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THE ZERO TOLERANCE OF ZEPHANIAH
and the DELIGHTFUL ALTERNATIVE
The Word of God Works what Man cannot Do!
Zephaniah may be both small in length and equipped with a name starting at the end of the alphabet, while possessed besides of some of the loveliest of expressions concerning the beneficence of the Lord amid His people, so that some may relate rather lightly, who have something of a hurly-burly approach to spiritual things.
However, like many other prophets, what he has to say about Israel needs to be checked, for once more, it provides safeguards that are clearly apt in parallel with Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Deuteronomy, with Leviticus, Isaiah and the Psalms, for example, concerning the meaning of prophecies.
Thus, many confuse the presence of imagery with the incursion of allegory, as if any imagination makes the place of it a mist of wafting thought. However, allegory is not to be assumed because imagination is used; for it is a very special form of expression which from a good writer is not a matter of a preference for views other than those expressed, but of semantic necessity. Proverbs 8:8 shows the expected outcome of right reading, sensitive to all the aspects of what is written, without prior expectation.. Each word of God, each expression, will have its own integrity, and thus justice must be done to every one of the words of God, as to people.
In overview, the thrust of the message of Zephaniah is this, that there is ripe, resolute and declarative judgment coming from the Lord on a whole host of wickedness, slackness and evil. It includes sites and person. Thus it will come on "those who have turned back from following the Lord, and those who have not sought the LORD, nor enquired of Him." (Berkeley translation). It hits what is out and was seemingly once in, and what was never anything but out from the Lord. It hits moreover those who mix the spiritual drinks, intoxicated with religions, worshippers jointly of God who yet set store by an idol (Milcom).
A day is coming for another sort of sacrifice, the prophet declaims, one in which He will punish the sedulous synthesisers in religion, rich and poor. The mockers, religious cynics, who say, "The LORD will not do good nor will He do evil," slyly suggesting that He is vacuous for this world, if present at all, a name without character, an object without impact, while the REAL world flows according to various imagined principles. It is treated by many insurgents as if happily divorced from the need to be created, not filled with a host of laws, measured and propelled so that matter and energy are in some ways interchangeable in a sophistication of reality which continually shocks and amazes man as its grandeur and mathematics are revealed, not least in the tiny, in the DNA.
They are however in a system in which such things can happen, as a man may live in a house, where various things happen; but those things did not build the house.
These too who misdirect the people will face destruction in the day of judgment, which like a pouring sea, covers things universally. Presumptuous, bumptious and barbaric such notions of the nations, as if creation having happened some time ago, means it did not really require much to do it; whereas in fact man even now with thousands of years to have studied, is both baffled and staggered by its legislated wonders.
What is this epidemic of naturalism ? now as then ?Is it not to go back before kindergarten, where what is not there does anything it feels like, with myths for the fairies, and nothing really needs a cause (cf. Cause). Things of such negligent logic are nowadays included surreptitiously or even blatantly in many school science courses as if nature made itself before it was there to do it, and nothing made plans to fill all the gaps. It overlooks in its schema, in its scenario, that nothing has neither being nor results, and something therefore has to be there for always, or nothing will; and that in the end, either you start with nothing or something. That something is either adequate for the results or not. If not, they do not happen. So it has to be adequate for mind, matter, spirit, law, thought, intellectuality, spirituality, imaginative powers and creative capacity, merely to start.
Its creative deeds are manifest, and they are not found self-inventing now, for the work of intelligence is specific, and its ordered and organised facilities do not appear from matter, but from mind, where adjusted with spirit so that it can have purpose and intention and act accordingly. THIS is what is found, in terms of creation, as a generic. What is not found is mythical marvels without mind. It does not happen that way. If it did, we could watch it constructing other universes. But as with a factory, when it is shut, it does not produce, and dreaming of the times when it did, in a depression, does not lift it back!
But no! The teaching that befouls the minds of millions in many countries, ignoring God as needful, is needfully awaiting a judgment, as did kings of Israel, who put their children through the literal fire. It is indeed possible to injure mind and spirit as well as body.
