What is our hope for the world? Many things threaten our planet and our lives, many dangers, many problems. What is our hope for the world?
Let me give you Zephaniah’s answer. What is our hope for the world? Judgement. Universal, inescapable, final judgement. That is our HOPE for the world. Interesting answer isn’t it? But I think it’s really profound. And if we understand it – really helpful.
And we’ll see why his answer is such a good one over the next 3 weeks.
Who was Zephaniah?
Zephaniah is one of the minor prophets. There’s nothing minor about the man or what he has to say. The minor prophets are just called minor because they’re not 50 or 60 chapters long like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel. Those are the major prophets and then after them the 12 minor prophets are slotted into our bibles as the final writings of the Old Testament.
In terms of length, Zephaniah is a little guy. But he packs a powerful punch, as we’ll see.
Let’s get introduced to Zephaniah from verse 1:
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:
First of all – it’s almost the most important thing to learn about Zephaniah – his name means: “the LORD hides”. Not that the LORD is hidden. It’s the idea that the LORD hides His people to keep them safe. The LORD hides. And that could be a tremendous title for this book. There is a universal judgement coming – but the LORD hides His people. That’s almost the whole book in a word: Zephaniah – the LORD hides.
Zephaniah, says v1, was the son of Cushi. That probably means he was the son of a Cushite, a north African. He’s the son of a foreigner. That will become important in chapter 2. But going back in his family tree before his dad, there was royalty in his blood. His great great grandfather was Hezekiah – almost certainly that means good king Hezekiah.
Now to tell you who Hezekiah was, let’s do a little refresher on Israelite history.
MAP - United Kingdom under David and Solomon.
MAP- Divided Kingdom once Solomon died.
The north is called Israel. The southern kingdom is called Judah. Jerusalem is the capital of Judah.
Now the northern kingdom is a bit of a dead loss. They had 19 kings. All of them were wicked.
The southern kingdom was slightly better, though not much. They had 20 kings, 8 of them were good. Hezekiah was one of those 8 good kings.
MAP - In his day (around about 700BC) the superpower of the time was the Assyrians. And they were on the rampage. They conquered the northern kingdom with no trouble whatsoever.
And with the Assyrians threatening to do the same to Judah, good King Hezekiah thinks, Yikes we better get our house in order with God. Because He’s the only one who can help us.
Hezekiah brought in reforms and got rid of all the false worship in Judah. (Molech, child sacrifice).
Well the Assyrians were soon knocking on the gates of Jerusalem. And then – you can read about this in Isaiah who was prophesying at the time – the LORD fought for Judah and saved them from being conquered.
But in Zephaniah’s day we’re about a hundred years on. And the new superpower is the Babylonians. [MAP]
But Judah have another good king on the throne – Josiah.
Under him they rediscover the book of the law – probably Deuteronomy. And they get the Passover back up and running again. They devote themselves to the Scriptures again and to worshipping the LORD alone. It’s wonderful.
But still, the Babylonians are around, and they’re breathing down Judah’s neck. But the people were basically thinking – Don’t worry: Surely the goodness and godliness of Judah under king Josiah – surely that’s going to avert disaster? If Hezekiah and his reforms won God’s favour so that He protected them from the Assyrians, surely Josiah and his reforms would win God’s favour so that He will protect them from the Babylonians?
And even before the Babylonians sack Jerusalem, destroy the temple and carry the people off into exile. Even while Jerusalem was still standing and the people thought they were safe, Zephaniah stood up and said No. Judgement will not be averted.
God’s judgement is coming, it will be swift, it will be devastating, it will be universal. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
But what’s fascinating for us is that Zephaniah is not just predicting a military defeat in Jerusalem in 600BC. Zephaniah has a proper understanding of Jerusalem and the temple – the house of God and all the symbolism of it. Because if the LORD is going to judge the house of God and there’s no escape – then all of that is a picture of how the LORD will judge the whole earth. And there’s no escape. The certain judgement upon Jerusalem is a picture of the certain judgement of the whole earth.
And so Zephaniah begins his prophecy in these universal terms. Hold onto your hats and read with me from verse 2:
2 "I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth," declares the LORD. 3 "I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off Man from the face of the earth," declares the LORD.
You couldn’t get more comprehensive than that.
