The book of Zephaniah focuses on the fearsome Day of the Lord which has both near term implications and eschatological fulfillment. Judah was in rough shape. King Manasseh had led the nation into idolatry and even human sacrifice. His son continued the wicked course of God’s elect nation. Judgment was imminent. The prophet called for the people to repent and return to holiness and purity as good King Josiah tried to redirect the people back to God. But Zephaniah had to bring the hard message that the terrible Day of the Lord is coming to Judah. Judgment will extend as well to the foreign nations that have oppressed Judah and demonstrated arrogant self-sufficiency. But the message of ultimate restoration is included as well. Not just blessing for Judah, but all the nations will eventually call on the name of the Lord and join in the blessing at the end times.
The Day of the Lord Brings Judgment, Purification and Blessing
Zephaniah 1:7 “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near”
Zephaniah 2:3 “Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”
I. (1:1-6) INTRODUCTION: JUDGMENT IS COMING FOR JUDAH . . . FOR THE WORLD —
TWO PRONOUNCEMENTS OF JUDGMENT MERGED TOGETHER IN A DENUNCIATION OF IDOLATROUS TRANSGRESSIONS
(:1) INTRODUCTION: PROPHECY OF THE DAY OF THE LORD
A. (:2-3) PRONOUNCEMENT OF END-TIMES GLOBAL JUDGMENT
B. (:4-6) PRONOUNCEMENT OF IMMINENT JUDGMENT ON JUDAH FOR PARTICULAR TRANSGRESSIONS
II. (1:7 – 2:3) JUDAH WARNED TO PREPARE FOR THE DAY OF THE LORD —
SEEK RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE THE TERRIBLE DAY OF THE LORD (WHICH IS NEAR AND COMING VERY QUICKLY) BRINGS DEVASTATION
A. (1:7-13) THE PROSPECT OF THE TERRIBLE DAY OF THE LORD SHOULD SHOCK PEOPLE INTO SILENCE
B. (1:14-18) THE PREVIEW OF THE IMMINENT DAY OF THE LORD IS ONE OF WRATH AND DEVASTATION
C. (2:1-3) THE PREPARATION FOR THE ANGRY DAY OF THE LORD SHOULD BE TO URGENTLY SEEK GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PROTECTION
III. (2:4-15) JUDAH’S ENEMIES ALL TARGETED FOR JUDGMENT —
THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE COMPASS ALL DESTINED FOR JUDGMENT BECAUSE OF THEIR ARROGANCE AGAINST THE ONE TRUE GOD AND HIS BELOVED PEOPLE
A. (2:4-7) JUDGMENT AGAINST PHILISTIA – WEST OF ISRAEL
B. (2:8-11) JUDGMENT AGAINST MOABITES AND AMMONITES – EAST OF ISRAEL
C. (2:12) JUDGMENT AGAINST ETHIOPIA – SOUTH OF ISRAEL
D. (2:13-15) JUDGMENT AGAINST ASSYRIA – NORTH OF ISRAEL
IV. (3:1-20) PURIFICATION LEADS TO REMNANT BLESSINGS WHEN THE LORD RETURNS TO REIGN —
– THE NATIONS WILL BE JUDGED AND DESTROYED
– AND THE REMNANT WILL BE PURIFIED AND BLESSED
A. (:1-7) JERUSALEM FACES IMMINENT JUDGMENT FOR HER SPIRITUAL BANKRUPTCY
B. (:8-11) THE ESCHATOLOGICAL DAY OF THE LORD WILL BRING BOTH JUDGMENT ON THE NATIONS AND PURIFICATION OF GOD’S REMNANT
C. (:12-20) THE REMNANT WILL EXPERIENCE TREMENDOUS BLESSINGS WHEN HER KING RETURNS TO REIGN IN HER MIDST
WHY STUDY THIS BOOK?
• To gain a long term perspective of God’s program for history and where we are all headed.
• To be convicted of any idolatry or arrogance or self-sufficiency in not fully surrendering to the Lord’s reign.
• To be motivated to seek humility and righteousness.
• To grasp the severity of God’s wrath and judgment.
• To appreciate the faithfulness and compassion of our God whose ultimate goal is restoration and blessing.
