As I noted yesterday, the explicit claim (that a guy called Zephaniah said all this verbatim during Josiah’s reforming rule of Judah) does not prohibit us from wondering about the implicit authorship and editorship, to reach an implied audience. This ‘superscription’ may just mean ‘righteous son of righteous men’, or allude to African roots in Cush, or reformist upbringing in Hezekiah, the name of a Judahite reformer after Israel fell, but before Josiah ruled.
The threat this time is universal, an echo of the catalogue of creation, not limited to one set of people in one tribal group. When it does focus its aim on the false priests who indiscriminately favour Baal, Milcom, and Yahweh, with evil thoughts or no thought at all, the privileged youth of the elites, it matches their cosmopolitan identifications with the comprehensive consequences of the Day of the Lord: bad news for lots of people as ‘collateral damage’ beyond worst ones.
The threats located specifically in Jerusalem, in the better parts of town where the affluent elites live, the ‘Second Quarter’. Those who rest on their lees – a bit overweight and lazy, or even a reference to the lees in wine – rely on a distant impartial deity, who does not take sides, but lets natural laws operate. Zephaniah expects intervention by a very partisan God favouring the poor.
If the stock market crashed, or the globalized trading economy was balkanized behind tariff walls again, and wealth was no longer ‘world-class’, but neither was poverty reaching comparisons with the ‘third world’ among us here – would that be good news or bad news, for your family, friends, church, or community? The prophet’s theme has lots to say to we of the ‘liberal elite’ in 2018 Canada!
We love tolerance and multiculturalism, in classes that are above and beyond the primitive superstitions of ethnicity. Perhaps we need to test whether we are passionately clear in our identity and respectful of others, or whether we claim in self-serving ways to pick and choose bits of cuisine and piety to consume, without the demanding disciplines or mutual care necessary in any group?
Zephaniah 1 (NRSV)
1 The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.
2 I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the LORD.
3 I will sweep away humans and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will make the wicked stumble.* I will cut off humanity from the face of the earth, says the LORD.
4 I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests;*
5 those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens; those who bow down and swear to the LORD, but also swear by Milcom;*
6 those who have turned back from following the LORD, who have not sought the LORD or inquired of him.
7 Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests.
8 And on the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who dress themselves in foreign attire.
9 On that day I will punish all who leap over the threshold, who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud.
10 On that day, says the LORD, a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, a loud crash from the hills.
11 The inhabitants of the Mortar wail, for all the traders have perished; all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently* on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm.’
13 Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.
14 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there.
15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
17 I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.