Last week we looked at Habakkuk, about whom we know next to nothing. He gives us no idea of his parentage. On the other hand, Zephaniah goes into tremendous detail with verse one of chapter one:
“Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.”
This is the only time in the Minor Prophets that an author traces his geneaology. He goes back four generations and stops with a Hezekiah. Why would he go back and stop at Hezekiah if this is not the king Hezekiah?
Hezekiah was one of the godly kings. Therefore, Zephaniah was probably in the royal family and lived in Jerusalem.
This gives him legitimacy when he preaches against the royalty.
He ministers during the time of King Josiah. So he is a contemporary of Jeremiah. One of the characteristics of Zephaniah is his attention to the Book of Genesis. We see this right away with verse 2, when Zephaniah echoes the story of Noah.
2 “I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the LORD.
3 “I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
What has so angered God that he would do this?
It is the sin of idol worship.
4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests— 5 those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molek,[b] 6 those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.”
I see three things at work in this statement of idol worship.
First, there is obviously the worship of a false god.
Second, there is the divided worship of God and false god.
Third, there is atheism.
First – there is the worship of a false god. Zephaniah mentions specifically Baal and Molek. These were two popular false gods, we see them throughout the Bible.
Baal was a fertility god in the Bible. The way they would get the earth to become fertile and encourage the crops to grow was to go to the Temple of Baal and have sex with the temple prostitutes so as to encourage the god Baal into making the earth fertile. It was big business in its day.
Molek was a national god of the Ammorites.
When you put your trust in a false reality, a made up god, that is a sin.
Some of these people were hedging their bets. They worshipped God AND a false god. But you have to be committed. You either worship God or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.
I love that last line we read, because it is so reflective of today.
6 those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.”
Atheism or spiritual complacency are also sins.
When we turn from God, it is not just the people who suffer – all creation suffers.
7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near.
”The Day of the Lord.” That is a them in Zephaniah and it is a theme that shows up in the writings of other prophets. “The Day of the Lord” can be something to be afraid of, or something that is longed for.
Here, it is a frightening thing.
The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.
8 “On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. 9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold,who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.
What is that business of verse 9 about thresholds?
It is a poetic way of talking about those who worship false gods.
1 Samuel 5
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Philistines and the Ark
5 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
So on the Day of the Lord, God is going to punish those who worship false gods – and not the true God.
Understand, this is during the same time as Habakkuk and with it the rediscovery of Deuteronomy in the temple repairs of King Josiah. The people are being called to rededicate themselves to God. Zephaniah is part of that project – calling people back to the true God.
The sacrifice that is being prepared are the people of Judah. They are being sacrificed. They are the victims. They are the targets for the punishment because of their sins.
10 “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
The old city of Jerusalem, like many ancient cities, was a walled city for protection and defense. There were many gates, and the Fish Gate was on the north. The New Quarter was also on the north.
Geographically, these are the parts of the city that are the furthest from the Temple, or spiritually speaking, the most distant from God.
In other words, on the day the of the Lord, those far from God will weep loudly at their mistakes.
11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be destroyed.
There is another thing about the Fish Gate – it is where seafood and fish were brought into the city and sold. And in verse 11 you have the market district, the merchants – businesses.
These merchants have no regard for ethics, and as such, they will be punished.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’ 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”
Those people whose only goal is to make money and have concern for neighbors or God, will find that their work is futile. They may gain wealth for a time, but they won’t last.
In America we have great examples of outstanding business leaders. Sam Walton, Truett Cathy and others have great businesses, made a lot of money, and gave a tremendous amount to the community and the church.
We also have the people who make money through deceit and unethical practicies.
Now, let’s get a good picture of what this “day of the Lord will be like.”
14 The great day of the LORD is near— near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. 15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.
Yep – that don’t sound good!
A you familiar with the term, “eschatology?” It is a theological term referring to the study of the last days.
In Old Testament eschatology, the message is always focused on punishment AND salvation. It is based on the belief that God is a just and righteous God and he will punish people for sin, but it is also based on the belief that God’s ultimate will is for the salvation of God’s people.
The day of the Lord brings punishment, but beyond this lies a renewed dominion of God and of those who are loyal to God.
So in case you think these past few verses can’t get any worse, let’s move into chapter 2.
1 Gather together, gather yourselves together, you shameful nation, 2 before the decree takes effect and that day passes like windblown chaff, before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s wrath comes upon you. 3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.
