Judgment Is Coming For Judah… For The World – Zephaniah 1:1-6


If the Day of the Lord was near in the days of Zephaniah, it is certainly close on the Lord’s horizon today as we enter into 2007. The same categories of transgressors still refuse today to submit to the rule of their Creator:

  • Religious Idolaters and Adulterers
  • Apostates who have turned back from following the Lord
  • Self-sufficient individuals who give no thought to the kingdom of God

Zephaniah is going to proclaim the sobering message of God’s judgment.



  1. The Message:
    The word of the Lord
  2. The Messenger: “which came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah
    1. Name means “the Lord hides” (cf. 2:3) – cf. Passover motif
  3. The Setting: “in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah


  1. (:2) Summary Comprehensive Judgment (cf. Noah’s Flood, Gen. 6; 2 Pet. 3): “‘I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,’ declares the Lord.
  2. (:3) Detailed Targeted Judgment: “‘I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked; and I will cut off man from the face of the earth,’ declares the Lord.

MacArthur: The prophet began by noting the far fulfillment of the Day of the Lord, when even animal and physical creation will be affected by His judgment of the earth (cf. Ge 3:17-19; Ex 12:29; Jos 7:24,25; Ro 8:22).

Baker: These two verses are united by the concept of “sweeping away“, which occurs four times in the Hebrew, showing the emphatic and comprehensive nature of the action (cf. Est. 9:28; Ps. 73:19; Je. 8:13). This emphasis is reinforced by the objects of the verbs: everything, men and animals, including birds and fish, will be done away with. This judgment by God will be the undoing of his creation, as all of these words are found in Genesis.

Keathley: God is angry. Everyone is so wicked that He vows to totally destroy the earth. The mention of man and beast, birds and fish, etc. emphasize how thorough the destruction will be. It will be like in the days of Noah. Notice that this is the reversal of creation. The order of creation was fish, birds, beasts and man. Here we have the opposite order.


  1. (:4a) Judah / Jerusalem Targeted for God’s Wrath: “So I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Freeman: Sin on the part of those professing to be worshipers of God is always more heinous that that of the world, and is, therefore, judged more severely. Therefore, judgment always begins at the house of God (1 Pe 4:17; cf. Lev 10:1-3; Eze 8-9).

  1. (:4b-6) Three Main Categories of Transgression
    1. (:4B-5) Religious Idolatry / Adultery is the Primary Issue
      1. Baal Worshipers targeted (In-your-face Idolatry): “And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place
      2. Idolatrous Religious Leaders targeted (Blind Leading the Blind): “And the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests.
      3. Astrology Worshipers targeted (Worshiping the Creation rather than the Creator): “And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven,

Feinberg: Another class designated in Judah for judgment were those that worshiped the host of heaven upon the housetops. It was carried out on the flat housetops to afford a clearer view of the sky and chiefly by altars for burning incense. (Cp. Jer 8:2; 19:13; and 32:29.) This worship was called Sabeanism, and prevailed quite early in the East. Moses warned against it in Deuteronomy 4:19. Nevertheless, it was widely practiced in Israel, thus virtually making every home an idol sanctuary.

      1. Syncretistic Worshipers targeted (Split Allegiance = No Allegiance): “And those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom,”

Baker: what is strongly condemned is mixing worship of the true, covenant God of Israel with that of another deity (cf. Ex. 20:3; Dt. 5:7). Swearing by another god meant acknowledging his authority, something which was denied to Israel.

    1. (:6a) Religious Apostasy: “And those who have turned back from following the Lord,
    2. (:6b) Neglectful, Self-Sufficient Transgressors (even atheists): “And those who have not sought the Lord or inquired of Him.


  1. Compare the language used here to that used in Genesis 2-3 to refer to Creation and Genesis 6 to refer to Noah’s Flood. Could this have been completely fulfilled through Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion? (cf. 2 Pet. 3)
  2. How does the OT present both near and far fulfillments of prophecy as co-mingled – almost like two mountain tops without any glimpse of the intervening valley? How does this increase the level of difficulty of interpretation? Why do so many people choose to spiritualize certain aspects of such OT prophecy and make them allegorical?
  3. What areas or categories of transgression have been a source of temptation for us? How have we maintained our faith and dependence and loyalty to our Lord?
  4. How does the jealousy of God harmonize with His love for His people?


MacArthur: Zephaniah’s message on the Day of the Lord warned Judah that the final days were near, through divine judgment at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, ca. 605-586 B.C. (1:4-13). Yet, it also looks beyond to the far fulfillment in the judgments of Daniel’s 70th week (1:18; 3:8). . . The book presents an unambiguous denunciation of sin and warning of imminent judgment on Judah.

