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Zephaniah

Introduction
(1:1)

Author

This is the only time in the prophetic books that an author traces his geneaology. He mentions a Hezekiah. Why would he go back and stop at Hezekiah if this is not the king Hezekiah? (One of the godly kings.) Therefore, Zephaniah was probably in the royal family and lived in Jerusalem.

Religious Background

Hezekiah was supposed to die, but he pleaded with God to let him live a little longer. God granted him his request and it was during the 15 year extension of his life that Manasseh was born. He was the worst king in Judah’s history. The things he promoted in Judah resulted in the nation declining past the point of no return and God pronouncing certain judgment. Although Manasseh repented at the end of his life, his son, Amon, continued the idolatry and decline. Josiah followed Amon and was was a godly king. He brought about spiritual revival, but he could not stop the judgment of God. He could only postpone it. When he died, the people went back to their wicked ways because his reforms were more than likely forced on them - (by edict of the king) - and not from their hearts.

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Slides - Road to Beersheba

Altar - found large stones imbedded in mud walls and got the idea to fit them together - and this is what they discovered

Arad - built their own temple - same dimensions as one in Jerusalem. I guess they thought it was too far to walk to the real temple even though that is what God commanded.

They would have claimed to be worshipping God, but they just weren't doing it His way.

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It is possible that Josiah's reforms coincided with the ministry of Zephaniah. It could have been that God used his ministry to turn the nation around. If that is the case we can narrow the date down to 622 B.C. Zephaniah mentions the coming destruction of Ninevah, so we know it was before 612 B.C at the very least.

Zephaniah understood this judgment was inevitable and pointed to the coming day of the Lord. He pictured the coming judgment on the nation of Judah and the Gentiles. But he then indicates that the Day of the Lord would also bring deliverance for Israel and the Gentiles.

Judgment in the Day of the Lord
(1:2-3:8)

On all the Earth (1:2-3)

God is angry. Everyone is so wicked that He vows to totally destroy the earth. The mention of man and beast, birds and fish, etc. emphasize how thorough the destruction will be. It will be like in the days of Noah. Notice that this is the reversal of creation. The order of creation was fish, birds, beasts and man. Here we have the opposite order.

On Judah (1:4-13)

He then focuses his anger on Judah. Judgment is coming because of their:

  • Idolatry (vs 4-6) - God was going to rid them of Baal worship. This was accomplished in Babylon. Since then, idolatry has not been a problem in Israel.
  • Alliances with foreign powers (vs 8) - they did not trust in God for safety.
  • Violence and injustice (vs 9) - they were quick (“leap over thresholds”) to go into others houses to deceive and plunder others to enrich their masters.
  • Deism - they thought God was not involved in human affairs (vs 12).

God will fulfill his end of the Mosaic covenant laid out in Deut 28:38-40 and curse them because they have forsaken Him (1:13).

1:10-11 describe the actual route the Babylonians would take as they came through Jerusalem in the invasion.

Fish Gate (NW corner) -> Second Quarter -> Mortar (section of Jerusalem in a hollow bowl shaped area) -

The Day of the Lord is described (1:14-17)

The repetition of all these similar descriptions emphasizes how bad it will be. And the things they have been depending on will not be able to save them. Some of the things they place their faith in are:

    Powerful warriors (1:14)
    Fortified cities (1:16)
    Silver and Gold (1:18)

Human strength, human structures and human resources are all worthless for protecting one from God’s judgment. They have placed their faith in the wrong things. Earlier in 1:12 we saw that nobody can hide because Yahweh will personally search and when He finds them, nobody will be able to stand before him.

Call for Repentance 2:1-3

He addresses them as a nation without shame. This just shows that they had become callused to the evil in their society. Constant sinning will do that. We’ve seen that in our own society.

But, it's not too late to turn back to God, to seek righteousness and humility. Notice the mention of humility and obeying God’s ordinances. It is not elaborated here, but this sums up one of the main messages of the Bible. God wants us to seek Him to have relationship with him (vs 3a “Seek the Lord”), and that involves denial of self (vs 3b “all you humble of the earth”) which ultimately is expressed in loving one’s neighbor - the summary of the law - (3c “who have carried out His ordinances.”)

If they do this, perhaps they will be hidden, preserved from God’s wrath. Zephaniah's name means "hidden" and perhaps this is a play on words to say those that turn to the Lord will be hidden from His wrath (2:3).

If Zephaniah is prophesying during Manasseh or Amon’s time and Josiah is hearing this, then Josiah did repent and did clean up the country as best he could, but he could not cancel our God’s judgment. He could only postpone it. Therefore, the prophet continues with his description of certain judgment.

Zephaniah uses the word “perhaps” in 2:3. This does not imply uncertainty as to whether God will save anyone or whether anyone will repent. The word preserves the absolute sovereignty of God. It is entirely up to God.

