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Let's turn our bibles to Zephaniah, as Skip continues to lead us through the word of God.
I want to say at the end of this year what a privilege it has been, these Sunday nights. And, on behalf of my family, Merry Christmas to you.
This is my home fellowship. It always has been. It always will be. And to stand up here in this pulpit is sheer privilege. Because, for so many years, I had the privilege of going through it, time and time again, week after week, with Pastor Chuck steady at the helm, teaching through the Bible. So we're thankful for this fellowship, and we're thankful for the leadership of Pastor Chuck and Kay and their whole family. So Zephaniah.
The purpose of any revival or renewal is to make God famous, that people would focus on His power and His name, and not the name, or the power, or the reputation of any man. It's always about God.
For a while, Zephaniah's great-great-grandfather, Hezekiah, pulled that off. 29 years of reign in Judah, and Hezekiah brought in so many wonderful spiritual reforms, renewal. He took the high places of pagan worship and he broke them down.
He even took a bronze serpent that Moses once held up in the wilderness that became a symbol of healing to the children of Israel. But, by the time of Hezekiah, people began to worship it, and he broke it in pieces.
But after Hezekiah's death, things went rapidly in decline. His son, who sat on the throne, was one of the most wicked men who ever lived, by the name of King Manasseh, who reigned 55 years. And what a wicked reign he had, and he brought Judah down quickly.
Followed by a brief two-year reign of his son Amon, who wasn't really much better than Manasseh. He did evil in the sight of the Lord. And then there was Josiah. And it was probably just before the reforms, and the renewal, and what some people call the revival of King Josiah, that the prophet Zephaniah had his ministry. And all of the names that we mentioned are pretty much mentioned in the first verse.
"The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, the king of Judah."
Now, some of those reforms under King Josiah, though they were a bright spot in a very dark background, they were not lasting changes. Sometimes spiritual movements or renewals are but a veneer that really hide the heart. It's easy to put on the garb of outward spirituality but still hold on to idols in the heart.
They managed to remove idols from the homeland but not from the heart. And so it was just a brief stay in this righteous behavior before, again, this decline went. And so the prophet Zephaniah sees below the surface.
For so many years, the United Kingdom, Great Britain, saw many spiritual reforms and revivals under the ministry of Wesley, and even William Wilberforce, and men like Charles Spurgeon, and up in Scotland, John Knox. But since the mid and early 1970s, it's estimated that 85 churches per year close in that part of the world. And they even sell some of the furnishings of the church, like baptismals for birdbaths, and pews for people who want some novel item in their home.
And many of these churches are now turning into mosques. So where, years ago, you'd drive by and see a church, and another church, and another church, and early on filled with great Bible preaching and the gospel, they are now worshipping Allah.
Well, such was sort of the background of the nation of Judah. There had been renewal, but there were so many years of decline that idolatry had filled the hearts of the people. And probably it was Zephaniah's ministry, along with Jeremiah, who was a contemporary, that brought the nation back on track, but only for a period of time, because this prophet will predict that God will judge them, that their decline is fatal.
So the theme of this short book is a message of judgment. Really, message 1 and message 2 are messages of judgment upon Jerusalem, and then the other nations around Jerusalem. And then the final one is the theme of mercy. So it really is mercy in the midst of judgment. Which so many of these prophets will house both of those themes together.
In fact, I would call the theme of Zephaniah a severe mercy. That God, through the severity of judgment, is going to so purge the land of idolatry that he will bring them back into the land. But that is a template of something far greater in the future, the day of the Lord in the future, when God will judge the whole earth, and through it preserve the remnant of Israel in the tribulation period.
Now, we're used to that by now, aren't we? So many of the prophets had both a near and a far fulfillment, where one event would be a foreshadow of a greater event. So it is with this book. It is really a message of God's love in the midst of judgment.
Many years ago, a man stood over a girl's bed with a stern look on his face. He entered the room with a troubled look, and he stood over and he looked at that little child. And when she saw him, she screamed, and he rushed out of the room.
The mother heard the scream and came in and held her little daughter in her arms. The man who was in the room went to the next room and was on the phone speaking to what we would call an accomplice. A plan was set in motion. And, as soon as he hung up the phone, he rushed back into the room where the little girl was, snatched her from her mother's arms, took her quickly out the front door, where there was a car with its motor running.
Off they rushed into the darkness, the girl crying, screaming. The car stopped at an ominous-looking building, with a single room lit on the top floor. The man carried the child up there and gave the child to another man. It was the man that he had spoken to on the phone. And he put her on a table and plunged a knife into her abdomen.
You hear that story and you think, how cruel, how utterly heartless. No, it was an act of pure love. For, you see, the man who looked at that girl was the child's father. And the man that he had spoken to on the phone was the family doctor. And the doctor knew what was wrong. It was a burst appendix that would bring an infection and death were it not treated.
Rush her down to the hospital quickly. The mother didn't want to let the girl go. The girl certainly didn't want to go, and probably all the while cried and screamed, daddy, if you love me you'd prevent this. No, it was out of pure love that that scalpel went into the right lower quadrant of the abdomen to remove an infected and burst appendix.
