WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2
SCRIPTURE: Zephaniah overview
Author: Jeremy Witt
Zephaniah, another of the minor prophets or shorter prophetic books, lived in the latter decades of Judah. He served primarily under King Josiah’s reign (640-621 BC) while the king was making his reforms in Judah. His primary focus was to wake up the people of Judah out of spiritual complacency. Can you imagine living in a country where people who had once been faithful to God had become calloused and lazy towards God?
King Josiah set up reforms to remove idols and temples from the land seeking to bring the nation back to God. We really need to understand the setting here. Israel had a leader who was a man of faith who sought to honor God. He did things to remove idolatry from the land. He made the people read the Law again. He prioritized the worship of the LORD God and did just about all a leader could do. For a short time, it appeared that things had changed. See below for passages on the reign of King Josiah. Lasting change did not take place once Josiah died.
However, despite having a faithful king who destroyed the idols and temples of gods, it was not enough. The hearts of the people were too far into sin, selfishness, and living for themselves that things did not change. You might be asking yourself, “what is your point, Jeremy?” Here it is. Despite having a Godly leader, the nation did not turn back to God. A leader cannot turn people’s hearts to God by themselves regardless of the things that the king did. The key is that a person has to be willing to repent and turn back to God or to God for the first time. Despite the leader’s best efforts, things did not change for the nation of Israel. The implications for our country are similar. Heart change must be on an individual basis. We cannot trust in a leader to bring about the change, but it must be a work of the LORD in each person’s lives. Our trust cannot be in a human being, but only in the LORD God. I see too many trusting in a person to bring about change rather than in the One who brings eternal change.
Let’s get back to our prophet. Zephaniah was not merely a prophet, but he was also of royal descent (Hezekiah). This would have given Zephaniah access to be around the young King Josiah. He may have been helping the king to reform the land. As a prophet of God, Zephaniah was bound to speak God’s word despite his bloodline or access to the king. This is what Zephaniah did do.
The culture of the people was heading downward fast. They were worshipping the gods of Canaan, Assyria (who had taken Israel in the north), and the gods of the Ammonites. Some even believed that the LORD God had left Judah. The worship of God had been neglected under prior kings until Josiah came into power. Trying to bring about change is not easy, but when you consider the decades of idolatry that Israel and Judah had been in, change was difficult and without people’s heart-changing towards God was next to impossible. Josiah’s grandfather was Manasseh, one of the evilest and idolatrous kings of either Israel or Judah. Had Judah had a king who reigned for some time, changes may have happened, but King Josiah’s reign was cut short due to his pride. (Read 2 Chronicles 35:20-27. You can read more about Josiah in 2 Kings 22-23:20 and 2 Chronicles 34-35.)
The book of Zephaniah addressed the people, their complacency, and the idea that the LORD God had left Judah with a loud and strong response regarding the “Day of the Lord.” Judgment and terror were prophesied for the complacent. However, in the midst of this terror is the shining beacon of hope. We will discover this in chapter 2 for “those who are humble and follow the LORD’s commands. Seek to do what is right and to live humbly. Perhaps even yet the LORD God will protect you, protect you from His anger” and also of a remnant who will be restored. In chapter 3, we will read of salvation and deliverance for those who are faithful to Him. This hope is grounded upon the knowledge of God’s justice, and His love for His people.
As we read through the book, pay attention to how God views sin. He does not take it lightly. Sin will be punished, but God reigns and will be faithful to the faithful. He will rescue the humble who faithfully worship Him.