Lessons From Zephaniah

In the opening paragraph, Zephaniah gives us his ancestry: he is a direct descendent of King Hezekiah, one of the good kings of Judah. Zepahaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah, about 640-609 BC, making him a contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah, Nahum, and possibly Habakkuk. His message was a warning of the wrath of God and His punishments to come.

As is always the case in Old Testament prophecy, his warning had one fulfillment in the history of the nation of Israel, (specifically in Judah), and yet it points to a future fulfillment for the Church, the body of Christ. God spoke through Zephaniah, warning that His wrath is going to cause wide-spread destruction.

This was directed first to some specific people in Judah (which included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin) and especially Jerusalem. Judah and Benjamin were the two tribes who believed themselves to be safe and secure, because they escaped the captivity in which the ten tribes of Israel were involved. There’s a lesson there for those today who likewise feel that they are safe and secure, and thus beyond correction, chastisement, and justice from the hand of Almighty God.

His message is addressed to specific people:

1. Every remnant of Baal worshipers, those who still worshiped Baal after the reformation under King Josiah. He specifically mentions here the “Chemarims”, or "idolatrous priests," (see also 2 Kings 23:5). Baal was the principal male god of the Phoenicians. Baal is closely identified with Molech (Jer. 19:5). He was worshipped till the time of Samuel (1 Sam. 7:4), and afterwards became the religion of the ten tribes under the leadership of King Ahab (1 Kings 16:31-33; 18:19,22). He prevailed also for a time in the kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 8:27). The Captivity as described in Zephaniah chapter 1 finally put an end to Baal worship in the nation of Israel. There were literally hundreds priests of Baal. (1 Kings 18:19). The sun-god of the Canaanites was also called by the general title of Baal. Each locality had its special Baal, and the various local Baals were summed up under the name of Baalim, or "lords".

2. Those who bow down to worship the starry host, i.e. the sun, moon, and stars. (see Gen. 2:1) When the Jews fell into idolatry they worshipped these ( see Deut. 4:19; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3,5 ;23:5; Jer. 19:13; Zep. 1:5; Acts 7:42). Today, astrology is still popular, and is just as idolatrous now as it was then.

3. Those that worship and that swear by the LORD, and those that swear by Moloch. Molech was the national god of the Ammonites, to whom children were sacrificed by fire. Solomon erected a high place for this idol on the Mount of Olives, (see 1 Kings 11:7), and from that time until the days of Josiah his worship continued (2 Kings 23:10,13).

4. Those that are turned back from the LORD; This verse describes those guilty of defection from Jehovah in any way (See Jer. 2:13,17). In the new Testament, the writer of Hebrews says it this way, in Heb. 6:4-6(a): "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance."

5. Those that have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him- ie. have never been believers, or even pretended to be. Completely unregenerate, hardened hearts that neither know, believe, or care what the Lord has to say.

God says to all of these, that He will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees; those that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil. "Search" indicates a very determined and concentrated effort on God's part. Using candles {or lamps} indicates a search that will leave no dark corner in it wherein sin can escape detection and punishment.

The term "settled on their lees" means "hardened" or "crusted", like the crust formed at the bottom of wines that have remained undisturbed for a long time. (see Jer. 48:11). The effect of relaxed, undisturbed ease and prosperity in the lives of the ungodly is a hardening of their hearts: they become secure and complacent, (compare Ps. 55:19; Amos 6:1) thinking God is powerless, and either cannot or will not do what He has said He will do.

People like this, both in Zephaniah's time and in our own times, do not believe God has control over people and events, whether good or bad. They attribute their own prosperity as the results of their own efforts, rather than God's provision. They believe in their own power and might, in their own competence to control circumstances, people, and situations in their lives. They see events as being coincidental or accidental, rather than divinely orchestrated.

"The day of the Lord" refers here to the approaching invasion of Nebuchadnezzar as the immediate fulfillment of this prophecy, but as always, it remains a fore-shadowing of the true day of the Lord in which all earth-judgments will culminate, to be followed by the restoration of Israel.

