This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.
Rebellious People, Faithful God
The prophetic books of the Old Testament are in the Bible to say the same thing to us over and over: people are rebellious, even God’s people, but God himself insists on doing his people eternal good anyway. That is what one prophet after another is trying to drive into our heads and hearts. And because rebellious people are unable to work their way out of their waywardness, God will take matters into his own hand to secure their deliverance.
God’s justice and mercy resolve only in the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Zephaniah follows this familiar pattern. The book begins with a declaration of the judgment that is coming on God’s people and on God’s enemies, but by the end of the book we see assurances of God’s saving love that might seem to contradict his earlier declarations of judgment. How can God treat his people mercifully when justice calls for requisite judgment?
The ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible features 375,000+ words of gospel-centered study notes, book introductions, and articles that explain passage-by-passage how God’s redemptive purposes culminate in the gospel and apply to the lives of believers today.
The final answer to this dilemma is not fully given in the Old Testament, though the entire Old Testament is a snowballing anticipation of the answer. God’s justice and mercy resolve only in the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ. On the cross, God’s perfect justice is satisfied; but at the same time, his infinite mercy is displayed. Christ died not for his own sins but for the sins of his people, for all who trust in him. But that plan is not fully revealed at every point in the Old Testament prophecies. The book of Zephaniah joins other Old Testament prophetic books in heightening our suspense and causing us to sit on the edge of our seats, wondering how God will be gracious to his people when they deserve to be forsaken. Yet what is shadowy in the Old Testament comes into the clear light of day in the New Testament: God’s own Son was forsaken so that we never will be.
This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.
Genesis • Exodus • Leviticus • Numbers • Deuteronomy • Joshua • Judges • Ruth • 1–2 Samuel • 1–2 Kings • 1–2 Chronicles • Ezra • Nehemiah • Esther • Job • Psalms • Proverbs • Ecclesiastes • Song of Solomon • Isaiah • Jeremiah • Lamentations • Ezekiel • Daniel • Hosea • Joel • Amos • Obadiah • Jonah • Micah • Nahum • Habbakuk • Zephaniah • Haggai • Zechariah • Malachi
Matthew • Mark • Luke • John • Acts • Romans • 1 Corinthians • 2 Corinthians • Galatians • Ephesians • Philippians • Colossians • 1 Thessalonians • 2 Thessalonians • 1 Timothy • 2 Timothy • Titus • Philemon • Hebrews • James • 1 Peter • 2 Peter • 1–3 John • Jude • Revelation