Bible Teaching Notes
Friday, June 23, 2017
Omar C. Garcia

Zephaniah

Notes by Jerry Perrill, Missionary to Laos and Thailand (Retired)


The Minor Prophets tell us much concerning judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem and the rest of the world as well. Since the Word includes the Old Testament, this is a word for our age and I fear there are some who would put the end-times judgment (as Zephaniah foresees) not in our (Church) age, but in some future age of tribulation. Thus we can “rather lightly look at the judgment passages since the Church age will not be around anyway.” This view has been popularized by the Left Behind series which says at the beginning, the Church will be raptured out of this world leaving others to face the judgment (spoken about by Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Isaiah, Revelation and others). I believe that the Church of Jesus the Messiah, as the greatly enlarged ‘seed of Abraham’ – incorporated with the remnant of Israel to become the new Israel – desperately needs to listen (with repentant and obedient hearts) to this word of coming judgment. The rapture or calling out will come when Jesus returns (accompanied by those raptured) to accomplish final victory over Satan and his hoards, and establish the new heaven and earth, wherein dwells righteousness. All the prophets, major and minor, give us encouraging words of hope as well as a picture of coming judgment.

Thus, in my comments, I feel that we, the 21st century Church must listen carefully to what Zephaniah and others are saying to us. We know that there was an immediate context of terrible judgment from the hands of Babylon, but there is a much larger view as he speaks of judgment of “all the earth.” We dare not assume that such final judgment will come sometime in another age and thus spare us concern about those days. That, I fear, is more of a psychological hope than a biblical truth. I do know that we will never (until Jesus comes back) solve the differences concerning things of the future. It is, as Elaine, my wife, has reminded me often, “not to worry about ‘pre’ or ‘post’ or ‘ahh,’ it will all pan out in the end.”
 
Here is an outline of the book by Patterson, Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary series:
 
Superscription  (1)
 
I.              The Announcement of the Day of the Lord  (1:2-2:3)
                A.             Pronouncements of judgment  (1:2-6)
                                1.             On all the earth  (1:2-3)
                                2.             On Judah and Jerusalem  (1:4-6)
                B.            Exhortations based on judgment  (1:7-13)
                C.            Teaching concerning the day of the Lord  (1:14-2:3)
                                1.             Information concerning that day  (1:14-18)
                                2.             Instructions in the light of that day  (2:1-3)
 
II.             Additional details concerning the Day of the Lord  (2:4-3:20)
                A.             Further pronouncements of judgment  (2:4-3:7
                                1.             On the nations  (2:4-15)
                                                a.             Philistia (current Gaza – West)  (2:4-7)
                                                b.             Moab and Ammon (to the East)  (2:8-11)
                                                c.             Cush (Ethiopia to the South)  (2:12)
                                                d.             Assyria (to the North)  (2:13-17)
                                2.             On Jerusalem  (3:1-7)
                B.            An exhortation based on judgment  (3:8)
                C.            Additional teaching concerning the Day of the Lord  (3:9-20)
                                1.             Information concerning that day  (3:9-13)
                                2.             Instructions in the light of that day  (3:14-20)
 
1:1        Zephaniah may have been the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah, although that is
questionable. Hezekiah was a common name and the verse does not put ‘King’ before that name. If so he would have been a relative to King Josiah who began his reign at the age of eight. It was in the 18th year of his reign that the scroll was found in the temple and brought a brief time of repentance and revival. That was short lived when Josiah was killed in fighting those he was warned not to fight. I believe Zephaniah prophesied before the scroll was found. See 2 Kings chapters 21 – 23 to review that history.
 
1:2f       What a picture! The verb utterly sweep away, along with a later picture of the maid with
lamp searching (1:12) out the corners where dust collects, causes us to tremble. What corners of my heart have been collecting the dust of sin? See also pictures in the phrases I will stretch out my hand and I will cut off (1:4). The motif of the outstretched hand of God emphasizes His omnipotence (Jer. 32:17) and is also used in connection with His creative power and sovereign disposition of the course of history (Isa. 14:26-27). You have to notice the context because it may be used of God’s relation to His people either in deliverance (Ex. 6:6; Deut. 4:34; 5:15; 7:19) or in judgment (Jer. 21:5).
 
