Gospel Wednesday | A look at Law and Gospel in Zephaniah

GWI apologize for getting this post published a day late. Today we’ll be looking at one of the minor prophets, Zephaniah. Since the book is a short book, I thought it would be great for us to read through the whole book together. I’m going to assume that most of you have never read through Zephaniah, much less with your mind on birth of Jesus Christ. If your church follows a 3 year lectionary, you’ll probably be reading through the end of the book soon. Let’s work through this book of prophecy with Advent in mind. As with our look at Jeremiah last week, there is going to be an immediate context for this book of prophecy regarding the coming Babylonian exile and return to Jerusalem, which is itself a foreshadowing of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is the power of Salvation from our own sin and the Wrath of God.

Zephaniah 1-3 (ESV)

The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.

An interesting introduction to who the author of this book of prophecy was. Zephaniah traces his lineage to King Hezekiah who ruled over Judah during the attack of the Assyrians under Sennacherib (2 Kings 18-20). Hezekiah ruled while Isaiah was the Prophet of the LORD. We are now 4 generations after Hezekiah and Isaiah. Notice also the phrase in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, which we saw last week in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 1:1-3 (ESV)

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

Now, Jeremiah spans several rulers into the captivity of Jerusalem, but Zephaniah’s prophecy coincides with the earlier prophecies of Jeremiah. We’ll see some similarity between Zephaniah’s prophecy and Jeremiah’s prophecy of coming judgement against Judah. The northern Kingdom of Israel has been scattered by Assyria and Judah’s exile is coming. Now that we have our historic context, let us continue reading through Zephaniah.

Zephaniah 1:2-6 (ESV) | The Coming Judgment on Judah

“I will utterly sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds of the heavens
    and the fish of the sea,
and the rubble with the wicked.
    I will cut off mankind
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
    and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal
    and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,
those who bow down on the roofs
    to the host of the heavens,
those who bow down and swear to the Lord
    and yet swear by Milcom,
those who have turned back from following the Lord,
    who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.”

The declaration of coming judgement is reminiscent of God’s anger with creation in the time of Noah. We know that God made a covenant with Noah that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood, but a full destruction is coming, the wicked will be judged. v2-3 points to the final judgement, while the details of 4-6 are a bit more specific to the sins of Judah (though as we see in Romans 1, these sins ARE the sin of all mankind).

Zephaniah 1:7-18 (ESV) | The Day of the Lord Is Near

Be silent before the Lord God!
    For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
    and consecrated his guests.
And on the day of the Lord‘s sacrifice—
“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
    and all who array themselves in foreign attire.
On that day I will punish
    everyone who leaps over the threshold,
and those who fill their master’s house
    with violence and fraud.

10 “On that day,” declares the Lord,
    “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,
    a loud crash from the hills.
11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar!
    For all the traders are no more;
    all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.”

14 The great day of the Lord is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
    the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16     a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,
    so that they shall walk like the blind,
    because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
    and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
    shall be able to deliver them
    on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
    all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
    he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Again, the day of the LORD had an immediate fulfillment in the fall of Jerusalem, but it also points ahead to the return of the LORD Jesus Christ, the final day of Judgement on mankind. Notice what is in the hearts of the idolaters toward the end of v12, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ They have no faith in the LORD God to do anything. In their worship of false gods and man-made idols, they’ve forgotten that the One True God is a Living God with a strong and mighty hand. We live in a time now that is aptly described as “post-modern”, but it is also rightly described as “post-Christian”. The world used to give mental ascent to the idea of Christian morality, but those days are past… we are predominantly a secular, humanist people willfully bowing to false gods while boasting in the LORD Gods apparent inaction. May God have Mercy on us. 

Zephaniah 2 (ESV) | Judgment on Judah’s Enemies

Gather together, yes, gather,
    O shameless nation,
before the decree takes effect
    —before the day passes away like chaff—
before there comes upon you
    the burning anger of the Lord,
before there comes upon you
    the day of the anger of the Lord.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the Lord.
For Gaza shall be deserted,
    and Ashkelon shall become a desolation;
Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon,
    and Ekron shall be uprooted.

Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast,
    you nation of the Cherethites!
The word of the Lord is against you,
    O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
    and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.
And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures,
    with meadows for shepherds
    and folds for flocks.
The seacoast shall become the possession
    of the remnant of the house of Judah,
    on which they shall graze,
and in the houses of Ashkelon
    they shall lie down at evening.
For the Lord their God will be mindful of them
    and restore their fortunes.

“I have heard the taunts of Moab
    and the revilings of the Ammonites,
how they have taunted my people
    and made boasts against their territory.
Therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord of hosts,
    the God of Israel,
“Moab shall become like Sodom,
    and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,
a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,
    and a waste forever.
The remnant of my people shall plunder them,
    and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.”
10 This shall be their lot in return for their pride,
    because they taunted and boasted
    against the people of the Lord of hosts.
11 The Lord will be awesome against them;
    for he will famish all the gods of the earth,
and to him shall bow down,
    each in its place,
    all the lands of the nations.

12 You also, O Cushites,
    shall be slain by my sword.

13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north
    and destroy Assyria,
and he will make Nineveh a desolation,
    a dry waste like the desert.
14 Herds shall lie down in her midst,
    all kinds of beasts;
even the owl and the hedgehog
    shall lodge in her capitals;
a voice shall hoot in the window;
    devastation will be on the threshold;
    for her cedar work will be laid bare.
15 This is the exultant city
    that lived securely,
that said in her heart,
    “I am, and there is no one else.”
What a desolation she has become,
    a lair for wild beasts!
Everyone who passes by her
    hisses and shakes his fist.

Notice that God isn’t just proclaiming judgement on His rebellious people. He will judge the unbelieving nations as well, even the agents of destruction used by God to punish Judah… they, too, will be judged. God is Sovereign over His creation. But this is not connected with any kind of comfort to Judah. There is a promise of a remnant of Israel being preserved… but this is not glad tidings at this point. Notice the list of Woe to the nations, and we get a Woe to the rebellious and defiled here at the start of the next chapter. Remember when Jesus proclaimed His list of woes in Matthew 11 and again in Matthew 23?

Zephaniah 3:1-8 (ESV) | Judgment on Jerusalem and the Nations

Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled,
    the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice;
    she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord;
    she does not draw near to her God.

Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men;
her priests profane what is holy;
    they do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous;
    he does no injustice;
every morning he shows forth his justice;
    each dawn he does not fail;
    but the unjust knows no shame.

“I have cut off nations;
    their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
    so that no one walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
    without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely you will fear me;
    you will accept correction.
Then your dwelling would not be cut off
    according to all that I have appointed against you.’
But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord,
    “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
    all the earth shall be consumed.

Note the charges against Jerusalem. Are they not the charges Jesus levied against the chief priests and elders of Jerusalem? That they do violence to the Law in preaching the commandments of men, the traditions of the elders? Notice that it is Jerusalem who will not listen, who will not submit, and will not accept correction. She is faithless and unbelieving.

Zephaniah 3:9-13 (ESV) | The Conversion of the Nations

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.
10 From beyond the rivers of Cush
    my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,
    shall bring my offering.

11 “On that day you shall not be put to shame
    because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;
for then I will remove from your midst
    your proudly exultant ones,
and you shall no longer be haughty
    in my holy mountain.
12 But I will leave in your midst
    a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord,
13     those who are left in Israel;
they shall do no injustice
    and speak no lies,
nor shall there be found in their mouth
    a deceitful tongue.
For they shall graze and lie down,
    and none shall make them afraid.”

And now the Gospel: God will save, He will grant mercy, He will give His remnant saving faith… even from among the nations. The Gentiles will be saved. This is wonderful news for us. This next portion might be included in your Advent readings/lectionary.

Zephaniah 3:14-20 (ESV) | Israel’s Joy and Restoration

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
    so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
    at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Amen. As surely as Israel was restored from their Babylonian Exile, so will those who are of the Household of Faith in the LORD Jesus Christ be restored in the New Heaven and the New Earth after Jesus Christ has returned to judge the nations, indeed all of creation.

The LORD Our God is in our midst, by Faith in His Promise.

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

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