Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, 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.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
I will utterly sweep away everything… (1:2)
I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem…(1:4)
For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
and consecrated his guests …1:7
The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there…1:14
Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation…2:1
The only encouragement or guidance the Lord gave the believers in Judah and Jerusalem (which would have included Jeremiah, Habakkuk, King Josiah, and a very young Daniel) was to prepare their souls. In fact, in Zephaniah 2:1-3 even the faithful (“all you humble of the land who do his just commands”) are specifically included in the list of those living in that “shameful nation” that would be punished.
Accordingly, the true believers were told to strengthen the fortress of their soul with the knowledge of God in order to be in the place of God’s rest during the days and years leading up to the destruction and judgment which was guaranteed to come. They were told by Zephaniah to seek the Lord, to seek righteousness, and to seek humility. They were to prepare themselves for impact - brace themselves for national judgment. They were to seek the Lord and enter his rest.
This is the same rest the wilderness generation and David’s generation were invited to enter. If these believers in 618 BC would humbly seek the knowledge of the Lord, their souls could remain at rest during the disasters that would take place over the next 32 years and during all the events that would follow.
Nine years after Zephaniah’s prophecy, King Josiah would die in battle with Egypt. Then, the first Babylonian captivity would take place in 605 BC. This first captivity consisted of the members of the royal family (Daniel included) being taken into Babylon for training. In 597 BC, 21 years after the prophecy, King Jehoiachin, Ezekiel, and skilled craftsmen would be taken captive to Babylon. And, finally, after 20 years of Babylonian oppression (605-586 BC), Judah would fall and Jerusalem would be destroyed.
Zephaniah called the believers in Judah to prepare their souls because there was a chance they would be hidden in God’s rest during those 32 turbulent years. The availability of this rest to each individual would depend on whether or not their soul had been fortified with truth and reality.
It is important that we realize they were not promised supernatural deliverance or protection from the negative effects caused by cultural oppression, famine, the Babylonian siege, mass starvation, the invasion of the city, the destruction of homes, or deportation to Babylon. Instead, they were told that if they sought the Lord, obeyed his commands, lived in righteousness, and embraced humility then “perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord”.
Hidden from what?
No, because many of the righteous were taken away in the various captivities (605, 597 and 586 BC). These godly captives included Daniel in 605 BC and Ezekiel in 597 BC.
Would they be hidden from the famine and starvation?
No, because even Jeremiah suffered through times where bread was lacking, including the famine of 598 and the siege of 588-586.
Would they be hidden in battle fighting for the righteous cause of the Lord?
No, because even Josiah, the righteous king, was killed in battle in the Jezreel Valley by Egyptian Pharaoh Neco on his way to help the fleeing, splintered Assyrian governmental forces in their final stand against the rising power of General Nebechadnezzar and his father Nabopolassar (the king of Babylon) in 609 BC.
So, what did Zephaniah mean when he said that the believers in Jerusalem “perhaps may be hidden” on the day of the anger of the Lord?
The phrase “perhaps may be” in the ESV translation comes from the Hebrew word ‘u-lay, which literally means “it may be that”. This is not a promise that they “would be” hidden, but is a conditional promise based on each individual’s level of success in five areas described in the same verse:
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.Hebrews 3:15
While the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.Hebrews 4:1
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest,So that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.For the word of God is living and activeHebrews 4:11-12