Zephaniah 1-2, The Character of the Condemned

Intro: Last week we introduced the person and prophecy of Zephaniah. We noticed that the message of this book centers on the “day of the Lord“. Zephaniah presents this day (similar to Joel) as a day of coming judgment and punishment on the rebellious and wicked people of the world. This coming judgment is announced as a universal judgment (v. 1:2-3), but Zephaniah quickly focuses on the coming punishment of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s people. (v. 1:4). These words were fulfilled in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. But there are lessons for us here as well.

  • When studying about or contemplating God’s day of judgment (the focus of Zephaniah’s prophecy), one of the most important and relevant questions to be asked is “who?”
  • Sometimes we are told when or how and certainly why God is coming in judgment. But the most personal question to be answered is who will be condemned, or lost, and who will be saved, or delivered. Zephaniah clearly answered that question for the nation of Judah. He vividly describes those whom Jehovah will punish in the “day of the Lord”. The characteristics that appear are all related to the sin of idolatry. This is the negative side of Zephaniah’s words. Look at the characteristics of Rebellion. Here we can learn what we are not to be.

I. “I will search Jerusalem with lamps…” (1:12) God’s ability to judge righteously is based upon His capability to know all things. There is nothing hidden from His eyes. Because of this He can judge correctly or justly. God tells His people that He will search Jerusalem “with lamps”. This is not to suggest that God needs help seeing, but rather that His examination is thorough – nothing escapes His inspection. What does He find? What person will meet God’s judgment? Are we in these verses?

A. Zeph 1:4-6 I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests — 5 Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; Those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, But who also swear by Milcom; 6 Those who have turned back from following the Lord, And have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him.”

1. Zephaniah describes the pagan idol worshipper whose religious practice had become commonplace in Judah.” worship the host of heaven on the housetops“. Promoted by the evil king Manasseh, these pagan priests were revered, even in Judah. But God would bring that to an end. They would be forgotten (cut off their names). Accomplished through the reform of Josiah and the discipline of the exile. God will put an end to false religion based in the teachings of men. Matt 15:13 – “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.

2. He also refers to those who attempt to worship both the idols of Baal and the true God. (“swear oaths to the Lord and also swear by Milcom – Molech – ruler – chief God of the Moabites). Those with a divided loyalty, who claimed to worship the true God, but were unwilling to forsake the false gods. God has always demanded an undivided heart and the choice between good and evil, right and wrong. “How can you say any faith is wrong” (Elijah asked , why do you limp between two sides?.. choose this day) Jesus often referenced this call to choose allegiance to God alone.

        • Matt 6:24No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
        • Luke 14:26 – If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

3. The third type of person mentioned in these verses are those who have “turned back from following the Lord“. They have given up on God and no longer reverence Him or look to His word to lead them (not inquired of Him). These were apostates, and again Jesus often warned against this danger. A planted seed would sprout and begin to grow, but rocks and the weeds could cause it to wither and die (Luke 8). Luke 9:62No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

B.    Zeph 1:8-9 – “And it shall be, In the day of the Lord’s sacrifice, That I will punish the princes and the king’s children, And all such as are clothed with foreign apparel. 9 In the same day I will punish All those who leap over the threshold, Who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.

1. “princes and the king’s children” – Zephaniah threatens even the members of the royal family. They are not exempt. In fact, they are held responsible for the conditions in Judah.

2. “clothed with foreign apparel” – the foreign pagan influence was easily detected in the chosen clothing of these wealthy princes. They chose to wear what was popular in Egypt or Assyria, or Babylon, reflecting their allegiance to their culture and gods. What is condemned here is not so much the choice of clothing itself, but rather the sensual heart that is led along by the influence of the world. There is no distinctive character or heart., evidenced by the lack of distinctive clothing. The teaching of the apostles on what we are to wear focuses on this connection as well. 1 Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. Consider what God wants, not the world.

3. “who leap over the thresholdthis description has a couple of explanations.

        • Some say it that leaping over the threshold represents the practice of intruding into another’s home (horses) and robbing them (filling their masters houses with violence). Hailey says it is plausible that the phrase became “a common term for violent burglary and thievery.”
        •  Others contend that it refers to the pagan superstitious custom of the priests to not step on the threshold of their temples ( developed among the Philistines as recorded in 1 Sam 5:4-5, when the image of Dagon fell on the threshold and was broken in pieces). This connection is fascinating. The threshold was considered among the pagans to be the resting place of evil spirits. (carry your new bride across it, rather than have her step on it.; not stepping on the foul line – threshold – as you come onto the baseball field)
        •  Superstitions are based on idolatry. We tend to think of superstitions as harmless practices or beliefs that can exist alongside our faith in God. But superstitions are false beliefs that mitigate against our trust and faith in God. They are an attempt to manipulate reality through what we do rather than placing our trust if God. (Do you cross your fingers or pray?; Are we just lucky or blessed?; Do you feel more secure when you “knock on wood“? Do you view “nature” as a personal entity (Mother Nature)that causes things to happen or must be appeased?) These may appear as innocent, but our perception of the true God is not a small matter
        • Religious superstitions may be even more insidious. Some people believe that making the sign of a cross with their hands secures God’s blessing. Will God bless you if you eat crackers and drink grape juice every Sunday? Says something about our trust in God.

C. Zeph 1:12“And it shall come to pass at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And punish the men Who are settled in complacency, Who say in their heart, ‘The Lord will not do good, Nor will He do evil.’ the last character trait I want to mention contains two descriptive phrases:

1. “men who are settled in complacency” – The KJV and ASV use the phrase “settled on their lees“. This phrase is a metaphor from the winemaking. The “lees” was the waste that accumulated on the bottom of the wine vat, and unless the wine was stirred or removed the lees would cause the wine to grow bitter. Thus to be settled on the lees was to be undisturbed in that which was contaminating or harmful. It denotes a continuing indifference to moral evil, unaffected by God’s law.

a. God will punish those who grow indifferent to the evil around them, either through practice or complacency. We must always be opposing evil. Eph 5:11And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. Jesus commanded the opposite of complacency toward sin, especially my own sin. Mark 9:43If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched —

            • “The great causes of God and humanity are not defeated by the hot assaults of the devil, but by the slow, crushing, glacier-like mass of thousands and thousands of indifferent nobodies. God’s causes are never destroyed by being blown up, but by being sat upon.” George Adam Smith

2. Who say in their heart, ‘The Lord will not do good, Nor will He do evil.’ Zephaniah’s words here intrigue me. I believe this describes many people that I know. They are not intellectual atheists. But they do not see God as being at work in their own lives. God will do no good and no evil.

        • Barnes says… “These think not that God does good, for they ascribe their success to their own diligence, wisdom, strength, and thank not God for it. They think not that He sends them evil. For they defy Him and His laws, and think that they shall go unpunished. What remains but that He should be as dumb an idol as those of the pagan?” (from Barnes’ Notes)
        • They conclude that The Lord will not do good to those that serve him, nor do evil to those that rebel against him; and therefore there is nothing got by religion, nor lost by sin. All things will continue as they are now.
        • Just as Zephaniah, The apostle Peter also spoke of a coming “day of the Lord”. He also identified this rebellious character of those who will be condemned in that day. 2 Peter 3:3-4knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” They assume that God is passive because things remain unchanged. Because God has not stirred the wine, it sits on its lees and becomes more corrupt and insensitive to what lies ahead. But their failure to respond is a willful lapse of memory. 2 Peter 3:5-12 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?

Conclusion: Knowing who will be punished is vital. We may be able to see ourselves in these words. Are you ready for the day of the Lord?