Twice he relates this judgment to the face of the earth (admah, not eretz, land) He uses the phrase, the whole world and making a sudden end of all who live in the earth 1:18. Further, he mentions what will be swept away in an inverse relation to creation:
 
In judgment:
            a. mankind (adam) note the play on words with ‘earth’ in the sentence above
               b. animals
                  c. birds      
                    d. fish    the created order “groans” under man’s sin (Rom. 8:22)

In creation:
                        a. fish
                    b. birds
                c. animals
            d. mankind
 
In this way Zephaniah envisions the undoing of creation as judgment on sin! Further on the extent of judgment, see the outline above (2, A, 1, a-d) where all directions emphasizes the whole earth. And in chap 1:4f, see those under the judging eye of the Lord: every remnant of Baal, priests v. 4, those who bow . . . to starry hosts v. 5a, hypocrites who bow before Yahweh and who also swear by Molech v. 5b, the complacent who neither seek the Lord nor inquire of Him v. 6, princes v.8, merchants and traders v. 11, those who simply ignore God, thinking The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad v. 12, the wealthy, the builders, the vine growers. No one can say, “I will escape.”
 
Note carefully all the thoughts in this whole book on The Day of the Lord. See especially 1:14-18; 3:8. What a firestorm in those words. I, like Habakkuk in 3:16, hear and it causes trembling and ‘rottenness in my bones’ at the very thought of judgment. You might compare verses on this subject here (Zeph. 1:14-18) with Joel in 2:1-11; with Isaiah 2:10-21; and with Amos 5:18-20. In all these, arrogant pride and self-centeredness are high on the list of those things that will fall under the terrible wrath of God.
 
1:7        Be silent is a call to the people of Judah to cease every manner of opposition to God’s word and will, to bow down in submissive, humble obedience, in unconditional surrender and loving service to their Covenant God. What an awesome thought in that verse that Yahweh Himself has prepared a sacrifice; consecrated His guests. Surely this sacrifice is none other than Israel themselves. The language is figurative – the people as a sacrifice. Much later, wonder of wonders, God Himself would be that sacrifice for sin – literally! Praise His Name!
 
Peter Craigie writes, “Sometimes it is the apathetic and indifferent who are more responsible for a nation’s moral collapse than those who are actively engaged in evil, or those who have failed in the responsibilities of leadership.” (Twelve Prophets, vol. 2, page 114) He concludes: “Zephaniah’s words on indifference touch the conscience of multitudes, those who are not guilty of unbelief, but are equally never overwhelmed by belief. . . . The way things are is partly because that is the way we have allowed them to become. We can sit back, smug and somnolent in a desperate world, but we cannot at the same time absolve ourselves from all responsibility, and we shall eventually be caught in the very chaos we permit” – and we will face judgment.
 
2:1-3     The call goes out for a wayward nation to gather themselves (in solemn assembly) before (3 times in that verse) the decree takes effect. What hope there is in those words. Bud notice to whom this call goes. It is not to the wicked in their midst; it is not even to the indifferent! It is rather to all you humble of the earth who (already) do His commandments. It is a call to the faithful; to those who sit before you in your Sunday School class; it is to you and me! We must be the first to seek righteousness, seek humility. And perhaps, just perhaps we will be delivered in the day of the Lord’s anger.
 
2:4-15   The four nations cited for judgment in this section may have been chosen to represent the “everywhere-in-the-world” place. He used nations from all four directions out from Jerusalem. Amos used the nations in another strategic way to picture judgment circling around and around, finally to light on Israel (see Amos 1:3-2:16).
 
3:1-7     And, as in Amos, judgment finally falls on Jerusalem – on God’s own people.
 
3:8f       As Habakkuk decided to wait upon an answer from the Lord, so Jerusalem is exhorted to wait for the Lord to act as He has promised. In summary, it is not just Judah, but also kingdoms and the whole world will be consumed. Notice too in verse 11 that those marked for the fierceness of God’s wrath are those who, as those to whom Obadiah spoke, rejoiced in their pride. It would be the meek and humble, those who trust in the name of the Lord, the remnant (not the nation) of Israel(ver.13)that would have purified lips (ver. 9) and speak no lies; they will no longer be afraid.
 
3:14-20 After that firestorm of promised judgment, how sweet are the last verses. Sing. O Daughter of Zion! Why?
 
  • Because The Lord has taken away your punishment (3:15a)
  • Because The Lord the King of Israel, is with you (3:15b)
  • Because The Lord your God is with you (3:17a)
  • Because I (God) will deal with all who oppressed you (3:19a)
  • Because I (God) will rescue the lame, gather those scattered (3:19b)
  • Because I (God) will give them praise and honor (3:19c)
  • Because I (God) will gather you . . . and bring you home (3:20a)
 
In the midst of those wonderful ‘becauses’ is the beautiful verse 17:
 
Yahweh your God (and He is still your God!) is with you, He is mighty to save
   He will take great delight in you,
   He will quiet you with His love,*
   He will rejoice over you with singing.
 
*Martin Luther translated the fourth line of that verse like this:
 
“He will give you a quiet peace and a very peaceful quiet.”
 
Sing all you saints for God has accomplished it all!

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