Zephaniah Chapter Three

 

Read Zephaniah 3:1-7 – God’s Warning to Jerusalem

 

v.1  Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!”

 

            The Northern Kingdom of Israel has been destroyed.  Zephaniah has spoken the word of God to Judah concerning the destruction of their neighboring kingdoms and even Assyria, who destroyed Israel.  God is going to bring a scouring of the land on the eastern end of the Mediterrean Sea and clean it of much of that which is repugnant to Him.  Now the prophet turns his attention to the city of Jerusalem.  It was spared destruction by Assyria during the reign of Hezekiah and no doubt the Judeans were still confident in their perception of their special status as God’s chosen people.  But that is going to change and they are being given fair warning.  The “OPPRESSING CITY”, Jerusalem, is “FILTHY AND POLLUTED.”  The reason for their condition is recorded by Jeremiah:

 

Jeremiah 5:23But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone.”

 

They stand in the face of God obstinate and rebellious against his laws and in violation of their covenant.

 

v.2She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God.”

 

            God brings four charges against Judah.  First she obeyed not His voice.  Jeremiah in his prophecy also reminds Judah of the words of God at Marah where He turned the bitter water into sweet and brought the same charge against them:

 

Jeremiah 7:23-24But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. 24But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.”

 

“SHE RECEIVED NOT CORRECTION” – God had brought trial and trouble upon them again and again.  Virtually the entire book of Judges is devoted to times when Israel was oppressed and through the intervention of someone sent by God that oppression was removed.  The prophets have warned them again and again but Judah is worse than Israel under the Judges:

 

Jeremiah 7:26Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.”

 

“SHE TRUSTED NOT IN THE LORD” – In a psalm of Asaph he speaks of the anger of God for the various sins of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness:

 

Psalms 78:21-22 “THERE THE LORD HEARD this, AND WAS WROTH: SO A FIRE WAS KINDLED AGAINST JACOB, AND ANGER ALSO CAME UP AGAINST ISRAEL; BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED NOT IN GOD, AND TRUSTED NOT IN HIS SALVAITON.”

 

“SHE DID NOT DRAW NEAR TO GOD” – Again the psalmist Asaph writes in another psalm:

 

Psalms 73:28 “BUT it is GOOD FOR ME TO DRAW NEAR TO GOD: I HAVE PUT MY TRUST IN THE LORD GOD, THAT I MAY DECLARE ALL THY WORKS.”

 

All those who refuse to draw near to God will suffer the same fate, if not in this world, then in the next.

 

v.33Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.”

 

            In this verse the prophet describes her princes, those who are given the responsibility of watching after, protecting and providing for the people as lions who devour them instead.  Ezekiel gives a similar analogy:

 

Ezekiel 22:27  27Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.”

 

            Our founding fathers segregated the executive, judicial and legislative branches of our government so that each one would a check and balance upon the other.  We understand the reasons for that today; but in Judah that wasn’t the situation.  While the princes devoured the people and their substance like lions on their prey, the judges were like “EVENING WOLVES” or jackals who feast on the leavings of the lions.

 

v.4Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.”

 

            Even those whom God had given the responsibility for the spiritual well-being of his people have turned against him.  God had warned them through Isaiah almost 200 years previously:

 

Isaiah 30:9-10That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: 10Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:”

 

Yet Judah was not heeding that warning and even though they had some good kings who followed the ways of David.  Judah was growing worse and worse.  Not only were the prophets false prophets but the priests were also charged with gross rebellion against the very God they pretended to serve:

 

Ezekiel 22:26Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.”

 

Preachers and elders would do well to take heed today because many have “VIOLATED MY LAW” and “PROFANED MINE HOLY THINGS” with their false doctrines and practices within the numbers of those who claim to be “of Christ”.

 

v.55The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame.”

 

            Our God is a just God, unchanging and perfect just as Moses describes Him:

 

Deuteronomy 32:5He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”

 

            He stands in the midst of Judah’s corruption, but “HE WILL NOT DO INIQUITY”, his longsuffering continues; for now.  The sun isn’t rising on a day when his judgment isn’t bringing all of these things to light through his prophets and God’s judgment will not fail.  That God’s judgment is sure and just has been brought before Judah by prophet after prophet but the “UNJUST KNOWETH NO SHAME”.  Again we look back at the words of Isaiah:

 

Isaiah 30:99That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:”

 

v.6I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant.”

 

            Zephaniah reminds Judah of the consequences of their rebellion against God.  He has just finished bringing word of God’s judgment against Judah’s neighbors in chapter two.  Now he brings to Judah an assurance that God will carry out his judgment against them by speaking of cutting off “THE NATIONS” as though it has already happened.  Their kinsmen and near neighbors; the northern kingdom of Israel, has already been destroyed.  Jeremiah asks:

 

Who is the wise man, that may understand this? and who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD hath spoken, that he may declare it, for what the land perisheth and is burned up like a wilderness, that none passeth through?” Jeremiah 9:12

 

v.7I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.”

 

            The Holy Spirit causes Zephaniah to write as though God was not all-knowing.  It is almost as though God is standing in amazement at just how obstinate his chosen people have become.  He have them the ability to reason, to hear and comprehend but they are not doing either.  “SURELY THOU WILT FEAR ME”, surely “THOU WILT RECEIVE INSTRUCTION”; surely they would remember their covenant and the warnings given through their prophet Moses:

 

Deuteronomy 28:15But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: “

 

And then the rest of this long chapter of Deuteronomy is devoted to enumerating the curses and punishments that will be visited upon Israel if they do not heed God’s warnings.  Throughout their history this happened but it has had little effect as Hosea wrote:

 

Hosea 9:9They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins.”

