Category Archives: Zephaniah

Zephaniah 3 – The Glorious Future of the Children God Born of his Favor

Amidst all the horrific images and promises of judgment and destruction in this little book, chapter 3 is filled with hope. Yes there is still some promise of judgment to come, but we get some beautiful descriptions of the telos of it all, the end or purpose for which all of the judgment is happening. As we’ve seen over and over again in the prophets, judgment and salvation are inextricably wound together as if in a very fine thread. You don’t know where one ends and the other begins, and such is this chapter. This melding of judgment and salvation finds it’s ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Could this bloody mess of a human being hanging on a Roman cross cursed of God actually be our salvation? Knowing the Old Testament, and prophets like Zephaniah, turns this into a rhetorical question.

The chapter starts with a typical recitation of the sins of “the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled!” Her officials, prophets, and priests are completely corrupt, but the recitation ends with a declaration of the perfection of God’s character:

The Lord within her is righteous;
    he does no wrong.
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice,
    and every new day he does not fail,
    yet the unrighteous know no shame.

This is truly the heart of the matter: God is perfect, and we are wretched sinners. How could Zephaniah say “every new day he does not fail” when the world is more or less a hell hole? Isn’t this why so many people want nothing to do with him? God has obviously failed, they logically conclude, if he couldn’t keep the world from being this way. But we must understand this one thing: The Bible, God’s revelation and communication to man, was not written to justify God to us, but us to God. We believe Zephaniah because God’s definition of things is the true nature of things. His is the ultimate big picture of which we are a very small part, and our time on earth a very small piece. We declare he cannot fail because he knows the beginning from the end, and this chapter gives us a glorious picture of that end.

Then we see another recitation and judgment promised to the nations, and that “The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.” But the very next verse is a promise of the mercy and grace and salvation to come:

“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples,
    that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
    and serve him shoulder to shoulder.

Like I said, a very fine thread. How is it that the “whole world” will be consumed, and yet he will purify them so they may all call on his name? Maybe the consuming fire is one of judgment and purification at the same time? More importantly, we notice that this salvation is completely of the Lord. We don’t and can’t purify ourselves! We also know that the “all” cannot refer to each and every person, but to all nations, which the Lord promised would be blessed through Abram’s seed, that is Christ! One more thing. All the religious striving of every human being is fruitless apart from the supernatural work of God in the soul. People spout about God (lips) all the time, but idolatry and self-justification are the only result without God’s transforming work by his Spirit. Here is what will characterize these people:

12 But I will leave within you
    the meek and humble.
The remnant of Israel
    will trust in the name of the Lord.

What a contrast! The haughty pride and vanity and violence of the wicked versus the meek and the humble who know and trust their Lord. This of course refers to the historical remnant of Israel and Judah, but ultimately refers to us! All the last verses of the chapter and book speak of the great and glorious future the “remnant of Israel,” and the “Daughter of Zion” and “Jerusalem.” There is an historical restoration, but what it points to is an ultimate restoration where “The Lord has taken away your punishment.” The Lord, “The King of Israel” will do this. Because here is the bottom line of all of redemptive history:

17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

As hard as this is to believe sometimes (always?), it is we, his people, in whom he takes great delight! Let us rest in that. As the great 19th century theologian Charles Hodge put it perfectly, “According to the Bible the favor of God is the life of the soul.”


Zephaniah 2 – God’s People and God’s Judgment

Chapter 2 begins with Zephaniah, or the Lord through Zephaniah, imploring his people to repent and seek the Lord that they might be sheltered from God’s wrath. Or as it’s called, “the day of the Lord’s anger.” The chapter is several prophecies about Judah’s neighbors who have not treated them well, and when a nation mistreats God’s people, they will pay the price. And in the midst of all this destruction we are told that “the remnant of the house of Judah” will inherit the land. Even though his people sin and will be judged, they will ultimately be treated differently, a notion modern people are loathe to ascribe to God. How dare he make distinctions! That’s so unfair! But the whole purpose of the Old Testament is to point us to the ultimate salvation of God’s people. Not all people, not just any people willy nilly. No, God’s specific people. As I’ve mentioned here before, the name given Jesus was given so that he could save “his people” from their sins.

