By Chuck Griffin
Before we launch into today’s verses from Zephaniah, let’s acquire a little background on his situation.
The prophet spoke about 630 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, during a time of religious indifference, social injustice and economic greed.
This also was an important time of transition for the Kingdom of Judah, which was moving from King Amon, who had been assassinated, to King Josiah, a boy king. A little later in Josiah’s reign, the Book of the Law would be rediscovered. Essentially, the people were about to re-learn who they were, and Josiah, for a time, would restore them to religious righteousness.
Zephaniah was a contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah. It very well may be that what Zephaniah said helped lay the groundwork for the transition back toward holiness.
Let’s hear some of what he had to say, recorded in Zephaniah 1:7-18:
Stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign Lord,
for the awesome day of the Lord’s judgment is near.
The Lord has prepared his people for a great slaughter
and has chosen their executioners.
“On that day of judgment,”
says the Lord,
“I will punish the leaders and princes of Judah
and all those following pagan customs.
Yes, I will punish those who participate in pagan worship ceremonies,
and those who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.
“On that day,” says the Lord,
“a cry of alarm will come from the Fish Gate
and echo throughout the New Quarter of the city.
And a great crash will sound from the hills.
Wail in sorrow, all you who live in the market area,
for all the merchants and traders will be destroyed.
“I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners
to punish those who sit complacent in their sins.
They think the Lord will do nothing to them,
either good or bad.
So their property will be plundered,
their homes will be ransacked.
They will build new homes
but never live in them.
They will plant vineyards
but never drink wine from them.
“That terrible day of the Lord is near.
Swiftly it comes—
a day of bitter tears,
a day when even strong men will cry out.
It will be a day when the Lord’s anger is poured out—
a day of terrible distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and desolation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness,
a day of trumpet calls and battle cries.
Down go the walled cities
and the strongest battlements!
“Because you have sinned against the Lord,
I will make you grope around like the blind.
Your blood will be poured into the dust,
and your bodies will lie rotting on the ground."
Your silver and gold will not save you
on that day of the Lord’s anger.
For the whole land will be devoured
by the fire of his jealousy.
He will make a terrifying end
of all the people on earth.
It’s hard to miss the sound of irrevocable finality in this concept of the “Day of the Lord.” Zephaniah may seem obscure to us, but the Day of the Lord is a common biblical theme, its images at times playing out in not-completely-final ways, giving us little preludes of what we are told is to come.
Jesus spoke in similar apocalyptic tones. Mark 13 is a good example.
Not everyone lives as if they will ever see such a day, including many who consider themselves God’s followers. In church circles, it is not unusual to hear people express a longing for the positive aspect of such a day, the visible return and rule of Jesus Christ. People ask, “Why does he take so long?”
And yet, judgment for both the living and the dead will accompany Christ’s return. I suspect many will examine their lives and cry out, “We needed more time!”
Christians live in the midst of a people much like Zephaniah’s, and we have to be careful not to fall in with them. It’s easy to think of examples of religious indifference, social injustice and economic greed all around us.
Our prayer should be that we’re moving into a similar time of transition, a rediscovery of what God has revealed to us and an awakening in our culture to how that truth impacts all of us.
Thanks be to God that he works in this world with an offer of overwhelming love and forgiveness, received through the simple belief that Christ died on the cross for our sins.
In return, all we are asked to do is to present the world with this tremendous opportunity to escape from what ultimately will be destroyed on the Day of the Lord.
Lord, show each of us what to do as part of a great turning back to you. Amen.