Peril and Promise

An exposition of Zephaniah 1:1-2:3. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, April 25, 2010.

He is one of the least read, least understand and least appreciated prophets.  His prophecy of just three chapters is often overlooked and in academic circles has been roundly criticized.  In fact in the scholarly world he is often dismissed as “dull” and “derivative.”  One writer saying, “With the prophet Zephaniah we meet for the first time a considerable diminution of prophetic originality.”  Translation – this guy has nothing new to say!  Another quips, “He can hardly be considered a great poet.”  There are worse things to be known for as a preacher than – he isn’t very original and his message doesn’t sound pretty.  It is the job of the prophet to bring someone else’s message.  The prophet is to stand and declare, “Thus says the Lord!”  Points are not given for originality or presentation.  He was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Habakkuk and Nahum.  He is one of the prophets before the exile calling the nation to repentance.  In the canon he is the last of the pre-exilic prophets which may indicate that his prophecy is to be considered a summary of the ones who came before.  It is obvious that he echos the messages of Amos, Joel and others.  His name is Zephaniah and he is the great, great grandson of Hezekiah a good and godly king who served the nation well.  His prophecy came before the fall of Jerusalem and prior to the fall of Nineveh but during the reign of Josiah.  So we place his time of ministry around 630 B.C.  Tonight we begin a look at the book of Zephaniah.

Text: Zephaniah 1:1-2:3

It was a time of peril and promise.  The nation of Judah was entering her last days.  Prophet after prophet had called the nation to repentance but to no avail.  God had warned that judgment was coming.  Now he is readying His weapon of choice the vile, wicked Babylonians.  Judah went about her business thinking all is well when another of those pesky prophets came with his message of doom and gloom.

Messages of judgment weren’t any more popular then than now.  No one wants to here about God coming in judgment.  God is supposed to do good things.  God is here to help us feel better about ourselves and help us get through this mess.  The people of 630 B.C. Wanted to hear upbeat messages filled with practical insight for living the life they wanted.  Does that sound the least bit familiar?

Then along comes Zephaniah and what is his message?  A message of desolation, darkness and ruin.  23 times in just three chapters he warns of the coming “Day of the LORD.”  By the way, it’s not a good day!  It is a day of judgment and terror.

Thesis: God in sovereign judgment pours out His wrath on unrepentant sin and yet in sovereign mercy offers hope to humble, repentant sinners.

You will remember we saw this same dual emphasis in Jeremiah.

  • Wrath and mercy.
  • Both sovereignly administered.

I’m convinced this message is need as much today as it was in the 7th century B.C.  For the most part our world doesn’t believe in the wrath of God.  They do not believe that a day of judgment is coming.  But then why would they when so many in the church no longer believe it?  It is the testimony of Scripture and it is certainly the truth driven home in this text.

There are three things I want to call to your attention.

  1. God’s sovereign wrath is a fearful and frightening thing.  (1:1-3, 13-18)
  2. God’s sovereign wrath is in response to man’s wicked ways.  (1:4-12)
    1. There were religious reasons for God’s judgment – 1:4-6
    2. Social practices or customs – 1:8-9
    3. Business practices – 1:11
    4. Apathy and Indifference  – 1:12
  3. God’s sovereign wrath is accompanied by a plea for repentance and the possibility of mercy.  (2:1-3)
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