Christ in the Minor Prophets: No. 7 - Zephaniah

Zephaniah 1‑3  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
H. P. Barker
No. 7. — Zephaniah.
“I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling-blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord. 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” (Zeph. 1:2-42I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. 3I 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. 4I 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; (Zephaniah 1:2‑4)).
“Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgments: seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger. And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; and they shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening; for the Lord their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity. The Lord will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen” (Zeph. 2:3, 113Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger. (Zephaniah 2:3)
11The Lord will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen. (Zephaniah 2:11)
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Zephaniah, like the other prophets has in view the day of Israel’s future blessing, and very touchingly he speaks of how God will then rest in His love, and joy over His ransomed ones with singing. It is now for us to study the road which leads to this blessed goal, as described by Zephaniah, and to see how everything really depends upon Christ.
In the opening chapter, judgment of a widespread and comprehensive character is declared. Man had become obnoxious in the sight of God; he had polluted the land with his idolatry and his deeds of violence. He had involved even the beasts, birds and fishes; his sin had defiled the whole creation, and there was nothing for it but for him to disappear under the judgment of God from the scene which Christ is to fill. So God “shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.”
But in the midst of all the corruption there has always been, and will be again (in the time to which the prophecy has special reference) a remnant that fear God. Such are called upon (chap. 2:3) to seek Jehovah, so that in the day of His anger they may be securely hidden.
This brings us to the heart of the prophecy at once. Zephaniah means “hidden of the Lord,” and in a very special way he foretells how the “hidden ones” will be brought through the storm and stress of the last days into the joy and glory of the millennial world. And it is in this connection that our thoughts are turned to Christ, for who but He could be the hiding place of these godly Jews? As another prophet has said: “A Man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest.” In Him they-will find their refuge; from Him will come the resources that will sustain them in their faithful adherence to the way of truth. He will be their guide and protector until the land is purged from the presence of the ungodly, and all around is peace.
The prophecy does not refer to Christians, but to Jews. Yet we may observe a close parallel between what Zephaniah unfolds and what the gospel makes known to us. For we have to learn, first of all, that man in the flesh is utterly obnoxious to God because of his sin, and must be got rid of in judgment. But the believer can see this effected for him in the cross of Christ. Man, the world, sin, himself, are all judged, and removed from the eye of God in the death of Christ. The end of all flesh has thus come before Him. But in raising that blessed One from among the dead, God starts, as it were, the history of man again. It is however, man of a new order, of the order of Christ. He becomes the hiding-place, the covert of His people, and we are brought to God in Him, as hidden in and covered by Him. This is beyond what we find in the prophets, but we can hardly read the words of Zephaniah without being reminded of the way that God has brought us into blessing in the risen Christ.
To return to the prophecy before us. In chapter 2 the nations round about the land of Israel come into view for judgment. Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, Assyria: these central nations were all to be judged. But just as there will be a spared remnant of Judah; so there will be some spared from amongst the Gentiles to share the blessing of Christ’s kingdom. Idolatry shall be utterly destroyed, but “the isles of the heathen” (that is, the remoter parts of the earth in contrast to the countries immediately surrounding Judah) shall come into blessing, and men shall worship the Lord, every one from his place, in all these outlying regions. They are not “hidden” like the remnant of Judah, during the time of the outpouring of wrath; but when judgment is executed they are spared, and have the healing and peace that will come into the world with the advent of Christ.
Both in chapters 2 and 3 “the remnant” is chiefly in view. “The remnant of the house of Judah,” “the remnant of My people” (verses 7 and 9). These are the “afflicted and poor people” who trust in the name of the Lord (3:12), and who are blessed in connection with Christ.
Jehovah in the Midst
Bearing this in mind, we shall look at the threefold way in which Christ is presented here. Three times in three different connections Jehovah is said to be in the midst of His people. That surely is Christ. He was Jehovah come into the midst of His people for blessing.
