Monday, July 8, 2013
AN OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK OF ZEPHANIAH
The book of Zephaniah opens introducing the prophet as the great great grandson of King Hezekiah. This means that he is the distant cousin of King Josiah, the king reigning over Judah at the time of this prophecy. This book follows the same pattern of many prophetic writings which first pronounce judgment on Israel, then judgment on Israel's enemies and then God's blessing poured out on Israel. This follows the same pattern that will play out when the anti-Christ takes power. First Israel will come under great persecution and judgment, then Christ will return and pour judgment out on the enemies of Israel and then He will set up a kingdom on earth centered in Jerusalem where Israel will be blessed and served by all nations.
Judah had become very sinful in the years after the death of King Hezekiah. Certainly Zephaniah grew up hearing of all the reforms Hezekiah brought to Judah and how Hezekiah brought the people back to the LORD. Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, led Judah into more sin than any other king before him. Even though Manasseh repented at the end of his reign, it was too little too late as the hearts of the people were bent on sin and idolatry. Manasseh's son Amon followed in his father's footsteps and sinned in the sight of the LORD. Amon only reigned 2 years when he died and Josiah became king at the age of 8. It was under Josiah's reforms that Judah turned back to the LORD and postponed His wrath. God was furious with the people of Judah because they had turned so strongly to pagan practices that the judgment was sealed. Due to Josiah's dedication to God and undoubtedly, the effects of the prophecies Zephaniah, the people turned their hearts back to God, if only temporarily, and enjoyed a brief time of peace before being dominated and overthrown by Babylon.
The judgments in the first chapter Zephaniah deal specifically with idolatrous behavior. The prophets of Baal are addressed as is the god Milcom and various pagan practices. It seems that as a culture, the Jews were still holding on to a form of worship for God, yet mixing in all the evil practices of the nations around them. This is reminiscent of the modern church in America. We know all the right things to say at our religious gatherings and on our religious holidays but the rest of the time we are indistinguishable from the world around us. The first chapter of Zepheniah clearly shows what God thinks of such behavior. God pronounces terrible judgment on Judah and that judgment does not just affect God's people but the whole world would be negatively impacted.
This worldwide impact draws a great parallel to the events described in Revelation concerning the time of the great tribulation. This time is referred to as the time of Jacob's trouble by the prophet Jeremiah. During this time, Israel will be punished for rejecting God as a nation. For 7 years, Israel and the whole world along with it, will suffer the wrath of God poured out on the earth. The book of Zephaniah was written as a dual prophecy, one concerning immanent events and one concerning the times of the end.
As we look at the second chapter of Zephaniah, we see that at some point, God turns His attention and wrath on the enemies of Judah. Specific nations are named as being marked for destruction. These nations are the very nations that came against Judah during God's chastisement. This shows that even though God is willing to allow His people to suffer for a period of time in order to bring them back to Himself, He is not willing to allow those who harm them to go unpunished. God's judgment on Judah is not to destroy them form the face of the earth, but to teach them that He demands that they be holy and committed to Him. God made too many promises concerning Israel to allow them to be wiped from the earth. Even though there was about 1878 years that the nation of Israel did not even exist, God reestablished the nation in 1948, specifically because of promises made to Abraham and David.
This portion of Zephaniah's prophhecy also testifies to the end time events, namely, the battle of Armageddon. At this time, all the enemies of Israel will be gathered together in order to destroy Israel from the earth once and for all. Jesus will return and annihilate the armies of the enemies of Israel. These enemies will be completely destroyed and not one who is opposed to God or Israel will be permitted to live or enter into the new kingdom ruled by the LORD Himself. Revelation 19 describes this incredible event as Christ comes down from heaven to rescue His beloved Israel. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes how those who enter the kingdom will be chosen. Not one who is unworthy will enter.
The final chapter of the prophecy of Zephaniah shows God's heart and intention toward His nation. God not only promises to rescue Judah from their enemies but to bless them abundantly as a nation. We see in this passage that God will not only pour out His blessing on Judah when the time of chastisement is over, but other nations will bless and honor Judah as well. Zephaniah declares that there will be great rejoicing in Judah because of God's deliverance and blessing!
The duality of the prophecy points directly to the time when Christ will reign from Jerusalem. At that time, all the nations of the earth will come and pay tribute to Christ and His people Israel. Israel will receive all the land promised to Abraham by God, David will reign alongside king Jesus and rule over the people as God had promised that David's throne would be everlasting. The nation of Israel will be at peace and rest for 1000 years of joy and prosperity. God's faithfulness to His people will be proven and all those that hope in Him will be vindicated.
The overall message of this prophecy is that God demands holiness and purity from those who are called by His name. When His people fail to live up to their calling, He will discipline them. Though God is not adverse to causing His people anguish to correct bad behavior, He will not allow others to bring harm to His people. Those who attack God's people will be destroyed. And finally, God will remain true to His word and bless his people and establish Israel as His kingdom to be served by all other nations on the earth.