Judgment on the Nations 2:4-15

Philistia 2:4-7 Located to the West. He mentions Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron. These were four major cities of the Philistines. This is a literary or poetic way of saying that judgment is coming on all the Philistines.

Moab and Ammon 2:8-11 Located to the East. They were as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah and their punisment would be as bad. It is ironic that two nations born as the result of a shameful incestuous relationship (Lot and his daughters) would be guilty of arrogance.

Ethiopia 2:12 Located to the South - and often associated with Egypt. So perhaps Egypt is to be included.

Assyria 2:13-15 Located to the North - soon to be destroyed.

Perhaps these nations represent the four corners of the earth signifying that all the nations will be judged for their treatment of God's people.

Zephaniah stresses that this is God’s people that the nations are messing with. Five times in three verses 2:8-10 he mentions their relationship to God. It is bad enough to oppress any other nation, but it is especially bad to do it to God’s chosen people.

Judgment on Jerusalem (3:1-7)

The people of Jerusalem would not listen to the good prophets who were pleading for repentance (vs 1). The four groups mentioned (princes, judges, prophets and priests) have forsaken their intended function of preserving the society. Instead, they are destroying the society (3:3). They are no longer just, but God is just and will punish them.

Restoration for the Remnant
(3:8-20)

Zephaniah begins this section with a command to “wait.” This is a request to trust God to carry out his promises. “The day” (vs 8) must refer to the tribulation when God will judge “all the earth.”

We have mentioned this several times in our study of the prophets, but I will point it out in case someone has not heard the explanation. Several of the things Zephaniah says will happen, could have been fulfilled by the Babylonians when they destroyed Judah and took them into captivity. But many of the prophecies concerning the destruction of the nations and the earth have obviously not been fulfilled. This is where it helps to understand what the prophet saw in his visions.

Thus, many of these prophecies will not be fulfilled until the tribulation. Neither will our next section...

Restoration of the Gentiles (3:9-10)

The word “Peoples” refers to the Gentiles. The “purified lips” may be a reference to a reversal of the curse at the tower of Babel. Or an allusion to Isaiah’s unclean lips in Isaiah 6:5. In “that day” God will bless the Gentiles who turn to Him. “All the people” will call on the name of the Lord in that day. Have we reached that day yet? Obviously not.

Over and over again we have seen that Gentiles would be saved and included in the kingdom of God. It shows how far off the religious leader’s of Jesus’ day were in their practice of Judaism.

Restoration of the Jews (3:11-20)

God will also bless the Jews and bring the remnant back to Jerusalem (My holy mountain). And there will be justice and peace in the land (3:11-13). There will be no shame either. This was the same thing promised in Joel 2:26-27. Again, it is obvious that this has not happened.

There will be rejoicing in the future kingdom, for God will be reigning in their midst and the nations will praise and honor Israel as God's people (3:14-20).

3:17 says God will be silent in His love. It is not clear what this means. Rashi says the “silence” is the withholding of judgment. God holds back his judgment because of His love. Keil says that the silence shows a love deeply felt. It means someone is absorbed in his thoughtfulness over that which they love - like infatuation.... This last option seems better to me because it is contrasted with the next phrase which shows God rejoicing with shouts of joy. The two extremes show the extent of God’s love.

The Theology of Zephaniah1

The Day of the Lord

    The Day of the Lord involves God’s Intervention

One of the most prominent features that we learn from Zephaniah concerning the Day of the Lord is that God will intervene in human affairs.

  • Zephaniah uses the word dqp three times (1:8,9,12). It is translated “punish,” but originally has the idea of “to visit” or “inspect in order to take appropriate action.” This is not just a visit from God to dispense blind destruction or judgment.
  • We also see that Yahweh will search Jerusalem with Lamps (1:12). This is personal involvement by God.

The message is that there will be a personal encounter with God.

Why was Zephaniah explaining all this about the Day of the Lord? Because they did not believe that God was involved in human affairs. They were practical athiests.

What is our response to this encounter with God?

Be silent 1:7 It is a sobering thought to realize you are going to stand before the Creator.

Another aspect of the Day of the Lord is the demonstration of Yahweh’s unrivaled superiority. (cf. 1:2, 18) In chapter 2 the four nations represent the four points of the compass and point to God’s superiority over all the nations of the world. Also cf. 2:11. If Yahweh is going to starve all the other God’s then he must be superior to them. Chapter 3:8, 15. Yahweh has no equals. He will share his throne with no one.

    The Day of the Lord is a day of Judgment.

In 1:3 we saw that the destruction of the earth would be worse than the flood. This time even the fish would be destroyed. This destruction is the reversal of creation. The original order was fish, birds, beasts, man. Zephaniah recounts the decreation.

