I said, Surely thou will 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.
Zephaniah is a book of contrasts. Perhaps no other prophecy in the Old Testament paints a blacker picture of God's judgment than does Zephaniah. It is a foreboding portrait of the day of Jehovah, the day of the Lord. Still, no prophet paints a brighter picture of Israel's future glory.
Zephaniah was a unique prophet. A contemporary of Jeremiah, more is known about the pedigree of Zephaniah than any other prophet. The first verse of this prophecy shows that his lineage was in the royal line; he was the great-great-grandson of good King Hezekiah. His royal heritage makes Zephaniah's rebuke of the nobles and princes all the more significant. He spoke to Judah and Jerusalem as one of their own, as royalty.
Taking occasion from the threat of invasion by the savage Scythian hordes from the north, Zephaniah preached of the coming of the great day of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem. With all the fervor of a revivalist, Zephaniah announced, "The great day of the LORD is near.... That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.... And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD; and their blood shall be poured out as dust.... Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD'S wrath...for He shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land" (Zephaniah 1:14-18).
In the three chapters of this tiny book nearly every word is laced with a warning about God's wrath. In chapter 1 the utter desolation of Judah is predicted as a judgment for idolatry and neglect of the Lord. In chapter 2 Zephaniah predicts that the house of Judah as well as her enemies, Moab and Ammon, will be threatened with perpetual destruction. In chapter 3 he turns his attention to the city of Jerusalem, calling it "filthy and polluted" and "the oppressing city."
Hurling invectives at Jerusalem's princes, her judges, her prophets, and her priests, Zephaniah warns that "the just LORD is in the midst thereof; He will not do iniquity: every morning doth He bring His judgment to light, He faileth not" (Zephaniah 3:5). Literally, morning by morning God will bring His judgment on the wicked city of Jerusalem. No one who defies the Lord God ever escapes punishment. Still, the princes, prophets, priests, and inhabitants of Jerusalem paid no attention to Zephaniah's warning. Instead, "they rose early and corrupted all their doings" (Zephaniah 3:7).
Although this section of Zephaniah's prophecy ends with the failure of the people to heed his warnings, nonetheless the prophet concludes with a series of promises (Zephaniah 3:8-20). The general tone of this last portion is messianic, speaking of the day when Christ will gather the nations and assemble His kingdoms, the day in which He will be in the midst of Jerusalem on Mount Zion, and the faithful remnant of Israel will rejoice and sing praises unto Him.
Zephaniah's life as a prophet was a miserable one; he was unheeded and mocked. Still, the future fulfillment of all his prophecies will grant him eternal vindication. It would be Zephaniah's prayer that none of us today rise early to corrupt our ways. Let's answer his prayer.
MORNING HYMN For the Lord our God shall come And shall take His harvest home: From His field shall in that day All offenses purge away-- Give His angels charge at last In the fire the tares to cast But the fruitful ears to store In His garner evermore.
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