Today: [Zephaniah 1] The White Hot Jealousy of God. In the book of Zephaniah we see the prophet speaking out in the beginning of the end of the generations of the kings of David. He declares that God’s tolerance for the worship of Baal among His people is at an end, and that the land for this reason will be utterly depopulated and the people allowed to be taken into captivity because our God is a jealous God and will not endure or tolerate a divided heart to stand before His throne.
[Zep 1:1-18 KJV] 1 The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. 2 I will utterly consume all [things] from off the land, saith the LORD. 3 I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD. 4 I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, [and] the name of the Chemarims with the priests; 5 And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship [and] that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham; 6 And them that are turned back from the LORD; and [those] that have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him. 7 Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD [is] at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests. 8 And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel. 9 In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit. 10 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, [that there shall be] the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, and a great crashing from the hills. 11 Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off. 12 And it shall come to pass at that time, [that] I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil. 13 Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit [them]; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof. 14 The great day of the LORD [is] near, [it is] near, and hasteth greatly, [even] the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. 15 That day [is] a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. 17 And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.
The book of Zephaniah is dated to 640 years BC and is is addressed to the people of the southern kingdom. Zephaniah was one of Jerusalem’s elite and of royal lineage if one considers his lineage mentioned in verse 1 as being a descendent of king Hezekiah. His writings show he was very familiar with matters of state and court intrigues of king Josiah’s reign. He was a contemporarily of Habakkuk, Nahum and Jeremiah. He prophesied at the beginning of Josiah’s reign while the influence of Josiah’s predecessor the evil Manasseh were still yet to be addressed. Zephaniah’s name means “Jehovah has Hidden” implying that Zephaniah like young prince Josiah most certainly spent time in hiding during Manasseh’s reign but know has come out of hiding with the ascension of Josiah to proclaim the message that God had given him.
In verses 2-4 Zephaniah declares that an utter cataclysm is coming which was fulfilled with the Babylonian invasion which brought about the destruction of the temple, the sacking of Jerusalem and the utter depopulation of both the northern and southern kingdoms by the king of Babylon. In v. 4 we see that the occasion of this great judgment is in order to finally remove and cut off the practice of Baal worship from among the descendants of Abraham. Baal worship was running unchecked in Judah at this time, and for 3 generations after Josiah in the reigns of his sons who were the last 3 kings of Judah before the Babylonian captivity.
The pagan practices were so integrated into the culture of Jerusalem that Baal was worshipped on the housetops of principal families and not in secret and there seemed to be no sense of contradiction to swearing both to the name of Jehovah and the names of pagan deities as well. Because of this v. 7 describes the coming fall of Judah as a sacrifice that God is making to punish the royal house of David and specifically the king’s children who will rule for 3 generations after Josiah’s demise.
Verse 9 makes reference to those that “jump on the threshold” which was a pagan superstition that it was unlucky to step on the threshold of the door of your house so the person entering would always be careful to step over the threshold as some childish superstitions that prevail in our own culture regarding things such as the number 13, etc. There are many superstitions that the church itself is not immune from due to the fact that Christian culture in many respects is deeply influenced by the beliefs and customs of the church of the middle ages under the assumption that many such spurious practices are found in the bible when they actually originated in the years between Constantine and Luther.
The invasion that is coming according to v. 10 will breach the walls of Jerusalem at the fish gate. There were 12 gates in the city of Jerusalem and the fish gate metaphorically speaks of the mass of humanity that represents the field of missions and evangelism. Jesus told His disciples He would make them fishers of men, but in this passage the warning is that from the ranks of those who should have heard the gospel and didn’t there would come a great persecution upon the church and the people of God, which has certainly come to pass as the secular world now makes encroachment upon the prerogatives of Christian culture without reprieve or compunction for doing so.
In v. 12 the Lord states that He will search Jerusalem with candles in the time that is coming to minutely expose and punish those that are “settled on their lees” a reference to those that are self-satisfied and willing to justify their tepid devotion to Jehovah while corrupting their worship with a mixture of paganism and hedonistic rites such as temple prostitution, child sacrifice and many other such abominations which were known to have been common in Jerusalem during the reign of Manasseh. Because of these practices, v. 13 declares that they will become a spoil to the Chaldeans and their houses will be brought to desolation.
In verse 14 Zephaniah makes known that the day of the Lord is near, and hastening to come to pass, which will be characterized (v. 15) as a day of wrath, trouble, distress, waste and desolation. Many times when nations or peoples go through such things it is viewed as a persecution for their godliness, but v. 17 says that they will walk like blind men, and be taken in devastation not because they are so pious, but rather because they have sinned against the Lord. For all of this, v. 18 states that they will be unable to buy their way out of the difficulties that are coming because of the jealousy of the Lord that is provoked by their pagan and idolatrous ways. For these transgressions and more Jehovah declares that He is about to make a speedy end to the people that dwell in the Holy Land and expel them to total captivity in Babylon which indeed did come to pass in a very short time to come.
When we read chapters such as this many scholars have marginalized the events recorded as a defective, Old Testament context describing a vindictive, jealous God that has no connection to the God of grace preached in the gospels and the New Testament epistles.
The jealousy of God however is not a concept detrimental or divorced from the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. Paul warned the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 10:22 that God was a jealous God that would not idly dismiss the encroachment of pagan beliefs into the culture of the early church. God does not sit idly by regarding our lives with dispassionate interest. God is a jealous God. He is jealous for our love and jealous for our fidelity to His name. When our devotion to Him is tepid or lukewarm He is not unmoved, but will so act in our lives as to bring our attention to the fact that the Lord our God is one Lord and will not brook any other dependency or set of priorities in our hearts that marginalize Him from His place of Lordship in anyway.
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