Zephaniah Chapter One


Read Zephaniah 1:1 – Introduction


v.11The 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.”


            “THE WORD OF THE LORD WHICH CAME UNTO ZEPHANIAH”, again we are reminded that the words of the prophets recorded “FOR OUR LEARNING” (Romans 15:4) are a revelation from of the mind of God.  The Apostle Peter assures us as well:


For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” II Peter 1:21


We are reminded that the prophets; like the apostles of Jesus Christ, spoke those things that they were taught of the Holy Spirit of God:


Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I Corinthians 2:13


            Zephaniah isn’t a prophet whose writings many of us have studied in any depth or that immediately comes to mind when we think of the prophets of God.  So, just who was Zephaniah?

            First he is the great-great-grandson of one of the good kings of Judah, Hezekiah, who reigned for some 29 years.  Had Hezekiah been alive when Zephaniah prophesied he would have been very pleased with him because we read about Hezekiah:


And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.” II Kings 18:3


            Zephaniah was contemporary with Jeremiah and prophesied to Judah almost 100 years after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria.  He lived and worked during the reign of Josiah, another good king of Judah, who was made king of Judah at age eight and reigned for 31 years.  As with his great-great-grandfather we read of Josiah:


And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.” II Kings 22:2


Read Zephaniah 1:2-18 – God’s Judgment Against Judah


v.2I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.”


            These first words of the Lord should be enough to get anyone’s attention.  He will “UTTERLY CONSUME” everything off the land.  Translators have had a problem with the original Hebrew as the world translated land in the KJV also means earth and the ASV translates it this way.  But context determines meaning in many cases and that is the case here where Zephaniah is talking about the land of Judah, not the entire earth.

            When Israel was given the land of Canaan, God promised them:


The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” Deuteronomy 28:8


But God also warned them that disobedience to his law would bring disaster:


“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee:” Deuteronomy 28:45


v.3I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD.”


            This verse is very similar to the prophecy that Hosea spoke against Israel:


Hosea 4:3  Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.”


            The land would be devastated, cleaned of any means of supporting its inhabitants.  Their “STUMBLINGBLOCKS”, their idols, their wealth, and all of those things that kept them from following God would be removed and finally they would be cut off from the land itself.


v.4I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests;”


            The hand of Almighty God will be against Judah and Jerusalem.  Josiah, as king of Judah, was a great reformer, destroyed the idol gods, the high places, restored the temple worship and even commanded Judah to observe the Passover.  But Josiah also defied God’s warning, went to war against Egypt and died because of his rebellion:


II Chronicles 35:22Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo.”


And the kings that followed him were as evil as any that came before, consequently the idol worship and everything else began all over again.

            What were the Chemarims?  Priests of Baal.


v.55And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham;”


            In addition to worshipping idol gods, the Judeans also were deep in to astrology and the worship of the creation of God found in the heavens, just as people do today who follow the teachings of astrologists.  Speaking of Josiah we find in:


II Kings 23:5And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.”


So they had set up places of worship on high places and on the rooftops of their homes for this purpose.


            Judah’s punishment will be universal, no one will be spared, even those who are characterized as those who did “WORSHIP AND SWEAR BY THE LORD” will be included.  Why would God do this?  We’re told that this represents those who claimed to follow God but only appeared to do so, or only did so when it was convenient.  A warning to many today who are in the same situation.

            The prophet also calls out those that swear by “MALCHAM”, who was Malcham?  In denouncing the idolatry of Israel by God we find his name among the pagan gods listed:


I Kings 11:33 “Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father.”


Malcham, or Milcom was the god of the Ammonites, descendants of Lot.


v.6And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor inquired for him.


            Here God includes all those, whatever their sin, who turned away from Him; much the same as in the words of Isaiah:


Isaiah 1:4Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.”


v.7-87Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests.  And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.”


            God here characterizes the punishment of Judah as a sacrifice, a blood sacrifice, not one that will atone for their sins but that will come as a result of their sins.  In the words of Jeremiah, the prophet who was contemporary with Zephaniah;


Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah.” Jeremiah 39:6


Of course, God’s guests here are the king of Babylon and his Chaldeans.  Who are those clothed in strange apparel?  They would be those who have adopted the ways of their neighbors, those who are not clothed as the people of God.  We have a parallel in the New Testament.  Who remembers where and under what circumstances?  Jesus parable of the wedding feast:


Matthew 22:11And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:”


And this man was removed from God’s wedding feast and cast into outer darkness with all the others who had refused to attend.


v.9  9In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.”