Judgment awaits on many sides for what has been done with the Lord's property in many ways and times, and man is part of that property (Isaiah 45:11-12,18-19). Directions have been given, not only within, in the DNA manufacturing facility for mankind, but for the ears and mind of man. Such is the word of God and in the word of God, the one written not in code but in normal language through the prophets, in the Bible, are these found. Nothing comparable in verification and validation even begins to exist*1. The word of God is made for testing (cf. I Thessalonians 5:21, Isaiah 43:8ff.). So is man! (Psalm 11:4-5, II Chronicles 32:31).
In particular, God indicates in Zephaniah 1:12, to a people distinguishable as the nation which had instituted religion concerning the true God, Lord and Creator, that He will search this out, "search Jerusalem with Lamps and punish the men who are settled in complacency." The great day of the Lord awaits, we read.
Thus while judgment will meet many a nation (Zeph. 2:4ff.), there is a distinctive regard to the nominalism and syncretism of many in Israel who are called His own.
THE INITIAL ADVICE
Advice is near and clear. "Gather yourselves together, O undesirable nation, before the decrees is issued, or the day passes like chaff," Zeph. 2:1-2. Thus the people of the Lord here are challenged to ACT in this doleful setting, and to seek a joint expression that is other than what fits only judgment. "Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD'S anger," Zeph. 2:3. A list of what faces judgment among the nations follows. In this figures the ferocious nation of Assyria, laid bare in the condemnation of Nahum, which ends with these words concerning it, "For upon whom, has not your wickedness passed continually ?"
There is judgment just as there is majesty, there are preludes and there is finale; and as the creation began, so judgment is not missing, coming to its completion with drama, just as the creation ended with vast dramas as in Genesis, and as shown in the fact that it is not found in the way and scale and plantings of the past now; but the house built, it functions. As Hebrews 11 points out to man whose spirit and ideas and ideals are invisible, and who thinks with spirit and with liberty to assault his God or his own soul, or the souls of others, with apparent reason or obvious treason, for he is a spiritual being, using matter as he is minded to do: the things which are seen were not produced by what is visible.
Things have a reason, and as with our own use of reason, it takes it to make it. It has to be there, yes from everlasting to everlasting, making matter to come or go, energy to be despatched or dying to access; so that each in its time arises from its source and takes its course, whether as in physical law, to decreasing available energy, more entropy or other signals of the glory of creation being in the past, and the results in the present, along with the mind of man. What is present has been presented, and it is up for assessment.
Nineveh then, that cruel centre of a vast imperial nexus was to have (as lying in ruin, it did have, even lost from sight for long) what was coming to it: namely desolation. "This is the rejoicing city which dwelt securely, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none besides me, " Zeph. 2:15. How has she become a desolation! the prophet foretells in that graphic style which foresees a thing as already done, because it is the word of the Lord who is beyond all time, and made it as all else in the sphere and state of creation.
In Chapter 3 of Zephaniah we come closer to the homeland.
"Woe to her, who is rebellious and polluted,
To the oppressing city!
She has not obeyed His voice.
She has not received correction.
She has not trusted in the LORD,
She has not drawn near to her God."
Now it is clear that we are dealing with the in-body, with those taught, and listless, educated in divine reality, and not faithful with this privilege, to apply it, who do not trust, but nominally parade what is not in the heart. It is Israel, the land of the prophet Zephaniah.
This charge from God is both confirmed and made more monstrous by the fact that He is still available distinctively in her midst (Zeph. 3:5). He is not corruptible, but morning by morning continues His faithful ministrations while Israel strays. He has destroyed other sites, and pondered that Israel should hear and consider; but they did not. On the contrary, they continued their corruption of what was holy.
THE SOLUTION, RESOLUTION AND NEED
God having reviewed the situation abroad and at home in Israel, through His prophet in that land, now makes a revelation of what passes from time to the brink of eternity.
WAIT FOR ME! He declares. He is going to make a gathering of the nations, and will "pour out my indignation" (3:8). There is going to be a vast conflagration as His zeal (that which likewise sent Him to the cross in compassion for those really repentant) moves to its work.
