Zephaniah means “The Lord hides” or “hidden of Yahweh.”
He was of royal blood, descended from Hezekiah. He began his ministry in the early days of the reign of the good king Josiah (641–610 B.C.) Zephaniah foresaw that Judah would experience the judgement of the Lord which he expressed repeatedly through the phrase “The Day of the Lord.” “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near” (1:7a).
Zephaniah opens with the warning of coming destruction: “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord (1:2). Then the warning is pronounced against Judah especially against the idol worshippers and those who worship the starry host.
Two classes of people are again identified as to be worthy of punishment. One, “Those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him” (1:6) and also those who are complacent [the neither hot nor cold types]: “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent” (1:12).
The Great Day of the Lord Described (1:14—2: 3)
● Coming Swiftly
The great day of the Lord is near and coming quickly (1:14)
● A Day of Distress
That day will be a day of wrath and a day of darkness (1:15) It will be a day of trumpet and battle cry (1:16) It will bring distress on the people (1:17)
● Destruction Inescapable
Riches won’t be able to save anybody on that day (1:18)
● Universal and Sudden
That Day will consume the whole world (1:18) God will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth (1:18)
Zephaniah makes an urgent plea to the people to make an earnest attempt to seek the Lord before the day of the Lord’s wrath would come upon them. He urges them to do what God commands; perhaps God would shelter them on the day of His anger (2:1—3).
Judgement on the Nations (2:4—15)
Five nations are mentioned here by name. These judgements were literally fulfilled in later history. Perhaps two thoughts that can be easily picked up from this portion are these: One, judgement on these nations came because of their pride, “for insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty” (2:10). Whatever be the faults of the Jewish people, they are still Abraham’s descendants and God will remember them because of His covenants with Abraham as well as David. Two, God would destroy the gods of these lands and one day, “The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in his own land” (2:11). Are we not worshipping God in our own land today? Read the words of Jesus in John 4:21—24.
Jerusalem In Focus (Chapter 3)
● The Shame of the Present
The city is described thus: “She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God” (3:2). The officials, rulers, prophets and priests are all corrupted. But “The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong” (3:5a). God brought punishment on the nations that were destroying her and waited for Jerusalem to fear Him and accept correction so that His punishments might not come upon them. “But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did” (3:7).
● The Glory of the Future
God talked about a time when He will purify the lips of the peoples* so that all of them would call on the name of the Lord and serve Him shoulder to shoulder (3:9). Surely today the gospel of Christ has made this possible! At that time His scattered people will come to worship Him. From this city God would remove the proud. “But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the Lord” (3:12 NIV).
This remnant (a small group of faithful ones) will be a truthful people. To them is promised in the most lovely terms the presence of God with them and the taking away of punishment and the turning back of their enemy (see 3:14—17).
When the Lord, the King of Israel, is with them, they need not fear any harm any more. The promise is: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV).
The rest of the chapter talks about the time when God will gather His people from all the places they have been scattered. Yes, He will bring them back home and restore their fortunes. All this will come to pass when Jesus Christ would rule from Jerusalem in the near future.
*Note: Some modern Bible Scholars think that this verse might also have been prophetic about the restoration of the Hebrew language as the official language of Israel after not being the national language for nearly 24 centuries.
Life Lessons from Zephaniah
The Day of the Lord is a recurring theme in Zephaniah. That Day (it can refer also to a period of time) is near and coming quickly and it will consume the whole world. We need to realize that we are swiftly moving to the end of history when God will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.
It would be well to note Paul’s message in this context: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light . . . clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:11— 14 NIV).
Along with the message of coming Judgement, Zephaniah also portrays for us our God, “who is mighty to save,” and on who takes great delight in us. Therefore “Sing,” and “Shout aloud,” and “Be glad and rejoice with singing!” GOD IS MIGHTY TO SAVE!