Summary: Zephaniah's main concern was the Day of the LORD which was coming. But what is the day of the LORD?
The Day of the LORD is at Hand: An Overview of the Book of Zephaniah
This week, we will continue our study of the Minor Prophets by looking at the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. It is the ninth of the twelve “Minor Prophets.” Zephaniah is one of he least-known of the prophets as it is not directly quoted in the New Testament. As far as the content is concerned, it is closest to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament in that it is concerned with Divine judgment. This book as we shall see is well worth studying.
Introduction (Zephaniah 1:1)
Zephaniah’s name in English means “The One Whom the LORD protects.” This name has meaning in that what one needs in the day of judgment is to be protected from it. The judgments pronounced on both Judah and al nations will be devastating. Yet some will be protected from judgment.
Zephaniah’s genealogy is traced back to his great-great grandfather Hezekiah, who is probably the King Hezekiah mentioned in the Bible in several books. The introductory verse which may have been added later to describe Zephaniah’s prophecy makes him a contemporary of King Josiah, This would seem to make him a distant cousin to Zephaniah and a member of the royal family. The situation seems to indicate that he prophesied in the early part of Josiah’s reign before Josiah’s reformation caused by the discovery of the Book of the Law in the Temple. The dire conditions would not fit the conditions after Josiah thoroughly reformed the nation and the Temple service. As this happened around 622 BC, this would date Zephaniah from 628-622 BC. His contemporaries included the Prophets Jeremiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. It is possible that Zephaniah was used by the LORD to cause the short-lived revival under Josiah which only lasted about twelve years.
Hezekiah was the last good king before Josiah. He, too, instituted a reform of Judah and its worship of Yahweh. The LORD had hearkened unto Hezekiah and saved Jerusalem when the Assyrian armies had encircled the city. Jerusalem was delivered because it had trusted in Yahweh rather than to sue for peace. But 2 Kings 20 also records that the LORD delivered Hezekiah from a terminal sickness and granted him 15 years more life. It is also stated that it might have been better if he had died. Hezekiah made a mistake in showing emissaries from the rising power of Babylon. It is implied that he was seeking to make a league with Babylon against the Assyrians. The LORD frowned upon such alliances and told Hezekiah that Judah would one day be taken into captivity in Babylon along with all the treasure he had shown them. An even bigger disaster was that if he had died, Manasseh would never have been born. He turned out to be the most evil of all the kings of Judah. He reigned 55 years. He was able to reign so long because he made peace with the Assyrians, a peace which came with strings attached. Part of this included admitting the gods of Assyria and the idols of their worship into the Temple itself. Even though 2 Chronicles records a repentance late in life, the damage was already done. And his son Amon who succeeded him followed in Manasseh’s evil ways.
So by the time Josiah took the throne, the government, the religion, and the life of the people was totally corrupt. The LORD was much provoked and determined to bring Judah into judgment fro their unfaithfulness. So the LORD raised up Zephaniah among others to pronounce severe judgment upon Judah.
Total Destruction is Coming (Zephaniah 1:2-6)
The beginning of the prophecy contains shocking words. It says that the LORD was going to totally destroy the land for its sins. Not only was he going to destroy the people but also the beasts, fishes, and the birds. The judgment is going to be apocalyptic. He was going to cleanse the land from all the wickedness. He was going to destroy the foreign gods like Baal, Chemosh, and Molech and all those who worshiped them. To the LORD, it would be better that Judah become a wasteland than have these gods pollute the land. Their priests and the reprobate people would also be destroyed.
The Day of the LORD hastens (Zephaniah 1:7-2:3)
The theme that best characterizes Zephaniah are the words “The day of the LORD.” These words are not unique to Zephaniah as they occur in other prophets like Amos, Nahum. Isaiah, and Joel, among others. Zephaniah’s description of “The day of the LORD” is very similar to Amos’ description as a day of “darkness and not light.” (Amos 5:18). Too often the concept of the “Day of the LORD” is one of deliverance rather than severe judgment. Amos reminds us “to what end is it for you.” Zephaniah’s portrayal of this day is one of apocalyptic judgment.