Observations on life; particularly spiritual

History and prophecy

How to find hope in a hopeless situation

WW2 POWs 400px

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles

Recently a friend of ours died of leukaemia. His family cared for him while he was in palliative care. It was a hopeless situation. They knew he wasn’t going to be healed. Yet they prayed for God’s will to be done and the funeral was a celebration that he had been delivered from his suffering and was now with the Lord.

Jeremiah’s letter to Jewish exiles in chapter 29:4-23 shows that for God’s people, the situation is never helpless or hopeless because He promises ultimate deliverance and restoration.

Context

Jeremiah prophesized during the last 40 years of the nation of Judah (626 – 586 BC). At this time Judah was influenced by three foreign powers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. There was tension between these super powers for world supremacy (like between USA, Russia and China today). Power shifted from Assyria and Egypt to Babylonia when Assyria was conquered in 612BC and Egypt conquered in 605BC. These large nations dominated the smaller ones. The Assyrians and Babylonians used their overwhelming military force to terrorize the people of the lands they invaded. They also took heavy tribute and deported masses of people into slavery. So Judah was a weak nation that was surrounded by many enemies.

Jeremiah prophesized during the reign of five kings: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jahoiakim, Jehoichin and Zedkiah. All of these kings except Josiah “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”.

Jeremiah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. At the beginning he was a contemporary of Zephaniah and Nahum and later of Obadiah and Habakkuk.

The prophets before Zephaniah announced God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. This was also Zephaniah’s message. Nahum predicted the destruction of Nineveh, the largest city of the time. This would have been good news for Judah who had been threatened by Assyria since the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. It showed that God judges His enemies.

Later in Jeremiah’s period, Obadiah pronounces judgment on Edom, one of Judah’s closest enemies and predicts Israel’s restoration. Habakkuk complains to God because He’s doing nothing about the terrible violence, wrongdoing, destruction, strife, and injustice in Judah. He is perplexed when told that the pagan Babylonians were going to invade Judah. But God reassures him that the Babylonians will eventually be punished as well.

In the book of Jeremiah, he speaks out against the sins of Judah (Ch. 1-38). He warned them for at least 23 years (Jer. 25:2-3). The punishment for these is that they will be invaded by Babylon and taken captive. Chapter 29 is a letter that Jeremiah wrote to all the Jewish captives in Babylon (Jer. 29:4). After chapter 29, Jeremiah predicts that the Jews will be released from captivity and able to return to re-establish their lives in their homeland. He also predicts living under the Messiah with a new covenant.

The letter, written by one of God’s prophets, is comprised of commands and promises (Jer. 29:45-23). This means that it was a command to be followed by the Jewish exiles and promises they were to believe.

The Babylonians attacked Jerusalem three times. On the first occasion in 605 BC, Judah became a vassal state and paid tribute to Babylon and a group of people including Daniel was carried off to Babylon (2 Ki. 24:1-2). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem in 598-597 BC, replacing the king, taking tribute, and taking about 10,000 Jewish captives to Babylon (2 Ki. 24:8-17). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem again in 588-586 BC, destroying the city and taking more Jewish captives to Babylon, including the king (2 Ki. 25:1-21). Instead of being a nation, Judah was now a province of the regional superpower. The remaining Jews, including Jeremiah, fled to Egypt for safety (Jer. 41:16 – 44:30). This wasn’t unexpected because it was the ultimate punishment for breaking their covenant with their God (Lev. 26:31-33; Dt, 28:49-68). Everything that God had done for them since they left Egypt would be destroyed. The goal of the punishment is their repentance (Lev. 26:40-41).

Judgment

So after being warned for at least 100 years, Judah has finally been punished for their sins. The captives in Babylon were suffering grief and loss, forced relocation and slavery. They probably feared the worst and thought their fate was similar to that of Israel in 722 BC. Over 136 years ago, the Assyrians invaded and destroyed the kingdom of Israel and took captives and the people were scattered to other nations. That was the end of the kingdom of Israel and there was no way it could be restored. It seemed the same when Babylon invaded Judah. So the Jews in Babylon thought this was the end of their nation. They cried in despair as they were in a helpless and hopeless situation (Ps. 137:1). Jeremiah also lamented because he saw the destruction of Jerusalem (Lamentations).

Jeremiah also predicts the destruction of those who didn’t go into exile (v.15-19). It’s punishment for their disobedience. They didn’t deserve God’s protection like those sent into exile (Jer. 24:5-7).

What a surprising letter from Jeremiah! They are told to prepare for a long captivity (v.4-7) by settling down to live for a long time in Babylon. To establish families and raise children among themselves; but don’t intermarry with foreigners. God wanted them to grow in number, not dwindle.

