I have heard many people say that the Old, dusty Bible is not relevant to modern mankind. When I hear something like that, I immediately realize that the person saying this statement is not a diligent student of the Bible. When a person digs down into the Bible, he will quickly see just how practical the Word of God is. That is what I want us to discover in this lesson. When is the last time that you studied the book of Zephaniah? Have you EVER read the Old Testament book of Zephaniah? Many good, church going people have not read a lot in the Old Testament, unfortunately.
As we dive down deep into the book of the prophet Zephaniah, we will quickly discover that his society, although separated from ours by over 2,000 years, was not much different than our society today. His culture needed a Truth Teller just as our culture needs Truth Tellers today. Who is this Zephaniah? Let’s discover some powerful insights from the Word of God.
I. Zephaniah’s Character
As we dig into Zephaniah’s character, we are quickly going to discover that he had a godly heritage that was passed down to him from one generation to the next. The key to this character and heritage is a personal relationship with God through His Holy Word. Just as Zephaniah had a personal relationship with God, through His Holy Word, we can today as well. That is fantastic news. Not only that, we can also build a legacy, a heritage, that will pass down through the generations. I want that and I believe that you do as well. Let’s see how it is done in a practical manner.
The Word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah: (Zephaniah 1:1)
In this one verse, we see how the Lord interacted with 5 generations, helping these men create a lasting legacy and a mighty heritage for future generations. It all begins with step one, a personal relationship with God through His Holy Word. Are you a student of the Word of God? Are you teaching your children to be students of the Word of God? Are you seeking to teach your grandchildren the Word of God? Each of these men valued the Word of God and they were intentional about being students of the Word and teaching their children and grandchildren to be students of the Word. Do you want to build that lasting legacy? Do you want to build a heritage that you can proudly pass on down through the generations? Follow the example set before us here with Zephaniah. God was looking for a prophet and Zephaniah was in the right place because of his heritage.
As the great Billy Mays used to say, “but wait, there’s more“. The names of these men are very important. In Bible times, a name represented a person’s character. I want to examine these names and the meaning behind them to give us some more insight into Zephaniah’s character. The name Zephaniah means, “Jehovah has treasured“. Zephaniah is a hidden treasure in a corrupt culture full of violence, deceit, and greed. He was raised different, as we would say today. His heritage explains why he was such a treasure and so different from the rest of the people of his day. Zephaniah’s father’s name is Cushi. That name should look familiar to anyone who has ever read the Bible. Noah had a grandson through his son Ham, and that son was named Cush. The Cushites come from this lineage. The Cushites were located in North Africa, what we call Ethiopia today. Zephaniah can trace his lineage all the way back to the preacher of righteousness, Noah. What a legacy! Zephaniah’s grandfather was Gedaliah and the name Gedaliah means, “Jehovah is great” and it comes from the root word that means, “to be magnified” or “to make great“. Gedaliah lived his life to proclaim the magnificence of God and he taught his son to do the same. His son passed it on to his grandson, Zephaniah. Again, what a heritage! What a lasting legacy! Zephaniah’s great grandfather was Amariah, and his name means, “Jehovah has promised/speaks“. Amariah knew the promises of God from the Word of God. He passed that on to his son and his son passed it on to his son until Amariah’s great grandson, Zephaniah, grew up knowing the promises of God through the Word of God. Zephaniah’s great-great grandfather was Hezekiah, whose name means, “Jehovah is my strength” and the root word means, “to be courageous“. Hezekiah was courageous enough to stand up to a perverse generation during his lifetime and he passed that courageous spirit on to his son. Zephaniah is going to need that courage because he is going to be called to take a stand against a very corrupt and perverse culture during his lifetime. God prepared the way of Zephaniah and he used generation after generation of godly men to accomplish this. Men, we need you today in our corrupt culture to be a Zephaniah and to raise Zephaniahs. Are you willing and ready to answer the call?
II. Zephaniah’s Culture
As I mentioned earlier, the society of Zephaniah’s days is very similar to our society today. The people professed faith in God but, their actions painted a very different picture.
“So I will stretch out My hand against Judah And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, And the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. (Zephaniah 1:4)
The common people were caught up into worshiping Baal. Baal was a physical representation of a spiritual truth. As human beings, we are enslaved to our sin nature. Think of substance abuse. When you first try a substance, you are the master over it. You choose to use it. But, quickly, that substance becomes master over you and you are enslaved to it. That is what Baal represents. Probably the most common form of this in every culture on the face of the earth is sexual immorality. Once the ice is broken and a person partakes in sexual immortality, he quickly becomes a slave to it. How many people view pornography out of curiosity and then develop and unbreakable habit that sickens them? More than we are willing to admit. How about a couple that begins to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage, how many times do they say, “that’s it, no more until we get married” only to end up partaking in it more and more? Zephaniah’s culture is a mirror image of our culture today. This sexual debauchery caused some unintended consequences but, the people had a plan to deal with those consequences. The common people were also caught up in worshiping Milcom, the goddess of infant sacrifice.
