Zephaniah 1


Zephaniah lived during one of the worst times in the history of Judah, under the evil reign of King Manasseh. The good news is, for Judah it won’t be long before Josiah begins his rule as king of the southern kingdom of Judah, and it was during his reformation when Zephaniah begins his work as a prophet, Zephaniah 1:1. This would date Zephaniah’s book between 639-609 B.C.

Josiah, 1 Kings 13:2, was only 8 years old when he began his reign, he was 15 years old when he studied the word of God and he was 20 years old when he started his religious reforms.

He did this in five areas

1. The temple. He cleared out all the material used for Baal worship.

2. The high places. Altars to Baal, the sun, moon and stars etc.

3. Jerusalem. That had altars at all the gates. Molech, human sacrifices. Zephaniah 1:10.

4. In homes. The people had trephines, mediums and wizards in their homes.

5. The people themselves. But he didn’t remove the idolatry from their hearts.

Josiah actually led Judah to religious and social reform, 2 Chronicles 34:1-3 / 2 Chronicles 34:29-34 / 2 Chronicles 35:1-19, but Zephaniah announces that these spiritual changes wouldn’t last very long. It would only be a matter of time before God’s people would turn away from God and His ways once again.

The northern kingdom of Israel was already in captivity, taken by the Assyrians but God was about to use the mighty Babylonians to punish His own people, Judah. Zephaniah and his contemporaries, Jeremiah and Habakkuk, were some of the prophets God used to pronounce this warning message.

Zephaniah condemns the idolatrous behaviour of the Canaanites and the Assyrians and announces judgment against the nations that surrounded Judah. Zephaniah also announces the destruction of Jerusalem but gives hope in terms that she will be restored again in the future.

The Prophet Zephaniah

Like most of the prophets, we don’t know a whole lot about their personal lives, but we do know that the name Zephaniah means, ‘hidden by God’, he was probably a member of the royal family of Judah and as a prophet, he prophesied in the days of Josiah.

We also know that King Hezekiah was his great, great, grandfather, Zephaniah 1:1, hence why some call him ‘the royal prophet’. The theme of his message is simply this, ‘the day of the Lord is at hand’.


Judgment of the world, and the judgment upon Israel, because of their disobedience. Zephaniah 1:1-6

The description of the judgment. Zephaniah 1:7-18

An appeal to seek God while there is still time. Zephaniah 2:1-3

The announcement of judgment on the unbelievers. Zephaniah 2:4-15

The hopeless misery of Jerusalem. Zephaniah 3:1-7

The promise of salvation. Zephaniah 3:8-20

The promise of salvation. Zephaniah 3:8-20

The Text

‘The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah.’ Zephaniah 1:1

We can read all about Zephaniah’s genealogy and beginnings in the following Scriptures, 1 Chronicles 6:36 / Jeremiah 21:1 / Zechariah 6:10 / Zechariah 6:14. As we noted earlier in the introduction, Zephaniah was born during the reign of Manasseh, who was an evil king ruling the southern kingdom of Judah but began to prophesy during the reign of King Josiah.

He gives us a lot of information in terms of his genealogy, which is unusual for a prophet and because his genealogy mentions king Hezekiah, I believe he wants us to note that he is of royal blood.

‘I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.’ ‘When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD.’ Zephaniah 1:2-3

Judgment on the Whole Earth in the Day of the LORD

As with most of the Old Testament prophets, their messages were like what some would call, ‘hellfire sermons’ but the good news is that most of them ended with a promise from God. We could say that Zephaniah’s message falls into this category, as we will see as we go through his message.

‘It’s the end of the world’, we can hear the Judeans cry. Well, in a sense, it was going to be the end of their world as they knew it. To Judah, it would certainly feel like the world as a whole was coming to an end as God pronounces His judgment upon them.

God is saying everything must go but we must remember that this is figurative because God did say that He wouldn’t destroy the earth again after the flood, Genesis 9:11-15. The earth was the known land at that time and it’s a picture of judgement on all the wicked, even the kings.

‘I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests—those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molek, those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.’ Zephaniah 1:4-6

It would be those who have and are committing idolatry who were to be judged, they were the ones who turned their back on God and His ways.

Baal worship was being practised everywhere, Baal was an ancient Canaanite and Mesopotamian deity associated with agriculture. He was believed to be the ‘giver of life’ and mankind was dependent upon him for providing what was necessary to sustain the farms, flocks and herds. He was also called the ‘son of Dagon’, who was in control of the grain, and ‘Hadad’ the storm god who would provide plentiful rains after hearing his voice in the thunder.

‘The starry hosts’ is a reference to the Assyrian worship of heavenly bodies; the Assyrians were astrologers Deuteronomy 4:19 / Deuteronomy 17:3 / 2 Kings 21:3 / Job 31:26-28 / Ezekiel 8:15-18.

Molech was the national god of the Ammonites, Leviticus 18:21, he is associated with child sacrifice, Leviticus 20:2-5 / 2 Kings 23:10 / Jeremiah 32:35. Molech represents the most repulsive of acts in God’s eyes, the ritual sacrifice of children to a pagan god, which was condemned by the Lord, including punishment by death.

