Zephaniah: The Royal Prophet
Minor Prophets Series #7
Zephaniah prophesied about 625 B.C. which makes him a contemporary of Jeremiah. The unusual thing about Zephaniah is his ancestry. He is of the royal line of Judah, and more specifically of the house of David. His great-great grandfather was Hezekiah, one of Judah's most righteous kings. However, when Hezekiah died, it was Zephaniah's great uncle, Manasseh, and not his great grandfather, Amariah, who ascended the throne. Manasseh became the most corrupt king of Judah's history, reversing all the gains his father had made and is thought to be the king responsible for
putting Isaiah to death.
Zephaniah's prophecy takes place during the reign of Josiah, the last good king
Judah had. However, like the reforms of Hezekiah, it appears that the hearts of
the people are not really in Josiah's reforms. When hearts remain unchanged,
outward improvements cannot last. Josiah, a devout man, does his best to get the
nation back on the right track, so God promises not to bring judgment upon the
land of Judah during his lifetime. It will be coming though, and the time is
nearing. Zephaniah's prophecy deals with God's judgment upon His own people,
followed by descriptions of divine judgment upon the surrounding nations, and
finally a section dealing with the future hope of salvation under the Messiah
which will be enjoyed by a remnant of the people.
THE SITUATION IN JUDAH
"And I will bring distress on men, so that they will walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord." (ZEPHANIAH 1:17). Josiah began his reforms rather late in his reign, not because of a lack of will upon his part but rather because nobody in the land had a copy of the Law of God given through Moses to go by. It was during this time that an ancient scroll was found in the ruins of the temple and discovered to be a copy of the Law. It was read to the people and then implemented. If the reforms had sunk in deeper perhaps Judah could have been saved. Or if Josiah's son who became king after him had continued in his father's steps maybe the heart of the people could have gradually been turned around. But it was not to be. In fact, Zephaniah pretty much ignores the reforms and warns the people that unless they truly seek the Lord the decree of Judgment will be carried out. "Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame, before the decree takes effect - the day passes like chaff - before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger." (ZEPHANIAH 2:1-3).
JUDGMENT UPON JUDAH
"So I will stretch My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place..." (ZEPHANIAH 1:4). There are several reasons given in the context of the first chapter as to why God will bring such devastation upon the land; "I will cut off...the names of the idolatrous priests...." (Vs. 4). Idolatry was still rampant in the nation. Josiah's campaign to remove the altars of Baal from the land was only partially successful. The altars removed from the high places could be built back up again by the priests and their willing followers.
"And those who bow down on the housetops to the hosts of heavens." (vs. 5). Also, astrology, the occult and the worship of the stars was practiced in the land. Such was (and is) contrary to God's law.
"And those who bow down and swear by the Lord and yet swear by Milcom." (vs. 5).
The god Milcom was the chief of the pagan deities. It wasn't that the people had
completely forgotten Jehovah; they still worshiped Him as well. Their loyalties
were divided. They compromised their faith and principles. Many in our nation
are doing the same kind of thing today. While I need to be tolerant of people of
other religions, and never mistreat anyone who is of a different faith than that
of Christ, that does not mean I have to agree with or approve of their faith. If
Jesus is Lord, then other
faiths are false faiths. If He is not, then Christianity is a false faith built on a false hope and a false Messiah who made false claims of being the only way to God (JOHN 14:6).
"And those who have turned back from following the Lord." (vs. 6). This would describe people who at one time followed the Lord but fell away into transgression.
"And those who have not sought the Lord nor inquired of Him." (vs. 6). This
would describe those who have never been interested in the Lord at all. They
breathe His air, drink His water, eat the food which grows by the laws He has
ordained, but choose not to acknowledge Him or express any kind of gratitude at
all.For these reasons, the rebelliousness of the people and their halfhearted
attempts in allowing Josiah's needed reforms to take
root and cause lasting change, the nation will be destroyed. And the time is growing short. "Near is the great day of the Lord, near and coming very quickly..." (ZEPHANIAH 1:14).
THE OTHER NATIONS
"For Gaza will be abandoned... Ashkelon... Ashdod... Ekron... Surely Moab will be like Sodom, and the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah... You also, O Ethiopians... and destroy Assyria... And He will make Ninevah a desolation..." (ZEPHANIAH 2:4,8-9; 12-13). Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron were principle Philistine cities to the east along the coast of the Mediterranean. Moab and Ammon were to the west, Assyria to the north and Ethiopia to the south. In every direction the Lord promises to bring judgment upon the idolatrous and wicked nations. Jehovah is not just the God of Israel,
nor is His power limited only to Israel and Judah proper. He is the Creator and sustainer of all. In these prophecies, especially the one concerning Assyria, the prophet predicts what no man could have guessed. At this time, thriving Assyria was powerful and seemed invincible. But Zephaniah contends that shortly Assyria was to fall and Ninevah be destroyed. This was accomplished when Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Assyria within a generation.
"Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion!...The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; and you will fear disaster no more... At that time I will bring you in, even at that time when I gather you together..." (ZEPHANIAH 3:14,15,20). The last section of the prophecy stands in stark contrast to the rest of the message. Out of the dark forebodings of judgment and destruction comes a promise familiar to those who read the prophets. There will be a restoration of a remnant (vs 13) that will be faithful to God and will benefit from God's blessings. The context describes several things which will take place:
Judgments for sin will be taken away (vs 14). This occurs for us when our sins are forgiven in Christ and we are given the hope of heaven instead of prospect for eternal judgment (I JOHN 4:17,18).
He has cleared away your enemies (vs 14). Christ Himself has conquered death, proving Himself able to defeat even this last and greatest enemy of man (I CORINTHIANS 15:24-26).
Rejoice and exult with all your heart (vs 14). Because of the blessings and privileges in Christ, we are urged today to rejoice in the Lord always (PHILIPPIANS 4:4).
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst (vs 15). The Lord Himself came to redeem and bless us. Our King lives in us today. He assures us of victory (GALATIANS 2:20).
Even at that time I will gather you together (vs 20). It is the Lord who adds us to His body, or sets us as spiritual stones into His house ((I PETER 2:5-10).
When I restore your fortunes before your eyes (vs 20). Again, we find in Jesus eternal treasure which does not corrode nor can it be stolen, an inheritance that fades not away, an imperishable crown, or perhaps we could just sum it up by calling our spiritual fortune the unfathomable riches of Christ (EPHESIANS 3:8).
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 4.7; July 1997