Friday, August 2. Zephaniah 1 – 3

With the assassination of Amon and the coronation of Josiah, the people of Judah thought they might continue in their old ways. After all, his grandfather was enthroned as a boy and, at least until a few years before his death, Manasseh had led God’s people in the paganism they enjoyed so much. If they were hoping for a repeat with Josiah however, they were to be disappointed. Josiah did his best to turn the nation around.

It was, however, too little too late. God promised: “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose” (2 Kings 23:27).

Zephaniah insists God has had enough. Note God’s vocabulary:
I will sweep away
I will stretch out my hand
I will cut off
The day of the Lord is near
Be silent
Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.

But God does not plan on being angry for ever. His discipline is intended to “purify the lips” of His peoples that “all of them may be able to call on the name of the Lord and serve Him shoulder to shoulder.”

God’s care for His people never disappears except in the minds of those being punished. They wonder why God is treating them as He is, blind as they are to their own sin. But God expects them to open their eyes. Which leads us to the second lesson from chapter three: No child of God has a chance of serving God alone. The task is too difficult. But in a community of the faithful, each person can draw on the strength, wisdom and direction of those about him and walk in the way of God. It’s always easier to go along with the crowd, and there’s nothing wrong with that (God seems to intend it), provided the crowd is going in the right direction. The Church is to be that supporting community. To do so, there must be unity, and there must be dedication as the community to living the life of holiness.

When God’s people act in this way, God will comfort His people as a parent comforts a child whose punishment has brought penitence (note the image of God singing to his child in 3:17).

Wednesday, August 1. Zephaniah 1 – 3

    Chapter one of Zephaniah takes us a few steps closer to the destruction of God’s people, Judah, to the days of king Josiah.  Josiah will attempt a spiritual reform among God’s people, but it is too little too late.  The “day of the Lord” is a repeated theme as Zephaniah begins.  Judgment is coming.

    Judgment is not coming, however, just for Judah, but for all those nations surrounding her who for far too long tempted her with ways not of the Lord, and oppressed Judah repeatedly.    Zephaniah has four parts:

1)    The coming punishment of the people of God (1:1-2:3).

2)    The coming punishment of other nations (2:4-15).

3)    The coming punishment of the people of God (3:1-8)

4)    The restoration of the remnant of God’s people (3:9-20).

    Note that both the people of God and other nations stand condemned for precisely the same sins.  God does not have two standards of expected behavior. The world may not acknowledge God, but God expects them none-the-less to follow His rules. 

Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, October 4. Zephaniah 1-3

    Do you have a relative who is a “thorn in your side”?  King Josiah did.  The relative’s name was Zephaniah.  He is the only prophet (except perhaps for Daniel) of royal blood – the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah.

    Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh, the worst king in Judah’s history.  His corrupt monarchy led Judah into evil worse than any of the nations around her, in her own day or before. So evil was he that the writer of Kings blames him for Judah’s misfortunes and ultimate Babylonian exile (2 Kings 23:26).

    Josiah, however, was not evil.  At age 26, he began a series of reforms in Judah to lead the people back to God.  It was a valiant effort, but, in God’s eyes (and the eyes of Josiah’s cousin Zephaniah) it was too little too late.  Judah was too far gone.

    It must have been a source of great consternation to Josiah that, though he wanted his people to change their ways, his own royal house and the house of the priests was so corrupt his efforts were like putting out a forest fire with a garden hose.  It must have been further discouraging to hear the negative message preached by Zephaniah.

    By Zephaniah’s day, the Northern Kingdom was no more.  Judah’s sins were so many that the anger of God overflowed.  It’s almost as if God was on a rampage, his anger spilling out (though deservedly so) on other nations.  Notice the determination of God: “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth . . .” (1:2).  “I will bring distress on the people . . . their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth” (1:17).  “In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth . . .” (1:18). “The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger” (3:8).

    What were the sins?

    Idolatry (1:4), ignoring God (1:6), becoming too much like the world around them in their dress and lifestyle (1:8-9), focusing on material wealth and a willingness to mistreat others to get it (1:11-13,18), a belief that God simply didn’t care how they acted (1:12), and a ruinous prideful unwillingness to yield to God (3:1-4).

    You begin to see how angry God is when you note that He repeatedly says he is going to destroy the earth and everything and everyone, and yet, He speaks of a “remnant” who will be left.  It is a classic overstatement – and that’s how the book is to be read. Overstatement or not, however, a genuine day of reckoning is coming and it will be ruinous for the guilty.

    Zephaniah has four parts:

1)    The coming punishment of the people of God (1:1-2:3).

2)    The coming punishment of other nations (2:4-15).

3)    The coming punishment of the people of God (3:1-8)

4)    The restoration of the remnant of God’s people (3:9-20).

    Two points must not be overlooked: First, note that both the people of God and other nations stand condemned for precisely the same sins.  God does not have two standards of expected behavior. The world may not acknowledge God, but God expects them none-the-less to follow His rules.  Second, though God is supremely angry in Zephaniah, He still loves his people.  When the punishment is over, God will take great delight in the righteous who are left, and he will quiet them with His love and rejoice over them with singing (3:17) – the image of a parent reaffirming love for a disciplined child.