Is there a contradiction between Zephaniah 3:9 and Zechariah 8:23?
Since the Bible does not contain any contradictions (compare John 10:35), what then is the answer to this question?
Zephaniah 3:9 addresses the time of the Millennium, when Jesus Christ rules on and over the earth, and states:
“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they may all call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one accord.”
Compare also Isaiah 19:18: “In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear by the LORD of hosts…”
The thought is being conveyed here that all of the peoples will have ONE language, and that the Egyptians will speak the same language as those who will live in the land of Canaan. It does not have to mean that it will be Hebrew—in fact, it is doubtful that the Canaanites spoke Hebrew when the Israelites conquered the Promised Land. Nor are we to necessarily assume that the pure language will be the tongue of the Hebrews after they had taken possession of the Promised Land; rather, Isaiah 19:18 points out that those in the land of Egypt and those in the land of Canaan will all speak the same language in the Millennium.
The Jamieson Fausset and Brown commentary states:
“The confusion of languages was… the penalty [for] sin, probably idolatry at Babel… [and] certainly [for] rebellion against God’s will. An earnest of the removal of this penalty was the gift of tongues on Pentecost (Acts 2:6-13). The full restoration of the earth’s unity of language and of worship is yet future, and is connected with the restoration of the Jew [better: the houses of Israel and Judah], to be followed by the conversion of the world… The Gentiles’ lips have been rendered impure through being the instruments of calling on idols and dishonoring God… Whether Hebrew shall be the one universal language or not, the God of the Hebrews shall be the one only object of worship…”
We wrote the following in “Biblical Prophecy—From Now Until Forever” :
“… at the start of the Millennium, one pure language will be restored to the people (Zephaniah 3:9) so that they will be able to understand each other without the need for translators or the gift of tongues (compare for a unique episode in this regard, Acts 2:5-11). God’s curse on the people at the time of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:7-9) will be lifted and removed.”
We do not know for sure whether people will have to LEARN this new language over time or whether God will IMMEDIATELY ENABLE them to know and speak it right away. Today, there are many tongues or languages in the world (compare 1 Corinthians 14:10), and when someone speaks in a foreign language, someone else will have to translate the words into the native language of those who are listening (1 Corinthians 14:11-13). In the Millennium, once the new pure language has been restored, such translation will no longer be necessary, as all will be able to speak and understand the “pure language.”
Before the people built the tower of Babel and God confused the language of all the earth (Genesis 11:6-9), “the whole earth had one language and one speech” (Genesis 11:1). We do not know what language that was, and whether some people are still speaking it today. We also do not know whether that language, which was spoken by the people prior to the confusion at Babel, will be the same language which God will “restore” in the Millennium. However, the reference to the “restoration” of the pure language in Zephaniah 3:9 might indicate this. Also, as God supernaturally confused the language in one instance at the time of the tower of Babel, so it could follow that He will also reverse the process by supernaturally restoring at once the one pure language.
Let us now focus on Zechariah 8:23, which speaks also about the time of the Millennium, and reads:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”
Some feel that this passage might say that at that time—at the beginning of the Millennium–people will still speak their native languages, as they did not yet have any direct contact with God. Compare Isaiah 66:18 which refers to “all nations and tongues” who will come and see God’s glory AFTER Christ’s return. The thought is expressed that the ten men in Zechariah 8:23 are asking a Jew to lead them the way, by using their individual languages, since they had only “heard” that God was with the Jewish people, and it will require some time for all the Gentiles to become converted and learn the pure language.
On the other hand, it could be that all of them were already speaking the new pure language, when meeting the Jew, as men from “every language of the nations” will be able to communicate with that Jewish man, and it is not to be assumed that the Jewish man, barring a miracle from God, would know all their different languages; nor, that all of the ten men “from every language of the nations” would know the language of the Jew. With that understanding, the ten men would be those who belonged to nations that ORIGINALLY spoke with different languages, but their native tongues had been replaced with the new pure language which was also spoken by the Jewish man.
A similar thought may be expressed in Revelation 21:24, which describes events after the third resurrection, when new spiritual heavens and a new spiritual earth will have been created; when the heavenly Jerusalem will be on the new earth; and when there will be no more mortal men. Still, we read that “the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.”
We give one possible explanation of this passage in our free booklet, “Is That in the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation”:
“Christ, a Spirit being, is still referred to in Scripture as ‘the MAN,’ even in His glorified state (1 Timothy 2:5). One may read that Scripture and misconstrue it to mean that Christ is still a physical Man today. We know, of course, that He is not. With that same rationale, we might look at the passage in Revelation 21:24–26 that speaks of ‘kings’ and ‘nations,’ and conclude that these passages speak of physical human beings. They might, however, only refer to those Spirit beings who WERE, during their physical state of existence, kings or subjects.
“The point being made in Revelation 21 would be then, that regardless of what they had been in their physical life (‘kings’ or ‘nations’), they ALL will enter Jerusalem to worship God. Everyone will come to bring glory and honor to Jerusalem. Even though all of us, as Spirit beings, will be members of the God Family and ‘sons’ of God the Father (Revelation 21:7), we will always remain UNDER God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ—we will always remain His servants (Revelation 22:3), but we will be Spirit beings, of course, no more flesh and bone…”
With that same rationale, we might be able to say that Zechariah 8:23 speaks of people who once had their individual separate languages, before those languages were replaced with the pure language. The passage does not say that they will SPEAK these different languages when they approach the Jewish man—only, that they are people “from every language of the nations.” The thought would be that this passage describes their national and ethnic background.
In any event, we are clearly taught that in the Millennium, a pure universal language will be restored for all mankind. For more information on the conditions in the Millennium and the conversion of the Gentiles, please read chapter 10 of our free booklet “Biblical Prophecy—From Now Until Forever.”
Lead Writer: Norbert Link