God’s people had become spiritual adulterers and because of all this, there will be judgment. God now needs to punish them, in order to cleanse them from this idolatrous filth.

‘Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. ‘On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.’ Zephaniah 1:7-9

Here we have a courtroom scene, where God basically says, ‘silence in my courtroom’. Enough has been heard, enough has been seen, no more time to complain, no more time for debate, God is bringing judgment against all those who aren’t right before Him. ‘The day of the Lord is near’, this will be the day when those who have been disobedient will be punished but those who have been obedient will be saved.

God is inviting people to a feast and the guests are going to be the sacrifice, God is going to punish the unrighteous, especially those who live in Jerusalem. As with most of God’s judgments, He begins with His own people, those who are at the top of the leadership chain, 1 Peter 4:17.

These ‘officials and king’s sons’ should have known better, they were God’s leaders. Although the king himself isn’t mentioned, the judgment would come upon them all because they were all full of ‘violence and deceit’.

The ‘foreign clothes’ are a reference to their idolatry and their influence from other nations. We can imagine them dressing up like the Assyrians to the point where they not only looked like them but fully embraced their culture and religious practices.

‘The threshold’, 1 Samuel 5:5, could be a reference to a place of superstition, or it could mean robbers, with the idea of them coming in through the window.

One thing is clear, God’s people were trusting in themselves and trusted in other kings to fix their problems, but they refused to listen to God or ask Him for guidance.

‘On that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, and all who trade with silver will be destroyed. 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.’ Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.’ Zephaniah 1:10-13

God declares that when His day comes, all the merchants and all the international traders would be cut off. The ‘Fish Gate’ was one of the entrances into Jerusalem on the north side, Nehemiah 3:1-6. This is the gate the Babylonians would approach Jerusalem before destroying the city.

The ‘New Quarter’ where the wailing will happen is possibly a new part of the city of Jerusalem, built on the north side, 2 Chronicles 33:14 / 2 Kings 22:14. The ‘market district’ possibly refers to some kind of resort that the merchants used.

Zephaniah mentions four sections of Jerusalem, the ‘Fish Gate’, the ‘New Quarter’, the ‘hills’ and the ‘market district’, this tells us that the whole place is going to be affected. God is saying that the judgement coming upon Jerusalem is going to affect not only everyone who trades with Jerusalem, but also it will affect all those who live in Jerusalem. God is effectively cutting off Jerusalem’s economic supply.

Notice that God is going to search Jerusalem with lamps, there’s no hiding place from God, and all will be judged. God is going to use the Babylonians to expose His own people’s idolatry.

The word ‘dregs’ is used as a metaphor; the dregs continue to ferment, and it becomes thick and useless, in other words, God’s people had become absolutely useless because of their idolatrous behaviour. They believed that God was so far away from them, that they become totally complacent, they carried on living without thinking about their relationship with God.

They thought they didn’t need God anymore. As a result, everything the wealthy had acquired without God, would be taken away from them by the Babylonians.

‘The great day of the LORD is near—near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness—a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. ‘I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.’ In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.’ Zephaniah 1:14-18

Zephaniah says God’s wrath is coming. it will happen within their lifetime, within 19 years, it’s going to be a day of wrath. The Judeans got the wrong impression of God’s wrath, they thought that judgment was for other nations, not them. They were wrong, God is going to use the Babylonians to bring judgment upon His own people.

God says the people are useless and their blood will be poured out like dust. Dust is worthless and the entrails are dung. When this day comes, it’s going to be a day of devastation, desolation, darkness, and distress, it’s going to be a day where all the gold and silver of the world won’t deliver them from God’s wrath, Haggai 2:8.

Coffman suggests the following for verse 18, he writes, ‘it’s clear that the final judgment is in view here, for the totality of men will be involved in it. It is a marvel to some that Zephaniah seems to confuse the end of Judah and the end of the world; but, as Carson noted: The near and the distant often merge as the prophets survey the horizon of events. Events which are historically separate are often seen in a timeless sequence.’


Although God’s people were guilty of idolatry and would be taken into captivity by the Babylonians as a form of punishment. It seems that they learned their lesson, they never committed idolatry again after being freed from captivity, it took seventy years, Jeremiah 29:10, for them to learn this lesson, but they learned.

As Christians we must learn from God’s people of old, Romans 15:4, if we don’t learn from them, we will make the same mistakes and end up with the same fate.

Idolatry is still a huge problem today, it just has a different name, today it’s called wealth, health, and fame and we must be on our guard that none of these takes the place of the importance of God in our lives, Matthew 22:37 / Luke 4:8.

God never brings judgment upon anyone without first explaining to them why He is about to judge them. When judgment day comes, those who will be condemned will know exactly why they are being condemned, they have no relationship with God, and they refused to obey the Gospel.

‘He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.’ 2 Thessalonians 1:8

Go To Zephaniah 2



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