And so God, in His love and in His great mercy, will execute wrath just enough surgically so to bring His children back to Him, that He might show mercy on them. And thus is this book of Zephaniah.
"I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land." Now, right off the bat, the prophet goes far into the future, and the desolation that he speaks of is pervasive. It is worldwide. Listen to the language.
"I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land, says the Lord. I will consume man and beast. I will consume the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land, says the Lord."
Zephaniah is looking far into the future to the day of the Lord. And that's the theme of this book. I mentioned it was a severe mercy. The theme that it is off of is the day of the Lord. That's the theme you remember of the book of Joel. And Zephaniah mentions the day of the Lord more than any other prophet, next to Joel. But what he is doing is he's using the invasion of the Babylonians into Judah as a template, a model, of the day of the Lord that is coming upon all of the land, all of the earth.
"I will stretch out my hand against Judah." Now he's bringing it locally. "And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, the names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests."
The Canaanite god Baal, and his female counterpart Asherah, were always stumbling blocks, always a temptation to the people of Israel and Judah. There was this longstanding relationship of them building high places, and a great king like Hezekiah breaking them down. And then Manasseh building them back up and fortifying them, and then Josiah breaking them back down. God promises a thorough total cleansing of the land, where all of these false gods, these idolatrous priests, idolatrous practices, will be banished.
"Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops," a reference to the ancient astrological practices. "Those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord but who swear by Milcom." That is Molech.
You see what they are doing here? On one hand, the temple was still there. Its bright, gleaming edifice was the center of Jerusalem, and they would swear by the name of Yahweh. But, at the same time, they had these other altars, other images, and they were making oaths using them also. It was a mixture of worship together.
Verse 6. "Those who have turned back from following the Lord and have not sought the Lord nor inquired of him."
If you were to walk through Jerusalem at this time, and if you were invited into an Israeli home, and if, because it was a warm day, they brought you up to the rooftops, you would see over in the corner of so many of these homes altars erected on top of the roof. Because on clear nights when they could see the stars, and the ancient superstition that the stars governed the future of mankind, an ancient practice known as Sabianism, these altars were in reference to that.
And then the God of Molech, who was the patron god, if you will, of the Ammonites, who lived just east of Judah. And Molech, his worship was so depraved. You've heard the stories, how they would take little babies. And they would heat up the arms of the god Molech, his iron arms stretched out, and they would make them white or red hot.
And then, at the sound of drums, to drown out the cries of the children, they would place their babies on the hot arms of Molech, and their babies would burn to death. It was a practice God forbade early on back in Leviticus. They were not to sacrifice their children to Molech. God stated it.
And it was these altars that some of these kings had broken down. They are now revived, and God promises that He would get rid of them.
There's an overarching truth in all of these minor prophets, and all of the prophets who denounced idolatrous worship. Man, by nature, is driven to worship something. God created us with that emptiness, that we might seek the Lord and find the Lord, as He's been seeking us all along. But if we push out God, if we push out the worship of God, that vacuum is much deeper and more profound. And we fill it with so many other things just to hide the emptiness that's inside. We're driven to worship.
And because that's our nature, and Satan knows our nature, Satan has a PhD in deception. He's been doing it a long time. He knows mankind, and will constantly and incessantly give to man all sorts of things to worship, all sorts of ways to get their focus and attention off of God and onto other things, that which is false.
Mark Twain nailed it when he said, "A lie makes its way halfway around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots." Lies travel so quickly and Satan traffics in them. He's the father of lies.
Now, you look at these verses and you're reading about ancient practices of looking up at the stars to get guidance for the future. Things haven't changed, have they? People still read their horoscopes and look to the zodiac to tell their future. They won't go outside unless it's a favorable reading.
40 million Americans consult the stars today for guidance. And there's a growing number of them who are looking beyond the stars to unidentified flying objects. There are three times as many astrologers and psychics in the United States as there are clergymen.
And the price tag is enormous. $500 million per year are spent on telephone zodiac consultations. Incredible. There's an old saying, people change, but not that much. Very similar today to the ancient practices that God was denouncing.
So he says in verse 7, "Be silent in the presence of the Lord God, for the day of the Lord is at hand. For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice. He has invited His guests. And it shall be in the day of the Lord's sacrifice that I will punish the princes," that's the royalty, "and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with foreign apparel."
Now, God's judgment upon Israel is called God's sacrifice. And the guests that He is inviting to the sacrifice, to slay the sacrifice, are the Babylonians, the Chaldeans. He's inviting them in to do this. This is all by the providential hand of God. They're going to come in and slay those down in Judah.
It's an interesting note. As "such as are clothed with foreign apparel." It would seem that the people in Judah were so influenced by the pagans around them that not only were they following their false idolatrous worship practices, but they thought it was cool to dress like them, to be like them.
