From the Editor’s Notebook
Outline Studies of the Minor Prophets
Zephaniah: The Book of God’s Severity and Goodness
Key Word: Jealousy.
Message: “I, the Lord thy God, am a Jealous God” (Robert Lee).1
Key Verses: 2:4 — “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy: for He shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.” 3:8 — “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour out them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.” 3:17 —“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.”
At least a little more is known of Zephaniah than of many of the other Old Testament prophets (1:1). He was undoubtedly the great-great-grandson of the good and godly Hezekiah, king of Judah, thus making him a prince of that royal house. He exercised his prophetic ministry during the reign of Josiah (640-608 B.C.), and it is quite probable that his words were instrumental in bringing about the revival which took place in the eighteenth year of that king’s rule (2 Kings 22:23; 2 Chron. 34-35). However, with the impending captivity of Judah, this particular spiritual movement proved superficial. It is estimated that Zephaniah ministered between Nahum and Jeremiah, probably having been contemporary with both. It is evident that he had access to the royal court and had a very definite influence on Josiah’s policies.
Zephaniah’s name means “he whom Jehovah hides” or “Jehovah is hidden.” Perhaps he had his name in mind when he wrote the words of 2:3, saying, “Seek the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, who have kept His ordinances; seek righteousness. seek meekness; it may be ye shall be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”
Of the book itself, W. Graham Scroggie has said: “This Prophecy reflects the dark days which followed the reigns of Manasseh and Anion. It follows the main prophetic line, denouncing sin, pronouncing judgment, and announcing restoration. These predictions refer not only to the Chosen People, but also to the nations, as in ISAIAH and EZEKIEL. The whole earth is the theatre where the Divine Judge displays the grandeur of His law and the glory of His love.
“The dominating note of this Book is ‘The Day of the Lord,’ an expression which, in all the Prophetic Writings, points to a time of judgment.”2
Zephaniah’s prophecies were primarily pronouncements of wrath to come, and within the short scope of his book he mentions “the day of the Lord” some 20 times. He saw in the ravages of the Scythian hordes, pouring down upon the neighboring nations, a harbinger of the deserved judgment of Judah because of her sins, and which judgment the nation would receive in full in “the day of the Lord.” Like Jeremiah, Zephaniah’s clear prophetic vision included other nations besides Judah. Insofar as striking the keynote of “the day of the Lord” is concerned, he stands right alongside the prophet Joel.
1. The Judgment of Judah and Jerusalem (1)
2. The Judgment of the Nations (2:1-3:8)
3. The Joys of the Coming Kingdom (3:9-20)
Though its descriptions are vivid, from a literary point of view Zephaniah is considerably inferior, for instance, to Nahum.
In addition to the well-known Old Testament expression, “the day of the Lord,” another striking phrase used by Zephaniah is “in the midst” (2:14; 3:5, 11, 12, 15, 17). However, the key word is “jealousy,” though its meaning here is not to be taken in its generally understood meaning. There is that jealousy which is always suspicious of faithfulness, and continually on the lookout for evidence of the sane, but there is another kind of jealousy which is the outcome of God’s jealousy. As Robert Lee says of God: “He so loves His people that He cannot bear a rival, and must have their wholehearted devotion; and He will do everything He can to secure this, even going to the length of awful judgments, as here.”3
While Zephaniah begins in an atmosphere of gloom, he ends in an atmosphere of gladness. From 1:1-3:8 there is nothing but sighing, yet God’s faithful prophet ends his message with singing, this last section (3:9-20) containing “the sweetest love song in the Old Testament.”4
In this book it is interesting to see how God asserts His sovereignty both in terms of judgment (1:2-4) and in terms of mercy (3:18-20), the emphasis in both these passages being on the divine assertion, “I will.”
Joel, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, and other prophets in addition to Zephaniah make mention of “the day of the Lord.” It is toward this period in God’s prophetic program that world events are moving swiftly today. This same theme is picked up and stressed in the New Testament in 2 Thessalonians 2.
Two contrasted passages in Zephaniah are worthy of special note — namely, 1:14-18, describing judgment, and 3:14-17, describing blessing.
Zephaniah has been called, “The Compendiuni of All Prophecy.” Though addressed to Judah and Jerusalem, the book may be thought of as a survey of God’s universal government.
A key verse in Zephaniah, as pointed out at the beginning of this study, is 3:17. It bears a glorious message which may be outlined as follows:
1. GOD’S PRESENCE — “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.”
2. GOD’S POWER — “He will save.”
3. GOD’S PLEASURE — “He will rejoice over thee with joy.”
4. GOD’S PROVISION — “He will rest in His love.”
5. GOD’S PROCLAMATION —”He will joy over thee with singing.”
In Zephaniah the LORD JESUS CHRIST is revealed as our JEALOUS LORD.
1 Robert Lee, The Outlined Bible.
2 W. Graham Scroggie, Know Your Bible, I, p.p. 184-85.
3 Lee, op, cit.