2/01/2011

Be Silent Before the Sovereign Lord (Zephaniah 1)

Previous post: Are you the one God looks on with favor? (Isa 66:2)

Intro
: “Zephaniah” means "the Lord/Yahwah hides" (Zeph 2:3), or protects. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah (Jer 21:1; 29:25) and others in the OT (Zech 6:10,14). This could indicate his parents' piety, as they trusted in God during the godless reign of Manasseh. The genealogy in 1:1 may indicate that Zephaniah was a descendant of Hezekiah, the pious ruler of Judah before two wicked kings, Amon and Manasseh (2 Kings 21:19–26; 2 Chron. 33:21–25), assumed the throne.

The prophecy takes place during the reign of Josiah (640–609 B.C.), a significant Judean king (2 Kings 21:26–23:20; 2 Chron. 33:25–35:27), who reestablished the worship of Yahweh. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been exiled, in 722 B.C.

Theme: The theme of Zephaniah, one preached more consistently by him than by any other prophet, is the day of the Lord (1:7, etc.), which is described by a catalogue of frightening terms, as bitter, as a day of wrath, distress, anguish, trouble, ruin, darkness, gloom, clouds, blackness, trumpet and battle cry, distress, consumed, sudden (Zeph 1:14-18). The "day of the Lord" also occurs in Isaiah (Isa. 13:6, 9), Jeremiah (Jer. 46:10), Ezekiel (Ezek. 13:5; 30:3), Joel (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14), Amos 5:18–20, Obadiah (Obad. 15), Zephaniah (Zeph. 1:7, 14), and Malachi (Mal. 4:5). This approaching day shows 2 faces: judgment against those who sin against God, and blessing for those who follow him. God will show himself just in both punishment and praise. This was God's warning to Judah that the final days were near (Zeph 1:7), through the divine judgment at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, ca. 605-586 B.C. (Zeph 1:4-13).

Purpose: In spite of having seen the destruction and exile of her sister, Israel, a generation or two previously, Judah refuses to turn back as a nation to her covenant obligations toward God. The reign of pious Josiah provided an ideal opportunity to do so, and God, through Zephaniah, wants to clarify their decision, and that of all the other nations, along with the consequences of that decision. God is calling for Judah's punishment because she has already shown herself sinful. But if she should repent and abandon her evil, “perhaps” God will forgive (2:3).

The political situation at the time of Zephaniah: Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, when Egypt, Judah, and Babylonia (with the help of the Medes) were regaining their autonomy and eroding the power of Assyria. Shortly after this time the Babylonians would replace the Assyrians as the dominant power in the Near East.

The Coming Judgment Against Judah (Zeph 1:2-6)

God first directs his attention against all living beings (2–3), then more specifically against his own people, Judah, represented by their capital, Jerusalem (4–6). God repeats these promises: "I will sweep away," "I will stretch out my hand," "I will destroy" (Zeph 1:2-4). Even after neighboring Israel was exiled to Assyria in 722 B.C., and after the reforms of Josiah, a righteous king, it seemed that God's judgment still could not be averted, because the officials (v. 8; 3:3–5) and the people (1:9–12) were persisting in evil.

The Day of the Lord is Near (Zeph 1:7-18)

The rest of the prophecy (Zeph. 1:7–3:20) concerns the day of the Lord,” which on the one hand holds judgment (1:7–3:8), and on the other, hope (3:9–20). The people are commanded to "be silent" (Zeph 1:7), a sign of respect or fear (Amos 6:10; 8:3). The "day of the Lord" is the coming day in which God will judge his enemies (cf. Joel 1:8–3:8) and bless his followers, God's believing remnant (Zeph. 3:9–20).

In Zeph 1:7-18, punishments are clearly spelled out against Jerusalem and its inhabitants (vv. 10–16) and against all humanity (vv. 17–18). On that day (Zeph 1:7,8,9,10), God will particularly judge the complacent (Zeph 1:12), for they think that because God has not yet judged their sin, they assume that he never will, not realizing that judgment can come any day (James 5:1-9; 2 Pet 3:3,4). Though they may not deny God's existence, they deny God's ongoing activity in either blessing or punishing. Nothing, not silver or gold (Zeph 1:18,11) or fortified cities (Zeph 1:16), and no one can save on that day.

Warning: "I will search...and punish those who are complacent" (Zeph 1:12).

About our God: As much as God is love, which He is, God is also the God of wrath and judgment, which are tragically horrifying beyond words to describe (Zeph 1:14-18). God is a gracious friend of sinners, but to the complacent he acts as if they were his enemy.

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