ZEPHANIAH                   May 14, 2018

 

 

God has been silent for the past 75, or so, years.  The last prophets of the earlier time were Isaiah and Micah.  Hezekiah was the king of Judah.  Responding to the prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah, God spare the city of Jerusalem from the Assyrian invasion (2 Chronicles 32:20-21).  Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was conquered by the Assyrians in 722-721 BC.  Micah and Isaiah continued their ministries in Judah, the Southern Kingdom for another 30 years.  Hezekiah died in 687 BC, and his son, Manasseh ascended to the throne and reigned for 55 years, until 642 BC.

 

Manasseh was an evil king, he was the worst to ever rule in Judah.  He was every bit as evil as Ahab in Israel.  He grew up in the royal palace with a Godly father.  He was born after the dramatic rescue of Jerusalem by God from the Assyrians.  The land was at peace, Pax Assyriaca, and except for having to pay yearly tribute to Assyria, the economy was booming.  We might say he grew up as a rich kid.

When he came of age he repudiated all his father had done.  

 

2 Chronicles 33:1-10   Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem.  And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.  For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals, and made Asheroth, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.  And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem shall my name be forever.”  And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.  And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers.  He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.  And the carved image of the idol that he had made he set in the house of God, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever, and I will no more remove the foot of Israel from the land that I appointed for your fathers, if only they will be careful to do all that I have commanded them, all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses.  Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.  The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.

 

 

2 Kings 21:16-17 Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.  Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did, and the sin that he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?

 

 

Although the good King Josiah restored the reading of the Law and temple worship In Judah, the nation could not recover from the evil Manasseh spread throughout the land.  There was a period of revival under Josiah, but after his death the people resumed the practices Manasseh created.  The Babylonian invasion and the destruction of Jerusalem was the ultimately caused by Manasseh’s sin.

 

2 Kings 23:26-27  Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.  And the LORD said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

 

2 Kings 24:3 Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon.

 

The next prophet was Nahum, whom we studied last week.  His prophecy was primarily directed to Assyria.  Therefore, Zephaniah is the next prophet to directly address Judah, after a 75-year dark period when the voice of God was not heard.  

 

1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.

 

Zephaniah can mean “God hides”.  God had been hiding, but now he comes to life again.  Manasseh has died.  His son Amon was murdered after reigning two years, and Josiah is the present king of Judah (640-609 BC).  Assyria is still the world great power, but as we noted last week, Nahum prophesied the Assyrian fall that started with the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, and then the collapse of the Syrian army at the battle of Carchemish in 609 BC.  Zephaniah must have delivered this prophesy before the reforms under Josiah that began in 621 BC, when most of the idol worship establish by Manasseh was stopped and the pagan temples and worship centers were destroyed.  He makes reference to Nineveh that was destroyed in 612 BC.  The Assyrians were cruel oppressors.  Judah was steeped in idolatry.  God is not very pleased with the situation as we will hear.

 

The Coming Judgment on Judah

 

1:2-3 “I will utterly sweep away everything

from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD.

“I will sweep away man and beast;

I will sweep away the birds of the heavens

and the fish of the sea,

and the rubble with the wicked.

I will cut off mankind

from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD.

 

This sounds very much like God’s judgment before the flood.

 

Genesis 6:5-8 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

 

This passage sounds like poetic hyperbole.  In fact it must be, because not all life was swept away then.  Could the flood story be similar?  Could the flood have been a regional event, with other animals and peoples surviving in distant places?

 

1:4-6 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah

and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;

and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal

and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,

those who bow down on the roofs

to the host of the heavens,

those who bow down and swear to the LORD

and yet swear by Milcom,

those who have turned back from following the LORD,

who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him”.

 

Judah was unable to capitalize on Josiah’s reforms.  The evil Manasseh left behind could not be erased, even though Josiah tried.  The people have returned to their old ways.   Here we see three groups of people:

 

  1. The worshippers of the hosts of heaven and their priests - Astral Worship
  2. Those who worship both the Baals and Yahweh - syncretistic religion
  3. The people who have become fully secularized  - like much of our society today.

 

I am including the story of Josiah’s reforms because the story is so significant, and it is one we should consider as people all over our country are praying for revival.

 

Josiah's Reforms

 

23:1-3 Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him.  And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great.  And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD.  And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book.  And all the people joined in the covenant.

 

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel.  And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens.  And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people.  And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah.   And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one's left at the gate of the city.  However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers.  And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.   And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.  And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron.   And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.   And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.