Man and beast, birds and fish – EVERYTHING from the face of the earth.
Noah’s flood was described in these terms except that Noah’s flood didn’t sweep away the fish of the sea. So here is a judgement more comprehensive than the global flood. Because here is THE Day of the LORD as v7 and v14 call it. Here is God sweeping away everything from the face of the earth.
And you say, What everything, Zephaniah? Even God’s own chosen people, even them? Yes – in fact they are top of the list!
"I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem.
What even Jerusalem, the city of the Great King. The place of the temple, the very house of God. Surely the LORD will not sweep away Jerusalem, the very house of God itself? Well yes He will.
And it will be every kind of Jerusalemite who comes under His judgement.
FIRST and foremost, it’s the religious
So v4 continues:
I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal [Baal’s a false god], the names of the pagan and the idolatrous priests-- 5 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 Molech, 6 those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor enquire of him.
So all types of religious people are being judged here. There are the out and out Baal worshippers and star worshippers. There are the compromisers – those who talk the talk – they’re always going on about the LORD, but they also swear by the false god Molech. And there are just those who have stopped following the LORD, stopped seeking Him, stopped praying. Here are religious sins of every stripe. And they are coming under judgement.
But it’s not only the religious coming under judgement, it’s also the powerful – v8:
The princes and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. It’s the rulers and the jet-setters. The powerful.
But judgement is also coming on the merchants and the rich. V11:
11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined.
But it’s not just judgement on the religious and the powerful and the rich, it’s also a punishment of the complacent. Verse 12:
12 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.'
It’s not just the movers and shakers, it’s the indifferent, the lazy, the complacent. This is a great verse isn’t it when people say “I don’t believe in God’s judgement.” Well whether you believe it or not it’s coming.
In fact the LORD will come out with His own searchlight to search out Jerusalem.
And if Judah, God’s own people and if Jerusalem, God’s own city, and if the temple, God’s own house is going to get judged. What about the rest of the world?
Well from verse 14, Zephaniah takes these truths about Jerusalem’s destruction and he again applies them to the whole world.
14 "The great day of the LORD is near--near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. 15 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, 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 17 I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. 18 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 world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth."
The whole world. A sudden end. All who live on the earth.
God’s people, God’s city, God’s house are especially singled out for judgement. But it’s a top down judgement that will flow out to the rest of the world.
It’s one of the most sobering chapters in all the bible. The Day of the LORD is coming. It will be a cosmic, devastating, final judgement.
Which is different to the way we usually think. I reckon if we think about judgement at all, we usually think like this.
God judges the nasty people over there. But He has some favourites over here – let’s call them the household or the house of God. He judges some but not the others.
But that’s not the picture. The picture is of a top-down judgement of the world.
Notice v18 again:
In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.
And actually the house of God – whether that be the temple or the chosen people or however you understand that. The house of God – is judged first.
And that’s actually a really important bible truth. 1 Peter 4:17 says “Judgement begins with the house of God.”
Judgement doesn’t avoid the house of God – it starts there. And then it flows out to the rest of the world. Everyone will be judged and no-one is up to it.
But let me repeat for Zephaniah – universal judgement is our HOPE for the world.
That might sound surprising. You might be shocked that Zephaniah continues beyond chapter 1. Surely chapter 1 should conclude with universal judgement and we simply close the book and slink off to eat drink and be merry for tomorrow is the dreadful Day of the LORD. But there is more.
And as we move into chapter 2 we notice that at the end of v3 there’s the possibility of shelter on the day of the LORD’s anger. That’s interesting. Zephaniah means – the LORD hides. And here we read that there is a place of shelter on that day.
And then as you continue reading into chapter 3 we seem to move through the most terrible judgement and somehow we find ourselves on the other side of it and it’s the most glorious future hope.
Read with me from v8 and watch how we move through devastating judgement into glorious hope:
8 Therefore wait for me," declares the LORD, "for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them--all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger. 9 "Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. 10 From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshippers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings. 11 On that day you will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. 12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the LORD. 13 The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no-one will make them afraid." 14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! [Jerusalem has gone from being number one on God’s hitlist to now being the centre of His love]
15 The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, "Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." 18 "The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden and a reproach to you. 19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you; I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they were put to shame. 20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes," says the LORD.
