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Minor Prophets: Zephaniah - The Royal Prophet

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Introduction
Zephaniah prophesied about 625 B.C. which makes him a contemporary of Jeremiah. The unusual thing about Zephaniah is his ancestry. He is often called the “royal prophet” because he is of the royal line of Judah, and more specifically of the house of David. His great-great grandfather was Hezekiah, one of Judah's most righteous kings. However, when Hezekiah died, it was Zephaniah's great uncle, Manasseh, and not his great grandfather, Amariah, who ascended the throne. Manasseh became the most corrupt king of Judah's history, reversing all the gains his father had made.
Zephaniah's prophecy takes place during the reign of Josiah, the last good king Judah had. However, like the reforms of Hezekiah, it appears that the hearts of the people are not really in Josiah's reforms. You may not be able to see his as you read through Kings or Chronicles, but it is told to us clearly in Zephaniah and in Jeremiah’s prophecies. When hearts remain unchanged, outward improvements cannot last. Josiah, a devout man, does his best to get the nation back on the right track, so God promises not to bring judgment upon the land of Judah during his lifetime.
upon the surrounding nations, and he will close as other prophets do, giving us an amazing section dealing with the future hope of salvation under the Messiah which will be enjoyed by a remnant of the people.
Zephaniah's prophecy deals with God's judgment upon His own people along with descriptions of divine judgment upon the surrounding nations, and he will close as other prophets do, giving us an amazing section dealing with the future hope of salvation under the Messiah which will be enjoyed by a remnant of the people.
THE SITUATION IN JUDAH
The book begins with a picture of the reversal of the creation. I will completely sweep away everything from the face of the earth— this is the Lord’s declaration. I will sweep away people and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth. This is the Lord’s declaration.(). This language sounds almost like the time of the flood but worse.
Josiah began his reforms rather late in his reign, not because of a lack of will upon his part but rather because nobody in the land had a copy of the Law of God given through Moses to go by. He was 8yrs old when his reign began, and they found the missing scroll of the law of Moses when he was 26 (18yrs later). But it may have been too late to make lasting changes. If the reforms had sunk in deeper perhaps Judah could have been saved. Or if Josiah's son who became king after him had continued in his father's steps maybe the heart of the people could have gradually been turned around. But it was not to be. Idolatry was too ingrained into the lives of many in Judah. Verses 4-6 show some examples of the types of idolatry Judah was involved in:
I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the residents of Jerusalem. I will cut off every vestige of Baal from this place, the names of the pagan priests along with the priests; those who bow in worship on the rooftops to the stars in the sky; those who bow and pledge loyalty to the Lord but also pledge loyalty to Milcom; and those who turn back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him. ()
"Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame, before the decree takes effect - the day passes like chaff - before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger." ().
Zephaniah 1:4–6 CSB
I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the residents of Jerusalem. I will cut off every vestige of Baal from this place, the names of the pagan priests along with the priests; those who bow in worship on the rooftops to the stars in the sky; those who bow and pledge loyalty to the Lord but also pledge loyalty to Milcom; and those who turn back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.
Idolatry was still rampant in the nation. Josiah's campaign to remove the altars of Baal from the land was only partially successful. The altars removed from the high places could be built back up again by the priests and their willing followers. Many didn’t even need altars to worship idols. Some would go to their housetops and bow before the stars in the sky as though they are divine.

