The English word prophet in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew word “nabiy” which means “spokesman” or “speaker”. The Greek word for prophet is “prophētēs”, which can mean “one who speaks forth” or “advocate.” Prophets are also called “seers,” because of their spiritual insight or their ability to “see” the future, as directed by God.
Zephaniah’s name meant “concealed of God” he was a prophet to the nation of Judah and was a contemporary of Jeremiah the Prophet.
Zephahia introduces himself as a descendant of Hezekiah one of Judah's good kings.
Zephaniah 1:1 NKJV The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.
He was also very familiar with Israel’s religious culture.
Zephaniah 1:4-6 NKJV “I will stretch out My hand against Judah, And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests— Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; Those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord , But who also swear by Milcom; Those who have turned back from following the Lord , And have not sought the Lord , nor inquired of Him.”
The reference to “this place” in Zephaniah 1:4 indicates that he prophesied in Jerusalem. The fact that he was of royal lineage and his knowledge of the religious culture is an indication that he was at the center of Judah’s political and religious life, and a person close to those in power. This would have given his shocking message an even greater impact.
Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, the king of Judah from 640 to 609 BC. He predicted the fall of Nineveh, which happened in 612 BC.
Zephaniah 2:13 NKJV And He will stretch out His hand against the north, Destroy Assyria, And make Nineveh a desolation, As dry as the wilderness.
The fact that he quoted from the Law; (Deuteronomy 28:30, 39 NKJV “You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall lie with her; you shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but shall not gather its grapes. You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them.)
Zephaniah 1:13 NKJV Therefore their goods shall become booty, And their houses a desolation; They shall build houses, but not inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.”
This indicates that Zephaniah prophesied in the latter part of Josiah’s rule, after the high priest discovered the scrolls of the Law in 622 BC
II Chronicles 34:3-7, 14-18 NKJV For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. They broke down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars which were above them he cut down; and the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images he broke in pieces, and made dust of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so he did in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali and all around, with axes. When he had broken down the altars and the wooden images, had beaten the carved images into powder, and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem. Now when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord , Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses. Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord .” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan. So Shaphan carried the book to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “All that was committed to your servants they are doing. And they have gathered the money that was found in the house of the Lord , and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers and the workmen.” Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.
Zephaniah would have grown up as a young man the reign of Josiah’s predecessors: Josiah’s grandfather, the evil king Manasseh, and Manasseh’s son, the young and evil Amon. This would have been a time of great evils; idolatry, child sacrifice, and unjust killings.
II Kings 21:16 NKJV Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord .
II Chronicles 33:1-10 NKJV Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. But he did evil in the sight of the Lord , according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he raised up altars for the Baals, and made wooden images; and he worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He also built altars in the house of the Lord , of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem shall My name be forever.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord . Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord , to provoke Him to anger. He even set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever; and I will not again remove the foot of Israel from the land which I have appointed for your fathers—only if they are careful to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses.” So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen.
Why Is Zephaniah So Important?
The book of Zephaniah mentions the Day of the Lord more than any other book in the Old Testament, clarifying the picture of Judah’s fall to Babylon and the eventual judgment and restoration of all humanity in the future.
Zephaniah saw in the Day of the Lord the destruction of his country, his neighbors, and eventually the whole earth.
Zephaniah 1:2, 4 NKJV “I will utterly consume everything From the face of the land,” Says the Lord ; “I will stretch out My hand against Judah, And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests--
Zephaniah wrote that the Day of the Lord was near.
Zephaniah 1:14 NKJV The great day of the Lord is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter; There the mighty men shall cry out.
The Day of the Lord would be a time of wrath
Zephaniah 1:15 NKJV That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness,
The Day of the Lord would come as judgment on sin
Zephaniah 1:17 NKJV “I will bring distress upon men, And they shall walk like blind men, Because they have sinned against the Lord ; Their blood shall be poured out like dust, And their flesh like refuse.”
Ultimately, the Day of the Lord would result in the blessing of God’s presence among His people
Zephaniah 3:17 NKJV The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
The writings of Zephaniah follows a pattern of judgment on all people for their sin followed by the restoration of God’s chosen people. Zephaniah’s primary target for God’s message of judgment, the nation of Judah, had fallen into grievous sin under the reign of their king, Manasseh. Zephaniah’s prophecy shouted out for godliness and purity in a nation sinful to its core. The people of Judah had long since turned their backs on God, not only in their personal lives but also in their worship. This reflected the depth of their sin and the deep need for God’s people to be purged on their path to restoration.
They had had turned the worship of God into a fiasco. Today we also make worship of God a mockery when we live in open sin. Do you come before the Lord looking the part without acting it?
Isaiah 1:11-15 NKJV “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord . “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
Allow Zephaniah to remind you how seriously God takes your life and your relationship with Him. And if you have failed, remember the message of Zephaniah God is always a God of restoration and hope.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 NKJV Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord , is in your midst; You shall see disaster no more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” “I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly, Who are among you, To whom its reproach is a burden. Behold, at that time I will deal with all who afflict you; I will save the lame, And gather those who were driven out; I will appoint them for praise and fame In every land where they were put to shame. At that time I will bring you back, Even at the time I gather you; For I will give you fame and praise Among all the peoples of the earth, When I return your captives before your eyes,” Says the Lord
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