Intro: Who believes the Bible? Did God write it? Is what He wrote true? – Good, well let’s read it! [P] [read Zephaniah 1:1-3 This is the message that יְהוָה gave to Zephaniah during the time that Josiah son of Amon was king of Judah. (Zephaniah was descended from King Hezekiah through Amariah, Gedaliah, and Cushi.) יְהוָה said, “I am going to destroy everything on earth, all human beings and animals, birds and fish. I will bring about the downfall of the wicked. I will destroy the whole human race, and no survivors will be left. I, יְהוָה, have spoken. [TEV]] Do you ever get astounded by God’s Word?! Does it make you tremble?! Well it should! Here יְהוָה says that He Himself has spoken. What He has said carries the authority of His Name! And what does He say?: [P] “I am going to destroy everything on earth! - All human beings and animals, birds and fish. I will bring about the downfall of the wicked! I will destroy everything! – and no one will be left!” I ask again: “Do you believe God’s Word?!” יְהוָה is going to destroy everything here on earth– He says it twice, He swears by His Name, He couldn’t be more emphatic! Doesn’t that make you tremble?! Then I don’t know what will! I mean, I’d be upset if I came home from work to find my house had been burnt to the ground – but no doubt we’d find somewhere else to stay. But what if we were on holiday and returned to find a nuclear bomb had been dropped on Christchurch – now that is a disaster, but I guess we could go and live in Invercargill. But what if a massive earthquake destroyed NZ – well there is still Australia. When I read accounts of war and I never fail to be amazed by the resilience and resourcefulness of people in the face of disaster. We will find a way, life will go on. But this is the destruction of everything! What do you do then?! If I think it’s a disaster if my car is totalled, what is this?! These words should smite us to the core! Do we believe what is written here in these verses?! It is the end of everything!! This world is completely rotten and the only thing for it is complete destruction. Now who of us delights in the ways of יְהוָה? Who says: “Even so let it be, come Lord Jesus”? That is the response of the saints in Revelation [Revelation 15:1-4 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvellous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.”]. Now this is pretty drastic action – it don’t come much more severe than this! What on earth was going on to merit such a response from יְהוָה?! More to the point what was going on on earth that יְהוָה was about to destroy it?!
Background to Zephaniah: We know the context of this prophecy – it tells us that it was written in the time of Josiah [P]. Do you remember Josiah, son of that wicked king, Mannasseh? Josiah came to the throne when he was but a boy, eight years old, Hannah’s age! His dad may have been bad but he was one of the best kings Israel ever had [P] [2 Chronicles 34:1-7 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. He did right in the sight of יְהוָה, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images. They tore down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars that were high above them he chopped down; also the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images he broke in pieces and ground to powder and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. Then he burned the bones of the priests on their altars and purged Judah and Jerusalem. In the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, even as far as Naphtali, in their surrounding ruins, he also tore down the altars and beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder, and chopped down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.] So very early on he instituted reform, he rid the land of idolatry [P]. Furthermore he maintained this zeal for יְהוָה throughout his reign. In his eighteenth year he had the temple repaired, and when this was done a copy of the book of the Law (possibly Deuteronomy) was discovered [P] [2 Chronicles 34:14-21 When they were bringing out the money which had been brought into the house of יְהוָה, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of יְהוָה given by Moses. Hilkiah responded and said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of יְהוָה.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan. Then Shaphan brought the book to the king and reported further word to the king, saying, “Everything that was entrusted to your servants they are doing. “They have also emptied out the money which was found in the house of יְהוָה, and have delivered it into the hands of the supervisors and the workmen.” Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, “Hilkiah the priest gave me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of יְהוָה for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book which has been found; for great is the wrath of יְהוָה which is poured out on us because our fathers have not observed the word of יְהוָה, to do according to all that is written in this book.”]. Josiah was sensitive to יְהוָה and repented. He instituted reform and celebrated Passover [P] [2 Chronicles 35:18-19 There had not been celebrated a Passover like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; nor had any of the kings of Israel celebrated such a Passover as Josiah did with the priests, the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign this Passover was celebrated.]