We can take great joy in the God who takes joy in us. Nestled in a little-read part of the Old Testament, the book of Zephaniah calls God’s people to relentless hope in the God of justice and joy.
If you preach Zephaniah to your congregation, what will they hear?
1. They’ll hear about the Day of the Lord.
Throughout the Minor prophets, God warns of a coming judgment. At times, this warning focuses upon the contemporaries of the prophet. But many instances reach far beyond. Zephaniah speaks of a day coming upon all the earth, even deconstructing the very order of creation (1:2). The day of the Lord will come upon all mankind (1:17) to humble their pride. For the wicked, that day will be one of wrath, distress, ruin and devastation (1:15) because they’ve sinned against the God of creation. But for His people, the day of the Lord brings restoration. The nations of the earth will serve and worship the Lord God (3:9–10). The proud and rebellious will be removed to leave a people humble, holy and trusting in Him (3:11–13). No longer will they know God’s chastisement, for He will remove their sin and its wages (3:14–15). The day of the Lord, then, promises both holy justice for God’s enemies and hopeful joy in salvation for His people. And each of these elements drives us to preach its fulfillment in Christ.
What Zephaniah (and other prophets) warned of still looms on the horizon of history. Paul taught that the day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night and labor pains upon an expectant mother (1 Thess. 5:2–3). It will bring the vengeance of God, punishment, destruction and banishment from the glorious presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:8–9). According to Peter, the day of the Lord will bring the dissolution of the created order, just as Zephaniah’s words proclaimed (2 Pet. 3:10–13). But the day of the Lord is a day of justice and joy. It delivers God’s wrath and carries His compassion. When Paul warned of the day of the Lord coming as a thief, he had already spoken of those in Christ being gathered to him when He comes with the clouds (1 Thess. 4:13–18). The return of the King, which punishes those who reject Him, also comforts those who embrace Him (2 Thess. 1:5–10). And even as the whole world will know the power of God as He de-creates the fabric of the earth, so will his people look to His promise to re-create heaven and earth as the home of righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13).
Preaching Zephaniah means preaching the day of the Lord. And preaching the day of the Lord ensures that we’ll both warn sinners and comfort the saints in view of Christ’s return.
2. They’ll hear about God’s presence.
Preaching Zephaniah will showcase the culmination of one of the great themes of the Bible: human beings in God’s presence. From the beginning, His image-bearers enjoyed fellowship with God. He was in their midst until their sin dissolved both fellowship and proximity. But God’s grace overcame their sin. He called Abraham’s line and entered into a covenant promising to once again dwell in their midst. He commanded them to build a Tabernacle—later a temple—where His glory would dwell (Exo. 40; 1 Kings 8). But God’s presence would again depend upon His people’s obedience (Lev. 26:3–12). After generations of rebellion, Ezekiel recorded a vision of the presence of the Lord moving out of the very structure built to showcase it (Ezek. 10). But, again, God’s grace overcame rebellion. As the Apostle John tells us, His Son came to “dwell” (literally, “tabernacle”) among us (John 1:14). Following the resurrection, God still granted His presence by giving His Holy Spirit as a down payment on the future enjoyment of fellowship. The church can now bear the tag Holy Temple, not because of a visible pillar of fire and cloud, but because of the invisible presence of the Spirit of Christ (Eph. 2:21–22). This limited experience of His presence among us will one day give way to the full and unfettered enjoyment of God. Following the great day of the Lord, and the re-creation of the heavens and the earth, God will dwell among His people (Rev. 21:3), and they will behold Him for all that He is (1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4).
What does this have to do with Zephaniah? Simple. Zephaniah’s picture of restoration puts God at the center of the celebration. We should see this as the greatest joy of being restored. Far more than all other blessings of God, we should rejoice that in that day, “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst” (Zeph. 3:15).
3) They’ll hear God sing.
We should always tell our people of God’s love for them. We should remind them that in love He predestined them to adoption (Eph. 1:5) and gave them the honor of being called His children (1 John 3:1). We should preach that God so loved them that He gave up His Son (John 3:16). We should teach them that we owe our new life in Christ to the gracious love of God (Eph. 2:4–5). But we should also show them the heart of God that brought it all to pass. Zephaniah allows us to do this.
Near the close of His prophetic word, Zephaniah paints a picture of God rejoicing over His redeemed (3:17). He not only accepts them, restores them and forgives them, He also takes joy in them. So overwhelming is God’s love and joy in His people that he exults over them with “loud singing” (3:17). In other words, the last day will be characterized, not merely by the celebration of people in their God, but by the celebration of God in His people.
When you preach Zephaniah, your congregation may not know that his name—representing God’s message—means “treasure of the Lord.” But if you preach faithfully, they’ll hear it in God’s words. And when they come into His presence on that day, they’ll hear it in His song.
4) They’ll hear the story of the gospel.
Zephaniah allows the preacher, from start to finish, to trace the story of redemption. People called to belong to God have fallen into grievous sin. God’s justice demands that He deal with evil. And yet His grace promises the removal of sin, and a time of restoration, joy and fellowship with the Lord. And we cannot grasp any of it apart from the work of Christ.
You should preach Zephaniah for many reasons. But the greatest is that it will compel you at every turn to preach Christ—crucified, risen and returning.
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The Minor Prophets Volume 2: Micah-Malachi, by James Montgomery Boice. As an expositional commentary, this resource is a helpful example of Christian preaching from the Old Testament.
Twelve Prophets Volume 2: Micah–Malachi, by Peter C. Craigie
Old Testament Theology, by Paul House. Although he didn’t write this as a commentary, House provides very helpful notes on each Old Testament book. This a great tool that will enable you to see the big picture of Zephaniah and, therefore, help you preach each part more effectively.
This article originally appeared here.