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Stewardship Bible Study Notes (Zephaniah)
The prophet Zephaniah called God’s people to seek the Lord in light of God’s coming judgment in the “day of the Lord”—a term applied by Old Testament believers to decisive events in time (including the final judgment) when God acted both in salvation and judgment. Importantly for us, Zephaniah reminds us that God’s judgment applies to our money as well. In fact, Zephaniah prophesied that while the day of the Lord would sweep the entire face of the earth clean (1:2), God’s coming judgment will have a decidedly financial focus (1:11-13). The book ends with a command to rejoice in God’s presence and his saving works among his people.
Our study of Zephaniah consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of the author’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Zephaniah 1:4 (Key Passage) — Economics of Idolatry: Why did God’s people worship idols? The answer is that the Israelites were fooled into believing that fertility gods like Baal controlled the weather and were, therefore, responsible for dispensing the dew and the rain which brought forth the earth vegetation (Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 134). Of course, in an agrarian society the one who controlled the weather controlled the economic arena as well. So Baal was seen as a powerful source of financial security in the ancient world. The people didn’t participate in fertility rituals simply because they liked them—they did it for the money. Similarly, today we are tempted to bow before the Almighty Buck (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5), and while American materialism may be different in form, it is no different in substance from the fertility cult of Baal many centuries ago. As Jesus said, no one can have two masters: “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). In context, this passage reminds us that those who trust in Baal or any source of safety and security other that the Lord God will be “cut off.” “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). See Zephaniah theme essay Generosity and Judgment.
Zephaniah 1:11-13 (Key Passage) — Financial Focus of God’s Final Judgment: Zephaniah began his message by describing the cosmic dimensions of God’s final judgment. At that time, the prophet explained, God would “sweep away everything from the face of the earth” (Zephaniah 1:2). Of course, this is what we expect when we think of “The Day of the Lord”—a whole world under judgment. But what comes next may surprise us. Zephaniah’s generalized description of doomsday narrows rapidly from the cosmic to the commercial—revealing a startling financial focus to God’s final judgment. See Zephaniah theme essay Generosity and Judgment.
Zephaniah 3:1 — The idea of God’s people oppressing others was particularly heinous because God had delivered them from oppression in Egypt. And after the exodus God codified his special concern for the poor and oppressed in the Law: “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused and I will kill you ...” (Exodus 22:22-24). Similar emphases are made concerning the ethical importance of hearing and responding to the cries of the poor throughout both the wisdom and prophetic literature of the Old Testament. For example, in the Psalms we are reminded repeatedly of the special attention that the poor received from God when they pray (Psalm 34:6; 40:17; 86:1 109:22; cf. 10:14, 17; 12:5; 35:10; Proverbs 22:22-23). Passages like these help to set the background for understanding why God hates oppression so very much. See Zephaniah theme essay Generosity and Judgment.
- Zephaniah 1:10-11 — It wasn’t just the world that would be judged. No, God’s judgment would begin with the people of God (Zephaniah 1:4) and would be directed specifically against those identified with the financial districts and marketplace (i.e. “Wail, you who live in the market district, all your merchants will be wiped out”). In other words, God’s judgment would center on those who misuse and abuse their money (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Zephaniah 1:18; Isaiah 2:20; Ezekiel 7:11, 19; cf. Isaiah 13:17). This financial focus of God’s final judgment is consistent with the many warnings that the Bible directs against those who love money and are preoccupied with prosperity (cf. Deuteronomy 8:10-14; 32:13-16; Psalm 62:10; 72:12; Proverbs 16:8; 23:4-5; Hosea 12:8; Amos 3:14-4:1; Matthew 13:22; Mark 10:25; Luke 6:24; 16:25; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 5:1-6; Revelation 3:17). See Zephaniah theme essay Generosity and Judgment.
- Zephaniah 1:12-13 — While Zephaniah 1:10-11 identifies the financial focus of God’s final judgment in the sense that God’s wrath is specifically directed against the financial districts of Jerusalem, verses 12-13 reveal the fact that the punishment itself will be financial in nature (i.e. “Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished ...”). The very wealth that God’s people earned in rebellion against him will be used against them as punishment (cf. James 5:1-6).
Zephaniah 3:10 — The prophet envisions giving as a key part of the future worship and service of God. From the far corners of the earth, worshipers will bring offerings, consecrating their material blessings to the Lord who gave them. If this is what worship will be like in eternity, shouldn’t those of us who belong to eternity practice generosity in our present worship as well?
Zephaniah 3:19-20 — Here God promises to restore his people’s fortunes and punish their oppressors. Significantly, the idea that Israel was “oppressed” often was connected to the fact that they had lost their land (i.e., economic capital and means of production) while in exile. In other words, oppression wasn’t merely a matter of being actively mistreated (although that was part of it); it could also be construed in terms of a lack of access to economic opportunity (e.g., an inheritance in the promised land or an education to enable one to earn a living). Accordingly, God planed to restore their fortunes by gathering those who were “scattered” (i.e., bringing his people back into possession of the land). As we think about what it means to combat economic oppression today, we should keep this in mind. Fighting oppression does not only take place at the structural level, but it also takes place at the personal level when we give of our resources so that others may have greater opportunities (socially, educationally, vocationally, etc.). See Zephaniah theme essay Generosity and Judgment.
Study Notes by Chapter
Major Giving Themes
1:4 (Economics of
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