We have been working through our list of oft seldom quoted books in The Bible. Our next challenge is Zephaniah. Yes! There is a book that starts with “Z”! Does any start with the letter “A”?
Hmm🤔 “Atchoo!” Excuse me…what was that? Oh! Acts? Yes! Good job.
Zephaniah is a minor prophet!
Are “Prophets” ranked? Seemingly! Just as in Heaven there is ranking among principalities and powers.
We do not have to revise, but in a very brief review; the former lead angel before his fall does outrank angel Michael – the present archangel. There are numerous examples of the struggles in the spitual….
When Abraham was called, he was literally living in Babylon on the plain of Shinar in the city of Ur. He did not come from a God-fearing family, and there is no evidence that he was converted at the time of Genesis 12:1. Every indication is that he, too, was a heathen. As we shall see, every called person begins in idolatry.
God had in all likelihood begun to work with him, preparing him for his calling by guiding his thinking to begin to question areas of life he had previously accepted without question. Historical traditions indicate that his family was of a priestly caste, and perhaps he was already questioning the validity of the false gods he served.
Acts 7:2-4 clarifies a few things relating to the early period of his calling:
And [Stephen] said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.”
What is included in God’s appearance is not known. Whether it was literal, in a vision, or by dream is not explained anywhere else. The element we need to understand is that, as with us, Abraham did not earn his calling. He had done nothing to earn or deserve God’s notice.
Isaiah 51:2 adds a further piece of information worth considering: “Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him.” While Sarah is at least mentioned, no other family members are included within the scope of this statement. It appears that several members of Abraham’s family depended on him, since much of his family left with him, yet God makes clear that Abraham was the only one spiritually called.
To how many of us has a similar thing happened? Why does this happen? Nobody knows! It is unanswerable. God shows mercy to whom He shows mercy. He loves Jacob but loves Esau less by comparison, despite their being twins. He accepts Abel and rejects Cain. He chooses only Noah among millions of others to whom He could have given grace.
This we know: At some time before leaving Babylon, God became a living reality to Abraham to a degree no one else near and dear to him experienced. Even amidst his personal self-seeking and self-pleasing, he was motivated to leave his set routines of life. It must have been similar to what Job experienced when he said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5).
Whether the opening of Abraham’s mind was gradual or sudden, God had graciously revealed Himself enough to make him move, and he did so to the extent of leaving his homeland and journeying over 1,200 miles, probably on foot or at best by donkey or cart, to a land known for violent weather, especially for its high temperatures.
Abraham was already 70 years old, yet he severed virtually every relationship that matters to normal human concepts of life and well-being. For a long time, stability became a thing of the past, considering that he never again dwelt in a home with foundations. This may seem an unusually hard and harsh requirement. Nevertheless, he embarked on a journey into an utterly unknown future.
What can we learn from this God-engineered example? Undoubtedly, He was testing Abraham, a process we should expect a measure of in our calling as well. We may never have to leave our homeland and set out on a long journey without knowing where we are headed, but it is highly likely that disruptions will accompany our calling.
A primary instruction God wants us to understand from Abraham’s calling is that we must make a complete break from our old lives. We must clearly begin to sever ourselves from the old, “inner” life that was implanted in our character by our living according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
Matthew 19:21-24 adds an important truth to help us understand these verses:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
First, the rich young man was so preoccupied by his material wealth that he really did not hear that Christ was offering him eternal life. Second, anything of this earth that we truly treasure can potentially influence us to so increase our fear of losing it as to cause us to choose not to hear Christ. The treasure does not have to be money. Third, no matter how great the distractive power of what we consider valuable, Godstands ready to save us from it. Jesus did not say it was impossible.
No doubt, Solomon wants to help us with this spiritual struggle. He uses money as his main illustration because everybody easily relates to it. However, he does not introduce the subject of money until Ecclesiastes 5:10. Instead, he writes of social injustice within the worldly system we live and function in. Why? Because the system itself is a constant source of distraction through its constant barrage of news reports in which we hear of social injustice. Most often, the poor are its targets.
