Prophets – Zephaniah

Welcome back to the “weekly” Bible study that is actually turning out to be every other week!

Today we are going to read from a book that is not as common as other prophets.
Zephaniah (not to be confused with Zechariah), lived during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE). Josiah was a King in Judah, the southern kingdom. By this time, Israel (northern kingdom) had been conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians. The people had strayed far from God and did not heed any warnings brought to them by God’s messengers (like the prophet Amos among others). And so the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom are gone, wiped from the earth because of their inability to follow God.
The people of Judah had been better at remaining faithful to God and so God protected and spared them. But like any group of people, they are going astray. So messengers are sent, and we will read one such message today.
Zephaniah is a short book (only 3 chapters), but his ability to be succinct highlights how severe the situation is. He does not talk circles but is direct when speaking to the people of Judah.

Zephaniah 1:1
We learn who Zephaniah is based on his ancestry. He could be a priest (Jeremiah talks about a priest named Zephaniah) or have a royal background (Hezekiah was the name of a king), but just like today, there is no guarantee that there is only one person with the name.

Zephaniah 1:18
And the uplifting message begins…or not.
This prophetic message starts off on a harsh note, probably to catch the attention of the listeners. Did it work for you? Was your response along the lines of “wow, that’s harsh”?
God will “sweep away everything from the earth” and nothing will be left.
By specifically naming groups of people (Judah, Jerusalem, priests of Baal), we find out who has upset God and get glimpses into what has happened to bring such anger: the people have begun to worship another God. And if we all remember learning the 10 commandments, we should remember that we shall have no other gods because God is a jealous God.
But the people have been led astray.
God is so upset that he doesn’t want to hear any excuses and tells people to remain silent; their actions have condemned them already. Some have worshiped another god, others have filled their lives with violence and fraud.
Note that Zephaniah develops a refrain: “ON THAT DAY” God will bring his judgment, and that day is not going to be a nice one for those who have not been following God’s way. People will be punished. Those who thought that God would continue to ignore and not respond (not doing good nor bad) will see that God is about to act.
That day will be full of distress and anguish, and nothing will save them. People had become dependent upon their harvest and money to provide safety, but nothing will save them from God’s wrath.

Zephaniah 2:1-4
The small bit of hope emerges as God tells people to gather for one last chance before complete destruction on that day.
Their last chance is to seek the Lord, to seek righteousness and to seek humility. The people have been sinning against God by becoming overconfident in their own wealth and abilities, but God is about to act against all those who do not seek God.
Why do you think God is only giving a chance and not a guarantee against God’s wrath (“perhaps you shall be hidden”)?

Zephaniah 2:5-15
Here God is providing hope for the remnant (small portion), for those who seek the Lord and whose lives will be spared because they are humbled. Part of Judah’s hope will come at the expense of the nations that threaten and mock Judah. Lands belonging to those who don’t follow God will be used for God’s people. Their hope is that they will have a pasture and a fortune that comes from those who anger God, which is to say that God will give them a place where they will have all they need.

Zephaniah 3:1-7
But God is still angry with his people, even if there is hope for a remnant.
Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, is full of people so concerned with their own voices that they ignore warnings and advice.
Leaders are compared to lions and wolves, which we all know as vicious predators who show no shame in destroying others for their own sake.
Jerusalem has become corrupt and was eager to do so.

Zephaniah 3:8-13
Hope remains in the midst of corruption: God promises to give pure speech. Many of us to this day are leery of politicians for their abilities to twist their words but appreciate those who speak truth and honesty. The same was true in Jerusalem during the time of Zephaniah. After much pride and corruption, pure speech would truly be a blessing from God.

Zephaniah 3:14-20
The message in the book of Zephaniah began with a harsh warning, but we end with a song of joy.
God has taken away judgment = shown mercy and forgiveness.
God spares the people and protects them from enemies (foreign threats as well as domestic oppressors). Even the lame and the outcasts (those who suffer greatly in times of oppression where the leaders are corrupt and greedy), will rejoice. All who had been pushed from their homes will return and praise God.

Zephaniah is a short book. We read the entire book in a short amount of time, but there is much packed into 3 chapters.
A few highlights to ponder as we think about how the message given to a specific people over 2600 years ago would matter still today:
What is it that is leading us astray?
Do we have any “priests” of other gods in our midst?
Who would be the lions and wolves in our society?
Who are the enemies from whom we need protection?
Who is more concerned with their wealth than with caring for the lame and outcasts?
Who might be given “pure speech” in the midst of corruption?
What should we be doing to avoid “that day” from happening in our own lives?

