Zeph, summary book of prophecy
THE SUMMARY BOOK OF ALL PROPHECY
The writer was requested some time ago to speak on the
subject: "The Prophets and their Message". Upon reflection, this began to take
on the dimensions of a lifetime study instead of a 45-minute talk. How does one
go about condensing such a vast collection of material into manageable limits?
(By actual volume, the "prophets" -- including the Apocalypse of John --
comprise 21% of the whole Bible.)
And, furthermore, in the welter of various and sometimes
conflicting interpretations, just WHAT is the "message of the prophets"
The matter was considerably simplified by arbitrarily omitting
15 of the 16 Old Testament prophets, along with Revelation, and narrowing down
the selection of source material to one, short, little-studied book: Zephaniah.
Why Zephaniah? For one thing, it has been called, as you may
have already guessed from the title, "The summary book of all prophecy". This is
because, in only three chapters, it contains ALL of the three basic elements of
And, when you think about it, what else is there, really? In
all the other prophets, simply variations of these three themes.
- God's judgments on Israel (Zep 1:1--2:3),
- God's judgments on the
nations (Zep 2:4-15), and
- God's future kingdom, AFTER His judgments are
finished (Zep 3:1-20).
So now we are making progress. Let us consider each element in
GOD'S JUDGMENTS ON ISRAEL
Israel (or shall we say Judah?) was God's nation, and our
example. Everything they did, and everything God brought upon them, are for our
examples and admonition. So let us, who THINK we stand in God's estimation, take
earnest heed to these writings -- lest we fall, as did Israel (1Co
" 'I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,' declares the LORD.
'I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea. The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut
off man from the face of the earth' " (Zep
"I will sweep away -- or cut off"... four distinct classes of
That seems to cover the field rather well! Can we imagine any
sort of sinner who does not fall into at least one of these categories? Do we
not sometimes find even ourselves perilously entrapped in sins of most of these
- The OPEN idolaters: "every remnant of Baal, the names of the pagan and the
idolatrous priests -- those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry
host" (vv 4,5).
- The SECRET idolaters: "those who bow down and swear by the
LORD AND who ALSO swear by Molech" (v 5).
- The backsliders: "those who turn
back from following the LORD" (v 6).
- The indifferent: "those who... neither
seek the LORD nor inquire of him" (v 6).
It all has to do with "caring": the open idolaters CARE, but
they care wrongly; they have a zeal but not according to knowledge, and they bow
five times a day toward Mecca or burn incense to a smiling stone image, but it
profits them nothing.
The secret idolaters CARE too, but only half-heartedly; they
serve God at times, but they never quite overthrow the altar of "Mammon" in
The backsliders CARED for God at one time, but they stopped
caring. Perhaps the "cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches"
entered their lives and choked the word of God.
And, last, there are the indifferent, who CARE not at all, who
cannot be moved even with dynamite from the comfortable ruts of their sad, empty
What is the lesson for us? God sees and will judge EVERY type
of iniquity: the external idolatry of false religion as well as the secret,
internal idolatry of covetousness (Col 3:5), which wears a cloak of
"righteousness" in order to deceive (both itself and others).
"Search us, Lord, and know our heart.
These exhortations are lost on us if we think only of "idols"
made of wood and stone, and pride ourselves as having nothing to do with such.
But the "idols" that should frighten us, from whose bondage we should pray to be
delivered, are the modern "gods" of materialism, licentiousness (in books,
movies, and television), and pleasure-seeking! For God WILL judge EVERY type of
sin: the open indifference of atheism no more than the hidden indifference of a
lax Laodicean faith which seeks its own comfort and ignores its "nakedness" in
With every idol bid us part."
"The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited"
Christ is the one true sacrifice, so that in turn he may also
be the bridegroom of the marriage feast. The Father has invited guests to the
sacrifice -- to partake of the forgiveness of sins which Christ has made
possible, and to obtain a "wedding garment" so that they will be suitably
attired to attend the feast. But those guests who have not faithfully prepared
themselves, when they do try to enter the great marriage feast, will be punished
because they are, figuratively, "clad in foreign clothes" (v 8).
"At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are
complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, 'The LORD will do
nothing, either good or bad' " (v 12).
Is this the picture of the household of faith in the Last
Days? By their attitudes (that is, in their hearts) some appear to be saying
(although they would never dream of saying so openly) that God is indifferent to
what man does. 'Don't remind me that He sees or cares what I do. Leave me alone
to while away my satisfied, self-centered little life.'
The great causes of God are not often defeated by open frontal
attack, but rather by the slow, crushing, glacier-like mass of indifferent
disciples. The Truth of God cannot be destroyed by the enemy, but it can be
smothered to death by the lazy "friend", who sits on it!
