Zephaniah is not only the most recent book I taught, but it is also the last book of the Bible I taught for the 2011/2012 SBS. This was going to be my “grand finale” of teaching here in Montana. As I studied Zephaniah, I struggled with this, as I felt that the book of Joel was a better teaching for me to wrap up with, because I felt that much of what Zephaniah had to say was repeated elsewhere in the prophets. With every teaching I have done this year, I wanted to do more than just pass on information – I wanted each teaching to carry a message from God to the students. To do that, I first had to face what God was challenging me with from each individual book. Right up to the morning of my teaching I still wasn’t sure what that was to be. The Holy Spirit was with me, however, and taught me as I taught the students.
Ultimately the book of Zephaniah focuses on one theme: “the Day of the Lord.” In that there are two parts: judgement and restoration/mercy. In the case of Zephaniah’s audience, the message was mostly a warning that a day was coming where God was going to act in judgement against them for their rebellion and idolatry. This happened for Jerusalem and Judah in 586BC when Babylon came and destroyed the city and took its people into exile. In my lecture I referred to this as the little “d” day of the Lord. In the text there are descriptions that seem to point to another day, however – a day when all of humanity will be judged for its rebellion. This I referred to as the big “D” Day of the Lord. This day is the day we read of in Revelation (and was therefore a long way off for the original readers of Zephaniah), but in the same way that judgement came on Jerusalem, so will judgement certainly come on all humanity.
My question to the class and to myself was, “When we speak of salvation to people, do we give the right amount of focus to the Day of the Lord?” When Zephaniah’s audience heard of being saved, they saw it as being saved from the judgement of God that was coming. Today, we make it about many things (which are valid in their own right) but often at the cost of talking about the fact that when we receive salvation in Christ, we are being saved from facing God’s righteous judgement on the final Day of the Lord. I think the main reason for our avoiding this is because we live in a culture (and even a church) that has a high view of humanity (particularly of ourselves) and a low view of God. When this worldview is reversed (as it should be), suddenly the mercy of God to make a way for people to be hidden from God’s righteous judgment seems so much more loving and awesome.
Ultimately, the Day of the Lord is about God’s kingdom and not us. Those who choose to humble themselves before God and receive the work of Jesus on the cross will benefit from living in God’s kingdom for eternity, but our pleasure is not God’s ultimate goal. For the kingdom to be everything God wants it to be and promises it will be, rebellion, sin and evil must be removed. So on the Day of the Lord, those who humble themselves will be hidden in Christ (Zephaniah’s name means “Yahweh has hidden”) and will be separated from those who continue to rebel against God’s love. Those who rebel, however, will be judged. If we have an adequate understanding of the terrifying nature of God’s wrath, we will do all we can to help people (every person, no matter how wicked we think they are) see their need to be saved.
If you are reading through the Bible with Helen, the next three books are Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. Reading all three will take approximately 9 hours.