 

 Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah.   And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the LORD that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things.  When he said, “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.”  And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria.  And Josiah removed all the shrines also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the LORD to anger. He did to them according to all that he had done at Bethel.  And he sacrificed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.

 

Josiah Restores the Passover

 

 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”  For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah.  But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.

 

 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.  Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

 

 Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.  And the LORD said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

 

The Day of the Lord Is Near

 

1:7 Be silent before the Lord GOD!

For the day of the LORD is near;

the LORD has prepared a sacrifice

and consecrated his guests.

 

1:8-10 And on the day of the LORD's sacrifice—

“I will punish the officials and the king's sons

and all who array themselves in foreign attire.

On that day I will punish

everyone who leaps over the threshold,

and those who fill their master's house

with violence and fraud.

 

“On that day,” declares the LORD,

“a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,

a wail from the Second Quarter,

a loud crash from the hills.

 

1:11-13 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar!

For all the traders are no more;

all who weigh out silver are cut off.

 

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,

and I will punish the men

who are complacent,

those who say in their hearts,

‘The LORD will not do good,

nor will he do ill.’

 

Their goods shall be plundered,

and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,

they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,

they shall not drink wine from them.”

 

 

1:14-16 The great day of the LORD is near,

near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter;

the mighty man cries aloud there.

 

A day of wrath is that day,

a day of distress and anguish,

a day of ruin and devastation,

a day of darkness and gloom,

a day of clouds and thick darkness,

a day of trumpet blast and battle cry

against the fortified cities

and against the lofty battlements.

1:17-18 I will bring distress on mankind,

so that they shall walk like the blind,

because they have sinned against the LORD;

their blood shall be poured out like dust,

and their flesh like dung.

 

Neither their silver nor their gold

shall be able to deliver them

on the day of the wrath of the LORD.

In the fire of his jealousy,

all the earth shall be consumed;

for a full and sudden end

he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

 

This section sounds like a sermon preached on a Sabbath or feast day.  It was probably repeated throughout the city of Jerusalem and throughout the countryside.  It describes the ‘Day of the Lord’.   

 

Zephaniah tells the people to be silent as they contemplate the Day.  Free your mind and thoughts of all else and concentrate on the words God has given him to say.  The Day of Yahweh will reach every dark corner of the earth, and the hidden recesses of men’s minds and hearts.  At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,

and I will punish the men

who are complacent,

those who say in their hearts,

‘The LORD will not do good,

nor will he do ill.’

 

We do not hear sermons like this one very often.  Jonathan Edwards could well have preached this, and his ministry brought about the first great awakening in our country.

 

In our naiveté we think of the coming Day of the Lord to be a day of rejoicing, but that day will also include the judgment seat of Revelation 20. 

 

Matthew 25:37-40 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

 

But there will be many other responses as well. 

Some will argue that they did all things they were supposed to do.

 

Matthew 25:41-46 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying,  Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

 

 

 

Some kept doing all the usual things of life.

 

Matthew 24:37-39 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

 

Then there are those who thought the Day of the Lord would never happen.

 

Matthew 25:11-13 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’  But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 

Jeremiah 7:25-26 From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day.  Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.

 

2:1-3  Gather together, yes, gather,

O shameless nation,

before the decree takes effect

—before the day passes away like chaff—

before there comes upon you

the burning anger of the LORD,

before there comes upon you

the day of the anger of the LORD.

 

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,

who do his just commands;

seek righteousness; seek humility;

perhaps you may be hidden

on the day of the anger of the LORD.

 

 

Judgment on Judah's Enemies

 

 

Oracle against Philistia

The Philistines were continuous aggressors against Judah

 

2:4-7 For Gaza shall be deserted,

and Ashkelon shall become a desolation;

Ashdod's people shall be driven out at noon,

and Ekron shall be uprooted.

 

Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast,

you nation of the Cherethites!

The word of the LORD is against you,

 

O Canaan, land of the Philistines;

and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.

 

And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures,

with meadows for shepherds

and folds for flocks.

The seacoast shall become the possession

of the remnant of the house of Judah,

on which they shall graze,

and in the houses of Ashkelon

they shall lie down at evening.

For the LORD their God will be mindful of them

and restore their fortunes.

 

 

Oracle against Moab and Ammon

Moab and Ammon were the incestuous sons of Lot.

 

2:8-11 “I have heard the taunts of Moab

and the revilings of the Ammonites,

how they have taunted my people

and made boasts against their territory.

 

Therefore, as I live,” declares the LORD of hosts,

the God of Israel,

“Moab shall become like Sodom,

and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,

a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,

and a waste forever.

