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The Book of Zephaniah

Introduction286

The Book of Zephaniah is probably best known for being the least known book of the entire Bible. It is a small book, nestled in the midst of the Minor Prophets, toward the end of the Old Testament. Among the Minor Prophets, we are certainly much more familiar with Jonah and Hosea. Nevertheless, this is a great book with a significant contribution to make to the Old Testament and to the lives of the saints of every age.

We know very little of Zephaniah, the man -- the author of this book. Strangely, though, his genealogy is traced back four generations:

This is the prophetic message that the Lord gave to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah. Zephaniah delivered this message during the reign of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah (Zephaniah 1:1).287

Since the introduction of Zephaniah takes us back these four generations, ending with Hezekiah, it is possible that this “Hezekiah” may have been King Hezekiah, but this is not certain. If so, it would mean that Zephaniah had royal blood. He would not be from the humble origins of a prophet like Amos, the sheepherder. Zephaniah would thus have had access to royalty. He would have had ready access to young King Josiah.

While we know almost nothing of Zephaniah’s personal life, we do know a good deal about the times in which he lived and ministered as a prophet in Judah. We are told in verse 1 that he was a prophet during the days of King Josiah, and we are given a good deal of information about Josiah and his times in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Knowing that Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, we realize that his ministry overlapped that of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 1:2).

A Brief Review

Judah’s history was a mixture of those kings who were righteous, walking in the ways of David, and those who were wicked, following the path of Jeroboam. I will briefly review those kings who had a major impact on Judah, for good or evil.

Solomon had a great impact on the southern kingdom of Judah because he was really the first of Israel’s kings to introduce the worship of heathen gods in Jerusalem:

4 When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been. 5 Solomon worshiped the Sidonian goddess Astarte and the detestable Ammonite god Milcom. 6 Solomon did evil before the Lord; he did not remain loyal to the Lord, like his father David had. 7 Furthermore, on the hill east of Jerusalem Solomon built a high place for the detestable Moabite god Chemosh and for the detestable Ammonite god Milcom. 8 He built high places for all his foreign wives so they could burn incense and make sacrifices to their gods (1 Kings 11:4-8).

This sin of Solomon was the cause of the division of the united kingdom (see 1 Kings 11:9-13).

Rehoboam and Jeroboam were the first kings of the divided kingdom. Rehoboam was Solomon’s hard-headed son, who refused to lighten the burden his father had imposed on the people, which caused the ten northern tribes to break away under the leadership of Jeroboam. Jeroboam feared that he might lose his kingdom if the people continued to worship in Jerusalem, and so he established a counterfeit religion in the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:25-33). He made two golden calves for his people to worship, placing them in Bethel to the south and Dan to the north. When Jeroboam went to Bethel to celebrate his newly-instituted feast, he was about to offer a sacrifice on the altar when he was interrupted by a prophet from Judah:

1 Just then a prophet from Judah, sent by the Lord, arrived in Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing near the altar ready to offer a sacrifice. 2 With the authority of the Lord he cried out against the altar, “O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says, ‘Look, a son named Josiah will be born to the Davidic dynasty. He will sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who offer sacrifices on you. Human bones will be burned on you.’” 3 That day he also announced a sign, “This is the sign the Lord has predetermined: The altar will be split open and the ashes on it will fall to the ground” (1 Kings 13:1-3, emphasis mine).

This is the first mention of King Josiah, who will not come to the throne until almost 300 years later.

Hezekiah became king of Judah some 200 years after Jeroboam took the throne of Israel, and nearly 80 years before Josiah became king of Judah. Hezekiah did not have the benefit of a godly home, at least not a godly father. His father, Ahaz, was an exceedingly wicked king:

2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what pleased the Lord his God, in contrast to his ancestor David. 3 He followed in the footsteps of the kings of Israel. He passed his son through the fire, a horrible sin practiced by the nations whom the Lord drove out from before the Israelites (2 Kings 16:2-3).

Hezekiah was a delightful contrast to his father. He was a godly king, who was instrumental in bringing about a revival in Judah:

3 He did what the Lord approved, just as his ancestor David had done. 4 He eliminated the high places, smashed the sacred pillars to bits, and cut down the Asherah pole. He also demolished the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been offering incense to it; it was called Nehushtan. 5 He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; in this regard there was none like him among the kings of Judah either before or after. 6 He was loyal to the Lord and did not abandon him. He obeyed the commandments which the Lord had given to Moses (2 Kings 18:3-6).

