I approach the Scriptures today with a keen awareness of my own sin and failures. If I move even a centimeter off of the path that God has laid before me, immediately I find myself face-down in a deep, muddy ditch. Perhaps others have more latitude in their walk than I do. All I know is that I can’t take my eyes off of Him for one second. It never works.
What does that look like, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ? Zephaniah has a lot to say about that.
Neither their silver nor their gold
Shall be able to deliver them
In the day of the LORD’s wrath;
But the whole land shall be devoured
By the fire of His jealousy,
For He will make speedy riddance
Of all those who dwell in the land.
– Zephaniah 1:14-18 (NKJV)
The prophet has spent 18 rich, detailed verses laying bare the sins of his people. Now he brings his message home with words of chaos, destruction, calamity. In his description, we are reminded of layered nature of prophecy.
In biblical thought the character or quality of a day (time period) was of greater importance than its date (the numerical quantity in a sequence). From the first mention of the expression by Amos (although some date Obadiah 15 and Joel earlier), the notion of divine intervention, of a “God who comes” is evident. Israel anticipated that for them God’s coming would hold favorable prospects, that it would be a day of light. Amos announces that, given Israel’s great evil, God’s coming will signal for them disappointment and calamity, a day of darkness. Predominant in the divine intervention is the awesome presence of the Almighty. It is as though God not only comes on the scene, but fills the screen of all that is. His presence totally dominates. Human existence pales before this giant reality. On that day, “all hands will go limp, every man’s heart will melt” ( Isa 13:7 ). At a later time the descriptions move beyond human experience. The cosmos will go into convulsions. In stereotyped language it is said that the sun will refuse to give its light, the moon and the stars will cease to shine ( Isa 13:10 ). Joel, preoccupied with the subject, cites wonders in heaven and on earth, including the moon turning to blood ( Joel 2:30-31 ).
In the New Testament the appearance of God is more distinctly the coming of Christ, specifically the return of Christ, his second coming. Paul’s mention of the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” ( 1 Cor 1:8 ) is likely the day of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” ( 2 Thess 2:1 ). Whether the day is the parousia, or the climax of history and all things as in the “day of God” when the dissolution of the heavens occurs ( 2 Peter 3:12 ), the “day” will be characterized by the unquestioned and unmistakable presence of Almighty God. (1)
The “God who comes.” My mind is drawn back to the image we studied last week, of the Lord holding a lamp and searching through our homes. Even as a Christ follower, there is something fierce in that. An aggressiveness. God is the mover, the shaker. God stands outside of time and space but can choose to intervene when He wishes. It is comforting to know that He will come and makes things right, but at the same time the notion makes me want to bury my face in my hands as I lay prostrate, weeping.
Second Kings 25 describes the expression of this Day in the context of ancient Jerusalem:
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and encamped against it; and they built a siege wall against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine had become so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.
Then the city wall was broken through, and all the men of war fled at night by way of the gate between two walls, which was by the king’s garden, even though the Chaldeans were still encamped all around against the city. And the king went by way of the plain. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his army was scattered from him. So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they pronounced judgment on him. Then they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon.
And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month (which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all the houses of Jerusalem, that is, all the houses of the great, he burned with fire. And all the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls of Jerusalem all around.
Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive the rest of the people who remained in the city and the defectors who had deserted to the king of Babylon, with the rest of the multitude.
– 1b-11 (NKJV)
A two-year siege. Famine. Walls broken through and broken down. The king watches as his sons are murdered and then has his eyes poked out. The Temple, Solomon’s great Temple, the place where the presence and glory of God rested, burns. Huge groups of people taken captive, carted off to a land they don’t know and a people they don’t understand.
Revelation 19 gives us a glimpse of this future Day:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:
KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people,free and slave, both small and great.”
And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.
– 11-21 (NKJV)
Again I shudder. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I wonder, if I, someone who knows Him and loves Him and longs to embrace Him, trembles with holy fear at the mere thought of the full and awesome presence of God, how will those who don’t know Him and love Him react when the sky splits and the earth shakes and all is silenced with a single word from His mouth? Surely they will hit the ground as if dead.
Any time one of the biblical writers mentions blindness, I sit up and take notice. I live with a “left eye view” of the world. No vision, peripheral or otherwise, on the right. I have no depth perception, so I’m always smacking into walls, bouncing off of door frames, hitting my elbows, knees, shins and toes on every corner. Honestly, I’m surprised the powers that be let me have a driver’s licence. I’m a klutz. I can’t help it. I want to be graceful and elegant but that’s just not happening any time soon.
Zephaniah doesn’t say that the whole population of Jerusalem will be blinded, as Zedekiah was. He writes that they will “walk like blind men,” pointing to poor spiritual eyesight. This kind of blindness is willful. It occurs when people choose darkness instead of light. Jesus touched on this in His healing of the man born blind in John 9 (one of my favorite passages). The IVP New Testament Commentary explains:
We need to realize our own utter poverty, blindness and need apart from Christ. We need to see with his eyes the desperate condition of all who have not been illumined by him, the light of the world. We need to consider before God whether there are ways we reject the evidence of our own experience because we have a faulty understanding of him and his ways. We need to consider before God whether we have God too figured out—or, in this day, whether we have the opposite tendency to think that everything is up for grabs and there is no objective truth or that the Scriptures are not clear and coherent when interpreted in the light of the guidance the Spirit has given to the church. Finally, among many other connections that might be made, we need Jesus to be our center of reference, like this blind man did, so that we are stable, secure and bold no matter what hassles come to us due to our relationship with Jesus, for we have experienced the goodness and mercy of God in Jesus. (2)
A Jealous God
The jealousy of God is misunderstood by many. God isn’t jealous of us. He’s jealous for us. He wants us to be in relationship with Him. He wants us to recognize Him for who He is and orient our entire lives around Him. He knows that the idols that look so wonderful will only lead us to poverty and pain. He knows that we are lost and helpless without Him, no matter how strong and together we think we are. He will not share His glory with anyone or anything else. He allows us the freedom of choice, but He is sovereign. He will work and move to show us how disgusting our false gods are, how they can’t save us or fulfill us.
