In Zephaniah 2:3 the word אוּלַי (oo-layee) means "perhaps". I have not otherwise really seen The G-D of the Bible so indifferent (though maybe that's the wrong word). Can someone help me understand why that word would be used instead of a more definite word?

For context, here's the verse in question:

בַּקְּשׁוּ אֶת ה׳ כָּל עַנְוֵי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר מִשְׁפָּטוֹ פָּעָלוּ בַּקְּשׁוּ צֶדֶק בַּקְּשׁוּ עֲנָוָה אוּלַי תִּסָּתְרוּ בְּיוֹם אַף ה׳׃

And its JPS translation:

Seek ye the LORD, all ye humble of the earth, that have executed His ordinance; seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger.

  • @DoubleAA, what does this have to do with theology?
    – msh210
    Oct 27, 2015 at 19:20
  • @msh210 I can't say I'm sure what the question is about at all, but it seems the OP is bugged by God's being indifferent when God (being all-[powerful, etc.]) should be more decisive.
    – Double AA
    Oct 27, 2015 at 19:23
  • Not bugged, just wasn't quite understanding. now i get it and it is very enlightening.
    – Meg
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


One of the Rabbis in the Talmud reacts to this verse in a similar way to you (חגיגה ד ב):

רבי אמי כי מטי להאי קרא בכי (צפניה ב, ג) בקשו צדק בקשו ענוה אולי תסתרו ביום אף ה' אמר כולי האי ואולי

Rabbi Ami would weep when coming to the following verse: "...seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger." [Rabbi Ami] would say: All this and 'maybe'?!

So, if you react strongly to this verse, you're in good company.

(The Talmud links this to two other examples of 'all this and maybe': Lamentations 3:29 and Amos 5:15.)

The 'maybe' might be telling us that we can never force or trigger a reaction on the part of God. We should not think that good deeds mechanically manipulate God. Good deeds should be done for their own sake. But what happens afterwards is not up to us.

  • thank you for your post. It helps to know that. i have found the answer to what i seek tho.
    – Meg
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:54

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