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Bible: What Does Zephaniah Teach Us About the Day of the LORD?
The Prophet Zephaniah
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The Day of the LORD
THE BOOK OF ZEPHANIAH
As with other prophetical writers, Zephaniah commences his work by identifying himself (the writer) and his ancestry, and the time during which he received his word from Yahweh (v. 1).
The prophet's relatives carry with them impressive names, but it is uncertain whether any of them were the important officials that their names suggest.
Zephaniah preached c. 640-620 B.C. What was his primary duty? To warn Judah of the coming "day of the LORD."
During this "day" Yahweh will utterly "consume'' every living creature on the land (vv. 2-3).
He will especially destroy idolaters and Baal worshipers in Judah; against religious leaders (v. 4), astrologers and compromisers (v. 5), and backsliders (v. 6), the LORD will “stretch out His hand,” says the prophet.
Zephaniah admonishes his audience to be silent before Yahweh, the Judge, who will sacrifice His "guests'' on His special "day" (v. 7).
[These "guests" include members of the royal family and the priesthood ("those who leap over the threshold'') [vv. 8-9; cf. 1 Sam. 5:5].
The day brings forth city-wide anguish and death, especially in the merchant district of Jerusalem (vv. 10-11).
God will launch a thorough search of the city to find complacent people—men who do not believe that He is relevant to their lives—in order to punish them with impoverishment and lack of fulfillment (vv. 12-13).
Employing numerous adjectives to describe the moral climate in that day, the prophet continues to proclaim the approach of this terrible time (vv. 14-16).
Israel's sin brings this judgment of distress and death upon him; he cannot buy his way out of it.
It will surely come and make the whole land desolate (vv. 17-18).
In order to enable some people to survive the "day of the LORD's anger," Zephaniah exhorts the "shameless nation'' to assemble and seek Yahweh (vv. 1-3).
[These verses seem to differentiate between two groups in Judah: the "undesirable" nation (v. 1), and a meek, just people (v. 3).
Still, the prophet does instruct the latter to seek certain character traits that they may obtain salvation].
Acting as Yahweh's instrument, the Babylonians will destroy prominent cities in Philistia (vv. 4-5), and Judah's remnant will "shepherd their flock” in these locations along the coast (vv. 6-7).
God also calls down judgment upon Moab and Ammon for reviling Israel; His remnant will subsequently "possess" them (vv. 8-9).
Yahweh reinforces the reason for their inglorious fate: pride and arrogant threats (v. 10).
The LORD will surely destroy all other so-called gods, and demand that all people everywhere worship Him alone (v. 11).
Ethiopia and Assyria (with Nineveh, its capital) will both endure His wrath (vv. 12-13).
This latter city will become a wretched abode of beasts and birds, but not human beings.
The once proud, secure metropolis will sit forlorn in the dust (vv. 14-15).
After pronouncing judgment upon the disparate nations surrounding Israel, Zephaniah turns toward Jerusalem and delivers a message of woe to this "oppressing city" (v. 1).
He describes her as a rebellious, polluted, disobedient, incorrigible, unfaithful and impious woman (vv. 1-2).
Her civil and religious leaders manifest corruption and avarice, and exhibit a wholly evil character (vv. 3-4).
[The metaphors "roaring lions" and "evening wolves," which the prophet employs to depict the judges and princes, suggest greediness and an illegitimate use of power.
Zephaniah is less metaphorical when characterizing the behavior of the prophets and priests; disrespect for authority, deceit, and unfaithfulness to their duties before God head their list of wrongdoing].
In contrast, the preacher sets forth Yahweh's character and deeds; He is righteous and just (v. 5).
His retribution against nations has an instructive purpose: that they might fear Him.
Nevertheless, they quickly ignore His mercy and persist in their rebellion (vv. 6-7).
God then commands His chosen to wait for Him, for a day will come when He will gather all nations to a fiery trial of judgment (v. 8).
The Kingdom Has Come
"In that day"
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The Kingdom of Yahweh Has Come
After that difficult time, He will cause everyone remaining to worship Him with a right heart in total unity (v. 9).
Worshipers will come from afar (v. 10).
God will make the remnant of Israel meek, humble, righteous, true, and at peace, and will remove the proud from among them (vv. 11-13).
This wonderful news of a coming kingdom of righteousness and peace motivates Zephaniah to exhort Jerusalem to rejoice greatly (v. 14).
Because Yahweh has displayed His mercy and deliverance toward His people, her joy is in Him alone (v. 15).
The telltale phrase "In that day" indicates that the kingdom of Yahweh has come (cf. vv. 11, 16), yet Jerusalem needs continual exhortation and strengthening.
Given that her God is with her makes her fear and weakness incongruous; nevertheless, He will not show displeasure, but will rather rejoice and comfort her (vv. 16-17).
Yahweh will gather those who sorrow over the reproach they have felt (v. 18), deal with enemies decisively, and then place His people in a position of "fame and praise among all the peoples of the earth" (vv. 19-20).
SUMMARY QUESTIONS OF ZEPHANIAH
1. What was Zephaniah's purpose in writing his prophecy?
2. What four groups will God especially bring down?
3. What kind of day will the "day of the LORD" be?
4. What nations will Yahweh judge at this time?
5. What does Zephaniah contrast in chapter three?
6. What motivates the prophet to exhort the people to rejoice?
7. What is Israel's future role in the kingdom?
8. How does the prophet describe Jerusalem?
9. Whom does Yahweh seek to punish in Jerusalem?
10. When did Zephaniah preach?
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