Under Hezekiah’s leadership, the Passover was celebrated in a way that had not been done for many years. He even invited those of the northern tribes to participate, and a few did (2 Chronicles 30:10-11, 18). When Hezekiah became mortally ill, he was told that he was about to die. Hezekiah pled for more years and God graciously granted them. It was in his later years that Hezekiah foolishly displayed his riches (in a way that reminds me of Solomon, puffed up by the flattery of the Queen of Sheba) to the son of the king of Babylon. The prophet Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah and told him that after his death, his riches would be plundered by the Babylonians, along with some of his sons (2 Kings 20:16-19).

Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, was one of the most wicked kings who ever sat on the throne of Judah:

2 He did evil before the Lord and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations whom the Lord drove out from before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he set up altars for Baal and made an Asherah pole just like King Ahab of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the stars in the sky and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the Lord’s temple, about which the Lord had said, “Jerusalem will be my home.” 5 In the two courtyards of the Lord’s temple he built altars for all the stars in the sky. 6 He passed his son through the fire and practiced divination and omen reading. He set up a pit to conjure up underworld spirits, and appointed magicians to supervise it. He did a great amount of evil before the Lord and angered him. 7 He put an idol of Asherah he had made in the temple, about which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, “This temple in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will be my permanent home” (2 Kings 21:2-7).

Ironically, Manasseh reigned 55 years, the longest reign of any king of Israel or Judah (2 Chronicles 33:1). Manasseh brought the nation of Judah to an all-time low, spiritually speaking:

11 “King Manasseh of Judah has committed horrible sins. He has sinned more than the Amorites before him and has encouraged Judah to sin by worshiping his disgusting idols. 12 So this is what the Lord God of Israel says, ‘I am about to bring disaster on Jerusalem and Judah. The news will reverberate in the ears of those who hear about it. 13 I will destroy Jerusalem the same way I did Samaria and the dynasty of Ahab. I will wipe Jerusalem clean, just as one wipes a plate on both sides. 14 I will abandon this last remaining tribe among my people and hand them over to their enemies; they will be plundered and robbed by all their enemies” (2 Kings 21:11-14).

Because of his wickedness, Manasseh was taken in chains to Babylon, where he repented, so that he was once again restored to his throne. Once on the throne, he attempted to correct some of the consequences of his sinful reign. The end result was something less than a complete revival:

11 So the Lord brought against them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria. They seized Manasseh, put hooks in his nose, bound him with bronze chains, and carried him away to Babylon. 12 In his pain Manasseh asked the Lord his God for mercy and truly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. 13 When he prayed to the Lord, the Lord responded to him and answered favorably his cry for mercy. The Lord brought him back to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh realized that the Lord is the true God. 14 After this Manasseh built up the outer wall of the City of David on the west side of the Gihon in the valley to the entrance of the Fish Gate and all around the terrace; he made it much higher. He placed army officers in all the fortified cities in Judah. 15 He removed the foreign gods and images from the Lord’s temple and all the altars he had built on the hill of the Lord’s temple and in Jerusalem; he threw them outside the city. 16 He erected the altar of the Lord and offered on it peace offerings and thank offerings. He told the people of Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel. 17 The people continued to offer sacrifices at the high places, but only to the Lord their God (2 Chronicles 33:11-17).

Amon, the son of Manasseh, reigned for only two years. He was evil and was killed by some of his servants. This created a situation in which his eight-year-old son, Josiah, was placed on the throne. A recent movie entitled “Princess Diaries” tells the story of a young girl (older than Josiah, from what I can discern, not having seen the movie) who learns that she is the princess of a small nation. The plot is apparently built on this young woman’s transition into a princess, in looks and conduct. Imagine what it must have been like for Josiah to suddenly be swept into his duties as king of Judah by the untimely death of his father.

