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Zephaniah

June 3, 2009

Background

I. Zephaniah’s Credentials Zephaniah 1:1

II. Three Great Judgments Zephaniah 1:2-18

  1. The Last Judgment on Earth                            Zeph. 1:2-3
  2. The Last Judgment of Israel [Judah]            Zeph. 1:4-13
  3. The Judgment Preceding Christ’s Return    Zeph. 1:14-18

III. Our Hope in Troubled Times Zephaniah 2:1-3

IV. Judgments Concerning Five Nations Zephaniah 2:4-15

  1. Philistia Zeph. 2:4-7
  2. Moab and Ammon Zeph. 2:8-11
  3. Cush Zeph. 2:12
  4. Assyria Zeph. 2:13-15

V. The Status of Jerusalem Zephaniah 3:1-20

  1. The Present Zeph. 3:1-8a
  2. The Future Zeph. 3:8b-20

Background

Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. Israel, the
northern kingdom, had been exiled to Assyria 120 years earlier. Zephaniah was
a contemporary of Nahum and Jeremiah near the midpoint of their prophesying
years. The best dates known are 640-625 BC, just prior to Ezekiel coming on
the scene.

His name means “Yahweh has hidden” which is appropriate in that
God was telling Judah through His prophet Jeremiah that He was going to abandon
Judah because of her sin. Zephaniah prophesied concerning Judah and its’ surrounding
gentile nations as did Isaiah [Is. 10-23], Amos [Amos 1-2], and Jeremiah [Jer.
45-51]. Although they prophesied at different time to different audiences, it
is worthwhile comparing their words to understand the full extent of God’s Word
to these nations.

Zephaniah is noted to be a fourth generation son of Hezekiah. Hezekiah is
a popular name but the mention of his genealogy support the thinking that he
is related to the former King of Judah. Therefore, Zephaniah is a noble and
would have stature and the respect of the people. His major theme is the coming
“Day of the Lord”.

Zephaniah’s Credentials                                       Zephaniah 1:1

As stated in the background, Zephaniah prophesied the Word of the Lord during
the reign of Josiah, the last good king of Judah. His prophecies mirror that
of his contemporary Jeremiah and those of Amos and Isaiah before him. Evidently
he commands respect due to his lineage in that four generations are mentioned.
It is likely King Hezekiah was his great-great grandfather, making him the reason
for mentioning Zephaniah’s heritage. Hezekiah was Judah’s last good king before
Josiah. Since Josiah was also of Hezekiah’s lineage, Zephaniah could have been
a major influence in the decisions Josiah made as King.

Three Great Judgments                                        Zephaniah 1:2-18

The Last Judgment on Earth                                         Zeph. 1:2-3

In the end, everything has been swept away. This includes all living things;
man, animals, birds, and fish. The wicked will lay in heaps of rubble. Nothing
is mentioned about the righteous. I believe these two verses prophesy the same
event recorded in Revelation 20:7-21:1, when God defeats all His enemies a final
time and then earth passes away. The righteous are not mentioned because they
are already with the Lord in heaven, living in the New Earth and the New Jerusalem.
This is God’s final judgment on earth and of earth as we know it.

The Last Judgment of Israel [Judah]                             Zeph. 1:4-13

This prophecy parallels much of Jeremiah’s prophecies. It was uttered approximately
85 years before being fulfilled in 586 BC, the date when King Nebuchadnezzar
broke down the walls of Jerusalem and burned the city. This judgment is necessary
because Judah is:

  1. Worshipping idols, including Baal.
  2. Worshipping the stars.
  3. Combining their worship of God with the worship of Molech.
  4. Forgetting God and failing to seek Him.

Judah is to be sacrificed because she has been sacrificing to false gods. Certain
people have been singled out for certain punishment. They are the “leaders”
of Judah who were responsible for leading the people astray in worshipping idols.
The other group are those worship power and wealth, who practiced violence and
deceit for reasons of greed and self-gratification; taking from others instead
of giving encouragement and support to the needy.

The collapse of Jerusalem will be swift. Commerce will be in full swing and
then everything is lost and the people scattered. The only thing the people
have left is the clothes on their back. Read Lamentations, Jeremiah’s observations
after the fall of Jerusalem, to get a full understanding of the calamity Zephaniah
is prophesying will come.

The Judgment Preceding Christ’s Return [Second Advent]                          Zeph. 1:14-18

There is yet another “Day of the Lord” coming similar to that of
Judah’s reckoning. It will be a day of wrath filled with distress, anguish,
trouble, ruin, darkness, gloom, clouds, blackness, and war. People will be confused.
Many will die or be killed. Money will have no value or use. God’s wrath will
consume the whole world and the end will come swiftly. This fits nicely with
the Bowl Judgments of Revelation 15-16. See my comments on Revelation 15:9-16:1.

Most scholars accept verses 2-3 as a general description of the “Day
of the Lord” described in more detail in verses 14-18. Judah’s upcoming
judgment is then sandwiched between the general and the specifics of the Day
of the Lord. That is a very good interpretation except why is Judah sandwiched
between the general and the specific? A reasonable answer is that what Judah
will experience will be similar but less in intensity to what transpires in
the “Day of the Lord”.

However, the biggest problem with both the scholars and my interpretations
is the last half of verse 18 indicating the whole world is consumed and all
life ends on the earth. This problem exists for Dispensationalists but not for
Amillennialists. But it is also reasonable to assume that the “Day of the
Lord” appears to end on such a note and, in essence, the Day of the Lord
is completed after the Millennium. Both interpretations work and the important
principle to understand is that the Lord God Almighty is sovereign and will
judge sin.

Our Hope in Troubled Times                                               Zephaniah 2:1-3

Verse 1 exhorts Judah to come together in unity as one. They are prone to
go in different directions, worshipping this god and that god and a few worshipping
the one and only true God. Before judgment comes upon Judah and before judgment
comes upon the earth, Judah is exhorted to seek the Lord, especially those who
have remained faithful and obedient to the Lord God. Those who have been faithful
are encouraged to remain faithful and steadfast. They will be pressured, ridiculed,
and persecuted by the unrighteous. The faithful will be tempted to become like
the others, unfaithful. All will be present when the Lord’s wrath comes but
those who remain faithful will be sheltered and saved. They will be spared and
gathered together in Christ when the “Day of the Lord” comes. This
prophecy then lends credence to the more “historical dispensational”
interpretation, a pre-wrath rapture of the saints.

Regardless of your view concerning the End Times, God promises to be faithful
to those who remain faithful to Him. We remain faithful under the strong assault
of the Tempter by continually seeking God in prayer, listening to His voice,
and humbling ourselves before His throne asking forgiveness and yielding to
His Will.

Judgments Concerning Five Nations                                     Zephaniah 2:4-15

This section stands alone but for the most complete understanding of the Lord’s
Word through His prophets, also read Isaiah 10:5-23:17, Amos 1:3-2:16, and Jeremiah
45:1-51:64. All prophesied to some extent concerning these gentile nations.

Philistia                                                                 Zeph. 2:4-7

This account begins in the south, Gaza, and moves north to Ekron. All Philistia
is to be destroyed. The land is valuable only to sheep and shepherds. Judah’s
remnant after their Babylonian exile will eventually occupy the land of the
Philistines. Israel occupies this land today admit is filled with citrus orchards.

Philistia had been under attack from Egypt and Assyria so this prophecy most
likely refers to the Babylonian invasion of 605-601 BC, completing the tasks
of the previous invaders.

Moab and Ammon                                               Zeph. 2:8-11

Moab and Ammon have had a history of being a thorn in Judah’s side. Even though
they are related to Israel, they haven’t always been on friendly terms. They
are destined to become like Sodom and Gamorrah, wherein lies their roots at
the time of Lot. Their land too will become part of Israel after the exile.
Although they resorted to idol worship, God is angry with them because they
constantly insult and mock His people. Their gods will all be destroyed. Once
again, the Babylonians were called in to finish the job [begun by Assyria] in
605-601 BC. The general statement of nations worshipping God in the last half
of verse 11 will not be fulfilled until the return of Christ prior to His Millennial
reign.

