Book of Zephaniah Chapter
One Commentary by
Sermon 2/27/11 - Zephaniah 1
Verse 1 of this chapter is unique. With the possible exception of the prophet Isaiah who may have been related to former King Uzziah, Zephaniah was the only prophet who likely was of royal lineage. He was a “son of Cushi,” a name that translates as “Cushite” or “Ethopian,” suggesting that Cushites had married into this Semitic family. His grandfather was “Gedaliah,” which meant “Yahweh has made great,” and Zephaniah’s great-grandfather is thought to be the same “Hezekiah” (Yahweh strengthens), who had previously been king (1 Chronicles 29:1). Josiah was Judah’s king from 640-609 BC, the time of Zephaniah. This book was written during his reign and since Zephaniah 2:13 views the destruction of Ninevah in 612 BC as a future event, Zephaniah was written between 640 and 612 BC.
In Verses 2-3, the Book of Zephaniah is abruptly full of judgment. The little nation of Judah was condemned, as were their neighbors and essentially the whole world. “‘I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land,’ says the Lord. ‘I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land,’ says the Lord.” And you have to wonder, why is it that the Old Testament seems so different from the New? Books like Zephaniah are full of judgment but the New is full of verses like John 3:16-17 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Why this so-called “difference?”
The answer is that in the Old Testament, God got our attention that He is a holy God who expects us to trust in Him and be holy also. In the New, God shows His true intention. Yes He is a God of Judgment as in the Book of Revelation, but He is also full of mercy and grace. Hints of this truth are sprinkled through the Old Testament, but in the New, the “mystery” that was previously hidden is revealed, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27). We are to trust in Jesus Christ, who brings God’s holiness into our very being.
In Verses 4-5 of Zephaniah 1, we are told why Judah would be judged: “I will stretch out My hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, the names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests. Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, but who also swear by Milcom.” “Baal” meant to “marry” or “rule over,” and “he” was the chief idol of the Canaanites who occupied the land before the Lord gave it to Israel. “Milcom” meant “king,” and was another false “god.” The people that purportedly worshipped the true God had become a nation of idolaters. If you are the Lord’s, what ELSE absorbs you in life?
Notice Verse 6, where it singles out “Those who have turned back from following the Lord, and have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him.” If your nation has a past in which people trusted in the Lord and sought His leadership but have fallen away, watch out! If prayer was once part of your lives but now is neglected and even frowned upon, be careful. Pray for your leaders that they will come to their senses and trust in the Lord. You may yet be spared.
God is always doing something different. Just because everything seems to be the same as it always was, remember how little we actually know in our short lives. It’s important to become “still and know that (He is) God” and listen to Him (Psalm 46:10). As it says in Verse 7, “Be silent in the presence of the Lord God; for the day of the Lord is at hand, for the Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests.” This is not limited to only the destruction of the royal family, though He says in Verse 8 - “…in the day of the Lord’s sacrifice… I will punish the princes and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with foreign apparel.” The Lord spoke of everybody else in Verse 9: “In the same day I will punish all those who leap over the threshold who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.” To "leap over the threshold" was to steal from others.
Verses 10-11: “’And there shall be on that day,’ says the Lord, ’The sound of a mournful cry from the Fish Gate, a wailing from the Second Quarter, and a loud crashing from the hills.’ Wail, you inhabitants of Maktesh! For all the merchant people are cut down; all those who handle money are cut off.” The people of that land had become complacent, preoccupied with making money. The “Fish Gate” is thought to have been in the northeast wall of Jerusalem, and “Maktesh” meant “Mortar,” a place at the south wall that would be broken into and loud crashing noises in the hills of Jerusalem would be heard all over the city.
Are you complacent about your life? Do you WANT to be complacent? In Verse 12 we find a word from God that may disturb you: “And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency, who say in their heart, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will He do evil.’” Do you notice that attitude in our society today? Many think that God is doing NOTHING. It is felt He doesn’t do anything “good” or bad, and if disaster comes, it’s a chance occurrence, not from God at all. But the reverse is true – He does EVERYTHING and all is done, even judgment, out of His love.
It continues in Verse 13 that, “Therefore their goods shall become booty and their houses a desolation; they shall build houses, but not inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.” Jerusalem would be destroyed and so will every place that rejects the Lord.
We must note that Verse 14 is as true for us today as it was for Zephaniah at the time of these words: “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.” And the Lord continues in Verses 15-16 - “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, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers.”
God promises in Verses 17-18: “I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land.” We're in trouble and we need the Lord.
Look at your country, your people, family, land, and yes, the church you may attend. Have you somehow, subtly become idolaters? Is the Lord God the first and foremost priority of your life? What or who do you think is keeping you safe? Who do you look to when distress comes? Is job security more important than your love of Almighty God? Do what Paul urged you to do in 2 Corinthians 13:5 – “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - Unless indeed you are disqualified.” If we are the Lord’s, He must be first in our lives, first in all things. Trust Him and love Him today.
Lord, forgive me and heal me of my sins. Come into my heart, my life, my nation, my family. Send Your Holy Spirit. Bring revival to the church, to my land, to me. In Jesus Name. Amen.