“The Day of the Lord” in Zephaniah

The Book of Zephaniah clearly states its context: during the reign of Josiah, the son of Amon, King of Judah. It is a short book, containing three chapters, and it expounds upon the “word of the Lord” which comes to Zephaniah (his name means something like “YHWH is hidden”). As with other minor prophets, our knowledge of Zephaniah is minimal. Some suggest he was a contemporary of Isaiah, and perhaps a forerunner to Jeremiah.

In the vision to Zephaniah, The Lord brings a series of threats against Israel for their disobedience, culminating in a future day of destruction: “great day of the Lord” (1:14) which will be a day of “wrath”, “trouble and distress”, “wastedness and desolation”, “darkness and gloominess” (1:15). However there is still hope for the people to “gather” themselves and seek a “meek” life so they can be hid when the day of the Lord’s anger comes down upon the nations. God will bring great destruction to everyone, except for a chosen few who can conceal themselves. Contrast this with Jonah’s inability to hide himself from God.

Interestingly, harking back to the Tower of Babel in Genesis, the Lord claims He would like to bring his indignation down upon the nations of the world (particularly nations like Assyria) and bring utter destruction by “sweeping away” the peoples. Recall God’s desire to destroy humankind through a great deluge, and then His covenant made with humans in Genesis.

Curiously, the text ends with a song of hope (3:14-20) as the author instructs the people to shout and rejoice at the Lord, and his love for his chosen people. Perhaps on the “day of the Lord” He will destroy only the enemies of Israel, since He still favors his chosen people, despite their political failings.

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