ZEPHANIAH 1:1– 3:20 and REVELATION 18:1–8
Zephaniah lived during the period of King Josiah’s reign making him a contemporary of Jeremiah and Huldah the prophetess. There are several themes contained in these three chapters which are picked up by several of the other prophets. The primary theme derived from Zephaniah is being “hidden” in the day of the Lord’s anger. In fact, Zephaniah’s name means “Jehovah hides”. As with the other prophets the message of Zephaniah has great significance for us. We are living in a day of great volatility and with it is a strong sense of pending judgments that will be released. It is one thing to be hid or covered by the Lord but how does one come into that place of safety? There are several keys that can be gleaned from his message.
Zephaniah lived during the Chaldean ascendancy against Judah. The Assyrians have already been destroyed by the Babylonians. Zephaniah spoke of coming judgements in the midst of Josiah’s mighty revival similar to that of Jeramiah. It is important to note that at this period of Israel’s history the king (Josiah) and two prophets (Zephaniah and Jeremiah) were all in their mid-20’s. It speaks of the potential that the younger generation can bring to the table in the challenging days before us. These young men were mature beyond their years and they represented the last great move of God in Israel before going into captivity.
One of the closing points in our summary in Habakkuk was that the revival under King Josiah took place prior to judgment. Zephaniah reinforces this truth and it may well serve as a precedent for our day. Yes, the world is in a very fragile state and there is no denying that there will be consequences for sin. Still, we need to plan and look forward to a revival that the world has yet to see. This could well be the next major event on God’s end time calendar. We need to prepare and make our nets ready.
There are 5 primary sections in Zephaniah that can serve as an outline:
1) The day of the Lord’s Judgements (1:1-18)
2) The Admonition to be Hidden (2:1-3)
3) Judgment upon other nations (2:4-15)
4) Jerusalem’s refusal to seek God (3:1-8)
5) Redeeming of the Remnant (3:9-20)
As we have seen with many of the other prophets there is a dual fulfilment of judgement as seen in verses 2-3. The destruction of the fish in the sea can only apply to the last days since nothing of that magnitude has ever taken place. Zephaniah was also speaking of that which was soon to come to Judah within the next 20-25 years. There is a sentence declared against the remnant of Baal in verse 4. This can be traced back to the time of Solomon when he began to introduce mixture in the temples surrounding the Mt of Olives. This was the fruit of Solomon opening his heart to women who served other gods. Instead of his ability to influence them they ensnared him which led to idol worship. This is where the term “remnant of Baal” would originate. Josiah was the only king who did away with duality of worship that stemmed from the worship of other gods which began under Solomon. Is it any wonder that God would honor such a revival under the reign of Josiah? There would be destruction upon those who worshipped other gods from their housetops (like some religions today) and those who chose not to seek the Lord.
We are often marked by the covering or spiritual garments that are placed upon us. This can be traced back to Genesis 3 at the time of the fall of man. When Adam sinned he immediately became aware of his nakedness. He quickly sewed fig leaves together for the purpose of covering himself. To God this would be seen as “strange or foreign apparel” (Zeph 1:8). The Lord had His own covering for Adam in the form of “animal skins” which were figurative of Christ. This is the covering that God accepts and as long as we walk in alignment with Him we can be protected under His shadow. This will be picked up in greater detail in chapter 2. In verses 9-11 there is a strong indictment against the deceitful merchants who prey upon the people for the purpose of personal enrichment. These could be likened to priests and other leaders who used their positon to exploit the people for their own gain. There was affluence amongst the leaders but not utilised in a way that benefitted Judah as a whole. There were serious gaps in wealth distribution just as there is in our day and as seen in the last day church typified by Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22).
There was a lazy and indifferent attitude amongst the people. The people would say that yesterday is like today and tomorrow will be the same. Whenever a prophet would sound out a warning there would be many who would say that they have heard it all before. This is the kind of attitude that results in one’s guard being let down. It is easy to become comfortable in a day to day routine coupled with an inability to discern and hear what exactly the Lord would be saying. It is a very dangerous attitude to have and it serves as a contrast to the vigilance that the Lord would require.
They will quickly find that in a matter of days all that they have worked hard for will be taken away from them. They put their trust in things and in other nations as opposed to the Lord and now they will suffer the consequences of it. The day of the Lord was drawing closer and it will be a day of a great slaughter of Judah by way of the Babylonians. Many are looking forward to the day of the Lord without knowing that it will be a day of judgement and devastation (vs 14-15). We see their spiritual stupor in verse 17 as they wander aimlessly without any guidance or direction. They had lost their sense of right and wrong and as result were blind to all that was taking place around them. Judah will fall to Babylon in this way and later Babylon will do the same as they fall to the Medes and Persians (Dan 5). Judah will discover that their gold will not be able to save them. It parallels the modern day church of Laodicea that will boast itself in its riches all to discover that they are naked and wretched. It is amazing in seeing how this period serves as a blueprint for where we are today. The question we need to ask ourselves is where do we put our trust? Is it in stocks, investments and the riches of this life or is it in the Lord? We do need to have money and to be prudent with the resources that God has given to us. At the same time our trust must be upon the Lord and not on the things of this world.
