Zephania (his name means “hidden of Jehovah”) was of royal blood (1:1, the great-great-grandson of king Hezekiah and related to king Josiah) and helped prepare Judah for the revival it experienced under King Josiah in 621 B.C. (2 Chronicles 34:3).
Time written & time covered in history:
It has been approximately 50 years since Nahum had prophesied. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Israel had lived in an evil manner for more than half a century under kings Manasseh and Amon. But Zephaniah called the people to repentance. Reform came under king Josiah (639-608 B.C., he was only 16 years old when he became king)...but, after he died the people reverted to their old behaviors. The central theme of Zephaniah’s prophecy is judgment. He made this prophecy only a short time before Babylon conquered Judah.
Zephaniah depicts God as both loving and severe. Zephaniah 1:2 and 3:17 gives us these two characteristics.
Zephaniah foretold the doom of Nineveh (2:13). Who else had prophesied her doom? This came to pass in 612 B.C.
We hear Zephaniah denouncing the various forms of idolatry—Baal and Malcham or Molech all being condemned (1:1-2:3). This idol worship was destroyed during Josiah's reign. No doubt Zephaniah was mainly responsible for the revival under Josiah. He was the pioneer in this reform movement Tradition tells us that Jeremiah was his colleague.
As you start reading this book, you are appalled at its con-tents. There is nothing but denunciations, dire threats, and wrath. Cowper says that punishment and chastisement is "the graver countenance of love," for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth (Hebrews 12:6). We see in all of this a proof of God's love. The book begins with sorrow but ends with singing. The first of the book is full of sadness and gloom, but the last contains one of the sweetest songs of love in the Old Testament.
Zephaniah showed that:
- A faithful remnant would be delivered from captivity.
- The heathen shall be converted.
- One day man could worship God anywhere, not only in Jerusalem (2:11; see John 4:21).
God is searching out the people. I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees (Zephaniah 1:12).
What the Bible is All About, Henrietta C. Mears, p. 315
A Prophecy of Judgment on Judah Zephaniah 1:2-18
This chapter is a description of the destruction that will take place on the day of God's judgment against Judah (:2-3). God’s judgment will be…
- intense (:10-11)
- thorough (:12)
- devastating (:13)
- demoralizing (:15-16)
- deadly (:17)
- unavoidable (:18)
- total (:18).
Zephaniah mentions several different matters that identify that Judah had become secularized, or paganized…
- the mention of three pagan deities that Judah is worshipping: Baal (:4), “hosts of heaven” (:5), Milcom (:5)
- the sons of the king wear clothing that is stylish in foreign countries…they have forsaken the clothing of Israel that had spiritual significance (cf. Numbers 15:38-39)
- the people have ignored the teachings of Scripture concerning how to treat one another…the phrase “all who leap on the temple threshold” (:9, NASV) can be more clearly understood when read in the NIV, “On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.” There was a common belief that a person’s god protected their house. But, if you didn’t step on the threshold of the house as you entered through the door, the god would be unaware that you had entered and would not be provoked. That way, you could steal whatever you could take without fear of retribution.
- the attitude that God is neither concerned with the affairs of the people of Israel (:6), or will pass judgment for their sins (:12).
That day is “near and coming quickly” (:14). It is speaking of the attack and deportation to Babylon.
1:5 host of heaven. Astrology was common among the idolaters of Judah (Jer. 19:13). Milcom. Or Molech, an Ammonite deity worshiped with human sacrifice (cf. Jer. 32:35). Solomon built a sanctuary to Molech (1 Kings 11:7) which, soon after Zephaniah gave this warning, was desecrated by Josiah (2 Kings 23:13). Israel’s was a syncretistic worship, for they swore by the Lord and Molech.
The Ryrie Study Bible, Charles Ryrie, footnote on Zephaniah 1:5, p. 1405
An Exhortation for Repentance to Judah Zephaniah 2:1-3
God calls on those who are "humble" and "have carried out His ordinances" to seek Him before the judgment comes...so that, "Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the LORD's anger" (:3). Even at that moment…there was still opportunity for people to repent of their sins.
A Prophecy of Judgment on the Gentile Nations Zephaniah 2:4-15
God now announces judgment on the Gentile nations surrounding Judah. These are nations that have attacked Judah in the past.
Zephaniah 2:4-7-Philistia (the nation to the west)
Zephaniah 2:8-11-Moab and Ammon (the nations to the east)
Zephaniah 2:12-Ethiopia (the nation to the south)
Zephaniah 2:13-15-Assyria (the nation to the north)
A Prophecy of Judgment on Jerusalem Zephaniah 3:1-7
The “tyrannical city” is Jerusalem. God announces judgment on the people of Jerusalem. Habakkuk lists some of her many sins (:1-4). To understand just how vile and sinful the residents of Jerusalem had become during this time read Jeremiah 5:1; 19:5; 23:13-14; 32:35. God’s judgment will be according to what is righteous. But the people no longer care about righteousness (:5). God says that He has passed judgment on other nations and had hoped that Judah would recognize this and not become involved in sin as they had…but instead, they just ignored it (:6-7).
A Prophecy of Judgment on the Gentile Nations Zephaniah 3:8
God again announces judgment on the Gentile nations. However, this final judgment will occur in the Millennial Period.
A Prophecy of Blessing on the Gentile Nations Zephaniah 3:9-10
One day, in the Millennial Period, people from all nations will be blessed and will come to worship God.
A Prophecy of Blessing on Israel Zephaniah 3:11-20
In that day, the Millennial Period, God will gather together those who worship Him from Israel. It will only be a small “remnant” of the people of Israel (:13). He will be in their midst (:15,17). There will be no more sin, or fear. They will give Him praise. Notice several characteristics of the Millennial Period:
- “feel no shame” (:11)…because their sins have been forgiven
- the people will be “humble and lowly” (:12)…meaning that they will honor God and other people
- they will not practice sin (:13)
- they will be full of joy because God’s judgment will have ceased (:15a)
- God will live among them (:15b-16)
- God will care for them (:19)
- Israel will be exalted among the nations (:20)
- the blessings they had previously known in the Promised Land will be restored (:20).
Prayer: Lord, help me to live in my society, but to not be adversely changed by it. It can be a fine line. There are many things in the world that I live in that are attractive. Some are beneficial and some are harmful. But they can both appear to be attractive. Give me discernment to know the difference and strength to make wise choices.