Are there one or two we can pray for in the silence who need to take shelter
Isn’t that incredible? Through a judgement more terrible than you could possibly imagine and into a hope more wonderful than you could ever dream. That’s the LORD’s purpose for His world. He takes us through sin and judgement into glory. Not by avoiding the judgement but through that judgement. The only hope for the world is judgement.
And to see how that works, let’s turn back to Psalm 2 and see how God works judgement and salvation.
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
There is a universal opposition to the LORD and to His Anointed One. Another word for Anointed One is Messiah. Another word for Messiah is Christ. The whole world opposes God and His Christ, His King. And what do they say? V3:
3 "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters." 4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."
God is not worried about this opposition. He has His own King – His Christ. And He installs Christ on Zion. In fact the word for install is actually a word for a sacrificial offering. It’s the word used for how the drink offering was poured out. So God pours out His Son – the true King – on His holy hill in Jerusalem. It’s a sacrifice that crowns Him as King. And then Christ speaks in v7:
7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
Do you see what Christ does with His cosmic inheritance? He dashes it to pieces! He judges the whole world. And so, v10:
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
There’s a universal judgement coming. What is our hope? Kiss the Son of God. Come to Christ, be joined to Christ, love Christ, be rightly related to Christ. He is a refuge for all who come to Him.
And that’s the understanding of judgement and salvation that Zephaniah has. Universal judgement is coming. But the LORD has provided a Refuge. A shelter. And if you come to Christ – if you kiss the Son – the LORD hides you in His Son.
It’s like this.
When the Father poured out His Son on Zion, Christ stood up to represent His people. Didn’t He call Himself the true temple of God. Jesus was the true house of God – in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily. Jesus is the true house of God – the meeting place for humanity and God.
So Jesus comes to Jerusalem’s holy hill and He is poured out in sacrifice. On the cross He takes the judgement of God. Because judgement begins with the house of God. Good Friday was the day of the LORD come early. The cross was the Day of the LORD coming in the middle of history and falling on Christ, the Son of God.
Turn back to Zephaniah 1.
See for those who have taken refuge in Christ – v7 and 8 has already happened. There has been a sacrifice of the LORD which has consecrated us.
Verse 14 – we have already heard
The bitter cry on the day of the LORD. We have heard the shouting of the warrior there.
With a loud cry Jesus breathed His last. That was judgement day come early. That was the ultimate cry of the ultimate warrior.
For those who have fled to Christ, Verse 15, there has already been
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
And it has fallen on Christ.
That judgement has crashed crashed down on His head and He has become a Refuge for all who flee to Him.
Hope for the world does not come in averting judgement. It doesn’t come by trying to clean up our acts and buy off God with our paltry human morality. You cannot avert judgement. Judgement is coming. What we must do is to agree with the LORD’s judgement and seek refuge in the LORD’s King.
And so as we close, let’s finish with chapter 2:1-3
Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, 2 before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the day of the LORD's wrath comes upon you. 3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger.
When it says perhaps here it means, “Perhaps these listeners will seek refuge. Perhaps they will respond to the message.” But if they do seek refuge in the Son they will find it. The only question is will they?, Will we? Have we taken refuge in Christ.
The LORD has purposed to take all things through judgement to salvation. But if we have not taken refuge where that judgement has already fallen then this dreadful day of the LORD is still future for us.
Wouldn’t you rather it was past? Would you rather Christ took it for you? Be wise, be warned. Kiss the Son, come to Jesus, ask for His shelter, find refuge in Him. Even now call on Him and the LORD will be pleased to hide another in the Shelter of Christ.
But for all of us, who do we know for whom this judgement is still future? Who do we know who needs to hide in Christ? In a moment we’ll have some quiet and we can pray for opportunities to point them to Christ.
And finally...humility comes up twice in these verses. Because how can we, the LORD’s people be proud, when we’ve simply received an astonishing salvation? How can we be proud when our Lord and Saviour has stooped down so far to shelter us? How can we tire ourselves out in religious striving, when for us judgement day has already past? Let’s simply be the humble of the land, serving the LORD with joy because when Christ comes again in glory it will not be for us the dreadful day of judgement but the happy last day when we see our King at last.
Do you need to take shelter from this certain day
Can you name before the LORD those especially on your heart who need to take refuge in Christ...