The Minor Prophets: Zephaniah

The Minor Prophets Hosea

THE MINOR PROPHETS // ZEPHANIAH

I. Historical context

    A. Prophecy came during the reign of Josiah (1:1)

      1. 640-609 B.C. (Lewis); 630-625 B.C. (Hailey); prior to the start of Josiah’s reforms in the 620s B.C. (Coffman; Waddey)
      2. “The most conclusive argument in favor of placing Zephaniah in the pre-reform years of Josiah is found in the fact that when the copy of God’s law was found in the renovated temple, the king appealed to the prophetess Huldah, not to Zephaniah, indicating that by the time of the beginning of Josiah’s reforms Zephaniah was already dead.” (Coffman)

    B. “The fact that Zephaniah denounces foreign customs, worship of the heavenly bodies, religious syncretism, and practical skepticism makes some basis for the claim that the prophet precedes Josiah’s reform.” (Lewis)
    C. “The world order was rapidly changing. The great Assyrian Empire that had dominated the Middle East for 150 years was in a state of disintegration and decay….Savage Scythian hordes were sweeping all across the land….The powerful Babylonian kingdom under Nabopolassar was set to crush under his feet the entire region.” (Waddey)
    D. Manasseh “rebuilt the high places, reared altars to Baal and Ashtoreth, and built altars to the host of heaven. He committed the abomination of making his son pass through the fire, practicing augury and enchantment, and dealing with familiar spirits. To all this he added the sin of bloodshed, filling Jerusalem with innocent blood (see II Kings 21; II Chron. 33:1-9)….Ammon, who succeeded Manasseh, followed in the steps of his father; his reign was likewise one of great wickedness (II Chron. 33:21-25).” (Hailey)
    E. After these two evil kings, Josiah reformed Judah by tearing down the idols and reinstituting the law of God, but his reformation was short-lived and the nation was carried into captivity by the Babylonians

II. About the prophet

    A. “The name ‘Zephaniah’ means ‘He whom Jehovah has hidden.’” (Lewis)
    B. Zephaniah provides a partial ancestry which includes a man named Hezekiah (1:1)
    C. “Many believe this Hezekiah to have been the king of Judah by that name, the great-grandfather of King Josiah. If this is the case, then the prophet Zephaniah was not only of royal blood, but also a relative of the reigning king. Some scholars note that this connection may have given Zephaniah greater influence in the national affairs and closer access to the king.” (McGill)
    D. “His reference to Jerusalem as ‘this place’ (1:4) suggests that Jerusalem was his home. His acquaintance with the conditions of the city (3:1ff.) further confirms this point.” (Hailey)

III. Lessons for today

    A. Zephaniah speaks much about the day of the Lord (1:14-18)

      1. “The day is ‘at hand’ (1:7), ‘near’ (1:14), a day of darkness and of terror (1:15, 16). It comes as a judgment against sin (1:17), accompanied by great convulsions of nature (1:15). It falls upon all creation—man and beast, Hebrews and the nations (1:2, 3; 2:1-15; 3:8). The day of Jehovah is a day of doom! The prophet sees it as a day of terror, imminent and falling upon all creation as a judgment for sin. Only a remnant will escape, but it is a day of deliverance for the faithful.” (Hailey)
      2. “In gripping poetry in which one can feel the very foundations of earth quaking, Zephaniah describes the terrors of the day affecting man, beast, bird, and fish (Zeph. 1:2,3).” (Lewis)

    B. The danger of complacency (1:12)

      1. “In the stupidity of their hearts they ignored Jehovah and were indifferent to Him. They looked on Him as one would an idol who possessed power to do neither good nor bad.” (Hailey)
      2. “In America, during the Revolutionary War period, it was fashionable among some of the citizens to claim to be Deists. The main tenet of Deism was the very same falsehood that was believed in Jerusalem in the days of Zephaniah—that the Lord would not in any way intervene in the affairs of men.” (McGill)
      3. Deism is refuted by even a cursory reading of the Scriptures; God did intervene on several occasions, executing punishments on the disobedient
      4. If God is not concerned with the affairs of men, why are we commanded to pray? (1 Timothy 2:1-4; James 1:5-8)

    C. Warning against trusting in material riches (1:18)

      1. “They would be unable to bribe the enemy even with all the silver and gold they had accumulated and laid up. The destruction had been determined by Jehovah and there would be no escaping the judgment against their sins.” (Hailey)
      2. The riches of this world will do nothing for us in eternity (1 Timothy 6:7)
      3. The riches of this world are “uncertain” (1 Timothy 6:17), susceptible to destruction and theft (Matthew 6:19)
      4. Consider the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21)
      5. Where should our treasure be? (Matthew 6:20-21)
      6. In what and in whom must we trust for salvation? (Romans 1:16; 5:8-11)

    D. The power of hope (2:3; 3:9-20)

      1. “It is to be noticed that his is not a general call to repentance that can turn aside the calamity. It would seem that the day of grace is already passed. Doom awaits. There is no hope of recovery but only that some may escape.” (Lewis)
      2. “But the call is to the meek, the humble, the lowly, and the submissive who bend their wills to a higher power.” (Hailey)
      3. Concerning 3:11, Coffman wrote, “The only way that the shame from transgressions can be removed is through the forgiveness of sins, to which there is undoubtedly a reference in these words, the same being another characteristic of the Messianic times, as indicated in Jeremiah 31:31-35.” (Coffman)
      4. “When Jesus received in our behalf the judgment of God upon our sin (II Corinthians 5:21), He purged us of all those things for which we need to be ashamed.” (Gill)
      5. “In the closing verse (3:20) God through Zephaniah promised Judah’s return from captivity, even before the Babylonian Captivity began.” (McGill)
      6. “Note the use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ in verses 18-20: ‘I will gather,’ ‘I will deal,’ ‘I will save,’ ‘I will make,’ ‘will I bring you in,’ ‘will I gather you,’ ‘I will make,’ ‘when I bring back your captivity before your eyes.’…The work of redemption will be the work of the Lord.” (Hailey)

Resources
Coffman, James Burton. (1982). Commentary on the Minor Prophets, Volume 3: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Haggai. Austin, TX: The Firm Foundation Publishing House. [Textual commentary excluding introductory notes on each book available online at https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/zephaniah.html]

Gill, Clinton R. (1971). Minor Prophets: A Study of Micah through Malachi. Joplin, MO: College Press. [Online at http://www.restorationlibrary.org/library/BSTSMP/BSTSMP_SIPDF.pdf]

Hailey, Homer. (1972). A Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Lewis, Jack P. (1966). Minor Prophets. Austin, TX: R.B. Sweet Co., Inc.

McGill, James R. “The Living Message of Zephaniah.” (1977). The Living Messages of the Books of the Old Testament. Garland Elkins and Thomas B. Warren, editors. Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, Inc.

Waddey, John. (2011). The Testimony of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Delight, AR: Gospel Light Publishing Company. [Online at http://www.restorationlibrary.org/library/TTMP/TTMP_SIPDF.pdf]

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