He cautions us not to be astonished by the vanity of all this injustice, but at the same time, he wants us to be aware of it. He does this in verse 8 by mentioning “a high official watches over a high official, and higher officials are over them.” He seems to be saying that from bottom to top, the entire system is corrupt; every stratum of the culture struggles to make its way by taking advantage of others. Nevertheless, none of this injustice is an excuse for us to involve ourselves in the “everybody’s doing it” routine and sin too.
A key to understanding what Solomon is driving at is the word translated “watches.” In Hebrew, the term can be used either positively or negatively. Positively, a person watches to protect or help, and negatively, he may have circumstances under surveillance to gain personal advantage from them. The present context is definitely negative. Solomon is still describing the self-centered attitudes of those “working” the system. Like their political leaders, ordinary citizens also greedily watch to gain the best and most for themselves. Their approach is not to serve and share. Verse 9 confirms that this self-centered attitude goes all the way to the top—to the king. He, too, is served by the corrupt system.
God has deemed it our responsibility to prepare for His Kingdom by overcoming, growing, and being loyal to Him and His way within such a circumstance as Solomon describes in these last few verses. Our hope is promised in Isaiah 9:6-7:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
The solution to this present evil world is on the horizon, but it will not come until Jesus Christ is here with us on earth. Thus, God has willed that we must deal with the corrupt and unjust system that now is, looking forward in hope to the relief of Christ’s return.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Paul describes what happened to Abraham at his calling and must happen to us. Abraham’s mind—and therefore his life—was so arrested and redirected by God’s revelation of Himself that he responded dramatically, despite the realization that he could no longer live as he had for 70 years. He had to make changes, and some of them would be considerable and costly.
He could no longer live completely for himself. He no longer perceived people as he had all his life. He especially could no longer perceive his new God and Savior as He formerly had. A new man was being created from within, so he had to make a clean and permanent break from his old life. His life now had a new Object toward which he must walk. His life had a new direction, a new relationship, new desires, and new requirements to fulfill.
We must never forget that Abraham was a special case; he is the prototype who set a vivid, overall example for all his spiritual children to follow to some degree. There were bumps along the way; at times, he fell short of the ideal. Yet, on the whole, he did nothing less than set a superb example for all of us.
7 Stories to Remind Us That We’re Not Alone in Our Battles:
David was troubled and battled deep despair. In many of the Psalms, he writes of his anguish, loneliness, fear of the enemy, his heart-cry over sin, and the guilt he struggled with because of it. We also see his huge grief in the loss of his sons in 2 Samuel 12:15-23and 18:33. In other places, David’s honesty with his own weaknesses gives hope to us who struggle today:
“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” Ps. 38:4
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Ps. 42:11
Elijah was discouraged, weary, and afraid. After great spiritual victories over the prophets of Baal, this mighty man of God feared and ran for his life, far away from the threats of Jezebel. And there in the desert, he sat down and prayed, defeated and worn:
“I have had enough Lord, he said. Take my life, I am not better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:4
Jonah was angry and wanted to run away. After God called Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach to the people, he fled as far away as could. And after a storm at sea, being swallowed by a giant fish, and then being saved and given a second chance, he obeyed. He preached God’s message to the people of Nineveh. God’s mercy reached out to all people who turned to Him. But instead of rejoicing, Jonah got mad:
“Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:3
And even after God reached out to Jonah again with great compassion, he responded, “…I am angry enough to die.” Jonah 4:9
Job suffered through great loss, devastation, and physical illness. This righteous man of God lost literally everything. So great was his suffering and tragedy that even his own wife said, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job 2:9
Though Job maintained his faithfulness to God throughout his life, he still struggled deeply through the trenches of pain:
“Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” Job 3:11
“I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Job 3:26
“I loathe my very life, therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 10:1