David Malick: Even though Judah’s refusal to repent of her evil in the face of the imminent, terrifying judgment of the Lord upon the nations will result in her own judgment, she is encouraged to wait for that time when after judgment the Lord will purify His people, save them, protect them, restore them, and bless them.
John MacArthur: Zephaniah’s message on the Day of the Lord warned Judah that the final days were near, through divine judgment at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, ca. 605-586 B.C. (1:4-13). Yet, it also looks beyond to the far fulfillment in the judgments of Daniel’s 70th week (1:18; 3:8). The expression “Day of the Lord” is described as a day that is near (1:7), and as a day of wrath, trouble, distress, devastation, desolation, darkness, gloominess, clouds, thick darkness, trumpet, and alarm (1:15, 16, 18). Yet even within these oracles of divine wrath, the prophet exhorted the people to seek the Lord, offering a shelter in the midst of judgment (2:3), and proclaiming the promise of eventual salvation for His believing remnant (2:7; 3:9-20).
Thomas Constable: God sent a prophetic word to Zephaniah because the Judeans of his day still needed to get right with Him in their hearts. The prophet announced that God was going to send judgment on Judah for her wickedness. He also assured the godly few in the nation, the remnant, that the Lord would preserve them and remain true to His promises concerning ultimate worldwide blessing for Israel in the future. Perhaps 1:7 summarizes what the book is all about better than any other single verse: “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the LORD is near.”
John Piper: I think the book falls naturally into five parts.
– First, chapter one announces the coming judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem. Verse 4, “I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
– Second, chapter two verses 1-3 calls the nation back to God and specifically (as it says in verse 3) to “seek righteousness and seek humility.”
– Third, in chapter 2 verses 4-15 Zephaniah announces the judgment that is also coming on the lands that surround Judah: the Philistines to the east (vv. 4-7), Moab and Ammon to the west (vv. 8-11), the Ethiopians to the south (v. 12), and Assyria to the north (vv. 13-15).
– The fourth section of the book is chapter 3 verses 1-7. Here Zephaniah turns his attention to Jerusalem again and lengthens the catalogue of God’s accusations against her.
– Finally, chapter 3 verses 8-20 proclaims the conversion of the peoples (v. 9), the conversion and regathering of Israel (v. 10) and the glorious future of all the godly as God rejoices over them with gladness.
I think the main point of the book is 2:3, “Seek the Lord all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility.” The rest of the book is mainly made up of warnings that judgment is coming upon the proud and promises that the humble and righteous who seek refuge in the Lord will be saved (3:12,13). So there are three things: commands, warnings and promises. Obedience to the command in 2:3 is Zephaniah’s main goal, and the warnings and promises are incentives for the people to repent and obey.
Bob Deffinbaugh: These reasons for divine judgment can best be summarized in this way:
– God will judge those in Judah who practice pure paganism (1:4).
– God will judge those in Judah who mix the worship of God with the worship of other deities (1:5a).
– God will judge those in Judah who completely reject and turn away from the faith of their fathers (1:6).
– God will judge those who choose to identify with the heathen (rather than the people of God) by their dress (1:8).
– God will judge those who practice violence and deceit (1:9).
– God will judge those who refuse divine instruction, and who have ignored His warnings (3:1-2). Judah should have learned from God’s judgment of others, but she did not (3:6-7).
– God will judge those in leadership, who have abused their authority and forsaken their stewardship (3:3-4).
– God will judge those who presume that God is indifferent about their sin (1:12).
– God will judge those who put their trust in anything but Him (1:18).
J. Sidlow Baxter: Outline: Through Judgment to Blessing
I. Look Within! – Wrath Coming on Judah (i.1 – ii.3)
The Purpose of Jehovah to Judge (1-6)
The “Day” of Jehovah “at hand” (7-18)
And so – plea to Jerusalem (ii.1-3)
II. Look Around! – Wrath on All Nations (ii.4 – iii.8)
West, East – Philistia, Moab, Ammon (4-11)
South, North – Ethiopia and Assyria (12-15)
And so – “Woe” to Jerusalem (iii.1-8)
III. Look Beyond! – After Wrath, Healing (iii.9-20)
Conversion of Gentile Peoples (9)
Restoring of Covenant People (10-15)
And so – the new Jerusalem (verses 16-20)