Doom and gloom for the nations certainly appears to be Zephaniah’s main focus throughout his short book. After all, he begins with graphic imagery that promises people futility when it comes to enjoying what they have worked for in life (Zeph. 1:13), their blood being “poured out like dust,” their flesh being poured out “like dung,” and “a full and sudden end … of all the inhabitants of the earth” (1:13, 17–18). Given these words, does he offer any hope at all to mankind?
Turning to the opening verses of Zephaniah 2, we see that the answer to this question is yes. The prophet calls upon Judah to gather together and seek the Lord before His great day of judgment. His threefold use of the word before in verses 1–2 shows the urgency with which the people must return to God, for it indicates that a day is coming when it will be too late to seek Him. When the day of judgment—the day of the Lord—arrives, there will be no more chances to ask for His mercy. We must seek God’s pardon before He brings human history to its consummation (Matt. 25:1–13; 2 Peter 3:8–10).
Zephaniah 2:3 addresses “you humble of the land, who do his just commands.” These are the faithful remnant of Judah and, by extension, the faithful remnant of all the people of the earth. Zephaniah is not thinking in any sense of those who are depending upon their own obedience for salvation. The verse reflects deep humility, underscored by his use of the term perhaps in relation to the Lord’s rescue. Zephaniah does not have any doubt that the Lord will save His people; rather, he is illustrating the attitude that one must have to receive redemption. We are to come before our Creator in fear and trembling, not demanding that He save us but recognizing that we have no claim on His grace and mercy. In asking God to save us, we are making a request of such enormity, as one commentator writes, that our plea must reflect how undeserving we are and how we will by no means persevere unless the Lord works His will in us as we fear Him. It is an urgent fear, lest we take His grace for granted and not continue in faith to the end.
The rest of Zephaniah 2 continues the prophet’s vivid picture of the day of the Lord. Much of it consists of pledges that the enemies of God’s people will finally receive His justice (vv. 5, 8–9, 13–14). On that day, the grandeur of the city of man will be shown for what it truly is—emptiness—when God puts in its place the city of heaven (v. 15).