“Terrors overwhelm me…my life ebbs away, days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones, my gnawing pains never rest.” Job 30:15-17
Moses was grieved over the sin of his people. In his feelings of anger and betrayal from his own people, Moses, as a leader, was about ready to quit. He came down from his mountaintop experience with God, commandments in hand, only to find the Israelites in complete chaos and sin. His heart-cry to God on their behalf was desperate:
“But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Ex. 32:32
Jeremiah wrestled with great loneliness, feelings of defeat, and insecurity. Also known as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah suffered from constant rejection by the people he loved and reached out to. God had called him to preach, yet forbidden him to marry and have children. He lived alone, he ministered alone, he was poor, ridiculed, and rejected by his people. In the midst of it, he displayed great spiritual faith and strength, and yet we also see his honesty as he wrestled with despair and a great sense of failure:
“Cursed be the day I was born…why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” Jer. 20:14,18
Even Jesus Himself was deeply anguished over what lay before Him. He knew what was to come. He knew that God had called him to a journey of great suffering, he knew what must happen in order for us to live truly free. Our Savior and Lord was willing to pay the price on our behalf, but it wasn’t an easy road. Isaiah prophesied that Christ would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Is. 53:3
We can be assured, that in whatever we face, Jesus understands our weakness and suffering, our greatest times of temptation and despair, because he too traveled that road, yet without sin.
In the garden, through the night, Jesus prayed, all alone, calling out to His Father, asking Him for another way:
“And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.'” Mark 14:34-36
The Bible says that so great was his anguish, that he sweat “drops of blood.” Luke 22:44
What’s true about all of these stories and many others is this: God was with them. Close. Near.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Ps. 34:18
He was there in the good days and in the dark days too. He didn’t condemn them for their questions and pain. He didn’t tell them to just tough it out. He reached down to their deepest pit of suffering, and lifted them out.
He showed compassion. He offered mercy. He brought hope. He instilled purpose. He gave victory.
And He still works in the same way today.
Our world desperately need joy-givers, hope-bringers, those in our lives who will help us remember what real grace is and where lasting help is found.
The greatest truth is this, we have a Savior who understands our pain, who knows about every weakness and hurt, and reaches out with compassion and hope.
He is Healer. Redeemer. Restorer. And friend.
He will never waste the seasons of suffering we face, but will use it, in some way, to bring good, to instill purpose, to help others, and to make us stronger.
Depression is a common, yet very treatable condition that affects many people in our world. Yet statistics tell us that only about one-third of those who are depressed actually receive treatment. This is unfortunate since 80-90% of those who do seek treatment often report feeling better within just a few weeks. It’s also known that depression is the linked cause for over two-thirds of suicides reported each year.
Help is available. Don’t feel the need to try to hide your pain, or struggle through on your own. Talk to a friend or counselor. Seek out professional treatment and care.
If you find yourself in dark places today, know that you’re not alone. Not ever. God knows your way, is with you always, and has good still in store.
The Book of Zephaniah /ˌzɛfəˈnaɪ.ə/ (Hebrew: צְפַנְיָה, Modern: Tsfanya, Tiberian: Ṣəp̄anyā) is the ninth of the Twelve Minor Prophets, preceded by the Book of Habakkuk and followed by the Book of Haggai. Zephaniah means “Yahweh has hidden/protected,” or “Yahweh hides
Let’s do it!
1. How many chapters are in the book of Zephaniah?
Zephaniah identifies himself better than any of the other minor prophets. Habakkuk concealed himself in silence—we know nothing about his background—but Zephaniah goes to the opposite extreme and tells us more than is ordinary. He traces his lineage back to his great–great–grandfather, Hizkiah (whom we know as Hezekiah), king of Judah. In other words, Zephaniah was of the royal line.
Zephaniah located the time of his writing just as clearly as he did his identification: “in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah” (Zeph. 1:1). It was a dark day for the nation. According to the arrangement of the Hebrew Scriptures, Zephaniah was the last of the prophets before the Captivity. He was contemporary with Jeremiah and perhaps with Micah, although I doubt that. His was the swan song of the Davidic kingdom, and he is credited with giving impetus to the revival during the reign of Josiah.