The primary theme of this chapter is expressed in verse 1-3. It is the exhortation to be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger. This thought is prefaced in how Israel will become a nation that is not to be desired. This has been the situation for Israel ever since its founding. If Israel would have adhered to the laws of God they would have had peace from their enemies. King David had such a Rest when he began to rule and reign upon Mt. Zion. The enemies were able to make a dent into Israel after sin came into the leadership. It started with David in his sin with Bathsheba. Solomon had a good start; he had the best of instruction and of course an intimate relationship with God. All it took was for little foxes to come in to spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15). Solomon began to love many wives whose hearts went after other gods. This then gave the enemy an open door to attack and inflict misery upon Solomon and the nations surrounding Israel. This helps to explain what is happening to America today. It was not that long ago when the USA stood for righteousness and morality. There was a slow erosion of the family in the late 1950’s into the 60’s which quickly gained momentum. It is now where you see America being despised around the world. It is one thing to not be liked but it is another thing to lose respect which is exactly what has happened. There is a covering or hedge of protection that has been drawn leaving the USA exposed and open for enemy penetration. Now is the time to seek the Lord and seek His mercy and forgiveness. Once something like this happens to a nation like Israel or America is there any remedy to correct the serious breakdown?
In verse 2 there is a decree that comes forth that demands justice for the sins of Judah. There is a consequence that comes upon the earth when sin is promoted with accompanying lawlessness. This is seen in Isa 24 where the laws and ordinances of God are violated. The lawlessness that is described in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians is playing out today on a worldwide scale. When will the righteous church arise?
The crux of Zephaniah’s message is revealed in verse 3. The exhortation is for the people to seek meekness and righteousness so that they will be “hidden” in the day of the Lord’s anger. We can think of these two attributes as garments that cover the true believer. The fruit of meekness speaks of a person who sees the Lord at work in any situation. It speaks of a person who can relinquish all their rights to God and trust Him to do what is right. It speaks of a person who does not harbour an offense but has the ability to turn the other cheek. A person who is meek makes allowance for God to move and work freely in any situation. A person who is meek has the ability to withstand the taunts and stirrings of the enemy due to an inner strength that has been produced over time. The Apostle Paul speaks of putting on 10 different garments in his letter to the Colossian church (Col 3:12). One of those garments is meekness. There are the righteous garments that adorn the bride of Christ as seen in Rev 19:8. This speaks of a “worked out” righteousness that has been produced within the life of the believer. It comes by learning to walk in the light and applying Truth within the inner parts (1 John 1:7, Psa 51:6). These are qualities that will help preserve in the coming judgements of the last days. You can see these attributes in Daniel and his friends in the day of their respective trials. We talked earlier of the mark that the angel of God placed upon the foreheads of those who sighed and cried out for the sins of the nation (Eze 9). This is a priestly prayer and one that needs to be employed in greater dimensions in our day.
The attention now turns to the judgements that will come upon other nations in verses 4-15. We saw in the prophetic ministries of other prophet’s similar pronouncements upon the surrounding nations of Israel. The Philistines are first mentioned which would be today’s modern day Palestinians. There simply cannot and will not be peace between the Palestinians and Israel since this enmity dates back to the day of the Judges. The next nations mentioned are Moab and Ammon in verses 8-11. These two nations have been looked at previously through other prophets. They came about through the incestuous relationship that Lot had with his daughters. It serves as modern day Jordan. The Ethiopians are mentioned in verse 12. It is a country that has always had mixture and it is no different today. There are portions of the country that have Christianity and other portions that are contrary. There are those who reach out to God (Psa 68:13) while others who will choose the ways of the antichrist (Dan 11:43). The Assyrians are referred to in verses 13-15.
The consequences of Jerusalem not responding to the Lord will be picked up in verses 1-8. The Word of the Lord gets right to the point. Jerusalem is appointed as a polluted and filthy city because there was no heeding to God’s voice of correction. The people chose not to trust nor respond to God. The leadership was most guilty by exploiting the people for their own personal gain. In verse 4 we see an indictment to both the priests and prophets who violated God’s Laws while lowering his standards for personal gain. This is exactly the indictment that Jeremiah brought to the priest and prophet as well.
Jer 5:31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
The Lord’s warning to Jerusalem was not a onetime event but was consistent over a long period of time (vs 5-7). The Lord goes on to say that He will gather nations to come against Jerusalem to judge them. This was true back in the Old Testament and it will certainly be true in our day up to the time of the 2nd coming.
The balance of Zephaniah will address the remnant of the people who will be purified through these series of events. There are some who did hear and respond to God’s voice. Jeremiah speaks of the blessings that come upon those who obeyed the Lord (Jer 24:6-7). The captivity that Israel was subjected to under Babylon produced many other men and women of great quality. There was Daniel and his friends, Ezekiel, Zerubbabel, Ezra and Joshua the priests. Each of these men had significant ministries in the early stages of the restoration movement. They serve as models for the quality of leaders that need to emerge in the days leading up to the time of the 2nd coming.
