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Zephaniah: Summary of the Minor Prophets (James Boice)

August 31, 2020 Leave a comment

Among the minor prophets, Zephaniah seems to be a neglected and forgotten one in terms of commentaries and sermon series.  Indeed, S. Lewis Johnson’s series on the minor prophet books, which I listened to several years ago, included content for all of the minor prophets…. except Zephaniah.  Happily, the collection from James Montgomery Boice includes three lectures on Zephaniah, one for each chapter — a series apparently done right after Habakkuk, per the file number order, in the early 1980s.  As Boice mentioned, due to the strong theme of judgment in the minor prophets, he taught through the different minor prophets at different times, in between other Bible book series, for proper balance on the theme of judgment versus other more positive themes in scripture.  Still, a three set in-a-row of Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and then Zechariah, had enough balance and variety of themes.

Among the highlights from the Zephaniah study:  The timeline was early in Josiah’s reign, and it’s possible (and a nice idea) that Zephaniah was one of the prophecies used by God in Josiah’s revival a few years later.  This book is chronologically before Habakkuk, yet placed at the end of the first nine minor prophets — just after Habakkuk though before it in time, with the reason that Zephaniah serves as a summary of the first set of minor prophets, the nine pre-exilic books.  Zephaniah’s content is not at all original, but restates the major themes of the minor prophets: judgment upon the nation (Judah) including its leaders, judgment upon the surrounding nations, and then the wonderful message of redemption and hope.

Chapter 1 has the classic aspects of judgment: upon the priests, the nominal believers (with their syncretism), and outright apostates.  Here we see descriptions possibly exaggerated if in reference to Babylon, yet with reference to the final, future end-times judgment.  Zephaniah alludes to the Genesis flood, yet a situation far worse than it: total destruction, with no exceptions.

The next chapter employs a pattern similar to Amos 100 years before, with a geographic pattern to pronounce judgment upon the surrounding nations (without naming the specific sins) — though here with reference to Judah instead of to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Whereas Amos’ countries arranged in a circle, Zephaniah’s made a criss-cross double-X pattern back and forth, but both Amos and Zephaniah drive home the point by starting with the further-removed Gentile nations before coming closer and then hitting home, to the judgment upon Israel or Judah.  Zephaniah echoes the same idea as Amos 6:1, “woe to those who are at ease in Zion.”  The point brought home is quite applicable in our day; when the people of God as a group, like Judah in Zephaniah’s day, have become just like the ‘other nations,’ indistinguishable from the surrounding culture, and all incentives and warnings have been refused, what more can be done?  The only recourse left is judgment upon an evil generation.

Zephaniah, like the other prophets, follows the standard sequence:  news of judgment first, then the good news of deliverance and hope.  The third and final, great chapter, talks about the remnant and what characterizes them — reference Micah 6:8 and post-exilic Malachi 3:16 for a similar feature, the qualities of God’s people:  they call upon the Lord, their pride is broken, and they keep His commandments.  These are the ones who are to be joyful and sing, as we look to the future, which will bring a reversal of the Fall in the garden of Eden.

This was an interesting and helpful overview series on one of the lesser-known minor prophets, and I appreciate the studies available from Boice on so many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament.