Zephaniah reveals that only the judgement of God can cleanse Judah of the sins that she has committed. The day of the Lord is coming and the nation must prepare for its salvation. According to the genealogy at the beginning of the book, Zephaniah was active during the reign of King Josiah.
Two key passages to look at:
Zephaniah 1:14-15 – “The great day of the LORD is 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,.”
Zephaniah 2:3 – “Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’S anger.”
Key Chapter: Zephaniah 3
The last chapter of Zephaniah records the two distinct parts of the day of the Lord: the judgment and the restoration. Following the conversion of the nation, Israel finally is fully restored. Under the righteous rule of God, Israel fully inherits the blessings contained in the Biblical covenants.
Observations about Zephaniah:
– Apparently, Zephaniah was born during the later part of the reign of King Manasseh.
– If, in fact, Zephaniah was the great-great grandson of the godly king Hezekiah, he was the only prophet of royal descent.
– During Judah’s hectic political and religious history, reform comes from time to time.
— Zephaniah’s forceful prophecy may be a factor in the reform that occurs during Josiah’s reign—a “revival” that produces outward change, but does not fully remove the inward heart of corruption that characterizes the nation.
— Zephaniah hammers home his message repeatedly that the day of the Lord, judgment day, is coming when the malignancy of sin will be dealt with.
— Israel and her Gentile neighbors will soon experience the crushing hand of God’s wrath.
— But after the chastening process is complete, a blessing will come in the Person of the Messiah, and that will be cause for praise and singing.
– Zephaniah solves the problem of dating his prophecy by fixing his prophecy “in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah” (1:1)
– Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight, and by the age of sixteen his heart had begun to turn toward God.
– There were two sets of reforms.
– The first reform took place in the 12th year of his reign (626 B.C. 2 Chronicles 34:3-7) when he:
a. Tore down all the altars of Baal.
b. Destroyed the foreign incense altars.
c. Burned the bones of the false prophets on their altars.
d. Broke the Asherim (carved images) and molten images in pieces.
– The second reform was kindled six years later when Hilkiah the priest found the book of the Law in the temple (2 Chronicles 34 – 35:19).
– Josiah’s reforms apparently were too little and to late, and the people reverted to their crass idolatry and teaching soon after Josiah was gone.
– God is holy and must vindicate his righteousness by calling all the nations of the world into account before Him.
– The sovereign God will judge not only his own people but also the whole world: no one escapes from His authority and dominion.
– To some degree that day has already come for Judah and all the nations mentioned in 2:14-15, but there is a future aspect, when all the earth will be judged.
– Zephaniah is also written as a warning to Judah as well as a call for repentance (2:1-3).
a. God wants to spare the people, but they ultimately reject Him.
b. His judgment will be great; but God promises His people a future day of hope and joy.
c. Wrath and mercy, severity and kindness, cannot be separate in the character of God.
On the whole, Zephaniah is a fierce and grim book of warning about the coming day of the Lord. Desolation, darkness, and ruin will strike Judah and the nations because of the wrath of God upon sin. Zephaniah looks beyond judgment to a better time. The book begins with God’s declaration, “I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land: (1:2): but it ends with this promise, “At that time I will bring you back” and “return your captives before your eyes” (3:20).
There are two major divisions in the book:
>h2>The Judgement in the Day of the Lord (1:1 – 3:8)
The prophetic oracle begins with an awesome statement of God’s coming judgment upon the entire earth because of the sins of men (1:2-3). After that beginning statement, Zephaniah then concentrates on the judgement of Judah (1:4-18), listing some of the offenses that will cause it to come. Judah is polluted with idolatrous priests who promote the worship of Baal and nature, and her officials are completely corrupt. Therefore, the day of the Lord is imminent, and it will be characterized by terror, desolation, and distress. However, by His grace, God appeals to His people to repent and humble themselves to avert the coming disaster before it is too late. (2:1-3)
Zephaniah pronounces God’s coming judgment upon the nations that surround Judah. (2:4-15) He looks in all four directions: to the west in Philistia, to the east in Moab and Ammon, to the south in Ethiopia, and to the north in Assyria. Then he focuses on Jerusalem, the center of God’s dealings. (3:1-7)
Two things characterized Jerusalem: spiritual rebellion and moral treachery.
Zephaniah 3:2 – “She has not obeyed His voice, she has not received correction; she has not trusted in the Lord, she has not drawn near to her God.”
After a broad statement of the judgment of all nation in 3:8, Zephaniah changes the tone of the remainder of his book to blessing: for this too, is an aspect of the day of the Lord. The nation will be cleansed and will call on the name of the Lord. (3:9-10) The remnant of Israel will be re-gathered, redeemed, and restored (3:11-20). They will rejoice in their Redeemer, and He will be in their midst.
Zephaniah opens with idolatry, wrath, and judgement but closes with true worship, rejoicing, and blessing.