J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
From the opening verse of the prophecy we learn something about Zephaniah, the writer. His genealogy is traced back for four generations to Hezekiah, R.V. This would suggest that he was the great-grandson of this famous king and therefore of the royal house of Judah. He is supposed to have been a youth and about the same age as Josiah or a little older.
Zephaniah’s claim to inspiration and authority is seen in the words of chapter 1. 1, and the oft-repeated words “saith the Lord”, 1. 2, 3, 10; 2. 9; 3. 8, 20.
Title. Zephaniah means “Hidden of Jehovah”, or “Jehovah hath guarded” and this truth is emphasised in his message (cf. 2. 1-3 with Psalm 27. 5; 83. 3). In view of the highhanded injustice of the ruling officials, 1. 8, and the general corruption of all classes, 3. 1-7, his prophecy points to a time before Josiah’s reform. The prophet was encouraged, equipped and thrust forth by the God who guarded him.
Setting. 2 Kings 21 to 23. 22 together with the early chapters of Jeremiah provide the historical background for this book. Zephaniah saw the menacing hordes of Scythians, rising over the horizon, swift and terrible in their movements. Jeremiah, his contemporary, looked upon a similar enemy as the source of the greatest danger at that moment. The position of Judah was delicate and difficult, for with its small resources it could not hope to prevail over the great powers. When the greater nations to the north and south of Judah strove for the mastery of the world, the weak nations that lay between became involved and were often ravaged. Aware of the seething unrest all around, Zephaniah became a preacher of righteousness and denounced the evils of his age in unsparing terms.
Date. The title directs our attention to Josiah’s reign, (641-610 B.C.). He was doubtless instrumental in Josiah’s revival, 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chron. 34-35, but the spiritual movement proved superficial. With the captivity impending, Jer. 2. 11-13; Zeph. 3. 1-7, Zephaniah points out that the moral state of Judah, which because of the reformation under Josiah was outwardly improved, was not deep and sincere enough to avert disaster.
Scope. Zephaniah was the last of the Minor Prophets to minister before the Captivity. He does for the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom what Hosea had done for the ten tribes of Israel. Both books have a retrospective and a prospective character. Zephaniah is pre-eminently the prophet of “the day of the Lord”, a subject which connects him with the ministry of Joel. In both there is firstly a threatening of judgment, then a call to repentance and lastly the promise of the golden age of glory and peace of a restored universe.
There is no compromise in the language used. He denounces sin and announces judgment with perfect fearlessness and closes his book with a song full of inspiration and hope looking forward to the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom.
Message. The key to the book is the phrase the “day of the Lord”, 1. 7, 8, 9, 10, 14-18; 2. 2, 3; 3. 8. C. Morgan summarises it thus: “the content, the extent and the intent of the Day of the Lord”. He sees in the approaching invasion of Nebuchadnezzar a foreshadowing of the coming great day of the Lord in which all judgments of earth will culminate. This is to be followed by the restoration of Israel and the blessing of both Israel and the nations in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ to be inaugurated after His second advent.
There is comfort and assurance; “sing”, “be glad and rejoice”, 3. 14; “thou shalt not see evil any more”, 3. 15; “fear thou not”, 3. 16. There is challenge; “Let not thine hands be slack”, 3. 16. Read this book along with 2 Peter 3 for the spiritual lessons for today.
- Introduction, 1. 1. The prophet’s authority and associations.
- THE DECLARATION OF JUDGMENT, 1. 2-18.
- Judgment Announced, 1. 2-13. Judgment upon the whole earth, 2-3; its universality, 2; its severity, 3. Judgment upon Judah, 4-6; its causes, idolatry, 4; apostasy, 5-6. Judgment upon all classes, 7-13; princes, 8; oppressors, 9-10; merchants, 11; the indifferent, 12. The day of Jehovah’s sacrifice, 7-9; of Jehovah’s scrutiny, 12-13.
- Judgment at Hand, 1.14-18. A day of dense darkness, 14-15; distress and desolation, 15; of blindness and helplessness, 17; of jealousy and judgment, 18.
- THE EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE, 2. 1-3.
- A Call to Recollection, 1, the need and the means.
- A Call to Repentance, 2, danger in delay, “before, before, before”.
- A Call to Realisation, 3, “Seek ye the Lord . . . seek righteousness, seek meekness”.
- THE CONTEMPLATION OF JUDGMENT, 2. 4-15.
- The Compass Embraced: in the west - Philistia, 4-7; in the east - Moab, 8-9; in the south - Ammon, Ethiopia, 12; in the north - Assyria, 13-15.
- The Certainty of their Doom, “as I live, saith the Lord of hosts”, 9.
- The Cause of Disaster, pride, cruelty, selfishness, defiance, 8, 10.
- The Comfort of Judah, “the Lord their God shall visit them”, 7.
- THE CORRUPTION OF JUDAH, 3.1-7.
- Note the sins exposed: oppression, 1; declension, 2; refusing correction, 2; evil leadership, 3-4; civil and religious shamelessness, 5; corruption, 6-7.
- THE INDIGNATION OF JEHOVAH UPON THE NATIONS, 3. 8.
- THE PRESERVATION OF THE FAITHFUL, THE CONVERSION OF MANY, 3. 8-10.
- Judged, 8; blessed and serving, 9; pure in language, sincere in worship and united in service, 9; prayer and thanksgiving, 10.
- THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL, 3. 11-18.
- National recovery, 11; moral rectitude, 12-13; humble, dependent, upright, sincere, 11-13; joyful song, 14; emancipation, 15.
- THE JOY OF JEHOVAH, 3. 16-20.
- His Presence with them, “in the midst”, 15.
- His Power for them, “he will save”, 17.
- His Pleasure in them, “rest, rejoice”, 17.
- His Purposes for them, “I will”. Songs instead of sorrow, 18-19; security instead of scattering, 20a; recovery and restoration, 20b; God fulfills the promise of the Abrahamic covenant, Gen. 12. 1-3.
For Meditation and Study
What difference, if any, do you see in the subject of the “day of the Lord” as presented by Joel and Zephaniah?
Collect all aspects of sin, and consequent judgment.
Could you preach the gospel and give warning of judgment from this book?
Search for the threefold cords of truth and blessing in chapter 3. Are these a revelation of our character, condition and conduct today?
Muse on the expression, “in the midst” and apply its teaching for us today.
Study the “I wills” in the book.