One has to wonder who God used to impact this young man, turning him from the wicked ways of his father and grandfather to a king who sought the Lord. Did Manasseh, his grandfather, speak to Josiah, warning him not to take the same path he had walked for so many years? We are told the name of Josiah’s mother (Jedidah, 2 Kings 22:1). Was she instrumental in his spiritual development? We know that both Jeremiah and Zephaniah began their ministries during the life of Josiah. Were either of these prophets involved with Josiah in his early, formative years?

By the time Josiah would have been old enough to drive (a chariot? – age 16), he had already begun to purposefully seek the Lord (2 Chronicles 34:3). This may not have been a popular thing to do in a nation that had become deeply committed to heathen gods and pagan practices (see 2 Kings 21:9). At the age of 20, he set out to rid Judah of the heathen idols and altars that were found almost everywhere in Judah, even in Jerusalem:

3 In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his ancestor David. In his twelfth year he began ridding Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, Asherah poles, idols, and images. 4 He ordered the altars of the Baals to be torn down, and broke the incense altars that were above them. He smashed the Asherah poles, idols and images, crushed them up and sprinkled the dust over the tombs of those who had sacrificed to them. 5 He burned the bones of the priests on their altars; he purified Judah and Jerusalem. 6 In the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali, and in the ruins around them, 7 he tore down the altars and Asherah poles, demolished the idols, and smashed all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:3-7, emphasis mine).

In doing this, Josiah fulfilled the prophecy given to Jeroboam many years earlier, as recorded in 1 Kings 13:1-3.

At the age of 26, Josiah set out on yet another noble mission. Having torn down the heathen idols and altars, Josiah now commences the project of refurbishing the temple (see 2 Chronicles 34:8ff.). It was during this construction that workmen discovered a copy of the book of the law:

14 When they took out the silver that had been brought to the Lord’s temple, Hilkiah the priest found the law scroll the Lord had given to Moses. 15 Hilkiah informed Shaphan the scribe, “I found the law scroll in the Lord’s temple.” Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan. 16 Shaphan brought the scroll to the king and reported, “Your servants are doing everything assigned to them. 17 They melted down the silver in the Lord’s temple and handed it over to the supervisors of the construction foremen.” 18 Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.” Shaphan read it out loud before the king. 19 When the king heard the words of the law scroll, he tore his clothes. 20 The king ordered Hilkiah, Achikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, 21 “Go, seek an oracle from the Lord for me and those who remain in Israel and Judah. Find out about the words of this scroll that has been discovered. For the Lord’s fury has been ignited against us, because our ancestors have not obeyed the word of the Lord by doing all that this scroll instructs!” (2 Chronicles 34:14-21)

The nation had reached such a low spiritual state that there was not even a copy of the Law available to read, not even in the temple. God’s law had not only been forsaken, it had been forgotten! I am convinced that this copy of the Law at least included the Book of Deuteronomy. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Josiah and other godly people to hear the words of Deuteronomy for the first time in their life? No wonder Josiah tore his clothes! It was now painfully clear why the nation deserved divine judgment. Josiah sought a word from God, and it was the prophetess Huldah who confirmed what he feared:

22 So Hilkiah and the others sent by the king went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, the supervisor of the wardrobe. (She lived in Jerusalem in the Mishneh district.) They stated their business, 23 and she said to them: “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘Say this to the man who sent you to me: 24 “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on this place and its residents, the details of which are recorded on the scroll which they read before the king of Judah. 25 This will happen because they have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to other gods, angering me with all the idols they have made. My anger will ignite against this place and will not be extinguished’” (2 Chronicles 34:22-25).

In response to Josiah’s repentance, God assured the king through Huldah that God’s judgment would not fall on Judah or Jerusalem until after his death (2 Chronicles 34:26-28). Josiah then re-instituted the celebration of the Passover (2 Chronicles 35).

Sadly, Josiah’s life ended in an unflattering way. The story of his death in 2 Chronicles 34 is strangely similar to the account of the death of wicked Ahab, many years earlier (see 1 Kings 22):

20 After Josiah had done all this for the temple, King Neco of Egypt marched up to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River. Josiah marched out to oppose him. 21 Neco sent messengers to him, saying, “Why are you opposing me, O king of Judah? I am not attacking you today, but the kingdom with which I am at war. God told me to hurry. Stop opposing God, who is with me, or else he will destroy you.” 22 But Josiah did not turn back from him; he disguised himself for battle. He did not take seriously the words of Neco which he had received from God; he went to fight him in the Plain of Megiddo. 23 Archers shot King Josiah; the king ordered his servants, “Take me out of this chariot, for I am seriously wounded.” 24 So his servants took him out of the chariot, put him in another chariot that he owned, and brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his ancestors; all the people of Judah and Jerusalem mourned Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:20-24).

