Various translations disagree over whether Zephaniah 3:9's עַמִּ֖ים (amm-im) should be 'people' or 'peoples'. A multitude of nations are mentioned throughout Zephaniah, but apart from this single verse I can't see any evidence for these nations receiving any kind of salvific concern. In essence, this word and verse alone seems to make or break the case for whether Zephaniah's prophecies solely cover the salvation of Judah or have a wider application to the nations.

New International Version

"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.

English Standard Version

“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.

King James Version

For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.

Even the JPS seems to go with 'peoples' in the plural, so this doesn't appear to be a Christianisation of the text, either:

JPS 1917

For then will I turn to the peoples A pure language, That they may all call upon the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one consent.

The NET does something strange and does a full-on change to the word 'nations', probably carrying through the subject of the previous verse:

New English Translation

Know for sure that I will then enable the nations to give me acceptable praise. All of them will invoke the LORD's name when they pray, and will worship him in unison.

What's the best translation of this verse? Are there any textual variants in play here, or are the various translations purely coming out of an ambiguity in the plural at the end of עַמִּ֖ים?


It's "peoples". Note the context provided by the previous verse, Zepahniah 3:8 (NIV), my bolding

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.

I was surprised to see some of the translations for Zephaniah 3:9 that are too literal to be intelligible such as "For then will I turn to the peoples A pure language".

The MT for Zephaniah 3:9

כִּֽי־אָ֛ז אֶהְפֹּ֥ךְ אֶל־עַמִּ֖ים שָׂפָ֣ה בְרוּרָ֑ה לִקְרֹ֤א כֻלָּם֙ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהֹוָ֔ה לְעׇבְד֖וֹ שְׁכֶ֥ם אֶחָֽד

looks to me to mean

After that I will turn to the peoples [in] a clear voice, that all should call in YHWH's name and serve him together.

  • I had trouble deciding if that "context" is really referring to the same subject, or if v8 is supposed to contrast v9. Given the wider context of Zephaniah as a whole, this verse is the only one which is construable as being favourable towards other 'peoples'. Considering the rest of Zephaniah 2 and 3, are you sure that 3:9 is in reference to the nations of v8?
    – Steve Taylor
    Jan 9 '17 at 12:00
  • @SteveTaylor The narrative is, 7 call to Zion to repent, 8 the intent to punish the nations, 9 then to turn to the nations to serve YHVH together, 10 the exiles will be like an offering in far-off lands, 11 the end of haughtiness of Zion, because all of the nations will call on the name of YHWH, not just Israel. This assumes that the plural "mem" in word-final position of עמים is not a copyist error so that 8-9 go together. If the plural "mem" is a copyist error then the reading is "my people" in 9 which would then go together with 10. The כולם (all of them) in 9 argues for keeping the "mem". Jan 9 '17 at 12:35
  • Doesn't the narrative then depend entirely on the translation of v9, though? If v9 is for the people of the City (see 3:1, as per the rest of Zephaniah), doesn't it become: 6) nations to be cut off, 7) call to the City to repent as per v1, 8) punishment of nations as per ch2, 9) restoration of the City, 10) return of exiles, 11) no more pride in the City. If we have a choice between two narratives based on a single word, why choose the one which doesn't match the rest of the text? There's plenty of verses in other prophetic texts of the nations being called, but are you sure it's here too?
    – Steve Taylor
    Jan 9 '17 at 13:00
  • @SteveTaylor v6 is not a prophecy of destruction of nations, it is a warning to Israel, "I have destroyed cities without fire". v9 says nothing about Zion. It provides a foil to v8 by stating that the destruction of the nations is not without purpose, but so they should should call on the Name. It sets the stage for v10 the dispersion of the exiles like a "mincha" offering among the nations. I just read the NIV of chapter 3 on B Gateway, first time I've seen it in English. It's hard to believe that it is from the same Hebrew text that I know esp, v10 and v12. No wonder there are questions. Jan 9 '17 at 13:37
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    @fdb There is a question of both translation and interpretation in Zepahniah 3 that Steve Taylor addresses in the comment stream above. The Rabbinic tradition from which I come interprets 3:9 as "people", i.e. Israel, and brings various grammatical proofs that I find strained, more so in v10. This tradition sees verse 9 as the start of a prophecy of redemption. IMHO the prophecy of destruction continues through v13. The KJV usually follows Rabbinic interpretation closely, to a degree that continually surprises me the more I become familiar with it. Jan 11 '17 at 9:21

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