Zephaniah: The God Who Sings
Key Text: Chapter 3:17
“The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
His Time and Place
Zephaniah is unique among the Minor Prophets in that he produces more detail of his ancestry than any of the others. Most scholars are of the opinion that Hizkiah, his Great Great Grandfather was in fact Hezekiah, the King of Judah. While this is by no means certain, it is a possible solution to the problem posed by a genealogy going back four generations. It is certainly suggestive that he was claiming credibility and authority through an important ancestry. According to v1 Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, King of Judah. 2nd Chronicles 34 informs us of the spiritual stages which Josiah passed through in his leadership of Judah:
- He ascended the throne at 8 years of age. In the first 8 years little good was achieved for the Lord in the land.
- When he was 16 he began to seek God and this was the time when the idols were removed from the kingdom.
- In the 18th year of his reign, the Law was discovered in the temple, the contents of his which stimulated a spiritual awakening among the people.
It would appear that Zephaniah ministered in the early years of Josiah’s reign before the great revival. He does not refer to the revival, he surely would have done if he had witnessed its glorious effects. In fact the very opposite appears to be the case. Ch1v4-6 would indicate that idolatry was rife in the land. It was this very thing which was hastening the judgement of God upon the nation.
Therefore Zephaniah called upon the people to:
“Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgement: seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger” (2:3).
Hebrew scholars identify the name Zephaniah as meaning either “the Lord’s Watchtower” or “His hidden one”. Both have relevance as we analyse his significant contribution. Zephaniah was certainly occupying a spiritual watchtower overlooking the people, warning of spiritual dangers. He also encouraged the people to seek the hiding place, the refuge as the judgement of God drew nigh. It has been suggested that as Zephaniah ministered prior to Josiah’s reforms his message may well have been influential in bringing the King and the people to their knees in the great revival.
Zephaniah’s Place in the Scriptures
The Minor Prophets, or The Twelve as the Jews designated them, are divided into two sub-sections. The first nine prophesied before the fall of Babylon and are therefore pre-exilic. The final three (Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi) contain messages to the remnant who returned after the exile and are therefore post-exilic.
Zephaniah is the last of the Minor Prophets in the pre-exilic section. While he is the last in order he is not the last chronologically. Habakkuk ministered after Zephaniah because, as we noticed in a previous study, he served God after the fall of Nineveh. It is evident from Zephaniah that he preceded the fall of Nineveh because he prophesied of this event as if it were still future (2:13). Also the reign of Josiah preceded the fall of Nineveh. If Habakkuk was the last of the pre-exilic prophets, why was Zephaniah given the final place in terms of order? The answer is found in one of the leading features of this prophesy. This prophet, in an unprecedented fashion quotes extensively from the other prophets. He describes the people as a sacrifice offered by God himself (1:7) as Isaiah also did (34:6). The solemn arrival of the day of Lord as he descends to execute judgement (1:14-18 is reminiscent of similar passages in Joel 2:1-2 and Amos 5:18-20. Zephaniah’s prophecy is constructed in this way because his work condenses all the writing of the prophets who ministered before the fall of Jerusalem:
“This is the key to understanding Zephaniah: to see that his book is a summary of the prophets who have preceded him” (James M. Boice).
“There are many respects in which Zephaniah links his prophecy to those of the earlier prophets….by reproducing…the fundamental thoughts of judgement and salvation which are common to all the prophets, that his contemporaries may lay them to heart” (Carl Frederick Keil).
Outline of Zephaniah
1: The Impending Day of Judgement 1-2:3
This section is exceedingly solemn, is written with poetic language and is directed towards the people of Judah. It concludes with an exhortation to repent.
2: The Scope of God’s Judgement 2:4-3:8
The Prophets of Israel had a universalism in that they taught that all nations will be summonsed before God and there they will face their judgement. Zephaniah focuses primarily upon the Philistines (west), the Moabites (east), the Ethiopians (south) and the Ninevites (northeast). Not only Judah, but all the nations round about would meet with God and he would deal with them according to their sins. He was claiming that God was the supreme arbiter in the affairs of men. So it is today. God’s judgement comes in various forms. From economic deprivation to defeat in war he has his own method of meting out his wrath. Writing after World War 2 historian Herbert Butterfield said:
“There is a judgement embedded in the fabric of history”.
Ultimately judgement will fall upon the kingdoms of the world, for all their unrighteous deeds when Christ comes and establishes his Great White Throne.