Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Studies in Zephaniah|
Introduction to Zephaniah
The Minor Prophets & Zephaniah
I tend to find that if Christians are going to read their Bibles then the Minor Prophets, of whom Zephaniah is one, tend to be the least read. (They are ‘Minor' in that they are much shorter than the ‘big' ones such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.) It may be that this reticence to read the Minor Prophets comes from the fact that so often they appear (at first sight at least) to be a wail of gloom and doom
I write this in this particular series, because a casual glance at Zephaniah indicates this very thing that a large amount of it appears to be almost a rant at the world and a declaration of “You are doomed!” A more careful study indicates that much of this is directed at Judea and Jerusalem . Now this takes on an interest when you read at the beginning that Zephaniah spoke or wrote these words in Josiah's reign, but when we look at the historical books we see that Josiah was a king who brought in great reformations, getting rid of the idol worship in the land and turning the people back to God. What we are left concluding is that Zephaniah must have prophesied these things at the beginning of Josiah's reign and there it is likely, therefore, that these prophesies would have almost certainly have been brought to Josiah's attention and may well have been one of God's means of convicting him and getting him to bring about the reforms that he did bring.
Before we move on, having started with the supposition about cries of judgement, Zephaniah gives us, with great clarity, the understanding that God speaks these words with the intention of bringing conviction and change and part of that is to stir those who will be faithful to come back to Him and create the faithful remnant who He will take and bless and preserve. Yet in all this, the Lord knows that in the long-term these people will fail and go into exile.
Structure of Studies
This simply leaves us to move on into Chapter 1:
Chapter: Zephaniah 1
Passage: Zephaniah 1:1-4
A. Find Out:
1. Who is Zephaniah and when did he prophesy? v.1
2. What was the Lord declaring He would do? v.2
3. What did that include? v.3a,b
4. What would be left for whom? v.4
5. Who will the Lord come against? v.5a
6. Why? v.5b
1. What is the sense of verses 2 & 3?
2. How is verse 4 different?
3. What was obviously still happening in Judah ?
Zephaniah appears to have prophesied some time after 640BC in the reign of Josiah (v.1), yet we find in the historical books that Josiah came and brought many reforms, removing the things spoken about in the book. Whether Zephaniah's prophesying helping challenge and convince Josiah is unknown – but possible. Unusually for a minor prophet, Zephaniah has a family tree that goes back to Hezekiah, (v.1) presumably indicating coming from a royal line.
The launching words of the prophecies of this book make one want to duck for it is a salvo of buckshot that seems to hit the whole world (v.2) for the word ‘everything' seem all encompassing. In case we weren't sure of that, he includes people, animals, birds and fish (v.3), which doesn't leave much left! It is possible that this simply means the lands the Lord speaks about even though the last line of “when I cut off man from the face of the earth” seems all embracing; he is speaking of the end for this part, at least, of the earth at this time. A footnote for the previous line indicates uncertainty of understanding but a picture of devastation is clear. But then he turns from general devastation to actions against Judah and Jerusalem (v.4) and the target is clearly the idol worship that was left over from the reigns of Manasseh and Amon (2 Chron 33:1-23) and was now the target of the Lord's anger.
1. The Lord is jealous for the truth and all idols are deception.
2. Never rely on man-made superstitions, only on the Lord.
Chapter: Zephaniah 1
Passage: Zephaniah 1:4-9
A. Find Out:
1. What was the Lord going to do against whom and why? v.4
2. Who did that include? v.5
3. And who else? v.6
4. What was near? v.7
5. Who will be punished then? v.8
6. And who else? v.9
1. List the sins of verses 4 to 6.
2. How is that further expressed in verses 8 and 9?
3. So what was the Lord going to do about that?
As we noted in the first study, Judah and Jerusalem still had left over from previous bad kings, the signs of Baal idol worship (v.4) and for this reason that Lord was going to come and deal with it and remove it. This included those who worshipped the elements, or the heavens (relying on ‘the stars') and who followed Molech (v.5) who was worshipped by the Ammonites. All these people had turned away from following the Lord (v.6) and no longer sought Him for guidance and direction but relied on these other non-deities. So, comes the warning, be silent (v.7a) and don't make spiritual noises in God's direction for a day is coming when God has chosen these people for sacrifice, i.e. death (v.7b)
Yes, there is coming a day when those leaders will be punished (v.8) who put on the clothes of foreign religions whether princes or kings – they should know better as leaders of God's people – for they have taken on foreign and utterly alien practices (v.9) such as not stepping on the threshold (see 1 Sam 5:5), and who worship in wrong places and who are known for violence and deceit – so much for the fruits of their religions!!! Yes, there is a day coming (v.7a) which is referred to three times (v.8a.9a,10a), a day when God is coming to judge and remove these people and their false religions.
