“I will utterly consume everything
From the face of the land,”
Says the LORD;
“I will consume man and beast;
I will consume the birds of the heavens,
The fish of the sea,
And the stumbling blocks along with the wicked.
I will cut off man from the face of the land,”
Says the LORD.
– Zephaniah 1:2-3 (NKJV)
God’s first statement recorded by the prophet is frightening. It is also highly personal. When reading Scripture, take note of the appearance of “LORD” (sometimes “GOD”). The all-caps rendering is a way of distinguishing the Name of God from titles given to Him by others. Throughout the Bible, people described God, and those descriptions are with us today – Master, King, Provider, Savior. YHWH (the Tetragrammaton), is how God describes Himself.
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
– Exodus 3:13-14 (NKJV)
I adore the fact that the Name God uses for Himself flies directly in the face of unbelief. People can deny His existence if they choose, for He gives them that freedom, but He definitively states that He is. No explanations. No equivocations. He is apart from and ruling over all of creation, humanity included. He alone is Lord.
This isn’t just some god or a god that is pronouncing judgment. It is The God, the One with Whom the people of Judah lived in covenant relationship, stretching all the way back to Abraham (see Genesis 12:1-3 and 15:18-21). He had promised Himself to them and they had promised themselves to Him. Except His promise was eternally unchanging (and remains so), while theirs was…not. (The book of Hosea chronicles the nation’s spiritual adultery and God’s fury and agony over it in intimate, grueling detail).
The Day of YHWH
Zephaniah writes of God consuming everything in His path. This refers to what is known as “The Day of the LORD” or “The Great Day of the LORD”:
Often in the context of future events, which refers to the time when God will intervene decisively for judgment and/or salvation. Variously formulated as the “day of the Lord” ( Amos 5:18 ), the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Col 1:8 ; cf. 2 Col 1:14), the “day of God” (2 Peter 3:12 ; Rev 16:14), or “the last day(s), ” the expression highlights the unmistakable appearance of God. God will make visible his rule of righteousness by calling for an accounting by the nations as well as individuals, dispensing punishment for some and ushering in salvation for others. (1)
Our minds immediately jump to Revelation, and this is not an incorrect link. It is, however, an incomplete one. Remember, prophecy has layers.
The “day of the Lord” is not a one-time occurrence. Days of the Lord, while often represented in the Bible as in the future, are not limited to the future. There have been days of the Lord in the past. (2)
Any time God executes judgment on a nation or people group in a flagrantly public fashion is a “day of the Lord.” He essentially says, “Enough.” He topples the entire man-made system, a system that so often excludes Him, in order to make it abundantly clear that He, the I AM, is in charge. He will not be trifled with. He will not share His glory. He will not tolerate idolatry (and everyone who does not worship God is engaged in idolatry).
The day of the Lord means destruction of the godless. (3)
There is no one who has an excuse, no one who gets a free pass. Paul writes in Romans 1 that the testimony of nature makes clear that God is real and should be worshiped. This makes the coming destruction of Jerusalem (outlined in 2 Kings 24, Jeremiah 52 and Lamentations) all the more appalling. These were not ignorant people. They knew exactly what they were doing in turning away from God.
The Hebrew word translated “consume” means to “sweep away completely.” The picture is that of total devastation of all that God created and is probably a reference to Noah’s flood. (4)
Remember that Zephaniah writes in heightened, poetic language, but He also records exactly what God says. While God did not flood Jerusalem with water, He did flood the city with conquering soldiers from Babylon (again see 2 Kings 24, Jeremiah 52 and Lamentations). He swept through the land and blew away those who were not faithful to Him.
God promised to never flood the earth again (Genesis 9:8-16), but He never promised that He would not destroy it. Peter writes,
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
– 2 Peter 3:10 (NKJV)
The point of both Zephaniah’s and Peter’s words are that time will run out. God is patient and desires people to turn to Him in repentance and love, but He will not wait forever. He is completely just and cannot turn a blind eye to sin. He will move to deal with people who do not follow Him in the way they claim to want to be dealt with – on the merit of their works, on the way they live their lives.
The result is utter chaos.
Three verses into the book and we’re confronted with our total lack of righteousness. No matter how good we think we are, we cannot measure up to God’s standard. This is precisely why Jesus came to earth! He did everything we could not do in order that we could be in God’s presence. Isn’t that beautiful?
Still, that pesky freedom to choose remains, though. God is a gentleman. With freedom comes consequences.
God will not only destroy His creation, but He will also destroy the idols that people worship – the “stumbling blocks” that offend the Lord…In turning to idols, the people had turned away from the Lord and were not seeking Him or His blessing. They were guilty of sins of commission (worshiping idols) and omission (ignoring the Lord). (5)
He would decimate the place they lived and annihilate the gods they loved.
- Are you guilty of the sin of commission? What’s at the center of your life?
- Are you guilty of the sin of omission? What’s causing you to ignore God?
- We are uncomfortable with judgment. We think that God is very unfair in punishing people. Read Romans 3:10-20, 23. Are any of us good?
- Read Daniel 7:9-10. What do you think of this description of God has the judge, as the One who knows all? Does it scare you? Comfort you? Why?
- We have to decide if we are going to accept the reality of I AM and all that means, or turn away and suffer the consequences. Where are you at today? Do you love God? Hate Him? Feel indifferent? Why?
Until next time.
(4) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 146-147
(5) Ibid, 147.
For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.