Zephaniah is one of the twelve so-called minor prophets. He may have been a son of the famous king Hezekiah and prophesied during the time of the Judean king Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). Josiah served the Lord, the God of Israel, and tried to reform land and people to bring them to their God. However, Josiah could not undo the sin of his predecessors. And despite his efforts, there were still many people who adhered to the idols. It was during this time that Zephaniah proclaimed the Word of the Lord.
Zephaniah sets off with the astonishing words: “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the LORD” (Zephaniah 1:2). Judgment is going to come upon the earth. This judgment is specifically directed against Judah and Jerusalem. The inhabitants did not seek the true God nor inquire of Him (Zephaniah 1:6).
The Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:7-2:3)
Most of Zephaniah’s prophecy is devoted to the theme of the day of the Lord. With many images and comparisons, he outlines that the great day of the LORD is at hand: “The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast” (Zephaniah 1:14). On the one hand, this day is a day of horror and judgment. On the other hand, it is also a day of hope. Judgment will come to all the wicked, but salvation is for those who trust in the name of the Lord (Zephaniah 3:12).
The day of the Lord came when Jerusalem fell (587 BC). In the New Testament, however, the day of the Lord is also seen as the future day of judgement when Jesus will come from heaven and judge all the earth. But now there is still an escape: “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.” (Zephaniah 2:3).
Prophecies against the nations (Zephaniah 2:4-3:8)
Zephaniah, like most of the other prophets, also has a section with prophecies against Israel’s enemies. Zephaniah addresses the Philistine cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron. He speaks up to Moab and Ammon, Israel’s neighbors to the east. Judgment is coming on the Cushites and on Assyria. Zephaniah prophesies that the world-famous city of Nineveh, feared by everyone in the ancient East, will become a ruin: “What a desolation she has become, a lair for wild beasts! Everyone who passes by her hisses and shakes his fist.” (Zephaniah 2:15) Zephaniah does not stop at the gentile nations. In the same breath, he also proclaims woe over Jerusalem, the city of terrible injustice. Sin cannot go unpunished!
Salvation after judgment (Zephaniah 3:9-20)
After all these dark words, the light breaks through in the book of Zephaniah. God’s judgment does not block the coming of His salvation. God Himself will intervene: “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord.” (Zephaniah 3:9) The Lord will put away the proud. He will be served by the remnant of Israel that no longer speaks in lies. The people will leap for joy, for the Lord their God is in their midst. Their captivity will be reversed, and they will be a cause for praise among all the nations of the earth.
The message for us
- God takes sin completely seriously. Injustice will receive appropriate punishment.
- The whole world will encounter the day of the Lord.
- God himself provides salvation through judgment.