THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ZEPHANIAH
A CALL TO JUDGMENT, REPENTANCE, AND RESTORATION
Zephaniah is one of those little, obscure books in what has come to be regarded as a little, obscure section of the Bible to which, frankly, we rarely visit. Augustine termed these the “Minor Prophets” and the designation has remained to this day.
There are several names that sound similar from this period:
• Zedekiah: He was the last king of
• Zechariah: He would come much later, after the return from the Babylonian Captivity.
• Zephaniah: The prophet and writer of this book.
He is introduced in the first verse.
The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah (Zephaniah 1:1).
The self designation given by
Zephaniah is a bit unusual. The unusual
part is that he does not only mention the name of his father, but also his
grandfather and his great grandfather.
Being a grandfather myself, I can appreciate this, but I have no
allusions that my grandchildren and my great grandchildren will be following
such an example. So what does Zephaniah
do this? It is because his great
grandfather had been the king -- he was none other than Hezekiah, the king who
had brought reformation to the people of
And yet, I feel Zephaniah is doing more than mere name-dropping. He is turning our attention to the past when God did great things. Why do I say this? Because in the following verses, he takes us back even further to the past when God did great things. He takes us all the way back to the creation.
2 "I will completely remove all things
From the face of the earth," declares the LORD.
3 "I will remove man and beast;
I will remove the birds of the sky
And the fish of the sea,
And the ruins along with the wicked;
And I will cut off man from the face of the earth," declares the LORD. (Zephaniah 1:2-3).
This is going to be a prophecy of judgment. But notice the terms in which it is couched. It contains certain “buzz-words” that are designed to echo with a reminder of something with which you are familiar.
• The face of the earth.
• Man and beast.
• Birds of the sky.
• Fish of the sea.
All of these take us back to Genesis 1 and the work of creation. God’s judgment is described in terms of a de-creation. It is a removal of all that has once been created and which has now been contaminated by sin and rebellion.
There is a lesson here. It is a lesson on the destructiveness of sin. The sins that are referenced in this little book were doing some big things. They were bringing destruction upon man and animal, bird and fish. The entire world is seen as being affected.
What a way to start a book! Not with the delight of creation, but with the desolation of destruction! It is no wonder that this book is regularly ignored in today’s pop preaching and “feel good” sermons that emphasize “Your Best Life Now.” Who wants to hear a message that starts off on such a dark note?
And yet, I want to suggest that Zephaniah, like the rest of the Scriptures, is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. This book is about Jesus and, as we examine its brief message, we will be seeing the Gospel According to Zephaniah.
To one who is familiar with the sorts of parallelism regularly used by the Hebrew prophets, it should come as no surprise that the message of Zephaniah is presented in that form of parallelism known as a chiasm.
Coming judgment on
Coming judgment of leaders and wealthy (1:7-13)
God’s judgment against the nation (1:14-18).
Call to repentance (2:1-3).
God’s judgment against the nations (2:4-15).
Coming judgment of leaders (3:1-7)
Coming restoration of
Thus, we can see this book as speaking of...
THE REASONS FOR DIVINE JUDGMENT
The reasons for God’s judgment are given in the first chapter. It is not that God was having a bad day and wanted to take it out on someone. It was because of the spiritual unfaithfulness of the people. That is a common theme among the prophets.
So here in Zephaniah, we also read of the charges brought by the Lord to an unfaithful people. What are the charges? What had brought about such rebuke and such punishment?
Pluralism: So I will stretch out My hand against
Notice there were two categories of those against whom this judgment was pronounced. There were the idolatrous priests as well as the priests (these are two separate words in the Hebrew text). There are those who were not worshiping the Lord at all and there were those who, at least in name and at least in part, saw themselves in the camp of those who worshiped the Lord.
saw in last week’s newspaper an article about a Christian minister in the
Many of us were aghast when a popular television preacher was asked in an interview last year whether Jesus is the only way to God and he hemmed and hawed and he sidestepped the gospel because he did not want to appear narrow-minded.
I feel confident that no one in today’s assembly is tempted by such outward forms of religious pluralism. But I am equally confident that our hearts face a much more subtle form of pluralism each day. It is not a doctrinal pluralism of which I speak, but a pluralism in our affections. James speaks of pleasures that wage war in your members (James 4:1). Each of us is involved in a great conflict over spiritual pluralism. Who will you love? Whose kingdom will you build?
It is very easy for us to fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing God’s work and building His kingdom when, in our heart of hearts, it is really our own domains and fiefdoms with which we are concerned.
2. Prayerful Neglect: And those who have turned back from following the LORD, And those who have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him." (Zephaniah 1:6).
Notice how the prophet defines those who have turned back from following the LORD. They are identified as those who have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him.
How often to we go to the Lord merely to rubber stamp our own plans, agendas, and desires instead of to seek Him and His will and to inquire what He would have us to do?
I wonder how the cause of Christ would be served in our church and in our presbytery if we determined to seek and inquire the Lord as to the direction He is leading?
Jesus likened the moving of the Spirit to the wind. You don’t tell the wind in which direction to blow. It blows where it wishes. You hear it and you see the results and, if you want to be moved by it, then you raise your sails of faith and allow yourself to be moved in that direction.
Stagnation: And it will come about at
that time That I will search
Stagnation. The word conjures up images of a dirty, tepid, foul-smelling sludge. That is what we resemble when we are not actively allowing the Spirit of God to cleanse our hearts and our lives.
You say, “That certainly does not describe me! I am involved as I can be in preaching and teaching and leading the church.” But physical action is no guarantee of spiritual movement. It is entirely possible to have a life full of “busy-ness” and if your activity is not a spiritual activity that involves loving God with all your mind and heart and soul, then you have entered the realm of spiritual stagnation.
