Sunday, December 19, 2010

December 19

OT: Zephaniah 1:1-3:20

And we're done with Zephaniah! Reading these books in one day really gives me a sense of accomplishment. Never mind that they are only about three chapters long:).

Zephaniah was written during the reign of Josiah, and Harris points out that he probably wrote before the book of Law was discovered and Josiah instituted reform. Harris also points out that Zephaniah repeatedly assures the people of the total destruction of the world, and seems unaware of God's assurance in Gen. 8:21 that He would never do that. Here are Zeph's predictions of complete annihilation:

"'I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,' declares the Lord.
I will sweep away both men and animals;
I will sweep away the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea.
The wicked will have only heaps of rubble
when I cut off man from the face of the earth,' declares the Lord" (1:2-3).

"Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord's wrath.
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole world will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live in the earth" (1:18).

"I have decided to assemble the nations,
to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them--
all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger" (8).

Okay, it would seem from these three verses that God is fed up and is just going to destroy everyone. But there are some problems with that conclusion. For one thing, most of the book is consumed with carefully explaining to the wicked that they, personally, will be punished for their wickedness (1:4-17, all of chapter 2 with the exception of verse 3, and 3:1-7). The rest of the book, minus the three verses above, is devoted to providing various degrees of assurance to those who will be saved:

"Seek the Lord all you humble of the land,
you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
perhaps you will be sheltered
on the day of the Lord's anger" (3).

And regarding the Moabites and Ammonites:

"The remnant of my people will plunder them;
the survivors of my nation will inherit the land" (2:9b).


"The Lord will be awesome to them
when he destroys all the gods of the land.
The nations on every shore will worship him,
every one in its own land" (2:11).

And right after the total annihilation of verse 3:8, we have verse 9:

"Then will I purify the lips of the peoples,
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
and serve him shoulder to shoulder."

And of course, 3:10-20 speak of a restored remnant of Jerusalem in typical prophetic terms. Harris says in his intro that 11-20 is probably a later addition, but he also mentions the possibility of 14-20 being added after Josiah's reforms. Regardless, 3:11-20 is not the only passage that makes Zephaniah problematic.

Here's my conclusion: The vast majority of the book (everything but 1:2-3, 1:18, and 3:8 speak in typically prophetic terms: God will punish the wicked, but spare and ultimately restore a righteous remnant). Those three verses definitely should give the reader pause, b/c they seem to clearly state total annihilation. However, in light of the overwhelming message of the book, these verses have to be hyperbole or something. And prophets have been known to employ hyperbole. I seem to remember one prophet talking about how Assyria was going to be covered with the ocean and be turned into a vast desert within just a few verses of each other (can't remember the prophet, but I'm pretty sure it was Isaiah. Second choice: Jeremiah). So my point is, I don't see a big difference between Zephaniah's worldview and the rest of the prophets. In fact, I probably would not have noticed it at all, were it not for Harris.

Hmmm...maybe I'll read Haggai first tomorrow, and then read Harris. That arrangement worked better with Habakkuk.

Lastly, here is my random thought of the day. It came to me while reading Zephaniah. In the OT, people's understanding of God's blessing, His love, and His provision was that they were manifested in physical terms: life, security, wealth, etc. So when those blessings were not present, there were two basic responses. Either, like Job and sometimes the psalmists, one would weep and wail and ask God why He was being unjust to them, or like most of the prophets, he would state that the reason they were suffering was because they had sinned against God and were being punished. In other words, either they were innocent and thus were suffering unfairly, or they were guilty and were getting what they deserved. The common denominator was certainty: Job and David knew that they were innocent, and most of the prophets knew that they were guilty. They knew that God was either being unfair or fair, and they knew why they believed that. It was the rare person in the Bible who said, "You know what? I don't get why this is happening, but I'm just going to trust God that it is the right thing." Oddly, one person who pops to mind is Eli. When Samuel informed him that the guilt of Eli's family would never be atoned for, Eli simply responded, "He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes" (1 Sam. 3:19). Another person is Habakkuk. When confronted with God's solution to Israel's injustice, he essentially said, "Well the Babylonian solution doesn't make sense to me, but I'm going to have faith that God has this under control."

In the NT, however, the concepts of God's love, His provision, and His blessing are separated from the physical. Because of that, physical disaster or suffering does not bring about a crisis of faith. In fact, if the suffering is brought about as a result of one's faith in Christ, then the suffering itself is seen as a good thing, a blessing. That outlook is such a radical shift from the OT. It's not so much as a reversal, though, as an evolution. It seems that throughout the progress of the Bible, the understanding of the people gradually opens up to accept that God can work all things to the good, and to acknowledge that suffering can be more than an injustice or a tool for punishment.

NT: Revelation 10:1-11

A giant, cloud-clad, rainbowed angel puts one foot on land and one foot on the sea and shouts, "There will be no more delay!" (6). Then, the thunder says something that John could not reveal. And then, the angel gives John a scroll to eat. As predicted, it tastes as sweet as honey, but turns his stomach sour.

As always, I have no insight into any of that.

Psalm 138:1-8

A nice, enjoyable praise psalm. Our highlighted verse for the day was verse 6:

"Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly,
but the proud he knows from afar."

Now, that is a theme that stays constant through the Bible. From the provisions for the poor given in the Law to psalms like this one, from the message of the prophets to the words of Jesus, it's clear that God loves the lowly, the poor, the outcast.

Prov. 30:11-14

A description of bad people.

No comments:

Post a Comment