It is important for us to realize that Nebuchadnezzar was chosen specifically by God to wreak God’s vengeance on guilty Jerusalem (Jer. 25:9). God uses even ungodly and pagan people to bring His plans to completion, as we see here and throughout the Bible. Nebuchadnezzer did not even realize at first that he was merely an instrument in God’s hands, thinking, as all such men do, that he was in complete control of everything. How woefully ignorant we are when we make such an arrogant assumption, as Nebuchadnezzer later learned, much to his great distress.

As we’ve said, Old Testament prophecies had both an immediate and a distant fulfillment. This fulfillment by the invasion of the Babylonians is a picture of the great, final Day Of The Lord, when Christ will return to earth, and will restore the nation of Israel eternally.

Verse 18 makes it clear that: “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD'S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy.” (Zep. 1:18) We are fools to place our faith and trust in wealth and worldly riches; they will do us no good on the day of the Lord’s wrath. The wealthy of Zephaniah’s time did just that, and it didn’t help them at all; in fact, history shows that it was the wealthiest that were taken off into captivity first, while the poorest among them were allowed to remain to work the land.

However, God never leaves us hopeless. He always provides a way for people to turn back to Him, and Zephaniah’s prophecy is no different. In the beginning of the second chapter, He tells the people, through the prophet, to gather themselves together, and to seek the Lord first, then to seek righteousness, and last to seek meekness.

Gathering together is a way that God strengthens His people. One person is never as strong as two, and there is power and might in a large group. We need each other, for more reasons than one. Or, as it states in Eccl. 4:10-12: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” That is one of the reasons we are told in Hebrews not to forsake assembling ourselves together even today. God knows what we need!

On this approaching day of the Lord, God promises punishment for all those who are enemies of His chosen people. Zep 2:10-11 says: “This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the LORD of hosts. The LORD will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen.”

This is what they will get because of their own pride and arrogance. All their riches, all their gods, all their own power and might, would not save them from the wrath of God on that day.

Ninevah was a perfect example of such a city. The Bible says, Zep 2:15: “This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me.” Nothing then seemed more improbable than that the capital of so vast an empire, a city sixty miles in compass, with walls one hundred feet high, and so thick that three chariots could go abreast on them, and with fifteen hundred towers, should be so totally destroyed. Hundreds of years later, it’s site was discovered only with great difficulty. The prophecy spoken by Zephaniah was right on target.

These pagans had set themselves up deliberately to be equal to God, the great I am. (see Ex. 3:14) Over and over His word tells us there is no other, He and He alone is God.

“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me. (Isa. 45:5)

That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. (Isa. 45:6)

Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.(Isa. 45:21)

All of these things were written, to give us an example, and a warning. 1 Cor. 10:11 states: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” God is no different today than He was then. He is unchanging and eternal.

We would do well to study the book of Zephaniah, and learn from it. Aren’t we, in our arrogance, just like the people in Zephaniah’s day? Don’t we feel that we are safe and secure, and thus beyond correction, chastisement, and justice from the hand of Almighty God? Don’t we still attribute our own prosperity as the results of our own efforts, rather than God's provision? Don’t we still place our faith and trust in wealth and worldly riches? And don’t we still believe in our own power and might, in our own competence to control circumstances, people and situations

Don’t we still have those that have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him? Haven’t we, to a large extent, refused to seek the Lord first, then to seek righteousness? Aren’t there many today who deny the power of God, and even His very existence, deliberately setting themselves up to be equal to God? Haven’t we become just like the world in Zephaniah’s time: a mixture of unrighteous, ungodly, pagan people, with unregenerate, hardened hearts that neither know, believe, or care what the Lord has to say? Aren’t we also secure and complacent, thinking God either cannot or will not do what He has said He will do?

Can we possibly think that the great, almighty, all-powerful, and eternal God will allow us to get away with such attitudes, any more than He allowed them to? Can we possibly believe God will not bring us down, just as He did then? We must learn to heed the Word of God, or suffer the same fate as the people of Zephaniah’s time.

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