Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 6 2019 - Zephaniah 1:1-2:3 – The day of the Lord

We turn from Habakkuk to another prophet who ministered in the days before the Babylonian invasion of Judea and the fall of Jerusalem.

Zephaniah tells us that he prophesied during the reign of Josiah, King of Judah. The Northern kingdom of Israel had already been swept away into captivity by the Assyrians. Josiah's grandfather, Manasseh, had turned away from the worship of the Lord and had filled the land with idols. In this he was followed by his son Amon who also "did evil in the eyes of the Lord." Josiah was a reforming king who sought to turn the people back to the worship of Yahweh, the living God. But idolatry was deep-rooted among the people; his efforts at reform met with some outward success but the hearts of the people were not won back to the Lord.

This is the context into which Zephaniah was sent to proclaim the word of the Lord, and it's a word of warning and of judgment. The Lord is about to stretch out his hand against Judah and Jerusalem because of the people's continued worship of Baal, the starry hosts and all manner of pagan gods. God detests the way in which people pretend to honour his name but also swear by Molek (1:4-5), as if they are trying to hedge their bets by keeping on the right side of as many gods as possible. Zephaniah calls for people to stop their religious observance and to, "Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near" (1:7).

The Lord is going to come in judgment on the leaders of his people who wear fine foreign clothes and adopt superstitious foreign customs such as avoiding stepping on the threshold (a Philistine practice, see 1 Samuel 5:1-5). These people pretend to be very scrupulous about their religion but, "fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit" (1:9). The merchants who have made themselves rich at the expense of others and built fine houses for themselves in Jerusalem will soon discover the folly of their conceit that, "The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad" (1:12). The day of God's judgment is coming and in a moment they will lose all that they treasure.

But the Lord's judgment will not be confined to Jerusalem for he is the judge of all the earth:

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. (1:18)

Despite these words, judgment is not inevitable. Zephaniah calls Judah to repentance:

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
    perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger. (2:3)

The people of Nineveh repented when Jonah brought them a message of God's judgment. They turned to the Lord and had been spared. Will Judah now do the same?

Do we treat the judgment and the mercy of God with equal seriousness – both for ourselves and in regard to the world in which we live? Or do we live as if, "The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad"? Paul warns the Christians in Galatia:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what they sow. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  (Galatians 6:7-8)

Lord, wake us up to the reality that you are the living God and judge of all the earth. Thank you that there is mercy with you and that, because of Christ's sacrificial death for us, you freely forgive all who truly repent and who turn to you with a sincere heart. Help us by your Spirit to live for you and in selfless love for others that we with them may reap eternal life.

Peter Misselbrook