Zephaniah and the Forgotten Prophecies of the Day of the LORD - November 2015 Yavoh
It’s named after its author and wedged between the books of Habakkuk and Haggai. If you had to list the prophets of Israel for a trivia question, the author wouldn’t make the list unless one was familiar with all of the books of the Bible. The name of the book and the prophet is Zephaniah. He is not well known to most believers, but he should be well known to prophecy teachers and students.
Zephaniah is the pre-eminent prophet on the subject of “The Day of the Lord.” When that subject comes up, most believers don’t know how to react to it. This is partly due to how we avoid the subject of the “Day of the Lord” directly. We prefer to address the subject as the “end times” and “Jesus is coming back.” Some are willing to say that it is about the “Great Tribulation” and that it has something to do with God’s judgment. But again, most are unnerved to hear how comprehensive and complete God’s judgment will be as spelled out by the prophets.
Did you know that many end-times prophetic teachers say that mortals will survive the “Day of the Lord” and go on to live in the kingdom? Some churchmen even see themselves ruling over them in the kingdom.
As you will discover, the Prophet Zephaniah takes umbrage with that thought and conclusion. Before we look at Zephaniah specifically, let’s review other Scriptures that refer to the “Day of the Lord.”
Isaiah is the first prophet who speaks to the “Day of the Lord” and uses that phrase. First, Isaiah hints of a special day.
11The proud look of man will be abased and the loftiness of man will be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. 12For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. 17The pride of man will be humbled, and the loftiness of men will be abased; and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. Isaiah 2:11-12, 17
Then Isaiah’s oratory against Babylon in Chapter 13 uses the specific phrase.
6Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 9Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. 13Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts in the day of His burning anger. Isaiah 13:6, 9, 13
Before we leave Isaiah, we need to examine an analogy he presents about the “Day of the Lord” that closely aligns with Zephaniah.
I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Isaiah 13:12
The gold of Ophir is a reference to gold mines of King Solomon’s time. The mines were very prolific and there was a legend that they were so prolific that a whole bar of gold was found. It was called the “golden wedge.” There is no direct evidence to support this; attempts to reach the mines were mostly unsuccessful. But the rarity of the gold is the point.
Isaiah first states that men will become scarcer than pure gold after the “Day of the Lord.” Then he goes further. Mankind (all those on the earth) will be scarcer that an item of gold that is only a legend. This is an emphatic statement of judgment that defines the “Day of the Lord.”
Isaiah preceded Zephaniah, but this initial definition given by Isaiah closely aligns with Zephaniah. Isaiah also makes additional references to this specific day.
So it will happen in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high, and the kings of the earth on earth. Isaiah 24:21
In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, with His fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea. Isaiah 27:1
Isaiah speaks of a worldwide judgment and uses similar symbols (the serpent, the sword, and the dragon) as the book of Revelation uses. Isaiah also shares that the “Day of the Lord” includes God’s vengeance.
For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Isaiah 34:8
The prophet Jeremiah uses this comparison as well. By the way, Jeremiah and Zephaniah ministered in the same era.
For that day belongs to the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, so as to avenge Himself on His foes; and the sword will devour and be satiated and drink its fill of their blood; for there will be a slaughter for the Lord God of hosts, in the land of the north by the river Euphrates. Jeremiah 46:10
The prophet Ezekiel also has much to say about the “Day of the Lord,” but he also elaborates on the sword that the Lord uses, the same sword He will use at the “Day of the Lord.”
“Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord.’ Say, ‘A sword, a sword sharpened and also polished! Sharpened to make a slaughter, polished to flash like lightning!’” Ezekiel 21:9-10a
For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. A sword will come upon Egypt, and anguish will be in Ethiopia, when the slain fall in Egypt, they take away her wealth, and her foundations are torn down. Ethiopia, Put, Lud, all Arabia, Libya, and the people of the land that is in league will fall with them by the sword." Ezekiel 30:3-5
The prophet Joel speaks of the day.
Gird yourselves with sackcloth, and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God, for the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty. Joel 1:13-15
We should note here that the announcement of the “Day of the Lord” comes as a result of the daily altar service (which includes the grain and wine libation along with the evening and morning lambs) is being stopped. This is the prophecy of Daniel’s “Abomination of Desolation.” Yeshua made direct reference to his prophecy and said the shutting down of the altar was the sign of the end, the beginning of the Great Tribulation that brings the “Day of the Lord.” (Matthew 24:15-16 and beyond)
The prophet Joel then says a shofar should be blown to sound the alarm.
Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near, Joel 2:1
In these days we are anticipating the altar to be built and then shut down. We are anticipating the beginning of the Great Tribulation. We are not there yet, but when it does occur, how will we view these descriptions of the “Day of the Lord” and its coming? Joel seems to answer that question in advance.
The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome, and who can endure it? Joel 2:11b
This is like the question in the Book of Revelation when the Apostle John shows us his view of the Day of the Lord.
I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?" Revelation 6:12-17
We are in the days just before the beginning of the Great Tribulation and the “Day of the Lord.” When those days begin, we will have to make some very serious decisions. They will be decisions about life and death and whether to escape or to stay. How will we survive this? And we will have to check the status of our faith—do we believe the prophecies of the Lord? Do we even trust and believe the Lord for our lives? The prophet Joel knew this would be part of the process leading to the “Day of the Lord.” He speaks to what we will face.
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. Joel 3:14
We need to mention the prophet Amos and what he says concerning the “Day of the Lord” before we look at Zephaniah. The prophet Amos poses a question for us as well, especially for us in these last days. Are we looking forward to the “Day of the Lord?” Amos warns us not to yearn for it, even though we know the Lord comes following it. This is the same attitude concerning the Day of the Lord we learn in keeping the Day of Atonement.
18Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; …20Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it? AMO 5:18, 20
On the 10th day of Tishrei, the Day of Atonement, all believers are called to fast, to be somber, and afflict their souls. There is to be no joy or feasting on that day. This is the day that God will judge His enemies, determining who lives and who dies. We greet one another on that day with “May your name be found in the book of life!” and thus live.
With what has been said and an understanding not to desire the “Day of the Lord,” let us look at what Zephaniah says about the “Day of the Lord.”
"I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth," declares the Lord. "I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked; and I will cut off man from the face of the earth," declares the Lord. "So I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. "And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, and those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, And those who have turned back from following the Lord, and those who have not sought the Lord or inquired of Him." Zephaniah 1:2-6
Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near, for the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests. "Then it will come about on the day of the Lord's sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, the king's sons, and all who clothe themselves with foreign garments. Zephaniah 1:7-8
Near is the great day of the Lord, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and the high corner towers. I will bring distress on men so that they will walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; and their blood will be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of the Lord's wrath; and all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth. Zephaniah 1:14-18
The language of this prophet is severe. This is not a metaphor. You cannot “spiritualize” this message to soften it up. It is literal. Arguing against what the Lord has said here is like spitting into the wind—everything comes flying right back at you. The fact is that the Lord intends to destroy all of His enemies at the “Day of the Lord.” There will be no survivors (except believers, which is mentioned elsewhere), no one to be rehabilitated, and no one repents. They are judged!
So, let’s drop any idea that God’s judgment will allow a few mortals to slip by and inhabit the kingdom so the Christians have someone to rule over. Other references to the kingdom with mortals (those who can die in the kingdom) are simply misunderstandings. They have taken an allegory and turned it into doctrine. You must dismiss completely Isaiah’s reference to mankind being scarcer than a legend and the specific words of Zephaniah.
Is this the end of the subject Zephaniah has for us about the “Day of the Lord?” Of course not! Like other prophets, he describes our escape and what will be the aftermath when the Lord returns. But in the same manner that he described the judgment in the “Day of the Lord,” the salvation of God is also stark and gripping.
Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame, before the decree takes effect- the day passes like the chaff- before the burning anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger. Zephaniah 2:1-3
Zephaniah’s first glimmer of hope for us is based on our humility, our obedience, and seeking the righteousness of the Lord. There is no room for any haughtiness on our part. “Perhaps,” he says, “you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.” He follows this a little later with this.
“Therefore, wait for Me,” declares the Lord, "for the day when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out on them My indignation, all My burning anger; for all the earth will be devoured by the fire of My zeal.” Zephaniah 3:8
If God had asked you or me for a plan at the end of the ages, we would not have suggested a 3 ½ year Great Tribulation that we endure for His return before He completely judges the earth. We would have shortened the time up to maybe one day. There would have no waiting on our part. But this is not what the Lord has planned, and it follows that Zephaniah speaks to that plan. The people who will make it through the Great Tribulation and the “Day of the Lord” will have to wait for Him. However, the Lord will not leave us in that situation without help. This is one of the most specific references to the 144,000 outside of the book of Revelation.
But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths; for they shall feed and lie down with no one to make them tremble. Zephaniah 3:12-13
Revelation Chapter 7 speaks of two groups of saints: the 144,000 and the innumerable tribulation saints. Both of the groups are able to stand in the day of God’s wrath. The first is the 144,000 who are sealed for the duration of the Great Tribulation. They are described as “sons of Israel.” There will be 12,000 sealed for each of the listed tribes. They are the “remnant of Israel.” They have the name of God inscribed in their foreheads so that all of the tribulation saints may take refuge in the name of the Lord. Even their character is described. Compare Zephaniah’s description to what is said in Revelation.
And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. Revelation 14:5
Zephaniah goes on to speak of the tribulation saints.
Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you will fear disaster no more. Zephaniah 3:14-15
The tribulation saints described in Revelation Chapter 7 are described after the Great Tribulation. The judgments of the Lord are completed and there is no more struggle that was associated with surviving the great tribulation.
I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:14-17
When we tabernacle with the Lord it means that the Lord dwells in our midst. Zechariah says that we will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (the feast of rejoicing) first upon the Lord’s return. Zephaniah says that He will be in our midst with great joy!
The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. “I will gather those who grieve about the appointed feasts- they came from you, O Zion; the reproach of exile is a burden on them. Behold, I am going to deal at that time with all your oppressors, I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, even at the time when I gather you together; indeed, I will give you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes," says the Lord. Zephaniah 3:17-20
Did you notice that the tribulation saints are the ones who grieve about the appointed feasts when they cannot be kept properly? Ask yourself the question right now. Are the feasts of the Lord important to you right now? If keeping the Feast of Tabernacles is not that important to you now, then being gathered by the Lord so you can escape, survive, and endure the great tribulation will not seem important as well.
The tribulation saints are pictured in Revelation in the midst (before His throne) with palm branches.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; Revelation 7:9
Why the palm branches you might ask? They are the building materials for their Sukkot (tabernacles) to observe the first Feast of Tabernacles in the kingdom.
On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, . . . Leviticus 23:39-42
Zephaniah doesn’t get a lot of attention from most believers. His book is small and the message of the “Day of the Lord” is dire and unpleasant. But his message is true and he doesn’t mince words about when the Lord will destroy His enemies and save His people. Like all of the prophets of Israel, Zephaniah doesn’t leave his message on a critical note but adds a wonderful encouragement at the last, as I mentioned before. During the great tribulation, the 144,000 and the tribulation saints will read his words frequently. He will be their encouragement.