An Introduction to Zephaniah: The Day of the Lord

Intro: If I claimed to be a prophet, what would you expect me to know? I suppose you would expect me to know what was coming. The prophet Zephaniah speaks often about what was coming for the nation of Judah. Zeph 1:14 – The great day of the Lord is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The message of Zephaniah concerns the coming of the “day of the Lord“. As we study his prophecy we will come to see that this day was and is a day of judgment against sin. It is a day that will come and Zephaniah helps us to appreciate its purpose and power. This morning we begin with an introduction and overview of the man, Zephaniah and his book.

I. Zephaniah, the Prophet. We know nothing at all of the personal life of Zephaniah except that which is contained in his own writing.

A. Zephaniah 1:1 The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah..” . the prophet introduces his message by giving his personal linage to the fourth generation. Zephaniah was great-great grandson of Hezekiah, king of Judah. Unlike some other prophets, he is from royal lineage, and this may be why he chooses to tell us this. Coming from Hezekiah’s family may have given Zephaniah more credibility, and may have associated him with the reform efforts of Josiah, Hezekiah’s grandson, who ruled Judah during Zephaniah’s ministry.

1. His reference to Jerusalem as “this place” in 1:4, suggests that it was his hometown, but nothing is known of his occupation.

2. The name “Zephaniah” has been variously defines, but seems to mean “Jehovah hides”, or “Jehovah has hidden”. Although the Bible does not indicate any significance to his name, some suggest that he may have been born during the “dark” years of Manasseh’s reign over Judah, when God had hidden His face from His people. His name certainly stood in ironic contrast to the full revelation of God’s coming judgment against Judah fond in his words; In this book, very little of what is to come is hidden by God.

B. Date: It is not difficult to historically place Zephaniah. 1:1 in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. Josiah began rulong over Judah when he was eight years old about 640 B.C. He was killed at Megiddo by Necho, Pharaoh of Egypt about 610 B.C. The conditions which the prophet describes in Judah seem to indicate the prophecy came before Josiah began a number of religious and spiritual reforms in the eighteenth year of his reign. In Chapter 2:13-15 Zephaniah foretells the fall of the great Assyrian capital of Ninevah, which took in 612 B.C. Therefore Zephaniah’s work falls before 612 and after the beginning of Josiah’s reign in 640. Many place his work around 625-635 B.C. Zephaniah and Jeremiah may have begun their work in the same year.

II. Background to His Prophecy: What conditions prompted Zephaniah’s message? A few observations to consider:

A. The spiritual Impact of unrighteous leaders: Judah had been polluted through the heinous sin of Manasseh (Hezekiah’s son). It is doubtful there was any king more wicked than Manasseh. For 55 years he attempted to undo all the good that Hezekiah accomplished for God’s people: 2 Kings 21:3-6 For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; he raised up altars for Baal, and made a wooden image, as Ahab king of Israel had done; and he worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. 4 He also built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put My name.” 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. 6 Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. A God of holiness could not ignore this degeneracy.

1. 2 Kings 21:9-13 -… Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel. 10 And the Lord spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations (he has acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols), 12 therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. Who can measure the damage done by leaders (among God’s church) who practice sin, and encourage others to sin?

2. Too little; Too Late: Manessah’s grandson was Josiah, who is mentioned in the opening words of Zephaniah. When he came to the throne he brought spiritual reform to Judah by tearing down the places of idol worship and restoring the true worship of Jehovah. But was this enough to turn things around? A hundred years had passed since the northern kingdom of Israel had been swept away by the powerful Assyrians, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos. Although the southern kingdom of Judah had seen some serious reform under Hezekiah and Josiah, the nation failed to faithfully keep the covenant law of God, and their time was running out. It was too little, too late for the nation itself. Zeph 1:4-6 – I will stretch out My hand against Judah, And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 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.”

a. “She has not received correction” – Zephaniah brings a scathing rebuke against Jerusalem and the ungodly leaders (princes, priests, judges, false prophets) who have left a legacy of unrighteousness that God can no longer endure. Zeph 3:1-5 – Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted, To the oppressing city! 2 She has not obeyed His voice, She has not received correction; She has not trusted in the Lord, She has not drawn near to her God. 3 Her princes in her midst are roaring lions; Her judges are evening wolves That leave not a bone till morning. 4 Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people; Her priests have polluted the sanctuary, They have done violence to the law. 5 The Lord is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Zephaniah continues making God’s point in v. 6-7 I have wiped out many nations, devastating their fortress walls and towers. Their streets are now deserted; their cities lie in silent ruin. There are no survivors— none at all.7 I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for me now! Surely they will listen to my warnings. Then I won’t need to strike again, destroying their homes.’ But no, they get up early to continue their evil deeds. (New Living Translation) Judah should have learned from the fall of its sister nation, Israel. Jerusalem was not paying attention, not willing to receive the correction of the prophets. God’s judgment does not come before His compassion and correction. But if we do not pay attention to His words, judgment will prevail.

III. The Day of the Lord: The center of Zephaniah’s prophecy is the coming “great day of the Lord“. He is not the first prophet to mention such a day.

  • Amos – Amos 5:18-20Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion, And a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, Leaned his hand on the wall, And a serpent bit him! 20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?
  • Isaiah – Isa 13:9-11 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine. 11 “I will punish the world for its evil, And the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
  • Jeremiah – Jer 46:10 – For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, A day of vengeance, That He may avenge Himself on His adversaries.
  • Joel – Joel 2:1-2 Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the Lord is coming, For it is at hand: 2 A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains...v. 11-For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?
  • Notice that other prophets described it as a day of darkness and inescapable punishment for sin. Barnes makes the point that God allows man to chose his own way, and thus there are the days of men, characterized by sin. But eventually God judges their conduct and sin in HIS day – the day of the Lord.

A. How does Zephaniah describe this day?

    • 1:14 – It is imminent: Zephaniah tells Judah that the day of the Lord is near. Their time was up.
    • 1:15 It is a day of trouble and distress: The prophet’s description points to a time when one is hemmed in by God’s anger (wrath) against their sin. There is no worse day for the unredeemed sinner than the day of the Lord. No one can postpone or avoid that day.
    • 1:17 – It is a day of justice: “because they have sinned against God” – Those who suffer the impact of this day are getting what they deserve. There is purpose and full disclosure in God’s judgment against sin. He does not and will not leave us ignorant of WHY we are experiencing these things. This is connecterd with the full appreciation of His identity and His holiness: Rev 1:7Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.
    • 1:18It is inescapable – Their silver and gold cannot help them in that day. They cannot escape what is happening to him. They are like blind men, unable to help themselves (v. 17)

Conclusion: Please note that in these words Zephaniah is speaking directly to Judah about the coming destruction of their nation and city by the Babylonians beginning in 606 B.C., culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. But both the terminology and character of that day is applicable to a day of the Lord that is yet to come for us.

  •  When Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church he assumed they knew about the day of the Lord. It was just as Zephaniah had described earlier (inescapable day of trouble). But for those in Christ (sons of day, not darkness) it was not a day to be feared. 1 Thess 5:1-6 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.
  • When Peter spoke about that day he pointed out the implication that all were to see: 2 Peter 3:10 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. 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? How close is the day of the Lord? Although we cannot know the time when Jesus will return, the writer of Hebrews tells us …”it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”. It is as close as death.