1 Gather together, yes, gather,
O shameless nation,
2 before the decree takes effect
—before the day passes away like chaff—
before there comes upon you
the burning anger of the Lord,
before there comes upon you
the day of the anger of the Lord.
3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
perhaps you may be hidden
on the day of the anger of the Lord. – Zephaniah 2:1-3 ESV
The prophet has warned the people of Judah that the judgment of God is near. The righteous wrath of God was inevitable and inescapable, and they had no one to blame but themselves. They had sinned against Him and acted as if He would do nothing about. But they had been wrong.
Yet, the prophet provides a glimmer of hope. He delivers a message to the small contingent of the faithful who remain in Judah – “the humble of the land, who do his just commands” (Zephaniah 2:3 ESV). He calls on them to seek righteousness and humility. Though they found themselves surrounded on all sides by apostasy, unfaithfulness, and wickedness, they were to remain committed to God and His commands. All was not lost. The could still enjoy the mercy of God, but it was going to require that they remain untarnished by the spirit of rebellion that permeated the nation.
In a sense, Zephaniah is dividing the nation into two diametrically opposite contingents. On the one hand, he addresses the “shameless nation,” demanding that they gather together in a public assembly. As a nation, they are marked by pride, arrogance, and a stubborn reluctance to return to the Lord in contrition and repentance. But Zephaniah warns them that they need to reconsider their hard-headed determination to reject God’s call before it’s too late. If they’re not careful, their opportunity to receive mercy will disappear like worthless husks of grain carried by the winds of God’s judgment. They will find themselves out of time and out of chances to enjoy the gracious forgiveness of God.
Zephaniah is calling for a solemn assembly, a public gathering of the people intended as an opportunity to confess their sins and call on God’s mercy. The prophet Joel described the nature of these communal gatherings.
Consecrate a fast;
call 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. – Joel 1:14 ESV
It was God’s desire that His people repent. He wanted to spare them the coming judgment, but it was going to require a radical change in their attitudes and actions.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13 ESV
The sad reality was that the majority of the people of Judah would remain unrepentant. They would refuse to return to God. Their hearts would remain stubbornly resistant. Their lives would be marked by feasting rather than fasting, celebration instead of mourning, and sin-fueled happiness in place of repentance-based weeping. And yet, in the very next chapter, God reveals that He will ensure the persistent presence of a faithful few.
I will leave in your midst
a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord… – Zephaniah 3:12 ESV
No matter how bad things got, there would always be a remnant of God’s people who maintained their unwavering commitment to Him. Even though they would represent the minority camp, they would continue to seek security in their covenant relationship with God Almighty. And God offers them what sounds like a less-than-encouraging promise for their efforts: “perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord” (Zephaniah 2:3 ESV).
God wasn’t guaranteeing their survival or promising them the complete absence of suffering. Their faith was not going to immunize them from the coming judgment. But there was always the possibility that God would allow them to escape the full brunt of His divine judgment.
Even during the end-times event known as the Great Tribulation, many of those who come to faith in Christ will end up as martyrs for the cause of Christ. Their lives will be marked by intense persecution at the hand of Antichrist, followed by the loss of their lives. They will represent a remnant, a portion of the entirety of humanity who will be alive at that time. But despite having placed their faith in Christ, they will not escape the wrath of the enemy. In fact, in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the vision he received concerning this remnant of God’s people.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV
John goes on to provide further clarification as to the identity of these individuals:
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:14-17 ESV
God cares for His own. And in the case of the people of Judah, while God was going to bring judgment against them for their sins against Him, He promised the existence of a faithful remnant. And their ongoing presence would ensure the fulfillment of His covenant promises to Abraham. God would not completely destroy His chosen people because He had plans to make redemption available through His Son, who would be born into the tribe of Judah.
The prophet Isaiah records God’s promise of the remnant and how, even in the face of coming judgment, God would bring display His righteousness by sending His Son as the payment for mankind’s sin debt.
In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. – Isaiah 10:20-22 ESV
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.
And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.” – Romans 9:27-29 ESV
Judah deserved complete destruction. just as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had. But God would spare Judah so that He could preserve a remnant. And from that remnant would come the Savior of the world and the only possible means of redemption for a lost and dying world.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.