You know, fashion is such a statement, isn't it? It says a lot about a person, a lot about their constitution, their direction, their belief system. But, again, the mention of verse 7, "for the day of the Lord is at hand."
Now, the day of the Lord, if you remember, is mentioned so often in the scriptures. And it's not a 24-hour day as much as a process of time that unfolds the judgment of God upon the world, but that culminates in the return of Jesus Christ.
It might help to think of it this way. When the prophets were predicting the future and God gave them revelation and vision, it's like looking at a mountain range far away. From the perspective of being far away, if you look out at the mountains, it looks like one solid border against the sky. But as you get closer to the mountains, you see that it's not one monument jutting up, but rather there are several minor peaks and foothills that lead up to the precipice.
And in between those great peaks are valleys. And so the prophets would look to the future and see the mountain of the day of the Lord, not understanding that, between the Messiah's first coming and the Messiah's second coming, that would culminate in the day of the Lord, there was this large valley called the time of the church. That was hidden from their eyes. That was the mystery that Paul spoke about.
So they sort of put all of these things together. And that's why the prophets can say, the day of the Lord is at hand, because the Babylonian invasion was very near. But, again, that was simply a model, a template of the greater day of the Lord that would affect all of the earth, that great mountain peak in the distance.
"In the same day I will punish all those who leap over the threshold, who fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit." In other words, they are robbing and plundering their fellow citizens. They're rushing into houses to get whatever they can. But it's an interesting way to put it. "All those who leap over the threshold."
Now, do you remember back in 1 Samuel, when the Ark was captured and it was brought to the Philistine city of Ashdod, and it was placed in the temple of Dagon? And after they placed it in that temple, they got up the next day and they discovered that the statue to Dagon, or the statue of Dagon, was face down, as if worshipping the Ark, which bothered them greatly.
And they picked up their god, because they had to-- their god was useless-- and they put him back on the pedestal. And they came in the next day and Dagon was again on his face. But this time the head, it was broken off, and the hands were broken off on the threshold of the temple.
And because of that they were superstitious, and none of the priests would dare walk on the threshold of the temple. They would leap over the threshold into the temple. And it became, it seems, a superstitious practice to not walk directly over the threshold but leap over it. And it could be that it was a reference to this pagan practice of the Philistines that had now infiltrated in Judah.
"And there shall be on that date, says the Lord, the sound of a mournful cry from the Fish Gate, a wailing from the Second Quarter, a loud crashing from the hills. Wail, you inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down, all who handle money are cut off."
Now, the Fish Gate was on the north side of Jerusalem and is today's Damascus Gate. It was facing the north. It was called the Fish Gate because fish from the ports, from the Galilee, were brought through that gate. And then the quarter, the Second Quarter, was beyond that inside the city.
Now, in verse 11 it says, "Wail, you inhabitants of Maktesh." If you go to Jerusalem and you see it especially from the southern viewpoint-- you can stand up on a sort of an escarpment and look down at the city, looking toward the north-- you notice that Jerusalem is comprised of three valleys. And it looks like a W or, in Hebrew, the letter shin.
And one valley is the Kidron Valley. That's on the east side of the city. And then it rises up, and Mount Zion or the Temple Mount is there. And then on the other side is the valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. That is on the south side, and goes from the south along the western side.
And then one right in the middle, a slight depression, a shallow valley called the Tyropoeon Valley, dubbed the Cheesemakers Valley. And in that little valley is where the merchants resided and sold their wares. And it was the sort of economic capital of the-- or center of the city at that time, the Maktesh in that little depression, that valley.
Incidentally, the Western Wall is found in that valley, and at that time in Jerusalem it was the place where there was the buying and selling of goods. So these dishonest merchants that were getting rich through their fraudulent means are being judged.
Something else. That Fish Gate, that northern gate, where they're called the wail and moan, that is the very gate that Nebuchadnezzar's armies first penetrated when the city fell in 586.
"And it shall come to pass at that time," verse 12, "that I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish the men who are settled in complacency," literally settled on their dregs or their lees, "who say in their heart, the Lord will not do good nor will he do evil."
What a thing to say. They're basically saying what a deist would say, as we mentioned last week. Well, it's true there's a God, but God won't do anything good. God won't do anything evil. God won't do anything. God sort of wound up the universe and he steps back to watch what we'll do. So here they are denying the providential sovereignty of God while they're practicing evil.
Now, he refers to those who are settled in complacency, or settled on their lees, their dregs. This refers, as some of you know, to this thickened crust that develops in wine that is fermenting over a period of time and is left undisturbed. And it not only hardens on the top, but the dregs will settle to the bottom. So to prevent that from happening, they would pour it from vessel to vessel to keep it ever fresh.
But they have become crusty, hardened, complacent. Oh, God won't do bad. God won't do good. God won't do anything. They become utterly complacent. And notice, again, in verse 12, they say in their heart. You see, they didn't even say it out loud. They didn't have to, because the problem begins in the heart.
They may not have uttered that at all, but they were thinking it. They were saying it in their heart. That's why the Bible tells us, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it proceed the issues of life."
