Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Second reading leading up to Sunday, November 19

Zephaniah 1:7-18

The Day of the Lord: judgment and anguish for the complacent

7 Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated those He has invited.

  • The prophets (e.g. Amos 6:10; 8:3; Hab. 2:20; Zech. 2:13) would at times call people to silence: this is the mark of a particularly solemn announcement on behalf of the Lord.
  • The irony of the sacrifice the Lord has prepared is that He is ‘setting apart’ and ‘inviting’ those who will be the sacrifice.

(Lectionary omits vv. 8-11)
8 “On the day of the Lord’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s son and all those clad in foreign clothes.

  • The princes and senior leaders at court should have been the ones to lead the people in righteousness, not the unrighteousness of mixed allegiance (syncretism). A contemporary example of syncretism would be Christian church attendance combined with Freemasonry, whose rituals and declarations make it a different religion.
  • “Foreign clothes” would be Babylonian or Egyptian dress influences which pointed towards those spiritual influences.

9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.

  • “All who avoid stepping on the threshold…” refers to a practice by pagan priests 1 Samuel 5:4-5. Like the “foreign clothes” it is the incorporation of pagan practices that are in view here.

10 “On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
11 “Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be destroyed.

  • Not ‘business as usual’

12 “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’

  • The key verse. In a grim forecast of wrath and economic collapse, with particular judgment on those in positions of responsibility, it is the complacent who the Lord seeks out for punishment. To turn from complacency, or remain in complacency, is a choice.

13 “Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”
14 The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
15 That day will be a day of wrath…

  • The wrath of God is frequently and widely mentioned throughout Scripture, and is clearly not confined to the final judgment. God’s wrath is also mentioned in the New Testament, but the emphasis is on the choice we have in Jesus to escape that wrath e.g.
    I Thessalonians 9-10  “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
    God is holy, and cannot countenance sin and rebellion and selfishness, hence the strong word wrath which is applied to those attitudes. For further study read around John 3:36, Colossians 3:5-6 and 1 Thess. 5:9.

…a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness –
16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath…

  • Material riches provide a sense of security, here shown to be a false security and part of the complacency which deceives us into refusing to take seriously the holiness of God (v.12 above).

In the fire of His jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.”


Choose to heed the voice of the Lord – or remain complacent and face judgment

The challenge moves from “choose life” through pledging obedience to God, to choosing salvation through a change of heart.

In the time of the law and the prophets, this was a change of heart from complacency to response. Whether listening to God speak through Moses setting out the law, or God speaking through prophetic voices at different points in history, who repeatedly recalled people to the law, there was always a tension between those who heard and listened and responded, and those who heard but remained complacent.

The phrase we pray frequently “Your kingdom come” Luke 11:2 is our way of calling down God’s order into our lives and world, with the realisation that we are responsible for our hearts and attitudes. We are greatly helped in this by being able to choose new life in Jesus, and to receive the revelation of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world “of sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:8. In other words, He sensitises us to what inevitably leads to God’s wrath, and reveals to us what by contrast is the path of righteousness and ongoing salvation through submitting to the lordship of Jesus.

God in His mercy always provides a way out from His judgment. What keeps us from receiving God’s grace and peace, in a world which apart from two billion Christians, seems to be inviting His wrath? It is usually our pride and self-sufficiency – and complacency, the point of the passage.

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