Humble Down! Or Else!

Week Forty Nine: Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah


Humble Down! Or else:
Zephaniah, the Black Prophet of the Lord

In the first clause of the first sentence of the book of Zephaniah, we read a descriptor of Zephaniah rarely emphasized. Zephaniah, the poet and prophet who warns Jerusalem that wickedness never was happiness, who pleads for humility and repentance and who explains that God will consume the wicked of the nation and Israel with fire, not to destroy, but to purify. He promises a redemptive gathering of the lame, the blind or otherwise challenged children of God, is called the son of Cushi.

God will consume the wicked of the nation and Israel with fire, not to destroy, but to purify.

In Hebrew, Cushi, cushite or cush is a name or adjective that means a person is Black, of African heritage. What an insight into the prophetic line up of the Old Testament. The genealogical information that follows suggests that Zephaniah’s line also traces back to King Hezekiah. If this genealogy is accurate, he is part of the royal lineage of David and of Jesus Christ himself. We won’t ask here why this is not more widely acknowledged, rather, simply be thrilled that a careful reading of scripture always yields unanticipated evidence of God’s love and respect for all his children who love and respect him.

Zephaniah is a poet/prophet. His is a book of powerful imagery and sweeping word paintings. After stating his genealogy, Zephaniah rewinds to the days of creation, warning that in response to the evil which has festered and flourished in Israel, the Lord is going to destroy rather than nourish it:

“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 1:3 (KJV)

Zephaniah clarifies that just calling upon the name of the Lord does not make one righteous, for among those to be purged will be all kinds of worshippers and non worshippers alike:

“…them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham;
And them that are turned back from the Lord; and those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him.”
Zephaniah 1:5,6 (KJV)

The prophet makes clear that this judgement will be no respecter of persons…those among the elite and those who serve them will all be subject to his judgement:

” I will punish the princes and the king’s children…In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their master’s houses with violence and deceit.”
Zephaniah 1:8,9

And, the punishment is going to be terrible:

“…I will bring distress upon men…because they have sinned against the Lord; and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.
Neither shall their silver or their gold be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured…; for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.”
Zephaniah 1:17,18 ( KJV)

In the second chapter of this three chapter book of poetic prophecy Zephaniah reminds any who will listen to:

“Seek the Lord,
All you humble of the land
Who have fulfilled His law.
Seek justice, seek to be humble.
Perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s fury.”

Zephaniah 2:3 ( The Hebrew Bible)

But though Zephaniah is specifically a prophet to the people of Judah, he makes it clear that those who will scourge the wayward of Judah are also afflicted with sin and will, themselves be scourged. He notes:

“I have heard the insults of Moab
and the jibes of the Ammonites,
Who insulted My people
and gloated over their lands.
Therefore, as I live, said the Lord of Armies, God of Israel:
Moab shall be like Sodom
and the Ammonites like Gomorrah—
nettle growth and salt mine
and a desolation for all time.
The remnant of My people shall despoil them,
And the remains of the nation inherit them.
Zephaniah 2:8,9 (The Hebrew Bible)

And to make clear what is the root cause of all these punishments, the Prophet elucidates:
“This shall they have for their PRIDE, Because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of Hosts.”

As our latter day prophet, Ezra Taft Benson warned us in his final great sermons:

Beware of Pride.

President Benson was a great secular as well as religious leader. A man of enormous integrity and thoughtful words, he had messages printed as pamphlets that addressed every group within the Church: Children; Young Women; Young Men; Women of all conditions…single, married, in the Church or outside of the Church; adult priesthood holders …no group was forgotten and each group was fortified by his admonitions and insights…I know I was. And then President Benson offered us a final monumental talk at the April 1989 General Conference of the Church. He chose to have the talk read by President Hinckley, at that time, a longtime counselor in the Presidency of the Church. This was one of the last public declarations President Benson made. To me it was an extraordinarily powerful demonstration of his prophetic calling. He had told us all that needed to be said, now, it was up to us to listen.

The final vision shared by Zephaniah is of a people purified by the fire of God’s punishments. There is an awful and wonderful explanation that the Lord will indeed devour the earth with fire, but only to purify and redeem the people:

“The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down and none shall make them afraid.

Zephaniah 3:13, 17, 18 & 19.

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