            This is a further description of part of their sins.  We’re told that those who followed superstitions believed that the threshold of the house was protected by the household gods.  Robbers or burglars would jump over the threshold to escape the attention of the god protecting that house so here he is talking about those who followed superstition rather than God.  The carrying of the bride over the threshold is rooted in the same superstition. The others are those who stole, were unfaithful stewards or otherwise did not serve their masters as they should.  This same analogy could be applied to their service to their ultimate Master, God.


v.10And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, and a great crashing from the hills.”


            This is a reference to an actual location within the city of Jerusalem.  We read of the fish gate in the time of Manasseh, king of Judah before Josiah.


II Chronicles 33:14Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah.”


            The howling likely refers to the sounds made by the attacking forces, much like an American Indian war cry or the Rebel yell heard in the War Between the States.  In addition they would beat upon their shields with their weapons making a crashing sound, all done to strike fear in the hearts and minds of those they were attacking.


v.11Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.”


            Maktesh is another name for the Kidron Valley which bordered the hills upon which Jerusalem was built.  It was the valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.  It was used as a burial ground, garbage dump and was the habitation of lepers, beggars and the lowest level of their society.  All levels of their society, from the lowest to the merchants, who were among the highest and those who actually had silver to carry to transact business would be included in God’s punishment.


v.12And 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.”


            No one will escape God’s punishment; no one will be able to hide in the recesses, nooks or crannies of the city, they will be searched out and found.  Who are the “MEN THAT ARE SETTLED IN THEIR LEES: THAT SAY” that God will not punish them?  In the prophecy of Amos against Israel we find:


Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!” Amos 6:1


They are the ones who trust in themselves, trust in false assurances, or anything of that nature rather than God, who are at ease in their relationship with God.  Do we have a parallel in today’s world?  Of course; those who are at ease because they have been seduced by false prophets and false doctrines.  Man was warned by the Chief Shepherd:


For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” Mark 13:22


These are those who believe that God will save all that they consider to be “good men” regardless of whether they have obeyed God’s commandments or not.


v. 13Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof.”


            As part of His covenant with them God had promised Israel punishment if they rejected or turned away from him.  We can look at Deuteronomy chapter 28 where the words in their law could not have been made clearer.  Just two of the verses found there:


Deuteronomy 28:30Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof.” v.39Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them.”


            “ANOTHER MAN” in this context would be the soldiers that would capture their wives and daughters to slavery; their houses would be made desolate, their vineyards destroyed and they would not enjoy the fruits of their labor.


v.14The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.”

            The “GREAT DAY OF THE LORD” is near; disaster is imminent; hurry, repent and turn to God before that day arrives!  That sounds like fair warning doesn’t it.  Zephaniah is giving much the same warning that Joel gave Judah in his prophecy:


Joel 2:1Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;”


The day is coming closer and closer when the curses pronounced by God in the covenant that we have referenced that are recorded in Deuteronomy will be brought to bear on them.


And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?” Joel 1:11


In about 25 years the first captives will be carried away; in about 50 years Jerusalem will be but a memory.  And much the same will occur when the end of the world comes.  Should we not hear the same warning today?  Should we not understand that for us the Lord can come at any time, whether through our departure from this life, or through the final judgment?


v.15That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness,”


            Again we turn back to Joel to tell us about what that day will hold for Judah:


Joel 1:2A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.” v.31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.”


            That day will indeed be a day of wrath, the wrath of an almighty God directed against his unfaithful children.  But this is also a description of another day, when the wrath of God will be turned against his enemies for the last time.  When God will reap mankind from the earth both living and dead like ripe grain ready for harvest and:


8In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;” II Thessalonians 1:8-9


v.16-17 A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.  And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.”


            It will be a day of the trumpet, the trumpet of war that sounds to direct the armies being brought against them.  The alarm will be raised because the fenced cities and with their high towers or battlements will be under assault and will not stand because God’s longsuffering has ended and judgment has come.  As the covenant that the children of Israel had made with declared; when they disobeyed God.


And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee.” Deuteronomy 28:29


v.18Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.”


            In years past and up until their actual captivity, Judah had been able to buy peace with the silver and gold in the kings and temple treasury but, no more.  What did the wise man of God record for us about material wealth?




            Only righteousness would deliver Judah, only righteousness will deliver us from the wrath of God when he comes again:


Zephaniah 2:3Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger.”


William L. Schwegler; Sunset church of Christ, Shreveport, Louisiana; February 22, 2009