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Zephaniah overview





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. 

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AUTHOR:  Jeremy Witt

I cannot believe that we are already in September.  Yet it also seems to be the longest year ever as I am sure you feel as well.  I hope our last 4 months are now like our previous 5 have been, don’t you?
I chose Obadiah because I have not studied this book in much detail before.  Honestly, before we started, I thought that the book was longer than this.  Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, a mere 21 verses.  Little is known of Obadiah and the date of writing is uncertain. 

Many think it was written in Jehoram, king of Judah from 855-840 BC or some think that Obadiah was a contemporary of Jeremiah the prophet who ministered from 627-588 BC.  The primary figures in the book are the Edomites, cousins of the Jews from Jacob and Esau, the forefather of the Edomites. 

If you recall, Jacob and Esau did not get along and this continued throughout the lives of the Edomites and Israelites.  Edom was on the southern border of Israel and later Judah after the nation divided.  Some scholars believe that the city of Petra was the capital of Edom and referred to as Sela in Scripture. 

Regardless, the Edomites felt that their city and nation were impregnable.  They trusted in their position and military strength and self-sufficiency.  For those who have been in this part of the world, it is dry, rocky, and difficult to survive in, so these people took pride in their resourcefulness. 

Backstory verses:  Genesis 25, Numbers 20:14-22 refusing to let Israel pass through as they returned to take the Holy Land.  1 Samuel 14:47 Saul’s conflict with Edom; 2 Samuel 8:13, 14 – David’s conflict with Edom; 1 Kings 11:14-22 – Solomon’s conflict with Edom; 2 Kings 8:20-22, 2 Chronicles 21:8 to end of the chapter – King Jehoram’s conflict with Edom; 2 Chronicles 28:16 King Ahaz’s conflict with Edom; and Psalm 137:7 Edom urging Babylon to attack Jerusalem. 

The Edomites were notorious for attacking and plundering Israelite cities.  They lived in dry, rocky regions and were a proud people who took pride in themselves, which is addressed in Obadiah.  The leaders of the Edomites were proud and felt superior to the Israelites.  However, they did not merely feel superior but acted on it as they participated in the destruction of Jerusalem when the Babylonians attacked the city. 

Obadiah is split into two parts.  The first half addresses the nation of Edom (verses 1-14) and the second half addresses other nations or all nations.  (verses 15-21)  “Edom will be brought down from their height” as in verses 3-4. 

In verse 15, Obadiah changes from just Obadiah to all nations who trusted in themselves.  God will eventually address the pride of all nations.  Why the sudden switch?  Edom was the example of those who sought Israel’s demise.  Today, how is Israel looked upon by the nations?  They are still despised and hated by their neighbors, aren’t they!  Judgment is coming to those who hate Israel and have done evil against them. 

Edom’s fall will be similar to all prideful nations on the Day of the Lord.  Ultimately, the message of Obadiah is for any country and even people who trust in themselves rather than God that judgment is coming.  I have noticed many people asking the question of why evil people seem to be flourishing while others suffer.  Ironically, when we read Scripture, God tells us that He sees this and will deal with the proud. 

In the conclusion of the book, we see that God will deal with what Edom has done and that one day God will bring healing to Israel (verses 17-21) and ultimately all the nations. 

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