Man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. The heart needs cleansing, the real inner core of mankind, who we are at our depth, marred by sin.
Very interesting. I read that scientists have discovered that snowflakes have, at their very core, a particle of dust. And it's the ice that forms around the dirt that causes the snowflake. So you could say that every snowflake has a dirty heart. It looks so beautiful, but at its core it's corrupt.
So where do we need the cleansing? In our heart. That's where we begin to sin, is in the heart of man. I love what David then prayed. "Wash me and I will be whiter than snow."
Verse 13. "Therefore their goods shall become booty or spoil, and their houses a desolation. They shall build houses and not inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and not drink their wine.
The great day of the Lord is near, and it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter. There the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness."
Very vivid imagery of this coming judgment, the day of the Lord, and all of this staccato-type language, a description upon description. Utterly desolate, dark, gloomy clouds and thick darkness. Sounds actually very similar to Joel, chapter 2. When Joel described the day of the Lord, he said, "The day of the Lord is coming. It is at hand. It is a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness."
Isaiah described it in a similar fashion, Isaiah 13. "Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand. And it will come as destruction from the Almighty."
He goes on to describe it. "A day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers. I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood shall be poured out like dust and their flesh like refuse."
What a picture. Groping for escape from their present situation like blind men, unable to escape, looking for any way out. The Babylonians infiltrating their city, coming through the gates, surrounding the walls. Groping like blind men.
"Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath. But the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy, for he will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land."
Now, there are few subjects in the scripture that are more detailed than this subject of the day of the Lord. 14 consecutive chapters, chapters 6 through 19 in the Book of Revelation, have as the subject the day of the Lord, the tribulation. period that is coming.
That doesn't say anything of Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, 2 Thessalonians, and in all of the scriptures predicted in the Old Testament. The day of the Lord, that period of time where God's judgment is revealed and grows over time in great wrath and intensity.
A series of seven seals that are broken. Each seal that is opened, another judgment. And the seventh seal opens into seven trumpet judgments that are blown. And each trumpet that is blown, another judgment. And the final seventh trumpet ushers seven bowl judgments, and they increase in severity as time goes on.
When the sixth seal is opened, or the fourth seal in Revelation, chapter 6, one fourth of Earth's population is totally wiped out. And then a few chapters later, in Revelation 9, the sixth trumpet, and another third of the remaining population is wiped out. So just those two judgments alone will decimate one half of the world's population.
And those things march on and on. And the mountains are flattened, and the islands disappear. And we read about hailstones coming out of heaven that weigh one talent, or 125 pounds, striking people. We read about smoke, fire, heat, lightning, darkness, falling stars, the abyss opening, God's wrath upon the earth, Satan's wrath, and his demons running around upon the earth.
I am so thankful that we won't be here to see it. I am so thankful that before that day of wrath, Jesus Christ will take and hide his church. That is always God's style. That is always God's character. To make a difference when judgment comes, and to preserve those who are His and certainly with the church during that time.
But what is brought to bear here for our attention is that God will preserve His remnant, the Jewish remnant in the tribulation period and will hide them. Which brings us to chapter 2, because after all that judgment is pronounced, now there is an invitation to repent, to gather together in national repentance. "Gather yourselves together. Yes, gather together, O undesirable nation."
Now, that makes sense, doesn't it? If God's judgment is inevitable, if it's coming, and it is, then you who are godless, turn to God. Peter put it this way. "Therefore, since all of these things on earth will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat."
So the invitation of God's people, or for God's people. "Gather yourselves together. Yes, gather together, O undesirable nation, before the decree is issued or the day passes like chaff, before the Lord's fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you."
You know, there's something about gathering together en masse that gets God's attention. The people of Nineveh, according to the book of Jonah, from the least to the greatest, repented in sackcloth and ashes. And the Lord took note of that assembly, and the Lord spared them in judgment.
That's why days of prayer, where we gather together, like the National Day of Prayer, are so important, to do it as a body of believers, to gather together here in the sanctuary, as we do every year, and pray for our nation.
"Seek the Lord," verse 3, "all you meek of the earth who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility." And notice this. "It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger."
Did you know that the name Zephaniah means the Lord hides, or the Lord protects, or the Lord treasures. This is a play on words using his name. It may be that the Lord will hide, that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger.
And, again, this is God's character, to make a difference in judgment, to hide in the day of wrath His own people. There are so many examples of that in the Bible. When God judged the world by flooding the earth during Noah's time, He judged the earth because of their sin. Their wickedness had come up before Him. But He lifted off the earth in an ark Noah and his family.
When God judged the firstborn of Egypt, they all died. But the children of Israel who had the blood applied, they were passed over in that judgment. God promises to do that with the Rapture.
The tribulation is God's wrath. In this world you will have tribulation. Everybody has that. That's the tribulation that comes from the world system that is under Satan. But when God executes his wrath, it's not indiscriminate. Just like those hailstones, in the long day of Joshua, hit the enemies, God has a good aim when it comes to judgment.
