The focal point of Zephaniah’s message is the “day of the Lord” (Zeph. 1:7).
For biblical prophets, the day of the Lord refers to a specific period of time in which God intervenes in human affairs in order both to save and to judge. Most people in ancient Israel believed that on this day the Lord would save and exalt Israel while the enemy nations would be destroyed forever. To the great surprise of those who listened, the prophet declared that the day of the Lord would be a day of doom even for God’s people (seeZeph. 1:1-5) because they had sinned against Him (Zeph. 1:17).
Zephaniah likens the coming judgment to the sweeping away of all life in the days of the great Flood (Genesis 6-8). The catalog of death in Zephaniah 1:2-3 is arranged somewhat in reverse order of God’s original Creation: humanity, land beasts, the creatures of the air, and those of the sea (compare with Gen. 1:20-27).
The prophet warned the people that they would not be able to buy their way out of judgment (Zeph. 1:18). Neither silver nor gold would protect them from the Lord’s anger. The complacent people in Jerusalem claimed that God would do neither good nor harm. They simply did not expect the Lord to do anything (Zeph. 1:12). But divine judgments reveal how much God actively works to ensure that there will be a future for His faithful people.
Zephaniah makes it clear that God’s judgment is not only punitive but corrective. The Lord holds out a promise of shelter for those who seek him (Zeph. 2:3). The day of the Lord is more than the end of the world. It is the beginning of the future establishment of God’s rule, which will last forever.
Read Zephaniah 1:18. In what ways do we even now experience the truth of the principle expressed here? That is, what kind of situations have we faced where all the money in the world could not save us?