 

Read Zephaniah 3:8-13 – Judah Should Endure Through God’s Punishment

 

v.8Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.”

 

            God tells Judah to “WAIT YE UPON ME”.  David during a time when he was being persecuted by his enemies bolstered his faith this way:

 

Psalms 27:14 “WAIT ON THE LORD: BE OF GOOD COURAGE, AND HE SHALL STRENGTHEN THINE HEART: WAIT, I SAY, ON THE LORD.”

 

Just as David could not stop his enemies from their quest to destroy him, neither can Judah stop God from bringing his judgment upon them.  God is determined that he will gather the nations just as he told us through the prophet Joel:

 

Joel 3:2I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.”

 

But the day of pleading has passed and the day of judgment has come, Judah will suffer God’s punishment and all she can do is endure.  As Ezekiel writes:

 

Ezekiel 38:21-23And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every man’s sword shall be against his brother. 22And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. 23Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD.”

 

v.9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.”

 

            The reason that Judah must endure is that God through his punishment would purify them; turn them again into a people who would call upon “THE NAME OF THE LORD AND SERVE HIM”.  Here the prophet seems to refer back again to his message in chapter two.  There as a result of the power of God manifested among men:

 

Zephaniah 2:11The LORD will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen.”

 

While chapter two refers to the coming of Christ, this verse refers to the purification of his people that he will bring about so that he can bring Christ into the world as the context that follows will show.  First they must be returned from their captivity.

 

v.10From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.”

 

            God’s people will be restored from “BEYOND THE RIVERS OF ETHIOPIA”.  While the present day and in many ways the latter day span of control of Ethiopia or Cush was and is restricted to the eastern coast of Africa this was not always the case.  As we studied in Genesis chapter 2, Ethiopia controlled, at one time, even the land in which the Garden of Eden was located which includes much of what is today called the Arabian peninsula.  This includes parts of modern day Iraq and much of the Babylon where Judah was held captive.

            Both during the time of Judah after her restoration from captivity and during the time of Christ the “DAUGHTER’S OF MY DISPERSED” did indeed bring their offerings to God from these places.

 

v.11In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain.”

 

            In the day of their restoration to Jerusalem they would not be ashamed because of their sins but faithful, humble and contrite in the presence of God.  

 

Nehemiah 3:1, 41And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.” v.4 “They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required;”

 

The daily temple worship and much, if not all of, the covenant of Moses was reinstated and followed, at least through the period of silence between the testaments and at the time of Christ’s birth.  At the time of Christ we can see that a lot of that humility had gone away for those of the sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees and their haughtiness had returned.

In the coming of Christ, they would no longer be ashamed of their sins because their sins would be removed.

 

Isaiah 45:17But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.”

 

v.12  I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.”

 

            The result of their captivity was the people that returned to Jerusalem were, for the most part; content to remain as they were waiting for the Messiah to come.  Then, indeed, when God does build spiritual Zion the poor will trust in it just as Isaiah writes:

 

Isaiah 14:32What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the LORD hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.”

 

v.13The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”

 

            Here the prophet shifts to what is obviously a description related to spiritual Israel.  Only those who have been forgiven of their sins could be considered as without sin, or a deceitful tongue nor one that would do no iniquity.  This does not indicate that man will not sin but rather that man will have a means to have his sins removed both past and present.  Or as Isaiah writes:

 

Isaiah 60:21Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.

 

Or as described by Ezekiel:

 

Ezekiel 34:28 “And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid.”

 

Read Zephaniah 3:14-20Zion’s Unspeakable Joy

 

v.14Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.”

 

            What greater joy could a man or a daughter of Jerusalem have than to know that they are without doubt a child of Almighty God.  The prophet Zechariah writes of that day to come:

 

Zechariah 2:10-11Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD. 11And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.”

 

The apostle John leaves us no doubt but that we can know this fact:

 

I John 1:1-3My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.  3And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”

 

v.15The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.”

 

            In spiritual Israel God will take away all judgments, his people will not suffer calamities, slavery, or destruction brought about by God to punish them.  Just as we saw in an earlier verse:

 

Zephaniah 3:5The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not;…

 

            The Lord is in the midst of them, and of us, the King of Israel did come and walk with his disciples as Nathanael declared to Jesus:

 

John 1:49Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”

 

            The Lord has cast out evil and restricted Satan, the source of evil and corruption, so that he no longer rules over the souls of men because of their sin:

 

Revelation 20:2And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,”

 

Men are no longer bound to their sins because God has set them free through redemption.

 

v.16In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.”

 

            Those who have turned their lives over to God will have nothing to fear.  This life is good and even if this life has troubles, trials and we suffer because of our faith the value of our reward is almost beyond our ability to understand.

 

Isaiah 35:3-4Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. 4Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.

 

Or as the Apostle Paul encourages us:

 

Galatians 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

 

v.17The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”

 

            In his covenant with Israel God promised them:

 

Deuteronomy 30:9And the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the LORD will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers:”

 

And so long as Israel kept God’s covenant he did exactly as he promised.  In looking to the law, our schoolmaster, those things that the Apostle Paul assures us:

 

4For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.Romans 15:4

 

We can readily see the love, compassion and care that God gave his obedient children; how he kept his promises, how he provided for their every need.

 

v.18-19I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden. 19Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.”

 

            God has given us more than one witness regarding the joy that is to be found in the kingdom of his Son, spiritual Israel.  By Ezekiel:

 

I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. 16I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. Ezekiel 34:15-16

 

By Micah, whose writings we just studied:

 

Micah 4:6-7In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; 7And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.”

 

v.20At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.”

 

            God will indeed turn back the captivity of his people.  For Judah the captivity of Babylon and Persia; for modern man the captivity of sin.  Just as Isaiah recorded:

 

Isaiah 11:12  And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

 

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