JUDGMENT UPON JUDAH

"So I will stretch My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place..." (). There are several reasons given in the context of the first chapter as to why God will bring such devastation upon the land; "I will cut off...the names of the idolatrous priests...." (Vs. 4). Idolatry was still rampant in the nation. Josiah's campaign to remove the altars of Baal from the land was only partially successful. The altars removed from the high places could be built back up again by the priests and their willing followers.
Yes, it may be true that many swore allegiance to the LORD. That sounds good, but when you also do the same to other pagan gods like Milcom, there is a problem. Their loyalties were divided.
But idolatry wasn’t the only problem for sure. Zephaniah talks about two other groups of people in verse 6:
"And those who have turned back from following the Lord." (vs. 6). This would describe people who at one time followed the Lord but fell away into transgression.
"And those who have not sought the Lord nor inquired of Him." (vs. 6). This would describe those who have never been interested in the Lord at all. They breathe His air, drink His water, eat the food which grows by the laws He has ordained, but choose not to acknowledge Him or express any kind of gratitude at all. For these reasons, the rebelliousness of the people and their halfhearted attempts in following Josiah's leadership, the nation will be destroyed. And this even includes the sons of Josiah (). He talks about their violence and deceit in verse 9.
"And those who have not sought the Lord nor inquired of Him." (vs. 6). This would describe those who have never been interested in the Lord at all. They breathe His air, drink His water, eat the food which grows by the laws He has ordained, but choose not to acknowledge Him or express any kind of gratitude at all. For these reasons, the rebelliousness of the people and their halfhearted attempts in allowing Josiah's needed reforms to take root and cause lasting change, the nation will be destroyed. And this even includes the sons of Josiah ()
This is the picture of the condition of Judah in ch1. We have another section of the book focused on judgment on Judah in . In this section, there is more focus on the leaders of God’s people.
Let’s look at verses 3-4:
The princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are wolves of the night, which leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are reckless— treacherous men. Her priests profane the sanctuary; they do violence to instruction. ()
Things really had not changed since Micah prophesied at the time of Hezekiah. The rulers in Judah were still unjust. The priests and prophets did not have the condition of the people at heart. With this kind of leadership, it is no surprise that there was not change within the people. Changing outward things will not change the people’s hearts. It didn’t even change the ruler’s hearts.
And no matter who the LORD judged around them, even punishing the northern kingdom of Israel, they were unwilling to learn from it. They would not receive discipline. So Zephaniah says that the day of the Lord’s judgment is coming, and two times he says that the time is growing short. For instance, in 1:14, Zephaniah says:
So Zephaniah says that the day of the Lord’s judgment is coming, and two times he says that the time is growing short. For instance, in v14: The great day of the Lord is near, near and rapidly approaching...(). The time was very near when the LORD would fill the land with wailing and mourning.
The great day of the Lord is near, near and rapidly approaching...().
().
The time was very near when the LORD would fill the land with wailing and mourning.
Zephaniah says in verses 15-18, That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and total darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities, and against the high corner towers. I will bring distress on mankind, and they will walk like the blind because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung. Their silver and their gold will be unable to rescue them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. The whole earth will be consumed by the fire of his jealousy, for he will make a complete, yes, a horrifying end of all the inhabitants of the earth.()
A CALL TO REPENT
Zephaniah warns the people that unless they truly seek the Lord the decree of Judgment will be carried out."Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame, before the decree takes effect - the day passes like chaff - before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger." ().
Zephaniah warns the people that unless they truly seek the Lord the decree of Judgment will be carried out."Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame, before the decree takes effect - the day passes like chaff - before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger." ().

