Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Wasteland World

Total Wipeout. Zephaniah is continuing to declare the word of the LORD, and his sights are now turned on the surrounding nations. So far, judgement is promised on Jerusalem, but with hints of world devastation. In the rest of chapter 2, Zephaniah declares God's judgement on Judah's enemies.

The Philistines (Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron), the Cherethites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Cushites, and Assyria - south to north, west to east, God's judgement is coming, and the peoples will be wiped out and the land laid waste.

Again, it's a scene of apocalyptic proportions, with the lands becoming deserted, desolate, and destroyed. Moab and Ammon will even end up like Sodom and Gomorrah, nettles and salt pits. Why will all this happen?

Zephaniah gives three reasons. First of all, there's the sin of idolatry - the nations have been worshipping false idols, bowing down to their own gods. Gods who, elsewhere are described as blocks of wood, deaf, dumb, mute, powerless and useless.

'The LORD will be awesome against them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations.' (11)

All the praise given to those idol gods will be removed from them - they will be famished, starved of attention and praise - and every knee will bow and praise the LORD, the one, true and living God. It reminds us of Philippians 2 - how one day every knee will bow - that of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and of everyone else - and all tongues will praise King Jesus.

Secondly, the nations have indulged in pride. This was particularly the case with Nineveh, that great city of the Assyrians (who had conquered the kingdom of Israel). Having conquered, Nineveh said to herself that "I am, and there is no one else." Nineveh prided itself in its security and prosperity, but that security will come to an end when the LORD acts against the city.

Thirdly, the nations were taunting and reviling God's people. This was particularly the case with Moab and the Ammonites. They eyed up the promised land, and boasted that they would take it. They harrassed and hassled the people of God. They made life difficult for the people of the covenant.

God's response is to make their lands desolate, like Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed, more than that - while judgement falls on the nations, God promises that there will be a 'remnant of my people'. That the LORD has not broken his covenant love with his people, even though they will be punished for their own rebellion. The remnant of the people will possess the seacoast, will inhabit the houses of Ashkelon.

Indeed, even while the LORD is disciplining us, even while the rod is being wielded, there is the promise of restoration:

For the LORD their God will be mindful of them and restore their fortunes. (7)

God will not forget his promises, and will therefore restore the fortunes of his people. In the aftermath of Zephaniah's time, it was primarily seen in the return of the exiles to Jerusalem and Judah. God had not abandoned his people or forgotten his promise. With us, we have seen the raising of Jesus, the fortunes restored, and the great hope that is now certain and ours through the resurrection.

God will discipline us, chastening us - but it is for our good and our growth, making us more like Jesus. (Hebrews 12:3-13). Ultimately, Zephaniah 2 points us to the ultimate day of the Lord, when sin will be dealt with, and the rebels will be consigned to hell, and the people of God, that full remnant, will inherit and inhabit the new heavens and the new earth. No longer will God's people face opposition and persecution, because sin and sorrow will be no more. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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