Our ladies’ Bible study is walking through some Old Testament prophets, and it has fallen to my share to moderate the discussion on Zephaniah 1: judgment upon judgment. The Lord announces that He is coming to judge his unfaithful and idolatrous people, to sweep all things away on a day of such terror that mighty men will be crying aloud.

What I want to do is skip to the good part: to Zephaniah 3, where God promises to convert the nations and restore His fallen people with so much tenderness. But our study guide has us sitting in chapter one this week: “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (1:15).

So I sit and remind myself that this chapter, just as much as the third, is “the good part.”

In the late nineties, at the children’s arm of a conference my parents attended, I memorized Psalm 98. It plays in my mind still, in the sing-song chant we learned, complete with hand motions, summoning all the earth to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (4). And why? “For He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (9).

What scripture makes plain, if only we could see it, is that God’s judgment is a good thing. It is cause for all of creation to rejoice. The Lord promised judgment, and the Lord fulfills His promise. He alone can render perfect justice, discerning with utter clarity the corruption of human hearts. When the world is in turmoil and we grieve the costs of wicked people acting wickedly, we can rejoice that God will punish the wicked for their wickedness.

It is good for us to remember that God judges sin because it reminds us of the seriousness of our sin. It is good for us to remember that God judges sin because it reminds us of God’s character: He is holy, just, and true. And it is good for us to remember that God judges sin because it reminds us that without Christ, we are utterly lost.

Only in Christ can God practice perfect justice and yet restore His fallen people. Only in Christ can the wages of sin be poured out and yet we enjoy adoption as sons and the reward of righteousness: eternal life.

The day of the Lord is coming, and because Jesus died, we will escape on that day. So we can read Zephaniah 1. With silence, with grief, and with rejoicing.

©Stacy Crouch 2022

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