There is a word of counsel from our God in the opening sentence of Zephaniah 3:8 that we cannot read, or hear, or think upon too frequently. It is a word of counsel that our God graciously gives us throughout the Volume of Holy Scripture. It is a word of counsel and instruction that summarizes the message of the prophets and apostles. If the Lord God will give us grace to heed it, this word of counsel and instruction will be of immeasurable benefit to our souls as long as we live in this world. ― “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord.” The Prophet Zephaniah announces both the execution of judgment upon the wicked and the bestowment of mercy upon God’s elect, and teaches us to wait upon the Lord to perform his word.
A Prophecy of Judgment
The book of Zephaniah is a prophecy of judgment. The bulk of his prophecy is taken up with identifying the sins for which God would send his wrath upon men, and announcing the horror awaiting every rebel (1:1-3:8).
Guilt must be exposed before grace can be announced. Sinners must be convinced of their guilt, or they will never seek grace. Therefore, God’s prophets pointedly identify our guilt, and convince us of the wrath and judgment of God that we deserve, before declaring God’s mercy and grace. Zephaniah follows that pattern. After announcing the certainty of divine judgment, he declares the certainty of God’s mercy, love, and grace for his elect, and the absolute certainty of God’s salvation of them (3:9-20).
In Zephaniah’s day the professed church and kingdom of God (the nation of Judah) was in a state of unprecedented spiritual darkness. We get some idea of the condition of the land when we read 2 Kings 22:1-20.
Idolatry was rampant throughout the land. Pagan priests and those men who were supposed to be the Lord’s priests (1:4), the priests of Baal and the priests of Jehovah formed a nice, ecumenical ministerial association and worked in perfect harmony with one another to blaspheme God and destroy the souls of men. The people of Judah, for the most part, while professing to worship God, worshipped Moloch in the name of Jehovah (v. 5). There were apostates throughout the land, people who had abandoned the worship of God altogether, and yet continued to profess faith in him, people who wore Jehovah’s name when it was convenient, but never inquired after him (1:6).
As is ever the case, wherever idolatry rules, moral chaos followed. Whenever men and women abandon the worship of God, ignore his Word, and despise his law, moral degeneracy is the result. It matters not what religion they adopt (And they will adopt some religion.), their religion inevitably brings them into moral degeneracy.
Zephaniah describes his people as a filthy, polluted, and oppressing people (3:1). They were a people, he tells us in verse 2 of chapter 3, who refused to obey God, refused to receive correction, trusted not in the Lord, and would not draw near, would not return to their God.
After describing the people of the land, the prophet of God faithfully exposes the corruption of Judah’s political and spiritual leaders as well. Her political leaders were self-serving men who used their power and position to line their own pockets while oppressing the people (3:3). Judah’s judges he describes as “wolves” (3:3). Her prophets were “light and treacherous” (3:4). They gave no thought to the Word of God, the truth of God, or the seriousness of speaking to men in the name of God. They simply gave out their own opinions and claimed to be prophesying in the name of the Lord. That made them treacherous and dangerous men. Judah’s priests polluted the house of God and did violence to (perverted) the Word of God (3:4).
Does all of this seem familiar? It should. Zephaniah’s prophecy seems to be written by a man who is describing the day in which we live. His words accurately describe the very condition of both the political condition and the professed church of our day throughout the world. That is because this little prophecy was written by divine inspiration. It was written for us as well as for the people of Judah in his day (Rom. 15:4).
Call to Repentance
Because of the spiritual and moral chaos that was rampant throughout the land, Zephaniah declares that the Lord God will judge the earth, that he will utterly destroy it in his wrath (1:2-6). Yet, God says to his prophet and to all who truly worship him, “Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God” (1:7). He tells us what the Lord will do in the day of his wrath. Then, he tells us not to fret about it or murmur against it, but to hold our peace before him. . ― “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord.” The God of all the earth will do right.
He declares (1:7), “The Lord haht prepared a sacrifice.” Let us rejoice, the Lord has prepared a Sacrifice, his own darling Son, to atone for the sins of his people. And he has called sinners to be his guests, to receive his Sacrifice and all the benefits of it, all the blessings of grace and salvation by his Sacrifice.
