Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Whoever writes the introductions in my Good News Bible is starting to sound a little bored.

The book contains the familiar prophetic themes: A day of doom and destruction is threatened, when Judah will be punished for her worship of other gods. The Lord will punish other nations also. Although Jerusalem is doomed, in time the city will be restored, with a humble and righteous people living there.

Well, I can honestly say that I identify with that. Despite making these notes for myself, I’m still finding it very hard to retain what prophesy is in which book, and yes, I guess I am finding it a little samey. I know that’s not quite what the above intro said, but it seems to be what I’m taking from it.

And hey – saminess hardly equals bad. For example, giving a book a good strong opening line is generally a good thing to do, so if every book in the world did that, then they’d all be samey in a good way.

Ah yes, great first lines in the Bible, stuff like:

In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate.

- Genesis
(worthy of Douglas Adams, I think)

The most beautiful of songs, by Solomon.

- The Song Of Songs

Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God.

- The Gospel According To John

And onto this list (that got your attention Rhett) of Biblical books with great first lines, steps Zephaniah’s awesome opening gambit...

This is the message that the LORD gave to Zephaniah during the time that Josiah son of Amon was king of Judah. (Zephaniah was descended from King Hezekiah through Amariah, Gedaliah, and Cushi.)

No, not that awesome opening line, the next awesome opening line! (granted not technically an opening one now – I’ll delete that above paragraph unless I get lazy)

The LORD said, “I am going to destroy everything on earth, all human beings and animals, birds and fish. I will bring about the downfall of the wicked. I will destroy all mankind, and no survivors will be left. I, the LORD, have spoken.

And, just in case y’thought he wasn’t serious, verse 12...

At that time I will take a lamp and search Jerusalem. I will punish the people who are self-satisfied and confident, who say to themselves, ‘The LORD never does anything, one way or the other.’

As you might expect after such a complete proclamation of destruction, what immediately follows doesn’t really enlarge the threat, rather it goes into details to remove from the recipient’s mind any possibility that there might be some people who are exceptions.

The final two lines of that opening chapter assert their cliffhanger quite definitely:

The whole earth will be destroyed by the fire of his anger. He will put an end – a sudden end – to everyone who lives on earth.

But if you’ve been reading these things along with me, you’ll be expecting a familiar samey pattern to kick-in with the start of chapter two. Yes, a call to repent.

Shameless nation, come to your senses before you are driven away like chaff blown by the wind, before the burning anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the day when he shows his fury. Turn to the LORD, all you humble people of the land, who obey his commands. Do what is right, and humble yourselves before the LORD. Perhaps you will escape punishment on the day when the LORD shows his anger.

So, it seems that this future actually is 100% certain – in other words, it's as certain as we are about the way we’re living.

And I like that line – “Do what is right”. I think everything boils down to that.

Or not.

Everyone gets stuff wrong, deliberately sometimes, including me. What would be the right thing for God to do about that?

Chapter three has a few ideas.

Jerusalem is doomed, that corrupt, rebellious city that oppresses its own people. It has not listened to the LORD or accepted his discipline. It has not put its trust in the LORD or asked for his help.

- Zephaniah 3:1-2.

But the LORD is still in the city; he does what is right and never what is wrong. Every morning without fail, he brings justice to his people. And yet the unrighteous people there keep on doing wrong and are not ashamed.

The LORD says, “I have wiped out whole nations; I have destroyed their cities and left their walls and towers in ruins. The cities are deserted; the streets are empty – no one is left. I thought that then my people would have reverence for me and accept my discipline, that they would never forget the lesson I taught them. But soon they were behaving as badly as ever.

- Zephaniah 3:5-7

Until, as is usual with the pattern that seems to be emerging, things will be okay for those who do the right thing.

The LORD has ended your punishment;
He has removed all your enemies.

- Zephaniah 3:15

A word of warning here, to anyone who might not have figured it out. “Do the right thing” doesn’t mean “obey what someone else tells you is right.” If you think this was written by church leaders wanting to frighten the masses into obeying them, then please feel free to consider chapter 3 verse 4 for yourself.


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