Some prominent prophecies could be immediately annoying, being clearly at odds with the people and place to which they seem directed.  It therefore happens that the proclaimers of such prophecies get readily tagged as false or fake prophets because what they predicted didn’t come to pass as generally expected.

Sadly, sometimes, the error in such cases is not in the prophet but in the hearers who had assumed an interpretation because they felt sure that the prophecy was clearly understood.  A long time ago, a prophet called Zephaniah was there, as the following scripture would reveal:

The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi… in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah (Zephaniah 1:1).

Zephaniah’s prophetic ministry, according to the verse above, was during the tenure of King Josiah; Josiah the great spiritual revivalist of Judah; King Josiah of whom it is said, “And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD and walked in ALL the way of David his father and TURNED NOT ASIDE to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).  Such a record was exceptional in the history of the kings of Judah and Israel.

Josiah was one king who daringly “took away ALL the abominations out of ALL the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made ALL that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the LORD their God.  And ALL his days they departed not from following the LORD, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:33). What a king! What a record!

Josiah was a boy who came from the evil background of Amon his father and yet become the best king that Judah ever had.  He was the last good king of Judah, standing in sharp contrast to Manasseh, the son of a very good king, Hezekiah, who turned out, very unfortunately, to become Judah’s worst nightmare on the throne. The only spiritual Revival in Judah’s history was in the days of King Josiah.  Expectedly, his glorious reign produced such great prophets as Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (2 Chronicles 35:2-25).

In the days of such an exceptional godly man who walked in “all” the good ways of King David his ancestor; in the days of such a ruler who was able to take “all” the abominations out of “all” the country and cause “all” the people to serve the Lord (despite the notorious ancestral stubbornness of some of those Israelites);  in the midst of the unrivalled revival in the temple and on the throne such as King Josiah supported, we hear the very odd proclamations of a never-before heard-about prophet, insisting, ostensibly in the name of the Lord, that an undeserved utter disaster was on the way.

2 I will UTTERLY CONSUME all things from off the land…  

3 I will CONSUME man and beast and I will CUT OFF man from off the land… 

4 I will STRETCH OUT MINE HAND upon Judah, and upon ALL the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will CUT OFF… (Zephaniah 1:2-4).

That message of doom, according to the prophet, was the voice of the Lord.  As if his opening had not been awkward enough, Zephaniah continued in the subsequent verses with his pronouncements of unreasonable disaster – upon “princes,” upon “the king’s children,” and upon several eminent others in a terrible “day of the LORD” which, he claimed, was coming with great destruction.

Could such an incongruous voice, very out of place with ‘present reality,’ as we would say, have been the voice of God?  Would God speak of such disaster in the days of an unparalleled good man such as Josiah?  Could a just God be so brutal upon a man accused of no offence?  Would He really seek to punish “the king’s children” without any attribution of sin?  Was Zephaniah’s voice truly the voice of God?

Yes, it was, but God was not speaking of the present. The prophet had seen a disaster some fifty-three years away; a future disaster in spite of the glorious present. God verily saw the commendable present revival, but He could not see a sustained revival beyond the good days of Josiah, hence the future disaster in spite of the glorious present.

A Josiah is a great blessing upon the throne of any nation, yet a Josiah not sustained is no guarantee that the blessedness of the glorious present would continue into a wicked future. If we should hear a Zephaniah speaking now of judgment, let it not surprise us. Let us not stone him to death. Let us not call him names. He is not speaking of our day. We might call him ‘a minor prophet,’ but he is seeing what God has chosen not to show every other prophet; he is seeing beyond our glorious present to a spiritually nonchalant future, which warrants his proclamations of utter woe.  He sees a sad future when Josiah shall be no more on our cherished throne, he having served his days and been succeeded by a ‘son,’ the first in a series of ‘successors’ who, in spite of a reputable righteous ‘ancestor,’ would be remarkable as those that “did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 23:32).  It is one thing to hear a prophecy, it is another to hear it with discernment.

Zephaniah’s strange sound in Josiah’s good day was actually a prayer alert, for those who could hear it.  It called for prayer investments; pre-emptive prayers in a season of strength, against a coming disaster in a season of lamentable weaknesses.  Such an odd voice in our glorious present is not only a call to prayers but also a call to be on our guard, pointless as the call might seem.   Zephaniah behooves us to not take the present for granted while the future begins so far ahead of time to plot the complete overthrow of all the gains of our Josiah-present.  He that hath an ear…

Mark these words and watch them in the years to come. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” They that can “hear with understanding,” may they hear (Job 34:16; Nehemiah 8:2; Revelation 2:7). Amen.

From The Preacher’s diary
First published: June 30, 2011 

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