And for those who don’t treat “his people” well, it ain’t gonna be pretty. But notice that in this prophecy of doom, there is promise of a universal salvation to come as promised long ago to Abraham (“All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you.”):

10 This is what they will get in return for their pride,

    for insulting and mocking
    the people of the Lord Almighty.
11 The Lord will be awesome to them
    when he destroys all the gods of the earth.
Distant nations will bow down to him,
    all of them in their own lands.

There is always this thread running through the prophets, the bad news of judgment with the good news of salvation to come. It’s almost like the two cannot be separated. “The Lord will be awesome” shows itself in both salvation and judgment; in fact salvation must come through judgment. Which, of course, only makes sense in Christ. By taking the judgment due us, he became our salvation. As Paul says, Jesus is now “our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

As for those who will experience only judgment, the destruction will be total. One of the nations that is prophesied against here is Assyria, and specifically the great city of Nineveh. From the perspective of Zephaniah and the people of his time, that such a city could become “utterly desolate and dry as the desert” would have seemed impossible. As we learned in Jonah, the city had more than 120,000 people, which for the time was huge. For us it would be like New York City disappearing. I also learned that it had massive walls surrounding it that to any who saw them appeared impregnable. But here is what is predicted to happen, and what in fact happened:

15 This is the city of revelry
    that lived in safety.
She said to herself,
    “I am the one! And there is none besides me.”
What a ruin she has become,
    a lair for wild beasts!
All who pass by her scoff
    and shake their fists.

It’s destruction was so great that it completely disappeared from history (sometime after 606 BC), covered in dust and dirt until archaeologists discovered that it really did exist in the 19th century. All that’s left are two large mounds. God’s judgments are true and sure, which is why the call to humble ourselves before him at the beginning of the chapter is a very good idea.

Zephaniah 1 – God’s Wrath: The Wages of Sin Must be Paid

Can it be, another prophet preaching doom and destruction? I guess that was the prophet’s job description. And Zephaniah starts out, and ends this first chapter with, an especially scary doomsday scenario:

“I will sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds in the sky
    and the fish in the sea—
    and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”[

“When I destroy all mankind
    on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,


In the fire of his jealousy
    the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
    of all who live on the earth.

Yikes! And in between he’s going to do something similar to Judah and Jerusalem. This sin stuff is serious business, and God’s judgment is fierce. Which makes it all the more astounding that you rarely hear about it in so many Evangelical churches. I went to a large Evangelical church for almost 10 years, and not once did I hear the word “wrath” from the pulpit. Oh, I take that back. The pastor did use it once, but that was in reference to Herod and the slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem. Every Sunday they did a confession of sin, and proclaimed forgiveness, but never once was it explain what exactly we were forgiven from! Well, we’re forgiven from what we read about here, God’s wrath and judgment against sin. And this judgment carried out against the whole human race is yet to come. Either God’s wrath is satisfied against us in Christ, or against us. The wages must be paid.

But like most human beings, Judah and Jerusalem didn’t believe judgment would actually come. They mistook God’s forbearance and patience for acceptance, or at least lack of interest. God, they think, doesn’t actually care what we do. Look how long, they further think, we’ve been doing these things and nothing! It will always be thus. But it will not:

12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps
    and punish those who are complacent,
    who are like wine left on its dregs,
who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing,
    either good or bad.’

We tend to think that Bible times were so much different than our times, that the Lord made himself so obvious that people were compelled to believe. He didn’t. Prophets were really no different than any preacher in our day: both proclaimed the word of a God their hearers couldn’t see, or directly hear. And when dozens or hundreds (or our case, thousands) of years go by, people tend to think, nothing is ever going to happen, that things will always go on as they have, and they can live as if they are not going to be accountable for their lives.

But the great and dreadful day of the Lord will come, and it will not be pretty. And Zephaniah reminds us that:

18 Neither their silver nor their gold
    will be able to save them
    on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”

Only God himself in Christ can save us from God himself! From his wrath. I love the phrase, God’s wrath has been fully satisfied in Christ. Therein lies our only hope.