Zephaniah 1:8

On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials, the king’s sons, and all who are dressed in foreign clothing.

What is wrong with foreign clothing?


4 Answers 4


The Hebrew word rendered 'foreign' in most English translations is rendered 'strange' in older ones, such as the KJV and YLT. Examples:

Numbers 3:4 - "Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord..."

Psalm 144:7 - "...deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood." [This is rendered "From the hand of sons of a stranger" in YLT]

Zephaniah 1:8 - "I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel." [This is rendered "...and on all putting on strange clothing" YLT]

Now, it may seem easier to understand 'foreign' clothing, but when it's seen to apply to more than just clothing, then the focus ceases to be on what people in non-Israelite nations wear, and the emphasis must be placed on what's 'strange' about foreign clothes, children, and fire. What kind of strangeness seems to apply to various foreign things? The New Testament uses the word 'strange' in the sense we automatically take it. Something odd, different, or uncommon, but it also uses it this way in Ephesians 2:18-20 and so gives us the clue. It speaks to those who once were far off from God, and those who were near to God. Those far off were the Gentiles - foreigners from the point of view of those who were near to God - the Israelites. Both groups are told:

"For through [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets..."

That's the clue! Those Old Testament references to strange (i.e. foreign) things were strangers to the covenant God made with Israel. So, 'strange fire' is unauthorised fire, the sort pagan nations would offer in their worship, for the covenant specified specific fire that had to be offered to God. Nadab and Abihu knew what authorised fire involved, but chose to ignore the covenant stipulations and offered their own. Hence, they were struck dead.

Strange, foreign children meant all the offspring of the pagan nations who were not in the covenant as was Israel; indeed, they actively sought to get Israel to break the covenant.

Strange, foreign apparel was the outward identification of pagans who were strangers to the covenant. The Israelites were being warned in Zephaniah 1:8 to be careful to be identified as God's covenant people, even by the clothes they wore, but much more than that - their behaviour, their speech, their keeping of the covenant laws etc. - all of that combined to identify them as God's covenant people. They had to be different from the nations, distinguished by God's calling them out of the world to be "a people for his name", holy and sanctified (Deuteronomy 4:20 & Leviticus 11:44).

To be so identified involved how they worshipped God (the fire of worship), how they respected the covenant (not allowing the nations to turn them from it), and even by outward apparel (avoiding all clothing that had to do with paganism).


Garments and clothing in scripture are often used as a parable/metaphor to describe the state of ones spiritual purity. Dirty or soiled clothes are often used to reflect a person who is corrupted by sin - clean clothes reflect righteousness and spiritual purity.

An example of this would be Exodus 19:14

So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments.

He we see the spiritual cleansing and consecration Moses carried out on the people being physically represented by "washing of clothes".

We see similar with Joshua in Zecharia 3:3

Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.

In addition to clean clothes to show the removal of his sin Joshua is also given "festal" or "rich" clothes. As the verse continues in Zecharia 3:8 a direct prophetic reference is made to Jesus future coming. The festal clothes are a reference to the parable of the "Great Banquet" or "Wedding Supper of the lamb" in the NT. Where the clothes of the attendees are described not just as clean but as being Wedding Clothes or those fit for a celebration. EG: Matt 22:11

With this context in mind the clothing is likely a reflection of the state of the individuals spiritual purity. So the question is what is the intended meaning of the clothes being "foreign" ? If we read the proceeding verses in Zephaniah the Prophet makes clear God is furiously angry with Jerusalem and going to hand out judgement. Specifically for idoltary and worship of foreign Gods.

Zephaniah 3:4

“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,[b] 6 those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

As such I would say the foreign clothes are used to reflect the spiritual idolatory and adultery committed by the people in worshipping foreign Gods. (Baal, Molek and Starry Hosts)


I think this can be cleared by the following (Deuteronomy 22:11):

11 You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together (ESV)

This is, the law says that you just can't mix different types of clothes, this is, from different materials. In light of this, we can just say that G'd has an specific way to treat jewish (the People of Israel).

But according to Zephaniah, the matter is of idolatry as we see (in Zephaniah 1:4):

וְנָטִ֤יתִי יָדִי֙ עַל־יְהוּדָ֔ה וְעַ֖ל כׇּל־יוֹשְׁבֵ֣י יְרוּשָׁלָ֑͏ִם וְהִכְרַתִּ֞י מִן־הַמָּק֤וֹם הַזֶּה֙ אֶת־שְׁאָ֣ר הַבַּ֔עַל אֶת־שֵׁ֥ם הַכְּמָרִ֖ים עִם־הַכֹּהֲנִֽים׃

הַבַּ֔עַל means Baal, then, G'd admonishes Judah and Jerusalem that every vestige of Baal will be destroyed.

More, according to judaism this can be traced back (in Kings 10:22):

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לַֽאֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־הַמֶּלְתָּחָ֔ה הוֹצֵ֣א לְב֔וּשׁ לְכֹ֖ל עֹבְדֵ֣י הַבָּ֑עַל וַיֹּצֵ֥א לָהֶ֖ם הַמַּלְבּֽוּשׁ׃

or in the KJV:

22 And he said unto him that was over the vestry, Bring forth vestments for all the worshippers of Baal. And he brought them forth vestments.

So, the vestments used are pagan vestments, this is, those that were used for idolatry worshippers and/or not according to the mizvot (as the one quoted firstly).

Also, I'd like to point out, that in general, jewish people keep relations among themselves (such as not mixing wool and linen), this is, to preserve the corruption of the Torah from foreigners.


In the context of Zephaniah 1, I think these foreign clothes are most likely a reference to those who have idolised wealth instead of faithfully serving God and using their God-given resources to care for the nation of Israel.

Zephaniah 1:10-13 (NIV): “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.
Wail, you who live in the market district;
  all your merchants will be wiped out,
  all who trade with silver will be destroyed.
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.’
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.”

1:17-18: “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.
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 earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
  of all who live on the earth.

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