1. You cannot be divided and trust the world and God – only Him!
2. God does come to deal with false religion.
Chapter: Zephaniah 1
Passage: Zephaniah 1:10-13
A. Find Out:
1. On that day, what will happen where? v.10
2. What will happen in the market district? v.11
3. What will the Lord do to whom? v.12a
4. What will they be thinking? v.12b
5. What will happen in their lives? v.13
1. What will be the sounds of judgment?
2. What will be the prevailing attitudes before it?
3. What will be the practical impact of it?
We arrive at the third of the three “On that day” declarations (v.10a). What we now find are descriptions of what it will be like in Jerusalem on that day (see place names in v.10 & v.12a). First we have the sounds of judgment – a cry and wailing and a crash – sounds of alarm and of anguish and of impending catastrophe (v.10b). This starts to make the general words about a coming judgment more real.
Then it focuses in on who will suffer: the merchants in the market district and those who deal in silver (v.11). We are not told why commerce becomes the focus of the attack but when commerce and industry are brought down, the whole society suffers at such times.
None will escape this judgment for the Lord will search all in Jerusalem , all those who complacently have said, “Oh, God is powerless, He won't do anything.” (v.12). They will find that He does and they are the focus of His attention!
These people living in arrogant, complacent godlessness and unrighteousness will suddenly find there is an invader on their doorstep and their houses are being plundered and demolished (v.13a) and so they might be carrying on as if nothing is going to happen but it will. They may build houses and plant vineyards but they will not living in them or enjoy the fruits of their activity, for this judgment is coming soon and they will the recipients of it.
1. Godlessness is usually accompanied by complacency. Beware!
2. When God judges He judges all unrighteousness.
Chapter: Zephaniah 1
Passage: Zephaniah 1:14-18
A. Find Out:
1. What is coming when and will bring what? v.14
2. How is that day described? v.15
3. What will be the meaning of all that? v.16
4. What will happen to the people and why? v.17
5. What will not be able to save them? v.18a
6. How extensive is this judgment? v.18b
1. What is the general tone of this ‘great day of the Lord'?
2. How will it happen?
3. Why will it happen?
There is a sense that these verses are so terrible that our natural inclination might be to reject them in the face of our knowledge that elsewhere the Bible teaches us that God is love. But see what it actually says and why things will be as they are.
The key sense of these verses is of a terrible day to come when destruction will take place and all will be destroyed (v.18b). It is a day of God's anger (v.15a), a day of distress, anguish, trouble, ruin, gloom and darkness (v.15). It will be a day of bloodshed (v.17b) and nothing (v.18a) will be able to save men from it.
Yet here is the key thing about it: this destruction is man-made. It involves soldiers (warriors v.14b), and trumpet sounds and battles (v.16). It is obviously armies coming to bring complete destruction. But who destroys the armies themselves? Is this an end time scenario where we can now see that nuclear weapons can obliterate the whole earth? If that is the fulfilment of these words then the Bible shows it will be of a time of unparalleled godlessness and sinfulness and in such a scenario all the Lord has to do is stand back and remove His hand of restraint from the world, for it to turn in on itself and destroy mankind. The fact that it is ‘near' may simply mean in his understanding, and reference to ‘coming quickly' means when it does eventually take place.
1. We should do all we can to avoid such a scenario.
2. The means of avoidance is faithfulness and godliness.
RECAP - "Warnings of Judgment on God's People" - Zephaniah 1
In this first group of 4 studies we have seen :
After the explanation of who Zephaniah is and when he prophesied (v.1) we find a general and terrible declaration of intent from the Lord, to bring judgment in the form of a terrible destruction (v.2,3).
That general tone then becomes very specific against Judah & Jerusalem (v.4) and the cause of it – idolatry (v.4-6) – is made very clear. The destruction is then spelled out, first in specific terms (v.8-13) and then in more general terms (v.14-18) indicating the means, an invader (v.16) that nothing will be able to stop. Little is left to the imagination and it must have come with a terrifying clarity to the people of the land. Perhaps this is what helped bring about Josiah's reforms which addressed the sins noted here.
1. Before judgment, God bring clears warnings.
2. Judgment never comes without a very strong cause.
3. God may use other people to bring such judgment.
4. Idolatry is replacing trust in the Lord with trust in things.
5. God constantly seeks to draw us back to Him.
Thank the Lord for all He has shown you of Himself. Ask Him to show you any things where you are failing Him today. Confess any such things and receive forgiveness and cleansing (1 Jn 1:9)
PART 2 : "National Judgments"
In this next Part we will see a call to repentance for Israel and denunciation of the sins of surrounding nations and the judgments that will come upon them as a result.