The time was drawing near even though nobody seemed to notice, nobody seemed to even care. The people carried on business as usual—working every angle, ripping one another off like nobody was watching, and when someone would file a complaint they found the court system to be more corrupt than the marketplace. They caroused and carried on like they didn’t have a care in the world. They watched injustice rise in the city like the tides on the sea. The preachers were corrupt, conniving, and cold-hearted peddlers of whatever the people wanted to hear instead of speaking out with boldness for the Lord. To sum it all up, the people lived as if God didn’t even exist, and yet, the Day of the Lord would come. It would come like a thief in the night. The Day of the Lord had come in times past and the nations surrounding Judah had suffered because of their defiance of God. Yet, it was as though the people of Judah had somehow convinced themselves that God would just wink at their sin and complacency.
The people of Judah were not ignorant to the Lord’s ways. Neither were they unaware of His continual call to live as His people rather than mirroring the pagan nations that surrounded them. God’s people had been told time and time again. He had urged them to turn back from their ways and serve Him with reverence and passion. They had watched the Lord raise up nations and then, when they refused to turn from their ways; He humbled them in an unmistakable way. The people of Judah had witnessed their brothers and sisters to the north, the Israelites, meet their end almost one hundred years earlier. Even though the demise of Israel had left an impression on the people of Judah it was an impression that quickly faded into the sea of forgetfulness. The people soon went right back to living life as if God didn’t even exist.
Over the past several weeks we have listened to the prophets of God speak with an unmistakable clarity. We have heard them plead with the people to turn back to God. When the people refused to turn back to God, the warnings were issued to God’s people to prepare themselves for what was to come. Time and time again we have witnessed the people of God roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Yea, yea, whatever!”
If you will remember back to the beginning of our study of the Minor Prophets, then you will remember that there are twelve Minor Prophets. We can divide those prophets between the nine prophets who spoke before the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the people to Babylon and the three who prophesied during what is called the “post exilic times,” the time after the return of the Jews to Judah from Babylon. Zephaniah, the focus of our study for this morning, is the last of the “pre-exilic” prophets, or those prophets who spoke before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.
Like most of the prophets that we have studied so far, we know very little about the man Zephaniah. What do we know about him is found in the very first verse of his prophecy. Read along with me.
1 The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah: (Zephaniah 1:1 NIV)
Zephaniah is the only one of the prophets who traces his ancestry back four generations. There is a reason why he does this. If you will notice, Zephaniah’s great-great-grandfather was named Hezekiah. Many people believe that this is the Hezekiah who was the king of Judah from 726-697 B.C. If that is the case then Zephaniah was related to the king, which would give him access to the royal palace while he was speaking out for God.
Zephaniah tells us that Josiah was the king of Judah when the word of the Lord came to him. We know that Josiah ruled over Judah from 641-609 B.C. We know from our study of Habakkuk that a great spiritual revival happened in Judah during Josiah’s reign. It would seem odd that Zephaniah would be delivering this message of judgment while a revival was taking place in Judah don’t you think? Maybe Zephaniah’s message came before the revival took place? I think so, but let me show you why I think so. We are told in 2 Chronicles 34 that in the “eighth year of his reign” Josiah began to seek the Lord. Then, two years later, when he was eighteen years old, Josiah began to implement a great spiritual reformation throughout the land. The year of Josiah’s reform began in 629 B.C.
There is another clue found in Zephaniah which can help us get an idea about when Zephaniah delivered this message to the people of Judah. We know that King Josiah died in 609 B.C., but Zephaniah couldn’t have been speaking out for the Lord during the end of Josiah’s reign because, in Zephaniah 2:13, we read about the coming destruction of Nineveh. We know that Nineveh was conquered in 612 B.C., three years before Josiah actually died. Zephaniah had to have prophesied during the early years of Josiah’s reign while the nation was still in the throes of idolatry, corruption, greed, sexual immorality, injustice, and oppression. The urgent message of the coming Day of the Lord had to have been delivered sometime between 639-629 B.C.
Each of the prophets that we have taken a look at during our study share some commonalities. Let me point out just a couple to you this morning.
In Zephaniah 1:7, after the warning of God’s coming judgment, the people are urged to be silent before the Lord. Read along with me.
