After Judgment Day comes Homecoming Day
Zephaniah 3: On Judgment Day I’ll bring you back home.
The prophet’s description of Judgment Day has some scary stuff in it. The Lord’s calling Israel into court and, he says they’ll “they’ll lose everything they have.” Still, the result will be a purging of the land. There won’t be many people left, but those who are left will be clean in God’s sight. However, even those who are dispersed among the nations won’t be tossed aside and forgotten. There’s redemption even in their situation. In the end, the redeemed people of Israel will be reunited and their long exile will come to an end. With that in mind, I see that, ultimately, Judgment Day yields to Homecoming Day. The Day of Judgment isn’t all about punishment. Rather, it’s part of the Lord’s plan to reconcile the lost to him. The little book of Zephaniah ends, not with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but instead with reunions and celebration. I can learn from this passage. The end-of-the-world Judgment Day is surely something for which to prepare. However, in the big picture, it’s the event necessary to usher in something wonderful for all of God’s people.
Take Away: The plan of the Lord is to unite all who will come with one another and with himself.
We don’t clean house to punish dust
Zephaniah 3: I’ll leave a core of people among you.
The prophet first turns his attention to other nations surrounding Judah. They’re not the chosen people, but they’ve refused the light they’ve been given. Because of that, the Day of Judgment that is such a driving force in Zephaniah’s preaching is coming to them too. When I read of Judgment in the Old Testament I sometimes come away thinking of God as punishing those who reject him. However, this passage takes me in a different direction. Zephaniah says that when God’s finished, he’ll leave a core of people who “will not do wrong.” If a person cleans house, wiping everything clean, they aren’t punishing the dust. Instead, they’re just cleaning things up like they ought to be. Through his prophets, the Lord cautions, warns, and pleads with people to repent and align themselves with his purpose for their lives. In the end, the Judgment that falls on those who refuse this patient call of the Lord is the result of their own refusal to connect to their Creator. I know that there’s a place to think about an angry God but I’m reminded today that a God who loves righteousness is bound by his own nature to take action when his creatures reject his righteousness. When the Lord’s finished, things will be drastically different and one of those changes will be that we’ll see core of previously unnoticed people still standing. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Take Away: A God who loves righteous must, ultimately, deal decisively with sin.
Standing alone if necessary
Zephaniah 2: Seek God, all you quietly disciplined people.
The nation the prophet addresses is filled with sinful, guilty people. However, there’s another, much smaller group. Zephaniah knows that there’s a minority that has humbled themselves before the Lord. They’ve been meek when chastised by God and have quietly accepted his discipline. They’ve been an oasis of justice in an unjust land. Now, Zephaniah says, the Lord is about to bring an end to all the rebellion. God’s man advises those who have swam against the tide to focus their attention on the Lord and center their lives on doing the right thing even if they’re alone in doing it. In this day, I can’t force everyone to do the right thing but that doesn’t stop me from righteous living. I want to influence everyone I can for Christ, but whether or not I’m successful in that, I can commit myself to walk in the ways of the Lord. Zephaniah is certain that the “Day of God’s anger” is coming but he’s also convinced that there is a way of living that prepares us for that sure day.
Take Away: As Joshua of old says: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
We need to make up our minds
Zephaniah 2: You’re a nation without a clue about what it wants.
The prophet describes a coming day of God’s Judgment. The Lord’s about to demand an accounting from them and it’s clear that they aren’t ready for such a confrontation. Zephaniah tells people that they need to get their act together. They need to stop letting other nations be their primary influence and they need to start living as people who are going to face God. They’ve lost their bearings and are now at the mercy of whatever fad happens to come along. For a little known, mostly ignored, minor book of the Bible, Zephaniah has pretty much nailed my society. My nation has lost its bearings. It doesn’t want all those “Christian hang ups” but it can’t decide what values are worth pursuing. Instead, we’ve become a shallow people, more concerned about being politically correct than we are with being morally righteous. Zephaniah’s warning of Judgment Day needs to be heard here and now. Otherwise, our story is likely to end like that of clueless Judah.
Take Away: Zephaniah’s warning needs to be heard here and now.
A heaping helping of judgment with a little hope on the side
Zephaniah 1: This is the Day of God’s Judgment.
The book of Zephaniah is all about Judgment day. Zephaniah is focused especially on Judah but he broadens his view to include the surrounding nations and he lays a foundation for the doctrine of a future Day of Judgment of the human race. As the prophet looks around he sees a nation that’s not only committed to sin but feels secure in that sin. He, along with other prophets of God, challenges that security. He knows that people can’t ignore God and get away with it. Any comfort they have now will, in God’s time, be washed away when they’re called to give an account of themselves to the Almighty. He warns them that God says, “I care about sin with fiery passion.” Zephaniah’s message carries with it a sense of God’s anger but it also offers some hope to those who “shape up.” There’s hope in this little book, but it comes with a main course of respectful awe of just Who it is we’re dealing with and what’s sure to come to those who ignore its warning.
Take Away: Those who ignore the Lord will, sooner or later, have to give an accounting of themselves to the one they have ignored.
The least known book of the Bible
Zephaniah 1: I’m going to make a clean sweep of the earth.
Someone has said that this book of Zephaniah is best known for being the least known book of the Bible. I have to confess that it’s pretty much that way for me. I’ve read through the book a few times, usually as part of a read-the-Bible-in-a-year effort. Its three chapters make it less than one day’s reading in such a program. The introduction of the book is somewhat unique because we’re given four generations of Zephaniah’s family tree, concluding with Hezekiah, likely the well-known king of Judah. If that’s so, it helps us see that, unlike Amos and other prophets who speak for the common man, Zephaniah’s royal blood gives him a different perspective and audience. He ministers during the reign of Josiah, possibly, then having influence along with Jeremiah on the young king. Zephaniah is especially focused in on the Day of Judgment that’s coming upon, not only Judah, but upon the whole earth. Why such a day is coming, what will happen when it does, and how to prepare for it is subject matter for his message. Since Zephaniah speaks of not only a contemporary time of judgment but a more distant one as well I can consider his message as not only a historical one, but one that needs to be heard today.
Take Away: Even the most minor of prophets has a major message for us.