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18th May

Zephaniah 1-3; Psalm 133

Bible in a Year
5 minutes
In this article
18th May

Zephaniah 1-3; Psalm 133

Bible in a Year
5 minutes


Zephaniah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah during the reign of Josiah. Assyria has already taken the northern kingdom of Israel into exile, and it isn't long before Babylon will come and take Judah into exile too. His book is the collection of his preaches during his ministry.

Zephaniah 1-2:3 - Judgement on Jerusalem

Zephaniah 2:4-15 - Judgement on the nations

Zephaniah 3:1-8 - Judgement on Jerusalem

Zephaniah 3:9-20 - Hope for the nations and Jerusalem

Zephaniah is the last of the pre-exilic prophets and continues many of the themes that we’ve seen in the other pre-exilic prophets. God is going to bring judgement on his people for their wickedness, and eventually on all nations for their wickedness. But that judgement isn’t for total destruction, though at times that language is used. The judgement is to purge and purify his people and the nations to re-establish a righteous kingdom under God.

Zephaniah 1-3

The book sets the tone straight away. "I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth," declares the Lord." (Zephaniah 1:2). This book is about destruction.

But God quickly narrows his focus on to Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem. He declares the day of the Lord is near and lists those at fault. He challenges the ruling class and the wealthy. He condemns those who 'leap over the threshold'. This was associated with the worship of other gods, where they believed that evil spirits laid in wait at thresholds ready to enter in to anyone who stepped on the threshold.

On that day of the Lord, there will be wailing. God then focuses in on those who are complacent and who talk against God in their heart. These are the people he wants to destroy on the day of the Lord.

We then get very familiar imagery associated with God's judgement; destruction, wrath, darkness, blood, and fire. Zephaniah calls to those who are humble to gather together and to seek righteousness, so they may be hidden on the day of the Lord. Even amid this destruction and despair, Zephaniah is shining a beacon of hope, that those few who are still committed to God will survive.

Then the book widens out again, looking at the judgement on the foreign nations. He declares judgement on Gaza, the land of the Philistines. They will be destroyed for their wickedness, but the people of God will claim this land as their own. He turns to Moab and to the Ammonites, speaking judgement over them. God's remnant will claim their land too. As for Israel's greatest enemy, Assyria, their land will be laid bare, with only wild beasts living in the land.

Then God turns back to Jerusalem, calling them 'the oppressing city' (Zephaniah 3:1). He condemns her for not trusting in him, or being willing to listen to his correction. All of her ruling class, the officials, judges, prophets, and priest, are corrupt and selfish.

God is righteous and will not accept injustice. In the past, God punished different nations for their wickedness and destroying them so his people could claim their land. Yet despite seeing what God does to wicked nations, the Israelites ignored him and follow their own wicked paths. So this time, God will gather all the nations, Judah included, pouring out his fire on them.

But this fire isn't to completely burn up the nations. It is to purify them. All the nations will be a people of pure speech that worship God. And even in Jerusalem, the wicked and proud will be burnt away, leaving only the humble people remaining.

At that point, God's people can sing and rejoice. There will be no more judgement upon them, nor will there be any evil or wickedness in their midst. Instead, God will be with them, singing over them with gladness and love. He will gather together those who are mourning and remove those who are oppressing them. He will take those who are outcasts and turn their shame into praise.

And once God has gathered his people together, all nations will praise them, fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham that his descendants will be a blessing to all nations.

Zephaniah, like the other pre-exilic prophets, is a message to the God’s people that their wickedness and corruption is going to lead to their judgement. But the future hope is that for those that are faithful to God, they will remain and God will reestablish them in his kingdom along with all nations.

Psalm 133

This psalm isn’t attributed to anyone in particular and is named as a psalm of ascent. These psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Festival of Weeks, and Festival of Tabernacles) or possibly by the Levites as they ascended the steps of the Temple. Psalm 120-134 are all psalms of ascent.

In this ascent journey we’ve gone from being far from God's presence (Psalm 120), to seeking God’s presence (Psalm 121), and then to reaching God’s presence (Psalm 122). From there, the psalmist has asked the Lord for help (Psalm 123) and then praised the Lord for his protection (Psalm 124).

From within Jerusalem, they reflected on the nature of righteousness and wickedness (Psalm 125). They thanked God for how he has restored his city, but also ask for more (Psalm 126). This leads the psalmist to reflect on the importance of God being first and foremost in our live (Psalm 127) and fearing God (Psalm 128).

Having focused on God’s authority and power, the psalmist then reflects on how God rescued them and Israel from oppressors (Psalm 129). Then the psalmist called out to God to rescue them from, and forgive them for, their sin (Psalm 130) and placed their trust in the Lord (Psalm 131). Then came the reflection on God’s covenant with David and commitment to dwell amongst his people (Psalm 132).

Nearing the end of the ascent psalms, we can now start to image all those that have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem gathered together, as the psalmist turns towards the unity of God’s people.

The psalmist starts with celebrating unity. Unity is like precious oil that was used to anoint the priests. It is like dew that runs down from the mountains and produces flourishing in the land.

In short, unity is empowers God’s people like oil established the authority of the priests. It is delightful and enjoyable, and it is a blessing for flourishing from God.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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