Yet, it is this Sacrifice, Christ himself, who shall execute his wrath in the day of his wrath (1:8). The basis of salvation is the Sacrifice; and the basis of judgment is the Sacrifice. It is impossible to think that the judgment Zephaniah describes can find its fulfillment in anything short of that day when Christ comes to take vengeance upon the ungodly and make all things new, that day when it consummates the salvation of his elect in a new heavens and a new earth (Zeph. 1:14-16; Rev. 6; 2 Pet. 3:11-14). In that day of his wrath, men and women will cry out “to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16).
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”
(2 Pet 3:11-14)
Zephaniah 2 opens with a call to repentance. The faithful prophet tells us that the only way to escape the wrath of God in that great and terrible day of his wrath is to seek the Lord and find our hiding place in him, in the Sacrifice he has prepared, before that day comes (2:1-3).
“Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD'S anger come upon you. Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger.”
Zephaniah’s name means, “Jehovah hides,” or “Jehovah has hidden,” or “Jehovah’s watchman.” All three meanings are manifest in this prophecy. As Jehovah’s faithful watchman, he warns of judgment and wrath, and calls us to flee the wrath to come. He also assures us of the fact that God has his hidden ones in the earth, whose sins he hides and whom he will save by his matchless grace.
He describes the sins of the nations, and exposes the sins of God’s people. God’s elect deserve his wrath as much as anyone else. We are as guilty as the rest of the world. What evil have other men done that we have not done in thought, if not in deed?
The nature of the reprobate is our nature. His heart is our heart. His thoughts are our thoughts. And his deeds are our deeds. Yet, while God pours out his wrath upon others, he pours out his love, mercy, and grace upon his elect (1 Cor. 4:7). There is a people who shall serve the Lord God willingly, with one consent (3:9). They will come to him trusting Christ, bringing his offering to him (3:10). They will all confess their sins, being ashamed of their doings (3:11). This is the Lord’s remnant, the remnant of Israel, whom he will cause to trust in his name (3:12).
Therefore, the Prophet Zephaniah calls upon redeemed sinners to sing and rejoice, even in the midst of trouble. ― “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem” (v. 14). He says, “to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack” (v. 16). In verses 15 and 17 the Prophet of God gives us nine reasons to rejoice and sing, nine reasons not to fear, nine reasons to be steadfast and immovable in the work of the Lord.
1. “The Lord hath taken away thy judgments.”
The rest of the world, by reason of sin and guilt, is under the wrath of God. But “the Lord hath taken away thy judgments.” That is good news. Zephaniah is not describing what the Lord wants to do, hopes to do, or has tried to do, but about what the Lord has done. “The Lord hath taken away thy judgments.” By the work of his free, almighty, and sovereign grace, the Lord Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior, has taken away our judgments.
In redemption, by the sacrifice of himself, he has taken away our sins, the cause of judgment (Heb. 9:26; Psa. 103:12; Eph. 1:7). In the new birth, he has taken away our spiritual death, the consequence of judgment (Col. 1:13-14). Our great God has, by the sacrifice of his own dear Son, taken away the curse of the law, the sentence of judgment (Gal. 3:13; Rom. 8:1, 32-34).
Redemption was effectually accomplished, fully and completely, for God’s elect when Christ died upon the cursed tree (Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:12). That redemption, accomplished by Christ as our Substitute, is effectually applied to the redeemed at the appointed time of love, by God the Holy Spirit in regeneration and effectual calling, by the mighty operation of his grace, creating faith in us. Thereby Christ delivered us from the bondage of guilt (Heb. 9:14).
2. “He hath cast out thine enemy.”
Satan came into the land of man’s soul by the door of sin as an invading enemy. But Christ, our mighty Man of War, the Captain of our Salvation, has cast him out. Satan was cast out of heaven as soon as he began to oppose God’s purpose of grace toward us (Ezek. 28:14-17). The Son of God broke Satan’s usurped power and dominion over the nations of the world at the cross, and in that sense, cast him out when he died as our Substitute (Gen. 3:15; John 12:31; Rev. 20). Our Savior casts Satan out of the hearts of his people in regeneration by the power of his Spirit, so that we are no longer in bondage to and under the rule of the prince of darkness (Isa. 49:24-25; Matt. 12:28-29). And the Lord Jesus Christ will cast Satan into the pit of the damned at the last day (Rev. 20:10).