. There was revival in the days of Josiah – yet we have a prophecy like this! How can that be?! In actual fact the kingdom of Judah was very near its end. This revival was like a last gasp of spiritual life. Do you know that archaeological excavations in Jerusalem have unearthed idolatrous places of worship dating from the time of Josiah? While this spiritual reform was going on on the surface, underneath people were carrying on with their idolatry! [P] I grew up in the seventies – great things were happening spiritually in this land at that time – not that it had any effect on me! That is when so many of those Scripture in song chorus were written. People were turning to God and there was an outpouring of worship. God was doing things! Exciting times! Do you remember “March for Jesus”? Murrie Thomas? There were thousands of us all marching (as was the way back then) – and I was there marching along with everybody! I was ashamed to own up to being a Christian to my mates, I was living in rebellion with no interest in God – but it was easy to go along with what was happening. I remember being surprised to see a class mate there in the rally – he was as godless as I was! Genuine things were happening but there were many, like me, whose heart was not there at all. What you see on the surface is not necessarily how it is [Triumphal entry to Jerusalem, a few days later Jesus was crucified]. Josiah was genuine, he instituted reform – that was good – but the heart of majority was still in their idolatry. Some people think that if we get Christians in government everything will be put right. You cannot legislate and by governmental decree make people worship God – it was Constantine’s great mistake – he made Christianity the religion of the empire – but it had a disastrous effect on the Church. You didn’t make the people Christian by decree. It is where you own heart is that counts. On the surface it appeared that the nation was spiritually healthy but destruction was at the door. In just over 20 years the kingdom would be no more! The reform was superficial, Josiah was genuine but the people were not really with him. Look at the stats 60% of New Zealanders record themselves as Christian, but only 14% attend church – that’s including the liberals and Catholics – on the surface we look like a Christian nation, but how many really are? Where is our heart?! Destruction was imminent in Zephaniah’s day! What about our own?! This prophecy was valid, relevant and true! It is a serious and urgent warning! [P]
The Day of יְהוָה! – Some people reckon that you have to claim God’s promises – well here is one for you to claim! Twice יְהוָה promises to destroy everything – has He gone back on His word? Has He changed His mind? – Or is this still His intention? If it is, then we have been given prior warning. What do we do with such a piece of intelligence? Is there anything that we can do? This “destroying of all things” – did it happen? Well, Jerusalem was destroyed, as was the nation of Judah as it went into exile. Is the prophecy fulfilled, complete – or is their a fulfilment to come? Did it refer just to Josiah’s day or has it still prophetic meaning for us today? יְהוָה said that He will destroy all things – was this just hyperbole, exaggeration to give the prophecy impact? No, this was a partial fulfilment that merely pictured the complete fulfilment – the “Day of יְהוָה”! [P] [Zephaniah 1:18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of יְהוָה’s wrath; and all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, off all the inhabitants of the earth.] This is a major theme in this short book. The destruction of all things will take place on the Day of יְהוָה. Zephaniah foresees that God is going to judge not only Judah but all the nations of the world. This is ‘the Day of יְהוָה’, and it is approaching fast [Zephaniah 1:14 Near is the great day of יְהוָה, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of יְהוָה!]. We are to listen, to take heed! There is coming a day of total destruction, the Day of יְהוָה’s wrath. The same sin is still going on, so the same consequences, only even more severe and complete will come. But Zephaniah calls on those who are humble to do what is right and so escape destruction [Zephaniah 2:3 Seek יְהוָה, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of יְהוָה’s anger.].
Reason for the warning: So why was this dire warning given? What was the reason for the warning? Because what was the state of the heart of the nation? Their heart was still in idolatry! [P] In verses 4-9 you see that the reason is for the idol worship that was still going on. I will look more closely at this issue next time but between now and then, you may like to consider the matter of idolatry. A great proportion of the Old Testament is devoted to warning against idolatry, condemning it, giving a record of the consequences of it, prophesying judgement upon it. If you removed the issue of idolatry from the Old Testament, there wouldn’t be much left! We don’t have shrines with images in, I mean, is idolatry an issue anymore? Because if it is not; a vast portion of the Old Testament is completely irrelevant. Why do the Scriptures devote so much attention to this issue? The fact is that יְהוָה is a jealous God and will tolerate no rivals. He requires absolute loyalty and will not tolerate unfaithfulness.
