Life, Hope & Truth

Zephaniah

The name Zephaniah means “hidden of the Eternal,” and his book indicates divine protection for God’s people. When will His people be protected and why?

Zephaniah’s prophetic revelations and stern warnings occurred during Josiah’s reign (Zephaniah 1:1), and this would place his writings between 640 and 609 B.C. Josiah led Judah to religious and social reform, but Zephaniah declared that these spiritual changes would not last. The people of Judah would return to wickedness and rebellion against God.

The northern kingdom of Israel was already in captivity, and Babylon was gaining in power and prestige. God had determined that the Babylonians would be His instrument to punish the nation of Judah. Zephaniah and his contemporaries, Jeremiah and Habakkuk, were some of the prophets God used to pronounce this warning message.

Main theme

The theme of the book is the Day of the Lord. Despite the fact that Zephaniah warns Judah of impending doom, the prophecy is dual, and the major fulfillment of his prophecy is yet future. Although the prophet’s pronouncements focus on Jerusalem, nations nearby (Assyria, Ethiopia, Moab and Ammon) and all other nations of the earth are included in the warnings (Zephaniah 1:2-3; 3:6, 8, 20).

This book points forward to the dramatic and earthshaking events that will unfold before the return of Christ to the earth (1:9, 15-18).

When these major prophecies come to pass, it will be better to be “hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger” (2:3) than to be in the midst of what occurs when God intervenes and brings righteous judgment on mankind.

God’s indignation will be poured out on all nations, and none will escape: “My determination is to gather the nations to My assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them My indignation, all My fierce anger; all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy” (3:8, emphasis added throughout). God’s anger will be felt worldwide.

A remnant is saved

For those who are willing to seek and submit to God, God promises protection during a period of unprecedented destruction. This time of Great Tribulation was also prophesied by Daniel (Daniel 12:1) and later by Jesus Christ: “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [alive]; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22).

There is a very good reason God will punish the nations. Lawlessness, iniquity and ungodly human conduct will abound. We are encouraged to take heed to this warning: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Those who choose to follow the ways of the world become enemies of God: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Those who seek and trust God will become a part of the remnant who will be examples of righteous conduct to the nations. The remnant “shall do no unrighteousness and speak no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed their flocks and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid” (Zephaniah 3:12-13).

Notice these insightful statements by authors William LaSor, David Hubbard and Frederic Bush in Old Testament Survey: “Like Isaiah, Zephaniah had seen God’s greatness and was transformed by it. He saw that God cannot brook haughtiness and that the people’s only hope lay in recognizing their own frailty. Pride is a problem rooted in human nature. …

“Nineveh epitomizes insolence, boasting ‘I am and there is no one else’ (2:15). Such rebellion, the declaration of spiritual independence from God, is the most heinous of sins. Those who escape God’s fury are those who humbly ‘seek refuge in the name of the LORD’ (3:12)” (pp. 317-318).

They also note: “The blame is placed squarely on the leaders. These sins, coupled with the spiritual and moral apathy of Jerusalem’s citizenry, merit the fiercest kind of judgment, and Zephaniah describes God’s wrath with a white-hot fury almost unparalleled in Scripture” (p. 315).

Outline of Zephaniah

Here is one way to outline the book of Zephaniah:

The Day of the Lord (chapter 1).

  1. Prophecies concerning the entire earth (1:1-3).
  2. Prophecies regarding Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-9).
  3. God’s wrath on rebellious mankind (1:10-18).

Nations warned of coming judgment (chapters 2-3:7).

  1. Repentant meek are spared (2:1-3).
  2. Surrounding nations warned of impending punishment (2:4-15).
  3. Entire earth to be punished (3:1-7).

Ultimate deliverance: God’s people restored (3:8-20).

  1. A pure language taught (3:8-9).
  2. God dwells with His people (3:10-20).

Lessons from Zephaniah

What spiritual lessons and principles are there in this little book that’s tucked away among the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament? Is the Old Testament even relevant for Christians today?

