Explore the Bible Series
July 1, 2007
Background Passage: Zephaniah
Lesson Passage: Zephaniah
1:12-15; 2:1-3; 3:11-12
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
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
The Coming Day of the Lord (1:1-18)
to the prophecy (v. 1): Zephaniah claimed that his message came from God, and
identified himself by tracing four generations of his pedigree.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Godís Judgment on Judahís Neighbors (2:1-15)
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.
brief list of doomed nations (vv. 4-15):
(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
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.
Godís Redemptive Purpose in Chastening Judah (3:1-20)
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).
redemptive purpose (vv. 9-20): The Book of Zephaniah concludes with a wonderful
promise of Godís mercy towards the nations.
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.
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.†
- 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?
the implications of Zephaniahís promises concerning the redemption of the
pagan nations.† How do these
promises inform contemporary missionary labors around the world?