SEEK RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE THE TERRIBLE DAY OF THE LORD (WHICH IS NEAR AND COMING VERY QUICKLY) BRINGS DEVASTATION
Imagine the most devastating storm that nature can produce and you have not even begun to scratch the surface of the terror that will surround the coming day of the Lord. If ever there were warnings that could shake people from their spiritual stupor and complacency, the message of Zephaniah should strike a chord. Seek the Lord before it is too late and there is no escape from the awesome wrath and the burning anger of the Lord God.
I. (1:7-13) THE PROSPECT OF THE TERRIBLE DAY OF THE LORD SHOULD SHOCK PEOPLE INTO SILENCE
A. (:7) Preparations Have Been Made
“Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is near,
For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
He has consecrated His guests.”
Baker: The irony here is that it is apparently the guests invited to the sacrificial celebrations who are themselves going to serve as the sacrifice (cf. Gn. 22, esp. vv. 7, 9). A sacrifice to please Yahweh is made by the offering up to his judgment of those who displeased him.
MacArthur: God’s judgment on Israel was viewed as His sacrifice. The guests were the dreaded Babylonians, who as “priests” were invited to slay the sacrifice, i.e., Judah (cf. Is 13:3; 34:6; Jer 46:10; Eze 39:17; Hab 1:6; Rev 19:17, 18).
B. (:8-9) Punishment Will Begin With the Leaders
“Then it will come about on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice
That I will punish the princes, the king’s sons
And all who clothe themselves with foreign garments.
And I will punish on that day all who leap on the temple threshold,
Who fill the house of their lord with violence and deceit.”
Hannah: All who avoid stepping on the threshold refers either to people who followed the Philistines’ superstition about not stepping on a threshold (1 Sam. 5:5) or perhaps more likely to those who suddenly leaped into others’ homes to pillage and steal. This is paralleled by the words violence and deceit. The gain of such robbery was then offered to pagan deities as objects of sacred worship. It was strange that pagan religious leaders condoned such violence and plundering.
Hanke: They [the bandits] may have leaped over the threshold to avoid provoking the gods who were thought to guard the entrances to the houses.
C. (:10-11) People Will Cry Out in Anguish and Be Silenced
“’On that day,’ declares the Lord,
‘There will be the sound of a cry from the Fish Gate,
A wail from the Second Quarter,
And a loud crash from the hills.
Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar,
For all the people of Canaan will be silenced;
All who weigh out silver will be cut off.’”
Freeman: Zephaniah warns the Jews that from various parts of the city, from the fish gate (the gate through which the enemy would enter), from the second quarter (the lower part of the city), and from the hills (the upper part), will come the cry of distress and alarm, when walls and buildings begin to crash down, and the inhabitants are attacked by the enemy forces. . .
“The people of Canaan” refers not to the Canaanites themselves but to the Jewish merchants whom God elsewhere derisively calls “Canaanites” because of their greed and deceit in merchandising (cf. Ho 12:7 margin). The term Canaan in the Hebrew also means “merchant,” because the Canaanites, especially the Phoenicians, were merchants and traders.
D. (:12-13) Payback Will Hit People Where It Hurts the Most
1. Retribution Will be Unavoidable – since the Judge Sees All
“It will come about at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps”
2. Apathy Will be Castigated – Exposed for the Lazy Lie that it is
“And I will punish the men
Who are stagnant in spirit,
Who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good or evil.’”
MacArthur: With this term [stagnant in spirit] referring to a thickened crust which forms on wine when left undisturbed for a long period of time, the prophet described the people’s indifference and slothfulness toward God. Their indifference led them to regard God as morally indifferent.
3. Riches and Material Possessions Will be Stripped Away – Enjoyed by Others
“Moreover, their wealth will become plunder
And their houses desolate;
Yes, they will build houses but not inhabit them,
And plant vineyards but not drink their wine.”
II. (1:14-18) THE PREVIEW OF THE IMMINENT DAY OF THE LORD IS ONE OF WRATH AND DEVASTATION
What will it be like? What is the nature of the soon coming Day of the Lord?
A. (:14A) Fast Approaching
“Near is the great day of the Lord,
Near and coming very quickly;”
B. (:14B) Fear It
“Listen, the day of the Lord!
In it the warrior cries out bitterly.”
C. (:15-16) Darkest Doomsday Imaginable
“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.”
Hanke: The alarm would be sounded, and couriers would dispatch the terrible news, but to no avail.
D. (:17) Destruction Attributable to Sin
“I will bring distress on men
So that they will walk like the blind,
Because they have sinned against the Lord;
And their blood will be poured out like dust
And their flesh like dung.”
E. (:18) Complete Devastation
“Neither their silver nor their gold
Will be able to deliver them on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
And all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy,
For He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one,
Of all the inhabitants of the earth.”
III. (2:1-3) THE PREPARATION FOR THE ANGRY DAY OF THE LORD SHOULD BE TO URGENTLY SEEK GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PROTECTION
A. (:1-2) Make Haste to Get Right With God
“Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame.
Before the decree takes effect –
The day passes like the chaff –
Before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you,
Before the day of the Lord’s anger comes upon you.”
National repentance was called for here
B. (:3) Urgently Seek the Lord
“Seek the Lord,
All you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances;
Seek righteousness and seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”