Today we begin the book of Zephaniah, a short book with a powerful message and part of what is sometimes known as the “Minor Prophets” section of the Old Testament.
Today’s passage is Zephaniah 1:1-19. Let’s go!
Zephaniah 1:1 (NIV) 1 The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
On verse 1: Who was Zephaniah? According to some scholars, the fact that Zephaniah traces his ancestry back four generations in verse 1 suggests that Zephaniah was a man of high social standing and quite possibly the great grandson of King Hezekiah. Zephaniah received this word from the Lord and wrote this book during the reign of Josiah, who reigned from 640 and 609 B.C.
Zephaniah 1:2-3 (NIV) 2 “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. 3 “I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD.
On verses 2-3: Why is the Lord talking about destroying the whole earth in these verses? These verses are referring to “the day of the Lord” (see verse 7)? The “day of the Lord” is a term found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It refers to the end times, or more specifically as we see in the New Testament, the time when Jesus will return to earth, gather His people, establish His kingdom and issue His final judgment on those who have rejected Him. Verses 2-3 and other passages also tell us that the day of the Lord will be accompanied by the catastrophic destruction of the earth, after which God will create a new heaven and a new earth. What can we learn from this? Jesus is coming back, and His return will change life on this planet as we know it.
Zephaniah 1:4-6 (NIV) 4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal, the names of the pagan and the idolatrous priests– 5 those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molech, 6 those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.
On verses 4-6: Here the prophet Zephaniah pronounces judgment on the people of Judah and in particular identifies groups of people that the Lord will cut off. Those groups of people can be summarized as follows:
– those who worshiped the idol Baal (v4);
– those who worshiped idols in addition to worshiping the Lord (v5);
– those who turned back from following the Lord and no longer sought Him or inquired of Him (v6).
What can we learn from this? Here Zephaniah describes 3 spiritual conditions that veer away from the life God calls us to live. The first – those who worship the idol Baal – represents those who have never worshiped the Lord but worship false gods instead (v4). The second – those who worship idols in addition to the worshiping the Lord – represents those who place the Lord on the same level as other god (v5). The third represents those who once followed the Lord but who no longer seek or inquire of Him (v6). In each case there is a false form of worship taking place that will result in judgment. Since all of us were in one of these categories before and can be tempted to fall into them again,we must be vigilant to guard our heart and our relationship with the Lord.
Zephaniah 1:7-18 (NIV) 7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. 8 On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the princes and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. 9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit. 10 “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. 11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined. 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’ 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. They will build houses but not live in them; they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine. 14 “The great day of the LORD is near– near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 17 I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”
On verses 7-18: Zephaniah refers to “the day of the Lord” more than any other book in the Old Testament. Zephaniah’s message is one of hard-hitting destruction from the Lord. What prompted this message? It helps to understand the context in which Zephaniah lived and ministered. Zephaniah lived during a time when King Josiah had purified the land of Judah of idols that the kings who preceded him had introduced (see 2 Kings 22). He also had the people of Judah renew a covenant before the Lord (see 2 Kings 23). Despite Josiah’s valiant efforts, the spiritual revival that Josiah tried to introduced had mostly only superficial effects, as the hearts of the people remained mostly unchanged. Josiah’s sons did not share their father’s passion for the Lord but were in love with other nations and their customs (v8). Idol worship, violent crimes and robbery were still commonplace in Judah (v9). Merchants still did business dishonestly and with usury (v11). The rich were largely complacent, thinking that the warnings of God’s Word would never come to pass (v12-13). For these reasons the Lord uses Zephaniah to warn the people about the day of the Lord, a day of “wrath…distress…anguish…trouble…ruin…darkness and gloom” (v15), a day of battle cries and military attacks (v16), all coming as judgment for the people’s sin.
As it would turn out, Zephaniah’s reference to the “day of the Lord” has both a short-term and a long-term application. The long-term application of “the day of the Lord” is the day when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom – thus explaining the references in verses 2, 3 and 18 to the destruction of the whole world. The short-term application of “the day of the Lord” is the day shortly after Zephaniah’s prophecy when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem and take the Jews into exile – thus the references in verses 4 through 13 to the destruction of Judah.
What can we learn from all this? Here are a few lessons I learn from this:
No matter what things might look like on the outside, God focuses on the condition of your heart. You may be part of a group (e.g. a church, a family, a school, a business, a city) where the leaders are very passionate about God and do their best to lead the people closer to Him. On the outside things may seem very spiritual and God-pleasing. However, in the end what matters to the Lord is your own personal response to Him.
Our God is a holy God. From Him emanates a holy wrath against sin. Our God is a jealous God. He is not interested in sharing His glory with another.
Zephaniah 1:10 (NIV) 10 “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
On verse 10: When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Jerusalem in approximately 605 B.C., he apparently entered through the Fish Gate (known as such because it was located near the fish market) and proceeded to destroy all of Jerusalem. Amazingly, Zephaniah received a revelation about this years before it took place.
Heavenly Father, thank You for showing me today that You look past appearances and focus on the heart. Please help me to guard my heart, that I would stay true to You, put You first, and be ready for the day Jesus returns. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!