New birth

76 Sermons On The Old Testament Given By Jesus

Sermon 38 - The Judgment Day as visioned by Zephaniah.

November 12th, 1960

Received by Dr Samuels

Washington D.C.

 

I am here, Jesus.

Zephaniah ben Cushi, the prophet of the so-called day of God’s wrath, was born in Jerusalem during the reign of King Manasseh about 665 B.C. His prophetic activity dates from the beginning of the Scythian invasion of Palestine about the year 636 B.C. Zephaniah was connected by blood to the royal house of Judah, for a superscription to the book of the prophet named Hezekiah the father of Zephaniah’s grandfather:

“The word of the Lord which came unto Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amarlah, the son of Hezekiah.”

(Zephaniah 1: 1)

His grandfather was an ancestor of that Gedaliah who became governor of Judeah after the fall of Jerusalem in 556 B.C. This naming of forebears was contrary to custom and indicated that the ancestry of the prophet went back to King Hezeklah, in the days of Isaiah. Zephaniah lived in Jerusalem near the Palace and he described its topography briefly:

“Hark! a cry from the fish gate, and a wailing From the New Quarter, and a great crashing From the hills and a wailing from the Inhabitants of Maktesh... and I will Search Jerusalem with a lamp.”

(Zephaniah 1: 10 - 12)

He was one of those who felt that a reaction against the idolatry and the evil of Manasseh and his son, Ammon, was imperative if the land of Judah and its people were not to be destroyed. By this I do not mean that the kings alone were guilty, for many of the people had accepted the Assyrian deities and their rites, including even the abomination of human sacrifices, and those who had resisted to defend Jehovah and moral living had been persecuted and killed, and thus true religion in Judah had been compelled to exist underground, so to speak.

Being thus in a way connected with the royal household, and seeing the dissolute habits to be found among some of its members therein, a legacy from the reigns of Manasseh and Ammon, like the worshiping of idols and the adoption of foreign attire, Zephaniah found that only the prophetic books of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah held the secret of health and prosperity for the nation. He studied them, and contacted individuals and scribes who, like Shapan, were in agreement with him. And when he witnessed the approach of the Scythians from the North, he felt the time was ripe to express his warning of disaster. At this time, Josiah, the ruler, was in his minority and the government was being administered by regents who were afraid of what a barbarian attack of Jerusalem might bring. They realized that there was a great need to arouse the people to the perils which threatened, and they knew that only a spiritual reawakening could do this.

When the Scythians reached the Egyptian frontiers they were loaded with gifts to leave without inflicting damage, and they did, but, on their way back through Palestine, they plundered the Temple of Aphrodite in Ashkelon and took possession of Beth-Shean.

There was need of alarm, indeed, and Jeremiah was, of course, the great voice to arouse the Judeans, but Zephaniah also raised his voice to warn of disaster.

Now Josiah had become the ruler when his father, the evil Ammon, had been assassinated by his servants, in 639 B.C., after two years of great suffering for the land and the people, and the regents who guided Josiah had to turn away from the things he had seen his father practice, and had to teach him to walk in the path of the decimated followers of Jehovah; their instructing him in the prophets, and the warning of the prophets, that Judah, like Israel, would fall unless righteousness was restored to the land, eventually had their effect upon him. Aiding them in this task was also Hilkiah, the husband of Huldah, the prophetess, who had charge of the royal wardrobe.

And it was none other but Zephaniah himself who was most instrumental in the indoctrination of the young Josiah. Thus, in 635 B.C., at the age of 12, the young king ordered the destruction of the Baal and the Asherim, the fertility symbols so repugnant to the true Hebrews of all periods, when these were permitted to desecrate the holy places and, in 629, when he attained his majority at the age of 18, he began to repair and adorn the Temple. It was while these repairs were being conducted that, as I have said, the Book of Deuteronomy came to the attention of the king, giving rise to what is known as the great reform of Josiah.

Now Zephaniah could not have begun the prophecy of the Judgment Day before 639, for the previous king, Ammon, would have surely deposed him, had he so attempted, and it was prior to 635 B.C., because Zephaniah cried out against the idols then existing in the land. In the years between, (638-636 B.C.), the Scythians had moved close to the borders of Palestine, and Zephaniah thus spoke his sermons in the Temple. He spoke to awaken the people to the urgency of reform to head off destruction from the threatening advance of the Scythians and also to give support to those in the royal house, of which he formed a part, who sought to bring about the return to ethical Judaism among the many who had accepted the Assyrian and other pagan rites and worship during the preceding half century. Zephaniah was then in his late twenties, for, although he cannot remember exactly the year of his birth, it was about 665 B.C., and he was at that time well versed in the law and the prophets. His one purpose, then, was ritual reform and true worship of God; yet, as an aristocrat, he was not overly concerned, as was Jeremiah, somewhat later, with social reform, but he coupled worship of Jehovah with righteousness of conduct as a religious duty incumbent upon all believers.

Thus, in the great holiday of spring, when the Passover was celebrated with the sacrifice of the lamb - although it was not until later that Josiah re-instituted the Pesah (Hebrew for Passover) as the great celebration of deliverance from Egypt. Zephaniah, in the spirit of Amos, declared a terrible day of judgment:

“Bow before the Lord Jehovah, for near is the day of Jehovah, for Jehovah has prepared a sacrifice, He hath sanctified His guests.”

(Zephaniah 1: 7)

These guests, being “sanctified,” meant “destroyed” - Judeans and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the heathen priestlings, who sanctified the heavenly luminaries from the housetops, the hypocritical Jews who worshipped both God and Milcom, the god of the Ammonites, and the officers and royal princes of Josiah’s household who resisted reform and wore Assyrian dress, who practiced such pagan customs as leaping over the “threshold” and who thus, in their superstition, sought to avoid contact with the spirits of humans and animals who were sacrificed and buried in the foundation of houses (as protection against invaders or plunderers, originally, but who in the popular mind gradually developed into evil spirits). Zephaniah, was antagonistic to the belief in spirits, as were the earlier prophets, because it recognized spirit power independent of Jehovah.

Zephaniah’s imagery of battle was taken from Amos 1: 14 and 22:

“So will I kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, And It shall devour the palaces thereof, With shouting in the day of battle, With a tempest in the day of the whirlwind: .... And Moab shall die with tumult, With shouting, and with the sound of the horn.”

Zephaniah elaborated upon this description of terror by adding the line of darkness and gloom to a scene depicting warfare and terror to inhabitants who cannot fight with assurance because they do not have the moral courage given by adherence to God:

“Near is the day of Jehovah! Near and rapidly approaching. ... That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and Battle-cry, against the fortified cities And against the high battlements.”

(Zephaniah 1: 14 - 16)

Thus did Zephaniah warn of Judah’s destruction for commission of sins against the Lord’s moral laws.

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