THE DAY OF THE LORD …………………………………………………What a scene of destruction and carnage, and all because of refusing to SUBMIT … TO THE WORD OF THE LORD … What Zephaniah describes here is but an illustration of what will happen in the end times when God’s judgment falls on a wicked world, only THE DAY OF THE LORD will be far more terrible (see Rev. 6–19, WHEN THE LAMB OPENS THE FIRST SEAL) There will be cosmic disturbances that will affect the course of nature and cause people to cry out for a place to hide (Amos 5:18; 8:9; Joel 2:1–2, 10, 30–32; Rev. 6:12–17). Unless you know Jesus Christ as your own Savior, you will have no place to hide (Zeph. 2:3). “Then those who honored the LORD spoke with each other, and the LORD listened and heard them. The names of those who honored the LORD and respected him were written in his presence in a book to be remembered. The LORD All-Powerful says, “They belong to me; on that day they will be my very own. As a parent shows mercy to his child who serves him, I will show mercy to my people.” (Malachi 3:16–17) ……………………………………………………………
….”You would expect the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah to be living comfortably in Jerusalem, enjoying a life of ease. Instead, you find him ministering as God’s prophet, which was a dangerous calling. His contemporary, Jeremiah, was arrested and put in a filthy cistern for admonishing the leaders of Judah to surrender to the Babylonians.
God had shown Zephaniah that judgment was coming upon Judah in the form of the Babylonian Captivity, and the prophet had to share this message with the people. However, Babylon’s invasion of Judah was but a feeble example of what would occur on that final Day of the Lord, which would sweep over all the earth. Zephaniah opened his book by presenting three graphic pictures of the Day of the Lord.
The first picture is that of a devastating universal flood (Zeph. 1:2–3). The Hebrew word translated “consume” in the KJV means “to sweep away completely.” The picture is that of total devastation of all that God created and is probably a reference to Noah’s flood. (You find similar wording in Gen. 6:7; 7:4; 9:8–10.) God gave man dominion over the fish, the fowls, and the beasts (1:28; Ps. 8:7–8), but man lost that dominion when Adam disobeyed God. However, through Jesus Christ, man’s lost dominion will one day be restored (Heb. 2:5–9).
God will not only destroy His creation, but He will also destroy the idols that people worship—the “stumbling blocks” that offend the Lord (Ezek. 14:1–8). In Zephaniah’s day, idolatry was rife in Judah, thanks to the evil influence of King Manasseh. When God stretches out His hand, it means that judgment is coming (Isa. 9:12, 17, 21). The prophet names two of the false gods that had captured the hearts of the people: Baal, the rain god of the Canaanites (Zeph. 1:4), and Malcom (Milcom, Molech), the terrible god of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11:33; Amos 5:26). The people also worshiped the host of heaven (Deut. 4:19; Jer. 19:13; 32:29) and followed the godless example of the idolatrous priests (“Chemarim”4 in Zeph. 1:4; see 2 Kings 23:5, 8; Hosea 10:5).
These idolaters may have claimed that they were still faithfully worshiping Jehovah, the true and living God, but Jehovah will not share worship or glory with any other god. In turning to idols, the people had turned away from the Lord and were not seeking Him or His blessing (Zeph. 1:6). They were guilty of sins of commission (worshiping idols) and omission (ignoring the Lord).
During the Babylonian Captivity, the Jews were cured of their fascination with foreign gods. Their temple was destroyed, their priesthood was scattered, and for seventy years they could not worship the way Moses had commanded them. When they were finally allowed to return to their land, one of the first things the Jews did was rebuild their temple and restore the sacrifices.
The second picture is that of a great sacrifice (vv. 7–13). Since the Jewish people were accustomed to attending communal sacrifices (1 Sam. 9:11ff), this image was familiar to them. But this sacrifice would be different, for it was God who was hosting the sacrifice. His guests were the Babylonians; and the sacrifices to be offered were the people of Judah! No wonder the prophet called for silence as he contemplated such an awesome event!5 (See Amos 6:10; 8:3; Hab. 2:20.)
