The words of Zephaniah

1/26/20                 Zephaniah 3:14-20

 

It is that time again, when we encounter another book of the Bible.  We are nearing the end of the Old Testament.  We have just a few books left found in the minor prophet section.  Today we are looking the prophet Zephaniah.  Not much is known about the prophet Zephaniah.  According to the first verse of this book, he traces his genealogy back 4 generations to King Hezekiah (ca. 715–686 B.C.E).  He was probably the only prophet within the prophetic books to have descended from royal blood. Royal genealogy would have given him significant status within the royal court and he likely had good standing to be able to speak to and counsel the King of Judah.  The prophet himself dates his message in the first verses of the book that this occurred during the reign of Josiah, who reigned approximately (640–609 B.C.). Upon further study of the some of the verses within this relatively short biblical book (only 3 chapters), it seems as though as the words of Zephaniah happened before the religious reforms during the reign of King Josiah.  King Josiah was the kind responsible for tearing down the altars to Baals, burned the bones of false prophets, and broke the carved idols (2 Chr. 34:3–7) (628 BCE) ; and the Book of the Law was found during Josiah’s reign (2 Chr. 34:8–35:19).  The finding and reading of the Book of Law also brought about much religious change and reform. Consequently, Zephaniah most likely prophesied in the early part of King Josiah reign, and was likely to have been a contemporary of Jeremiah.

 

At the time we are looking at, there was a shift in the political cultures beyond the realm of Judah.  There was a shift of power that Assyrian kingdom was gaining as the Babylonian empire was losing power, and this would have weakened Nineveh’s hold on Judah.  This would have allowed for some independence and freedom to appear for the kingdom of Judah for the first time in a number of years.  And King Josiah would have acted in such a way so as to lead the kingdom into a time of independence and liberty.

While King Hezekiah (715-687 BCE) had been a king to follow the way of God and the spiritual practices set before the community, there followed a long time after where the Kings and the community did not.  The reigns of Hezekiah’s son Manasseh (ca. 695–642 B.C.), extending over 4 decades, and his grandson Amon (ca. 642–640 B.C.), lasting only two years, were marked by wickedness and apostasy (2 Kin. 212 Chr. 33).  But as I mentioned before Josiah was a king who followed the God and began to institute some changes that removed false God and false worship from the community.  The particular catalyst for change came in 622 B.C., however, while repairing the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the High-Priest found the Book of the Law (2 Kin. 22:8). Upon reading it, Josiah initiated extensive reforms (2 Kin. 23). It was during the early years of Josiah’s reign, prior to the great revival, that this 11th hour prophet, Zephaniah, prophesied and no doubt had an influence on the sweeping reforms Josiah brought to the nation.

Zephaniah’s message in this book warned Judah that the final days were near, through divine judgment at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, ca. 605–586 B.C. (1:4–13). The expression “Day of the Lord” is used extensively in this book, and employed by the author more often than by any other OT writer.

This day is spoken of as a day of wrath, trouble, distress, devastation, desolation, darkness, gloominess, clouds, thick darkness, trumpet, and alarm (1:15,16, 18). Yet even within these oracles of divine wrath, the prophet exhorted the people to seek the Lord, offering a shelter in the midst of judgment (2:3), and proclaiming the promise of eventual salvation for God’s believing remnant (2:7; 3:9–20).

This prophetic book is not so different from the other books written by prophets.  There is a segment of judgement and condemnation upon the community of Israel.  But like other prophetic books there is also a segment of restoration and hope, and it is those words that we hear today in the reading.

Words of hope are important to consider.  We who are living today may find that there are situations going on this world can cause us concern.  Whether it is violence or disputes, individuals and communities fighting with one another, concerns for the community, country or the world.  We may wonder about the hope and possibility.  The people during the time of Zephaniah likely looked at the world in the same way

The situation was not so different in the time of Zephaniah (a prophet who lived in Judah) , 600 years before Jesus was born. Just about a hundred years have gone by since the destruction of Israel, Judah’s sister kingdom to the north, and the ten tribes of Israel had been devastated by the Assyrians. Wiped out, never to appear again on the stage of history. Down in the south, centered around Jerusalem, huddled the two tribes that made up the Kingdom of Judah. Things had not been so good in Judah, either. Idolatry had run rampant. Cult prostitution and child sacrifice had crept in. Criminal activity was everywhere. Merchants cheated their customers. Widows suffered in poverty. Power was abused by those in authority. Everywhere things looked bleak. People were not hopeful.

 

But listen to what Zephaniah says

Sing, Daughter Zion;

shout aloud, Israel!

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,

Daughter Jerusalem! (v14)

It must have seemed strange in these circumstances that Zephaniah tells his listeners and us to rejoice and be glad and shout aloud. Why?2

first the Hope of Forgiveness.  The people of Israel had wandered away from their God, they had been attracted by other gods, less demanding and more appealing. They turned to Baal god of storms when they worried that there would not be enough rain to feed their crops rather than turning to God.   The people needed forgiveness for turning away from the living God to worship these idols. And God offered to the entire community of Israel.2  not only does God offer that hope of forgiveness to the people living back then, but the same hope of forgiveness and present and real for all of us here today

Second  Hope of Freedom from Fear

Many people today are fearful, as they were at the time of Zephaniah. What’s going to happen? Things are looking bad. What if …..? We fear failure and sometimes even fear success and the pressure that might bring to continue to succeed. Fear is harmful to us, it creates stress and damage in us, it saps us of energy and can become overwhelming.

God says ‘never again will you fear any harm’.  The reason Zephaniah provides is simple, we are not alone, because’ The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you’. In scripture, these two themes are always linked: ‘Do not Fear, because I am with you

third Hope of Salvation

God promises to save all those who turn to him, He will protect us and keep us safe. God can save us from harm and from judgement that Zephaniah will us with take place when the great day of the Lord comes. No human can do this.

  • Zephaniah tells his listeners that those who have chosen to follow God will have nothing to fear at the day of the Lord. God offers us the sure and certain hope of salvation.

 

fourth Hope of Love

The word for love here massive ending amounts of love.  Like the love a mother has for her child. god delights in us, we are God’s beloved people.  God looks at us and offers love, to the people of Israel, to the people living today.

 

Why does God love us so much, when we are so frail and so often turn away from him? He loves us because He loves us, not because there is anything in us that is lovely but because it is the very nature of God to love. As John says ‘God is love’. Do you sense that love and acceptance of God the Father for you today?

Conclusion

These hopes were valid for the people living during the prophetic time of Zephaniah as well as to today.  When we look around us there are many things that perhaps cause us to lose hope. But when we look at God and his promises to us, there is great hope for the future.

Thanks be to God and may the people of God say together amen