The Ancient Prophetic Message of Zephaniah Still Speaks to Us Today

 Tap here to read Zephaniah 2:4-3:8

I think it would be safe to say that we are living in days of crises. 

This contemporary context makes the messages of the Prophets especially relatable because prophets (like Zephaniah) spoke in the context of crisis and crises.
The prophets interpreted these circumstances and crises in the light of the sovereignty, the covenant, and the purposes of God. God revealed His plans to these prophets, including Zephaniah. Zephaniah is filled with the revelation of God’s judgements and the coming Day of the Lord. 
We looked at the first section of Zephaniah two weeks ago. There was a call for “silence” as God revealed His plans for judgment. At the same time, God called for His people to seek Him honestly, obediently, and with humility to avoid the coming judgement. 
This actually is a message for us today as well. For whether you sense aspects of God’s judgement actually taking place in our world right now, or if you simply acknowledge that a Day of judgement is still ahead, we must live for the Lord in this context of coming judgement and His plan of restoration/salvation. That is why we need a Savior and that is why we are called to a life of faithfulness to Him.   
Now we move to the central section of this prophecy (Zeph. 2:4-3:8). A good summary of the thought of this section is: The Lord’s people should wait faithfully as the Lord completes his plan of judgment and restoration.

Thoughts to Consider:

The seriousness of sin and the sovereign right of the Lord to judge are demonstrated in this part of Zephaniah. At the same time, we see that the Lord has a continuing purpose for his people who seek him. As His people wait on him they will be restored. The question that must be asked of the contemporary audience in the light of this text and other Scriptures is, are you a part of God’s “faithful remnant?”
The protection and future plan of restoration are for those who genuinely seek the Lord and wait on him until his plan is fulfilled. This calls for faith, obedience, hope, and perseverance on the part of God’s people as they face a waiting period before full restoration is experienced. For those who refuse to repent, or seek the Lord in humility, they are to hear the “woe” of the prophet and they should not expect God’s deliverance.

The sovereignty of the Lord over the nations and his covenantal faithfulness towards his own people are both demonstrated in this section of Zephaniah. At the same time, the disappointment of the Lord towards his own people in Jerusalem, who did not change from their evil ways (3:7b), indicates the difficultly of true repentance. The knowledge of God’s judgement, His sovereignty over all nations, and His special dealings with Judah should result in faithfulness to the Lord. But, It appears that only a remnant of the people will wait on the Lord, trusting in his justice and his plan to restore his people after the sovereign acts of judgment have taken place.
So, how can the Lord’s “remnant” persevere in the midst of times or coming time of distress? This is a question worth answering for people facing any kind of bad news or hardship. In this section (especially 2:4-15), the deliverance for God’s remnant (2:3) is reinforced by specific prophecies of future restoration for the Lord’s remnant (2:7, 9). These promises about the future are revealed within the prophetic denouncement of the surrounding nations. God has a future for His remnant people. Furthermore, the Lord reveals that he is still seeking and will receive the worship of the nations in the future (2:11). In other words, there is a bigger picture and purpose to the acts of judgment anticipated. Also, it is worth noting that Zephaniah’s movement in this section is from the judgments on the nations (first) to the focus on Jerusalem (second), see especially 3:5-7. Such a movement, starting outward with “others” and then moving to God’s people (“us”) emphasizes how sad and rebellious is the condition of many of God’s people. Such a proclamation should break down pride and resistance as God’s people accept the fairness of the Lord in the judgment of “others.” Then, God’s people have to face the Lord’s fairness of his case against “us” as He exposes sin, even as future restoration for the remnant is declared as well.. So, the Lord’s people should wait faithfully as the Lord completes his plan of judgment and restoration.
Is this idea of a faithful remnant relevant today? When we think of a faithful remnant, we should not focus on the relative number of people “saved” verses those not saved at any given period of time. Certainly it appears that the majority of people in Judah forsook the Lord and most in the surrounding nations worshipped other gods. But, the main issue for us to focus on is what are the characteristics of this faithful “remnant?” The “remnant” is made up of those who trust the Lord, they are obedient to him, they seek him only, and they are persevering in hope as they wait on the justice and mercy of God.