Freeman: “In the days of Josiah”: about a century before Zephaniah’s prophecy, the northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians and its inhabitants carried captive. The lesson of God’s punishment upon Israel for her sins and idolatry had been wasted upon Judah, who had, by this time, become more corrupt and idolatrous than Samaria (Eze 23). It was in the midst of such wickedness and apostasy that God raised up Zephaniah to warn Judah that a similar fate awaited her as had befallen Israel, unless she repented. Although King Josiah instituted certain moral and religious reforms, Judah’s apostasy and corruption were too deeply impressed upon her for any permanent reformation of character, and she too went into captivity when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians about 35 years later…

The term Baal in Hebrew means “husband,” “lord,” or “owner,” and was also used to designate the god of the Canaanites, whom they believed controlled nature, fertility, and the elements. In their worship of this heathen deity, the Canaanites in Palestine indulged in human sacrifice and licentious rites, as well as other pagan practices. In Israel’s transition from the nomadic shepherd to the resident farmer upon her settlement in Palestine, God was aware of the strong attraction that Baalism, a fertility cult, could have upon the nation; hence, His uncompromising decree that the heathen, together with their idolatrous worship, were to be destroyed lest Israel herself become corrupted.

Morgan: There can be little doubt, I think, that Zephaniah was of the royal house, and of about the same age as Josiah, if not a little younger. Probably, therefore, he uttered his prophecy at about the age of twenty-four or twenty-five, or just when the reformation under Josiah was in progress; and yet the remarkable thing is that Zephaniah makes no reference to the reformation. He speaks only of the sin of the people and the swift judgment of God that is coming upon the sin. . . The reforms were not lasting, and consequently Zephaniah, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit and perfectly understanding that the outward appearance of reform was not indicative of a true change of heart toward God took no notice of the reform; he dealt only with the sin and with the corruption. He therefore more definitely perhaps than any other prophet declared the terrors of the divine judgment against sin, and the larger part of his message is given to the announcement of the judgment of God upon the sin of His own people.

Baker: God’s first words are judgment, initially directed towards all animate creatures (vv. 2-3), and then narrowing down to his own people, Judah, and more specifically the inhabitants of Jerusalem (vv. 4-6). Not only are those to be punished identified, but also some of their sins are indicated. Yahweh presents himself as being personally involved in his judgment, which will be devastating in its totality…

There is in these verses, therefore, a range of religious response – from the desired total commitment to Yahweh alone, through a syncretistic mixture of Yahwistic and pagan worship, to absolute paganism and practical atheism towards Yahweh, who is completely abandoned. The people were to have kept themselves from all of these paganizing practices and remained a holy people to Yahweh alone, but since they have failed to do so, God himself will effect their purification.

Boice: [speaking of the extreme language used in this passage] Does this mean that Zephaniah is not thinking of the Babylonian invasion? Not necessarily. For one thing, the prophet indicates that he is using hyperbole… Besides, the rest of the prophecy shows that Zephaniah is actually thinking of specific historical judgments upon certain specific cities and countries, including Jerusalem. This is precisely what occurred.

At the same time the extreme language of these opening verses in not without purpose in warning the Jews of his day as well as all subsequent readers of the book that a greater, final judgment is still pending.

Keathley: We have mentioned this several times in our study of the prophets, but I will point it out in case someone has not heard the explanation. Several of the things Zephaniah says will happen, could have been fulfilled by the Babylonians when they destroyed Judah and took them into captivity. But many of the prophecies concerning the destruction of the nations and the earth have obviously not been fulfilled. This is where it helps to understand what the prophet saw in his visions.

Thus, many of these prophecies will not be fulfilled until the tribulation.

Deffinbaugh: These reasons for divine judgment can best be summarized in this way:

  • God will judge those in Judah who practice pure paganism (1:4).
  • God will judge those in Judah who mix the worship of God with the worship of other deities (1:5a).
  • God will judge those in Judah who completely reject and turn away from the faith of their fathers (1:6).
  • God will judge those who choose to identify with the heathen (rather than the people of God) by their dress (1:8).
  • God will judge those who practice violence and deceit (1:9).
  • God will judge those who refuse divine instruction, and who have ignored His warnings (3:1-2). Judah should have learned from God’s judgment of others, but she did not (3:6-7).
  • God will judge those in leadership, who have abused their authority and forsaken their stewardship (3:3-4).
  • God will judge those who presume that God is indifferent about their sin (1:12).
  • God will judge those who put their trust in anything but Him (1:18)

1 Comment

  1. I have fallen from grace, please help me pray that God will restore me and my wife to our first love. Please plead also on our behalf that God deliver us from our enemies.