Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Clay figures in shuja'iyya neighbourhood of Gaza, installation by Iyad Sabbah. View more here.
Iwill utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling blocks with the wicked: and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord.
— Zephaniah 1:2-3
Zephaniah lived during the reign of King Josiah, one of the few kings considered 'good' by historians and theologians. Having seen Israel fall to the Assyrians, Josiah took it upon himself to reform Judah from its fallen ways, and return it to God's grace.1 Zephaniah (who preceded Jeremiah by a decades or two) was possibly of great influence in this policy. His opening words have been likened to Dante's "Abandon hope, all you who enter here", considered to be as terrifying and uncompromising.3
Through the mouth of Zephaniah, God goes on to condemn the actions of all those who, in one way or another have turned away from God, and towards idol worship and self love. At the time, this was most of Judah. God's hurt and anger is so great that once again he threatens to end creation—note the order of destruction: man, beast, fowl and fish, exactly opposite to the order of creation: fish, fowl, beasts and man, and ending finally with the land itself.
This does not happen, of course. No doubt Zephaniah was paraphrasing, and trying to get across just how damaged God's people had become. For those still loyal to God we can imagine it was hugely painful to see one's community turning away, blinding themselves to what is perceived as truth. It is no wonder Zephaniah's message is so dramatic. It came from a place of pain. The opening chapter is a blend of lament and warning, before moving on to a plea for change.
1 More about this in Renovation, a reflection on 2 Kings 22
2 Inscription above the portal of hell in Dante's Divine Comedy, 1472
3 See Messengers of God: A Survey of Old Testament Prophets by Kieran Larkin, 2019, ch 19