Relationships have rules to guide behavior; some rules are written down and protected by law courts, others are agreed by society though not written down. Parents cannot marry their kids, friends should not lie to one another, leaders should not abuse followers – are some rules that guide human relationships. When rules are ignored, there are negative consequences, which are sometimes life threatening.
The Bible teaches that Israel was created from a long lasting relationship, which started when God spoke to Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob, Joseph then Moses. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we see the covenant promises and rules to guide the relationship between Israel and God.
The rules set out the benefits of a strong relationship, and also the life threatening consequences, when the relationship fails. The prophets in Israel were preachers reminding the people of the covenant rules from God – of the blessings when the relationship is good, and consequences when they don’t care.
Zephaniah was a prophet who lived 800 years after Moses, and 600 years before Jesus. Prophets like Elijah and Isaiah had earlier preached to Israel that they were not living in line with their covenant promises to God, and would lose their prosperity. These preached to the people 200 years before Zephaniah, but the people did not listen, thus Zephaniah’s preaching was harsh and uncomfortable.
Hear Zephaniah 1:4-6 (The Message Bible): “I’ll start with Judah… I’ll sweep the place clean of every trace of the sex-and-religion Baal shrines… I’ll get rid of the people who sneak up to their rooftops at night to worship the star gods and goddesses; Also those who continue to worship God but cover their bases by worshiping other king-gods as well; Not to mention those who’ve dumped God altogether…”
Zephaniah is so harsh, we avoid teaching it; but it is a witness to how far God went to warn his people to change before he acted in justice to punish their wicked ways. God is long-suffering but not forever suffering – judgement day will come.
Lord, help us to stay true to you in 2020, Amen!