You would expect the royal family and the religious leaders6 of the land to be the honored guests at God’s feast, but they are the ones to be sacrificed! (Zeph. 1:8–9). God punishes them because they have abandoned His Word and adopted foreign practices, including wearing foreign clothes and worshiping foreign gods (see Num. 15:38; Deut. 22:11–12). After the death of King Josiah in 609, the last four kings of Judah were weak men, who yielded to the policies of the pro-Egyptian bloc in the government. Instead of trusting the Lord, they trusted their allies, and this led to disaster.
Zephaniah must have been a resident in Jerusalem, for he know the layout of the city (Zeph. 1:10–13). When the Babylonians, God’s guests, would come to the sacrificial feast, they would enter the city, plunder it, and then destroy it. The Fish Gate was where the fisherman had their markets; the “second quarter” was where the rich people lived in their fashionable houses, built from the wages owed to poor laborers. “Maktesh” was the market and business district of the city where the merchants and bankers were located.7
But the city would be destroyed, and the merchants’ wealth confiscated. So thoroughly would the Babylonians do their work that they would search the city carefully and find even the people who were hiding.
The tragedy is that the invasion could have been avoided if the people had not been so complacent and indifferent toward what God was saying through His prophets. Judah was certain that the Lord was on their side because they were God’s covenant people. They were like wine that sits undisturbed for a long time (Jer. 48:11; Amos 6:1) and congeals because it isn’t poured from vessel to vessel to get rid of the bitter dregs. The worship of false gods had polluted the nation and the pure wine had become bitter.
The prophet’s third picture of the Day of the Lord is that of a great battle (Zeph. 1:14–18). The description is a vivid one: You can hear the cries of the captives and the shouts of the warriors; you can see thunderclouds of judgment and flashes of lightning; you behold the victims’ blood poured out like cheap dust and their “entrails like filth” (v. 17 NIV). What a scene of destruction and carnage, and all because the nation refused to submit to the Word of the Lord. The fire of God’s jealous zeal8 would consume everything, and no one would escape. Even the wealthy would not be able to ransom their lives, and the enemy would take away their ill-gotten riches.
What Zephaniah describes here is but an illustration of what will happen in the end times when God’s judgment falls on a wicked world, only that final Day of the Lord will be far more terrible (see Rev. 6–19). There will be cosmic disturbances that will affect the course of nature and cause people to cry out for a place to hide (Amos 5:18; 8:9; Joel 2:1–2, 10, 30–32; Rev. 6:12–17). Unless you know Jesus Christ as your own Savior, you will have no place to hide (Zeph. 2:3).
This explains why the prophet closed this message with a plea for the people to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord for His forgiveness (vv. 1–3). Like the Prophet Joel (2:16), he told them to call a solemn assembly and seek the Lord. Zephaniah especially called upon the godly remnant (“you meek of the earth”) to pray and seek God’s face, perhaps referring to the promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14. But even if the majority of the nation followed false gods and turned away from the Lord, God would still protect His own precious remnant when the Day of Judgment comes (Mal. 3:16–18).
Zephaniah and Jeremiah ministered during the same period in history, and both of them begged the rulers to trust God and turn from sin, but the kings, officials, and priests refused to obey. God would have rescued the nation at the last minute, but the leaders were insensitive to God’s call and disobedient to His Word.
But the Lord did spare a godly remnant that stayed true to Him throughout the seventy years of captivity. They were a “company of the concerned,” who became the nucleus of the restored nation when they returned to the land. In every period in history it is the godly remnant that keeps the light burning when it seems as if the darkness is about to cover the earth. Today, God needs a “company of the concerned,” who will walk the narrow road regardless of what others may do, obey God’s Word, and share His Gospel with the lost. God is keeping His “book of remembrance” (Mal. 3:16–17), and you and I want our names in that book…” from ‘Be Concerned’
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