Minor Prophets: Zephaniah Look Beyond


Zephaniah is associated with the butterfly, iconic for the transformation of God’s people.

After drawing the people’s eyes inward, to examine their own falsity against God, their faithlessness and corruption, and the judgment this would bring, Zephaniah urged them to look upwards, and consciously see not only God’s holy hill, but the invisible God who dwelt there. God was calling them back to the Lord, and to their lives of faith.

Then Zephaniah indicated every compass point in his call to look around. Sovereign and Almighty God held every nation to account, and would hold Judah to account as well.

Finally, Zephaniah encouraged the people to look beyond their current predicament and impending doom to a time when they would once again be reunited with God.


A Look Beyond

Beginning with four main categories of corruption in the people, Zephaniah outlined oppression, rebellion, defilement (secret sins), disobedience, putting boundaries on obedience, rejecting correction, complacency, and enthusiasm for corruption. God had called the people to seek righteousness and to seek humility, for God had already sanctified the people and set them apart as holy unto God.

Yet, despite how depressing and despairing the message of judgement was, it would never be the Lord’s final word to God’s beloved people. 

There is always hope.

After the oracles of Judgment come prophecy that can be understood both as the regathering of the Jewish people in Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, and also as part of the events surrounding Jesus’ second coming. 

There will be a remnant of those who belong to God, who will enter into God’s new day.

Four Faults

Zephaniah listed four faults the Lord had found in God’s people.

Ah, soiled, defiled,
    oppressing city!
It has listened to no voice;
    it has accepted no correction.
It has not trusted in the Lord;
    it has not drawn near to its God

Zephaniah 3:1-2 (NRSV)

Jerusalem has listened to no voice.

Verse 3, Those who should be attuned to God’s voice had instead filled the air with the sounds of their own voices.

  • The ruling body are roaring lions
  • The judges ravening wolves

Jerusalem has accepted no correction.

Verse 4, Those who should have been receiving correction first, and teaching it to the people, were instead the most hardened.

  • The prophets reckless and faithless
  • The priests profane.

Jerusalem has not trusted the Lord.

Verse 4, Instead, they continued to pursue their own wrong thinking and wrongdoing.

  • Righteous God renders judgment
  • But the unjust are shameless in their disregard

Jerusalem has not drawn near to God.

Verse 4, Instead, they ran all the harder in the opposite direction.

  • God emptied and desolated the cities
  • “Surely Jerusalem will fear me”
  • But all were even more eager to work corruption

Therefore the Lord!

And here, Zephaniah received the same kind of End-of-Time vision that Isaiah before him had written of. There are several key points that align with other end-of-time prophesies:

Verse 8: There will be a final global conflict that will end in the destruction of the entire earth

Verses 9-10: During that same timeframe, God will unite the nations of the world with one pure language, and one true religion that acknowledges God.

Verses 11: The sins of God’s own people will be forgiven, and they, too, will acknowledge God on God’s “holy mountain,” Mount Zion.

Verses 12-13:This will happen as a result of a people God will bring into the midst of Jerusalem who will have the marks of a remnant of Israel, a technical term referring to those few who are truly faithful and have remained true to God. They will

  • Be humble and lowly
  • Seek refuge in God’s power and character
  • Do no wrong
  • Utter no lies
  • Do not be deceitful
  • Be at peace
  • Have no fear

Qualities of the Faithful

All of these characteristics will come, presumably, as a result of the four positive traits that underly the four faults the Lord found with God’s people.

The remnant will listen to God’s voice

At that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord
.

Zephaniah 3:9 (NRSV)

This reflects becoming a new person, a member of the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ, having a new spirit within, being filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

The remnant will heed God’s correction

For I will leave in the midst of you
    a people humble and lowly.

Zephaniah 3:12 (NRSV)

Very like the Apostle Peter’s exhortation to “clothe yourselves with humility . . . Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that [God] may exalt you in due time.” This reflects a complete change of the inner life, repenting of our sin, the yielding of our will, asking for God’s mercy on us.

As a result,

they shall do no wrong
    and utter no lies,
nor shall a deceitful tongue
    be found in their mouths.

Zephaniah 3:13 (NRSV)

This reflects the dedication of ourselves to God, to grow in a life of obedience that is founded upon love.

The remnant will trust in the Lord

they will pasture and lie down,
    and no one shall make them afraid.

Zephaniah 3:13 (NRSV)

In order to listen to God’s voice and to heed God’s correction, you and I must have a core trust in the Lord, whom we know as the Lord Jesus Christ. Such trust is reflected in strong faith which finds peace in God’s provision, and courage in ever circumstance.

The remnant will draw near to God

They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord

Zephaniah 3:12 (NRSV)

To some, God will seem fearsome, terrifying, and at the same time exacting and demanding. Yet by the same token, the remnant of faithful will recognize in God strength, protection, and purity in righteousness and justice.

Cause for Rejoicing

Zephaniah’s final prophecy is his most famous, for it is a song of adoration and praise, rejoicing and exulting in the Lord, and the time that comes after The End of Time. Throughout this paeon, God’s promises are the point! Zephaniah moved from third person to first person as his vision changed into an oracle of the very words of God.

The Promises of God in the Age to Come

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

Zephaniah 3:17 (NRSV) 

Zephaniah 3:17-20 is the fulfillment of human longing. At last, those who love God and have put their faith God, will find themselves fully restored in a glorious life that will be lived fully in communion with God, in the peace, and love, and joy of the Lord.

God will personally

  • Verse 15, take away the judgments against God’s people.
  • Verse 15, turn away the enemies of God’s people.
  • Verse 17, give the people of God the victory.
  • Verse 17, rejoice over God’s people with gladness.
  • Verse 17, renew the people of God in the Lord’s love.
  • Verse 17, exult over God’s people with singing.
  • Verse 18, remove disaster from the people of God.
  • Verse 19, deal with every oppressor.
  • Verse 19, save the lame.
  • Verse 19, gather the outcast.
  • Verse 19, change their shame into praise and renown.
  • Verse 20, bring the people of God home to God.
  • Verse 20, restore the fortunes of God’s people

Many (including myself) see these yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as those in the Christian Testament, as real, as solid, and the details just as literally trustworthy, as the literal, detailed prophecies that have already been fulfilled. 

Both Nahum and Zephaniah are stories about God’s righteous wrath against sin and God’s deserved judgment. Only Nahum’s story ends in disaster and oblivion. And Zephaniah’s story ends in love, new life and rejoicing. 

What makes the difference? 

The good news of God’s salvation through Messiah. 


[Sunrise | Riccardo Maria Mantero on flickr, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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