Daily Family Worship

Zephaniah 1: A Day of Distress and Darkness

by | Dec 9, 2023

zephaniah 1

The prophet Zephaniah – whose writings we are now beginning to study – was the last of the prophets who ministered before the captivity of the Jewish nation in 586 BC, when they were carried away into exile in Babylon. He lived and prophesied during the reign of Judah’s King Josiah, and this means that he was also a contemporary with the Lord’s servant Jeremiah. The chief objective of his ministry seems to have been to proclaim to His people the sure overthrow of Judah and Jerusalem. And just like the other prophets, Zephaniah also pointed to the blessings in their recovery, by the promise of the coming of the Lord.

After the title of the Book in the first verse of this chapter, we find a threatening of the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem – an utter destruction – by the Babylonians (verses 2-4). The people of Judah are charged for their gross sins which provoked God to bring that ruin upon them (verses 5-6); and then the prophet goes on, in the rest of the chapter, to set forth the judgments that lay ahead of them. He tells them that they must hold their peace because they had greatly sinned (verses 7-9). But alas! They would howl because the trouble would be great. The day of the Lord’s righteous judgment was near, and it was to be a terrible day (verses 10-18). So we see that fair and timely warning was given to the Jews of the approaching captivity; but sadly, they hardened their neck – and that made their destruction to be without any remedy. They refused to take heed, even when they were mercifully given the opportunity of preventing those judgments by repenting of their sins and returning to the Lord, from Whom they had gone astray.

“I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord” (verse 2). Ruin was coming – utter ruin and destruction from the Almighty. The servants of God all proclaim that “there is no peace for the wicked.” The expressions in the first few verses of the chapter speak of desolation everywhere; the land would be left without inhabitants (verse 3). The sinners that were to be consumed were the idolaters (verse 4), those who attempted to worship both Jehovah and false gods by swearing to the Lord and the idol Malcham (verse 5), and those who refused to even seek the Lord at all in the first place (verse 6). Let us always remember that those who think that they can divide their affections and worship between God and idols will come short of acceptance with God, for what communion can there be between light and darkness? If Satan agrees to have only half of a person’s heart and soul, he will eventually make himself master of all; and if the Lord is only given one-half, He will refuse it and have no part at all.

The Lord’s day of righteous judgment upon the idolatrous Jews was at hand; the punishment of these presumptuous sinners was to be a sacrifice to the justice of God. Hence the prophet instructed the people to be silent and hold their peace in His holy presence (verse 7). The Jewish royal family would be reckoned with for their pride and vanity (verse 8), as well as those who leaped upon the threshold of their neighbor’s houses in order to invade their rights and seize their possessions (verse 9). The tradesmen and merchants would also be called to account for their dishonesty and deceit in their business dealings (verse 11). Because no real calamities had befallen the people up until this point, they imagined that the Lord would never bring them before His bar of judgment (verse 12). But that was where they were wrong. Persons who are secure in their worldly possessions shall indeed be reckoned with, whether sooner or later. They tell themselves in their hearts that the Lord will do neither good nor evil to them (verse 12) – that is, they deny His dispensing of rewards and punishments. But in the day of the Lord’s judgment, it will be clearly seen that those who perish under His sword of justice shall fall a sacrifice to His wrath because they transgressed His law; and because they had no part, by faith, in the Redeemer’s atoning Sacrifice.

Zephaniah’s warning of rapidly-approaching destruction from the hands of the Babylonians ought to have been enough to make the sinners in Zion tremble (verses 14-18). And his prophecy concerning the destruction that was brought on by the invasion of these foreign enemies also stands as a picture and a warning of the coming of the Great Day of the Lord at the end of the world – that Last Day in which He will show Himself righteous and holy by taking well-deserved vengeance upon all those who have opposed His Word and will, and persecuted His people. This Day of the Lord is very near indeed! For unrepentant sinners, it will be a day of His wrath to the uttermost; it will be a day of trouble, distress, and darkness (verse 15). O that people’s souls would not be put to sleep by the patience of God! What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his own soul? And what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath!” (verse 18) But there is a way of escape open, and it is free for all to access! Let us flee from the wrath to come, and beseech the Lord Jesus to hide us under the veil of His atoning blood; and then we shall be prepared for every event in this world – for nothing shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ!

O Lord, we praise You for giving the world fair warning of the rapidly-approaching Day of Judgment, so that sinful people have ample opportunity to repent of their sins and find mercy and forgiveness in Christ alone! Amen.

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