I’ll admit, I tease about coffee cup verses and inspirational posters. A lot. I like to think of it as good-natured ribbing, but it probably comes off as curmudgeonly and jaded sometimes. After all, there are some verses and passages we should be inspired and encouraged by:
Isaiah 45:22—“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other.”—fills me with hope as God declares his desire to see people from every nation turn to Him.
Habbakuk’s confidence in God helps me to look beyond my own circumstances and share his confidence that God is bringing about His purposes in the world (Habbakuk 3:16-19).
Jesus’ words that “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” remind of our equality before Him (John 14:6). Faith in Jesus is the only way any person can come to the Father. There isn’t one path to salvation for me and another for my neighbor. We all need Jesus.
But, call me crazy, I’m pretty sure people have a hard time finding much joy in Zephaniah 1:15-16:
[The Day of the Lord] is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities, and against the high corner towers.
The really bad news
These are two bad news verses in a bad news book of the Bible. Zephaniah’s prophecy was one of urgent warning, not just to the nations that threatened the kingdom of Judah, but to Judah as well. God warned that judgment would come to all who continued to stand in opposition to Him—those who did right in their own eyes and ignored the commands of God; those who acted as “wolves” and “roaring lions” preying on the weak (3:3).
Why did God want His people to hear this bad news? Was He sitting on His throne, gleefully waiting for the moment to smite these evildoers? By no means! God wanted the people to know what was coming so they might escape it:
Gather yourselves together; gather together, undesirable nation, before the decree takes effect and the day passes like chaff, before the burning of the Lord’s anger overtakes you, before the day of the Lord’s anger overtakes you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who carry out what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be concealed on the day of the Lord’s anger. (Zephaniah 2:1-3)
“Gather yourselves together . . . before the day of the Lord’s anger overtakes you,” Zephaniah told them. “Seek the Lord.”
That’s what we need to see in this book because it is the good news. God didn’t tell the people what was coming because He wanted them to cower in fear. He told them what was coming so they would flee from their sin. So they would find refuge in Him.
God warned them of the consequences of living apart from Him so they would seek Him.
The really good news in the bad
And the good news for them, and for us, is that in seeking Him, we are concealed from the anger of the Lord. Through faith in Jesus,
The Lord has removed your punishment; He has turned back your enemy. The King of Israel, Yahweh, is among you; you need no longer fear harm. (Zephaniah 3:15)
Our enemy—death—has been turned back because Jesus was killed for us. Our punishment has been removed from us because Jesus has taken it from us. Yahweh, our King, is not only among us, but His Spirit lives in us. We “need no longer fear harm” because we belong to Jesus.
Finding the bad news in Zephaniah is easy. But when we only see the bad, we miss out on all the good. God is a judge. His anger will one day burn and consume all that stands in opposition to Him. God is also a rescuer, showing mercy to those who seek Him. Zephaniah reminds us of both of these realities—and because of them, we can have joy.
Aaron Armstrong is the Brand Manager of The Gospel Project, and an author, blogger, and speaker based in the Nashville area.