Cush                                                                        Zeph. 2:12

Cush will simply be destroyed; again part of the Babylonian conquests.

Assyria                                                                 Zeph. 2:13-15

God also has His sights set on Assyria and it’s capital, Nineveh. They were
a proud people believing they were more powerful than anyone and thus, not subject
to being conquered. Babylonia changed all that in 612 BC. People who took notice
because of Assyria’s power will now take notice of her ruin.

Once again we see that God judges nations because of their sin which is usually
caused by pride and/or greed. God also judges nations because they refuse to
acknowledge Him. This was true in the days of the prophets, it was true in the
days of Christ, and it is true throughout all history to the end. Let God’s
faithfulness in judging these nations be a lesson for us as a nation and as
individuals. Unless we seek Him and humble ourselves in repentance before his
throne asking His forgiveness, we will experience the wrath of God as prophesied
to Judah and to these nations.

The Status of Jerusalem                                                Zephaniah 3:1-20

The Present                                                         Zeph. 3:1-8a

God accuses Jerusalem of being defiled against Him, rebellious, and filled
with those who oppress others. They refuse to be guided by any principles, particularly
those laid down in God’s Law. Everyone does as they please, usually at the expense
of others. Everything is right/OK; nothing is considered wrong/evil. Anything
to do with God is ignored. Her officials are corrupt. Her prophets speak falsely
and are arrogant. Her priests do not follow the protocol given by the Lord God.

The Lord god remains righteous and just. He has not changed and will not change
to accommodate Jerusalem’s unrighteous and shameful behavior. Neither has the
Lord changed regarding the behavior of other nations of cities. God’s wrath
has descended on nations, cutting them off. Cities have been destroyed by His
hand. Jerusalem and its’ leaders have seen this happen and, therefore, are warned
and should seek to correct their wayward path. They could avoid their pending
judgment but, instead, have chosen to continue in their corrupt ways. Therefore,
God’s wrath is coming. Jerusalem will know very soon that God will punish them
for their sin.

The Future                                                   Zeph. 3:8b-20

Verse 8 is a transition form the present to the future. God is patient but
He acts decisively. He alone testifies concerning right and wrong, good and
evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, and takes the appropriate actions to
root out wrong, evil, and sin. He will assemble these “unrighteous”
nations together and pour out His wrath upon them [vs. 8]. The whole world will
feel His anger. This clearly is a general statement of the details spelled out
in the Bowl Judgments of Revelation 15. At that time the righteous are separated
from the unrighteous. The righteous are made pure, calling on the Lord and serving
Him [vs. 9]. People will make their way to Jerusalem to worship the Lord God
[vs. 10].

Jerusalem’s glory has returned because all the proud have been removed [vs.
11]. The meek, the humble, and those who place their trust in the Lord now occupy
Jerusalem. Lies, deceit, and fear have also been removed. Jerusalem sings, rejoices,
and is glad because the King of Kings rules. He has saved them and rules over
them with righteousness, justice and love. The old sacrificial system is no
longer needed because the Lamb of God is in their midst. The oppressed, the
lame, and those persecuted because of their faith will receive the honor they
deserve. God gathers His people, honors them, loves them, and blesses them.
They now have the abundant life promised in His coming [John 10:10].

The abundant life is available to all who place their trust in God and believe
in His Son as Savior and Lord. The abundant life exists in the Presence of God
through His Holy Spirit in our lives, through His Presence on earth when He
comes again to reign, and through His Presence with us in Heaven. The abundant
life is evident when His followers are gathered together in praise and worship
of Him. Do not let pride, or any other thing for that matter, deprive you of
the opportunity to seek Him and be found by Him. Run to God, not away from God.
Obey His laws. Do not follow your own rules. Acknowledge His love, His forgiveness,
His Son, and be redeemed by His grace and mercy to live abundantly with Him
now and forevermore.

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