Zephaniah 2 (Read). (3/7/16am)
I was reading the books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah this week. So, you will notice I posted on FB few verses from these books this week. As I was reading these books, I found some things that provoked my interest because all the while I was wondering what happened to Nineveh after Jonah. Let me give you a little bit of its historical background.
If you remember the story, as the bible records, Nineveh was spared from judgment of destruction by God’s compassion in response to their repentance (Jonah 3) in 760 B.C. when prophet Jonah, coming out from the whale’s belly after 3 days and 3 nights finally preached to the people of Nineveh warning them of the impending judgment of God.
Nineveh again became great power, but as always the case with people, when there is progress people forget about God. Nahum then prophesied that the city would fall and it did. Despite Nineveh’s great power, the city fell just as Nahum had prophesied. The book of Nahum was written during the reign of King Hezekiah, some time after 660 B.C. Just more than 100 years later, the people of Nineveh had again become wicked.
It is presumed that Zephaniah preached in the same period as Nahum. Zephaniah, which actually means “Yahweh has hidden,” was almost certainly born during the long wicked reign of Manasseh, from which he was hidden of God for his own protection, and then later Zephaniah started his preaching during Josiah’s reign.
And I want to remember that Josiah was a godly, young king. He brought great revival and reform to Judah after 10 years as king. And God used the prophecy of Zephaniah to bring and further revival.
In Chap1v1 it says, The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah: This first verse of the prophecy of Zephaniah sets it apart from most other prophets, in that he tells us both his time and his roots. Zephaniah was an unusual prophet, because he was of a royal lineage, descending from the godly King Hezekiah.
Like Nahum and few other minor prophets, Zephaniah predicted the destruction of Nineveh. Before I go on, just for added learning, what are Minor Prophets? Who are they? Why are they called Minor Prophets? They are not necessarily minor to the meaning of the word- minor.
“Minor Prophets” is a term that refers to the twelve shortest O.T. prophetic books. These books would have been in one book called, ‘the Book of the Twelve.’ Twelve refers to Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Some theologians think that the prophecies were copycat from the prophecies of Isaiah. But no, I believe God the Holy Spirit spoke to them separately and each one validates God’s instructions. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Btw, Syria is not the same as the “Assyria” mentioned in the Bible especially from a political perspective.
The modern state of Syria was formed only after World War I and became independent after World War II. However, there are historical connections to ancient Assyria because some of its territory now is part of Syria today. I studied this in case I get asked.
But it’s good to learn, isn’t it? The terms Major Prophets and Minor Prophets are simply a way to divide the Old Testament prophetic books according to their lengths. (The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.)
Let’s go back to our text. Can you imagine waking up to the news headlines like these? Sydney obliterated! Canberra vaporised! Perth vanished! And, as you read you’d think this is about football games. But no, modern technology have actually posted a picture of the landscape that Sydney, Canberra and Perth is actually gone from the map.
Is it possible for such a huge city with high rises crammed full of condos, the Opera house and the people who live and work there to be obliterated, vaporised, and eradicated? But that’s exactly what God said would happen to the nations living in wickedness who were threat to the nation of Israel of old.
The awesome GOD, the Lord of Hosts, in the chapter we have just read sent a warning shot across those nations to tell them that their days were numbered. As we clearly see the character of God against wickedness, we too will want to wake up to the warning our loving Lord God spoke through Zephaniah because one day too our modern communities will be obliterated, vaporised, and eradicated.
As I read these books, it is apparent that God thunders His anger against those who had become complacent in their walk with him and were more interested in keeping up with the fads and fashions of the day rather than keeping up with their faith. Zeph. 1:8 talks about “children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.”
God also spoke against their spiritually by worshipping the Lord while at the same time bowing down to the gods of the Canaanites. In Zeph. 1:6 we read this: them that are turned back from the Lord; and those that have not sought the Lord, nor enquired for him.
It didn’t matter that these Israelites were God’s chosen people. It didn’t matter if you are now saved, God is angry with sin. God is angry with lukewarness. If they did not humble themselves and seek the Lord wholeheartedly and take refuge in his forgiveness, they were going to suffer on “the Day of the Lord.” The Day of the Lord here refers to the Judgment Day in the book of Zephaniah. And neither does it matter that you are here in church this morning.
That fact alone will not protect you on the Day of the Lord – not if you have not been truly redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the only Saviour. Not if the hour you spend here is for some kind of religiosity only- that it can quickly be forgotten because you spend more hours with the things you really love in this world than God.
Don’t forget that God’s desire with those He has redeemed is a close and personal relationship and fellowship with Him where the fads and fashions of this world are going to be faintly nowhere near with your love for God. No wonder Jesus Himself said, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
Folks, believe me, it’s hard to keep our focus on the Lord throughout the week if your focus is in yourself. But Pastor, you don’t understand. I have studies. I have home works and school projects that need completing. My work schedules are everywhere. There are groceries to buy, bathrooms to clean; cars to maintain; and doctor and dentist appointments to make.
With daily chores like that who has the time to constantly think of the Lord and his will?
Who’s going to help me if I am not going to take care of myself first? Well, can you really take care of yourself outside the grace and mercies of God? God is a God of relationship. He wants that in whatever you do you walk with Him, talk with Him, confide with Him and put Him first.
The Israelites too had similar chores. Plus they were surrounded by nations that were hostile to them and were eager to destroy them. And if you are truly a child of God, maybe you’d also feel the hostility of world around you. But still, the Israelites had every reason to remain fully devoted to the Lord. They believed God’s promise to deal with those hostile nations.
