Zephaniah 1:1 continues and gives us the prophet’s genealogy. He is the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah.
Who is Hezekiah? We have heard of him, right? He is one of those characters from the Old Testament that we don’t know much about, isn’t he? He was a righteous King who ruled in Judah. As he ruled the people of Judah from Jerusalem, he was faithful to God. He ruled during the time that Isaiah was a prophet in the land. And we see here now a prophet who is a descendant of Hezekiah prophesying during the reign of Josiah. Zephaniah then is part of the Royal family. He has access to the King, to the palace, to royalty…as a family member descended from one of the more righteous kings in the history of Judah. He has the access and ability to preach to the King of Judah, his cousin.
We will see now through the rest of the message why that is so important. As we learn, or perhaps you already know, who Josiah is, when he came to reign, and what he accomplished and was dealing with as king of Judah, we will see how crucial it is that Zephaniah had access to him to speak the Word of the Lord to him.
Zephaniah, by the way, also ministered near the time Jeremiah was a prophet and was also preaching to the people about the coming judgment for sin if they did not repent and reject their idols and return to the Lord their God. As Jeremiah preached to the people as a major prophet, here Zephaniah was able to preach directly to the family of the king and to the king himself who ruled in Judah.
As I stated at the beginning there are many so-called scholars who look at this little book and think it is insignificant and simply too repetitive to take the time to study and digest what the Lord is saying through Zephaniah. Some have even questioned why Zephaniah is even included in the canon of Scripture – why do we have this little book in our Bibles today? What we will learn and hopefully understand is that as a Minor Prophet – and how many Minor Prophets are there in the Old Testament? Minor not in their ministry or message, but shorter, “minor” messages when compared to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. There are 12 Minor Prophets: Hosea (which we will study this year, Lord willing, after we finish this series and then a series through 2 Peter), Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
And Zephaniah summarizes the messages of the first 9 (of which he is one). And then after that there were 3 others. Nine of them prophesied before Judah was taken into exile into Babylon. And who were some of the people we know who were taken into exile during the time of judgment prophesied? Daniel, and Hananiah, Mishaal, Azaria (better known as Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego). They were the brightest, best of the young men in Judah – taken and put in school to serve the court of the king Nebuchadnezzar. And we know that each of these prophets came with a specific message to the people of God warning them that judgment was coming if they did not repent. They had sinned against God, broken their covenant with Him, were worshipping idols, intermarrying with the nations around them and embracing their cultural ways and deities, they were participating in paganism and if they did not stop and stop soon there were going to be serious and severe consequences.
Two hundred years before this, in 722 BC, Israel had been taken into captivity by Assyria, whose capital city we know from the story of Jonah, Nineveh. The Assyrians took Israel captive fulfilling the prophets words of judgment from God if the people did not repent – and now God has been giving a warning to Judah and they are about to be taken by Babylon if they refuse to repent. Exile and captivity was coming (we know now that it happened in 586 BC). So Zephaniah summarizes the ministry of the first 9 minor prophets. He gleans truth from them and gives us a nice neat little dreadful summary. He tells the people exactly what God is going to do and when He is going to do it!
He is summarizing this not just to the people, but to the king, to King Josiah. And the King will prove to be the tool in God’s hand either to bring revival or to bring further judgment. What we will learn in our study these next 7 or so weeks, is that Josiah listened to the message of the prophet and God used him to bring about a great reform and revival in Judah. He heard what Zephaniah said and acted in obedience to the Word of God and there was a time of blessing for a respite, until later when Josiah’s son came to reign, he brought wickedness to the people and they ran further back into their sin and God turned them over to Babylon as a result.
So we have read verse 1, “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 I hope we all know the story of King Josiah. Even if so, we get to hear it again this morning! He became king as the age of 8 years old. He was “the boy king.” He reigned from 640 to 609 BC, and as we look at his lineage, his father was King Amon, his grandfather was King Manasseh, and Manasseh was Hezekiah’s son. Again Hezekiah was a godly king, and if we look at 2 Chronicles 31 and 2 Kings 20 we can see some of what happened to set the stage for the reign of the boy king.
In 2 Chronicles 31:1, we read about the reforms of King Hezekiah, “Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke the sacred pillars in pieces, cut down the wooden images, and threw down the high places and the altars—from all Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh—until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned to their own cities, every man to his possession.”
In verses 20 and 21 we read, “20 Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the Lord his God. 21 And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.”
Hezekiah was a godly king. He was determined to do what was right. What marked his reign was that he tore down the high places set up for the worship of idols. He purified the worship of God and rid the nation of idolatry. He focused people on worshipping God according to His Word. What a great thing it is for the Scriptures to tell us that everything he did was good in the sight of God! What a testimony. Everything he did, every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandments he was seeking God and he did it with all of his heart.
As Hezekiah did this he did at one point disobey God. As the Babylonians were coming to meet with him he was told not to reveal the true treasures of the land of Judah. The prophet Isaiah warned that the Babylonians would want what Judah had, and they would come and take it. But Hezekiah did not heed this warning, and he showed the treasures of Judah to the Babylonian envoys, showing all that God had blessed His people with, and of course what happened was that the Babylonians decided that they had to have it – and they came to attack Judah and try to take it.