By Joseph Ametepe
Zephaniah is the first of two books in the Old Testament that begins with the letter "Z"- the other being Zechariah. Zephaniah is a powerful and practical prophetic book of the Old Testament. The name "Zephaniah" means "the Lord hides" or "shelters," or "protects." Zephaniah is the ninth of the twelve Minor Prophets. The prophetic book of Zephaniah begins with judgment but ends with joy. Just as God's redeemed remnant are urged to sing and shout for joy, so also the Lord Himself will sing and shout over them at the end of Zephaniah's prophetic message. The book announces to Judah and the surrounding nations God's approaching judgment but assures Judah and the nations that God will be merciful toward the truly repentant.
Martin Bucer, a sixteenth century Christian writer shares this poignant insight about Zephaniah: "If anyone wishes all the secret oracles of the prophets to be given in a brief compendium, let him read through this brief Zephaniah." Also, noted Bible Expositor and Pastor James Montgomery Boice shares this salient insight about the prophetic book of Zephaniah: "Of all the minor prophets, Zephaniah has suffered most from obscurity and from an academic "bad press." He is so obscure that he is often confused with Zechariah, whose much longer book occurs just pages later in the Bible. In the scholarly world Zephaniah is often dismissed as dull and derivative." Author, Teacher and Pastor Chuck Swindoll also shares this practical and thought provoking insight on the book of Zephaniah: "Zephaniah was a prophet who brought both good news and bad news, Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he reported the bad news first and then the good news. The opening chapters are filled with judgment and deep gloom. Zephaniah prophesied judgment first against the nation of Judah, and then the surrounding nations. The words of rebuke to Judah were severe, bold, extreme and unrelenting. Zephaniah predicted horrible judgment on those who had turned back, on the princes and priests, on the stagnant in spirit and also on those who were spiritually complacent. There was hope for those faithful individual who repented and sought the Lord, but judgment would come on a national level."
Certainly, these quotations show how relevant the message of Zephaniah is for our times. Just as the prophet Zephaniah faithfully brought both good news and bad news, so also believers today must faithfully declare both the good news and the bad news. Just as Zephaniah proclaimed the message of God, not only to the people of Judah, but also to her princes, priests, and prophets and to the people of other nations without fear or favor, so also true Christians must do in reliance upon the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. In this age of grace, no one, great or small, black or white, prominent or poor, is exempt from hearing God's message of redemption in Jesus Christ. Just as the prophet Zephaniah was deeply concerned about the spiritual and moral corruption in Judah and Jerusalem and warned God's chosen people of coming judgment, so also God's believing people today must express deep concern for the moral corruption and spiritual degeneration in their land and warn people of God's approaching judgment-assuring the repentant that they will find mercy before God. Also, the message of Zephaniah is applicable in our day because it shows the universal tendency toward evil among humans. The violence, brutality, wickedness, oppression, arrogance, and aggression that are being manifested today on a world-wide scale will eventually be judged by the Righteous Judge, just as He did in the days of Zephaniah.
The prominent doctrines clearly taught and vividly illustrated in Zephaniah include: the person of God, the punishment of God, the people of God, the power of God, the patience of God, the personal care of God, the prophecy of God, the promise of God, the purification of God, the preservation of God, and presence of God. Although Zephaniah is considered a minor prophet, yet his book contains several major spiritual lessons for God's believing people today. It is therefore our prayer that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pay careful attention to its timeless truths and teachings for our own spiritual growth and good. And that, in doing so in dependence on the Holy Spirit, He will teach, train and transform us more and more into the glorious likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ in such a time as this. May God richly bless you as you listen to the verse by verse exposition of the powerful and practical prophetic book of Zephaniah!
Zephaniah's prophecy was received during the days of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 B.C.). In 722 B.C., Assyria, the dominant world power at the time, led the people of the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity. However, in the days of King Josiah of Judah, the Assyrian world power status and domination were waning, and soon Babylon would become the dominant world power. It would be during the Babylonian domination that the southern kingdom of Judah would be led into the Babylonian captivity. The slideshow below illustrates that.