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This first part of our two-part study in the book of Zephaniah was given by pastor Barry Forder at Calvary Chapel Portsmouth on 13th March 2022.
Zephaniah was the great grandson of king Hezekiah. In the opening verse He traces his genealogy back through four generations, possibly to demonstrate his right to speak and his understanding of the corruptness of Judah’s kings. Following Hezekiah there had been over half a century of evil rule by Manasseh and Amon, but then, 8 year old Josiah came to the throne, surrounded by Godly influences – including his cousin, Zephaniah.
Zephaniah’s thunderous message of the coming wrath of God on account of Israel’s idolatry clearly had an impact on this young king, for in 2 Chronicles 34 we read: “in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about. And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.” (2 Chron 34:3-7).
The threefold theme of this book is
–1) The sin of Israel
–2) Judgment on Israel’s neighbours (Gentile nations)
- 6 specific nations are mentioned by name
–Philistines / Cherethites / Moabites / Ammonites / Ethiopians / Assyrians
–3) The restoration under Messiah
The key phrase is ‘the day of the Lord’, occurring twice (vs 1 & 14 of Ch1), but alluded to 12 times.
- Chapter 1:7 – the day of Jehovah
- Chapter 1:8 – the day of Jehovah’s sacrifice
- Chapter 1:9- the same day
- Chapter 1:10 – that day
- Chapter 1:14- the great day of Jehovah
- Chapter 1:15-16- a day of wrath, of trouble and distress
- Chapter 1:18- the day of Jehovah’s wrath
- Chapter 2:2 – the day of Jehovah’s anger
- Chapter 2:3 – the day of Jehovah’s anger
- Chapter 3:8 – the day that I rise up to the prey, says Jehovah
- Chapter 3:11- that day
- Chapter 3:16- that day
The prophecies in this book span history, speaking to the days in which Zephaniah lived of the coming judgment on Judah at the hand of the Babylonians; but it also speaks with uncomfortable clarity into our own times of the “day of the LORD” which is on our imminent horizon.
Arend Remmers said: “The whole book makes it clear that Zephaniah looks far ahead of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem on to that dreadful day of Jehovah, the day of His anger and judgment, upon which however will follow the blessing of the millennial reign of peace”.
Zephaniah’s name means “The Lord hides [His precious ones]”, and one of the greatest truths revealed in this book is that God not only gives people and nations time to repent before bringing judgment, but that when the judgment finally comes, He will provide for, protect and even remove His own prior to pouring out His wrath.
This should come as no surprise as we see ‘the Judge of all the earth’ doing right (Gen 18:25) and removing Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah before His judgment fell. David echoed this principle in Psalm 27 when he declared: “For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock”. (Psalm 27:5).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers of the coming ‘day of the LORD’, but stated that 1) we are not in darkness that this day would overtake us, and 2) that God has promised us a way of escaping the coming time of judgment, for we are not appointed to wrath, but rather are to ‘hidden in the day of the LORD’s great judgment’. (See 1 Thess 5:19). Jesus Himself confirmed that there would be a “way of escaping these things” in Luke 21:36.
200 years before Zephaniah, Isaiah records “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.”
It is clear from this verse that the ‘indignation’ Isaiah refers to is the coming ‘day of the LORD’. In agreement with Zephaniah 2:3, the promise is made that the meek of the earth will be hid during this time.
Many Christians are ignorant of the Rapture of the church, the very thing Paul said we should NOT be ignorant about!
The Rapture is the fulfilment of a number of specific prophecies. Firstly, it fulfils the promise of Jesus to come back and take us to a place He has prepared for us (See John 14:1-3). Second, it fulfils the need for the Holy Spirit indwelt Church to be removed in order that the “mystery of iniquity can be revealed” (2 Thess 2:6-8). Thirdly, it is the time when the Heavenly Bridegroom will come and claim His bride, with the blowing of the Shofar (Ram’s horn), taking her back to Heaven for the marriage supper where Jesus will drink from the fruit of the vine once more as He promised His disciples at the Last Supper. (See 1 Thess 4:15-18 / Matt 22:2 / Matt 26:29). Finally, it is the fulfilment of this promise (Zephaniah 2:3) that the humble (meek) among the repentant Gentile nations, who seek righteousness, will be hid BEFORE His wrath is poured out on this idolatrous and unbelieving world.
When God used the Babylonians in Zephaniah’s day to bring judgment on Judah, there was no one who could say they had not been warned. Both Israel and her gentile neighbours had been given ample warning by God’s prophets.
Just so today. God has given ample warning. We have seen pestilences, earthquakes, famines, wars and rumours of wars. These are just the beginning. It is going to get much worse. Today is the day of salvation.
24 times in this short book we find ‘I will…’ statements of God. God is not going to sit passively by while morality is abandoned in the pursuit of so-called pleasure, injustice is promoted as ‘freedom of choice’, and from the classroom’s to the media, God’s Word is ridiculed and silenced in the name of inclusivity and tolerance.
Just as Zephaniah saw coming on near horizon in his day, we are entering a time of darkness, famine, war and turmoil.
There is only one place of safety, it is in the LORD God Almighty, Jehovah, Yeshua.
May you be stirred by this prophet who wrote what he did to stir all who have ears to hear!