Prophets – Amos

Welcome back after a short break!

A quick note: this study series will be looking primarily at the “minor” prophets who lived after the Kingdom of Israel was split into Israel and Judah. There were several prophets before who were active in the times of the Judges like Deborah and in the time of united Israel like Samuel and Nathan.
The “major” prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, whose books are much longer than any messages of the “minor” prophets. The main distinction between major and minor is not one of importance but of length.

Today we are going to be looking at the prophet Amos, whose writings date back to around 750-775 BCE. His writings are among the oldest of a series of prophets who brought messages to Israel and Judah.
Amos grew up in the southern Judah but his message was given to northern Israel.
The book has a strong message for Israel to hear regarding their lack of morals in daily life. God is concerned that their rituals and their daily life have become disconnected.

Feel free to read the entire book (only 9 chapters long), but I will be asking you to read some of the passages with some reflections to help understand or to highlight some key thoughts or phrases.

Amos 1:1-5.
The first two verses are quick to summarize who is speaking and when.
Amos does not hesitate from the beginning with the harsh message. He wastes no time in bringing the message from God in Jerusalem (which is in Judah).
So begins a series of judgments against nations who are not behaving in the way God approves.
The nations around Israel are all judged: Aram (capital city Damascus) is the first listed with its crime described as threshing or pounding Gilead.
The following judgments followed the same rhetoric: “for three transgressions and for four.” One mistake can be forgiven, but multiple times implies no learning.

Amos 2:4-5
This is a judgment against Judah, who has stopped living according to God’s law. Even the home of God’s temple will not be protected if the people continue to be led astray.

Amos 2:6-3:2
Judgment against Israel is founded in how they have not cared for their poor and needy. They have instead become concerned with their greed. They do not simply ignore the poor, but have actively sought out ways to hurt. Even though God is the one who brought people out of slavery and protected them in battle, the people of Israel have enslaved others and brought about ruin.
The consequences for their actions will not be avoided.

Amos 4:6-13
God had tried in the past to get their attention so that they would repent. Repentance in Hebrew literally means to turn back. But the people of Israel did not turn to God.
When they had more than enough to survive, they did not turn to God.
When they were suffering, they did not turn to God.
The refrain “yet you did not return to me, says the Lord” is a powerful indication of how many times God tried to get their attention but failed as Israel continued to ignore God.

Amos 5:4-7, 5:14-24
Yet God is giving one more chance to Israel.
If they do not seek out the places where they have been wrongly worshiping others besides God, God will let them live.
God knows how they have been living and is calling for them to turn from the evil that pulls them away from the good.
The day of the Lord will not be a joyful day for those whose lives have been immoral. The day will be a dark day for those who worshiped at other altars, treated their neighbors poorly, or whose rituals and songs are merely noise without meaning.
God wants justice and righteousness to abound. God is more concerned with them living a good life every day than them putting on a good show at worship.

Amos 7:1-9
These are some of Amos’s visions regarding judgment against Israel. Each vision starts by Amos announcing what God has shown to Amos.
The first vision is of locust consuming grass and the second of fire destroying the land. It should not be too difficult to figure out who is destroying and who is being destroyed. (Hint: God will destroy the people). But Amos calls out and God repents.
A plumb line is used by builders to show that a wall is straight and not leaning.
But when God uses a plumb line in the midst of people, he is testing them to see if they are upright and good. Walls that are not upright either need fixing or tearing down to start over again. People that are not upright get the same treatment.

Amos 9:1-15
This final chapter in Amos’s message highlights the intention of God to seek out and destroy the sinful kingdom. No one will be able to hide when God is looking for them.
But God will not completely destroy the house of Jacob. The house of Jacob = descendants of Jacob (also known as Israel).
Sinners will be gone, but a remnant shall be restored and rebuilt.
There is still hope for God’s people because God will remain faithful to the promise made to King David that David’s house (Israelites) will live on and will be blessed.

Some questions to ponder:
What do you think about the message Amos brought to the people of Israel?
How do you think this message could apply to our world today?
What are some of the sins or transgressions that God would condemn?
What are some of the ways God might be striving to get your attention?
How are you called to live as one who follows God and have you been measuring up?