Zephaniah 1 – Coming Judgment and the Reasons For It
A. God’s promised judgment.
1. (1) Zephaniah: The man and his times.
The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.
a. The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah: This first verse of the prophecy of Zephaniah sets it apart from most other prophets, in that he tells us both his time and his roots. Zephaniah was an unusual prophet, in that he was of royal lineage, descending from the godly King Hezekiah.
i. The name Zephaniah means “Yahweh Hides” or “Yahweh Has Hidden.” Zephaniah was almost certainly born during the long, wicked reign of Manasseh, whose reign began 55 years before the start of Josiah’s reign. Zephaniah was probably hidden for his own protection.
b. In the days of Josiah: Josiah was a godly, young king who brought great revival and reform to Judah but Josiah reigned for 10 years before he led his great revival. Zephaniah was likely written in the years before the revival, and God used this prophecy to bring and further revival.
i. Since Zephaniah predicts the destruction of Nineveh (which happened in 612 b.c.) we know that his prophecy belongs to the first part of the reign of King Josiah.
ii. The 12 Minor Prophets are divided into two groups: pre-exilic and post-exilic. The first 9 are pre-exilic, writing before the Babylonians conquered and exiled Judah. The last 3 are post-exilic, writing during and after the return of Israel from Babylon to the Promised Land. Zephaniah is the last of the pre-exilic prophets, and can be said to “sum up” the messages of the previous 8. This is why Zephaniah seems unoriginal to some scholars, because he quotes the words and ideas of many previous prophets.
2. (2-3) The promise of judgment.
“I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land,” says the Lord; “I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land,” says the Lord.
a. I will utterly consume everything: Zephaniah doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. Delivering the message of the Lord, he warns of harsh and complete judgment that consumes everything before the Lord.
3. (4-6) Judgment is promised to idolaters.
“I will stretch out My hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, the names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests; those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, but who also swear by Milcom; those who have turned back from following the Lord, and have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him.”
a. Against Judah: The promise of judgment in Zephaniah 1:2-3 was broad enough to include the whole earth, and to allow some to think that God didn’t really mean them. Now God zeros in on His people in the land of Judah, and He will not allow them to think that He speaks just to others.
b. I will cut off every trace of Baal: King Josiah inherited a corrupt nation from his father Amon and grandfather Manasseh, a nation almost wholly given over to idolatry (2 Kings 21:3-7). Here God announces judgment against the idol worshippers in Israel. Apparently both the leadership and the people heeded this announcement of judgment, because in the days of Josiah this kind of gross idolatry was put away (2 Kings 23:4-15).
i. In light of the complete uprooting of idolatry described in 2 Kings 23, we can see that God’s promise to cut off every trace of Baal and destroy the rest of the expressions of idolatry was fulfilled. We also see that this prophecy was an invitation, as if God said: “Baal and the idols are going to go. You can get rid of them in righteousness or I will get rid of them in judgment, but rest assured that they are going to go.” King Josiah directed the war on idolatry and the nation was blessed.
4. (7-9) Judgment is promised to royalty.
“Be silent in the presence of the Lord God; for the day of the Lordis at hand, for the Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests. And it shall be, in the day of the Lord’s sacrifice, that I will punish the princes and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with foreign apparel. In the same day I will punish all those who leap over the threshold, who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.”
a. Be silent in the presence of the Lord God: God addresses the royalty of Judah in a way they aren’t used to hearing. He tells them to “shut up” and listen to His pronouncement of judgment – a sacrifice of judgment made against a wicked nation.
i. Boice tells the story of two gangsters, one named “Two-Gun Crowley” who cruelly murdered many including a policeman. He was captured in a shoot-out with police and wrote this note during the shoot-out, fearing he would die: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.” The other gangster is Al Capone, who said: “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.” Our ability to proclaim our innocence when we are deep in sin is pretty amazing, but through it all God tells us be silent in the presence of the Lord God.
b. I will punish the princes and the king’s children: This warning came to a godly king during a time of reform. God warns Josiah and the whole royal community what will happen if they don’t follow through on their turning to God.
c. All such as are clothed with foreign apparel: The priests and leaders of Judah were ashamed of their national identity, so they loved to dress in foreign apparel. They wanted to be as much like the worldly nations around them as they could possibly be.
d. All those who leap over the threshold: This probably refers to bringing pagan customs and superstitions into the house of God, in the same way that the worshippers of Dagon honored silly and offensive superstitions (1 Samuel 5:5).
5. (10-11) Judgment is promised to merchants.
“And there shall be on that day,” says the Lord, “The sound of a mournful cry from the Fish Gate, a wailing from the Second Quarter, and a loud crashing from the hills. Wail, you inhabitants of Maktesh! For all the merchant people are cut down; all those who handle money are cut off.”
a. All the merchant people are cut down: Merchants and those with money trusted in their riches, and now God promises to cut down those steeped in that kind of idolatry. Colossians 3:5-6 shows this isn’t just an Old Testament concept: Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth . . . covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.
6. (12-13) Judgment is promised to the complacent.
“And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency, who say in their heart, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will He do evil.’ Therefore their goods shall become booty, and their houses a desolation; they shall build houses, but not inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.”
a. I will search Jerusalem with lamps: No one will be able to hide against the judgment of God. It is coming, and even if God must get out the “flashlights,” He will find them.
i. “Unlike Diogenes, the pre-Christian Greek philosopher who was searching for an honest man, Yahweh in this context does not seek righteousness but sin to punish and eradicate.” (Baker)
b. Punish the men who are settled in complacency: The Lord promises judgment against those who feel that God is distant or detached from their lives, and have thus become complacent.
c. The Lord will not do good, nor will He do evil: Some people believe in God as a great “clockmaker” who created the universe, wound it up and then left it ticking without any intervention from Him. Those who believe there is no God, or if He is He has nothing to do with man are terribly and tragically wrong.
i. Edward Gibbon in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire described the attitude towards religion in the last days of the Roman Empire – attitudes remarkably like our own today.
· The people regarded all religions as equally true
· The philosophers regarded all religions as equally false
· The politicians regarded all religions as equally useful
B. The description of judgment.
1. (14-16) The intensity of judgment.
The great day of the Lordis near; it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers.
a. The great day of the Lord is near: The term day of the Lord (used more than 25 times in the Bible) does not necessarily refer to one specific day; it speaks of “God’s time.” The idea is that now is the day of man, but the day of man will not last forever. One day, the Messiah will end the day of man and bring forth the day of the Lord.
b. That day is a day of wrath: It is a day of wrath because man will not give up without a fight, and because mankind will receive the just penalty for his rebellion against the Lord. Zephaniah paints the picture powerfully with the repeated description, “a day of . . .”
i. That day is a day of wrath: “This passage is the Vulgate forms the first line of the medieval sequence Dies irae.” (Walker)
2. (17-18) The certainty of judgment.
“I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse.” Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land.
a. I will . . . I shall: God wants to make it plain and certain that He will judge a rebellious Judah. If they do not repent, there will be no holding back from the completion of His judgment.
b. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them: Men trust in silver and gold, but it will do them no good on the day of God’s deliverance.
© 2001 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission