Zephaniah was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, who lived in the final decades before it was overthrown by Babylon. Verse one says that Zephaniah lived during the reign of King Josiah, one of the few faithful, God-fearing kings of Judah. Second Kings 22:2 says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.”
King Josiah instituted religious reforms and reinstated Jewish celebrations like Passover.
But God revealed to Zephaniah that although Josiah was a good king, his work was not enough to make Israel stop worshiping idols and turn back to God.
The book of Zephaniah is a collection of writings from the prophet, warning Judah of God’s coming judgment against their unrepentance, but also providing a message of hope for those who do repent of their sins and seek God.
The book begins with Zephaniah’s warning that God will come and wipe out Judah because they “bow down and swear by the Lord and … also swear by Molek,” and they “turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him” (Zephaniah 1:5-6).
Zephaniah warns of a coming “Day of the Lord’s wrath,” when God will come like a consuming fire and destroy all the people on earth.
This is some of the most intense language used to describe God’s judgment, and if you stop there, it may paint a picture of a wrathful, terrifying God.
And in chapter 2, God calls His people to repent. Zephaniah writes, “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” (Zephaniah 2:3).
Zephaniah goes on to warn other nations of God’s judgment against them. Nations like Philistia, Moab, Amnon, Cush and Assyria—Israel’s enemies—also will be subject to God’s wrath.
But all of this wrath, judgment and jealousy will not last forever. Though Zephaniah begins with intense words of judgment, he ends with intense words of love and redemption.
He writes of God’s desire to rescue those who humble themselves and remain faithful to God alone. For the faithful, God will remove His hand of judgment; He will live among His people; He will provide safety; He will delight in His people; He will rejoice over them; He will save them; He will gather His people together from all nations and bring them home.
The Day of the Lord’s wrath: Zephaniah writes repeatedly of a coming day of judgment for all nations, including Judah. This day is an act of God’s justice, performed not because He is evil, but because He’s passionate about protecting and rescuing His world from evil.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
God loves all people and wants to have a personal relationship with us, but He is also holy, and sin cannot exist in the presence of holiness. All people have sinned, and their sin separates them from having a relationship with God. So it is an act of love that God purifies us with the fire of His justice (Zephaniah 3:8-9). Only then can He bring restoration, where evil is removed forever and those who are faithful to Him can live in peace and in His presence. It is both the justice and the love of God that give the world future hope.
Thankfully, grace and mercy intervened for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Because of Jesus, we don’t have to face the wrath of God. Jesus made a way for us to have a relationship with God, by saving us from our sin and purifying us, not with fire, but with His blood.
One day, when the final “Day of the Lord” comes, Christ will return to judge the world, and “those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord” (Zephaniah 3:12).