Zephaniah 1-3: Judgment and restoration.

November 27, 2015.

Daily Reading: Zephaniah 1-3.

Background: Zephaniah’s ministry was during the reign of King Josiah in Jerusalem which lasted from 641-610 B.C. This date would make Zephaniah a contemporary of Jeremiah and probably a very influential prophet for King Josiah’s religious reform. Zephaniah’s message is a oracle of judgment against Judah and the nations of the world for their corruption and wicked acts. He paints one of the most descriptive prophecies of the “Day of the Lord” found among the minor prophets and warns the people of the coming threat of captivity if they would not turn to the Lord. Divided into three chapters, the book of Zephaniah brings a message of judgment on Judah, judgment on the nations surrounding Judah, and the remnant of Israel that will be restored.

Concepts and Connections.

Chapter 1

Judgment and the day of the Lord: The opening of the oracle of Zephaniah is reminiscent of the days of the flood (see Genesis 6), indicating that the Lord would utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth and cut off mankind (saving a remnant, see the end of chapter three). This is the judgment concerning Judah because of their treachery from the Lord God. The children of Israel had forsaken the Lord and turn to the foreign gods of the nations around them. Though they still seemingly honored the Lord, they sword by Milcom. Thus, they had turned their backs on the Lord (see Exodus 20:4-6), even if they didn’t realize what they had done. Zephaniah paints one of the most descriptive teachings of the Day of the Lord amongst the minor prophets, showing its power and doom. On that day, He would punish those who had gone astray, so that cries and wails would be heard throughout the land. He accuses men for their complacency, thinking that the Lord would do nothing, good or bad. The irony of this teaching is that that is precisely what their false gods that they had turned to would do- nothing. The scene is set for a great distraction and plundering of Judah that would seemingly come upon them somewhat suddenly (as Zephaniah says they will build houses but not inhabit them and plant vineyards but not drink from them). The Day of judgment was approaching fast, and it would be a day of anguish, darkness, battle and devastation. This day was coming because of the sin of the people, and on that day their silver and their gold would not be able to deliver them. A great and terrifying day was upon them. This oracle likely has its immediate fulfillment in the Babylonian captivity, but could also have an ultimate fulfillment in the future at the second coming of Christ (see I Thessalonians 5:1-11).

Chapter 2

Judgment on the surrounding nations: After giving the oracle against Judah, the prophet turns here and implores the people of God to gather together and humble themselves before the Lord before He brings His wrath upon them. This is likely a driving motivator in the reform of Josiah, as the king heeds the words of the prophets in his reign and begins religious reform (see II Kings 22-23). The prophet tells the people that if they do this, they might be hidden from the anger of the Lord. The other nations surrounding them would not be hidden, for wrath would be upon them. Judgment is called against many nations here, including Gaza, Ashkelon, the Philistines, Moab and the Ammonites. We see the prophecy of their utter destruction because of their iniquity and oppression of God’s people. The great nation of Assyria is also called into judgment, for they had taken captive Israel and would be put in their place. The pride of Assyria made her say “I am, and there is no one else,” but the Lord would prove to them otherwise. Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, would become a desolation.

Chapter 3

1. Further judgment: This chapter continues with further judgment on Judah and the surrounding nations. He gives woes to the rebellious and oppressing city that accepts no correction nor trusts in the Lord. She would be overthrown in the wrath of the Lord, for her prophets were treacherous and her priest profaned what was holy. Note that this judgment is in justice because of their wickedness, for the Lord is a righteous God. He would cut off and make desolate the nations that acted corruptly because they would not fear the Lord. Zephaniah assures here that the day of the Lord is coming, and it was only a matter of time before He would pour out His indignation and burning anger.

2. Conversion and restoration: The end of this chapter talks about the remnant that would  be saved and the glory that was coming after the day of the Lord. As before, this likely had its immediate fulfillment when the Jews were allowed to rebuild the temple under the reign of King Cyrus, effectively ending Babylonian captivity (see Ezra 1), but would seem to have its ultimate fulfillment yet to come. The oracle contains a picture of all nations, given a pure speech, that call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him in unity. It should be noted that this not only applied to the people of Israel, but to nations far and wide. From beyond the rivers of Cush would come true worshippers of the Lord bringing their offering. No longer would those who serve the Lord be put to shame, and the proud would be removed from the land. The people remaining would be a people humble and lowly who seek refuge in the name of the Lord. No injustice or lies would be done or spoken, and there would be great peace. Zephaniah ends in a song and shout to the Lord from His people, calling them to rejoice with all their heart, for the Lord would have taken away their judgments and cleared their enemies. No evil will be feared, for there will be no evil. The Lord would be in the midst of Zion and great joy and festivities will be there. He would change the same of the lame and the outcast, turing it into praise and renown, restoring the fortunes of His people. What a day that will be.

Tomorrow’s Reading: Acts 13-14.

Praise the Lord.

-Walter

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