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Zephaniah

Zephaniah Bible Walk

Theme: Judgment, Restoration, and the Day of the LORD

January, 2009

Theme

  • Judgment, restoration, and the Day of the LORD. The Lord told Judah through Zephaniah that he would soon dramatically judge the earth. This judgment would come soon upon Judah, Jerusalem, and Gentile nations. An even greater judgment would come in the future against all nations of the world. Following that future or prophetic great day of the LORD judgment, the Lord will gather Israel, rule as her king, bless her, and restore her fortunes.

Key Verses

  • Zephaniah 1:2. “I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
  • Zephaniah 1:14-15. 14 Near is the great day of the Lord, near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. 15 A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness.
  • Zephaniah 2:3. Seek the Lord, All you humble of the earth Who have carried out His ordinances; Seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden In the day of the Lord’s anger.
  • Zephaniah 3:20. “At that time I will bring you in, Even at the time when I gather you together; Indeed, I will give you renown and praise Among all the peoples of the earth, When I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” Says the Lord.

Author

  • Zephaniah. Zephaniah served as God’s prophet during the reign of Josiah (r. 640-609 BC). The prophet traces his lineage to King Hezekiah (r. 715-686 BC). Both Hezekiah and Josiah were godly kings of Judah, and both were reformers whose reform did not last after they died.  Zephaniah wrote his prophecy sometime during Josiah’s reign but before the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC. According to Zephaniah 2:13, the destruction of Nineveh was still future. The prophet was in Judah’s line and likely had access to the court.

History

  • The events happened in the last days of Judah, prior to when Babylon defeated and destroyed Judah. See the Jeremiah notes for the history of events around this time.

Key People

  • Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1) and the future God King of Israel, the LORD, Messiah (Zephaniah 3:15).

Words and Phrases that we read but often do not pay attention to. Only a few have been selected.

  • Baal (Zephaniah 1:5) is the Canaanite god most mentioned in the Amarna letters found at Ugarit. The word means lord or master. The name could be a title for a person who owned something or any pagan god. The name came to be associated with the god of fertility and weather. In some Canaanite writings he was known as Hadad. The name Baal also was combined with other names such as Baal-Peor (Deuteronomy 4:3) and Baal-Zebub (2 Kings 1:2-3). Baal worship infiltrated Israel and Judah and was prevalent during Solomon’s reign.
  • Milcom was the Ammonite god Molech (2 Kings 23:13). Solomon brought Milcom worship to Israel (1 Kings 11:5, 33). Josiah tore down his altars (2 Kings 23:13).
  • Fish gate (Zephaniah 1:10) is one of many gates into Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 33:14; Nehemiah 3:3; 12:39; Zephaniah 1:10). Gates or near the gates were places for entrance and exit, for public reading, for punishment of criminals, for buying and selling, and for gathering news, among other things. The fish gate probably got its name because fish were brought into the city through that gate or because a fish market was nearby. It likely was on the north wall of the city. Nebuchadnezzar probably entered Jerusalem through this gate. Gates were normal in cities of the ancient world.
  • The Second Quarter (Zephaniah 1:10) was a district northwest of the temple (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles. 34:22; Nehemiah. 11:9).
  • Mortar (Zephaniah 1:11) was apparently a land depression in or near Jerusalem where business was carried out. Zephaniah prophesied that business would fail.
  • Canaan (Zephaniah 1:11). He was the grandson of Noah and fourth son of Ham. His people spread out into several tribes and before 2000 BC moved into and populated the land that God promised Abraham and his descendents. These people became Canaanites, a very pagan people. They became dominant between 2100 BC and 1550 BC. The land stretched from the Jordan to the Mediterranean and from the Sinai Peninsula to Philistia. The area was remarkable for its farmlands and trade routes.
  • Day of the Lord is used seven times in six verses in Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:7, 8, 14, 18; 2:2, 3). The day of the Lord is a phrase used by God’s prophets in the Old Testament to identify an immediate or close in time (historic) judgment by God or a future (prophetic) judgment by God. The context of each Bible passage determines whether the day of the Lord is historical or prophetic. The day of the Lord is also used in the New Testament for the future time of judgment. For example, Acts 2:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, and 2 Peter 3:10. The tribulation period will begin this future day of judgment.
    • Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near, For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests. 
    • Zephaniah 1:8 “Then it will come about on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice That I will punish the princes, the king’s sons And all who clothe themselves with foreign garments. 
    • Zephaniah 1:14 Near is the great day of the Lord, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. 
    • Zephaniah 1:18 Neither their silver nor their gold Will be able to deliver them On the day of the Lord’s wrath; And all the earth will be devoured In the fire of His jealousy, For He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth. 
    • Zephaniah 2:2 Before the decree takes effect— The day passes like the chaff— Before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, Before the day of the Lord’s anger comes upon you.  
    • Zephaniah 2:3 Seek the Lord, All you humble of the earth Who have carried out His ordinances; Seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden In the day of the Lord’s anger. 

