Sunday, July 27, 2008 – Zephaniah – God’s Balance – Judgment and Restoration
The Book of Zephaniah is a brief prophecy addressing the people of Judah, urging them to repent of their straying to idols and false gods and ways. Israel has been in exile for nearly a hundred years yet the people of the southern kingdom of Judah still do not take heed of the warnings. We do not know much about this prophet but we can infer that “he was evidently at home in the political arena and in distinguished court circles”. (Zondervan 1512.)
THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE tells us (1153), “The age of Zephaniah was a time of religious degradation, when old idolatries reappeared and men worshiped sun, moon and stars. . . The protest against the worship of false gods, and the condemnation of the pro-Assyrian court ministers who served as regents during [King] Josiah’s minority, allow us to place the work in the first decade of the reign”.
These sources also tell us that Zephaniah is influenced by the prophecy of Nahum and in turn influences Jeremiah. They tell us that although there was hope that the young King Josiah might restore Yahweh’s importance, the pagan influence was still heavy. There was a delicate balance in place between monotheism and syncretism, between Yahweh and Baal, between power and enslavement. The people of Judah were trying to straddle two sides of political and spiritual spectra. Their situation is not unlike ours today.
Jeremiah writes about Josiah (Jeremiah 22:15) and he appears to have been loyal to both Yahweh and Yahweh’s people while fighting off the Babylonians and Egyptians and at the same time moving away from the Assyrians in their decline. King Josiah became a child-king at age eight after the assassination of his father (Amon) in 639 B.C.E. and ruled the Judean kingdom during the final years of the Assyrian decline. He eventually effected many reforms and his “religious actions included the removal of all traces of foreign worship and the elimination of all outlying places of worship [including Samaria (2 Kings 23:19) and Galilee (2 Chronicles 34:6)] . . . Josiah entered into a covenant with God and observed a unique Passover in Jerusalem”. When the Book of Deuteronomy, which was thought to have been lost, was discovered, Josiah had this “book of the law” read out to the people (2 Kings 23). He was killed in 609 B.C.E. at the battle of Megiddo against an invasion of Pharaoh Neco II who was helping the Babylonians in their rise against Assyria. (Meeks 547-548.)
What does all of this tell us? We can see that even the most gifted and determined leaders sometimes fight against overpowering odds. We can see that sometimes despite doing everything “right” and maintaining impossible stamina we still find ourselves in deep trouble and we cannot save ourselves. Ultimately, it is God who saves. We can be the instruments, yet it is God who redeems. In the deepest darkness it is God who brings and is the Light. The balance of judgment and restoration is held in his hands.
From the morning MAGNIFICAT intercessions: In trust we pray: You are our light and salvation.
For the gift of discernment: that we may recognize what is truly of value. You are our light and salvation.
For the gift of wisdom: that we may make our decisions according to God’s will. You are our light and salvation.
For a spirit of detachment: that we may be free to abandon what does not serve God’s kingdom. You are our light and salvation.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1512. Print.
Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 7.27 (2008): 129-130. Print.
Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.1153. Print.
Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print. (Meeks)