And so He devoured the land. He stepped into history and mobilized an army to wreak havoc on His beloved people in their beloved city. He didn’t do this because He hated them. He didn’t do this because He’s nasty and mean. He did this because He knows when we need words of gentle kindness and when we need to feel the earth quake beneath our feet. He knows what will get our attention and bring us to repentance. As we close out this first chapter of Zephaniah, we must remember that. God doesn’t reject His people. He doesn’t cast them out. As Jerusalem rocked with the footsteps of soldiers and the air filled with smoke, He surely and swiftly responded to any sincere cry for forgiveness. I don’t doubt that there are people in Paradise today who saw those things and knew that they had to cast themselves in faith on the mercy of the Lord.
Putting on Christ
The inescapably sad part is that this had to happen in the first place. It’s a warning that we must heed. Again, I don’t believe that God throws away anyone. I don’t believe in universal salvation but I also don’t believe that He chooses some for Heaven and some for Hell. He gives everyone chance after chance. He lets us decide what our final destination will be. And so the time will come when the most loving thing that He can do is strike the earth with plagues and torment. Judgment, yes, but also a final cry of “come to Me!”
We who are called by His Name must remember this. I am not smart enough to be able to tell you where the line is. In many ways it’s different for each of us. We know what God convicts us on. We know when we’re acting like the foolish world and when we’re living as the holy children of God we are. Brothers and sisters, dear ones, let’s not get to the point that God has to shake us. Because He will.
- Read Zephaniah 1. What stands out to you now, after several weeks of study?
- What are your weak spots? Where do you get off track easily? If you’re like me, you’ll start condemning yourself as you think on this. Read Romans 8:1. The point isn’t self-flagellation, but just a simple recognition of the kind of sin that you love, the kind of sin that gets you into a trouble quickly. Every one of us deals with this.
- How are you making provision for your flesh? In other words, are you guarding yourself against the temptations that tend to snag you, or are you letting them in? What needs to change? What do you need to do differently? Again, don’t condemn yourself. Work this out with God. He will make it clear to you.
- There is power in surrounding yourself with people who are on the same journey. Read James 5:16. Is there someone in your life that you can talk to about your struggles? Someone you trust to give you wise counsel and pray hard for you? You don’t need to share every detail with every person and some things need to stay between you and God, but we’re not meant to do this thing alone.
- Read Revelation 21-22. This is how the story ends for those who are in Christ. Spend some time worshiping God.
If You Don’t Know What I’m Talking About
If you’ve read this and you don’t know God, welcome. I’m so glad you’re here. Seriously. What you need to know is simple:
- There is a God and He has spoken to us through creation and through the Bible. You can see Him in every sunset and you can hear Him in every word.
- Sin is real. Nobody is a “good person.” Yes, we can do good things, but the overall bent of our lives is toward selfishness. We want to be in charge.
- Because there is a God, we aren’t in charge. He makes the rules.
- Sin keeps us from God. And we all sin. Even a “white lie” is sin.
- We can’t make it right with God. He’s perfect and holy. We aren’t.
- God loves us. He could leave us all alone and nobody could shake a finger at Him for it. But He didn’t do that. He came to earth and lived the perfect life that you and I could never live. Then He died a death that He didn’t deserve. He died in our place. The good news is that He didn’t stay dead! Three days later He walked right on out of His grave.
- If you see that you’re a sinner and you want to be right with God, all you need to do is believe sincerely, with your whole heart. Tell God that you’re sorry and that you want to be in His family. Tell Him that you recognize that He is in charge and that you aren’t and that you’ve really screwed up bad. Ask Him to forgive you. Tell Him that you want Him to be the King of your life now. Your words don’t have to be fancy or eloquent. It will probably seem really weird to talk to Someone you can’t see. It’s okay to feel awkward. God doesn’t mind. In fact, He’s throwing a huge party and telling everyone that this kid who He loves SO MUCH has finally come home.
That’s all you have to do to become a Christian. You don’t have to have the answers about how the earth was made. You don’t have to memorize the whole Bible. You don’t have to dress a certain way or eat certain foods. You don’t have to conquer your addictions or get your life in order or have perfect relationships. You can start right now, today, where you are, even if where you are involves a needle in your arm or a bottle in your hand or a stranger in your bed or a broken family or bingeing and purging or illness or questions or whatever. It doesn’t matter. God will come in and make things right. You don’t have to do that. What you do need to do is go out and find yourself a church, a place where messy people just like you are trying to follow God as best they can. Some churches are better than others. Don’t give up until you find one that does these two things: tells you God’s truth from the Bible and accepts you as you are. And please, start reading the Bible. Get a New International Version or The Message. You can even go online to places like BibleGateway and read for free. Start reading the Gospel of John. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense at first. When you told God that He’s the King of your life now, He came to live inside you and He’ll help you understand.
If you made a decision to give yourself to God, please go to my “about” page and let me know. I want to celebrate with you! Because guess what? You’re my brother now. You’re my sister now. We have the same Dad, and He’s a good Father, with no darkness or brokenness in Him at all.
If you’re still super-skeptical, go and read my story. You may not walk away convinced, but at least you’ll know what God has done for me.
(1) The Day of the Lord
(2) Jesus Comments on the Healing and Its Aftermath
For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.