Zephaniah: The Day of the Lord Part 1
I’ve read Zephaniah many times before. It’s a short book (only 3 chapters long), but it’s one that is full of meaning for those to whom it was written and to us today. Zephaniah wrote/preached primarily to his fellow Israelites in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, during a time of spiritual revival under Josiah’s reign. This is odd since most of the prophets wrote to warn the Israelites against how they were living and what kind of destruction it would bring. But, each statement Zephaniah makes clearly depicts how upset God is with Judah’s perennial sin. So, let’s look at how God characterized His punishment against Judah as well as how He delivers the same warning to all who would depart from Him.
God’s Judgment on Judah (Southern Kingdom) In Nahum (which David did such a great job teaching) Go proclaims the fall of the Northern Kingdom (Israel), so by the time the Babylonian occupation and destruction come to Judah, Israel has already been basically obliterated by Assyria. So, when Zephaniah begins in Chapter 1, he gives a terrifying image of how God will destroy His people: vss 1-6 “The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom (Molech), those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.”
Zephaniah highlights the obvious hypocrisy going on in Judah’s service toward God. Molech was an Ammonite god represented usually as a man with a bull’s head, to whom the people of Israel sacrificed their children. Molech was the antithesis of the one true God. So, when His people turned from Him to such an abomination, He simply couldn’t stand it!
This brings us to the next part of Chapter 1 where Zephaniah prophecies about The Day of the Lord. Look at vss. 14-16 “The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.” Here we see the day of the Lord described in terms of God’s justice being revealed through the Babylonians. God has had it with Judah and intends to bring down His judgment swiftly and completely.
Similar imagery is used in 1 Cor 15:51-52 where Paul says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” Of course, this trumpet ushers in a different kind of judgment; one that we’ll discuss later. But, in Zephaniah’s prophecy, God uses the trumpet to indicate the terror of battle and death that will come upon Judah.
In Chapter2, Zephaniah begins with an admonition to Judah, “Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect —before the day passes away like chaff—before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the Lord. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.” (Vss. 1-3) Here, God calls on His true, humble followers to seek Him and be spared. God wants them to turn away from evil and not follow the establishment. Ultimately, God’s judgment will be carried out on Judah, but what does God’s judgment look like toward all other nations and how does it translate to today?