Joel, Micah, & Zephaniah Lesson 11
INTRODUCTION TO ZEPHANIAH
“During the reign of Josiah the word of the Lord cam to Zephaniah, specifying plainly the results of continued apostasy, and calling the attention of the true church to the glorious prospect beyond. His prophecies of impending judgment upon Judah apply with equal force to the judgments that are to fall upon the impenitent world at the time of the second advent of Christ.” Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 389.
The reason Zephaniah’s material is relevant to our time is, of course, because he speaks much about the day of the Lord, but it is also because God’s method of resolving the issues of good versus evil are unchanging.
“With unerring accuracy the Infinite One still keeps account with the nations. While His mercy is tendered, with calls to repentance, this account remains open; but when the figures reach a certain amount which God has fixed, the ministry of wrath begins. The account is closed; Divine patience ceases. Mercy no longer pleads in their behalf.” Ibid, p. 364.
The Principle of limited mercy has been active throughout salvation history. Speaking of the time when Israel was about to go beyond the limits of mercy, again, Mrs. White writes, in connection with the Jew’s rejection of Christ during the triumphal entry, “The angel of mercy was then folding her wings to step down from the golden throne to give place to justice and swift-coming judgment.” Ellen G. White, in The Desire of Ages p. 578.
This principle, that God keeps an account with nations, is also true with individuals in their treatment of one another. Notice the following story:
“Many of the officers in charge of steamers and other vessels place themselves under the control of Satan by liquor drinking. A continuance of this indulgence destroys the brain nerve power, and they become incapable of doing their work. We know not how many times God has interposed to save a whole ship’s company from destruction because there were some on board who loved and feared Him. For their sake He has wrought wondrously. But there comes a time when the line of forbearance is passed. Mercy steps down from her golden throne, and, folding her wings, departs, Then the enemy is permitted to do that which he longs to do.” Ellen G. White in Signs of the Times, vol 4, p. 128.
“The voice of mercy is now sounding in warnings and entreaties, but that voice will not always be heard if you continue to resist, and still choose your own way.” Ellen G. White in the Present Truth and Review and Herald Articles, vol 3, p. 83.
Read Zephaniah chapter one.
- When did Zephaniah work?
- Is Zephaniah a member of royalty?
- Who is the spokesman in these verses?
- What place is “this place” in verse 4c?
- What is the message of these verses?
What is the message of this verse?
What is the meaning of each of its phrases? (Omit the phrase, “for the day of the Lord is near.”)
- Why does punishment come in the day of the Lord’s sacrifice?
- What is the message of verses 12 and 13
- What is the character of the great day of the Lord in verses 14-16?
- Who brings the day of the Lord, and why, in verse 17?
- Is there any hope for salvation offered in verse 18?
- Is there any hope for salvation offered in chapter 17?
- According to Zephaniah 2:2, what is chapter 1?
- In light of the answer to question e, what is the function of chapter 1?
- Against what nation is chapter 1 aimed?
- In the days of Josiah, king of Judah; or approximately 600 years before Jesus was born. He may have know Nahum, Habakkuk, Joel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel who also predicted the fall of Nineveh (P.K. 365).
- Zephaniah may have been a member of the royal line, as he appears to trace his ancestry back to King Hezekiah.
- God is the spokesman in these verses.
- Jerusalem and Judah.
- These verses tell us that God, in judgment, is going to destroy all of the wicked – even if they profess to serve Him; or if they are acting as His priests.
To arrive at the message of this verse we will examine its phrases separately – omitting the phrase, “for the day of the Lord is near.”
“Be silent before the Lord God. ” – This phrase literally means ‘to be silent,’ but the significance of the phrase here may be to stop sinning. (This Hebrew word also occurs in Hab. 2:20 and Judges 3:10 as “be silent” and “keep silence!”.)
To be actually silent for a duration of time, as is implied in Zeph. 1:7a, would indicate a cessation of activity; a cessation of doing one’s own way. This concept may be seen as having a parallel in ‘to Sabbath’, where Sabbath has in the Hebrew the primary meaning of stopping.
The historical significance of the Sabbath is to be found in the fact that it is God’s act of stopping. Consequently, in the existential observing of the Sabbath, we are expected to case from our own activities as God ceased from His. Therefore, we are not surprised to find Ellen White writing that in the Sabbath the work that earns a living must cease.
“Be silent before the Lord God” can, therefore, be seen as meaning to cease from the doing of the evil that is part of life to those who do not have before them the nearness of the day of the Lord.
The phrase “For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,” is telling us the Lord has fixed, so as to be ready, a sacrifice. The Lord has made ready a sacrifice as one might make ready a road (BDB466.) The work is presented as having been accomplished.
“A sacrifice” : There are five words in the Hebrew that we might try to distinguish as we look at this concept. The first one has the general meaning of offering a gift or tribute. The second refers to an offering which is wholly burnt; while the third word is sometimes translated as “sin” and sometimes as “sin offering.” There is not always evidence of a special ritual being associated with this type of offering to God; sometimes no blood is involved even, as in 2 Kings 12:15, where the sin offering is money.