The prophet Jeremiah even took part in Josiah’s funeral:

Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah which all the male and female singers use to mourn Josiah to this very day. It has become customary in Israel to sing these; they are recorded in the Book of Laments (2 Chronicles 35:25).

Such were the days in which the prophet Zephaniah lived and served. It would appear to me that Zephaniah’s ministry preceded and promoted the revival that took place during the reign of Josiah. One cannot be certain of this, but my study of Zephaniah has led me to draw this conclusion. It is now our task to consider the message and the contribution of the Book of Zephaniah.

The Message of the Book of Zephaniah

As I understand the book, there are two dominant themes in Zephaniah: judgment and deliverance. Let us briefly consider both of these themes.

The Coming Day of the Lord

The “day of the Lord” is a very prominent theme in Zephaniah’s prophecy. Zephaniah graphically describes the terror of that coming “Day of Judgment”:

14 The Lord’s great day of judgment is almost here;
it is very rapidly approaching!
There will be a bitter sound on the Lord’s Day of judgment;
at that time warriors will cry out in battle.
15 That day will be a day of God’s anger,
a day of distress and hardship,
a day of devastation and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and dark skies (Zephaniah 1:14-15).

This coming “Day of Judgment” is described in terms of being in the near future:

Be quiet before the Lord God,
for the Lord’s day of judgment is almost here.
The Lord has prepared a sacrificial meal;
he has ritually purified his guests (Zephaniah 1:7).

Judgment will soon come upon Jerusalem and Judah (3:1-5), but it will also come upon the nations surrounding her: the Philistines (2:4-7), the Moabites and Ammonites (2:8-11), the Ethiopians (2:12), and the Assyrians (2:13-15).

But there is also mention of a great and final – more distant – judgment that will come upon the whole earth:

2 “I will destroy everything from the face of the earth.” says the Lord.
3 “I will destroy people and animals;
I will destroy the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea.
(The idolatrous images of these creatures will be destroyed along with evil people.)
I will remove humanity from the face of the earth,” says the Lord (Zephaniah 1:2-3).

If this prophecy is literally fulfilled, it must be the end of the world, as the following text also indicates:

“Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them
in the day of the Lord’s angry judgment.
The whole earth will be consumed by his fiery wrath.
Indeed, he will bring terrifying destruction on all who live on the earth” (Zephaniah 1:18).

Judgment will come upon the foreign nations because of their arrogant oppression of God’s people:

8 “I have heard Moab’s taunts
and the Ammonites’ insults.
They taunted my people
and verbally harassed those living in Judah… .
10 This is how they will be repaid for their arrogance,
for they taunted and verbally harassed the people of the Lord who leads armies” (Zephaniah 2:8,10).

They will also be judged for their arrogant self-sufficiency:

15 This is how the once-proud city [Nineveh] will end up—
the city that was so secure.
She thought to herself, “I am unique! No one can compare to me!”
What a heap of ruins she has become, a place where wild animals live!
Everyone who passes by her taunts her and shakes his fist (Zephaniah 2:15).

The reasons for Judah’s judgment are perhaps best summed up in chapter 1:

4 “I will attack Judah
and all who live in Jerusalem.
I will remove from this place every trace of Baal worship,
as well as the very memory of the pagan priests.
5 I will remove those who worship the stars in the sky from their rooftops,
those who swear allegiance to the Lord while taking oaths in the name of their ‘king,’
6 and those who turn their backs on the Lord
and do not want the Lord’s help or guidance” (Zephaniah 1:4-6).

