Zephaniah 1 – Behold the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord

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Today’s PassageZephaniah 1

Remember the Day of the Lord? Featured big in the book of Joel? Well, it’s back in Zephaniah. Prophecies about it are back, anyway.

The Day of the Lord means judgment. Right at the outset, Zephaniah establishes that it entails a total scouring: “‘I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,’ declares the Lord” (2). He then clarifies: man, beast, birds, fish, ruins, and the wicked (3) are all subject to removal. Almost immediately, I imagined God saying, “As long as I don’t flood the earth, I can totally do that!” God precluded the option of apocalypse by deluge in his covenant with Noah, signed with a rainbow (Genesis 9:11-17), but he’s still got options.

So, what’s God got coming? What’s the means by which he’ll execute judgment, if not a surfeit of H2O? God’s got all kinds of terrible things with which to punish evil:

A day of wrath is that day,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of destruction and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of trumpet and battle cry
Against the fortified cities
And the high corner towers. (15-16)

On the one hand, it sounds as though an army on the march will deliver the devastating blow to everything ever. On the other hand, with the dark clouds and promise of desolate gloom, the scene takes on a supernatural air. Bear in mind that an army of men would have to somehow wipe itself off the face of the earth along with everything else in order to completely “remove all things.” Will God himself act as a one-man army? Should we understand there to be an army of angels? I admit I’m not certain, but I’m inclined toward the supernatural interpretation. The agents of God’s will here don’t seem to be Chaldeans.

God rolls up his sleeves and gets personally involved at several points throughout the chapter, notably its final verse. “And all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy” (18), Zechariah promises. We’ve seen other prophets identify fire as an instrument of God’s wrath (e.g. Nahum 1:8, Joel 2:30). Not to put too fine a point on it, but Robert Frost was right to side with those who say the earth will end in fire.

I think we can infer that the Day of the Lord is the absolute endgame. Given that it will scour the whole earth of humanity–and worse–we’re not talking about some mere judgment of Israel at the hands of foreign nations in the post-monarchical period. Even after the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Paul himself talks about the Day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:2), largely to note that it hasn’t happened yet. Thus, when Zephaniah writes, “For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests” (7), I can’t help wondering: is he referring to Jesus Christ? Is it by way of his sacrifice that he consecrates us as his guests?

I don’t know. This may not be my first time at the minor-prophet rodeo, but there’s a lot here that I’m ignorant of. And sometimes when I revisit passages, I don’t find answers; I find more questions.

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