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. Prophet to the northern kingdom who condemned Israel’s oppression of the poor, calling for justice to “roll down like waters.” More reversed this understanding. 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. Zephaniah follows Amos’s reversal. However, Zephaniah, along with other prophetic traditions in Judah was the name of Jacob’s fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More, works the theme in more than one direction. The Day of the Lord is against both Judah and the nations, after which it can function again as a day of the Lord’s deliverance. In the latter case, the deliverance is perhaps more properly termed restoration and transformation. The people and the world (including the nations) are remade into a faithful worshiping community.
While in no way minimizing the devastation of the judgment, the concept of a remnant 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 the surviving group God reconstitutes a faithful group. The remnant is given pure speech and appropriate humility. They are promised the protection of God and are invited to join in God’s own celebration of the renewed life of the remnant.
Seek the Lord
In Zephaniah “seeking the Lord” (and equivalent expressions) 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). Once the judgment of God sets in, seeking the Lord is no guarantee that one would be hidden from the searching of God (compare 1:12 with the “perhaps” of 2:3). Characteristics of the transformed people that God creates after the judgment will include seeking refuge in the Lord and calling 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.