Zephaniah 1 (day 907) 25 June 2012
1: Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah (641-609 B.C.). He may have been related to Josiah, if the Hezekiah mentioned here was the king of Judah during the time of the prophet Isaiah. Not much more is known of Zephaniah aside from hints within the text that he was imminently acquainted with Jerusalem and the temple.
2-6: The book begins with a warning that God is displeased with the pagan worship that is being practiced in Jerusalem. The destruction he imagines is greater even than the destruction caused by the Great Flood of Genesis – even the fish of the sea will be swept away.
7-9: Zephaniah denounces those in power for dressing in foreign garb and mimicking pagan practices (for “leaping over the threshold” see 1 Samuel 5:5). These are the kinds of things introduced during the reign of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, which persisted through the years and which Josiah sought to do away with during his reign.
10-13: The Fish Gate, the Second Quarter, and the Mortar were neighborhoods in the city. The LORD will search out all those who think God is incapable of doing good or ill and punish them.
14-16: The Day of the LORD is described as a terrible and terrifying attack on the city. The people will be punished. Their ill-gotten wealth is worthless to them now. Note that the prophet sees the calamity as being worldwide and complete – a rather typical example of oriental hyperbole.
Zephaniah 2 (day 908) 26 June 2012
1-4: Zephaniah calls the nation to repentance, using the familiar imagery of wind-blown chaff to describe the judgment of God that is coming. The Philistine cities mentioned in verse 5 are along the usual coastal invasion route taken by Egypt, Assyria and Babylon.
5-7: The Philistine strongholds will be decimated. Zephaniah foresees that Judah will rule over those territories in the years to come. Judah did exercise some control over that area following a failed Egyptian invasion more than a century earlier.
8-11: Now he turns to the nations adjacent to Israel/Judah on their eastern flank – Moab and Ammon – and prophecies destruction for them and sees them also under subjection to Judah and, more importantly, to Judah’s LORD. Moab and Ammon had in the past warred with Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1-30).
12-15: He goes farther afield, now speaking a word against Ethiopia and Assyria. The Ethiopians had invaded Judah during the reign of King Asa (2 Chronicles 14:9-15). The Assyrians had besieged Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah, Zephaniah’s great-great grandfather, and had been thwarted by an invasion of the Egyptians who were also seeking to extend their control over Judah (see 2 Kings 19). During Zephaniah’s time the Assyrian empire was on the wane and their decline probably fueled his pronouncements against them.
Zephaniah 3 (day 909) 27 June 2012
1-2: But Zephaniah’s primary pronouncements are against his own people. At first these verses seem to be related to the word against Nineveh in 2:13-15, but it becomes clear by the end of verse 2 that Jerusalem is now the target.
3-5: So often the prophets focused on the corruption of the rich and powerful – the officials and judges – comparing them to wild beasts that devour indiscriminately. The prophets and priests are also denounced. Only the LORD, surprisingly pictured as being within the city, is righteous.
6-7: God is speaking directly in these verses. God has laid whole nations low. Surely that fact alone should have sufficed as a warning, but the officials, judges, priests and prophets in Jerusalem paid no heed.
8: God’s wrath has risen to the boiling point, and he threatens to destroy the world, a threat which reminds us of the story of the Great Deluge in Genesis.
9-10: Evoking again images of the stories of Genesis – here the Tower of Babel can be faintly seen in the background – Zephaniah can nonetheless imagine God reversing the multiplication of languages that scattered the people of Shinar across the world, seeing people come from afar to do homage to the LORD. Christians, of course, are reminded of the story of Pentecost in Acts 2.
11-13: A day of peace and restoration lies in the future. Nearly all the prophets who pronounced gloom and doom nevertheless saw God’s wrath resulting finally in the kind of world God wants us to have.
14-20: The book ends with an exultant song of victory for God over all the enemies of Zion, and the restoration and exaltation of God’s people among all the peoples of the earth.