And He knows how to preserve the godless for the day of judgment and to protect His own. This. I believe, verse 3, has a special reference to what will happen during the great tribulation. period, when the remnant of the Jews will be persecuted by the antichrist but protected by Jesus Christ.
Let me throw out another reference to you. Isaiah, chapter 26, verse 20 and 21 is a key passage. "Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you. Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment until the indignation has passed. For behold, the Lord comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity."
Now, you remember in Revelation, chapter 12, which we know chronologically is yet future. And John sees a vision of a woman, with the sun and the moon under her feet and a garland of 12 stars on her head. And we understand this to be Israel. It can only be Israel and no other.
The woman is Israel. She is about to have a male child. That is Christ. And the dragon is seeking to kill the male child as soon as it's born. But then, even after that, it says this dragon is persecuting the woman.
So that, during the tribulation period, that great tribulation, the 1,260 days of extreme wrath, that God hides Israel. With the wings of an eagle, she flees, and God protects her in the wilderness, hides her. Like Zephaniah said, it might be that the Lord will hide you from His anger. And He will hide the remnant of the Jews during those 1,260 days.
Now, in verse 4 and beyond is a list of nations. Judgment is pronounced on them. Interesting. God used these nations as a chastening rod against His own people. But when He was done, He was done, and God says, I will punish those nations that came against you. I use them for my purposes up to a point, but then beyond that, I'll punish them. They won't go unpunished.
Now, the four nations that are mentioned are four, I believe, representative nations that represent the four points of the compass. All of them are around Israel. All of them attacked Israel. All of them wanted to obliterate Israel.
And these four nations are four representative nations of all of those nations that wanted to see the Jews destroyed. All of them hassled the Jews. First of all, we go to the west of Israel, the Philistines cities.
Verse 4. "For Gaza shall be forsaken and Ashkelon desolate. They shall drive out Ashdod at noonday and Ekron shall be uprooted. Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, the nation of the Cherethites."
That's a synonym for the Philistines, because the Cherethites came from Crete, and they moved toward the east and they settled up in Lebanon and then moved down toward the seacoast of Israel. And they became the Philistines. This is, then, their country of origin. They were the Cherethites.
"The word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines. I will destroy you so there shall be no inhabitant. The seacoast shall be pastures, with shelters for shepherds and folds for flocks. The coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah. They shall feed their flocks there in the houses of Ashkelon. They shall lie down at evening. For the Lord their God will intervene for them and return their captives."
Of late, the last several years, there has been a great dispute over the area known as the Gaza Strip. For years there were Jewish settlements. And just recently, the Jews, at the bequest of the Israeli government, were expelled from those settlements, and the land given completely to the Palestinians.
Of which the Palestinians rejoice. They say it is their land. Of course, they're not happy with that. They say it's all their land. And they won't be happy till all the Jews are gone from that whole area. They've said so.
But God promises a day when all of it, including the Gaza Strip, which is today the most populated area in the world as far as density of population per square foot. All of it.
Not only the Gaza Strip, but God promises the borders of Israel to extend to the Euphrates River. Imagine what Iran, and Iraq, and Jordan, and Syria would think of that proposition. But that's what God promises to give. He promised it to Abraham. It is yet an unfulfilled promise. It is yet to be fulfilled.
"I have heard the reproach of Moab," verse 8. Now we move to the east. "And the insults of the people of Ammon with which they have reproached my people and made arrogant threats against their borders. Therefore, as I live, says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, surely Moab shall be like Sodom, and the people of Ammon like Gomorrah, overrun with weeds and salt pits, and a perpetual desolation. The residue of my people shall plunder them. And the remnant of my people shall possess them."
The Moabites were descendants of Lot through an illegitimate union, as were the Ammonites. They had been longstanding enemies of the Jews. They incessantly hassled Israel generation after generation.
I've always been interested in that little description of Moab in Psalm 108, where God says, "Moab is my washpot." We might say Moab is my trash can, my spittoon.
Well, some years after this prophecy, in 582, Nebuchadnezzar came in in fulfilling prophecy and wiped out Moab, and destroyed Ammon. And they became truly a garbage heap, destroyed by God.
"This they have for their pride," verse 10, "because they have reproached and made arrogant threats against the people of the Lord of hosts." Whoever touches you, God said, touches the apple of my eye. He protects His people.
"The Lord will be awesome to them. For He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth. People shall worship Him, each one, from his place, indeed, all the shores of the nations."
During the millennium, the Lord will be worshiped universally. Now, there will be some who won't, in their hearts, want to worship the Lord, and at the end of the millennium there will be another great rebellion. So during that time, with Jesus reigning as king on the earth for a thousand years, and we reigning with Him, will enforce universally with what it says in Psalm 2 and other scriptures, ruling with a rod of iron. But the worship of God will be universal.
By the way, that's God's ultimate object. God's ultimate desire isn't to destroy, isn't to judge. His ultimate desire is to overrule evil with good, and to bring peace in the midst of chaos. Judgment has to occur before it gets to that point. And it will, but God's desire is to prove every idol useless, and God ruling and reigning in peace and righteousness.
