Lesson 5 of6
In Progress

Theological Themes in Zephaniah

Day of the Lord

The Day of the Lord was generally celebrated as the day of the Lord’s deliverance of the people of God, both in past history and in expectations for the future–it was a thing to look forward to. Amos reversed this understanding–God is not necessarily a warrior for us, but perhaps also against us. The Day of the Lord became the day of the Lord’s judgment against the people of God for their rebellion through injustice and idolatry–we all ought to be terrified, Amos suggested (see also Joel 2:1-11, Isaiah 2.12-22, Ezekiel 7:5-27). Zephaniah follows Amos’s reversal. However, Zephaniah, along with other prophetic traditions in Judah, works the theme in more than one direction. The Day of the Lord is against both Judah and the nations, after which will come the Lord’s deliverance. In the latter case, the deliverance is perhaps more properly termed restoration and transformation. In linking the fates of Judah and the nations, the prophet envisions an entire world remade into a faithful worshipping community.

Human pride

In some ways, human pride could be called the central focus of the Book of Zephaniah. The book’s audience is criticized for pride, complacency, indifference, and a recognition that they secretly think God does not really do anything, whether for good or harm (1:12). Like its neighbors before her, Jerusalem (“Zion”) will learn a painful lesson about who is really in control–and it is this particular God; and the relationship is a particular one as well (covenant). These things matter, argues Zephaniah. The prideful attitude is presented as a choice the people have made over and again for death instead of life, as opposed to the “meekness of spirit” (2:3), humility and integrity that God desires. When God brings restoration, these prideful voices will be rooted out, leaving a remnant who does not see things in this distorted way (3:11-13). 


While in no way minimizing the devastation of the judgment, the concept of a remnant (Hebrew: she-arit) opened the way for a future beyond the judgment. In Zephaniah, the first chapter opens and closes with worldwide destruction as the envisioned future. Beginning in the second chapter, a surviving group is discussed. This remnant is not a group that has been spared from the devastation; rather, they are survivors who have gone through the judgment. From these, God reconstitutes a faithful group, characterized by humility, honest speech, and a lack of fear. They are promised the protection of God and are invited to join in God’s own celebration of the renewed life.

Seek the Lord

In Zephaniah “seeking the Lord” (and equivalent expressions such as “searching for”) is understood as a constant posture of faith. Not to seek the Lord is understood as rebellion, whether in the form of turning away (1:6) or of indifference (1:12). The transformed people that God creates after the judgment will constantly seek refuge in the Lord and call on the name of the Lord. The movement is from failure to seek the Lord to the Lord’s seeking out the people in judgment and then to the people seeking the Lord in post-judgment fidelity.