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6. Zephaniah: God the Sovereign Judge

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Words to Anchor your Soul

Seek the Lord’s favor, all you humble people of the land who have obeyed his commands!
Strive to do what is right! Strive to be humble!
Maybe you will be protected on the day of the Lord’s angry judgment.

Zephaniah 2:3 (NET)

Read the first verse of Zephaniah’s book where he identifies himself and provides his genealogy including Hezekiah. It’s uncertain whether this refers to King Hezekiah or a different Hezekiah. This verse also establishes the timing of Zephaniah’s message as the days of Josiah, the great king of the Southern Kingdom. Josiah rose to the throne at the age of eight in 640 B.C., eventually bringing spiritual renewal and reform to Judah.

If you’ve lost track of how Zephaniah fits into the history of Israel, the Assyrian crisis had passed now that they had destroyed the Northern Kingdom. Although Assyria remained a threat, Babylon was on the rise and would conquer Judah fully in 586 B.C., as predicted by Nahum (Week Five). Review the chart in the section “Understanding the Prophets” for a visual picture.

Zephaniah speaks to other nations as well as to the kingdom of Judah. His theme? God as the sovereign judge of all nations will soon act. This message runs through Zephaniah’s prophecies to both audiences—God’s people and other nations. The image of a gavel represents God as Judge.

Part One Study

If you have time, read the entire book of Zephaniah first to get a sense of its flow and message.

Remember that prophecy is full of poetic language; that means you need to be aware that some language uses metaphor, simile, and other images with non-literal meanings.

Read Zephaniah 1:1-2:3, noting phrases referring to God, such as “I will.” Journal your insights as you consider these questions:

  • From what God says he will do (the “I will” statements and others), what do you learn about the extent of God’s power and judgment?
  • What sins caused God to punish Judah?
  • Zephaniah introduces the topic of the Day of the Lord (1:7-18), a term also used by other prophets. (We will study it further in the next lesson.) How would you summarize the Day of the Lord from this passage?
  • How is God speaking through Zephaniah?

*** Hundreds of years before God sent first Israel and then Judah into exile, he warned his people through Moses that this would happen if they forsook and disobeyed him. Read Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 15, 45-51, 64-68; 30:1-14. How do these warnings compare to Zephaniah’s predictions of the Day of the Lord in 1:7-18?

  • What is the basis of Zephaniah’s hope as expressed in 2:1-3?

I am so thankful to God for the hope he provides in 2:3—our Words to Anchor your Soul—hope desperately needed in our own day.

Part Two Study

If it’s been a day or more since you did Part One of this study, you may want to review Zephaniah 1:1-2:3 before moving on. Even better, read the whole book again.

*** Read about King Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:27. From God’s perspective, he was among the few faithful kings over Judah because he “did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, ESV). Journal your insights.

The middle chapter of Zephaniah announces God’s judgment on other nations. Remember, the theme of Zephaniah is God as Judge of all. God turns his attention back to Judah and in particular its capital city Jerusalem in 3:1.

Read Zephaniah 2:4-3:8, journaling about these questions:

  • What stands out to you from God’s words to the nations and why (Chapter 2)?
  • Why is God justly upset with Judah, his own people (3:1-5)?
  • Review our verse of the week, Zephaniah 2:3, to keep your eyes on the whole picture of God’s character. In light of all that God has said about his people’s sins, journal what you learn about his grace and mercy.
  • How do you respond to God’s message today and why?

Part Three Study

Although the end of Zephaniah’s message provides hope and promise, we can look back at history and know that it wasn’t fulfilled in Zephaniah’s day. Within about 40 years after he penned this book, God fulfilled his prophesied judgment when Judah was destroyed.

Read Zephaniah 3:9-20 and journal your thoughts:

  • Which promises to Judah (3:9-20) stand out to you, and what do you feel about them?
  • How do you see God’s promises fit into God’s big story or ONE story summarized here? (Review Paradise, Ruin, Reconciliation, and Restoration in Week One, Part One if you need to.) Remember that some predictions involve multiple fulfillments while others won’t be fulfilled until the final Restoration after Jesus returns.

Before you journal your thoughts on one final question, read the 2 Chronicles passage below.

Zephaniah is the last minor prophet in the canon preceding Judah’s destruction by the Babylonians (Chaldeans) in 586 B.C. Here is God’s explanation of that judgment on his own people (2 Chronicles 36:15-21, ESV):

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

  • How is God speaking through his Word today?

*** Richard D. Patterson is one of many scholars who have pointed out how Zephaniah’s structure involves two sections that parallel. Browse through it with this structure1 in mind:

Declaration of the Day of the Lord’s Judgment


Details concerning the Day of the Lord’s Judgment




On the earth (1:2-3)

On the nations (2:4-15)

On Judah/Jerusalem (1:4-6)

On Jerusalem (3:1-7)

Exhortation (1:7-13)

Exhortation (3:8)



Information (1:14-18)

Information (3:9-13)

Instruction (2:1-3)

Instruction (3:14-20)

This week’s story reminds me of the warning to those who mixed idolatry with worship of the true God: “I will cut off from this place . . . those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him” (Zephaniah 1:4-6, ESV).

Michelle’s Story

My husband and I were both Christians when we began dating and actually grew up in the same church. When we were in college, our church attendance began to slip. Most Sundays I found it more convenient to sleep or study for the next day’s class. God had slipped down my priority list behind academia and fun.

After we graduated and got married, my negligence only worsened. We were so busy with our careers that we couldn’t fit God in anymore. We both worked long hours including most weekends. My husband went to school at night to get an MBA. Then I did the same. About this time our marriage, weak from little time with God or each other, began to unravel. This was the wake-up call we needed to see that major changes were necessary. I am happy to report that through much prayer and putting God first in our lives we were able to turn our marriage around.

It was really only after having children and quitting work that I realized that during all those years I had been worshipping the idols of education, career, and money.

1 Chart from Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habukkuk, Zephaniah: An Exegetical Commentary (Biblical Studies Press, 2003), 256. It can be accessed online at

Related Topics: Prophets, Women's Articles

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