Although both man and beast will suffer, the emphasis is on the judgment that comes to the people. This is seen in the fact that he mentions the judgment on man twice (in vs 3) and he uses the word “cut off” in verse 3 which was used almost as a technical term for the death penalty, and he goes on to elaborate the type of judgment on specific groups of people.

Why is Yahweh bringing Judgment? Is He capricious? No, it is because they have sinned against Him (1:17). His judgment is the response to human choices - to human sin.

One principle we can derive from this is that God deals with sin. Concerning the sins of Judah and the nations, He mentions:

Judah

The Nations

Idolatry 1:4-6

Mocking the Jews 2:8,10

Violence 1:9

Arrogance against the Jews 2:8-10

Complacency 1:12

Self sufficiency 2:15

Trusting in money 1:18

 

Not trusting in God 1:6, 3:2

 

Injustice 3:3-4

 

Corruption 3:7

 

Pride 3:11

 

Deceit 1:9, 3:13

 

Opressing the poor 3:1

 

Therefore, I need to recognize that I can't get away with sin.

    The Day of the Lord is also a time of Salvation
  • The whole book of Zephaniah builds to a crescendo with the proclamation of salvation in the final verses.
  • The phrases “on that day” and “at that time” refer to the same day and time that he has been referring to earlier in a context of judgment.
  • The discussion of the remnant (2:9;3:13) and the universal worship of Yahweh (3:9) contribute to this theme. Here we see that some of the Gentiles are included in the salvation.
  • Yahweh rejoices when He saves but not when He judges which shows that he does not enjoy judging, but relishes saving.

The Remnant

Divine Judment

Most people think about salvation when they think about the remnant, but the very idea of the word remnant means, “what is left over after the catastrophe or purging.” If there is a remnant, one can be sure divine judgment has occurred.

Salvation

Usually God’s visits result in judgment, but part of this visit will be salvation of the remnant. God will restore their fortunes (2:7), eliminate their enemies (3:8), increase their territory (1:13;2:7,9) give them peace (3:12) bring them salvation (3:14-20). Since God destroyed everyone else, he focuses his whole attention on the remnant and they receive multiple blessings. (This is not to deny God’s omnipotence and imply that He was too busy to do it before.)

Their Character

    Humility

The most foundational trait is their humility. Zephaniah 3:12 says the remnant will be humble and lowly and take refuge in the name of the Lord. Zephaniah 3:19 says God will save the lame and the outcast. God saves these types because they are typically humble. They cannot do for themselves and must depend on others. Also humility is foundational to the next two traits:

    They are fully committed to Yahweh.

Zephaniah 2:3 says the people should seek the Lord. This is in contrast to the rest who worship Baal (1:4), stars and Milcom (1:5). Instead of trusting in themselves or their possessions, they humbly recognize their need and place their trust in God.

    The are righteous and ethical in their treatment of others.

Zephaniah says the remnant will do no injustice (3:13). This word is used of partiality in judgment (Lev 19:15), dishonest trading (Deu 25:16), robbing (Eze 33:15), murder (2Sa 3:34) and oppression (2Sa 7:10). All of these uses have in common the unethical treatment of others.

It also says in 3:5 that Yahweh will do no injustice. This means that the remnant is god-like in their treatment of others.

If you haven’t noticed, these two characteristics are those that sum up the law itself-loving God and loving people. The two are inseparable. You can’t love people unless you love God and if you don’t love people, then you really don’t love God. This is evident in the city described in 3:1-3. They do not draw near to God, and they devour one another.

Key Principles:

(1) God is full of grace, gladness and tenderness, but also justice.

Judgment 1:8-9

Grace 3:9-20

Wrath 1:15, 18

Gladness 3:17

Terror

Tenderness 2:7, 3:17

(2) God deals in grace. In the midst of the troubles that are coming God will

REMOVE

RESTORE

Idolatry 1:4-6

Safety 2:3, 3:13

Pride 3:11-12

Prosperity 2:7, 3:20

Deceit 3:13

Purity 3:9

Fear 3:13, 15-16

Worship 3:9-10

Enemies 3:15, 19

Trust 3:12

Reproach 3:18-19

Joy 3:14

Shame 3:11

Remnant 3:10, 18-20

 

His presence 3:15, 17

Therefore I should trust God to work out his plan.

What do I need to do?

  • I need to wait on God (3:8). He will right the wrongs and restore the righteous. I just want to be sure I'm counted among the righteous. Therefore....
  • I need to “Seek the Lord” (2:3) This means that my number one goal in life is to know God - to have an intimate relationship with him.
  • I need to be humble (2:3b). This involves self denial. Vertical and horizontal - which leads to the next requirement.
  • I need to obey God’s ordinances (2:3) = love my neighbor.

1 Summary of Greg King's paper from ETS, Nov 1993.