Intoruction to Tzefania
Tzefania was a prophet during the times of Yoshiah ben Amon (about 50 years before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, at a time when the ten tribes had already been exiled 200 years earlier). He was a student of Chavakuk and a contemporary of the prophets Yirmiya and Chuldah. Indeed, Chazal say that Tzefania prophesied in the Shuls and Batei Midrash, Yirmiya prophesied in the streets, and Chuldah (one of the seven female prophets) prophesied to the women. Many of Tzefania’s prophecies are about ‘Yom Hashem,’ when Hashem will avenge our serving of idols.
Perek 1: Hashem informed Tzefania that He will eliminate every living thing from Eretz Yisrael, whether human or animal (Radak). Idolatry will cease to exist along with their worshippers- even those who serve Hashem with the idols will be destroyed (Rashi). Hashem had called on Nevuchadnetzar’s army to massacre the senior officers, the king’s family, and all of the monarchy. This would disprove the mistaken ideology that Hashem does not punish actions (Radak). The sound of weeping and pain will be heard as the entire Bnei Yisrael will be decimated in punishment for their eagerness in robbing the poor (Radak). Hashem will search by ‘candlelight’ for every wicked person (Radak) and will ensure they do not benefit from their wealth. There will be chaos, the air filled with the sounds of battle cries and horns. Financial resources will have no value in the face of Bavel’s army and Eretz Yisrael will be destroyed.
Perek 2: Tzefania instructed Bnei Yisrael to repent. They should follow in the ways of Hashem and practice righteousness and humility before Hashem implements His “decree” to annihilate them. If we do repent, we will find our enemies’ cities bereft of inhabitants and ripe for conquering (Metzudas David 2:7). Yet, because of our sins, salvation will not come for a long time: we will have to wait for the time when Hashem punishes the nations who oppressed us (Abarbanel). Since Moav and Ammon mocked Bnei Yisrael, they will be wiped out like “Sodom and Ammorah” and Bnei Yisrael will take their spoil and their lands. All the nations will respect Hashem and serve Him. Tzefania revealed that Hashem will also destroy Kush and Ashur and desolate their cities, causing them excruciating suffering; all passerby will question how such a vibrant city became a wasteland.
Perek 3: Tzefania lamented that Yerushalayim ignored their Neviim, relied on foreign support rather than Hashem, and did not learn from Yisrael’s exile (Metzudas David). Both the leaders and judges of Yehuda were heartless and corrupt; the false prophets would speak falsely, while the Kohanim contaminated that which is holy (Radak). Hashem had ‘thought’ that Bnei Yisrael would learn from His harsh punishment of the nations, yet they persisted in their evil ways (Metzudas David) and will therefore ultimately be punished. In the days of Moshiach, Bnei Yisrael will refer only to Hashem as their G-d, even distant nations will bring offerings to the Beis Hamikdash, and Bnei Yisrael will no longer sin (Radak). This will form a Jewish nation devoted to serving Hashem; they will have commercial integrity, speak truthfully, and will subsequently dwell in tranquillity. During the era of Moshiach, Bnei Yisrael’s sins and (therefore) their suffering will be eliminated, causing joyous celebration. Hashem will target Bnei Yisrael’s enemies, will help Bnei Yisrael who are scattered across the globe, and will cause them to be respected by the gentiles (Rashi). He will even transport Bnei Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael, where the Resurrection of the Dead will occur (Metzudas David).