Jesus taught from the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God (Luke 4:4), and the apostle Paul noted that the New Testament Church, “the household of God,” has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Paul also encouraged the young evangelist Timothy to study the Holy Scriptures that he had known since his childhood and “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). The only inspired Scripture that Timothy knew as he was growing up was the Old Testament.

The Old Testament, in conjunction with the New Testament, is a source of inspiration, instruction and sound teachings about how God wants us to live. There is a wealth of spiritual lessons and teachings in all of the Old Testament books, including the book of Zephaniah.

What happens on the Day of the Lord?

Throughout the Bible, the term “the Day of the Lord” refers to the time just before Christ’s return when God will punish defiant and rebellious humanity. This time is also referred to as the “great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14). The Day of the Lord also includes Christ’s return to establish the Kingdom of God on earth and all that transpires thereafter.

Through the prophet Zephaniah, we are taught that God uses various catastrophes to punish and humble nations. In the book of Revelation, this punishment is called the wrath of God (Revelation 14:10), which occurs during the initial part of the Day of the Lord. Here are a few examples of this time of punishment from the book of Zephaniah:

  • “My determination is to gather the nations to My assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them My indignation, all My fierce anger; all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy. … For then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain. I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people” (Zephaniah 3:8-12).
  • “For the day of the LORD is at hand. … And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency, who say in their heart, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will He do evil’” (1:7, 12).
  • “The great day of the LORD is near. … That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness. … I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD” (1:14-17).
  • “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’s wrath” (1:18).
  • “I have cut off nations, their fortresses are devastated; I have made their streets desolate, with none passing by. Their cities are destroyed; there is no one, no inhabitant” (3:6).

Critics may read these passages and conclude that God is harsh and unforgiving. But these dire punishments would not have to occur if the nations would only respond to God’s instructions and pleas for repentance and a change of heart.

Christ’s heartfelt words demonstrate this: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

Nations and people will bring these troubles on themselves! People shouldn’t blame God, but rather themselves.

The meek offered protection

During this time of unprecedented, worldwide troubles, God has promised to protect and care for His loyal and dedicated servants. Take note of these passages:

  • “Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:3).
  • “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).
  • God promises protection for many of His devoted and faithful servants (Revelation 12:14-16).

Who are these servants that God protects?

Zephaniah describes them as the “meek of the earth” (Zephaniah 2:3). Meek means teachable, willing to learn. These meek servants will seek the will of God above their own self-will.

The apostle John, writing toward the end of the first century, described the servants of God as those “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17), those “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (14:12), and “those who do His commandments” (22:14).

It is clear that God honors those who are willing and desire to keep His commandments.

Christ returns: a new world era begins

Under inspiration, Zephaniah records the dramatic changes that will occur at Christ’s second coming and the end of human societies as we know them today.

Notice these references:

  • “For then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain [Christ’s future Kingdom]. I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD” (Zephaniah 3:11-12)
  • Can you imagine a time when people “shall do no unrighteousness and speak no lies,” with no deceit in their words, “and no one shall make them afraid” (3:13)?
  • People will be filled with joy and gladness: “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart. … You shall see [“fear,” marginal reference] disaster no more” (3:14-15).
  • This time of “restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20-21) will be fulfilled because “the LORD your God [is] in your midst” (Zephaniah 3:17). Jesus Christ has the power and authority to bring about the worldwide restoration process.

What a wonderful picture of a world in harmony with God, where lasting peace, happiness and abundance for all nations will be the order of the day.

Be watchful and alert

We must be on guard, watchful and alert in order to avoid the many distractions that impair our spiritual growth and development. Christ warned that we may be caught unprepared and off guard unless we make spiritual growth the focal point of our lives (Mark 13:31-37).

How much do you desire to be one of the servants of God who will escape these dramatic events and be pioneers in the restoration of all things at Christ’s return?

Only you can answer that question!

Learn more in the articles “What Is the Day of the Lord?” and “What Is the Kingdom of God?”

For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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