In the writing of Zephaniah, there is a recurring theme of the “Day of the Lord.” Two points to be made about this “Day of the Lord” is, first, the prophets use it to point us to a particular moment in which the Lord’s intended order of things will replace the brokenness and corruption we know and live currently. Second, there may be several “Days of the Lord” before the grand and never changing “Day of the Lord” in which God’s justice and will correct a piece of the whole, but not the entirety of the world.
Zephaniah displays this in his oracles against nations and cities, using flood and fire language to talk about wiping them out and leaving them desolate for their arrogance and complacency. In fact, one line that stood out to me was from 1:12 which reads:
“I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners
to punish those who sit complacent in their sins.
They think the Lord will do nothing to them,
either good or bad."
In the midst of this alarming and terrible imagery, there seems to always be a way out of the judgment that is eminent. For example, Zephaniah, shares this with the people at the beginning of chapter 2:1-3
Gather together—yes, gather together,
you shameless nation.
Gather before judgment begins,
before your time to repent is blown away like chaff.
Act now, before the fierce fury of the Lord falls
and the terrible day of the Lord’s anger begins.
Seek the Lord, all who are humble,
and follow his commands.
Seek to do what is right
and to live humbly.
Perhaps even yet the Lord will protect you--
protect you from his anger on that day of destruction.
One of the aspects that we must face in thinking about the “Day of the Lord” is the fact that God has feelings and the “Day of the Lord” is prompted by God’s pain and anger that peoples have not responded to God’s actions in their lives…God’s care and protection and victories have gone unappreciated. God speaks in Zephaniah 3:7 and listen to his words, you may even begin to sense the pain that God is feeling here:
I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for me now!
Surely they will listen to my warnings.
Then I won’t need to strike again,
destroying their homes.’
But no, they get up early
to continue their evil deeds.
I like the ESV that ends this verse by asserting: “But all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt.” So God has poured out his love, protection, and in the law a guide to help humans live a righteous life, and in return their actions have prompted this “Day of the Lord”
Yet, in the end we cannot simply see the “Day of the Lord” as purely negative, and we must flip the metaphorical coin over on the other side and see this event as a stoppage to the broken world and as a world that truly is full of God’s order. Some the verses in Zephaniah 3 speak to this order:
9 “Then I will purify the speech of all people,
so that everyone can worship the Lord together.
11 On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed,
for you will no longer be rebels against me.
I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you.
There will be no more haughtiness on my holy mountain.
12 Those who are left will be the lowly and humble,
for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord.
17 For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
20 On that day I will gather you together
and bring you home again.
I will give you a good name, a name of distinction,
among all the nations of the earth,
as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”
Yes, the “Day of the Lord” has a positive side, it is the world we long for and one that can only happen through the purifying work of the Lord. Which brings us to the notion that there are several “Days of the Lord” before we get to the ultimate and full “Day of the Lord” Every time we are called to deeper faith, greater service, purer hearts, and truthful speech, we are experiencing a “Day of the Lord” that is preparing us for the “Day of the Lord.” If we choose to obey and not rebel, then the “Day of the Lord” is not something to be feared and dreaded, but something to be celebrated and enjoyed. Lord, help us to hear your word, obey your will, and wait for your Day to come!
I’m not sure if you believe in omens or signs, but you will at least get a laugh out of this one. Yesterday morning I woke up and I have been having some stiffness in my right ankle. As a result, I tend to grab both handrails and gently lower myself down the stairs each morning to make coffee and try to wake up. I managed about five steps before my left foot slipped off and I found myself laying at the bottom of our staircase with a sore little toe on my left foot.
There I was, on the floor, and all I could do is laugh at myself, get up, and wonder what in the world would happen during this week…because when you fall down the stairs on Monday morning, it can’t be a good sign! (about a half hour later I hear the thud, thud, thud, sound again and my daughter yells, “I’m OK.” on Monday, my family had a 50% chance of falling down the steps…we were 2 for 4 that morning—Not Good!
Now, that was a funny story, but the Advent reading from Isaiah 7:10-16 is in the middle of a very serious political landscape. I will not take the time to go into detail here, because if you can navigate to this page on a computer then I am sure you can look up the background of this text explained by far smarter persons than yours truly. However, one point is necessary here. Ahaz, the King of Judah (the southern portion of a divided Kingdom), has trusted other kings and given his allegiance to the Assyrian king meaning that Ahaz has not trusted God or sought God’s guidance as Judah was being threatened by Israel (the northern portion of a divided Kingdom) and Aram. Yet, God offers Ahaz a sign to help him in his distress, and well…here’s the way Isaiah tells the story…
10 Later, the LORD sent this message to King Ahaz: 11 “Ask the LORD your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.” 12 But the king refused. “No,” he said, “I will not test the LORD like that.”
