Summary: Zephaniah is a little read and a little known Old Testament Prophecy but it is an important message for the world and for the Church. God will deal with evil, and there will come a day when he will rejoice over us with singing!
Five years ago I was invited to preach on this Bible passage at a service of ‘Evensong’ in Winchester Cathedral. When I was given the Bible passage (Zephaniah chapter 3) my first reaction was Zeph and what? I quickly realised there was a pun crying out to be used and so for a few days I tried it out on my family and it went something like this: Zeph an’ I are off to Winchester Cathedral this Sunday. Would you like to come too? But back to my first reaction: Zeph and what? In December 2004 I emailed 40 friends who were also Christian believers and asked them a simple question: Without looking at a Bible, please can you tell me what is your reaction to the word ‘Zephaniah’? I received some interesting replies: “Ha, ha” Said one. Others said:
• A minor prophet
• Is it a made up name?
• Never heard of it
• A little book full of wisdom
• The name of the BBC poet (Benjamin Zephaniah).
• Couldn’t tell you a thing about it
• Not a clue …neither does my son who does bible study
• Never heard of it, don’t think it’s in the Bible
• Contains Christmas scripture ‘unto us a child is born’ (Just in case you’re wondering that scripture is actually Isaiah 9:6)
• A book where God gets cross
• Short book, minor prophet
• Is that in the Old Testament or the Apocrypha?
Three of the 40 replies included words to the effect that Zephaniah 3:17 is fabulous, “[The Lord] will rejoice over you with singing”.
My purpose was not to make people feel guilty or proud about either a lack or a glut of knowledge about Zephaniah, but the responses confirmed my belief that Zephaniah is a key message for the Church.
We’re not going to study the whole book this morning. We don’t have time, but can I challenge you to read it? It is six pages in my large print Bible and when I sat down to read it all of the way through on Friday it took me less than 10 minutes, reading it quietly in my head to myself. Read out loud it takes a little longer but the strength of the prophecy is reinforced out loud.
Now you may well read it and think, “I don’t like these Old Testament books about God’s anger, about the destruction of nations, and people” (Zeph 1: 2-3), and yet at the same time there is a deep longing in the hearts of most men and women for the effects and the perpetrators of evil to be brought to an end.
Zephaniah speaks of the future Day of the Lord when God’s “jealous anger” (Zeph 3:8) will be unleashed; a day when God does away with apathy & complacency (1:12), idolatry (1:4), corruption (3:7), arrogance & treachery (3:4), pride (2:10), and oppression (3:1).
On that future Day the insults and the mocking aimed at the people of the Lord Almighty will be brought to an end (2:10). Instead, “The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land” (2:11).
Who amongst us does not wish to see an end to the apathy and complacency of Governments, organisations and individuals, ourselves included? Who does not wish to see an end to false religion, including the false religion found within Christianity? Who does not wish to see an end to corruption, including MP’s expenses, the fledgling Governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, African government officials siphoning off aid money into their bank accounts, and ordinary men and women like you and me fiddling tax returns and turning a blind eye to the corruption of our own individual existence? Who does not wish to see an end to the contentions of those who claim to know the answer to everything but live life rebelling against God and against common human decency?