Introduction to the Book of Zephaniah
and Study of Zephaniah 1-3
September 25th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Zephaniah (Overview)

Zephaniah was a prophet during the time of King Josiah of Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel). Josiah became ruler following many years of moral decline and led a spiritual revival.

The book of Zephaniah follows a pattern that is similar to other brief prophetic books near the end of the Old Testament: He begins with judgment and prophecy followed by a statement of hope.

The prophecies in this book and some of the others are quite frightening as Zephaniah describes a scene of total destruction and reminds the people that their gold and silver will be worthless. Perhaps the most important message is a reminder of how to survive such a calamity: “Seek the LORD all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility, perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger (Zeph 2:3 - NIV).”

References used in this study include the following books:

  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984

  • Boadt, Lawrence, Jeremiah 26-52, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Nahum, Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene Oregon, 1982

  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993

  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)

  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)

  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970

  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

Zephaniah 1-3 (Seek Ye First the Righteousness of God)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.

I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord.

- Zephaniah 1:1-2 (KJV)

Summary of Chapters

The first section of this book indicates that Zephaniah was a descendant of Hezekiah, perhaps referring to a former king that had preceded Josiah and others.

The word that Zephaniah received from the LORD is a message of a plan for total destruction that the LORD will unleash against man and beast. He tells the audience to be silent as the LORD prepares a sacrifice. The victims will be the unworthy rulers, idolaters, traders, and the complacent: "And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil (Zeph 1:12 - KJV)."

On the day of the LORD there will be great tragedies that will be unavoidable, explains the prophet at the end of chapter 1 – even a king’s ransom would not enable the people to save themselves. In chapter 2, Zephaniah instructs the people regarding one possible way out:

    Seek the LORD,
    all you humble of the land,
    who have observed his law;
    Seek justice,
    seek humility;
    Perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.

    - Zephaniah 2:3 (NAB)

The neighboring nations will be wiped out, but the remnant of survivors from Judah will inherit the land. Other nations mocked God, but they will know of his awesomeness when their idols are destroyed by the real God.

In chapter 3, Zephaniah declares a warning to the wicked people of Jerusalem who oppressed their countrymen and went their own way. They will be cut off, but the honest and humble people who survive will take over the city and praise God for his mightiness and mercy.

    “The accumulated sorrows of your exile
       will dissipate.
    I, your God, will get rid of them for you.
       You’ve carried those burdens long enough.
    At the same time, I’ll get rid of all those
       who’ve made your life miserable."

    - Zephaniah 3:18 (MSG)

Reflection and Application

If we truly seek the LORD we will take on an attitude of humility and will develop righteousness. These attributes can give us peace even when the whole world is crumbling around us. If we seek first the kingdom of God we will be better prepared to handle adversity than any other battle plan that we can imagine. The wisdom of the LORD gives us hope, peace, and perspective.

The destruction described in this book may refer to the time during exile or could be a day further off. In either case, the claim from Zephaniah that the humble will rule foreshadows the messages that we will read in the next half of the Bible – the New Testament. We have a few short sections to complete before we get there, but here is a preview from the Sermon on the Mount, during which Jesus reinforces this message from Zephaniah:

    But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

    Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    - Matthew 6:33-34 (KJV)

"Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God," artist unknown

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What was frightening for you when you were a child?
    2. What is the next step we can take to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness?
    3. How would you summarize the book of Zephaniah for a friend?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you deserve adoration and respect - not mocking. Help us to approach you with the right attitude

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Home Builders

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Haggai (After the Exile)

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