THE OTHER NATIONS

And it will not only be Judah that receives judgment, but the other nations as well. They will be judged right alongside other pagan nations who served other gods.
I find it interesting that right in the middle of the two sections that talk about the judgment coming upon Judah is a section about judgment coming upon other nations also. May this be God’s way of highlighting the fact that, because of the sin of Judah, He does not recognize them as His people any longer? In this state, they are just one of the many rebellious and sinful nations and are going to receive the same fate as the other nations.
God will judge Judah right alongside the Philistines, the Moabites and Ammonites, the Ethiopians, and the Assyrians.
“Surely Moab will be like Sodom, and the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah… because of their pride (vv8-9)
The “Ethiopians/Cushites” will be slain with the sword (v12)
In every direction the Lord promises to bring judgment upon the idolatrous and wicked nations.
Then there is one more nation in v13 - the most powerful one at this time - Assyria. Zephaniah says things about them that no one would ever dream of happening to this world power. Zephaniah says that shortly Assyria was to fall and Nineveh be destroyed.
In these prophecies, especially the one concerning Assyria, the prophet predicts what no man could have guessed. At this time, thriving Assyria was powerful and seemed invincible. But Zephaniah contends that shortly Assyria was to fall and Nineveh be destroyed. This was accomplished when Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Assyria within a generation.
A CALL TO SEEK THE LORD
But Zephaniah doesn’t leave Judah without hope or without remedy. There is a chance to stop the judgment from coming. There is still a chance to receive mercy as a nation or as individuals.
He says in 2:1-3,
"Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame, before the decree takes effect - the day passes like chaff - before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger." ().
God is still willing to show mercy. His plan is to bring his indignation and wrath, but he delights in giving His people another chance. IF only they will seek the Lord and seek righteousness and humility, mercy can come. And even if the judgment does come upon the nation, it there are individuals willing to repent, there is hope for those who seek righteousness and humility that they will be spared in the day of the LORD’s anger.
APPLICATION: Let’s stop for a moment and consider some applications from these threats of judgment and Zephaniah’s call to repentance:
First, the LORD judges all sin… This includes injustice, pride, all types of lying and deceit. It includes apostasy. But it also includes sins of OMISSION. The examples of this that Zephaniah gave was not seeking the LORD and not inquiring of the LORD. Not praying to the LORD and showing your dependence and trust in Him in that way will receive the same judgment that lying, deception, and pride receives. This idea brings to mind a passage in .
“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
James sums up a fundamental principle of faith here. Faith is active. If you believe there is good that the LORD wants you to do, and you are unwilling to do it - if you leave it undone - then your faith is dead. Are there things that you and I are leaving undone?
Another application to consider is that if we are His people and we have turned our back on Him or have a sin that is ruling over us, God is willing to show us mercy, if we will seek Him and humble ourselves before Him, He is willing to forgive. If there is still life in you, you have the opportunity to return to Him and receive mercy from Him.
Ok, now let’s go to chapter 3 and look at verse 8. Assuming that His people do not repent, we have at the end of this section the LORD’s decision about what He is going to do to Judah and to the nations.
“Therefore wait for Me,” declares the Lord, “For the day when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, To assemble kingdoms, To pour out on them My indignation, All My burning anger; For all the earth will be devoured By the fire of My zeal. (, NASB)
His fire - His burning anger, is going to be poured out on all the nations. It will be a fire that burns the evil away from the land.
Then we come to verse 9 of chapter 3, and there is a dramatic shift in tone.
THE MESSIANIC HOPE
We see in verse 9 that God’s ultimate purpose in talking about His divine judgment is to bring cleansing. It is so that He can show HIs desire that He wants to cleanse the nations.
“For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, That all of them may call on the name of the Lord, To serve Him shoulder to shoulder. “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, My dispersed ones, Will bring My offerings. ()
The fire of the LORD is going to destroy some, but it is going to cleanse others. It will change people and restore people, making them what God created them to be - people in fellowship with Him who worship Him. This remnant of the nations will be humble and will take refuge in the LORD. They will use their tongues to praise the LORD instead of being deceitful.
This promise shows a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham back in . God would bring blessing the nations. He will take away His judgments. His remnant will have no reason to fear. Only reasons to rejoice because “the King of Israel, the LORD, is in [their] midst.”
“the King of Israel, the LORD, is in [their] midst”
Now look at 3:17. This verse is amazing!
“The LORD your God is in your midst, the Mighty Warrior who saves; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
Wow. This is great. It is passages like this that we miss whenever we don’t study the minor prophets. God is among His remnant. He is their warrior who brings them victory and salvation and peace by his love. And then something you would never even imagine God doing… He responds to the rejoicing of His remnant by singing back. He rejoices over His people with song. Do you get the picture here that He is celebrating His relationship with His New Covenant people? He is filled with joy over the victory and salvation that His people enjoy.
He has cleared away your enemies (vs 14). Christ Himself has conquered death, proving Himself able to defeat even this last and greatest enemy of man ().
Rejoice and exult with all your heart (vs 14). Because of the blessings and privileges in Christ, we are urged today to rejoice in the Lord always ().
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst (vs 15). The Lord Himself came to redeem and bless us. Our King lives in us today. He assures us of victory ().
When I restore your fortunes before your eyes (vs 20). Again, we find in Jesus eternal treasure which does not corrode nor can it be stolen, an inheritance that fades not away, an imperishable crown, or perhaps we could just sum it up by calling our spiritual fortune the unfathomable riches of Christ ().
When I restore your fortunes before your eyes (vs 20). Again, we find in Jesus eternal treasure which does not corrode nor can it be stolen, an inheritance that fades not away, an imperishable crown, or perhaps we could just sum it up by calling our spiritual fortune the unfathomable riches of Christ ().
What a beautiful messianic promise that He gives to Judah at this point, and it is amazing that now, looking back at this prophecy, we can see the blessing that we now enjoy as being part of the remnant under the reign of Jesus Christ.
Conclusion
This is a wonderful thought to close on. Let’s go to our Father in prayer…
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