Some help understanding Zephaniah, from John Piper’s sermon, “The Lord Will Rejoice Over You” (Tagline: “Every staff on which we try to lean in our pride will snap and pierce us through. One refuge will be secure: God.”)
According to Zephaniah 1:1, the prophet Zephaniah delivered the Word of the Lord during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah. Josiah reigned from 637 to 608 BC. So his reign came to an end just 20 years before Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians and Israel was taken into captivity. Josiah is the king, you recall, who found the long-lost book of the law in the temple and tried to reform the people who had drifted so far into idolatry and wickedness. Zephaniah, then, was a part of this effort to call Judah, and especially Jerusalem, back to God.
What I would like to do this morning is give a brief outline of the book of Zephaniah, then let each section have its say, and as we go apply the teaching to us, especially the section on God’s joy at the end.
Outline of Zephaniah
I think the book falls naturally into five parts.
- First, chapter 1 announces the coming judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem. Verse 4, “I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
- Second, chapter 2, verses 1–3, calls the nation back to God, and specifically (as it says in verse 3) to “seek righteousness and seek humility.”
- Third, in chapter 2, verses 4–15, Zephaniah announces the judgment that is also coming on the lands that surround Judah: the Philistines to the east (vv. 4–7), Moab and Ammon to the west (vv. 8–11), theEthiopians to the south (v. 12), and Assyria to the north (vv. 13–15).
- The fourth section of the book is chapter 3, verses 1–7. Here Zephaniah turns his attention to Jerusalem again and lengthens the catalogue of God’s accusations against her.
- Finally, chapter 3, verses 8–20, proclaims the conversion of the peoples (v. 9), the conversion and re-gathering of Israel (v. 10), and the glorious future of all the godly as God rejoices over them with gladness.
I think the main point of the book is 2:3, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility.” The rest of the book is mainly made up of warnings that judgment is coming upon the proud, and promises that the humble and righteous who seek refuge in the Lord will be saved (3:12, 13). So there are three things: commands, warnings, and promises. Obedience to the command in 2:3 is Zephaniah’s main goal, and the warnings and promises are incentives for the people to repent and obey.