6.62 Zephaniah -- Messenger of Wrath
Zephaniah’s first words announced utter destruction:
"I will sweep away everything from the face of the
earth," declares the Lord.
"I will sweep away both men and animals;
I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish
of the sea.
The wicked will have only heaps of rubble
when I cut off man from the face of the earth,"
declares the Lord (Zeph 1:2-3).
This was divine judgment on the scale of the Flood in the days of Noah (Gen. 6:7) -- which the Lord promised never to repeat (Gen 8:21), at least not in the form of a flood. This time, there will be a universal fire:
In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be
for He will make a sudden end of all
who live in the earth (Zeph 1:18).
The whole world will be consumed
by the fire of my jealous anger (Zeph 3:8).
Although the Lord’s wrath will be poured out on all the earth, He immediately directed His attention to Judah (Zeph 1:4-13, Zeph 3:1-8):
"The destruction of other nations was meant to serve as a warning to wanton Judah, but to no avail" (The Oxford Study Bible, pp. 1397-98).
It is particularly the idolatry rampant in Jerusalem that was condemned, but Zephaniah lumped with the idolaters "those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of Him” (Zeph 1:6). These people were spiritually complacent, and presumed upon God’s patience by concluding that He would never intervene (Zeph 1:12).
Because they did not fear the Lord, the people of Judah and Jerusalem were "eager to act corruptly" (Zeph 3:7); they knew no shame (Zeph 2:1, Zeph 3:5). The worst offenders were those in power: nobles, merchants, officials and rulers, prophets and priests. They oppressed men, and were themselves defiled (Zeph 3:1). These indictments were much like those of the earlier prophets. And yet -- Zephaniah's king was a righteous ruler!
When it comes, the Lord’s wrath upon Judah will be terrible. Zephaniah used the image of a sacrifice, where the people of Judah will themselves be offered upon the altar:
"The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated those He has invited" (Zeph 1:7-8).
The invited guests were the Lord’s agents of wrath, conquering nations such as the Babylonians. Zephaniah was clear that this coming judgment was nothing less than the Day of the Lord (Zeph 1:7), familiar terminology from Amos and Joel. For Zephaniah, it is his main theme (Oxford Study Bible, p 1393).
"The great day of the Lord is near -- near and coming quickly.... That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry..." (Zeph 1:14-16).
After Judah was urged to repent (Zeph 2:1-3), Zephaniah announced a series of judgments on neighboring nations: Philistia, Moab and Ammon, Cush, Assyria (Zeph 2:4-15). In the latter case, Nineveh would be left desolate. This was fulfilled in 612 BC.
Other nations, though not mentioned by name, will also be punished:
"I have decided to assemble the nations,
to gather the kingdoms
and to pour out my wrath on them—
all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed
by the fire of my jealous anger" (Zeph 3:8).
Despite the language of devastation, the nations cannot be annihilated, for the closing picture is of Israel blessed by the Lord and vindicated among the foreigners:
"At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes," says the Lord (Zeph 3:20).