Harry Whittaker
The Time Of The End

15) The Day Of The Lord

Zephaniah 1-3

The prophecy of Zephaniah is very evidently connected closely with the events of the prophet’s own time — the reign of Josiah. Two possibilities present themselves. Either the prophet is foretelling events soon to happen, and the prophecy is so framed as to have reference also to events of the Last Days (much in Jeremiah and the early part of Isaiah is like this); or, recent events are being used (as in the later chapters in Isaiah) to provide prophetic pictures of bigger events in the time of the end. It is difficult to say with any confidence which of these modes of interpretation is correct, but the pointed allusions to Josiah’s Passover in 1: 7, 8, 12 suggest the second.


Apart from the language of the prophecy itself, there seem to be two clear reasons for a Last-Day application of it. First, there are the quotations from the prophecy of Joel: “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near ... a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm” (1: 14-16). This is Joel 2: 1, 2. Some of the phrases are quoted word for word. If Joel may be applied with confidence to the Last Days, then surely Zephaniah also.

The concluding section of the prophecy (3: 14 20) reads very convincingly as a picture of events still future. But there is also this: in John’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the familiar quotation from Zechariah 9:9 is prefaced with two phrases from Zephaniah: “Fear not, daughter of Zion” (3: 16, 14)—the words are not found in Zechariah. And the context in Zephaniah 3 is: “the king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee ... The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will Jesus thee” (vv. 15,17). The triumphal entry of Jesus was, of course, a kind of dress-rehearsal of the kingdom. The Lord was asserting his right to come to Jerusalem one day as its eternal king.

The shape of Zephaniah’s picture of judgement and blessing in the Last Days is worth noting. Chapters 1, 3 are, in the main, pronouncements of wrath against “Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Chapter 2: 4-13 is against neighbouring enemies: the Philistines, Moab, Ethiopia, Assyria. The prophecy ends with the lovely picture of the kingdom, already referred to.


The prophet describes Israel as given over to idolatry and the pursuit of material prosperity. They have no mind for anything else. Making due allowance for the fact that Zephaniah necessarily has to use the language of his own day, the description is appropriate to the Jews now in the Land: “them that are turned back from the Lord, and those that have not sought the Lord, nor enquired for him ... that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.” Today the Jews in Israel are, for the most part, godless in outlook. There is little acknowledgement of the blessing of God in the building of their vigorous new state, and little thankfulness to Him for the victories they have won. Instead, there is a rather cocksure dependence on their own powers and a glorifying of their own admittedly remarkable achievements. “She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God” (3: 2). Princes, judges, prophets, priests are all castigated as unworthy of their office (3: 3, 4). Yet “the just Lord is in the midst thereof,” unrecognised; “morning by morning (through the signs of the times?) doth he bring his judgement to light” (3 :5), but these men who are skilful in “discerning the face of the (political) sky, cannot discern the signs of the times.”

Soon God will rise up early, sending His prophet Elijah among them, but the nation will continue to “rise early, and corrupt their doings” (3: 7). The appeal is made, therefore, to the faithful remnant “before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger come upon you” (2: 2); “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgement; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger” (2: 3).

Appeal is made to the nation to see God’s hand in the events of their own time: “I have cut off the nations (Egypt, Jordan, Syria): their towers are desolate; I have made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man” (3: 6). Yet still the lesson that God controls the affairs of His ancient people goes unlearned: “I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction” (3: 7). But no! Israel appears impervious to true wisdom.

However, inexorably the day draws near when the lesson will be learned: “In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings...for then I will take away out of the midst of thee thy proudly exulting ones, and thou shalt no more be haughty upon my holy mountain,” as Israel has certainly been since June 1967.

The enemy nations round about will also be involved in this dramatic transformation. Judgement and desolation will come upon them who have been used to bring desolation and judgement on Israel (2: 4, 9, 13-15; 1:17,18). All this because “they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of hosts” (2: 10). Up to the present day there has been “reproach” in plenty. But until Arab utterly defeats Jew in battle, there is little ground for “magnifying themselves.”


During the evil time referred to here, “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” when the Arabs—with formidable Russian help—are able to gloat in triumph over a people they know to be their superiors in everything except barbarism, there will be a faithful remnant who will be saved through their repentance and faith in God: “I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people and they shall trust in the name of the Lord” (3: 12).

Then the Lord will “take away thy judgements” and “cast out thine enemy”; from this time on “the king of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more” (3: 15). Retribution will be visited on the enemies of this nation beloved for their fathers’ sakes. Jews who have endured affliction and dispersion yet again will once more be gathered to their homeland. Now for the last time in all their fantastic history they will come from all parts to inherit the Land, this time forever. No contempt, opposition or hatred now, for God has “made them a name and a praise among all the people of the earth” (3: 20). Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in person will beckon them back to a Land lately associated in their minds with fear and horror. “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem” (3: 14). The exhortation to indulge in unrestrained gladness will be needed, for the startling change which will then come over the fortunes of this stricken people will surely reduce them to stupefied silence and awe.

“Then will I turn to the peoples a pure lip, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent” (3: 9). The words have often been interpreted as a prophecy of the reversal of Babel, the institution of one common language (Hebrew?) in the kingdom of God. That this will assuredly happen may be taken as axiomatic. But whether that language will be Hebrew and whether this passage is a prophecy of that much-to-be-desired achievement is doubtful.

This famous Zephaniah passage is more fundamental than any of these considerations. Here, as in a great many other Old Testament passages “the peoples” are the tribes of Israel; and the “pure lip” is not so much the language they will speak as the ideas they will express — “calling upon the name of the Lord” and “serving him with one consent” — a condition which has never been achieved in Hebrew history since the days of Abraham. Now, at last, Israel will not only say: “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do,” but they will do what they say.

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