1 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.
The Coming Judgment on Judah
2 “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. 3 “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. 4 “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, 5 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, 6 those who have turned back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him.”
Bible Commentary 1:1-6
After a brief opening, Zephaniah begins the announcement of God’s judgment. The “sweeping away” (v.2) of all people and animals is reminiscent of the flood, a moment of God’s judgment on sin (cf. Genesis 6-9). The judgment God warns about is total: all living things are included in it, not just humans. And its cause is religious: Zephaniah singles out the priests and false worship as the cause of God’s judgment. The Judeans had become captive to the fundamental problem of idolatry, worshiping created things as if they were the Creator. This is a constant theme throughout the Bible (Romans 1:25–because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!) Worship is unavoidable–the only question is, what we will worship.
The Day of the LORD Is Near
7 Be silent before the LORD GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. 8 And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice—“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. 9 On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud. 10 “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, a loud crash from the hills. 11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off. 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ 13 Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.” 14 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. 15 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, 16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
This section is consumed by “the day of the Lord” (vv. 7,8,9,10,14), a day of wrath and judgment. Zephaniah exhorts God’s people to “Be silent before the LORD GOD” because of it (v.7). While sometimes in the Old Testament the “day of the LORD” is a day of salvation and blessing (Joel 2:31; cf. Isa. 35:1-10), here it is framed as a day of judgment, a day when God will “punish the men who are complacent” (Zeph. 1:12). The sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, ” for a “day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish” (vv. 14,15).
The idea of the “day of the LORD” is an outgrowth of the reality that God is holy and just. All that is wrong, all that denies the reality of God’s lordship, will be judged accordingly. However, God’s judgment on sin is not meant to be the last word. The certainty and severity of God’s judgment whould be a catalyst for repentance. In 2 Peter 3:10, Peter describes “the day of the LORD” when “the works that are done on [the earth] will be exposed.” But this is presented as a reason to pursue holiness relentlessly: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness!” (2 Peter 3:11)
As harsh as Zephaniah 1:7-16 is, it is not devoid of hope. The section begins with a reminder that “the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests” (v. 7). In the context of the judgment themes surrounding it, this verse probably indicates that the “guests” are the sacrifice God is preparing to vindicate his holiness through the judgments coming upon Judah. But the only reason these words make sense is that the people understand the nature of the atoning sacrifice that God has established as the means for turning aside his just wrath. Thus though the words are threatening here, they are meant to turn the people in penitence back to the God who makes a way for them to come to him.
For those who remain impenitent, God’s holiness and justice will be a fierce and terrifying reality on the day of the Lord. Yet those who trust in God’s merciful way of salvation by grace through his own Son, Jesus, are given the confidence that their judgment day has already taken place–on the day when Jesus died on the cross Jesus himself endured “a day of distress and anguish” in our place (v. 15; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). Be at peace. In Christ, sinners are forgiven and secure.
God shows us here that he can get very angry, if the people don’t fear Him and show their love for Him. It is constantly repeated throughout the OT how they would ignore his laws and commands and choose to make their own ‘life rules’. Again, as I have said before, I feel the OT reading is so important. It is a constant reminder to me how, if I let my guard down, it is so easy to sin over and over again. Jesus did die on the cross for us so our sins will be forgiven, but I don’t want to develop an arrogant attitude where I say to myself, ‘oh dear, I’ve sinned again. No worries, God is going to forgive me.’ God knows exactly what is in my heart at all times. When I ask for forgiveness for a sin I have committed, I want him to see that I am truly sorry and that I am going to try my hardest not to do it again.
Please share any verses, songs, or thoughts that this chapter may have brought to mind.
I hope all of you have a very blessed day.