“And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, And those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom, (Zephaniah 1:5)
Why would this idol be so enticing to the people? What happens to a society that is enslaved to sexual sin? You guessed it, unwanted pregnancies. What is a society to do with all of these unwanted pregnancies? If they worship Milcom, they can dispose of those babies all while maintaining a clear conscience because it is done as an act of worship.
“And I will punish on that day all who leap on the temple threshold, Who fill the house of their lord with violence and deceit. (Zephaniah 1:9)
Violence and deceit are everywhere. If they were okay with showing violence to the most vulnerable humans within their society, rest assured, they were violent towards each other. Deceit was a way of life for the people then just like it is today. When we think of deception today, we usually think of our lovely politicians who use words to deceive the public. I will not get into any details but, if you have been paying attention to anything over the past 2 years, you know exactly what I am talking about. We are becoming desynthesized to both of these things today, just like they were back then.
What about the people who were NOT practicing these things but did not take a stance against them?
“It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’ (Zephaniah 1:12)
They were punished for their indifference. How do we know that they were indifferent and that they were punished. In verse 12, the word “stagnant” is used. It means, “to condense“, “to congeal“, “to thicken“. The people had grown indifferent to these attitudes and actions, to their point where they tolerated them. They were going to pay the same price as the ones who openly practiced these things. There is no neutral stance. We with stand for the above mentioned practices or we stand against them. Where are you? Are you indifferent? Have you believed the lie that you can be neutral? There are consequences to our choices and actions, even to our indifference and we need to be ready to face them. Did you also notice those who offer false hope? They did not want to be Truth Tellers to a corrupt culture. Instead, they wanted to tell the people what they wanted to hear, to tickle their ears. God calls them out. Zephaniah is a direct contradiction of them.
It’s like looking in a mirror of our modern society. We are enslaved to sexual appetites and we offer up unwanted pregnancies on the altar of convenience. Violence and deceit are part of daily life now. There are those who offer false hope and there are many, many who are indifferent. Our society needs a Zephaniah, a godly person who will speak the Word of the Lord to an extremely corrupt culture. Are you ready to be a Zephaniah?
III. Zephaniah’s Desire
Zephaniah want to transform his culture from the inside out. He was a Truth Teller to his people. He could not change them. All he could do was share the Truth with them and pray that they would repent. Unfortunately, even though they heard the Truth, they did not humble themselves and repent. But, Zephaniah had a greater hope than the immediate culture. He was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of God on the earth. God is the only One who can change a culture. He will do it in His time. Our job today is to live the Truth and be Truth Tellers the way that Zephaniah was. I would love to be able to transform my culture but I am not God and I do not have that power. All I can do is be faithful to carry out my part, to invest in a lasting legacy and build a mighty heritage to pass on to future generations.
9 “For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, That all of them may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him shoulder to shoulder.
11 “In that day you will feel no shame Because of all your deeds By which you have rebelled against Me; For then I will remove from your midst Your proud, exulting ones, And you will never again be haughty On My holy mountain.
12 “But I will leave among you A humble and lowly people, And they will take refuge in the name of the LORD. (Zephaniah 3)
The Lord will intervene on behalf of His people. They will repent of their ways and return to the Lord as He shows patience and lovingkindness to them.
13 “The remnant of Israel will do no wrong And tell no lies, Nor will a deceitful tongue Be found in their mouths; For they will feed and lie down With no one to make them tremble.”
14 Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The LORD has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; You will fear disaster no more.
16 In that day it will be said to Jerusalem: “Do not be afraid, O Zion; Do not let your hands fall limp.
17 “The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3)
When the Lord’s people return to Him, He will forgive them and dwell in their midst once again. This is still a future event, even for us in the modern world. Zephaniah longed for that day, even though he did not see it during his lifetime. This did not stop him from doing his part, being a Truth Teller to his generation. This is the same calling that we have today. The Lord will change the entire world in His time. We may or may not see it during our lifetime. Our calling is to live in a genuine relationship with the Lord, love His Word, live His Word, and share His Word with a lost and dying world. We may not be able to change the world, but, we can leave a lasting legacy for future generations to follow. We can build a noble heritage that we pass on to future generations. Are you ready to be a Zephaniah? What idols do you need to remove from your life? What “substance” has it’s hooks in you right now? Are you ready to turn to the Lord and give those “substances” up so that you can be useful to the Lord the way that Zephaniah was? Do your part today!
May the Lord help us live out what we have learned in this lesson.