The little Book of Zephaniah will never take the place of John 3:16 and the Gospel of John as number one in Bible popularity. The contents of this book have never been familiar, and I doubt that it has been read very much. I dare say that few have ever heard a sermon on Zephaniah. One Sunday morning several years ago, as I was about to preach on this book, I asked the congregation how many had ever heard a message on Zephaniah before. Out of the 2500–3000 who were present, only two hands were raised! Such neglect is not due to the mediocrity or the inferiority of this little book. If its theme were known, I think it would be very much appreciated because it has the same theme as the Gospel of John. John is called the apostle of love; and as we study this book, we will find that Zephaniah is the prophet of love. That may be difficult for you to believe, but let me give you a verse to demonstrate my point. You are acquainted with John 3:16, but are you acquainted with Zephaniah 3:17?—“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.” This is lovely, is it not? However, Zephaniah is a little different from the Gospel of John, for this verse is just a small island which is sheltered in the midst of a storm–tossed sea. Much of this book seems rather harsh and cruel; it seems as if it is fury poured out. Chapter 3 opens in this vein: “Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!” (Zeph. 3:1). There is so much judgment in this little book; therefore, how can love be its theme? To find proof that love is the theme of this little books is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but I will illustrate my point by telling you a mystery story. This may seem to be a very peculiar way to begin a study of Zephaniah, but it is going to help us understand this little book. The title of my story is—
THE DARK SIDE OF LOVE
It was late at night in a suburban area of one of our great cities in America. A child lay restless in her bed. A man, with a very severe and stern look, stealthily entered her bedroom and softly approached her bed. The moment the little girl saw him, a terrified look came over her face, and she began to scream. Her mother rushed into the room and went over to her. The trembling child threw her arms about her mother.
The man withdrew to the telephone, called someone, who was evidently an accomplice, and in a very soft voice made some sort of an arrangement. Hastily the man reentered the room, tore the child from the mother’s arms, and rushed out to a waiting car. The child was sobbing, and he attempted to stifle her cries. He drove madly down street after street until he finally pulled up before a large, sinister, and foreboding–looking building. All was quiet, the building was partially dark, but there was one room upstairs ablaze with light.
The child was hurriedly taken inside, up to the lighted room, and put into the hands of the man with whom the conversation had been held over the telephone in the hallway. In turn, the child was handed over to another accomplice—this time a woman—and these two took her into an inner room. The man who had brought her was left outside in the hallway. Inside the room, the man plunged a gleaming, sharp knife into the vitals of that little child, and she lay as if she were dead.
Your reaction at this point may be, “I certainly hope they will catch the criminal who abducted the little girl and is responsible for such an awful crime!”
However, I have not described to you the depraved and degraded action of a debased mind. I have not taken a chapter out of the life of the man in Cell 2455, Death Row. I have not related to you the sordid and sadistic crime of a psychopathic criminal. On the contrary, I have described to you a tender act of love. In fact, I can think of no more sincere demonstration of love than that which I have described to you. I am sure you are amazed when I say that. Let me fill in some of the details, and then you will understand.
You see, that little girl had awakened in the night with severe abdominal pain. She had been subject to such attacks before, and the doctor had told her parents to watch her very carefully. It was her father who had hurried into the room. When he saw the suffering of his little girl, he went to the telephone, called the family physician, and arranged to meet him at the hospital. He then rushed the little girl down to the hospital and handed her over to the family physician who took her to the operating room and performed emergency surgery.
Through it all, every move and every act of that father was of tender love, anxious care, and wise decision. I have described to you the dark side of love—but love, nevertheless. The father loved the child just as much on that dark night when he took her to the hospital and delivered her to the surgeon’s knife as he did the next week when he brought her flowers and candy. It was just as much a demonstration of deep affection when he delivered her into the hands of the surgeon as it was the next week when he brought her home and delivered her into the arms of her mother. My friend, love places the eternal security and permanent welfare of the object of love above any transitory or temporary comfort or present pleasure down here upon this earth. Love seeks the best interests of the beloved. That is what this little Book of Zephaniah is all about—the dark side of love.
