The Prophecy of Zephaniah 3:9
One of the most peculiar verses in the Old Testament is that of Zephaniah 3:9, let’s begin by first looking at two translations of this passage:
“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.” – Zephaniah 3:9 (NIV)
“For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language that all of them call in the name of the Lord, to worship Him of one accord.” – Zephaniah 3:9 (Rabbi Rosenberg)
The first translation is one done by the Christian community while the second is from the Jewish community. Both translations say roughly the same thing but there are minute differences which will shape how the verse is meant to be understood. It is therefore important to break up the verse into its constituent parts to help us understand the message it is trying to convey:
Then I will purify the lips of the peoples (Christian translation)
For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language (Jewish translation)
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord (Christian translation)
that all of them call in the name of the Lord (Jewish translation)
and serve him shoulder to shoulder (Christian translation)
to worship Him of one accord (Jewish translation)
Analyzing 9a –
The message being conveyed here seems to be that God will convert or change this ‘pious nation’ such that they adopt a pure language. This immediately rules out the options of Christianity and Judaism as neither faith in the present day rely on one ‘pure’ language as the basis for worshiping God. The Qur’an therefore teaches:
“We know indeed that they say, “It is a man that teaches him.” The tongue of him they wickedly point to is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear.” – Qur’an 16:103 (Yusuf Ali)
A point to keep in mind is that all Muslims read the Qur’an in Arabic for Salaah (daily worship).
Analyzing 9b –
Of the major religions of Christianity and Judaism, neither use a single and pure language to call upon the name of God. Rather, if we were to go into any Masjid, anywhere in the world, they would all use the name Allah (the Arabic name of God in Islam). If I were to go to an Arab Christian he may say Yasu’, yet if I went to a European or North American Christian they may call God by the name of Jesus, both of which are not of the same language nor of a language that specifically describes itself as pure and clear. Indeed there is no one language that neither the Christian community nor the Jewish community would agree on presently for which they can use to refer to God together. The Qur’an teaches:
“Surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find comfort.” – Qur’an 13:28 (Dr. Khattab)
A point to keep in mind is that the Imam begins the Salaah with the Takbir (Allahu akbar, trans.: God is the greatest).
Analyzing 9c –
This passage is most interesting because of the fact that Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder in Salaah and in Salaah we have one Imam who leads everyone in the prayer:
Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Straighten your rows for I see you from behind my back.” Anas added, “Everyone of us used to put his shoulder with the shoulder of his companion and his foot with the foot of his companion.” – Sahih al Bukhari, Book 10, Hadith 199
Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Set the rows in order, stand shoulder to shoulder, close the gaps, be pliant in the hands of your brethren, and do not leave openings for the devil. – Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 2, Hadith 276
Indeed, it is a condition for Salaah to be valid behind the Imam, that one follows the Imam:
Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: The imam is appointed only to be followed; when he says “Allah is most great,” say “Allah is most great” and do not say “Allah is most great” until he says “Allah is most great.” When he bows; bow; and do not bow until he bows. And when he says “Allah listens to him who praise Him,” say “O Allah, our Lord, to Thee be the praise.” – Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 2, Hadith 213
In fact, the word used in Zephaniah 3:9c for worship and serving is the Hebrew equivalent to ‘Ibadah (عبادة) which is the term for worship (prayer) in Arabic. The Hebrew word used in this case is Ibadow (לְעָבְד֖וֹ), Strong’s #5647.
All in all, this passage when analyzed demonstrates for us the truth of Islam with absolute clarity.
and Allah knows best.