These reasons for divine judgment can best be summarized in this way:

  • God will judge those in Judah who practice pure paganism (1:4).
  • God will judge those in Judah who mix the worship of God with the worship of other deities (1:5a).
  • God will judge those in Judah who completely reject and turn away from the faith of their fathers (1:6).
  • God will judge those who choose to identify with the heathen (rather than the people of God) by their dress (1:8).288
  • God will judge those who practice violence and deceit (1:9).
  • God will judge those who refuse divine instruction, and who have ignored His warnings (3:1-2). Judah should have learned from God’s judgment of others, but she did not (3:6-7).
  • God will judge those in leadership, who have abused their authority and forsaken their stewardship (3:3-4).
  • God will judge those who presume that God is indifferent about their sin (1:12).
  • God will judge those who put their trust in anything but Him (1:18).
Divine Deliverance and Blessings For a Righteous Remnant

God had warned that divine judgment was coming upon Judah, upon the surrounding nations, and upon the entire earth. If God was about to judge all men, how would His covenant with Abraham and his descendants be fulfilled (see Genesis 12:1-3)? Paul tells us the answer in Romans 9:

27 And Isaiah cries out on behalf of Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved, 28 for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth completely and quickly.” 29 Just as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of armies had not left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom,
and we would have resembled Gomorrah” (Romans 9:27-29).

God’s promises to Abraham would be fulfilled through a small remnant of His chosen people, rather than through the entire nation. This remnant would be composed of the righteous, not only those of Judah, but also from among the Gentiles:

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).

The NASB renders Zephaniah 2:3 this way:

Seek the LORD,
All you humble of the earth
Who have carried out His ordinances;
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD'S anger.

We know that the remnant will include those of Judah:

Those who are left from the kingdom of Judah will take possession of it.
By the sea they will graze,
in the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down in the evening,
for the Lord their God will intervene for them and restore their prosperity (Zephaniah 2:7).

We are also informed that Gentiles will be among the righteous who worship God as well:

8 Therefore you must wait patiently for me,” says the Lord,
“for the day when I attack and take plunder.
I have decided to gather nations together
and assemble kingdoms,
so I can pour out my fury on them—
all my raging anger.
For the whole earth will be consumed
by my fiery anger.
9 Know for sure that I will then enable
the nations to give me acceptable praise.
All of them will invoke the Lord’s name when they pray,
and will worship him in unison.
10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,
those who pray to me will bring me tribute (Zephaniah 3:8-10).

There are several things that set the righteous remnant apart from the corrupt world in which they live:

Those who are a part of the righteous remnant seek God, and they obey His commandments:

Seek the Lord’s favor, all you humble people of the land who have obeyed his commands!
(Zephaniah 2:3a).

Those who are a part of the righteous remnant are humble:

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 2:3b).

Those who are a part of the righteous remnant are righteous in their actions toward others:

13 The Israelites who remain will not act deceitfully.
They will not lie,
and a deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouth.
Indeed, they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down;
no one will terrify them” (Zephaniah 3:13).

Zephaniah also summarizes the hope of the righteous remnant:

Their sins are forgiven and they are cleansed from their sin (3:9, 11, 13).

They will be delivered from or through divine judgment (2:1-3).289

They will eventually be rescued from the hand of their oppressors (2:4-15; 3:15).

They have the hope of future blessings (2:6-9).

They will be given fame and honor (3:19-20).

They will enjoy security and peace (3:13).

They will enjoy being in God’s presence, as He rejoices over them as the objects of His love (3:15-17).

Conclusion

As I have studied the Book of Zephaniah, I have been forced to reconsider the relationship between divine judgment and divine blessing. I have always thought of them as opposites that have no relationship. I like to think of judgment as something that has little to do with me and much to do with my enemies. I like to think of God’s blessings and salvation as mine, unrelated to judgment. I have come to the conclusion that divine judgment and divine blessings are very closely inter-related.

In the first place, God’s judgment is the means whereby He delivers us from our enemies (2:4-15; 3:15, 19). Second, divine judgment purifies the righteous remnant (3:9). Finally, God’s judgment is the means by which God brings about our blessings. When God removes the wicked, it is so He may come and dwell with us. In addition, when God removes the wicked, He gives their possessions to His faithful remnant (2:5-7, 9-10). The judgment of the wicked is the means to our blessing.