And this idea of this universal worship of God isn't just mentioned here. It's talked about by so many of the prophets. That the nations will seek the Lord, that the Gentiles will seek the Lord, that Israel would be a light to the Gentiles.
Scriptures like Isaiah 66, Zechariah 14, Malachi, chapter 1, all speak of the nations worshipping God. Malachi says, "The name of the Lord will be great among the Gentiles."
Now, in verse 12 we move to the south. "You Ethiopians, you shall be slain by my sword." And they were. Babylon did invade Egypt.
"He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria." Now we're moving to the north and the northeast. "And make Nineveh a desolation, as dry as the wilderness."
And we've already discussed those prophecies. 612, shortly after this prophecy, 612 BC, Nineveh, the capital of that great Assyrian empire, fell, as Nahum in detail described.
"The herd shall lie down in their midst, every beast of the nation. Both the pelican and the bittern," that is, the desert owl and the screeching owl, "shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars. Their voice shall sing in the windows. Desolation shall be at the threshold, for He will lay bare the cedar work.
This is the rejoicing city that dwelt securely, that said in her heart." Notice the reference again to the thoughts that one thinks, what you say in your heart. "That said in her heart, 'I am it. And there is none besides me.' How has she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down. Everyone who passes by her shall hiss and shake his fist."
At one time, all of these nations claimed to be something. They rose to power, and they got drunk with power, and they thought themselves to be invincible. Look at me. I am something. I am it. That was their downfall.
And some of these nations ruled the earth. They were world-governing empires. But, you know, God has a way of putting things in perspective, doesn't He? Like in Isaiah 40, where it says, "Behold, the nations are as a drop in the bucket, and are counted as small as dust on the scales."
What do you think God thinks when He sees a person, a man, a woman, or for that matter, a king, a nation, saying, I'm it. Oh really? Nebuchadnezzar said that, and while the words were still in his mouth, he went nuts by the judgment of God.
I think about that woodpecker who was pecking away at the trunk of a dead tree, pecking hard. Suddenly, lightning came out of the sky and hit that trunk, and it cracked that tree in half. And that little woodpecker flew away, startled, and looked back and said, look what I did. Well, he didn't do anything.
But, like these nations, look at who I am. And then the judgment came. Boy, people can have sort of this I'm invincible attitude. And they talk about God in such a cavalier way. I remember when John Lennon wrote that song. "Imagine there's no heaven, no hell below us, above us only sky." You think his theology has changed a bit since the time he wrote that? When he died and came face to face with God for all of eternity?
See, it's so easy to be arrogant, and prideful, and invincible. But every one of us will face the judgment bar of God. If you're a Christian, you'll face the bema seat, the reward seat. Your sins are judged, passed at the cross. But if Jesus is not your savior, no matter how wonderful you might be, how many accomplishments you've done, how large you live and high you get, you will face God like all of these nations once did.
Now, in Zephaniah 3, after the woe and judgment is pronounced on the other nations that came against Israel, the prophet now goes back once again and pronounces woe and judgment back on Jerusalem, again. Why? Why is there so much attention given, not only here but in so many of the prophets, against God's own people, and the bulk of this book has to do with Judah and not the other nations who are godless?
Because with privilege comes responsibility. "To whom much has been given, much shall be required." This was God's city. God's temple was there. And so, "Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted." This is the second woe that's pronounced in this book.
"To the oppressing city," that is, Jerusalem. "She has not obeyed His voice. She has not received correction. She has not trusted in the Lord. She has not drawn near to her God."
Four sins are mentioned in that verse, beginning with the final result of disobeying. It starts in the heart, it eventuates in disobedience. But there's that word, and the prophets used it a lot, didn't they? Woe. It's a word-- in Hebrew it's oy. You may have heard that. Oy! That's the Hebrew.
The prophet is looking at what's coming. Oy! Woe! How sad. Alas. It's a message of judgment. But whenever we see a woe, W-O-E, it should cause us to woah, slow down. W-O-A-H. Woah.
Slow down. Ponder. Think about what He is saying. Slow down and woah at that woe.
Did you hear about the guy who bought a horse from the pastor? And the pastor said, now, this is a different kind of a horse. It doesn't respond to normal commands. You can't say giddyup to this horse. You have to say, praise the Lord, and the horse will trot for you.
And when you want to stop, you can't say woah. You have to say amen. The guy said, OK, whatever, great, paid the money. And he sat up on the horse and he said, I'll try it.
Praise the Lord. Off that horse went into a beautiful trot through the meadows. And he said praise the Lord again, and it went into a nice full gallop. Pretty soon it was moving at full speed, and he was getting panicky. And the man on the horse said, I got to stop it, because he knew that just ahead of him was a ravine with a 200-foot drop.
So he's panicked now. And he can't remember the exact word to stop this horse, so he says, woah, woah. And the horse doesn't stop. So he thinks, OK, what is that word again?
