Zephaniah, one of the Minor Prophets, one that is not looked at very often and is considered by some scholars to be insignificant because it repeats things already stated by others of the Minor Prophets, but there is a purpose for that as we will learn. Zephaniah mentions the Day of the Lord more than any other prophet.
The title of our series is “The Day of the Lord” as that is the focus of the prophecy. As we study what the prophet is saying to the people of God, we will see that he is prophesying about the first and second coming of Christ, giving us information about that great coming Day of the Lord.
We begin with “The Days of Josiah” in a look at Zephaniah 1:1. This sets the stage for the ministry and work of the prophet Zephaniah:
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.
And there is so much there in this first verse! There is history, there is theology, and all of this will help us understand the prophesy of the Lord through His servant Zephaniah. He begins by saying, “The word of the Lord.” This is where every true prophet of God will start. This is where every preacher should start – “This is what God says.” We have no business preaching or teaching anything other than what God has said! If we are to come and tell people how to live life, how to face the new year, how to deal with the fears and pains and regrets of the year that has passed, how to obey the gospel and the Word of God in daily life, how to bear spiritual fruit and be faithful and content – if we who preach share only our opinion, if we share funny stories, if we play the part of a motivational speaker or therapist, while that might be helpful from time to time, ultimately it is a failure to do what we have been called and commanded by God to do, that is to “Preach the Word, in season and out.” Speak the Word of God.
It is the Word of God that the Spirit uses to call us to salvation and to sanctify us as we are conformed by its application to the image of Christ. It is the inspired Word of God that He uses to teach us right doctrine, right living, and right thinking. Look even this week at our questions and answers from Spurgeon’s Puritan Catechism on the back of your bulletin – I hope you use these are a teaching aid for yourself, for your children, for your family…as we go in order with 2 questions a week, this week it is questions 71 and 72.
Question 71. What are the outward means whereby the Holy Spirit communicates to us the benefits of redemption? Answer. The outward and ordinary means whereby the Holy Spirit communicates to us the benefits of Christ’s redemption, are the Word, by which souls are begotten to spiritual life; Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Prayer, and Meditation, by all which believers are further edified in their most holy faith (Acts 2:41-42; Jas. 1:18).
Question 72. How is the Word made effectual to salvation? Answer. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convicting and converting sinners, (Ps. 19:7) and of building them up in holiness and comfort (1 Thess. 1:6), through faith to salvation (Rom. 1:16).
So we need to come to the Scriptures always with this question, “What is it that God says to us? What has God said?” And in this short prophesy as Zephaniah begins to relay to us the Word of the Lord, he breaks the message down into 4 sections in these 3 chapters. The opening prophesy which is most of chapter 1 speaks to the coming Day of the Lord. It is Zephaniah telling people about the promises and the dangers of the coming of the Messiah – and how the people need to be ready, they need to be watching and expecting His coming. And that is a lesson just as much for us as it was for them isn’t it? How much better would 2016 have been if Jesus had come!
His coming is our hope. And we are told to with the people of God to look for the signs expectantly. His opening prophesy is a description of the signs of the times that will point to the coming day of the Lord.
Then he spends time in chapter 2 specifying judgments against the Gentile nations that surround Judah, the southern kingdom after the split under the reign of Rehoboam, David’s grandson, the son of Solomon. And then he gets into judgments against Jerusalem because if their sin, their idolatry, and their failure to repent and return to the Lord. He is going to correct them and it will not be pleasant. And then the book closes in chapter 3 with an anticipation of God’s blessing – with see the promise that if we listen to Gods Word and obey it – as we learn in this cycle, as we sin and as God brings about consequences and chastening, if we repent then He restores and blesses us – if we do not repent and instead harden our hearts, He will bring about conviction, consequences, and circumstances to bring brokenness to our lives, working to restore us to Himself.
This is the cycle of the Old Testament. The people sin as they anger God and bear up under His judgment He tells them through the prophets and judges that they need to turn away from their sin and repent and come back and be restored to Him. And we know that repentance is part of the gospel, right? It is that change of mind, that turn from sin to Christ in faith.
This is more than just deciding that sin is bad. Or that we are sorry for the consequences of our disobedience. We do not simply replace the sin with something else – we forsake sin and embrace Christ and His Word. This is the cycle that Zephaniah is going to explain to the people once again, because we all must confess that we rarely get things the first time…and sometimes it takes hearing the same message over and over and over before it sinks in and we understand and obey what God is telling us.
Zephaniah tells the people that there will be judgment, exile in Babylon, if they do not repent. They are going to be judged – but if they will repent, God will restore them, bless them, and protect them. So he begins, “The Word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah.” Here is the prophet. His name means “The Lord hides”, not as the Lord is hiding, but that He covers. What has He hidden in our lives? If we have trusted Christ to save us He has hidden our sin, He has covered it with the shed blood of His Son. So Zephaniah’s name means “The Lord hides.”