Heeding the warning: Earlier I read the passage from a modern translation, let’s read it again from a good literal translation, to make sure that what I read was accurate: [Zephaniah 1:1-3 The word of יְהוָה which came to Zephaniah (Not Zephaniah’s words but the words of יְהוָה Himself! They will not fail! They are true!) son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah: “I will completely remove all things From the face of the earth,” declares יְהוָה. “I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked; and I will cut off man from the face of the earth,” declares יְהוָה.] Twice the prophecy thunders: “יְהוָה declares!” And what a word יְהוָה declares! His voice thunders forth in authoritative declaration! Again יְהוָה declares in verse 3. He gets straight to the point, no preliminaries, listing of sins and appealing for repentance .... His first word is complete, thorough and certain DESTRUCTION! "Remove! Remove!" (in verse 2 – the word is doubled for emphasis and intensity). And in case they didn’t get the point He says "I will remove" (the same word twice more in the verse 3). There can be no doubt about this (“remove/destroy” 4x in two verses). This is removing, this destruction, is certain, this is assured. How more emphatic can יְהוָה be?! What more can He say to warn us?! How could He say it more clearly?! Why then do we not take heed?! [P] "I will most certainly and completely remove!" This is not natural disaster but supernatural disaster. It is not just circumstances happening. יְהוָה says: "I will" – this is יְהוָה’s doing! He will act! There is coming a day of judgement when He will remove all things from the face of the earth. Man thinks that things will go on as they have for ever but יְהוָה has appointed a day of judgement - a terrible day. He has clearly and repeatedly warned us, so we are without excuse [cf. Hebrews 12:25-29 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.] יְהוָה said that He would remove "all things" – in verse 3 He is more specific: He will remove man, beast, birds, fish - EVERYTHING! A terrible day of complete and thorough destruction is coming! (cf. Isaiah 34:1-15). Not only will man be removed from the face of the earth but also on animal, birds and fish – all will be affected by the fierce, consuming, terrible wrath of God who comes in vengeance. Long He has waited in His patience as evil has continued and multiplied. When His patience finally comes to an end, His indignation at evil will have built up to a tremendous level [Hebrews 10:31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!]. A dire warning is given – in order that we might heed it, avoid the terrible things that are coming! We are human beings, yet sometimes we resemble ostriches! Repeated warnings are given in God’s Word but we do not heed them – I was deeply affected by a book by Eli Weisel, “Night” [former resident Moshe of the Transylvanian town of Sighet, returned there after experiencing the Gestapo machine-gunning truck-loads of Jews into a pit in the forest of Galicia. He was shot in the leg and lay among the corpses, taken for dead. But he survived. He took survival as an act of God so that he could warn his countrymen of what the Nazi’s would do to them. He warned them, but they thought that they were a small town and would be overlooked. But they weren’t, the panzers rolled into town. Still they did not heed Moshe’s warning, they said, “This will pass.” They got accustomed to German rule, but then there were confiscations, then the Jews were put into a Ghetto – still they did not heed the warning of destruction. But Moshe was right, finally all the Jews of Sighet were put in cattle trucks and taken to Auschwitz, but the night before the Jews were burying their treasures, still thinking that they would return for them – still they did not heed the warning – Eli Weisel was the only member of his family to survive]. These words in Zephaniah are not idle words written to entertain – a dire warning – given for a reason. A warning that we must heed. We ignore it at our own peril!
Proclaiming the warning: If it is true that יְהוָה is going to destroy everything, if this is true; then we need to warn people! [P] Disaster is coming! Are we going to keep that information to ourselves or let people go on blissfully in ignorance, getting on with their lives, not knowing that they are headed for disaster? As a lad, I used to read science fiction; I got fascinated by stories where people travelled back in time. But what if you could do it? What would you do? – well you could go back in time and put money on a horse that won at long odds and make a lot of money. But more seriously, and with a more Christian motive – what if you went back to December 2004, you could get an air ticket to Indonesia – you know that a massive earthquake is soon going to hit, followed by a tsunami. You know disaster is going to hit – you could go along the beach and warn people to get to higher ground – proclaim a warning. Probably most would think you were crazy, ignore you and carry on with what they were doing; some might suspect you of evil motives (get everyone out so that you can loot the place); but if you could just get some to believe you, then their lives could be saved. You would have it in your power to save many lives. We are in the same situation – we know that disaster is coming in the future – יְהוָה has told us. The responsibility of having that knowledge is to warn people. Most will think us crazy, but those that believe can be saved. Do you know, I believe God’s Word. But I know that if I really accepted what this passage said, then I would be more motivated to warn people and tell them the Good News of the way of salvation. I don’t have the sense of urgency and concern that I should. I guess there is the fear of man, not wanting to appear a fool, perhaps it is that the reality of these verses has not hit home – they need to grip our hearts. There is a world headed for destruction – and they are blissfully unaware! We know that destruction is coming, having that revelation places a responsibility and urgency upon us – people need to know!