This section is consumed by “the day of the Lord” (vv. 7, 8, 9, 10, 14), a day of wrath and judgment. Zephaniah exhorts God’s people to “Be silent before the Lord God” because of it (v. 7). While sometimes in the Old Testament the “day of the Lord” is a day of salvation and blessing (Joel 2:31; cf. Isa. 35:1–10), here it is framed as a day of judgment, a day when God will “punish the men who are complacent” (Zeph. 1:12). The “sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,” for a “day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish” (vv. 14, 15).
The idea of the “day of the Lord” is an outgrowth of the reality that God is holy and just. All that is wrong, all that denies the reality of God’s lordship, will be judged accordingly. However, God’s judgment on sin is not meant to be the last word. The certainty and severity of God’s judgment should be a catalyst for repentance. In 2 Peter 3:10, Peter describes “the day of the Lord” when “the works that are done on [the earth] will be exposed.” But this is presented as a reason to pursue holiness relentlessly: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness!" (2 Peter 3:11).
The certainty and severity of God’s judgment should be a catalyst for repentance.
As harsh as Zephaniah 1:7–16 is, it is not devoid of hope. The section begins with a reminder that “the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests” (v. 7). In the context of the judgment themes surrounding it, this verse probably indicates that the “guests” are the sacrifice God is preparing to vindicate his holiness through the judgments coming upon Judah. But the only reason these words make sense is that the people understand the nature of the atoning sacrifice that God has established as the means for turning aside his just wrath. Thus, though the words are threatening here, they are meant to turn the people in penitence back to the God who makes a way for them to come to him.
For those who remain impenitent, God’s holiness and justice will be a fierce and terrifying reality on the day of the Lord. Yet those who trust in God’s merciful way of salvation by grace through his own Son, Jesus, are given the confidence that their judgment day has already taken place—on the day when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus himself endured “a day of distress and anguish” in our place (v. 15; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). Be at peace. In Christ, sinners are forgiven and secure.
This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.