Explore the Bible Series

July 1, 2007


Background Passage: Zephaniah 1:1-3:20

Lesson Passage: Zephaniah 1:12-15; 2:1-3; 3:11-12


Introduction: Two or three other men, in the Old Testament, share the name Zephaniah with our present author.This particular man, according to our text, descended from King Hezekiah (ruled Judah c. 716-787 B.C.); thus, he came from a royal lineage.The prophet wrote during the reign of King Josiah (ruled c. 640-609 B.C.), a ruler of impeccable integrity and commitment to religious reform in Judah.


Josiah followed his wicked grandfather and father to the throne of Judah, and he affected remarkable reform among Godís people despite the horrific track record of his forefathers. His task was formidable. King Manasseh, Josiahís grandfather, immersed himself in wickedness like no other King in Hebrew history.Among his moral and religious horrors, this evil man led Judah into unparalleled idolatry that included bloody child sacrifices. His five decade (fifty-five years) governance of Judah set in motion the ultimate demise of Judah; yet, toward the end of his life, this remarkably ungodly man repented of his sin and turned to Jehovah for gracious forgiveness (See II Chronicles 33:10 ff).


Amon, Josiahís father, followed in the disgraceful steps of Manasseh (See II Kings 21:19ff).†† His degradation, however, was short-lived, and his servants assassinated him when he was twenty-four years old.Josiah, at eight years of age, inherited this disgraceful legacy, and Zephaniah addressed the moral morass that pooled around these ungodly kings.In the twelfth year of his reign, Josiah initiated religious reform in Judah.Sadly, the reforms, among the citizens of Judah, seem shallow and perfunctory.Though the kingís motives appear genuine, the people did not wholeheartedly follow the monarchís lead.Scholars may debate the exact timing of Zephaniahís ministry.Did he address Judahís spiritual condition at the threshold of Josiahís reforms; or, did he aim his concerns at a society that, despite their kingís authentic efforts for revival, remained adulterous and idolatrous.The exact date of Zephaniahís prophecy can be determined, though his message seems, in my judgment, to fit the earlier period of Josiahís reign, before the kingís reform efforts.Whatever the date of this prophecy, no Old Testament prophet more sharply addressed the sins of the covenant people of God.His wilting, scathing assessment of Judahís sins should cause all readers to fear and tremble before God, repent of their sins, and cry out for the Lordís pardoning mercy.


Hereís the bottom line, Zephaniah preached during the reign of King Josiah.Years of wicked leadership had eroded the spiritual and moral integrity of Judah, and Godís judgment loomed on the horizon.Zephaniah was not alone in his concern.Jeremiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk joined their voices with Zephaniah to announce Godís approaching judgment and the only hope of Godís people, sincere and thorough repentance.


Outline of the Background Passage:


I.                   The Coming Day of the Lord (1:1-18)

A.    Introduction to the prophecy (v. 1): Zephaniah claimed that his message came from God, and identified himself by tracing four generations of his pedigree.

B.     Godís promise of judgment upon Judah (vv. 2-6): Zephaniah came directly to his point: God had determined to bring destruction on Judah because of her idolatry.The prophet promised that God would sweep away Judah, a people who had turned to the pagan worship of Baal, astrological superstitions (See v. 5 concerning the veneration of the heavens), and the veneration of Milcom (the Ammonite god Molech).

C.     The coming Day of the Lord (vv. 7-18): This term ďthe Day of the LordĒ is widely used in the Old Testament and refers, in a general sense, to the various times of judgment and redemption the Lord decreed.Ultimately, we should understand these periods of judgment as foreshadowing of the great Day of Judgment that will come at the end of world. Zephaniah listed several characteristics of the Day of the Lord.

1.      It was near (vv. 7 and 14): Judah could not take comfort that her destruction loomed in the distant, mystical ďtomorrowĒ; rather, the nation stood at the threshold of sweeping destruction.

2.      It would begin with the political and religious leaders (vv. 8-9): The nationís officials led the people into the idolatrous conditions that degraded the land.

3.      It will prove irresistible and inescapable (vv. 10-18): Zephaniah predicted that God would search Jerusalem to bring his justice on the religious indifference of the people. Jehovah will bring a thorough end to the indulgent lives of the inhabitants of Judah.The nationís opulence will provide no relief or redemption from Godís wrath.


II.                Godís Judgment on Judahís Neighbors (2:1-15)

A.    Jehovahís overture of mercy to a humble remnant (vv. 1-3): Habakkuk, in our previous study, pled with the Lord to remember mercy in the midst of wrath (See Habakkuk 3:2b), and Zephaniah acknowledges this possibility for those who would humble themselves before the Lord.Some, Zephaniah implied, may find shelter from the coming destruction: the humble, the obedient, and the righteous.

B.     A brief list of doomed nations (vv. 4-15):

1.      Philistia (vv. 4-7): Five city-states made up the Philistine Confederacy, and this wicked, idolatrous people troubled Israel for generations.The text also identifies the Cherethites, a pagan people who lived among the Philistines.

2.      Moab and Ammon (vv. 8-11): These pagan nations descended from Lotís incestuous relations with his daughters.Both of these nations, at various times, conspired with Israelís enemies to bring ruin on the people of God.The reference to Sodom and Gomorrah highlight the disgraceful origins of these people.

3.      Cush (v. 12): Cush, modern Ethiopia, often allied with Egypt to distress Israel.

4.      Assyria (vv. 13-15): The Assyrians had reached the apex of their power, and the prophet promised that soon this oppressive nation would succumb to divine judgment.


III.             Godís Redemptive Purpose in Chastening Judah (3:1-20)

A.    Godís complaint against Judah (vv. 1-8): Zephaniah listed several indictments against Judah.Among these concerns, the people refused to hear the correction of the Lord.Many prophets had signaled Godís displeasure, but the nation ignored the Lordís gracious warnings.His spiritual deafness revealed Judahís alienation from God.Furthermore, the nationís leaders contributed to the spiritual inertia of the land.Political leaders, judges, and priests abused their positions and helped create an unjust, violent, and profane society.Above all, the people felt no shame for their disobedience, indifference, and injustice.Zephaniah closed this section with an observation about Godís displeasure with other nations (See vv. 6-8).

B.     Godís redemptive purpose (vv. 9-20): The Book of Zephaniah concludes with a wonderful promise of Godís mercy towards the nations.

1.      Godís grace toward the Gentiles (vv. 9-13): Zephaniah promised that Jehovah would transform the pagan nations.They will, the prophet pledged, humble themselves and seek refuge in the Lord.

2.      Godís grace toward Judah (vv. 14-20): The prophet anticipated a great time of revival and restoration for Judah, a time of renewal, rejoicing, forgiveness, comfort, and security.†† God will dwell among his people and gather hem for marvelous fellowship and celebration.



Questions for Discussion:

  1. If God intended such blessing for Judah, why did he chasten them so severely?What purposes do hardships play in the redemptive work of God?
  2. Explore the implications of Zephaniahís promises concerning the redemption of the pagan nations.How do these promises inform contemporary missionary labors around the world?