In verse 11 there was a notable pride amongst the Jews. They boasted in the holy mountain of God (Zion) and they took comfort that God would always defend them no matter how they lived. This was seen earlier in their history when they took the presence of the Lord for granted when the Tabernacle of Moses was at Shiloh. They presumed upon the presence of God in the midst of their corrupt ways once too often and lost both the battle and the presence of God. Jeremiah sought to remind Israel of this very problem when he said to them to “remember Shiloh” (Jer 7:12, 14, 26:6, 9).
The triumphant song of the last day church is expressed in verses 14-15. (It is another charismatic song I grew up with) It represents a purified church that the Lord is pleased to dwell in the midst of. It is also a beautiful picture of what the millennium will be like; a time when the Lord turns everything around for good. The song of the Lord continues in verses 16-17 where He comes to assume His place at Zion as His millennial reign begins. There is another reminder of the attention the Lord gives to those who sigh and mourn over sin (vs 18). It will be a time when God totally turns the captivity of His people into a time of glory. There is a measure of this that will take place during the restoration era that will come after the Babylonian rule but its ultimate fulfilment will be during the millennium.
The final verse speaks of the glories that result after captivity has been accomplished. There are seasons in our lives as believers when we go through a time of captivity. How we approach that captivity experience will make all the difference. This is why meekness is essential; it helps us to see God at work in all situations. If that would be our attitude then God will not be limited in what He can do and accomplish in our lives. The purpose of a personal captivity is to bring about a work of purifying; it is not meant to go on forever. If we can see this it then produces a hope and longing within the people of God. This is the purpose for good doctrine. It helps to give perspective and light so that we can see through God’s eyes and in that which He is looking to do. There was only a few in Zephaniah’s day that could see through the eyes of God. Which of the two group’s best represents us today? Are we in the category of Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Josiah, Daniel and his friends or more like those who contended with the true priests and prophets?
The attention now flows from mystery Babylon to the literal city of Babylon which would be modern day Iraq. There are specific applications that will be made to Babylon but there can be a duality of fulfilment between both. (Mystery Babylon and Babylon) There are threads that can connect between the two.
It begins with a mighty angel descending from heaven declaring with a loud voice that Babylon the great is fallen. It is important to see this as more than just a judgement coming upon a city or particular location. The sins of Babylon are actually rooted to the time of the fall in heaven. The very sins that resulted in Lucifer’s downfall are the same sins that established Babel under Nimrod. This scene is a climatic event that goes far beyond the bringing down of a city. In verse 3 there are the sins of immorality and drunkenness mentioned which seems to oftentimes be at the root of anything that pertains to Babylon. In verse 4 there is the strong exhortation for the people to come out of Babylon and its system. This was seen in the days of the prophets in the Old Testament as well. It was Isaiah who strongly urged the people to shake the shackles of Babylon and depart when the Lord would later speak for them to leave. There were many of the captives who became comfortable in their captivity and failed to heed the Word of the Lord. So too it shall be in the last days. The Word of the Lord in verse 4 is to separate and come out of Babylon. Can you see the plague of “comfort zone” Christianity today? We are seeping into a state of irrelevance as a church due to a lack of urgency to be distinct and different. Why the urgency? The answer is given in verse 5 seeing that the sins of Babylon have come to a climax and have come before the throne of God. The outpouring of God’s wrath will consume Babylon and those who are linked to its system hence the call to separate.
It will first be the beast and the 10 nations that accompany him that will destroy Rome. It is at this time when the blood of many martyrs that is seen earlier in Rev 6:9-10 is atoned for. God will allow the beast to destroy the mystery woman who is seen as the whore that sits upon 7 hills. The Lord is going to reward her double for her sins for which this church is responsible. We have already begun to see the beginning of judgements upon this church in recent years. The disclosure of sins that have been covered up for years is now coming to the light. It is but the beginning! You can see the heart of this system in verse 7 where it speaks of the abominable pride, sitting on the throne with no equal. This heart embodies that of what was seen in Lucifer. In fact verse 7 is a quotation from Isa 47:8. The attitude that there is no other speaks of its haughtiness and pride.
What seems to be typical of judgements that come upon Babylon is seen again in verse 8. It all happens in one day. The Tower of Babel was diminished in one day when the Lord confounded their language (Gen 11:7-8). The empire of Babylon fell in one night during the reign of Belshazzar as they were drinking and saluting the god of forces (Dan 5:30). We see it again in verse 8 where there will be death, mourning and famine that will be released. Can you not sense the urging of the Spirit of God to come out and be ye separate? The church is dividing into two streams (Rev 22:11). The one leads on to righteousness and holiness while the other leads into the trapping of the Babylonian system. Which of the two are we currently in?