Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near. – Zephaniah 1:7 ESV
The words of Zephaniah were written during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. He was a good king who had instituted many religious and moral reforms among the people of God. Upon rediscovery of the Law, he was convicted by the sins of his people and motivated to bring about change, using his official capacity as king to reinstitute the celebration of Passover and put in place a program for the removal of the many idols that had become common place in Judah. But Josiah’s reforms had failed to change the hearts of the people. They remained rebellious, hard-hearted, stubborn and unfaithful to God. They were guilty of having turned back from following God and did not seek Him or His counsel. In fact, they no longer took the Lord seriously. Instead, their attitude was, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill” (Zephaniah 1:12 ESV). Their view of God was that He was incompetent, indifferent, or simply impotent. They truly believed that He was not going to do anything. In spite of the fact that Israel, their neighbors to the north, had been defeated and taken captive by the Syrians, just as God had said they would be, the people of Judah ignored the warnings of prophets like Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum and Habakkuk. But God reminded them, “The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast” (Zephaniah 1:14 ESV). They could deny it, ignore it, or simply refuse to think about it. But its reality was inevitable and unavoidable.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God’s will is a powerful force that cannot and will not be stopped by men. He is going to do what He has planned to do. He will accomplish His will regarding mankind and His creation. His sovereignty over all that He has made remains intact and invincible. Throughout these three short chapters of the book of Zephaniah, we see the repeated phrase, “I will…” God is letting His people know that while they are saying, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill,” nothing could be further from the truth.
“I will utterly sweep away everything…” – Zephaniah 1:2 ESV
“I will sweep away man and beast…” – Zephaniah 1:3 ESV
“I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea…” – Zephaniah 1:3 ESV
“I will cut off mankind…” – Zephaniah 1:4 ESV
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah…” – Zephaniah 1:4 ESV
Why? “Because they have sinned against the Lord” (Zephaniah 1:17 ESV). Nothing and no one will be able to stand against the Lord when that day comes when He decides to bring judgment upon the world. No nation on earth will be able to resist His will or avoid His wrath. It will be “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” (Zephaniah 1:18-19 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about man?
For millennium, mankind has made a habit out of attempting to either deny God’s existence or resist His rule. The human race has gone out of its way to replace God as the rightful King over His creation with sub-par substitutes. They have attempted to run the world and, by extension, their own lives according to their own desires, replacing God’s will with their own. Even the people of God, chosen by Him to be His children and a living example of His grace, mercy and love; regularly rejected Him in favor of false gods and pseudo-saviors. Their lives were marked by pride, arrogance, injustice, and indifference to the ways of God. While God had proven Himself faithful, they had regularly displayed their unfaithfulness to Him. “The Lord within her is righteous; he does not injustice; every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail, but the unjust knows no shame” (Zephaniah 3:5 ESV). God had gone out of His way to show them His power and convince them of His love, “but all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt” (Zephaniah 3:7 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
What do you get when you mix a holy, righteous God with an unholy, sinful and rebellious people? For one thing, you get judgment. God will judge wickedness because He is holy and just and must deal rightly with unrighteousness. But at the same time, you get mercy, forgiveness, redemption and restoration. The amazing thing about God is that He had a plan for dealing with man’s sin that would allow Him to remain just and holy, yet loving and merciful at the same time. He sent His own Son to pay for the sins of mankind and satisfy His righteous wrath. He provided a means by which men might be saved from the inevitability of the death sentence against them due to their open rebellion against him. He gave His Son as their sin substitute. He died in their place. But they must accept that free gift, acknowledging their own inability to meet God’s exacting standards and their insufficiency in satisfying the debt they owed. Even the rebellious people of Israel will find grace, mercy and forgiveness in the form of the very one they rejected – Jesus Christ, their Messiah. When all is said and done, God will redeem and restore a remnant of His chosen people, fulfilling His promises to Abraham and satisfying every facet of the covenant He made with them. “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach” (Zephaniah 3:16-18 ESV).
Father, the day of the Lord is near. It is closer than it has ever been. That day when You will make all things right and complete Your redemptive work for mankind and the restoration of Your creation is right around the corner. May we learn to live in the reality of that thought. May we recognize and rest in the hope that we have in You. You have told Your people, Israel, of the day when You will “restore your fortunes before your eyes.” You WILL do what You have promised to do. And the day when Your work will be done is coming soon. Amen