13 Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? 14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). 15 By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt (more like curds or butter) and honey. 16 For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted.
For Ahaz, this is a bittersweet sign from God. We connect to the first part in that the birth of Immanuel means that God will continue to be with the people and God has not forsaken them even in the midst of Ahaz poor decisions. This child is the hope of the future of the Kingdom (Judah) for sure. However, Isaiah also indicates here and later in chapter 8:1-4 that Assyria will be violent with Ahaz and Judah, and this happening is God’s judgment against them.
Immanuel, God with us, such a reassuring image in that the virgin will conceive and bear a son who bears that name. This passage is a Messianic prophecy, that is it points us toward Jesus and is picked up in Mathew 1:22-23 because there is a connection between this image and the image of Mary as virgin conceiving and bearing Immanuel. It is a beautiful image, but we must not forget the continuing image of Messiah through the book of Revelation in which Jesus is portrayed as the king whose return we long for, coming in full apocalyptic glory, as both judge and savior. At this time, we are invited to hope, pray, and long for this revelation—but also to evaluate our faithfulness and allegiances and make sure that we are ready for such an event.
Reading and studying Revelation, especially during a heated presidential election and in the middle of an election year across our nation, has really been challenging to me. From a historical perspective, there is a clear movement away from the influences of culture as perpetuated by the governing authorities. Through the imagery of the “beast” who are empowered by the “Great Red Dragon” we should read and see an attitude toward all things Roman and thus be cognizant of the dangers that threaten the church through all oppressive ideas, structures, and actions.
Of course, the book of Revelation is also clear that churches should not at all participate in the oppression that Rome represents. In the opening chapters, Jesus is seen speaking to churches who have given into the pressures and have begun to put hope into economic securities, easily acceptable teachings regarding sexual practices, and syncretism of the Roman way of life and the Christian way of life. Revelation uses strong imagery of churches that are acting in such unfaithful ways when it calls them “lukewarm” and Jesus is seen as one standing outside and knocking at the door of the church. So, why such a strong contrast between the empire and the church?
Because people have died. One of the most blaring differences between the original recipients of Revelation and those I am teaching on Sunday mornings (including me) is the situation in which we read and study this communication from God. It is a difference of comfort; for the first recipients of the book there was very little acceptance and some marginalizing consequences for those who would choose to live for God because it was regarded as an assault against the throne and the government of Rome. This played out in the social, religious, and economic aspects of Roman culture. From a social perspective, Christians were at best seen as a threat to the peace and stability of Rome and thus shunned and marginalized. From a religious perspective, Christians did not worship the gods of Rome nor the emperor; and thus, were seen as the mysterious other group that are weird and propose a threat. From an economic perspective, this mistrust lead to many Christians not finding employment and losing business opportunities. In the end…this marginalization and oppression led to an attitude in which killing Christians could be seen as a noble act and a protective service for Rome.
Therefore, we have the pictures of God’s judgment like we have in Revelation 14. It is gruesome, but I understand that if God is going to save a people who is dying, suffering, hurting, losing, and crying to God for help; then part of that salvation is throwing down the oppressor and proving that this people, God’s people, have done nothing wrong in their allegiance to God.
I am afraid, however, that as we sit together in peace and prosperity, in our buildings designated for the worship of God through Jesus christ, in our pews or pillowed attachable seats, and read from our gold-tipped pages the word of God…that the action of God in coming to the aid of these Christians might be somewhat offensive to us. We have been persuaded to get along with everyone, to be quiet about our faith, and to figure out a way to blend culture and religion together in a peaceful compromise.
After all, we have heard it taught and preached and repeated and used by everyone and put on signs that God is LOVE. I agree that God is a loving and merciful God…but some situations call for a “consuming fire” type of God, a wrathful and angry God, a God that declares, “vengeance is mine, I will repay…” type of God. God loves the world..yes! And God loves his people, those who serve and worship Jesus Christ as Lord and King…yes! Now, I love my wife and I happen to love other women as well, like my good friends and family. What happens if someone I love started oppressing my wife whom I also love? What should my response be? Umm…I choose my wife! God chooses his church!
God has poured out his love into this world by providing his Son Jesus and by giving it the church, God’s people. That church is called the bride of Christ in the book of Revelation. It is the bride that the world has abused and hurt and disregarded…and God (along with Jesus) comes to the aid of the church. While I do believe God calls us to be peacemakers, to love our neighbors, and to live a quiet life from which others can learn…Let us also make no mistake that God’s judgment is real and it is awful. Those who want to hurt the church and lead people astray will be thrown down, and I just really hope that if you are a Christian that doesn’t offend you. If so, maybe, just maybe, we should think about just how comfortable our life is and if that comfort is an obstacle to being a faithful witness for God.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.