Zephaniah also informs us that divine judgment is the means by which God removes our sins:

8 Therefore you must wait patiently for me,” says the Lord,
“for the day when I attack and take plunder.
I have decided to gather nations together
and assemble kingdoms,
so I can pour out my fury on them—
all my raging anger.
For the whole earth will be consumed
by my fiery anger.
9 Know for sure that I will then enable
the nations to give me acceptable praise
.
All of them will invoke the Lord’s name when they pray,
and will worship him in unison.
10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,
those who pray to me will bring me tribute.
11 In that day you will no longer experience shame because of all your rebellious actions,
for then I will remove from your midst those who proudly boast,
and you will never again be arrogant on my holy hill.
12 I will leave in your midst a humble and meek group of people,
and they will find safety in the Lord’s presence.
13 The Israelites who remain will not act deceitfully.
They will not lie,
and a deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouth.
Indeed, they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down;
no one will terrify them” (Zephaniah 3:8-13)

Several very important truths in these verses need to be underscored. First, it is not just “the heathen” who need deliverance from the guilt and penalty of their sins; it is all men. Second, it is God who saves men from their sins. It is not we who “work harder” or “strive to do better.” It is God who produces righteousness in us. Third, our sins are forgiven, and we are made righteous because God has passed judgment on our sins. How is this possible? Zephaniah does not tell us, but then he does not need to do so. We know that God poured out His wrath on His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who took our sins upon Himself, and who bore the penalty we deserve. It is by means of divine judgment that we are saved and that we become righteous. That judgment was borne by the Lord Jesus Christ. All those who acknowledge their sin and guilt, and trust in Christ’s saving work at Calvary in their place have the forgiveness of their sins and the assurance of eternal life.

What are some of the significant contributions of the Book of Zephaniah? I believe we are given a clue by the placement of this book among the Old Testament Minor Prophets. In terms of simple chronology, the Book of Habakkuk is the last Minor Prophet before Judah goes into exile, at the hands of the Babylonians. But in terms of its placement in the Old Testament, it is the Book of Zephaniah which is the last of the Minor Prophets before the exile. Zephaniah therefore serves as the final written word of the pre-exilic Minor Prophets. Do some accuse Zephaniah of not being very original and of merely repeating what others before him have said? That seems to have been a good part of his job. By his repetitions, Zephaniah emphasizes the important themes and messages of the prophets who ministered before him. Because Zephaniah’s ministry overlapped that of Jeremiah, he served as a second witness, whose testimony confirmed the words of Jeremiah.

We have Zephaniah to thank for underscoring the fact that while God’s judgment for sin will be swift and severe, He also saves a remnant, thus assuring Israel of their hope for the future.

What should our response be to the message of the Book of Zephaniah? Zephaniah himself tells us.

First, we are instructed by Zephaniah to be silent:

Be quiet before the Lord God,
for the Lord’s day of judgment is almost here.
The Lord has prepared a sacrificial meal;
he has ritually purified his guests (Zephaniah 1:7).

What does it mean to be silent before the Lord? It may mean that we cease making excuses for our sin, or that we stop denying that we are sinners, deserving of God’s wrath. Silence is sometimes viewed as a way of admitting one’s guilt (Leviticus 10:3; Nehemiah 5:8; Job 6:24). Silence is also an expression of reverence. To be silent before God is to show reverence to Him (Psalm 62:1; 65:1; Habakkuk 2:20; Zechariah 2:13). It may also be that the “silence” called for is the “silence” of Jeremiah 7:16:

Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for these people. Do not cry out to me or petition me on their behalf. Do not plead with me to save them, because I will not listen to you (Jeremiah 7:16; see also 11:14; 14:11).

The time for God’s judgment had come; let not the righteous ask God to withhold His hand. Let the righteous silently await the “Day of Judgment.”

Second, we are instructed to seek the Lord:

1 Gather yourselves together, yes, gather,
O nation without shame,
2 Before the decree takes effect—
The day passes like the chaff—
Before the burning anger of the LORD comes upon you,
Before the day of the LORD'S anger comes upon you.
3 Seek the LORD,
All you humble of the earth
Who have carried out His ordinances;
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD'S anger (Zephaniah 2:1-3, NASB).

