All may call on the Lord

"Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, so that all of them may call on the name of the Lord" -- Zephaniah 3:9

What does Zephaniah 3:9 mean to us today?

Missions: The Heart of God

Grim details of coming judgment fill the little book of Zephaniah. However, mixed in with images of fiery destruction and places being laid waste is Zephaniah 3:9, which contains words about redemptive transformation available to all peoples (or all ethnolinguistic groups).

Through Zephaniah, God declares His readiness to cleanse all people everywhere of defilement. He wants to do that in order that all may fully embrace Him. The purifying of lips is described in a few other places in the Bible. That image symbolizes a cleansing made necessary because, as Hosea 2:17 and Psalm 16:4 note, people's prayers to false gods have defiled them.

The possibility raised by Zephaniah that Gentile people groups everywhere will turn to Yahweh may have jarred at least some Jews of the 7th century B.C. Nonetheless, "peoples" seems purposefully plural. Indeed, God further emphasizes the global implications of the word by saying, "All of them."

That "all of them" phrase builds on older verses like Genesis 12:3 where God tells Abraham, "Through you all peoples will be blessed." The phrase also looks forward in anticipation of Jesus' "whoever believes" declaration in John 3:16. In the words of Zephaniah 3:9 God may have had in mind the response to Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost when people of cultural groups from around the Mediterranean called on the name of the Lord. Zephaniah 3:9 also announces the door is open for the conversion of Gentiles like an Ethiopian government official (Acts 8), a Roman Centurion (Acts 10-11), and a jailer and his family in Philippi (Acts 16).

Four times in his three chapters, Zephaniah mentioned "the Day of the Lord." That phrase, used as well by other biblical authors, refers to End Times. Here, in an Old Testament prophet's words, is an affirmation that the blessings of the Day of the Lord are intended to be for all peoples. Isn't the image in Revelation 7:9 of worshipers "from every nation, tribe, people and language" describing a fulfillment of Zephaniah 3:9?

Tragically, about one-third of the world's population has yet to hear of the One on whom Zephaniah says they must call for salvation. To the Romans, the Apostle Paul asked: "How shall they call on Him in whom they have not heard" (Romans 10:14). As Paul was writing those words, was Zephaniah's phrase "all of them may call on the name of the Lord" on his heart?

God stands ready. Indeed, He seems anxious that all peoples everywhere call on Him. The sad thing is that many entire people groups still have not heard. Paul's solution to that dilemma is that we must go to them and tell them. If Zephaniah were here today, wouldn't that be what he would encourage us to do?If Zephaniah were here today, wouldn't he encourage us to do that?

Questions for discussion

  1. How does Zephaniah 3:9 emphasize the global implications of God's desire for all peoples to call on Him for salvation?
  2. In what ways does Zephaniah's message about God's offer of redemptive transformation for all people relate to other passages in the Bible, such as Genesis 12:3 and John 3:16?
  3. How does the image of "the Day of the Lord" in Zephaniah relate to the concept of End Times in the Bible, and what does it suggest about the future of all peoples?
  4. What is the significance of the purifying of lips mentioned in Zephaniah 3:9? Why is it important for people to turn away from false gods in order to fully embrace God?
  5. In light of the fact that one-third of the world's population has yet to hear about God's offer of salvation, what is the responsibility of Christians today, and how can they help to spread the message of hope to all peoples?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about world missions.


In the context of discussing world evangelization, Zephaniah 3:9 speaks to God's desire for worship and acknowledgment among all peoples. In this verse, God promises a future state where people from all nations will worship Him in unity. This concept aligns with the mission of world evangelization, which seeks to spread the message of God's love and salvation to all corners of the globe.

Additionally, Zephaniah 3:9 implies that God's desire for worship extends beyond a single nation or people group. It suggests that ultimately, people from all nations will come to know and serve the Lord. The idea of purifying the lips of the peoples could imply a cultural adaptation of worship. This suggests that evangelization efforts should respect and engage with diverse cultural contexts, languages, and traditions.

More on world missions for you from Old Testament prophets

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