they have anger.
arrows ~ sharp sticks that people shoot with bows.
as I live ~ (here) because I, God, am alive, it really will happen!
Assyrians ~ these people came from the country called Assyria.
B.C. ~ B.C. 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.
castle ~ a very strong building that soldiers use.
cement ~ material that people use to fasten stones together in buildings.
change ~ make a change to.
chariot ~ soldiers rode in chariots when they went to war; horses pulled the chariots.
clap ~ to hit your open hands together so that they make a noise.
comfort ~ make somebody happy and strong.
covenant ~ when two people or groups make promises to each other.
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’.
deer ~ an animal that looks like a small cow.
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.
earthquake ~ the ground *shakes and buildings fall down.
Egyptians ~ these people came from the country called Egypt.
eschatological ~ about the end of time, when Jesus returns to earth as king.
exile ~ away from your own country.
faith in God ~ to believe that God will give you help and he will make you safe.
festival ~ a special party for music or *religion.
fig ~ a fruit.
Fish Gate ~ a place in Jerusalem.
gallop ~ run like a horse.
glory ~ it shines very much and it makes you important.
grasshopper ~ an insect that jumps.
Greek ~ a language.
harlot ~ a woman that gives sex to men for money.
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.
Holy One ~ a name for God.
hook ~ bit of metal that someone bent, to catch fish.
hoot ~ make a noise like an *owl.
humble ~ humble people do not think that they are very important.
idol ~ a false god.
image ~ a picture or a copy of someone; here, a copy of a false god.
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.
justice ~ when people do what is right.
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.
leopard ~ a very big cat that can run very fast.
lies ~ words that are not true.
lifetime ~ as long as someone lives.
lion ~ a wild animal like a very large cat.
locust ~ a large *grasshopper; locusts eat all the green plants in a place.
LORD ~ a special name for God that only his servants should use.
Lord ~ someone with authority; also a name for God. (It is not the same *Hebrew word as *LORD.)
magic ~ to make strange things happen to surprise people. These things are not usual. Magic is very bad and it is not from God. It is when people cause bad *spirits to do things for them. The *spirits do things that people cannot usually do.
melt ~ lose its shape, as when butter becomes hot.
mercy ~ to be kind to people when you do not have to be kind.
messiah ~ in the *New Testament, Jesus; in the *Old Testament, the king. They caused someone to become king by putting oil on his head. The word messiah is *Hebrew for ‘oil put on’.
musical instrument ~ something that makes music; you may hit it; you may blow in it or touch it.
net ~ bag with which people catch fish.
New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after Christ’s birth.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible, which the writers wrote before Christ’s birth.
owl ~ a big bird that catches food at night.
palace ~ a building where the king lives.
pestilence ~ bad things that are happening (bad weather or when insects attack).
plague ~ when many people become ill.
plan ~ thoughts about what to do.
play ~ story told in a special way.
poetry ~ words used in a special way.
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.
rattle ~ make a noise like bits of wood hit together many times.
raven ~ a big black bird that eats dead bodies.
rebel ~ fight against.
religion ~ way to show God that we love him.
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.
scarlet ~ a colour like red.
scorn ~ to laugh at in a way that is not kind.
Second Quarter ~ a place in Jerusalem.
SELAH ~ a place to pray, or think; or a place to make music.
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.
Sheol ~ where *Old Testament people went when they died.
shield ~ a soldier holds this over himself to stop things that would hit him.
shook ~ past of *shake.
silver ~ a metal of great value, like gold.
spear ~ a long stick with a sharp end.
spirit ~ spirits are alive, but we cannot see them. There are good spirits usually called angels. Bad spirits (also called evil spirits, or demons) do not live in God’s home now, but in the air round us. Satan (the devil) is their leader.
stolen ~ taken or robbed.
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.
treasure ~ something very valuable.
tribe ~ a very large family.
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.
violence ~ to be cruel and to hurt people a lot.
volcano ~ a mountain that sometimes shoots out fire and hot ash.
vulture ~ a big bird that eats dead animals.
waste ~ something that has no value or use that people throw away.
wheel ~ it goes round and round under a car, to make it go.
whip ~ something to hit people with.
wicked ~ very, very bad.
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.
Zion ~ a hill in Jerusalem; sometimes another name for Jerusalem.
© 1997-2007, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words)
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