Gleanings from the Bible: Zephaniah

It’s interesting that Zephaniah, who was probably associated with the royal line and appears to have been a man of some social standing, states about the people of the earth, “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.”

“The Day of the LORD” is mentioned frequently in the prophets. A day anticipated by many as an in-breaking of God into history to bring about change and to restore the fortunes of his people. Perhaps it was similar to the prayers and expectations of many Christians today for revival in the church and a restoration of Christendom. With prophets such as Zephaniah however the Day of the LORD would be a day of reckoning for his people. In this case it looks like a universal judgement akin to the Genesis Flood…

“When I destroy all humankind on the face of the earth.” (1:3)

“I will bring such distress on all people.” (1:17)

“…the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.” (1:18) (see also 3:8)  

Of course it is quite likely that the mention of the nations, the “whole world” and all humankind, are references to Zephaniah’s known world, the nations that he specifically mentions: Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush, Judah and particularly the “world” power of its day, Assyria. Nevertheless, if we fast-track to the last chapters of Revelation we do see an expectation that the whole world will eventually face the judgement of God at the final Day of the Lord.

As Christians pray for God to do something new, to bring about revival in our own time, we should perhaps be mindful that such renewal comes about through pruning and discipline and the pain of judgement. Revival comes by the way of true repentance.

Zephaniah, in common with other prophets paints a terrible picture of punishment on a world that has rejected Yahweh for worthless idols, greed, injustice and extreme violence, and yet beyond the outpouring of God’s anger is the preservation of the remnant (3:12).

There is always a faithful remnant throughout biblical history, and the scriptures suggest that there always will be. If this is true then we may expect that ultimate truth will not lie with the majority of the world (perhaps not even with the majority of organised nominal Christianity?), but with those who worship God in Spirit and in truth, as revealed through Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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Gleanings from the Bible: Habakkuk

It seems ironic that people often blame God for all the things that go wrong in the world (“Why does God allow so much injustice and suffering?”) and then blame him again when his steps in to exact justice. Perhaps we don’t always recognise God’s judgement in the world and we are too quick to say, “No, that couldn’t be God. He just doesn’t act in that way. My God is all loving and wouldn’t hurt anyone.” We do of course have to be very careful about linking suffering with acts of judgement (see my earlier blog on Job for example). But this is where the prophets come in. They interpret world events theologically, as they affect God’s People. They have revelation from God and speak accordingly.

Nevertheless, in this case, Habakkuk presents the same questions that we might ask. “Why aren’t you listening? Why don’t you save me? Why do you put up with wrongdoing? Why do you allow justice to be perverted?” And God’s answer is that he is sending the Babylonians to sort out the evil that pervades Judah.

This is hardly a satisfactory answer for Habakkuk. “Why would you use them! A ruthless law unto to themselves! How can you associate with them and replace one evil with and even worse one?!” And God’s reply is, in essence, “Have faith.”

See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright –
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. (2:4)

…the nations exhaust themselves for nothing… (2:13)

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (2:14)

In fact Babylon would not escape justice any more than Judah did. God may use Babylon for his ends, to bring justice and punishment from evil, but Babylon would still be held accountable their cruelty and oppression.

We know from history and the book of Daniel (see my earlier blog on Daniel) that Persia would replace Babylon, Greece would conquer Persia, and Rome would conquer the divided Greek Empire, but out of the Roman Era would come a Saviour, who would usher in God’s everlasting Kingdom.

Habakkuk lived in turbulent times but as he worked through the issues he could finish his prophecy with…

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.