Hallelujah. The horse doesn't stop. Um, glory. The horse doesn't stop. Then he remembers it just at the brink of that gorge, and he says amen. Comes to a screeching halt just at the precipice.
Now he's sweating, and he goes, whew, praise the Lord.
So slow down when you read these woes. Amen? Praise the Lord.
Verse 3. "Her princes in her midst are roaring lions. Her judges are evening wolves, that leave not a bone till morning." These are the political leaders who are searching for more victims to corrupt and abuse.
"Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people. Her priests have polluted the sanctuary. They have done violence to the law."
These are the spiritual leaders now. He moves from the politicians. You could say, well, I know they're corrupt. Now he goes to the spiritual leaders, who should have been representatives of God. But they're destroying God's people.
"The Lord is righteous in her midst. He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light. He never fails, but the unjust knows no shame.
I have cut off nations. Their fortresses are devastated. I have made their streets desolate, with none passing by. Their cities are destroyed. There is no one, no inhabitant.
I said, 'Surely you will fear me. You will receive instructions.' So that her dwelling would not be cut off despite everything for which I punished her. But they rose early and corrupted their deeds."
God makes a reference to the fact that there were certain things they did of which they should have been ashamed. They weren't ashamed. And they could sin and not even feel bad about it.
When the conviction of the Holy Spirit doesn't affect us any more, we're walking on dangerous ground. When God's people can do certain acts without feeling a sense of shame, deep remorse, that's an indication of a state of heart that is corrupt. And God's people were experiencing the freedom to do it without sensing shame. "They rose early and corrupted their deeds."
Now, Zephaniah makes a transition here in verse 8 from the invasion of Judah to that far-off prophecy of the day of the Lord. "Therefore wait for me, says the Lord, until the day I rise up for plunder. My determination is to gather the nations to my assembly of kingdoms to pour on them my indignation, all my fierce anger. All the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy."
Now, we know what this is, and we know when this is going to happen. It's going to happen at the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the tribulation period. We're told that in so many places, like Matthew 24. Jesus said, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall from heaven, the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory."
And in Matthew 25. "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on His throne of glory. And all nations will be gathered before Him."
When Jesus comes back the second time, the Prince of Peace, as Isaiah called Him, is seen by John in a very different light. He is coming as the judge, not on a lowly donkey like He came the first time, but on a fiery steed. Not with His own blood splattered at what His enemies did to Him in the crucifixion, but His robe dipped in the blood of His enemies.
He comes to judge. He came the first time in humility and meekness. He will come the second time in severity and judgment.
"For then I will restore," verse 9, "the peoples a pure language." Now, some people see this as a prediction of the revival of the Hebrew language worldwide, that everybody will then speak Hebrew.
I don't know that that's necessarily what it's saying. It could simply mean, I will purify the lips of all people. That's an alternate translation. Because what the lips speak indicate what's in the heart. From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The hearts will be purified. Thus the language will also be pure. That could be the meaning.
"That they all may call on the name of the Lord to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, my worshippers, the daughter of my despised one, shall bring my offering." They will return from distant places.
I love that description of God's people. My worshippers. And I remember that Jesus said to the woman at Samaria, "The Father is seeking those to worship Him in spirit and in truth." He's looking for his worshippers. And that's a beautiful description of a Christian.
Remember when Paul wrote to the Philippians? He said, "We are the circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and have no confidence in the flesh," His worshippers.
"In that day you shall not be ashamed for any of your deeds in which you transgress against me, for then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride. And you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.
I will leave in your midst a meek and a humble people. And they shall trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness, and speak no lies. Nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth. For they shall feed their flocks and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid.
Sing, O daughter of Zion. Shout, O Israel. Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem." God will command and deserve wholehearted praise, lively praise. Sing, shout, from the bottom of your heart.
And isn't that how we ought to worship the Lord now? Shouldn't God's redeemed people, of all people, sing wholeheartedly? We have something to sing about. And it ought to be from the depth of our heart.
Every time we gather for worship, it's not just an incidental time. It's not a time for musicians to be on the platform so that people who are latecomers can come in and get into the real part of it, the Bible study. But to worship, to pour out your heart.
I love what Martin Luther said about worship, and especially lively praise. He said, how has it happened that in the secular field there are so many fine poems and so many beautiful songs, while in the religious field we have such rotten lifeless stuff? And then he said, we must read, sing, preach, write, and compose verse. And whenever it was helpful and beneficial, I would let all the bells peal, and the organs thunder, and everything sound that could sound.
In 1524, Martin Luther decided to do something that was very controversial. He took bar songs, drinking melodies, and he decided to put Christian lyrics to them and have them sung in the churches. You wouldn't know that "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" and "Away in a Manger" were two of those songs. They're hymns. But back then, man, they were edgy, full of life, and controversial.
But we're worshipping God. We're singing to God. It ought to be from our hearts. I love being up here on Sunday evenings worshipping with Pastor Chuck. That guy sings loud.
