«Introduction TITLE AND WRITER The title of the book comes from the name of its writer. Zephaniah means Yahweh Hides [or Has Hidden], Hidden in ...»
Reading Zephaniah is somewhat like watching a science fiction movie about a nuclear disaster, that leaves nothing but a sterile, uninhabited, windswept landscape with no life, no flowers, no fruit, and no beauty. What produces this horrible condition? The reason is the vast number of people who are complacent and indifferent, who disregard and ignore God. They do not obey God's voice, receive His correction, trust in Him, or draw near to Him. They are materialized, self-centered, living in luxury, and oblivious to their danger.
So God steps in and turns their complacency into chaos, disorganizes their orderly lives, and purges them in their indifference. All that is left is a wind-swept desert (cf. the Flood).
8 Dr. Constable's Notes on Zephaniah 2016 Edition What is the intent of this terrible activity? It is the creation of a new order, with God Himself enthroned among His creatures (3:17). Chapter 3 of this prophecy is such a different picture of the future, from what we have in chapters 1 and 2, that some commentators have said that a different person must have written it. Chapter 3 describes songs instead of sorrow, service instead of selfishness, and solidarity instead of scattering. That is the intent of this judgment. Marvelous restoration will follow devastating judgment.
The living message of this book is twofold. We can rejoice in the assurance of this coming judgment followed by restoration, and we have a responsibility in view of this coming judgment followed by restoration.
It is our privilege to "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" that will be manifested at the end of God's judgment (cf. Rom. 5:2b). Even though the day of the Lord will involve the destruction of all things that destroy, it will also begin a new era of singing, service, and solidarity. That era will be the millennial reign of Christ first, and then the eternal state.
It is also our responsibility to live holy and godly lives as we anticipate the coming of "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness will dwell" (2 Pet. 3:11-13). We need to be diligent to be found at peace with God, "spotless and blameless" in our lives (2 Pet. 3:14). We need to be on guard that we do not fall away from our own faithfulness because of the prevalent "error of unprincipled people" (i.e., complacency and indifference; 2 Pet. 3:17). And we need to continue to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18). Rejoicing and responsible living: these characteristics need to distinguish the lives of people who anticipate the day of the Lord.
We could state the message of the book as follows: God will intervene in history, catastrophically, to judge humanity's complacency and indifference, and to restore His people to the conditions of blessing that He originally intended for them to enjoy.24
What follows is "the word" that Yahweh gave "to Zephaniah" during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 B.C.). This "word" includes all that the Lord told the prophet that He also led him to record for posterity (cf. Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1; Mic. 1:1). This was a divine revelation that God gave through one of His servants the prophets.
Zephaniah recorded his genealogy, the longest genealogy of a writing prophet in any prophetical book. It goes back four generations to Zephaniah's great-great-grandfather, or possibly more distant relative, Hezekiah. As noted in the "Writer" section of the Introduction above, it is impossible to prove or to disprove that this Hezekiah was the king of Judah with that name. Chronologically, he could have been, since people married quite young during Israel's monarchy. I think this Hezekiah probably was the king, since the name was not common, and since it would make sense to trace the prophet's lineage back this far only if Hezekiah was an important person (cf. Zech. 1:1).25 Normally the writing prophets who recorded their ancestors named only their fathers (cf. Jon. 1:1; Joel 1:1). We have no complete genealogy of King Hezekiah's descendants in the Old Testament.
II. THE DAY OF YAHWEH'S JUDGMENT 1:2—3:8
Zephaniah's prophecies are all about "the day of the LORD." He revealed two things about this "day." First, it would involve judgment (1:2—3:8), and second, it would eventuate in blessing (3:9-20). The judgment portion is the larger of the two sections of revelation.
This "judgment followed by blessing" motif is common throughout the Prophets.
Zephaniah revealed that judgment would come from Yahweh on the whole earth, Judah, Israel's neighbors, Jerusalem, and all nations. The arrangement of this judgment section of the book is chiastic.
Does this prophecy refer to the judgments that will come during the Tribulation (Rev.
6—18) or at the end of the Millennium (2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 20:11-15)? In view of what follows in this section describing judgment, especially 3:8, the parallel passage to 1:2-3, I think it refers to the Tribulation judgments.
B. THE JUDGMENT ON JUDAH 1:4—2:3
Zephaniah gave more particulars concerning the fate of Judah (1:4—2:3) and Jerusalem (3:1-7) than about the fate of the rest of humanity (1:2-3; 2:4-15; 3:8). He did this, both in the section of the book dealing with coming judgment, and in the section about blessing.
In the section on blessing, he gave only one verse about the purification of the nations (3:9), but 11 about the transformation of Israel (3:10-20).
In this pericope, the prophet identified three types of idolatry: "the overtly pagan, the syncretistic, and the religiously indifferent."36 Practitioners of all three would draw punishment from Yahweh.