3. “The king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Israel, the King of his church. And he is in the midst of us. Can you grasp that? Child of God, the Lord is with you. That ought to fill us with unspeakable joy, peace, and security (Isa. 41:10; 43:1-5). ― “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
Christ is always near at hand (Phil. 4:4). He is near to support us and to supply our needs. He is near to assist and strengthen us. He is near to protect and defend us. When Zephaniah says, “The Lord is in the midst of thee,” his meaning is threefold: He is essentially present, because he is the omnipresent God. He is providentially present, because he is determined to do us good. He is graciously present, because he promised never to leave us nor forsake us.
4. “Thou shalt not see evil anymore!”
What a promise this is! “There shall no evil happen to the just” (Prov. 12:21). “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him” (Isa. 3:10). The Lord God will not turn away from you to do you good! As Bro. Scott Richardson put it, “There’s been no bad news since I got the good news!”
5. “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty!”
When Zephaniah was delivering this message, after saying, “The Lord is in the midst of thee,” it appears that he must have thought to himself, “Oh, I meant to say not only that the Lord is in the midst of you, but also to say, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.” I am glad he was inspired to put that in. He who is in the midst of us is the Lord Jehovah, the Being of beings, the eternal, immutable, all-sufficient God.
He is the Lord thy God. He is ours by his own covenant grace. He is ours by his miraculous incarnation ― “God with us!” And he is ours by his great gift of faith.
And he who is the Lord our God is “mighty.” He is the Almighty God, the Omnipotent Creator, and the All-Powerful Mediator and Savior. All power in heaven and earth has been given to that Man who is our God. Therefore, he is able to save us to the uttermost, deliver us from the hand of every enemy, keep us in the midst of every temptation, sustain us in every trial, and bring us safe into his heavenly kingdom.
6. “He will save!”
The Lord our God is not only able, but also willing to save (Micah 7:18-20). He readily undertook to save us in the covenant of grace. He came in the fulness of time to seek and to save that which was lost. He has wrought out salvation for us by his obedience unto death. He sees to it that salvation is applied to every chosen, redeemed sinner. And he will come again to put us in full possession of that salvation he has accomplished for us.
He saves us freely, fully, and everlastingly. He saves from sin, Satan, the law, hell, and wrath. He will save us from every temporal and every spiritual enemy in time and to eternity. “He will save!” Sooner or later, he will save us from all our troubles (Ps. 25:22; 34:6). ― “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord.”
7. “He will rejoice over thee with joy!”
Shall God rejoice over us? Indeed he does! He rejoices over his elect with exceeding, great, inexpressible joy. The inspired prophet seems to be searching for words to describe God’s joy over his people. As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, the Lord our God, Jesus Christ, rejoices over us his people (Isa. 62:3-5; 61:10). And when we stand before him on that great day, he will publicly rejoice over us (Rev. 19:1-9). ― “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord.”
8. “He will rest in his love!”
The Lord Jesus Christ finds great complacency, delight, and satisfaction in loving us and in expressing his love to his people. It is pleasing to him to love us He solaces himself in it.
There is not a greater, fuller verbal expression of Christ’s love for us in all the Bible than this, “He will rest in his love.” He says to us, “Thou hast ravished my heart” (Song of Sol. 4:9). O what infinite, condescending grace! God not only loves us, but he loves to love us! He is pleased that he chose us as the objects of his love! Oh, my heart, be ravished with his love! Christ’s love for us is without cause, without beginning, without change, and without end.
This phrase might be translated, “He will be silent because of his love.” Our Lord will not upbraid us because of our sins. He will never speak a word of anger or wrath to us. And he will put all of our enemies to silence as well.
As one completely overwhelmed with love for another is often speechless at the sight of the one he loves, when they have been separated for a long, long time, so Christ is speechless because of his love for us.
9. “He will joy over thee with singing!”
Again, the prophet seems to be searching for words to describe Christ’s love for us. He rejoices over us with joy and joys with singing! He is telling us that God himself is delighted that we are his people, his chosen, redeemed, called ones. We are his Hephzibah, in whom he delights. We are his Beulah, to whom he is married. And he wants no one else. Now, in the light of these things, Zephaniah says to us, the church and children of God, “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart…Fear thou not…Let not thine hands be slack” (1 Cor. 15:58). ― “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord.”
Zephaniah concludes his prophecy with six “I will” declarations of God himself (3:18-20). Read them, and rejoice.
1. “I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly.”
2. “Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee.”
3. “And I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out.”
4. “And I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.”
5. “At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you.”
6. “For I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.”
“Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord!”