These are still the characteristics of those who are genuinely “saved” by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He ultimately is the judge, but due to his saving work he is also the Savior who brings his people into new covenant blessings on the basis of their relationship with the Lord. These people trust in him, seek to obey him, worship him alone, and persevere in hope as they wait for his return and day. The witness of the Scriptures and history is that many do not seek the Lord, and at times very few are faithful. Even Jesus Himself said that the way that leads to “life” is “narrow,” “hard” and “few” would find it (Matt. 7:14). These facts should give us pause to make sure that the call to salvation and/or the exhortation for perseverance are truly based on the word of God and not “watered down.” 


Theme: The Lord’s people should wait faithfully on the Lord as He completes his plan of judgment and restoration.
The truths of this passage can relate to dealing with hard times as well as living in the light of the coming Day of judgement. The truths that enable the Lord’s people to wait in confident hope are the same in these different circumstances. These truths (in this text) include:
  • The Lord’s ultimate sovereignty (over all nations) – The Lord is sovereign
  • The Lord’s complete justice (for all) – The Lord is just
  • The Lord’s merciful faithfulness (to his covenant) – The Lord is faithful
  • The Lord’s continuing purpose (of the restoration of his people) – The Lord is purposeful

This means that:

1) The Lord’s people can wait on him faithfully when they understand his plan of judgment and restoration

-       The Lord’s ultimate sovereignty (over all nations) – The Lord is sovereign and exercises His sovereignty

-       The Lord’s complete justice (for all) – The Lord is just in His judgements


2) The Lord’s people can wait on him faithfully when they trust in his unchanging character and purpose


-       The Lord’s merciful faithfulness (to his covenant) – The Lord is faithful 

-       The Lord’s continuing purpose (of the restoration of his people) – The Lord is purposeful


The directive to “wait on the Lord” really includes a call for faith, hope, obedience, and perseverance. Such qualities are especially needed in difficult times or when a crisis is imminent.

Living in a world filled with suffering and facing judgment, this “waiting” is necessary. What can people hold onto in such times to encourage them to stay faithful? They can hold onto the Lord’s sovereign control, his just judgments, and his faithful covenant love seen in his good purpose of restoration for his people. These foundational truths, in the foreground and the background of Zephaniah, need to be declared in our day.

It is not difficult to see how each of these reasons/truths gain fuller expression and fulfillment in the gospel and in the Lord Jesus Christ specifically.

Also, waiting on the Lord does not stop in Old Testament times. The Lord’s people today must wait on the Lord and his plan as well (Romans 8:23, 1 Cor. 1:7-9, Gal. 5:5, 1 Thess. 1:10, Tit. 2:13, Heb. 9:28, 2 Peter 3:12).

There is also still a wrath to come, even though our deliverance is found in Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:10, Romans 5:9, 10).

There is still a waiting on our Lord’s return (Phil. 3:20-21) and the full establishing of his kingdom (2 Timothy 4:1).

Meanwhile, even though the Christian’s life is already “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), we still hope for the future grace and glory that are ahead (1 Peter 1:13, 4:13). Union with the Lord in his death burial, resurrection, and ascension assures us of a sharing in his future glory and restoration of all things.

A specific example of “Christian waiting” is found in 1 Peter.

The “elect exiles” (1:1-2) addressed in 1 Peter are called to lives of faith, hope, obedience, holiness, and reverence (see especially 1:3-21). Waiting on the Lord calls for all of these responsibilities on the part of the Lord’s people, especially in times of hardship and suffering. Peter later exhorts his readers to trust God and do good, even as “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17 ESV).

Waiting involves trusting, obeying, and doing good. Waiting really involves persevering faith and hope, which are major themes (also) in the Letter to the Hebrews, not to mention the Book of Revelation. In short, “waiting” is a major Biblical emphasis. But, as 1 Peter affirms we wait with a “living hope” as we have the firm foundation of 1) God’s character and mercy, 2) Christ’s resurrection, and 3) the expectation of the grace to be revealed when we see Christ at His return.   

The next section of Zephaniah is filled with hope, joy, salvation and God’s rejoicing over His people (3:9-20). These expressions of covenant love for Israel are certainly relevant for all of God’s people in Christ through the New Covenant. But, it is worth pausing between Zeph. 1:1-2:3 and Zeph. 3:9-20 to acknowledge the seriousness of sin, the certainty of judgement for sin, and the way of escape through God’s way of escape for His people. For Judah’s remnant, it was repentance, faithfulness, and hearts given to the Lord in humility.

For us today, Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate way of escape, but our walk with Him should have the same qualities as are called for by Zephaniah as we await the consummation of God’s righteous plan.



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