I take this as a call to repentance for those who do not know God, as well as for those who do know Him. Men and women should prepare to meet their God. My friends, the great and final “Day of Judgment” is still future, but it may not be far off. The bad news is that each and every one of us is a sinner, deserving of God’s judgment – the very judgment described in Zephaniah (see also Romans 3:9-20). The good news is that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer God’s judgment in our place. When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, He did not die for His sins, for He was the sinless Lamb of God. He did not merely suffer at the hands of Rome; He endured the judgment of God that should have been ours. He then rose from the dead and ascended to the Father in heaven. He offers salvation to any who will trust in Him. Those who reject Him must endure the eternal wrath of God. What a terrifying thought.

Third, the righteous remnant is instructed to wait for the Lord:

Therefore you must wait patiently for me,” says the Lord,
“for the day when I attack and take plunder.
I have decided to gather nations together
and assemble kingdoms,
so I can pour out my fury on them—
all my raging anger.
For the whole earth will be consumed
by my fiery anger (Zephaniah 3:8).

Judgment Day, the “Day of the Lord,” is certainly coming. The godly should wait patiently for it to come. This will be a day of the vindication and deliverance for the righteous remnant.290 This will be the day that commences the times of blessing. The righteous should avoid taking vengeance and wait for this day when God will make all things right.

Fourth, the righteous are to joyfully worship God, in the light of the coming “Day of the Lord”:

14 Shout for joy, daughter Zion!
Shout out, Israel!
Be happy and boast with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has removed the instruments of judgment that attacked you;
he has turned back your enemy.
Israel’s king, the Lord, is in your midst!
You no longer need to fear disaster.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Don’t be afraid, Zion!
Your hands must not be paralyzed from panic!
17 The Lord your God is in your midst;
he is a warrior who can deliver.
He takes great delight in you;
he renews you by his love;
he shouts for joy over you.”
18 “As for those who grieve because they cannot attend the festivals—
I took them away from you;
they became tribute and were a source of shame to you.
19 Look, at that time I will deal with those who mistreated you.
I will rescue the lame sheep
and gather together the scattered sheep.
I will take away their humiliation
and make the whole earth admire and respect them.
20 At that time I will lead you—
at the time I gather you together.
Be sure of this! I will make all the nations of the earth respect and admire you
when you see me restore you,” says the Lord (Zephaniah 3:14-20).

The prophecy of Zephaniah ends with a call to worship. The prophet is not speaking of worship in some future day, though that will surely take place. He is calling for worship now. God’s people should worship because the “Day of Judgment” and the times of blessing are certain to come. God’s people are to worship by faith, knowing that God is a covenant-keeping God. He always keeps His promises, whether they are promises of judgment or of blessing. Even in the most difficult of times, the future of the righteous is clear, and it is certain.

How much more this truth should be a comfort for New Testament Christians. In one sense our “Day of Judgment” came 2,000 years ago, when our Lord Jesus Christ bore our judgment on the cross of Calvary. We need not dread God’s coming judgment, and we anxiously await the full measure of God’s promised blessings. Much that was future for the saints of old is now history for us. We can look back upon the cross of Calvary, while they could only look forward. I repeat, how much more should we enter into joyful worship, knowing that we shall escape divine judgment, and that we shall soon enter into our eternal blessings, all because of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ!


286 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on September 9, 2001.

287 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

288 This is a most interesting text. Why would God judge the royal sons of Judah for wearing foreign clothing? It seems to me that in so doing they identified themselves with the heathen nations and with their heathen religion and practices. The nation Israel was to be distinct and separate from the nations. To begin to dress like foreigners was to cast off their unique identity and role. It was, in effect, to renounce their identity. If those in Judah – indeed, in Jerusalem, in the palace no less – were beginning to identify with their enemies, what would they do when they were scattered abroad? The leaders were the precedent-setters of the nation. What the royal sons did, the nation would do as well. How much influence did Princess Diana have over other young women in her days as a princess?

289 The words of Zephaniah 2:1-3 might be a call to repentance for the unbeliever, and this would explain why the prophet mentions deliverance as a possibility. One certainly gets the impression that the righteous are also addressed, and that they, too, may escape some of the coming destruction, if they persist in righteousness. Nevertheless, there is no “blank check” guarantee that the righteous will escape all suffering. Thus, I have said that the righteous remnant will either be delivered through judgment (as was Noah and his family, in the ark) or from judgment.

290 See 2 Thessalonians 1:4-8.