To Sophonias, that was descended from Ezechias through Amarias, Godolias and Chusi, this message came from the Lord, at the time when Josias son of Amon reigned in Juda.
Fall to I must, and weed yonder plot of ground, the Lord says; rid it, says he, of man and beast, of bird in air and fish underwater; and down shall the godless come too, never a man left alive upon it. All Juda, all the citizens of Jerusalem, shall feel the stroke. Not a trace shall they leave behind, yonder gods of the country-side, acolyte and priest of theirs not a memory; forgotten, all that worship the host of heaven from the roof-tops, all that worship..., take they their oaths to the Lord, or swear they by Melchom; forgotten, all that turn their backs on the Lord, and will neither seek nor search for him.
Silence, there, to greet the Lord! Here is day of his appointing, here is great sacrifice of his preparing; all his guests bidden, all their cleansing done. The Lord's sacrifice! A day of reckoning it shall be, king and prince I will call to account, all that go clad in foreign bravery, all that spurn yonder threshold, and fill the house of the Lord their God with deeds of treachery and wrong. What an outcry that day, the Lord says, from the Fishmongers' Gate, what lamenting from the New Town! How the hill-sides will echo to the noise of your ruin! Ay, lament indeed, you that dwell in Mortar Valley; of the merchant folk no more is heard; here is an end of all that trafficked in silver.
Time, then, to call for lamps, and search Jerusalem through! Trust me, I will find them out, spoiled natures, like wine that has settled on its lees, the men who think to themselves, From the Lord nothing is to hope, nothing to fear. Ransacked their wealth shall be, and their homes ruined; houses they build they shall never dwell in, vineyards they plant they shall drink of never. Nearer, nearer comes the great day of the Lord's reckoning, ay, and soon; bitter the bruit of its coming; here is peril to cow the bravest heart. Day of vengeance, day of strain and stress, day of ransack and ruin; dim and dark, overcast with cloud and storm! City is none so well fortified, pinnacle is none so high in air, but shall hear braying of trumpets and the battle-cry. Guilty wretches, they shall grope in the dark, flesh and blood of them cheap as dust and dung; silver and gold of it them powerless to buy off the Lord's present vengeance. Burns through the land the fire of his slighted love; takes full toll, and speedily, of all that dwell there.
Band together, men of a nation so little loved, bind yourselves in one; ere resolve can bear fruit, like flying chaff passes the day. Before the divine vengeance falls on you, before the day of divine retribution comes, to the Lord betake you! To honest doing and patient suffering betake you, men of humble heart wherever you be, men obedient to his will; it may be, when the hour of the Lord's vengeance comes, you shall find refuge.
Gaza and Ascalon to rack and ruin left, Azotus stormed ere the day is out, root and branch destroyed is Accaron! Out upon the forfeited race that holds yonder strip of coast-land; the Lord's doom is on it, the little Chanaan of the Philistines; wasted it shall be, and never a man to dwell in it. There on the coast-land shepherds shall lie at ease, there shall be folds for flocks; and who shall dwell there? The remnant that is left of Juda's race; there they shall find pasturage, take their rest, when evening comes in the ruins of Ascalon, when the Lord their God brings them relief, restores their fortunes again.
And what of Moab, what of Ammon? Doubt not I have heard the blasphemous taunts they uttered against my own people, as they encroached upon its borders. As I am a living God, says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, no better shall Moab and Ammon be than Sodom and Gomorrha, all waste and brushwood and salt-pits, for ever desolate; of my own people enough remnant shall be left, a nation still, to plunder and to conquer them. Pride that would mock and overreach his own people he, the Lord of hosts, knows how to punish; see what terror he strikes into them! Peak and pine they, gods of the other nations; rise they from their places, one by one, to adore him, island-dwellers of the world.
You too, men of Ethiopia, shall feel my sword.
That hand shall stretch out northward, and make an end of Assyria; Nineve shall be left forlorn, a trackless desert. Flocks shall lie down there... all the wild things of earth; bittern and hedgehog make their dwelling in its doorways, bird-song there shall be in the windows, and raven perched on lintel; so ebbs the strength of it. And this was the proud city that dwelt so free from alarms, thinking to herself, Here I stand, with no rival; a desert now, lair of the wild beasts! Hisses the passer-by in mockery, and shakes his fist.
Out on the rebellious city, the defiled city, so full of wrong! Never the call heard, the warning heeded; trust in the Lord is none; nay, they would keep God at a distance. Here be rulers no better than ravening lions, judges like wolf that prowls at night, and not a bone left on the morrow; prophets that are heedless men and treacherous, priests that profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law. And all the while the Lord is there in the midst of it! Not his the blame; never morning passes but he makes known his award for their enlightening, without fail; and still injustice goes on unashamed! Short work I have made of other nations; crumbling battlements, unfrequented streets, with never a foot-fall, their cities lie ruined and forlorn, with none to dwell in them; Ah, thought I, now at least you will learn to fear me, will profit by the warning! Here at least is a city that may be left habitable, send them what plagues I may! But no, early and late they would be at their perverse doings still!
Hope, then, is none, till the day, long hence, when I will stand revealed; what gathering, then, of the nations, all kingdoms joined in one! And upon these, my doom is, vengeance shall fall, fierce anger of mine shall fall; the whole earth shall be consumed with the fire of my slighted love. And after that, all the peoples of the world shall have pure lips, invoking one and all the Lord's name, straining at a single yoke in the Lord's service. From far away, beyond Ethiop rivers, my suppliants shall come to me, sons of my exiled people the bloodless offering shall bring. No need, then, to blush for wayward thoughts that defied me; gone from your midst the high-sounding boast; no room, in that mountain sanctuary of mine, for pride henceforward; a poor folk and a friendless I will leave in your confines, but one that puts its trust in the Lord's name.
The remnant of Israel, strangers now to treachery and wrong, the true word ever on their lips! Yonder flock may graze and lie down to rest, none to dismay it. Break into song, fair Sion, all Israel cry aloud; here is joy and triumph, Jerusalem, for your royal heart. Your doom the Lord has revoked, your enemy repulsed; the Lord, there in the midst of you, Israel's king! Peril for you henceforth is none. Such is the message yonder day shall bring to Jerusalem: Courage, Sion! What means it, the unnerved hand? you have one in the midst of you, the Lord your God, whose strength shall deliver you. Joy and pride of his you shall be henceforward; silent till now in his love for you, he will greet you with cries of gladness.
Truants that were lost to the covenant I will reclaim; of your company they are, you shall be taunted with them no longer; only for your persecutors that hour shall be the hour of doom. Lame sheep medicined, and strayed sheep brought home! Lands that despised them shall hear name and fame of them now. Name and fame you shall have, all the world over, the Lord says, when I call you back and gather you in; when you see the fortunes of Israel retrieved at last.