Postmodernism is like a swamp in which all sorts of toxic algae can flourish. Christians who swim in those waters will invariably come down with the side-effects of those poisoned waters. One of the primary consequences of imbibing postmodern thought is that of thinking of the God revealed in the Bible as an isolated deity. But God is the God of the whole world, and every turn in earth’s history proves this to be true.
When God shakes the world––like He has this year––people turn to their gods for salvation. But they find that God has undone their gods. You trust in finance? Ok, here’s an economic crash. You believe in health food? Ok, here’s a global pandemic. You live in awe of Hollywood or sports stars? Ok, they’re all stuck in their basements trying to entertain us on Zoom. You rely on political activism? Ok, none of the activism will make sense (i.e. #BlackLivesMatter or #MeToo). Conservatives cheered when Trump proposed to send out another round of stimulus checks via executive order, while liberals cheered when Biden solemnly claimed to be an originalist when it comes to the constitution.
Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before the decree bring forth, [before] the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD’S anger come upon you. Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger [ . . .]
Summary of the Text
After a scathing opening salvo, the prophet gives the first hint of hope. Judah is implored to gather together before the day of the Lord comes upon them (vv1-2). These gathered are told to seek the Lord in humility, and perhaps they shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s wrath (v3).
The Lord’s wrath is centered on Jerusalem, but the ripple effects will impact all the nations. The Philistines (Israel’s ancient enemy) are told of their doom: they’ll be left desolate, driven out, and uprooted. All their towns and ports will be destroyed and uninhabited, fit only for the use of wandering shepherds (vv4-6). This is done so that the remnant of God’s people will dwell and feed in peace along the coastland.
Then Moab and Ammon (Israel’s distant relatives and frequent rivals) will have their proud boasts silenced (v8). They’ll be left like Sodom and Gomorrah (Cf. Gen. 19); and once again, God’s remnant shall spoil their enemies’ land, possessing it for their own (v9). All this will come upon these ancient nations because of their boasting against the Lord’s people (v10), and God is coming unto them in holy terror (v11a).
These denouncements form a compass. Philistia to the west, Moab and Ammon to the east. But before moving to the south, Zephaniah declares that God is coming to vanquish all the gods of the earth, and that men from from every place and distant isles shall worship Him (v11b). Then we proceed on our tour by heading to the Ethiopian lands, the most southerly kingdom of the known world; distant though the land of Cush may be, it, too, cannot escape the sword of the Lord’s judgement (v12).
Zephaniah takes us north, to the fierce land of Assyria (which took Israel into captivity). The Lord’s hand is stretched out against its capital city, Nineveh, and He’ll make it as dry as the Mohave desert. That once bustling metropolis will become the haunt of roaming herds; the din of the city will be replaced by the sound of birds and wild beasts; all the beauty of their artisans will be left bare for the dust of the desert to erase from memory (vv13-14). This city––once full of pompous boasts of its glory, at ease in its position as the world’s superpower, which thought “I am, and there is none beside me,”––will soon be a ghost town inhabited only by beasts, and when passersby see it, they’ll wag their heads in dismayed wonder (v15).
God’ll Cut You Down
As that great theologian, Johnny Cash, once sang, “Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.” In this chapter we have God’s sure promise that Israel’s ancient enemies––Philistia, Moab and Ammon, Cush, and Assyria––will soon be cut down. So, although judgement begins with the house of God, it won’t be confined there.
Israel’s history is marked be repeated episodes of these enemies ensnaring them, enticing them, or infringing on their borders. The Lord is preparing to do what Judah’s kings were unable to do: reform the people and avenge them of their enemies. Zephaniah is building up to a reveal of God being the true King of His people. The apathetic amidst God’s people, and the scoffers amidst the nations will all soon be cut down, regardless of their personal religious views.
Postmodernism wants to think that we can each have a little closet in our life that is full of jars that contain our private “truths.” The Gospel comes along and asks, “Why is your closet full of rotten ideas, selfish mush, moldy jealousies?” The postmodern mind insists that you keep your truth in your closet, and leave their closet alone. Postmodernism has brought people to think that every person has a private closet of views, and we should appreciate and tolerate the contents of each person and culture’s private closet. Really? Should we really appreciate the Hindu practice of sati? Should we really appreciate Muslim dogma which teaches that war against infidels is required for entrance into Paradise?
But the truth of God’s word is universal. God’s reign over the world is complete. God’s claim on the nations is total. While Judah is rebuked first, and rightly so, God will not just politely stay on His carpet square, as if He were a tame god. Zephaniah declares to these enemy nations––near and far, east and west––that God is coming, like a vengeful King, to do battle with their gods. And God will devastate their puny gods. God will break their sacred jars full of postmodern goo.
The Conquest of the Gathered Meek
In the midst of the pronouncements of judgement is the promise that the remnant shall possess the lands of their enemies. God’s promise to this gathered remnant is that He will surely cut down their enemies, that they may then enjoy the spoils of His conquest.
Current events make it seem like the church is cowering in the corner like a kicked puppy. When it looks like the whole world is falling apart, God assures us that He is in the business of conquering His and our enemies. God calls to those who hope for mercy to gather themselves together (Heb. 10:25); not to scurry like cockroaches into the caves.
In Hebrew when you want to really emphasize something, you generally will find a sort of doubling of the same word. In this invitation to humble repentance by seeking the Lord in meekness, we find one such doubling: “In gathering yourselves be gathered.” Yes. God is coming to bring judgement on all wickedness, and not one corner of the world will be left untouched by his roving eye. But that does not mean there is no escape.
There may be a remnant in the midst of Jerusalem. They are implored to gather together in meekness and seek the Lord. Think of the harvester binding the sheaves together, before the wind and fire comes to burn up and blow away the chaff.
But we ought not to think of this remnant as a mousy little band, hiding in a corner. No, they follow behind their Lord as He marches forth to conquer their enemies, and they then enjoy the plunder of His war.
But just like God’s promised vengeance on wickedness cannot be confined to Jerusalem, neither can His promise of mercy be confined to only the Jews. In fact, as God goes out with His sword of judgement––vanquishing false gods as He goes––men from every nation, even the distant isle’s, come to join the remnant in worshipping Jehovah (Cf. Ps. 2).
Severe judgement awaits evildoers, whether in Jerusalem or in the uttermost parts of the earth. So seek the Lord. Humble yourself. Gather with the meek. Then follow the true King of Israel in His conquest of the nations, where their idols are toppled, and those once His enemies become His worshippers.
In the prophetic books there’s a kind of two-fold meaning to their prophecies. The first is the immediate fulfillment. Here it would be that God is drawing out His sword––i.e. Babylon––to effect what has been proclaimed. But there’s a deeper messianic fulfillment that isn’t fulfilled immediately. In this passage, the faithful remnant might wonder after the Babylonian conquest begins: “So if this is means of God’s judgement, when will the promise of possessing our enemies’ land and all men worshipping the Lord be fulfilled?” This messianic promise points to when the sword of the Gospel would be unsheathed, and Christ––the god-killer––would go forth to topple all nations and all their gods, and bring men from distant isles to worship Jehovah.