The fourth term in the Hebrew carries the meaning of compensation. This sacrifice is a guilt offering, a gift of restitution, as in 1 Samuel 6:3,4, by the Philistines in connection with their returning of the captured ark. This concept also occurs in Isaiah 53:10 where Christ is said to be the One who puts His soul as a guilt offering – which will produce results. This offering seems to have been the appropriate one where offenses against God or one’s neighbor could be estimated and therefore compensation could be paid (BDB79).
The last of our five words is the Hebrew word which is the general name for all sacrifices eaten at feasts.
The slaughter of hostile nations is this kind of sacrifice, except that it is then offered by God Himself. In this case the sacrifice is not only offered by God Himself, but He is also the One who prepares it; and sometimes the animals of prey devour the victims.
This concept occurs in the Old Testament in Isa. 34:6; Jer. 46:10; Eze. 39:17,19, and in our text, Zeph. 1:7, 8.
Note: the idea of God offering a sacrifice is a strange one to this writer.
When I sacrifice for the lord, I give up something I have and want or need to the Lord in exchange for something He has that I want or need. This exchange seems to be the basic element common to all five sacrifice-dimensions we have just reviewed as we surveyed the Hebrew words employed by the Bible writers to portray the Scriptural pictures regarding the offering of sacrifices.
Therefore, one feels the need to ask what God might be contemplating when He inspires a prophet to write that “the Lord has prepared a sacrifice.”
One element seems clear; a sacrifice by the Lord means that He is giving up something He has and wants in exchange for something He does not have, but wants.
In Eze. 3 9 we find information that helps us to define what it is that causes God to offer a sacrifice – what it is that He is giving up, and what it is that He will get in exchange.
God’s sacrifice (vss. 17, 19) is acts of judgment, in verse 21, that serve to establish God’s glory among the nations, and result in Israel knowing that Jehovah is her God (v. 22,) while the nations learn from God’s sacrifice that Israel was exiled for her sins (v. 23). When Israel and the nations learn the lessons God is trying to teach them, He restores them and has mercy on them (v. 27); the nations then see God as sanctified in His people (v. 27). The concluding results are that God’s people know that He is the Lord their God because He corrected them and then restored them (v. 28) so securely that no one makes them afraid (v. 26). Israel is then the possessor of the poured-out Spirit of God, and God says that He will no longer hide His face from them (v. 29).
Zeph, 1; 7d
“He has consecrated His guests.”
In this phrase, “He” is, of course, the Lord. “To consecrate” is a reference to God’s act of setting something, or someone, as sacred for Himself (Hifil), while “His guests” is linguistically His called ones.
Zephaniah 1:7 – Summary
In studying the phrases which occur in this verse, we have found the prophet to say that we should be silent, or stop doing our own works, for the day of the Lord is near.
Zephaniah then tells us why we should obey God – the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the obedient is certain, for God has already prepared a sacrifice (of evil nations), and He has set apart as sacred His guests, the ones He has called.
The day of vengeance – the day of the Lord’s sacrifice, therefore, is a day in which God avenges Himself and His people of His and their foes.
The contextual message of chapter 1:7 seems to be that people should hush before the Lord, rather than complaining about the information given in Zeph. 1:1-6.
The reason for being silent, for ceasing from ones own acts, is because God has already worked out the punishment of the wicked, against whom the righteous might wish to complain, and because God has also already worked out the reward of the righteous – His called ones whom He has set apart as sacred.
Consequently, the fate of the wicked is sure, as is the reward of the righteous; though in daily life now this fact is not always obvious.
Zephaniah 1:7 – Conclusion
The picture in this verse is that of an individual act of judgment by God against apostate Israelites – an act which is directed at Israel’s leaders who worship false Gods (1:4-6). God is here effecting the slaughter of His adversaries in Israel.
It is now clear that the people God offers as a sacrifice are not the people who are His guests.
That which God wants, that for which He sacrifices, is the salvation of His elect; while that which He has and would like to keep (guard), but gives up, are those people who won’t respond within the limits of His mercy; and mercy is limited to the ability of grace to restore? Cf. Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 68.
- Because the punishment of the wicked is the Lord’s sacrifice – a destruction of the wicked.
- The judgment will be thorough; the result will be based on the individual’s works; the reward will be permanent. Worldly success does not stop God’s judgments.
- In these verses its character is to destroy.
- The Lord Himself brings on the day of the Lord, because of the sins of the people. Here God’s love is based on a condition and has a fixed limit.
- Yes; in verse 7d where it is said God has sanctified His called ones – “consecrated His guests.”
- A decree, not yet in effect.
- To scare the people badly enough that they will prepare for the day of the Lord; that they might be ‘the called’ and not ‘the prepared sacrifice’.
- Chapter one is aimed at Judah (especially Jerusalem), as verses 4 and 12 state, but it also applies to the whole earth (1:18).