The Book of the Twelve (Minor Prophets) 17: Zephaniah
Zephaniah’s name means “hide, treasure up, store” or “hidden of Yahweh.” This is thematic, “Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’S anger” (2:3). Zephaniah is the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah. Hence, his great-great-grandfather was the good King Hezekiah. He is writing at about 630-625 B.C. during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). His prophecy seems to precede Nineveh’s demise (612 B.C.) and the reforms of Josiah in 622-621, since he references pagan idolatry in Judah (1:4-6) suppressed by Josiah’s reforms.
God promised covenant stipulations of blessing for obedience (e.g. Dt. 28:1-14) and cursing for disobedience (Dt. 28:15-68) such as idolatry (1:4-6) and injustice. In the reigns of Manasseh (2 Chr. 33:9) and Amon (2Kgs. 21:20) such evil was officially sponsored by the royal house of Judah. Therefore, prior to the reforms of Josiah tremendous evil characterized Judah. Zephaniah thundered the word of the Lord: “Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the tyrannical city!” (3:1). The charges stated: “Her princes within her are roaring lions, Her judges are wolves at evening; They leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are reckless, treacherous men; Her priests have profaned the sanctuary. They have done violence to the law” (3:3-4). The Covenant Lord will therefore bring about a Day of Wrath, a “Day of the Lord” or “Lord’s Day.” This day will bring destruction to the rebellious, but salvation to a remnant of believers. He says, “Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near” (1:7). “Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness” (1:14-15).
We are to “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” (2:3). Zephaniah also foretold the destruction of Nineveh (2:13, cf Nahum), still a threat in Josiah’s day, as well as the Philistines (2:4-7), Moab and Ammon (2:8-11) and Cush (2:12). Judgment on disobedient Judah and her enemies will be followed by Messianic blessing. Like other words of doom in the Book of the Twelve, after wrath there is mercy and so Israel returns to the Lord and restoration is promised in the presence of the “King of Israel” who will be “in your midst” (3:15). Zephaniah reminds us to trust God to work out His plan. We need to be patient, learning the lesson to trust a God worthy of our faith (3:8). He will right the wrongs and restore the righteous. Therefore, our goal must be to find ourselves as one of the righteous. We must have our identity in being part of the faithful remnant. We must “seek the Lord” (2:3) and be humble (2:3b) so that we may be hidden in King of Israel in the Day of Judgment.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more