And I love it, because he keeps me going on key and the right track. You say, well, I don't have much of a voice. I don't really want to sing. Well, the Bible says, make a joyful noise unto the Lord. We can all do that.
I remember somebody told me, if God gave you a good voice you ought to worship Him with it. If God gave you a bad voice, give it back to Him in praise and in worship.
"The Lord has taken away your judgments," verse 15. "He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. You shall see disaster no more."
That's the reason for their joy. The judgment has passed. The King is in their midst. It's the kingdom age. It's the millennium. Israel is safe in their land, and their Messiah is reigning.
You remember, back in Ezekiel, in stages, the prophet in Ezekiel 8 through 11, sees the glory and the presence of God leave Jerusalem incrementally. He's at the Kebar River with the captives. He's transported in the spirit to Jerusalem, and he sees the glory and the presence of the Lord in the temple.
And then he watches it, as chapter 8 moves into 9 and 10. And it moves toward the east, toward the Mount of Olives. And then, eventually, in chapter 10 and 11, it leaves for good. It's gone. God leaves his people. Here God promises to come back, in fullness, in permanence, in glory, and fulfill His covenant.
"In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, do not fear, Zion. Let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God in your midst, the mighty one, will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing."
I like that. But because I'm so used to singing that song-- it's a song we used to sing around here, and still do-- it's best in the King James. You just can't beat it.
"The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty. He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy. He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing." Love it. Like a bridegroom rejoicing over his bride, God delights in us.
"I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly who are among you, to whom its reproach is a burden." Remember, they had been in exile. They were unable to celebrate the festivities of Israel. And because they were kept from those ceremonies, from those temple rituals, they were in sorrow during that time.
"Behold, at that time I will deal with all who afflict you. I will save the lame and gather those who were driven out. I will appoint them for praise and fame in every land where they were put to shame." God will remove all the oppressors of Israel. As he promised to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you, curse those who curse you."
"At that time I will bring you back, even at that time I gather you. For I will give you fame and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I return your captives before your eyes." And notice how the chapter and the book ends to emphasize divine authority and absolute certainty. It says, "Says the Lord."
How do I know it's going to happen? Because God said so. One of parents' favorite sayings to their kids. Why, daddy? 'Cause I said so. Why, God? Because He said so.
The Jews will be regathered in their land because God said so. God will rejoice over them in the kingdom age because God said so. God will take all of the wrath poured out, even the brunt that Israel felt that purged them from all of their sin to restore them, because God said so.
But in order to beautify Israel, He had to first purify Israel, remove the dross, take away the dregs, the lees that were settled. You see, God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to leave you the way you are.
And so you're saved. And now the Lord sanctifies, works on us. Aren't you glad He hasn't left us orphans? He's not only coming to us but He's working on us. And He's concerned more than anything else with the heart. Let's pray.
Father, we offer to you our hearts, our very core. We know that we have all sinned. We've all gone astray. How humbled and how grateful we are that you, Lord, laid upon Jesus, our savior, our Messiah, the iniquity of us all. And by His stripes we are healed.
Thank you, Lord, that even in judgment you remember mercy, that your wrath has a purpose. And the trials that we even experience now that you allow have a purpose of making us more like Jesus. And how we look forward to your return, Father.
As Pastor Chuck said, it would be wonderful if, this season, we would see you face to face and you would come for your church. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. We long for that day. Help us to live daily in the light of that truth, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Shall we stand. Talking about taking the worldly tunes and sort of giving Christian lyrics to it, I think it was Sankey who took the bar tune how dry I am, how dry I am, nobody knows how dry I am. And he put the words O happy day that filled my choice on Thee, my Savior and my God. [SINGING] O happy day that filled my choice.
And, interestingly enough, during one of the Rose Parades in Pasadena years ago, one of the Christian-- I think Salvation Army, or one of the Christian bands going down Colorado Boulevard were playing "O Happy Day" they thought.
Of course, the people, especially the alcoholics, thought that was a great church band.
So you have to be a little careful with some of the tunes that you might just play. You got to sing them and give the lyrics so that there's no confusion with it.
The pastors are down here in the front to pray for you. It may be that some of you are in a pressured situation and you feel the need of someone to stand with you in prayer. That's why they're here, that they can minister to you tonight and stand with you in prayer, and believe God with you and for you, that God will take care of the situation that you are facing.
And perhaps this week is a pressured week, and you just feel like, oh, I need someone to pray with me. Well, that's why they're here, to pray with you. So we would encourage you. Come on down and spend some time in prayer. Receive the help and the strength of the Lord, that you might meet every contingency that you might be facing this week.
But I pray that this week will be a very special week of thinking about and remembering God's love in sending His son into our world, to take upon Himself our sin, to die in our place, that we might live with Him forever in His kingdom. And may it be a week of your just worshipping our Lord.
And so let's sort of begin it tonight as we take one of the Christmas carols and let that be sort of the theme for our hearts this week.
[SINGING] O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
For He alone is worthy. For He alone is worthy. For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord.
O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
And may we do just that. God bless you.