Journey Through The Scriptures

The Prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah

Lesson 5: The Great Day of the Lord

(Scripture to Read: Zephaniah 1:14–18)

As is true of all the biblical prophets, the historical setting of Zephaniah is critical to the understanding of his message. King Josiah came to the throne in Jerusalem in 640 BCE, and according to 2 Kings 22:3, his reforms began in the eighteenth year of his reign, which would be 622. Zephaniah delivered his prophecy in about 625, which as noted previously means that his message predated Josiah’s sweeping reforms. This is important because even though Josiah eliminated much of the idolatry in Judah and reinstituted the celebration of the Passover, his reforms were largely undone after his death and the nation slipped back to her former ways.

In other words, Zephaniah’s prophecy of God’s displeasure at idolatry, and the certainty of His coming judgment, was relevant beyond the relatively brief period of spiritual revival under Josiah. The judgment for that generation came in the Babylonian oppression and exile that began only a few years after Josiah’s reforms. Thus we read of “the great day of the Lord,” a recurring phrase in the prophets that often has both an immediate and future prospect. Any day in which the Lord acts is a day of the Lord, and indeed the emphasis of Zephaniah 1:14 is on the nearness of this day. The day of the Lord usually involves both retribution and restoration. Even though God judges, He will not destroy His people. The reference to “the whole world” (v. 18) is a reminder that all nations and peoples will one day be called to account before God.

Study Questions

  1. In what way was the day of the Lord near for the recipients of Zephaniah’s prophecy?
  2. How does the picture of the people of Jerusalem walking around “like blind men” (v.17) aptly describe their distress at the Babylonian invasion?
  3. What does the prophet mean by his reference to God’s fiery jealousy in verse 18?

Something to Think About

Another way to translate the biblical word for “jealousy” in relation to God is “zeal.” This is an archaic word that expresses a very contemporary fact, which is that God not only greatly desires faithfulness from His people, but is committed to bring this about in our lives!