Theological Themes in Zephaniah
The Day of the Lord, in prophetic writing, is the day of judgment when God will intervene directly in world affairs. As described in Zephaniah, for instance, God will sweep everything away. In Matthew’s gospel God is described as gathering the elect on the day… More
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, Prophet to the northern kingdom who condemned Israel’s oppression of the poor, calling for justice to “roll down like waters.” More suggested (see also Joel 2:1-11, Isaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)–preachers who boldly proclaimed God’s word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More 2.12-22, A prophet during the Babylonian exile who saw visions of God’s throne-chariot, new life to dry bones, and a new Temple. More 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 was the name of Jacob’s fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More 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.
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 originally referred to a mountain near Jerusalem where David conquered a Jebusite stronghold. Later the term came to mean a number of other things like the Temple, Jerusalem, and even the Promised Land. More”) 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 (A covenant is a promise or agreement. In the Bible the promises made between God and God’s people are known as covenants; they state or imply a relationship of commitment and obedience. More). 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.