Home / Commentary / Zephaniah / Zephaniah Chapter 1
The LORD gives a message to the prophet Zephaniah during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah
The LORD announces that He will sweep away all living creatures on the face of the earth because of man’s idolatry and rebellion. If He will thus judge the earth, then most certainly He will judge His own people who have violated their covenant agreement to follow His ways.
Zephaniah admonishes the people of Judah to be silent before the LORD because the day of His judgment is imminent.
The LORD announces judgment on the people of Judah for their exploitation and spiritual arrogance. He invites the commercial interests and possessors of property to mourn, as their wealth will be pilfered and expropriated by invaders.
Zephaniah announces the imminent day of the LORD’s wrath. His prophecy applies both to Judah, and its imminent invasion by Babylon, as well as the ultimate conquering of earth by Jesus, when He will cleanse the earth of sin and restore it to its original, harmonious design.
Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah. He encouraged the people to return to God, honor the vows they made to God under their covenant with Him, and avoid the penalties associated with violating their vows. The message of Zephaniah complements that of the prophet Jeremiah. Both seek to encourage Judah to repent and return to their Suzerain (Ruler) God, and honor their covenant with Him, thus avoiding His day of wrath.
King Josiah reigned in Judah from 640 to 609 BC. The Babylonians placed Judah under servitude shortly after his death, in 605 BC, taking its then king Jehoiachin captive, and carrying off the treasures from the temple, along with many officials and soldiers. Judah rebelled again. In 586 BC, Jerusalem was destroyed and all but the poorest of the people were exiled.
Zephaniah’s prophecy has not only an immediate application to Judah, and the looming invasion by Babylon, but also pictures the ultimate judgment Jesus will inflict upon the earth, cleansing it of evil, exploitation, and violence, and restoring it to its original, perfect design.
In this short book, Zephaniah calls to repentance, and prophesies judgement upon Judah, its neighboring nations, and the nations of the earth. The book can be viewed as a study in the moral cause-effect relationships God built into His creation.
God built into the moral universe what might be considered a moral law of reciprocity. The second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves. If we set aside selfish interests and serve others, we actually discover our greatest fulfillment. Since (because of the Fall of Man) this is not our natural instinct, the first and greatest commandment is an essential precursor to follow this moral reality: to love God and obey Him with all our being. If we trust that God has our best interest at heart, that leads to a perspective that allows us to live into this great moral law.
The moral mirror of this “love-your-neighbor” principle might be called the “exploit-before-you-are-exploited” principle. There is a natural death, and (ironic) self-destruction God built into His creation for those who follow this exploit-your-neighbor principle. We can see this many places in scripture, including Zephaniah 2:8-11. In the New Testament, we see God’s wrath described as giving people over to their own passions, where (to use modern terminology) they become addicts, then lose their mental health (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
Zephaniah can help the modern reader understand that the laws of cause-effect in God’s moral universe are just as certain, and just as inevitable as the physical laws. We can decide not to believe in gravity, but we will still hit the ground.
Zephaniah 1 contains a proclamation of judgement on Judah as well as upon the entire earth. What will transpire in Judah when Babylon conquers and exiles its inhabitants will also take place at the end of this age, when Jesus returns to earth. This prophecy took place during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, who led Judah to return to God. As a result, God stayed the day of judgement until Josiah’s sons ascended to the throne, at which time the judgement was implemented through the agent of the kingdom of Babylon.
An outline for Chapter 1 is as follows: