The Prophet Zephaniah’s Greatest Hits

The Prophet Zephaniah’s Greatest Hits

The Prophet Zephaniah’s Greatest Hits. 

“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land who have fulfilled His law; seek righteousness, seek humility, perhaps you will find shelter on the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3).

Have you seen those skeptical cartoons featuring a ragged old man with wild hair and a long beard wearing a sandwich board predicting the end of the world? On the front is “Repent, The End is Near!” and on the back board is something like, “The Day of the Lord is Coming Soon!” Well, that prophet of doom could easily be Zephaniah in Jerusalem, around the year 625 BC. Zephaniah had good reason to preach the end of the world to the people of Judah. These Chosen People of God had by that time dishonored Yahweh grievously by embracing unspeakable, degenerate sin in the life of their idolatry. The people of Judah were indulging in such wicked sins as child sacrifice, ritual prostitution, and even moving idols into the Temple to be worshiped along with Yahweh. The priests were practicing a mixed-up religion that tried to blend Yahweh with Baal and Molech. There were pagan shrines and temples around every corner in Judah, and the people had no problem with praying to these idols. Zephaniah spoke a hard word from God, saying that Judah will pay the price for this hideous idolatry and will soon be destroyed. Judgment Day is coming, said Zephaniah to the people, and sure enough twenty years later his prophecy came terribly true. Babylon swept in and destroyed everything and everyone. The people of Judah who survived the onslaught were taken into exile to the pagan capital Babylon. God executed His wrath through the violent, vicious Babylonians. Zephaniah, though, before that destruction, did have a hand in bringing about a revival of sorts through King Josiah, the last good king of Judah. But the revival was short-lived. The spiritual sickness of idolatry had taken such root in the hearts of the Jews that only major surgery could rid Judah from the vile sins of their past. It’s true that God used Babylon as the surgeon in this operation, and the Babylonians were only happy to comply by bringing death and destruction to the land and people of Judah. Yahweh is holy, and He expected His people to live in holiness. His people failed miserably, and God had no clear choice other than the destruction of the Promised Land. But the reader of Zephaniah should have patience when enduring all its verses of fire and brimstone. Patience is rewarded at the end of this little book. There is in the conclusion a glimpse of the messianic era, the restoration of Israel, and by extension the faithful people of God. Zephaniah starts with gloom, but it ends with hope.

Highlights of Zephaniah. 

1:7 = “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.” No one in Scripture mentions the Day of the Lord more than Zephaniah. His prophecy is double-barreled. The first barrel is the Day that is relatively immediate, close to the time it was spoken, and in this case refers to the Babylonian invasion that destroyed Judah twenty years after Zephaniah. The other barrel is that his prophecy has a very distant application, the Day of the Lord that will appear when Jesus Christ gloriously descends from heaven to judge all the nations. In both cases, the Day of the Lord is Judgment Day and will involve destruction for those who are not faithful to God. It is a day when God’s wrath is poured out against evil and wickedness. The Day of the Lord is Zephaniah’s fire and brimstone moment, and he makes frequent use of that image. In 1:15 he says the Day will be “a day of trouble and distress, of devastation and desolation, of darkness and gloom, of clouds and thick darkness.” You can’t get gloomier than that. In verse 7, the sacrifice God has prepared is Judah, and His invited guests are the Babylonians. Zephaniah offered serious and ominous news, didn’t he?

2:3“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land who have fulfilled His law; seek righteousness, seek humility, perhaps you will find shelter on the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Tanakh). These words of hope are a lifeline extended to the remnant in Judah who had been faithful to God. Ever since the Lord promised Abraham that He would preserve Abraham’s descendants, (Gen. 17:48), the Lord has protected a remnant of His Chosen People amongst the wrath of His judgment. The Lord has promised salvation to those who are humble, as Zephaniah said in 3:11-12: “I will remove the proud and arrogant within you, and you will be haughty no more on my sacred mountain. But I will leave within you a meek, humble folk, and they shall find refuge in the name of the Lord.” In other words, as Jesus said much later, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5).

3:9“For then I will restore to the people a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord.” When the Messiah comes to establish the new Kingdom, and all the nations gather at His throne, they will find that the Lord has unified all the languages into a common tongue. All believers will understand each other and will be able to worship the Lord together. God will reverse the curse of Babel (Gen. 11) in which there was a confusion of languages, and He will enable all nations to communicate as one people.

3:14-15“Sing, of daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! For the Lord will remove His hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord Himself, the King of Israel, will live among us! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster.” In the new creation, when the Lord will establish the new Kingdom of God for all the faithful believers, the time for judgment and defeat will be in the past. Joy will reign as God Himself will be the King, and in this restoration our King will live with us! The King is in our midst, and He will be the source of all our joy and gladness. Jesus Christ is truly Immanuel, God-with-us. We will enjoy the personal presence of the eternal Messiah forever!

3:17“The Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior, a warrior who brings triumph. He will rejoice over you, taking delight in you with gladness. He will quiet you with His love, renewing you, soothing you, and calming your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” The final messianic era in human history will be characterized by great joy and the ultimate triumph of our Warrior-King. There will be singing, our hearts bursting with gladness. This Savior of ours will pour out so much love that we will be silenced, we will all enjoy a peaceful spirit in our being forgiven and released from all fears. God Himself will be silent, refusing to mention or recall any of our former sins. We will be like a weaned child who has calmed and quieted his soul (Ps. 131). There will be a hush of peaceful rapture all over the world.

3:19-20“I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals; you will be disgraced no more. I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you. I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away. I will give glory and fame to my former exiles, wherever they have been mocked and shamed. On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again. I will give you a good name, a name of distinction among all the nations of the earth, as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes. I, the Lord, have spoken!”  A new day has dawned as Zephaniah describes the restoration of Israel in her homeland after suffering exile in Babylon. And the final new Day of the new heaven and the new earth reveals a time when redemption rules the universe, renewal is everywhere, and the new creation full of faithful people enjoy eternal unity and togetherness with the King.