7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. (Zephaniah 1:7 NIV)
The message that came to the people of Judah is echoed in a message they received from Habakkuk as well. In Habakkuk 2:20 we read,
20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20 NIV)
I’ve already mentioned the “Day of the Lord” in the introduction of our study. The phrase, and all that it entails, is central to the message of Zephaniah. We come upon the phrase in the opening chapter of Zephaniah where he says,
14 “The great day of the LORD is near– near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. 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 distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. 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 world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:14-18 NIV)
The Day of the Lord is a day that has taken place in times past when God has exhausted all possible avenues to turn His people around. Make no mistake about it; the Day of the Lord is on the horizon even as we speak this morning.
The Day of the Lord is not new to us. We’ve learned about this important event already from our study of the prophet Joel when he wrote,
1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand– 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. (Joel 2:1-2 NIV)
What I hope that we have been learning from our study of the Minor Prophets is that God is serious about sin, the corruption of society, taking advantage of the poor and weak, and the turning away of His people to that which will destroy them. Zephaniah is a short book. It is only three chapters long and yet the message of the prophet is a message that desperately needed to be heard in Zephaniah’s day and it is a message that is desperately needed in our day as well.
The outline of the prophecy is very easy to follow: First, in Zephaniah 1:2-2:3 we have the prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord. Secondly, in Zephaniah 2:4-3:8 we have prophecies against the nations that surrounded Judah and those prophecies culminate in a final prediction of God’s judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. Last of all, in Zephaniah 3:9-20, we have the hope of a new day of restoration under God’s blessing.
God’s judgment, His discipline, wasn’t coming because God woke up on the wrong side of the bed or because He simply decided He was bored and wanted to show everyone who’s Boss. The judgment of God was coming because for years and years God had urged His people to turn back to Him, really turn back to Him, and turn away from the corruption that was choking the life out of the people as well as the nation. You can get an idea of what was going on in Jerusalem by reading the first chapter of Zephaniah. Turn with me to Zephaniah 1:4-6 and let’s read together.
4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal, the names of the pagan and 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 Molech, 6 those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him. (Zephaniah 1:4-6 NIV)
The people of God had witnessed God’s mighty power, they had benefitted from God’s faithfulness at every turn, and they had been the recipients of His mercy. Now, they were trying to worship God while at the same time fit in with society by worshipping the foreign gods, the false gods of Baal and Molech. Those who were most responsible, those mentioned first, were the priests. Those who had been given the responsibility and privilege of leading the people to God, of pointing the people to God, and of reminding the people at all times of God’s mercy, grace, and calling to live a holy life. The priests had abandoned God and the people followed their lead. They were “bowing down” before the Lord when it was useful, but they were also bowing down to other gods as well. They would “swear by the Lord” when it was useful, but they weren’t following God, they didn’t seek God, and neither did they ask Him for input on their lives.
I told you this message is desperately needed today didn’t I? This past week as I studied Zephaniah I thought about our own society. There is no shortage of commentators who are quick to chronicle all of the societal ills of our community and our nation. I have to wonder, “Is it really the ‘godless,’ the atheist, and the immoral among us who bear the weight of responsibility for what is happening to our community and nation or is it people like me and you?” We have been entrusted with the same calling as the priests of long ago. We are to live in such a way that those around us are reminded of God’s grace and mercy. We are to point others to the glory of our King. Our lives are to be a reminder to our culture of God’s goodness, grace, and His calling to live a life of holiness, service, humility, and gratitude.
How many of us who claim to be followers of Jesus are really following in the footsteps of those in Judah? We attend church now and then. When it comes in handy, when we really want to stress how serious we are about something, we will “swear to God,” but are we following God or are we following the ways of the world? Do we really seek God or are we really seeking to fit in with our society? Do we seek to gain insight about our lives first from God or do we turn elsewhere to find answers to our questions about life?
Beginning in verse 8 we can gain even more insight into what was going on in Jerusalem and all of Judah. Read along with me.
8 On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the princes 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. 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. 11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined. 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. They will build houses but not live in them; they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine. (Zephaniah 1:8-13 NIV)
God is going to punish the princes and king’s sons as well as all of those who are “clad in foreign clothes.” God is going to punish those who “avoid stepping over the threshold.” What’s the big deal? The big deal is that God’s people were passionate about trying to be like those in their community who had no desire for God at all. Cultural trends and popular fads were a magnet in Zephaniah’s day just as they are today. God knew that it would be tough for His people to maintain their distinctiveness as His set-apart people. God gave His people every tool to battle the magnetic pull of pop culture. Turn with me to Numbers 15:38-41. Let’s read together.