What is the cure for religious pluralism, for prayerful neglect, and for spiritual stagnation? It is found in Zephaniah’s call to repentance.
REPENTANCE IN THE FACE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT
1 Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame,
2 Before the decree takes effect‑‑
The day passes like the chaff‑‑
Before the burning anger of the LORD comes upon you,
Before the day of the LORD's anger comes upon you.
3 Seek the LORD,
All you humble of the earth
Who have carried out His ordinances;
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden In the day of the LORD's anger. (Zephaniah 2:1-3).
We are accustomed to describing repentance in terms of recognizing your own sinfulness and your need of a Savior and turning in faith away from your sin to rely upon Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. I want to say, for the record, that I agree with that description. At the same time, I want you to note that Zephaniah gives some additional aspects to that description.
1. Repentance involves Seeking the Lord.
Our problem is that, apart from a work in our hearts, no one seeks for God (Romans 3:11). That means repentance comes from the hand of the Lord.
Yet we are nevertheless commanded to repent, to turn from all those things after which our hearts naturally seek and instead to seek the Lord.
Let me state an obvious truth about seeking. Seeking is not passive. Seeing is active. My wife asks me if I see her purse and I take a quick and cursory glance in the room in which I happen to be; that is seeing, but it is not seeking. Seeking involves a methodical and careful searching.
We have a household joke about the way men look into the refrigerator -- if that item for which we are looking is “hiding behind the milk,” then it will not be located by the male of the species. That is because most of us merely see and do not actively seek.
We are to be seekers of the Lord—to be seekers of His will, to be seekers of His hand in our lives, and to be seekers of that which will bring glory and honor to Him. But more than that, to seek HIM. Seeking the Lord is more that merely seeking things about Him. It means that I seek and strive to come daily into His presence.
2. Repentance involves Seeking Righteousness.
Jesus alluded to this same truth when He said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6). Seeking, hungering and thirsting. Those are all descriptive of developing a desire and a yearning for that which you do not have.
There is only one true source of true righteousness. It is found in the Lord. Seeking His righteousness is the same as seeking Him.
That tells me something about seeking the Lord. You cannot hold to God’s love apart from holding to His righteousness. You cannot hold to God’s grace while rejecting his holiness and justice. You don’t get to pick and choose which attributes God exhibits. They are ALL a part of Him.
3. Repentance involves Seeking Humility.
Humility involves a Copernican revolution of the soul, the realization that the universe does not revolve around you.
Seeking the God who is there necessarily involves seeking humility since, when you come face to face with who God is and compare that with your own condition, the natural byproduct of that will be humility.
RESTORATION FROM DIVINE JUDGMENT
The book of Zephaniah closes with a song. It is a song of hope and a song of victory, sung by the Lord Himself. It is a song of restoration. When you restore something or someone, it assumes there was a certain standing from which there has been a fall and to which restoration is required.
Do you remember how the book of Zephaniah started? It began with a reference to the judgment and the falleness of all creation. The prophet looks for a day when it will all be restored.
1. This Restoration involves a Removal of our Shame
11 "In that day you will feel no shame
Because of all your deeds
By which you have rebelled against Me;
For then I will remove from your midst
Your proud, exulting ones,
And you will never again be haughty
On My holy mountain.
12 "But I will leave among you
A humble and lowly people,
And they will take refuge in the name of the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:11-12).
Shame had its advent in the fall. The first man and the first woman had originally been unashamed in the Garden, but that changed when they fell into sin. They heard the sound of the Lord God in the garden and they were ashamed and afraid and they sought to hide themselves.
The world today wrestles with its shame in a variety of ways.
• It seeks to cover the shame with the fig leaves of religion.
• It seeks to deny the shame by denying the existence of a righteous Judge. One of the indictments given against the disobedient nation was that it was a nation without shame (2:1). That is an indictment because there are times when we ought to feel shame.
These methods ultimately fail, for our own heart condemns us and shames us. But the prophet looks to a day when the shame is removed, not by pride or arrogance, but through the humility of faith. How does this take place? It takes place at the end of verse 12 when we take refuge in the name of the LORD (3:12).
2. This Restoration involves the Lord in our Midst
14 Shout for joy,
in triumph, O
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
15 The LORD has taken away His judgments against you,
He has cleared away your enemies.
You will fear disaster no more. (Zephaniah 3:14-15).
There is a scene in the Disney movie, “The Lion King,” when the little lion cub has been cornered by the big, mean, snarling hyenas. They are going to have him for lunch and he summons up all his strength and he roars. Because he has only a little lion cub’s voice, the roar doesn’t sound too impressive. But the hyenas back away and turn tail and run. The little lion cub watches with surprise, thinking that he has put these enemies to route, but then the camera angle widens and you see that behind him stands Father Lion in all of his strength and splendor.
That is the picture we have here. It is a picture of the King—the Lord Himself—who is in our midst. And because He is with us, we never need fear again.
3. This Restoration involves Salvation to the Outcast.
19 "Behold, I am going to deal at that time
With all your oppressors,
I will save the lame
And gather the outcast,
And I will turn their shame into praise and renown
In all the earth.
20 "At that time I will bring you in,
Even at the time when I gather you together;
Indeed, I will give you renown and praise
Among all the peoples of the earth,
When I restore your fortunes before your eyes," Says the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:19-20).
The Lord did not come to save the strong or the noble or the wise; for in His presence there are no strong or noble or wise and those who see themselves as strong and noble and wise are those who have not seen their need for a Savior.
He came to save the lame.
To gather the outcast.
To take those who stood in shame for their lost condition and to turn that shame to praise.
He took our shame upon Himself. Hebrews 12:2 speaks of how He endured the cross, despising the shame. And because He endured that shame for us, we can abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming (1 John 2:28).