 

The remnant of my people shall plunder them,

and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.”

This shall be their lot in return for their pride,

because they taunted and boasted

against the people of the LORD of hosts.

The LORD will be awesome against them;

for he will famish all the gods of the earth,

and to him shall bow down,

each in its place,

all the lands of the nations.

 

Oracle against Ethiopia

Ethiopians Pharaohs ruled Egypt during the 25th dynasty (ca. 716-663 BC).

 

You also, O Cushites,

shall be slain by my sword.

 

 

Oracle against Assyria

Nineveh will fall within 10 years

 

2:13-15 And he will stretch out his hand against the north

and destroy Assyria,

and he will make Nineveh a desolation,

a dry waste like the desert.

 

Herds shall lie down in her midst,

all kinds of beasts;

even the owl and the hedgehog

shall lodge in her capitals;

a voice shall hoot in the window;

devastation will be on the threshold;

for her cedar work will be laid bare.

 

This is the exultant city

that lived securely,

that said in her heart,

“I am, and there is no one else.”

What a desolation she has become,

a lair for wild beasts!

Everyone who passes by her

hisses and shakes his fist.

 

Isaiah describes Babylon’s pride in similar terms.

 

Isaiah 47:10 You felt secure in your wickedness;

you said, “No one sees me”;

your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray,

and you said in your heart,

“I am, and there is no one besides me.”

 

Judgment on Jerusalem and the Nations

 

3:1-5 Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled,

the oppressing city!

She listens to no voice;

she accepts no correction.

She does not trust in the LORD;

she does not draw near to her God.

 

Her officials within her

are roaring lions;

her judges are evening wolves

that leave nothing till the morning.

 

Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men;

her priests profane what is holy;

they do violence to the law.

 

The LORD within her is righteous;

he does no injustice;

every morning he shows forth his justice;

each dawn he does not fail;

but the unjust knows no shame.

 

 

 

God has pronounced judgment on Assyria and Nineveh.  Judah and Jerusalem are no better.  The people of Jerusalem are obstinate, impure and violent.  The leaders are faithless.  They oppress the vulnerable.  Both prophet and priest are treacherous men, and the judges are no better.   Judgment is pending.

 

3:6-8

“I have cut off nations;

their battlements are in ruins;

I have laid waste their streets

so that no one walks in them;

their cities have been made desolate,

without a man, without an inhabitant.

 

I said, ‘Surely you will fear me;

you will accept correction.

Then your dwelling would not be cut off

according to all that I have appointed against you.’

But all the more they were eager

to make all their deeds corrupt.

 

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD,

“for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.

For my decision is to gather nations,

to assemble kingdoms,

to pour out upon them my indignation,

all my burning anger;

for in the fire of my jealousy

all the earth shall be consumed.

 

The Conversion of the Nations

 

3:9-13 “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples

to a pure speech,

that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD

and serve him with one accord.

 

From beyond the rivers of Cush

my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,

shall bring my offering.

 

“On that day you shall not be put to shame

because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;

for then I will remove from your midst

your proudly exultant ones,

and you shall no longer be haughty

in my holy mountain.

 

But I will leave in your midst

a people humble and lowly.

They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD,

those who are left in Israel;

they shall do no injustice

and speak no lies,

nor shall there be found in their mouth

a deceitful tongue.

For they shall graze and lie down,

and none shall make them afraid.”

 

God’s judgments are harsh, but they have a redemptive purpose.  They are never arbitrary or spiteful.  A pruning will take place in the pending wars.  In Judah and in the nations a faithful remant will survive who will restore righteousness to the nations.  We see this in church history.  All the Christian nations have periods of piety and righteousness follow by times of dissolution.  Usually there will be period of restoration to follow.  The Lord preserved his own people through the horrors of Soviet and Nazi rule, who could rise again when the evil passed.  This has certainly been the story of Israel as we follow it through the Bible and through history. 

 

 The last section of this prophecy is a psalm to be sung that promises final restoration for God’s wandering people.  All nations will see what God has done and will rejoice along with all the people that will be part of the new Israel.

Israel's Joy and Restoration

 

3:14-20 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;

shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

O daughter of Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;

he has cleared away your enemies.

 

The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;

you shall never again fear evil.

 

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

“Fear not, O Zion;

let not your hands grow weak.

 

The LORD your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

 

I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,

so that you will no longer suffer reproach.

 

Behold, at that time I will deal

with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

 

At that time I will bring you in,

at the time when I gather you together;

for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes

before your eyes,” says the LORD.