38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. 40 Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. 41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.’” (Numbers 15:38-41 NIV)
God instructed His people to wear a reminder of who they were, a reminder of who He had called them to be, and how they were to live, but they had stripped themselves of every reminder and taken on the dress of those around them. I’m not advocating that we all begin to wear clerical collars or a nun’s habit, but neither are we to emulate our culture either. Guys, we are men of God. If any attention comes our way it should be because of our character, integrity, and humility not because of what we have or what we wear. We shouldn’t try to mimic what’s hot in our culture, but we should be white hot with a burning desire to be used by God in our culture. Ladies, young and old alike, you are women of God. You shouldn’t be turning heads because of what you are wearing, but you should pray that any attention you receive is because of your godly demeanor and your servant’s heart.
Judean society had lost its distinctiveness as the city of God inhabited by the people of God. The merchants were all crooks, the wealthy citizens of the city were taking advantage of the poor, and even though they said that God wouldn’t do anything—they were wrong.
Let’s turn to Zephaniah 3 and see what else we can learn about the city of Jerusalem and the country of Judah. Read along with me.
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 are roaring lions, her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. 4 Her prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men. 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 cut off nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are destroyed; no one will be left–no one at all. 7 I said to the city, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her dwelling would not be cut off, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did. 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. 9 “Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (Zephaniah 3:1-9 NIV)
As we read Zephaniah it doesn’t take too long for us to come to the conclusion that there was not one segment of society that was not marred and tainted by sin of every kind. The court system was corrupt, the marketplace was a mess, and the sanctuary had been turned into a cesspool of paganism. Sexual immorality, greed, injustice, violence, and idolatry had replaced the call of God to be a shining city on the hill. In Zephaniah 3 there are two verses that really caught my attention this past week as I was preparing this lesson. Read verses 6-7 with me once again. I’m going to read it to you in the New Living Translation of the Bible.
6 “I have wiped out many nations, devastating their fortress walls and towers. Their streets are now deserted; their cities lie in silent ruin. There are no survivors– none at all. 7 I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for me now! Surely they will listen to my warnings. Then I won’t need to strike again, destroying their homes.’ But no, they get up early to continue their evil deeds. (Zephaniah 3:6-7 NLT)
Don’t you get the impression from reading these verses that God was saying to the people, “Don’t you see what I’ve done to those around you who have turned away from Me, those who have mocked my name, those who have said they loved Me, but not shown it by the way they lived their lives? Have you not been watching? I thought ‘surely that will cause them to respect Me now.’” Instead of learning from those around them who had experienced the Day of the Lord, the discipline of God, the people of Judah continued right along as if nothing had ever happened.
I have to tell you that I believe we are suffering from the same complacency today. I think part of our problem is rooted in the fact that we have become convinced by those who tell us that God doesn’t have anything to do with hardships. It wasn’t God that freed the slaves in America, it was President Lincoln. It was the United States military and not God that brought down Saddam Hussein. It was a miscalculation on your part and not God that caused you to get caught and sent to prison. God certainly has nothing to do with national disasters! He has nothing to do with hurricanes, tornados, hail storms, and floods. Those in the Bible believed that He did, but we know better. And let’s not forget, God doesn’t have anything to do with the personal troubles you have in your life or in the lives of your friends.
I’m sorry my friends, but I just can’t buy any of that. God is sovereign. He has something to do with everything. Sometimes we misread what God is doing, but we cannot dismiss Him from anything that takes place in your life and mine. He does not desire that these troubles destroy us, but that they turn us to Him.
I can’t close our study this morning without sharing with you how the book of Zephaniah ends…it ends with hope for those who will hear and act on the message. Look at verses 16-17 with me.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD 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.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17 NIV)
“On that day…” On what day? On the Day when God visits His people to get their attention, to pour out His wrath, to right the wrongs, on that Day the Lord will save His people because He is with His people and He alone is mighty to save. That “Day” of disaster can be the best day of all if we will only learn from it.
What happened to the nation of Judah? Well, one man heard the message of Zephaniah and it made a difference to that one man. His name was Josiah the King and the word of the Lord so deeply influenced him that he sought to change society. What will happen today? The word of the Lord is before us and I will tell you that if but one person hears this message this morning and it changes your life then the angels of heaven will rejoice! I pray that we do not repeat the mistakes of God’s people in times past. I pray that we don’t dismiss God, neglect His call upon our lives, and suffer the consequences of those decisions. I pray that we, each and every one of us, will this very morning cry out to God in repentance and devote the rest of our days to serving His as Lord and King of our lives. Won’t you invite Him in this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 10, 2010