Aren’t we also promised the same in Christ Jesus? 1 Cor. 15:57 says, But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the reason why we sing victory in Jesus. God assured that the cities of the Philistines would be decimated. Zeph 2:4 says, For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up.
God wasn’t just going to go after the Philistines and other local hoodlums like Moab and Ammon, he was also going to target the superpower of the day, Assyria. Listen to what Zephaniah said God would do to them. V13 “He will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.14 And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations.
Zephaniah spoke these words while Nineveh was enjoying its life, when it was thriving, when any destruction is far from the minds of the people, when wrath of God was laughable to think about. The problem with prophecies like this, whether it’s destruction or the gathering of saints meeting the Saviour in the clouds, is that there is no exact date given. So what the prophet predicted must have sounded so far-fetched to the people. It was just unthinkable. That’s why people would shrug it off as, “are you out of your mind.”
But this is exactly what happened to Nineveh and that city is still in ruins today (although the “modern” city of Mosul lies across the river). God’s prediction of judgment against Nineveh should serve as warning to each one of us because we can easily fall into the same sinful attitude that Nineveh was known for.
According to Zephaniah the city of Nineveh in (v5.) “dwelt carelessly.” Meaning, they were carefree thinking that they lived in safety even saying to her self in v15, “I am, and there is none beside me.”
“I am.” Isn’t these words used only for a title of God? Isn’t this how God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. “I AM,” highlights God’s absolute independence and His absolute constancy. God doesn’t need us to survive. He doesn’t need our offerings or our praises. He simply “is.”
Look at what God said of Himself in Isaiah 45:5-7: I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil (horror): I the Lord do all these things.”
Only God has the right to say those words, but now the city of Nineveh claimed that “I AM” title for her self. She was so powerful and her city so beautiful that she thought there is no one above her. She had wealth and fame, what else did she need? She certainly did not need God! Don’t we feel that way too when everything is going well in life? When business is well we plan for other things, holidays and cruises instead of helping the activities of the ministry of the church.
We might not go as far as Nineveh and say out loud: “I am, and there is no other,” but there are times we certainly think it and in so doing God is not really in the throne of our hearts. You might be confident about your coming retirement or about your chances of landing a well-paying job, but don’t forget that God can wipe those prospects away in a flash. And that’s exactly what God did to Nineveh when that city fell to the Babylonians and to the Medes.
Oh! that we may find our satisfaction in God, the great and only real “I Am,” instead of finding our pride and joy in our accomplishments. Zephaniah 2 explains why we need to value our connection to this one true God. When speaking against Moab and Ammon, enemies of Israel to the east, God said that he had taken note of their taunting and would do something about it.
Look once again Zephaniah 2:9-11 “Therefore as I live, saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them. This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of hosts. The Lord will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth.
Folks, we have an awesome God! But by now you realize that it speaks of how the Lord will be awesome in judgment also. He can stand no rivals. He is a jealous God. He will never share His glory to no one – not in the ancient lands of Moab and Edom nor in our modern hearts. But God is also awesome in mercy. He listens to the cries of his children and knows when they are being treated poorly.
He may let the hardship continue for a time for a purpose but he will put an end to it when the suffering is no longer accomplishing his will of purifying our faith and bringing us closer to him. We can trust Him, just as the Israelites of old were able to trust that God would deal with their enemies.
Judgment coming? It’s hard to imagine that this will happen one day, but it will after Jesus meets all His children up in the clouds as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. All those that received Jesus as Saviour and Lord don’t have to fear God’s judgment because by then we are gone with Him in glory. If you are here and you do not know for sure where you will spend eternity, our awesome God offers His grace in the person of his Son, Jesus so that you will be secure with Him in glory.
Jesus gave His life on the cross so that you will escape damnation in hell. Do not reject Him. Believe in Him and follow Him. Jesus received all the wrath of the father when He took all our sin to Himself. Jesus literally became sin. 2 Cor. 5:21- For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Jesus drew to Himself the disease of sin out of the human race. God condemned sin in Jesus, and by the shedding of His precious blood, He died and He was buried and on the third day He rose again, so that whosoever believeth in Him will no longer perish but have eternal life.
God hates sin. When Jesus became sin on the cross, God came down hard on Jesus. How hard? So hard, that the Son of God himself cried, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? So hard that sin has been dealt with once and for all by the sacrifice of himself, as Hebrews 9:26- says.
This is pretty amazing, but let me give you another extraordinary fact…it says in 2 Cor. 5:18-19 -And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Have you been reconciled to God by making Jesus your Lord and Saviour? Lord is someone whom we deny ourselves. We follow what He says. It is so easy for people to say I receive Jesus but sad to say it’s only all words because they cannot deny themselves to follow Him as Lord and Saviour. God doesn’t want us to be going off on our own, as the city of Nineveh did boasting as the- I am.
We’re not the great “I Am.” The awesome Lord of the Bible is. He is terrible in judgment, but He’s also awesome in grace. Come to Him while you have the chance. Tomorrow is not yours. Today is the day of salvation for you. Receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
As the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. Hebrews 2:3 says, How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? But God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ… (1Thess 5:9.) Please don’t reject Him.
If you are here and you know that your walk and fellowship with God does not really reflect in actions, I invite you to pray. Ask for forgiveness. He is merciful and that’s what God desires, a sweet fellowship with Him. Let’s pray. Amen!