First, in chapter 3:5, we read, “The just Lord (‘the righteous Jehovah’ JND) is in the midst thereof,: He will not do iniquity... He faileth not.”
It is the state of Jerusalem that is dealt with in this chapter, and she is called “filthy and polluted.” Her princes had become roaring lions; her prophets light and treacherous persons. Her priests had polluted the sanctuary and outraged the law. But in shining contrast to all this we have the blessed One presented, who was —
“Faithful amid unfaithfulness,
‘Mid darkness, only light.”
In His pathway here, He never swerved for a moment from that which was right. He was entirely uninfluenced by all that was around. Amid the prevalent corruption and hypocrisy He shone as the true Light. He was “in the midst” of Israel as the Just One, the Maintainer of truth and righteousness.
But His presence brought to light the workings of evil, and necessitated the condemnation thereof. This we find in our prophet. But, besides judgment for the rebellious, there were other results that flowed from His presence in the midst of Israel. He wrought by His grace upon the hearts of many, and attracted them to Himself. They were not of much account in the world, a few poor fishermen and others, but they were precious beyond rubies in His sight. And they will have their counterpart in the day that is coming, for there shall be “an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of Jehovah.”
This remnant, the work of Jehovah’s hands, will be characterized by that which marked Himself when He was here. He did no iniquity; so we are told “the remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity.” Manifesting His character, refreshed by the food He gives them secure in His mighty protection, they shall lie down, satisfied and at rest.
This brings us to the second presentation of Christ, as Jehovah in the midst, in chapter 3:15. “The King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of Thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.”
God’s thought of a king is that he should rule for the comfort, and peace, and blessing of his subjects. And this, Christ indeed will do. If He puts forth His might for the destruction of His enemies, He also puts it forth to ensure the welfare of His people.
Israel had suffered much at the hands of many kings. Her first monarch oppressed the families and appropriated the possessions of his subjects (1 Sam. 8:11-1811And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. 12And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. 13And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. 14And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. 15And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. 16And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. 17He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. 18And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:11‑18)), and most of his successors walked in his ways. But at last Jehovah Himself will, in the person of Christ, take possession of the throne, and will be in the midst of His people with unbounded blessing. His hands will be filled with bounty: If, as the Righteous One in the midst, He has exposed Israel’s sin (and borne it Himself), as the King in the midst, He will drive all evil away, so that it may be said: “Sing... shout... be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.”
More, however, has to be told. For He who is the Righteous One, and the King, is also God! As such He is presented in chapter 3:17: “Jehovah thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy.”
What an insight we get here into the very heart of God Himself, Israel’s God and ours. Again and again had He mourned over the unfaithfulness and sin of His people. He had, times without number, entreated and warned them. But they had turned a deaf ear, and had run eagerly in the paths of pride, and lust, and idolatry. But at length God takes His place “in the midst,” and shows Himself mighty, not to judge, but to save. Instead of mourning over his wayward people, He will rejoice over them with joy. Instead of continually entreating them, He will be silent (as the margin reads) in his love. It is the deep silence of love that is perfectly satisfied, a silence only broken by the voice of joyful singing. Whose joyful singing? Ours? Israel’s? Nay: God Himself “will joy over thee with singing.”
No doubt this too is Christ. We have thus viewed Him, as Zephaniah presents Him, in the midst of His people in three different ways: —
1. As the just Jehovah, acting for righteousness’ sake, maintaining truth.
2. As Israel’s King, acting for His people’s sake, ensuring their unspeakable blessing.
3. As Jehovah-God, acting for His own sake, bringing to, pass His own designs of grace, that He might satisfy His own love, and rejoice over the objects of that love with singing.
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I want to smite and expel the notion that it requires great genius to be an infidel or a destructive critic. There is nothing so easy as destruction; that is a simple doctrine which is often forgotten. Any beast can crush a flower, but God alone could design and construct it.
The one great impression that the Father made on the prodigal son (Luke 11) was — I love you; and that is the first impression that the Holy Spirit makes in the soul when He comes to dwell. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”