What would you do if you went to the mailbox today and found a letter from a foreign world leader of a small, unimposing nation—a letter telling you your time was short and his fury would soon come, bringing an end to your family, home, community, and entire way of life? How would you handle the threat of being wiped off the face of the earth in a display of his power and terrible anger?
If it were me, I’d probably toss the letter into the trash and completely disregard it. I couldn’t fathom any scenario where my way of life could be threatened so seriously by an insignificant foreign nation while living in a so-called superpower. No way, no how, could that happen in my lifetime. At least that’s what I’d be tempted to think.
I imagine something similar was going through the minds of those who received Zephaniah’s prophetic message in chapter 2. Perhaps the Philistines just laughed. The Moabites and Ammonites might have looked at their lands and temples and shrugged their shoulders. The powerful kingdom of Assyria and its capital, Nineveh, most likely didn’t even consider the threats from the God of Israel to be problematic. They are of the “jubilant city that lives in security, that thinks to herself: I exist, and there is no one else” (v.15).
Receiving this kind of message from a seemingly inferior power would not generate any kind of response other than to just go about life normally. And that’s the problem. Unless people really know who God is and how they have rebelled against His glory, they will be unconcerned about His impending judgment over all the earth. Even those of us who are in Christ can remain somewhat oblivious to God’s righteousness and His just punishment of sin.
Sandwiched between the message of the coming day of the Lord and the judgment of the nations are three beautiful verses pointing us in a new direction toward humility. To those who are “undesirable” (2:2), a message of grace gives hope and provides a way of escape from God’s impending wrath. It’s a call to humble repentance, to seek mercy and forgiveness from the hand of our Maker.
The prophet’s “perhaps” (v.3) isn’t meant to be read as if he’s saying, “Maybe you’ll find mercy if you’re lucky.” It was meant to give the people of Judah hope, and it’s meant to point us to the cross, where Jesus absorbed the full fury of God’s anger on our behalf. He concealed us from death by His own death, so that we might know the mercy and love of God.
How will you receive God’s warning to repent and believe, and to continue to do so? Will you receive it with pride, thinking you’re secure in and of yourself? Or will you receive it with humility, depending only on God’s grace to cover your sin and need?
Written by Jeremy Writebol