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©Bonnie LaBelle

Chapter 1:14-2:3 (ESV)

Posted on May 29, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 1:14-2:3 (ESV) - The great day of the LORD is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter;
    the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
    a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the lofty battlements.

I will bring distress on mankind,
    so that they shall walk like the blind,
    because they have sinned against the LORD;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
    and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
    shall be able to deliver them
    on the day of the wrath of the LORD.
In the fire of his jealousy,
    all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
    he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Gather together, yes, gather,
    O shameless nation,
before the decree takes effect
    —before the day passes away like chaff—
before there comes upon you
    the burning anger of the LORD,
before there comes upon you
    the day of the anger of the LORD.
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

Question to consider: If this judgment was “hastening fast,” why did it not actually take place until the end of the generation in which it was declared?

The ax was at the root of the tree. The day of judgment was near. However, we know from scripture that judgment against Judah by the Babylonians actually began in 605 BC. So why was there a gap between the declaration of judgment, “hastening fast,” and when it was carried out? I think the key is in the last part of today’s passage where the LORD called Judah (“O shameless nation”) to gather in repentance before this day of wrath.

Josiah was the king of Judah from 640 BC to 609 BC. We don’t have the exact date of this word to Zephaniah, but It is thought that Josiah began to reform Judah in 621 BC when he would have been almost 30 years old. These reforms are described in detail in 2 Kings 23, and they started with a return to the word of God, “And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD.” (2 Kings 23:2)

During his reign, Josiah tried to reunite the two kingdoms and turn everyone back to the LORD, and he reinstated the Passover. It would not be enough to keep the day of wrath from coming, for in 2 Kings 23:26 it says, “Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.” Josiah was murdered by the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco in 609 BC and replaced by his son, Jehoahaz, who acted wickedly. He reigned only three months before Pharaoh Neco murdered him and set his brother, Eliakim, on the throne whom he renamed Jehoiakim.

As sad as these turn of events were, Judah had almost a generation to “seek righteousness; seek humility.” Those who sought these things received this word of hope, “perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.” Remember that Zephaniah’s name meant “YHWH has hidden.” Personally, I wonder if this was a play on his name for the people to seek salvation in the word of the LORD and be hidden from His wrath just like those who marked their doorposts with the blood of the Passover lamb before the Exodus.

In the same way Judah was given almost a generation to seek righteousness, so it was in the generation of the resurrection of Christ. John the Baptist declared that the ax was at the root of the tree and that his generation would face the coming wrath. Jesus declared that Jerusalem was going to be entirely destroyed but gave instructions to the church so that they would know when to flee to the hills.

Jerusalem’s fall in 586 BC was much like the description given to Zephaniah in today's passage. In Ezekiel, the people inside the city were described as meat cooked in a cauldron. Ultimately, the bodies littered the land and their blood soaked the soil like fertilizer (dung). The entirety of the earth (land of Judah) was consumed, and no amount of silver or gold could save them.


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for giving the people of Judah almost forty years to repent when you could have just given them forty days like you did with the Ninevites. Help us to daily repent of our sins and cling to the forgiveness  we have in Christ, and please help us to forgive those who sin against us so that they may experience the grace You have given us. Amen.