This is the purpose of punishment and judgment – to call people back to God.
To be humble here means to be in communion with God and to abide by the will of God. It is to see yourself as lowly in relation to god.
Righteousness in this passage is to have a right relationship with God and with other people.
Remember what another prophet said. Micah in chapter 6 of his book said,
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
The next verse begins another oracle.
4 Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. 5 Woe to you who live by the sea, you Kerethite people; the word of the LORD is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines. He says, “I will destroy you, and none will be left.”
What Zephaniah is doing here is going around the compass. If you look up these nations on a map, they are the people to the west, to the north, to the east, to the south.
The people everywhere who reject God are doomed.
But there is hope.
Remember the cycle we see over and over in the Old Testament. Doom and hope. Judgment and redemption. Punishment and salvation.
6 The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks. 7 That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The LORD their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.
Moab and Ammon
8 “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land. 9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah— a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.”
That is another reference to Genesis with the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah – cities that had been so evil that God destroyed them.
10 This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the LORD Almighty. 11 The LORD will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the earth. Distant nations will bow down to him, all of them in their own lands.
12 “You Cushites,[b] too, will be slain by my sword.”
That is an interesting verse, because of who Zephaniah is. Remember verse one of chapter one?
“Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.”
Zephaniah’s father was probably named Cushi because he was of Cush, or Ethiopia. The prophet is speaking to his own.
Actually, Ethiopia is not a major threat to Judah at this time, but they had once ruled Egypt and with the change of the political landscape, that nation and others were ready to rise up.
The power base has been Assyria and its capital city of Nineveh, but that is changing. But the city and nation is still proud and arrogant and confident in its place in the world.
13 He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. 14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their hooting will echo through the windows, rubble will fill the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed. 15 This is the city of revelry that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am the one! And there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.
Ancient treaties often included curses on those who violated the treaty, and a common curse was that wild animals would take over the cities of those who violated the treaty.
“All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.”
The word translated as scoff literally means to hiss.
We don’t hiss any longer.
If you saw the movie “The Conspirators” about the Lincoln assassination and all of those involved in that conspiracy with John Wilkes Booth, saw the trial of several people connected with the assassination of Booth and the attempted assassination of several others in government. The movie shows people literally hissing at the conspirators. People literally go “hiss, hiss” at people. It is almost a laughable moment in the very serious film, but people used to do that.
This is a good example of how difficult it is to translate the Bible. You don’t just write the literal meaning, you have to also translate the essence of the words.
So this text might be translated today not as
All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.
But rather, all who pass by her yell obscene words and flip them the finger.
That is the essence of disregard people have toward those who were once in power over them.
The next oracle is addressed not to the nations that surround Judah, but to the very people of Jerusalem.
1 Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! 2 She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God. 3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law. 5 The LORD within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.
6 “I have destroyed nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are laid waste; they are deserted and empty. 7 Of Jerusalem I thought, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her place of refuge would not be destroyed, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.
The people of Jerusalem rebel against obeying Dod and His laws. The live life as thif they were not accountable to anyone, especially to God.
Four kinds of leaders are named in verses 3 and 4.
3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.
Officials are political leaders,
Rulers are judicial leaders of the law,
Prophets are the religious leaders who give instructions and teach the people.
Priests are the worship leaders who lead the people in the sanctuary.
So what you have is a double whammy on the secular leaders and a double whammy on the religious leaders.
But contrast the unfaithfulness of the people with the faithfulness of God that we see beginning in verse 8. God will be faithful in applying judgment.
8 Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD, “for the day I will stand up to testify.I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.
Why does God give judgment? In order to redeem the people.
9 “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. 10 From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings. 11 On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from you your arrogant boasters. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. 12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the LORD.
The other side of judgment is salvation and redemption.
13 They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.”
This is familiar language to those who are in God’s Salvation.
Psalm 23, “He makes me to lie down…I will fear no evil.”
Isaiah 65: The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food.
Zephaniah ends with a great hymn. It is a song of praise for the salvation to come.
14 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. 19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. 20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD.
Zephaniah basically lays out to the people a road map.
Plan A is doom and gloom.
Plan B is hope and good fortune.
Plan A is wild animals will take over the city streets.
Pan B is God will rescue the lame.
Zephaniah lays it out to the people, and leaves the choices up to them.