A Powerful Lesson from Zephaniah
Zephaniah lived during the last days of the kingdom of Judah. His small book is a part of the section of the Bible known as the Minor Prophets. The Minor Prophets are referred to as such because of the briefness of their writing, not because of the content found within. While we may not know much about the writer himself, Zephaniah sends a powerful lesson to the people of his day all while giving each of us many things to ponder about our own generation.
Zephaniah was the great-great grandson of king Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a good king and worked hard to initiate religious reform in Judah. After his death, his son Manasseh took the throne and actively persecuted the prophets of Jehovah. Jewish tradition says that Isaiah was sawn in two by those employed by Manasseh. Altars to Baal and Molech were rebuilt. The people were encouraged to consult with mediums and practice superstition. Evil and violence once again filled the streets of Jerusalem. This trend continued after Manasseh's death into the reign of Amon. He too, became a victim of the violence of the day by being assassinated, 2 Chronicles 33:24-25. After Amon's death, the eight-year old Josiah was put in as king. It is during his reign that Zephaniah's ministry began. During the eighth year of Josiah's reign, religious reform was initiated. 2 Chronicles 34:3 says that Josiah began to seek the God of his father David. By the twelfth year, Josiah moved to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images. The next few verses describe that this reform took place throughout Judah. 2 Chronicles 34 goes on to describe a movement toward God that takes place throughout the rule of Josiah. It was a very significant event.
With this in view, the religious reform that Josiah pursued is not mentioned in the book of Zephaniah. Was he not impressed with the events taking place? Zephaniah describes a people who enjoyed violence and deceit 1:9; engaged in dishonest business practices 1:11; were stagnant in their belief in God, 1:12; and were absorbed in their materialism and pleasures, 1:13. But what may be most revealing about the spiritual condition of Jews in 630 B.C. is found in Zephaniah 1:5. In the preceding verses Zephaniah announces the coming doom upon Judah and Jerusalem. Among those who would experience it are those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, and those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom. Were the reforms of Josiah effective? Yes. Had they not been, we might not see any reference to the LORD by Zephaniah in 1:5. But, it seems while the people may have had a greater consciousness of the LORD, they still believed they could mix idolatry with the true religion of God. Those who bowed down to the host of heaven were those who worshipped the planets and stars - very common traits of eastern religion. "Milcom" was another name for the star god - Molech. That people were swearing by the name of this god shows they had elevated this idol to the same level as Jehovah. The people of Judah were told they would be punished for disloyalty to God. God demands total loyalty and allegiance. The first chapter of Zephaniah ends with this statement of fact: On the day of the LORD"S wrath all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, 1:18.
What can Christians of the twenty-first century take from this? How strong is our loyalty to God? While we may not bow down to the stars of heaven or worship graven images, we have our own "idols" to deal with. For example, how many fall down to the idol of materialism - letting it sap away our resources and time to feed its insatiable appetite? The effects of the materialistic mindset may be far more reaching that we care to realize. Many work constantly just to keep up with the times. Constant work takes away from the important things. We're run ragged and even brag about it! This has led to a general attitude that sees no harm in offering leftovers of time and energy to God. Materialistic concerns have been elevated to the same importance as God Himself. What is the effect? Family suffers. The local church suffers. Our communities suffer. Like the people of Judah, we too must learn that our affections can not be divided. Our loyalty must be to God first - before all else. Jesus said, no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth, Matthew 6:24. Zephaniah may be an obscure Old Testament book, but it contains powerful lessons that each Christian living today must consider.
By Matthew Allen
From Expository Files 13.12; December 2006