“I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord . “I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea— and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord , “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests— those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the Lord and who also swear by Molek, those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.” 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. – Zephaniah 1:2-7
Welcome to the book of Zephaniah, another book for which I must plead woeful ignorance soon to be rectified. Apparently Zephaniah was the great- great- grandson of King Hezekiah so he has that going for him. He was also a contemporary of Jeremiah and lived in or near Jerusalem around 641-610 B.C. The book of Jeremiah was a wealth of water imagery and wisdom so I am looking forward to this stretch of water and the insights it may hold. I wanted to title this post “swept away” but I discovered that I had already used that title back in Hosea (Hosea 4: 1-3).
Clearly the passage today is about judgment for people who have gone astray and are not following God. God will sweep away all the “fish in the sea”. This is an interesting way to put it in that the previous book of Habakkuk people were being compared to fish and being caught in a dragnet or on with hooks. It seems to the “net” and “hooks” are actually idols, “the idols that cause the wicked to stumble”. This showed up back in Jeremiah when the people asked the rhetorical question “Do idols bring rain?” (Jeremiah 14:19-22). The answer provided here is no God is the Father of the Rain.
One of the specific issues being addressed here is Baal worship, essentially placing trust in someone or something other than God. The people were also looking to the stars for wisdom as they “bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host”. I can appreciate the stars on a clear night, but that is something different than looking to them for wisdom or insights about how to live or who to love. It sounds like the people were involved in astrology of some sort trying to divine the future or make decisions based on the positions of the planets and stars. There are many people that still do this today.
In addition to Baal and star worship the people “turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.” So the people are not faithfully following God. They are “turning back” from their “turning back” which results in heading the direction you were heading in the first place. They are living as if they do not need or want God. What God really wants is for us to “seek the Lord” and “Inquire of Him”. This should not be so hard.
God is not asking for perfection here, in fact it sounds like he is asking for the people to acknowledge they are flawed followers and go looking for Him. He wants us to ask questions and be curious about Him rather than the motion of the stars or some idol on a shelf. He wants to engage in this somewhat confusing celestial game of hide and seek with us. I get the sense that it is in the seeking and inquiry that we find Him. He is not found in the idols, altars, or even the priests that He sometimes uses to get, and keep, our attention.
The passage ends with some powerful words “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 “sacrifice” sounds like an allusion to Jesus. Those who follow Him are “the invited”. It is interesting that God instructs the people to “be silent” before the Lord. It seems the way to God is not through many words or even many actions, it is through seeking, asking, and listening (being silent). God is the Living Water and He wants us to be thirsty. If this passage is representative I think I am going to like the book of Zephaniah.
Prayer: God help us to seek, ask, and listen so that we can live and love the way you intended.