Philippe R. Sterling
God providentially controls history and He demonstrates this by the Day of the LORD which includes present and future judgment of all nations and the deliverance of a remnant of Jewish and Gentile believers.
Zephaniah is the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah. His name means “hidden by the LORD”. He was born during the reign of Manasseh and prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640 – 609 BC). The major theme of the book is “the day of the LORD”.
Literary Structure and Content
Superscription (1:1): The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah . . .
1. What and Who: The word of the LORD came to Zephaniah who is a 4th descendant in the line of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah exercised godly leadership in Judah. His son Manasseh turned the nation to pagan practices. His grandson Josiah instituted godly reforms beginning in the 18th year of his reign.
2. When: This occurred during the reign of Josiah.
I. The Day of the LORD brings judgment on the whole earth (1:2—3:8).
This section has a reverse parallel structure:
Judgment on all the earth
Judgment on Judah and Jerusalem
Judgment on nations surrounding Judah
Judgment on Jerusalem
Judgment on all the earth
A The LORD will make a clean sweep of the earth (1:2-3).
1. General: God will completely remove all things from the face of the earth (2).
2. Specific: God will cut off animals and man from the face of the earth (3).
The opening words of Zephaniah presents a God who is about to completely sweep the earth in judgment. God did this before with the flood. It was water then. Next time it will be a fiery judgment (1:18).
B The LORD will stretch out His hand against Judah and Jerusalem (1:4—2:3).
1. Reason for the Judgment: There is a remnant of Baal worship, astral worship, syncretism of Milcom
and Yahweh worship, and a turning away from or neglecting the LORD (1:4-6).
The people of Judah turned their back on God and put away His word. It was in the 18th year of Josiah’s reign that Hilkiah the priest discovered a scroll of the Law in the temple and brought it to the king (2 Chr. 34:3-7). Josiah read it and instituted reforms.
2. Description of the Judgment: The judgment will be like a great sacrifice and it is near and
will be terrifying (1:7-18).
The LORD will search Jerusalem with lamps to find and punish those who are stagnant in spirit. This predates the philosophical stunt of the Greek cynic Diogenes who went through the streets in the daytime carrying a lamp claiming to look for an honest man.
3. Invitation to Seek the LORD: Those who seek the LORD may be preserved from the LORD’s
Zephaniah encourages the people to seek the LORD. If they seek righteousness and humility they may be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger. The Hebrew word for “hidden” in verse 3 is a synonym for the word that makes up Zephaniah’s name. The word “perhaps” indicates that this is not a guarantee for every occasion.
C The LORD will destroy the nations surrounding Judah (2:4-15).
1. To the West of Judah: God will destroy Philistia and give its land to the remnant of Judah (4-7).
2. To the East of Judah: God will destroy Moab and Ammon and give their plunder to the
remnant of Judah (8-11).
3. To the South of Judah: God will slay the Ethiopians (12).
4. To the North of Judah: God will destroy Assyria and Nineveh (13-14).
Zephaniah predicts the fall of Nineveh. This occurs in 612 BC.
B’ The LORD pronounces woe on Jerusalem (3:1-7).
1. Spiritual Condition of the City: Jerusalem is rebellious and defiled (1-4).
2. God’s Nature: God is righteous and just (5).
3. Coming Judgment: Judgment is sure to come since even when given the opportunity the city
refused to change (6-7).
God provided a hiding place for his people. He repeatedly called them to seek him. But they would not. Jesus would also say centuries later, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38).
A’ The LORD assembles the nations for judgment (3:8).
God announces His judgment on Judah and all the nations. Here comes the judge!
II. The Day of the LORD brings deliverance for a remnant from the nations and Israel who take refuge in the
name of the LORD (3:9-20).
A remnant from the nations and Israel will take refuge in the LORD. For them the LORD will take away His judgment. He will exalt over them with joy.
A. There will be deliverance for a remnant from the nations who call on the name of the LORD (3:9-10).
B. There will be deliverance for the remnant of Israel who takes refuge in the name of the LORD (3:11-13).
C. Jerusalem will rejoice in the presence of the LORD, King of Israel (3:14-17).
D. The LORD will gather His people and give them renown among all the peoples of the earth (3:18-20).
Theological Reflection and Application
Zephaniah vividly pictures the day of the LORD. The day of the LORD is the day of God’s temporal judgment. It may apply to past judgment, imminent judgment, and distant future judgment (eschatological).
Zephaniah stresses God’s righteousness, justice, and willingness to receive those who seek Him. He highlights God’s relationship to Israel first in judgment (1:4-13; 3:1-7) and then in taking away His judgments and coming to rule in their midst (3:14-17).
Seek the LORD . . . perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger (2:3). Make God your hiding place.
The King of Israel, the LORD, will rule in the midst of Israel (3:15). He is a victorious warrior who will rejoice over his people and love them (3:17).