bluemarblewestTo review, in our introduction last week we looked at “The Days of Josiah” as Josiah was the King in Judah during the ministry of the prophet Zephaniah. They were cousins, both descending from godly King Hezekiah. They were both instrumental in the reforms that happened, destroying idol worship, repairing the Temple, rediscovering the Law of God, and bringing revival to the Land through a renewed covenant and the renewed observance of Passover in the Land. As we learn the signs of the times and what the prophet, the people, and the King were facing, we see again that this book of Zephaniah is divided into three parts. Chapter 1:1-2:3 describes for us the coming day of the Lord. We will begin examining that part this morning. In chapter 2:4-3:8 we will cover a specific list of judgments against specific nations, where God through the prophet tells Judah and Jerusalem, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, and others about specific judgments He is about to being about. In chapter 3:9-20 to close the book we see the last section, Zephaniah closes with an anticipation of the return of God’s blessing.

Now in chapter 1 verses 2 and 3, we read, “I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land,” says the Lord; 3 “I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land,” says the Lord.”

This is a description of the great and terrible Day of the Lord. At that day, God says, everything will be utterly consumed. Man and beast, fish and fowl, cut off from the face of the earth. Again, this is what God says, so it will be done. Quite the positive prosperity gospel wishy-washy evangellyfish message there from the Throne of the Most High, wouldn’t you say?

How popular a message did this have to be for this to be the first thing we are told that Zephaniah preached? Before blaming wicked nations or people – you know the part of judgment we love where the wicked are called out by name – he gives us this stunning overview, this terrible summary of destruction that is coming.

We do know from the context as we move through this prophecy that some of what Zephaniah addresses is the coming Babylonian exile of Judah, the judgment of God upon His people for their stubborn sinfulness. We know in history when that captivity happened and we know from the Scriptures who was there and what they experienced for those 70 years of judgment. We know that while they were there in captivity the Medes and Persians invaded and conquered. We know that after that Greeks conquered the Medes and Persians as foretold by Daniel.

As history unfolds, and as God’s hand is seen in judging nations, we quickly learn that here is more here in Zephaniah than just nation rising against nation. There is more here than just the Babylonian exile and return. People and pets were not totally consumed from the land. Some were left, some came back later and rebuilt under Ezra and Nehemiah. So what is Zephaniah talking about here when relays this message from the Lord that He is going to utterly consume everything from the face of the earth? The phrase used here to consume is literally that God is going to scrape the surface of the earth clean. Men, animals, birds, fish. Everything.

When he mentions in verse 3 “the stumbling blocks along with the wicked” the wording is that God is going to remove the wicked, leaving behind only a pile of rubble. Stumbling blocks there can also be translated “ruins.” A pile of refuse. There is nowhere to go, nowhere to run or hide. He says, “I will cut off man from the face of the earth.”

This definitely is worse than any captivity by a foreign nation. These are terms that are similar to when God talks about Noah and the flood. Listen to this, in Genesis 6:7, “So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Man and beast, from the face of the earth – same language. Catastrophic destruction of all living things.

In Genesis 6:17 God says, “And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.” The exception to this judgment we see in Genesis 6:8 and 18-19, “8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” And “I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 9 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.”

So we see then that the word of the Lord in Zephaniah is very similar to His words to Noah. In Genesis 7:21-23 it tells us, “21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. 22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. 23 So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.”

What is the only difference between our two passages here? The only difference, in the flood everything that breathed the air was destroyed. Fish were not affected by the flood, except by the way those who fossils we find on the tops of mountains now. But in Zephaniah even the fish will be consumed. In this judgment Zephaniah is talking about every created living creature on the earth is going to be subject to destruction.

Some scholars, and again, I use the term loosely, some scholars tell us that Zephaniah is trying to shock Josiah and Judah and so is using hyperbole. What is hyperbole? That is to say Zephaniah was exaggerating, like we would say, “I called you a million times and you never answered.” A million, really? That is hyperbole.

Some believe he was only warning about the coming Babylonian captivity but he was making it sound worse than it would really be – and trust me, it was bad – but by making it worse they think he was creating the urgency to repent. So maybe the prophet was taking creative license with God’s Word and trying to overstate things to make a point, to impress upon his hearers the need to take his message seriously – because nothing makes people take you seriously more than overstating the case, right?

What we need to remember is that when God says something, He means it. His Word is sure. And when the prophet begins his prophecy about the day of the Lord in which all of these things are going to happen, we need to see just how serious this day will be in the history of creation. This also serves to remind us that the sin of Adam affected all of creation, didn’t it? It affected the whole earth. Living beings and plants, people and pollen – right?

In Genesis 3:17 we read, “17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”