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FRAMEWORKS: Zephaniah 1: Judgment on the earth in the day of the Lord


[Preliminary Comments: The three chapters of Zephaniah's prophecies very much need to be seen in their historical setting – see below – but there is a remarkable transition from strong words of prophetic judgment in the first two and a half chapters which give way to amazing words or reconciliation and restoration in the second half of chapter 3. What brings the change? The Lord declares He will purify the nation. Seen in the context of the Exile that comes in a matter of decades, the people were sent out of their land to have their hearts changed so that when the Lord brought them back they were a changed people. This is what the rejoicing in the end is all about.]



v.1 Time & Person identified


v.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:


[Note: This was probably written about 640 BC just before the time of Josiah's reforms after the nation had descended into spiritual apostasy yet again under Amon, Josiah's father [see 2 Kings 21:24-26], hence some of the strong words spoken against Judah and Jerusalem below. The historical context and timing is important to understand the warnings here.]



v.2,3 A Comprehensive Judgment of the whole earth


v.2  ‘I will sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,'
declares the Lord.
v.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.'

‘When I destroy all mankind
    on the face of the earth,'
declares the Lord,

[Note: This devastating judgment must, one might think, refer to the very end when the Lord brings the earth to an end to create a new heaven and a new earth, but later in the chapter it seems to be applied to the present [see below]. The warning, we must assume, comes here as a backdrop to current history to remind the king and the people that the Lord is sovereign and will not tolerate sin on the earth [specifically this land] which has only a limited lifetime.]



v.4-6 That Judgment to include Judah & Jerusalem


v.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 –
v.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,
v.6  those who turn back from following the Lord
    and neither seek the Lord nor enquire of him.'


[Note: From the ‘big picture' of ‘the whole earth', the prophecy rapidly refocuses on Judah and Jerusalem which [probably because of Amon – see above] have many signs of idol worship remaining and the Lord proclaims a destruction of those idols.]



v.7-10 A specific day for the judgment


v.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.

v.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.
v.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.

v.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.


[Note: This part of the prophecy reveals that there is coming a specific time in heaven's calendar when the Lord's judgment will come to punish all those idol worshippers.]



v.11-13 It will be judgment on the rich and complacent


v.11  Wail, you who live in the market district;
    all your merchants will be wiped out,
    all who trade with silver will be destroyed.
v.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.”
v.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.'


[Note: But it is not merely the king or religious leaders who have this indifference to the Lord for it has spread throughout all the upper part of society to the rich merchants who carry out their business with not a thought for the Lord.]



v.14-16 It will be a day of great wrath


v.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.
v.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 da y of clouds and blackness –
v.16       a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the corner towers.


[Note: This day of judgment is coming soon, a day of distress and destruction.]



v.17,18 It will be a day of great distress from nothing can save them


v.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.
v.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.


[Note: This day will include all peoples of the land for their apostasy, a complete destruction and reference to “all who live on the earth”, in this present context, must mean the land of Judah and the surrounding nations. Josiah's reforms perhaps initially stayed this judgment but it came, according to the descriptions above, with a series of invasions by Nebuchadnezzar and eventually the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC.]




FRAMEWORKS: Zephaniah 2: Judgements on the nations


v.1-3 Judah and Jerusalem [implied from what has gone before]


v.1  Gather together, gather yourselves together,
    you shameful nation,
v.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.
v.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.


[Note: This is actually a call to repentance, a call that comes giving them time before the judgment actually comes.]



v.4,5 Philistia Condemned


v.4   Gaza will be abandoned
    and Ashkelon left in ruins.
At midday Ashdod will be emptied
    and Ekron uprooted.
v.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.'

[Note: The various cities of the Philistines are also named for destruction.]



v.5,6 Their land will be given to the survivors of Judah


v.6  The land by the sea will become pastures
    having wells for shepherds
    and sheepfolds for flocks.
v.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.


[Note: Their land will be taken and given to the remnant of Israel.]



v.8-11 Moab and Ammon Condemned


v.8  ‘I have heard the insults of Moab
    and the taunts of the Ammonites,
who insulted my people
    and made threats against their land.
v.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 for ever.
The remnant of my people will plunder them;
    the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.'

v.10  This is what they will get in return for their pride,
    for insulting and mocking
    the people of the Lord Almighty.
v.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.


[Note: These two other peoples to the south and east who have always been against Israel will also be destroyed.]



v.12 Cush Condemned


v.12  ‘You Cushites, too,
    will be slain by my sword.'


[Note: The people of the south are also included in the warnings of coming judgment.]



v.13-15 Assyria Condemned


v.13  He will stretch out his hand against the north
    and destroy Assyria,
leaving Nineveh utterly desolate
    and dry as the desert.
v.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.
v.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.


[Note: Likewise the lands of the north, of the mighty Assyria, are included in this roundup of nations that are going to be destroyed, probably in the days to come by the might of Babylon.]





FRAMEWORKS: Zephaniah 3


v.1-5 Jerusalem Again Condemned


v.1  Woe to the city of oppressors,
    rebellious and defiled!
v.2  She obeys no one,
    she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
     she does not draw near to her God.
v.3  Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her rulers are evening wolves,
    who leave nothing for the morning.
v.4   Her prophets are unprincipled;
    they are treacherous people.
Her priests profane the sanctuary
    and do violence to the law.
v.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.


[Note: The prophecies return to Jerusalem and Judah, a land of priests and priests [v.4] where the Lord dwells [v.5] where the condemnation and reasons for judgment are clarified as above.]



v.6-8 Jerusalem remains unrepentant


v.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.
v.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.
v.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.


[Note: The Lord has revealed His power and judgments in other places [v.6] but Jerusalem failed to recognise this and remained unrepentant [v.7] therefore in the court of heaven they will be condemned [v.8]. They need to heed this warning.]



v.9-13 Jerusalem will be purified by the Lord


v.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.
v.10  From beyond the rivers of Cush
    my worshippers, my scattered people,
    will bring me offerings.
v.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.
v.12  But I will leave within you
    the meek and humble.
The remnant of Israel
    will trust in the name of the Lord.
v.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.'


[Note: These verses are the key to all that follows – Lord will purify His people. When He sent them into exile in Babylon it was to purify and transform their hearts so when they eventually returned they were a different people.]



v.14,16 They will be a praising punishment-free people


v.14  Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
v.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.

[Note: Having purified them through repentance the cause of any further punishment has been removed and thus they can now rejoice.]



v.16,17 A People Reconciled to their God again


v.16  On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
‘Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
v.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.'


[Note: The big result is that they will be reconciled to God who will dwell in their midst again.]



v.18  ‘ I will remove from you
    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
    which is a burden and reproach for you.
v.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 honour
    in every land where they have suffered shame.
v.20  At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honour and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
    before your very eyes,'
says the Lord.


[Note: The eight [number of resurrection] ‘I will's shows the process: cleansing, enemies subdued, set free from exile, gathered out of Babylon with praise in honour, gathered and taken home where the world will see the wonder of what has happened to them.]