Let us examine ourselves. We all build "fences" around
ourselves in one way or another. It is a deep-seated desire of human nature to
seek protection and security, and to forget unpleasant things. But unless we are
careful, we may come to seek our strength and support within ourselves, in our
own possessions and accomplishments. "I will build bigger barns," we say, but
God says, "You are fools. This night your lives may be required of
Let us not develop ingenious ways of keeping God and His
demands out of our lives. Let us not be children, hiding in our "playpens",
amusing ourselves with expensive and time-consuming "toys", until the urgency of
the Truth has melted away in our lives.
Rather, let us "seek the LORD... righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will
be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger" (Zep
GOD'S JUDGMENTS ON THE NATIONS
For us, these can be both warning and encouragement: warning,
because God is a jealous and holy God, whose longsuffering is not endless; but
also encouragement, because His judgments on the nations are the prelude to the
kingdom, when "the people of the world learn righteousness" (Isa
In this section (Zep 2:4-15), four peoples or groups of
peoples stand for the Gentiles in their totality:
These nations encircle Israel, which is of course at the
center of God's plan. Their "bounds" -- both as to national boundaries and
limits of influence -- are set by God according to His purpose with His people
Israel (Acts 17:26; Deu 32:8).
- To the west of Israel were the Philistines (vv 4-7) -- modern
- To the east, Moab and Ammon (vv 8-11) -- modern Jordan;
the south, Cush (Ethiopia or southern Arabia) (v 12); and
- To the north,
Assyria or Babylon (vv 13-15) -- modern Iraq.
This is a comfort to those who see and understand the Divine
Hand in world affairs. God has said, in effect, "This far you may come and no
farther; here is where your proud waves halt" (Job 38:11). Even though around us
men's hearts are failing them for fear, if God be for US, then nothing will
"harm" US except what HE causes or allows for our betterment.
GOD'S FUTURE KINGDOM
In the last section the prophet Zephaniah looks again at the
sins of Judah, but this time with a remedy. First the sins:
The sins of Jerusalem were four, and the reasons for those
sins were likewise fourfold:
The sins (Zep 3:2)
The reasons (Zep 3:3,4)
1. No obedience
1. Wicked princes
2. No correction
2. Wicked judges
3. No trust
3. Wicked prophets
4. No atonement ("drawing near")
4. Wicked priests
In Zephaniah's day, all the kings and princes (except Josiah)
were wicked men who could not lead a wicked nation into obedience. "Like
princes, like people." The judges were accustomed to bribery and graft, and did
not teach "correction" or "instruction" (AV mg). With the exceptions of
Zephaniah and Jeremiah, the prophets were false and wicked men, who trusted in
the arm of flesh and not God. And the priests, who "profaned" the sanctuary,
could not help in the least to draw men back to God.
It was a sorry state, but there was yet hope. As the sins of
the people fell under four headings, because of the failures of all four classes
of national leaders, so God's remedy for His nation (and for the world) is also
seen in four parts -- all involving Christ. The recurring theme through the last
"The LORD -- Yahweh -- is in the midst of you!" (vv
Christ was once, and will be yet again in greater scope, the
manifestation of the LORD or Yahweh upon the earth. He will be "in the midst" of
men once again, in the capacity of righteous leader, when he returns to set up
his Father's Kingdom. At that time, he will be:
THE PROPHETS' MESSAGE
- A righteous JUDGE (vv 5-7) -- who will do no iniquity himself, but will
instruct the world in righteousness.
- A righteous PROPHET (vv 8-13) -- who
will bring to mankind "a pure lip" or language (v 9), with which they will call
upon the LORD, and "the meek and humble" will "trust in the name of the LORD" (v
- A righteous KING (vv 14-16) -- who will deliver his people from evil
and lead them in the ways of obedience.
- A righteous PRIEST (vv 17-20) -- who
will save his people, and bring them back to oneness, or atonement, with
This man Christ must be our study, no matter where we turn in
the Scriptures. His mind must be in us (Phi 2:5), his delights must be ours, his
sorrows ours too. And his perception of the "world" must be shared by us. As he
walked with his disciples one day near Herod's temple, they exclaimed: "What a
great building... what great stones..."
To this he replied, "Do you see all these things? I tell you
the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown
down" (Mat 24:2).
Thereby he reminds us that nothing of what we see around us is
eternal -- not the magnificent buildings, nor the noble accomplishments, nor the
heaped-up wealth, nor the awesome weapons, nor the seductive "entertainment".
Only character is eternal, and only then when it manifests the righteousness of
God. The same prophet (yes, the greatest of all prophets!) who prophesied that
every "stone" would be cast down also said:
"Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness" (Mat
Even though we cannot see it now, that "city" and that
"kingdom" will be eternal; and it will be built up with "living stones" in which
righteousness will dwell.
Judgments there must be first, on God's people no less than on
the world. But the storm clouds will finally expend their force, and a new day
will dawn -- brighter and more blessed than we have ever witnessed -- with joys
unspeakable for those who have truly sought the LORD.
This is the prophets' message.