How does this promise to judge the Israelites harmonize with the earlier prophecy that God would destroy the whole earth (vv. 2-3)? This is an example of a prophet's foreshortened view of the future, in which he could not see the difference in time between some events that he predicted (cf. Isa. 61:1-3; Dan. 11:35-36; et al.). God judged Israel when the Babylonians overran Judah and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. He will also judge the Israelites in the Tribulation (cf. Jer. 30:7; Rev. 6—18; et al.). Zephaniah described God's judgment of the people of Judah without specifying exactly when He would judge them. Most of what Zephaniah prophesied in this pericope found fulfillment, at least initially, in 586 B.C.
C. JUDGMENT ON ISRAEL'S NEIGHBORS 2:4-15 Since all people need to seek the Lord (v. 3), Zephaniah revealed that judgment was headed for the nations around Judah as well as for Judah. He selected nations that lived in four directions from Judah to represent all the nations. Philistia lay west of Judah, Moab and Ammon east, Ethiopia south, and Assyria north.
"He [God] would also judge nations that were near as well as nations that were far away. Those near would be plundered and possessed by Judah.
Those far away would simply be destroyed by the Lord."56 Zephaniah prophesied to the people of Judah about these nations rather than to these nations themselves, though they might have heard about Zephaniah's prophecies. His prophecies about the nations reminded the Judeans that Yahweh was sovereign over all the earth, and that He was not just singling out Judah for punishment.
3. Judgment coming on Ethiopia 2:12 Zephaniah's oracle against Ethiopia is very brief (cf. Isa. 18—20; Jer. 46; Ezek. 29—32).
Patterson suggested that Zephaniah may have meant Egypt rather than Ethiopia.62 Biblical Ethiopia occupied the territory now held by southern Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and northern Ethiopia. The "Ethiopians" were the southernmost (really southwestern-most) people known to the Judeans. God promised to send His "sword" against this nation. His instrument of judgment proved to be Nebuchadnezzar, who defeated Ethiopia shortly after overrunning all of Judah in 586 B.C. (cf. Ezek. 30:4-5, 9, 24-25). The prophet gave no reason for this overthrow, though it must be that Ethiopia shared the same disregard for Yahweh that the other nations He condemned held.
Motyer summarized five principles that Zephaniah taught in this section (2:4-15). First, the Lord is the God of all the earth. Second, the Lord plans for the spiritual needs of the world. Third, the Lord is in charge of the whole historical process. Fourth, the Lord's people are central to His world purposes. And fifth, the Lord is the fierce enemy of pride.66
Having announced that divine judgment would come on the nations around Judah (2:4the prophet returned to the subject of Yahweh's judgment on the Chosen People (cf.
1:4—2:3), but this time he focused more particularly on Jerusalem. Though he did not mention Jerusalem by name, it is clearly in view.
E. JUDGMENT ON ALL NATIONS 3:8
The people of Jerusalem needed to "wait" a little longer. The Lord would soon "rise up" as a devouring animal to consume His prey. He had determined to "gather nations" and "kingdoms" that were wicked, including Judah, and "pour" His "burning anger," "indignation," and wrath on them. Yahweh's fiery "zeal" will devour "all" nations, because the world will again become thoroughly corrupt (as in the days of Noah, cf. Gen.
6:5-7; Zeph. 1:2-3). According to Charles Feinberg, this is the only verse in the Old Testament that contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.70 The world is still waiting for the Lord to pour out His wrath on all nations. He has not done so yet because He is patient and is giving people time to repent (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9). Yet that day will surely come (2 Pet. 3:10). In view of its coming, Christians need to be holy in conduct and godly in character, looking for and hastening that day (by our prayers and preaching, 2 Pet. 3:11). The great outpouring of divine wrath on the earth predicted here will take place during the Tribulation, before our Lord returns to set up His kingdom (cf.
2:2; Zech. 14:2; Rev. 16:14, 16).
Zephaniah's final reference to the destruction of nations all over the world (v. 8) brings the section of his prophecy that deals with judgment (1:2—3:8) full circle.
"Then" signals a major change in time, as well as in the focus of Zephaniah's prophecy. It is a hinge word that serves as a transition from judgment in the Tribulation to blessing in the Millennium. Then, after these judgments (1:2—3:8), the Lord promised to give the peoples of the world "purified lips" that would speak truth and grace, rather than lies and defiled speech (cf. Isa. 6:5-7).
Yahweh will effect this change in all the people of the world, so that they will worship Him (cf. Gen. 4:26) and serve Him as one united family of nations. This event has been seen as a reversal of Babel (Gen. 11:1, 6-7, 9).74 This revelation indicates that everyone living on the earth at the beginning of the Millennium will be a believer in Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).
Zephaniah had received from the Lord much more revelation about what He would do for Israel following the period of worldwide punishment. This section is also chiastic in its thought structure.
Eight times in verses 18-20, in the NASB, the Lord said, "I will," "I am going to," or "When I." The future restoration and blessing of Israel in the world will be something that Yahweh Himself will accomplish "in that day" (i.e., the day of the LORD). No one but He could ever accomplish it, and no one but He would and will!
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