If history teaches us anything, it is that people often do not take the warnings they are given seriously. We see this as parents warning our children, we see it when the meteorologists warn about approaching storms, and we see it when people are living out the consequences of failing to listen to those warnings.
It is true in our day and it was certainly true in Zephaniah’s day. God is faithful to remind people at every time in history there is a judgment coming but there is also the hope of one who is might to save.
Preaching through this book allows a people to understand the love, power, and justice of the God who refuses to share His glory with another.
Zephaniah divides into two primary sections. The first demonstrates God’s commitment to judge both His people (Judah and more specifically Jerusalem) and the people of the nations (all the earth, surrounding nations, all nations, etc…) for false worship and a lack of acknowledging the one true God. This is seen in 1:2-3:8.
The second section explains that the ‘day of the Lord’ is not just about the judgement of God but also the hope and blessing of God both for the people of the world and the remnant of Judah (3:9-20).
As John Goldingay points out, “Zephaniah is thus a miniature-scale equivalent to the book of Isaiah…”
Genre. Zephaniah is prophetic with a heavier emphasis on ‘the day of Yahweh’ than any of the other prophetic books.
Author. Another unique feature of this minor prophetic book is that it contains the longest biographical account of its author tracing Zephaniah’s lineage four generations and showing he was the great King Hezekiah’s descendant.
Historical Context. It seems best to date Zephaniah as a contemporary of Jeremiah who was giving his word from the Lord at the beginning of King Josiah’s reign probably before his kingly reforms were put into action. He was prophesying to a spiritually corrupt and complacent people surrounded by evil and pagan practice.
Theme. Zephaniah is insistent that his hearers understand ‘the day of the Lord’ is coming which will result in overwhelming judgment to those who continue to reject the Lord and great hope to those trust in and return to Him.
The Gospel According to Zephaniah
While Jesus is not explicitly named in this book, we certainly understand that He is the one revealed in 3:17 ‘The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save…’
The book of Zephaniah reminds that God’s warnings always come with a message of grace and that these prophetic warnings about His judgment are actually gracious in and of themselves. He loves us enough to remind us that we cannot continue on our sinful path without consequences but if we will trust Him, He is might to save (3:17), we will not be put to shame (3:11), we will not fear (3:16), and He will gather us to Himself (3:19).
The day of the Lord…gracious warning and gracious hope.