(358) December 24: Zephaniah 1-3 & Revelation 15

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note what God teaches about the judgement to come.

To ponder:
Zephaniah speaks during the reign of Josiah, who sought to reform Judah after the corrupt reigns of the previous two kings (1v1, 2 Kgs 22-23). God’s opening words are that he will totally sweep men and animals from the earth – as will occur when Christ returns (1v2-3, 2 Pet 3v11-12). The following oracles seem to flow from this one, suggesting that although they probably refer initially to God’s destruction of the various nations by Babylon, this is to be seen as a precursor and paradigm for the final judgement (see 1v18, 3v8). Only then would the evil done in Zephaniah’s day get its full comeuppance, as will that done in ours.
             First, God declares he will cut off all aspects of idolatrous worship from Judah and Jerusalem, including the priests who worship the stars and turn from the LORD in neither seeking or enquiring of him (by the Urim and Thummim). God calls the people to be silent in the knowledge that the day of the LORD (of judgement) is near. It is likened to a sacrificial feast God has prepared, setting apart those he has invited to come, but who it seems might be the sacrifice itself! The LORD says on that day he will punish the king’s sons (not the king, as Josiah was upright), those who wear foreign clothes – perhaps for pagan ritual, and who superstitiously don’t step on the temple threshold – probably a sign they have adopted pagan practices. These are said to fill the temples of their gods with violence and deceit (1v4-9). 1v10 probably portrays the route an army would take in coming from the north through the fish gate into the new quarter and market district, where merchants gain wealth. But it is at the same time God who comes, searching out the city to punish the complacent who are like the immovable bits that ruin wine. They think God will do nothing, but will lose all they own – the money, property, and vineyards they have so worked for (1v11-13). It’s a reminder that only what we do for Christ will last. All material gain will go.
            This day is said to be coming quickly, and will bring a bitter cry, being a day of wrath, distress and ruin signified by clouds and darkness (as Rom 2v9). God states it will be a day of battle in which men will walk like the blind (staggering, or being led away as captives) because of their sin, with their blood and inners poured out, and wealth unable to save them. Yet this is just one aspect of the whole world being consumed by God’s burning jealousy – no doubt jealousy at the people giving the devotion due him to idols (1v14-18). In the light of all this, God calls Judah a shameful nation, but in grace calls the humble and obedient to gather before this day of wrath and seek righteousness, as they might then be shielded (2v1-3). Such repentance is the only hope in the light of the final day (as Rom 2v4-10). And it is this that separates the faithful from others amongst the visible people of God.
            Next we are told God’s word is also against the Philistines, who will be totally destroyed, and whose various states will be left in ruins. However the land will then be enjoyed as pasture by the remnant (sheep) from God’s judgement on Judah, with God caring for them through leaders (shepherds) and restoring their fortunes (as 3v19-20). 2v4-7 are therefore included as motivation for the Jews to repent (2v3). If they do, they will inherit this land – whether as the remnant returned from exile, or the people of God in the new creation.
            2v8-11 states how God heard how Moab and Ammon arrogantly taunt and threaten his people, and so will make them like Sodom and Gomorrah – a wasteland. But again, we read a surviving remnant from Judah will plunder them and inherit their land. More than that, although God will show his awesome might in destroying their gods, those (some) in all other lands will come to worship him, implying that they will turn from their idols. It is as we see nations fall that we realise the futility of trusting in anything other than God.
            From 2v10-3v5 Zephaniah is speaking of the LORD not as the LORD. He declares how the Cushites (Ethiopians) will also be slain, before telling how God will stretch out his hand in judgement, totally destroying Assyria and Nineveh its capital. As the prophets do elsewhere, Zephaniah describes how animals will live in Nineveh’s ruins, despite her currently living carefree and in safety, considering herself superior to all other cities. Passers by are said to scoff, no doubt at her prior arrogance now she is nothing – and shake their fists, probably in anger at what she did (2v12-15). It’s a picture of how all human greatness will be humbled when God calls all to account.
            Chapter 3 refers to Jerusalem. She is called a city of oppressors because of the injustice done by her rulers who act like wild animals, rebellious in accepting no correction (from true prophets), and defiled, in that this means she is unacceptable to God, with her prophets arrogant and priests profaning the sanctuary with their idolatry and doing violence to the law by twisting and breaking it. The city is therefore said to neither trust or draw near to God. By contrast, God is still present always doing right, dispensing justice throughout the world as the perfect king every day. This should lead the unrighteous to fear him as it should today, but instead they know no shame (3v1-5). And so God declares how in justice he has destroyed nations, saying to Jerusalem that it would surely fear him and accept correction so it isn’t punished in the same way. This is grace. Yet, rather than receive it, God says the people were actually eager to act corruptly in everything (3v6-7).
            In the light of this God tells Jerusalem to wait for him to assemble all nations, including Judah, to testify against them as judge, and pour out his jealous wrath so the whole world is consumed. What follows is a surprise however. God will do for the peoples what they couldn’t do for themselves. He will purify and unite them so they serve him shoulder to shoulder and worship him with offerings. This implies that the judgement will rid the world of the wicked, yet leave some from all nations who will honour the LORD. And so we are told those in Jerusalem will no longer suffer shame as God will remove the proud in judgement, and leave the meek and humble who trust him as a remnant who are without deceit or fear (3v8-13). The people (the daughter of Zion) are therefore called to rejoice that God has taken away their punishment and turned back their enemy – here perhaps sin, or the wicked in general – and because God is with them as their mighty King so they need never fear harm. Indeed, rather than coming against them in wrath he will delight in them now they are faithful, quiet them from fear with his loving commitment to them, and rejoice over them now being his (3v14-17). 3v18 is unclear, but in context probably refers to mourning by exiles because they couldn’t celebrate the feasts. God will remove this burden, deal with all who oppress, whether Jerusalemites (as 3v1) or those in the nations they are exiled to (as 3v15), rescue those who are weakened or crippled, gather those exiled from their different lands, and even give them honour from the peoples of those lands. The point is that their circumstances will be totally reversed, their shame and humiliation removed, and fortunes restored (3v19-20). No doubt we will see this in the new creation, as faithful Jews like Daniel, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, who were so opposed and oppressed, are honoured by Gentile believers for their faithfulness.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his readiness in grace to purify and save a people for himself. Pray that you would display true repentance.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Zephaniah, click here.

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