In our nation we have come through a period when the love of God has been exaggerated out of all proportion to the other attributes of our God. It has been presented on the sunny side of the street with nothing of the other side ever mentioned. There is a “love” of God presented that sounds to me like the doting of grandparents rather than the vital and vigorous concern of a parent for the best interests of the child.
The liberal preacher has chanted like a parrot. He has used shopworn cliches and tired adjectives. He has said, “God is love, God is love, God is love” until he has made it saccharin sweet; yet he has not told about the dark side of the love of God. He has watered down love, making it sickening rather than stimulating, causing it to slop over on every side like a sentimental feeling rather than an abiding concern for the object of love.
However, I want you to notice that there is the dark side of the love of God. He deals with us according to our needs, my friend. The Great Physician will put His child on the operating table. He will use the surgeon’s knife when He sees a tumor of transgression or a deadly virus sapping our spiritual lives or the cancerous growth of sin. He does not hesitate to deal with us severely. We must learn this fact early: He loves us when He is subjecting us to surgery just as much as when He sends us candy and flowers and brings us into the sunshine.
Sometimes the Great Physician will operate without giving us so much as a sedative. But you can always be sure of one thing. When He does this, He will pour in the balm of Gilead. When He sees that it is best for you and for me to go down through the valley of suffering, that it will be for our eternal welfare, He will not hesitate to let us go down through that dark valley. Someone has expressed it in these lines:
Is there no other way, Oh, God,
Except through sorrow, pain and loss,
To stamp Christ’s likeness on my soul,
No other way except the cross?
And then a voice stills all my soul,
As stilled the waves of Galilee.
Can’st thou not bear the furnace,
If midst the flames I walk with thee?
I bore the cross, I know its weight;
I drank the cup I hold for thee.
Can’st thou not follow where I lead?
I’ll give thee strength, lean hard on Me!
My friend, He loves us most when He is operating on us, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth …” (Heb. 12:6)—in other words, He child–trains, He disciplines us.
Under another figure, the Lord Jesus presented it yonder in the Upper Room to those who were His own. He said, in John 15:1–2: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth [prunes] it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” We must remember that the Father reaches into your life and mine and prunes out that which is not fruitbearing—and it hurts! But, as a Puritan divine said years ago, “The husbandman is never so close to the branch as when he is trimming it.” The Father is never more close to you, my friend, than when He is reaching in and taking out of your heart and life those things that offend.
It was Spurgeon who noticed a weather vane that a farmer had on his barn. It was an unusual weather vane, for on it the farmer had the words, GOD IS LOVE. Mr. Spurgeon asked him, “Do you mean by this that God’s love is as changeable as the wind?” The farmer shook his head. “No,” he said, “I do not mean that God’s love changes like that. I mean that whichever way the wind blows, God is love.”
Today it may be the soft wind from the south that He brings to blow across your life, for He loves you. But tomorrow He may let the cold blasts from the north blow over your life—and if He does, He still loves you.
It has been expressed in these familiar lines in a way I never could express it myself:
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower–strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the laborer, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
—Annie Johnson Flint
Beloved, if you are a child of God and are in a place of suffering, be assured and know that God loves you. Regardless of how it may appear, He loves you, and you cannot ever change that fact.
Sweetness and light are associated with love on every level and rightly so, but this aspect does not exhaust the full import of love. Love expresses itself always for the good of the one who is loved. This is the reason that it is difficult to associate love with the judgment of God. The popular notion of God is that He is a super Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One nature of His is expressed by love, and the other nature is expressed by wrath in judgment. These two appear to be contrary to the extent that there seem to be two Gods. The Book of Zephaniah is filled with the wrath and judgment of God (see Zeph. 1:15; 3:8), but there is the undertone of the love of God (see Zeph. 3:17).
So, there is so very much to be derived from the less oft quoted books.
I hopefully got your appetite stimulated.