In the midst of this international work of judgment, He will bring back His dispersed ones, and He will take away from them their pride, so that they will not longer "be haughty in My holy mountain," Zeph. 3:11. They will become, instead of a people with their former arrogant treatment of the Lord, those willing to be honest, filled with integrity and truth. Thus we deal with a former land of specific knowledge of the Lord, one sent away and restored, one to be brought to humility after dispersion, who had acted in weird unwisdom against the unspeakable blessings which had been theirs (Deuteronomy 4:7-8), and of which they had made in the case of so many for so long, a travesty. How distinctive they have been:
"For what great nation is there which has God so near to it
as the LORD our God is o us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him.
And what great nation is there which has such statures and righteous judgments as are in all this, law which I set before you this day ?
Only take heed to yourself ..."
When this restoration is fully operational, the "daughter of Jerusalem," stock phrase for a generation of the people (cf. SMR Appendix B) will "be glad and rejoice with all the heart," 3:14. Then this same people will be reassured, rejoice, indeed the Lord Himself "will rejoice over you with singing," Zeph. 3:17.
God will not only gather those who seek Him, but "deal with all who afflict you," 3:19 (as in Isaiah 51:22-23, where the text is moving on to the crucifixion).
Those driven out of the once apostate land, will now be brought in again. Indeed, "at that time, I will bring you back," Zeph. 3:20.
There is very simply no other designable people who had the glory of revelation directly from the Lord, who over time chronically and successively were unfaithful to covenant, were driven out, and then brought back in this highly specialised and specific fashion.
To wander off to make it refer to what has partial resemblance is mere inaccuracy. To call allegory which at the very heart is simply travesty, ignoring major features of the whole texture of the continuous history before us, and which dwells on successive steps in a schematic history is like making World War I and II history into a simply moral fiction to cover the cost of intransigence.
Myths can be made not only of things past, but of those to come, and to bring the callowly incorrect into this field as if to 'interpret' it, is not different from the licence of the Liberal theologians, who in much make up the word of God, from their own hearts, and slipped it in, just as the false prophets of the day of Jeremiah did (Jer. 23). The WORD OF GOD is standard, a stipulated, revealed and a sovereign thing, in this, that HE who alone created man and the earth as in Isaiah 44-45, and who likes to mock those who have their own ideas in the presence of what He has said, makes this HIS word HAPPEN.
Thus has Israel returned, and thus is her day coming amid oppressors and assailants, and thus is the effort to dislodge her to proceed, and thus is the divine "determination to gather the nations" to occur, and so will He keep faith with Abraham, as noted in Micah 7 as the Chapter ends, and with this world, where Jews were in and then out and then return to the Lord, as in Romans 11. Though thus a distinctive body, yet in place in time, they are to come to a distinctive Gospel, through the death of Christ, the same for all peoples (Isaiah 53-60, 59:21, 63:13-15, Psalm 100). As the nations become heady with their wisdom and power, idolaters of force and power, corruptive and increasingly corrosive in the earth, so their time comes, as it did for other peoples earlier. As Israel has suffered much and long for her sins AGAINST an already REVEALED God and His written word, so will the Gentile peoples, unheeding, where they follow suit!
The bipartite process proceeds, each in its place, each to its grace, each with its past, each as appointed. Different are the ways in, and each comes to its own, to dereliction or to return, and for each the matter is as scheduled (cf. Zechariah 12:10-13:1 for Israel).
It is not difficult. The word of God is exceedingly clear.
Not believing it is the problem, was the problem, was the issue from Adam, and will be till judgment sits.
Judgment ... The other way ? It is to receive the Lord, into the midst, to believe the Lord, even to His word, and not to imagine that we are so wise and gifted and knowledgeable that we can mix our spiritual drinks, or drink impure dreams, as if the most important things could be dismissed because of their greatness, or the highly specific because of our cleverness, and the most dismal logic or gross inaccuracy in exposition could be indulged in, because it is so common.
Death is common, and so is judgment. The narrow way may appeal to soldiers and athletes. That is their speciality, to doctors and engineers, and their disciplines may draw; but when it comes to God, to draw apart from the realities of divine life for man is precisely what is here depicted, until the time comes for the gathering of all nations and judgment is summoned to bring to a terminus, the flighty follies of disfaith, that dynamic of unbelief which becomes a virtual religion in itself.
*1 See SMR pp. 50ff., Deity and Design, That Magnificent Rock
RELIGION, RELIGIOSITY AND REALITY IN CHRIST
LIGHT DWELLS WITH THE LORD'S CHRIST