Summary: Continuing a series on the minor Prophets
Continuing our series on the Minor Prophets, we come to the short book of Zephaniah, which means “the Lord hides.” As one great Bible commentator puts it, there is no hotter book in all the Old Testament. Zephaniah was a man that burned with the Spirit of God. Zephaniah was a prophet of the great day of wrath which was coming for all the nations of the world. He had a timeless and original insight into the nature and meaning of sin. And it was this sin that would bring down the judgement of God upon the chosen people and the heathen peoples of Zephaniah’s time. And it is for that insight into sin that we might best remember Zephaniah. And the edition of the book which comes to us expands the typical narrow nationalistic view of salvation, as we will see when we come to chapter 3.
First let us discuss who Zephaniah was and when his prophecies were made. His genealogy is listed back for four generations, which is unusual for a prophet. And in this list is the name Hezekiah, which could be the same man that was king in the time of Isaiah and Micah. This connection leads many to call Zephaniah the royal prophet. He began his work during the reign of Josiah, who was a good and ethical king, guided by good priests and religious leaders. But things did not remain well in the eyes of the Lord. The nation after Josiah’s death reverted to its idolatry and sin.
Zephaniah’s work is a warning. It is directed to the complacent chosen people, who sit about waiting for something to happen, waiting for God to act. In all of Zephaniah’s words about the coming day of the Lord, there is little spared. The message is all-consuming and universal. There is no escape from what God has intended to do. And there are only two sides which you can come out on, either the side of the Lord or the side of his enemies. There is no place to hedge your bets, no place to sit and figure out what to do, no place to watch the battle from the sidelines. The day of the Lord is a Day of Judgment upon you and upon me.
When Zephaniah begins his description of the sin-filled world in which he lived, like the rest of the prophets he does not hold back. And sin becomes far more than a personal thing. Sin is not relegated to the individual soul. It is a cosmic event. It is the force that rips us from our place at God’s hand, it destroys our relationships with one another, it causes the creation itself to fight against life. And because of the cosmic nature of sin, because it is so all-encompassing, then judgement as well has a cosmic extent. The pictures of judgment in the prophets
Listing the sins
Disobedience & revolt
Lack of faith and love
Zephaniah’s insight into the nature of sin does not lead him to simply put his hands up in air. Sin is not a concept that sits out there, for theologians to talk about, for preachers to complain about, for everyone else to forget about. Sin necessitates a response, and Zephaniah proceeds to show that response, both the response from God and the response from ourselves.