Chapter Titles

  • Chapter 1, Day of the LORD judgment, future and near.
  • Chapter 2, Seek the LORD during judgment.
  • Chapter 3, Day of the LORD judgment, near and future, then restoration.

Trace the Theme 

  • The day of the LORD judgment is both historic, that is near to the time of the prophet, and prophetic or in the distant future. The historic day of the LORD judgments are God’s judgment against sinful Israel and nations of the world, and these occurred near in time to the prophet’s message. They are small previews of the prophetic day of the LORD judgment which will begin in the future tribulation period. The historic day of the LORD judgments have occurred in past history.
    • Zephaniah 1. Chapter 1 introduces what is apparently a future world wide judgment, “all from the face of the earth” (Zephaniah 1:2-3). Then the prophet explains that the judgment will begin with the soon judgment by Babylon against Judah,  Jerusalem, idols, idolatrous priests, idol worshippers, and those who have turned away from the Lord (Zephaniah 1:4-13). This great day of the Lord is near and terrible. It will eventually in the distant future engulf all the inhabitants of the earth (Zephaniah 1:18). One exegetical question is whether earth in verses 2, 3, and 18 might just refer to the known at that time middle east. The context and wording seem to make this a world wide judgment that will occur in the future time known as the tribulation—that time of worldwide judgment on the earth just before Jesus returns at his second coming.
    • Zephaniah 2. Chapter 2 continues the warning about judgment against the nations all around Judah, but begins with a call to the Hebrew people for repentance. For those who repent there is hope that the Lord will protect them from judgment (Zephaniah 2:1-5). This soon to come historic day of the Lord judgment against the  surrounding nations include the Philistines (Zephaniah 2:5), (Gaza verse 4, Ashdod verse 4, Ekron verse 4) to the west (Zephaniah 2:4-7), Moab and Ammon to the east (Zephaniah 2:8-11), Ethiopia to the south (Zephaniah 2:12), and Assyria (Nineveh, Zephaniah 2:13) to the north (Zephaniah 2:13-15).
    • Zephaniah 3. Chapter 3 begins with a woe to Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:-7). Jerusalem is put for the Hebrew people. They are rebellious, defiled, and tyrannical. They refuse to listen to the Lord or trust him. The princes, judges, prophets, and priests are treacherous (Zephaniah 3:2-4). Zephaniah then pronounces the righteousness and justice of the LORD (Zephaniah 3:5). The purpose of the LORD’s judgment was to recall his people (Zephaniah 3:6), but they were eager to corrupt (Zephaniah 3:7). Beginning with verse 8 the LORD expands his judgment to the distant future. This points to the prophetic day of the LORD. The LORD will gather nations, assemble kingdoms, and pour out his indignations and burning anger on all the earth (Zephaniah 3:8). People will come to know God and therefore worship him (Zephaniah 3:9-10). Their attitudes and purposes will have changed from rebellion to humility and trust in the name of the LORD (Zephaniah 3:11-12). The remnant of Israel will rejoice (Zephaniah 3:14). The LORD, the king will have ceased his judgments and will be in their midst (Zephaniah 3:15-17). The LORD will gather Israel, protect her, bless her, and make her famous and praised by the people of the earth. The LORD will restore Israel and her fortunes right before her eyes (Zephaniah 3:18-20). The long awaited kingdom will have begun. Messiah rules the earth. Israel is in her homeland and blessed.

Key Doctrines

  • God will judge the world (Zephaniah 1:2-3).
  • God will judge Judah for idolatry (Zephaniah 1:4-6), for preoccupation with wealth (Zephaniah 1:11, 13, 18), for apathy and pride (Zephaniah 1:12; 3:11), for corrupt princes and judges (Zephaniah 1:8; 3:3), for corrupt prophets (Zephaniah 3:4) and for corrupt priests (Zephaniah 1:4, 9; 3:4).
  • God will judge nations for taunting arrogance against Israel (Zephaniah 2:8, 10, 15), for oppression of Israel (Zephaniah 2:8-11), and for idolatry (Zephaniah 2:11).
  • The Lord’s superiority to idols (Zephaniah 2:11).
  • Protection and deliverance of the faithful (Zephaniah 2:3).
  • The righteous remnant (Zephaniah 3:12-13).
  • The future God King will rule Israel (Zephaniah 3:15-17).
  • Future restoration and blessing of Israel (Zephaniah 3:9-20, especially 3:20).
  • Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:7, 8, 14, 18; 2:2, 3).
  • Attributes of God (Zephaniah 3:5).

Lessons for Us

  • Spiritual apathy ruins one’s Christian life and can have serious physical, economic, family, and social consequences.
  • Idolatry about details in our lives can bring disaster to believers.
  • Seek the Lord in national crisis. Only he, from the Bible and from fellowship with him, has the answers.
  • The only hope for any of us is Christ returning for the church and then returning to set up his kingdom.
  • Beware of sin in our lives and especially complacent sin. Divine discipline is very real and can be severe.
  • Leaders—national and spiritual—have a great responsibility for those over whom they exercise leadership.