WW2 POWs 400pxUsually captives hate their captors. But the Jews are told to pray for Babylon! To pray for their enemy! To seek Babylon’s peace and prosperity so things will go well for them as well. To pray for the prosperity of their enemy!

What did the exiles think of Jeremiah? Whose side was Jeremiah on, first he says to surrender to the Babylonians and now when they are prisoners of war (POW) he says this? Has he lost his marbles?

Australian POWs in World War 2 endured hard labor working on roads and battling to survive the harsh Austrian winter. Under their German masters, it seemed a hopeless situation. But after 12 months they began receiving Red Cross packages with food clothes and medicine, which were like a ray of light in a sad, dark part of the world. These helped many POWs to survive.

Through the fall of Jerusalem, the exiles learnt that God eventually judges sin (many died, others were POWs, some escaped and their capital city was destroyed). Also, what seemed to be the worst to the captives (being POWs), was actually the best because they would be kept safe in Babylon (most of the rest died). Also, they were to accept the situation that God had placed them in and not hope for something better.

Warning

Then God warns the exiles not to be deceived by false prophets who were prophesying lies in God’s name (v.8-9, 21). They contradict the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 27:16-22; 28:3). The captivity was to be 70 years, not two (Jer. 25:11-12; 28:3, 11; 29:10)! God’s prophets predicted disasters, but the false prophets predicted peace (Jer. 14:13-16; 23:17; 28:8). One of them sent a letter to the priests rebuking them for not putting Jeremiah in prison (v. 24-27). Because of their lies and adultery, Jeremiah predicted they would be put to death by the king of Babylon (v. 21-23).

Jeremiah tells the captives to not be gullible by believing their lies. Instead, they should ignore them and not listen to them.

After the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine in 2014, the Russians claimed that the missile was fired by a Ukrainian fighter jet. They were telling a lie.

So the lesson for the exiles to learn was to be discerning and listen to God’s prophets and not the false ones. They needed to know the difference between the two.

Deliverance

Next Jeremiah predicts deliverance and restoration for the exiles. He says that God will bring them back to their homeland after 70 years of exile. Those still alive at the time and their descendants would be able to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem, including the temple and the city walls. This restoration was predicted over 900 years beforehand (Dt. 30:3-5).

“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:11-14NIV).
God hadn’t forgotten them. In fact He had planned their future lives. These plans were for their collective good, to prosper them collectively and give them a hope and future to look forward to. There was hope for their nation after all. But the benefits wouldn’t come for 70 years! In the meantime they were POWs.

God’s plans to prosper the exiles and give them hope and a future (v.11) are described as their return to Judah from exile (v. 10, 14) and these plans were fulfilled with the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC (Ezra 1:2-4; Jer. 29:11). So this promise has already been fulfilled.

God also predicts that by that time they will return to following Him once again. This implies that they will confess and repent of their sins. The Bible teaches that their restoration was conditional on their repentance (Dt. 4:29-31). This shows God’s mercy and His commitment to the covenant made with their ancestors.

Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has just been released after 400 days in an Egyptian prison. He said the experience was a “baptism of fire” that helped him learn more about himself. It felt like a “near-death experience”, but also like a “rebirth” because he was given an opportunity to look back at his life.

So the lesson for the exiles to learn was that repentance was the way to a restored relationship with the Lord and to their release from being POWs in Babylon. This repentance was essential for their deliverance and the restoration and rebirth of their nation.

They also learnt that their situation is never helpless or hopeless because God promises ultimate deliverance and restoration from whatever situation they are in. The way to optimism is to remember that God has plans for their future. But there was no shortcut; they had to go through suffering along the way.

What are the lessons for us today?

What’s changed since then? We are God’s people today, but we are not a nation with their own home-land like the exiles. Jesus brought a new covenant. He prayed for His enemies (Lk. 23:34) and taught His followers to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44-45). Paul taught that we are to never take revenge, but leave that up to God (Rom. 12:19-21). Because, doing good to one’s enemy, instead of taking revenge, may bring about repentance.

The lesson that God eventually judges sin applies to us as well. People say, what’s God doing about the evil in the world? He seems absent. But the Bible says that He is patiently waiting for more people to turn to Him before He brings judgment (2 Pt. 3:9).

Also, what seems to be the worst for us may be the best because He knows us better than we know ourselves and He ensures that everything that happens to us is for our benefit (Rom. 8:27-28). That’s why God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we would like it.

The lesson to accept the situation that God had placed us in and not hope for something better applies to us as well. Paul gives an example of this for marriage (1 Cor. 7:17-20). He also wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18).

Do we believe all we see on the internet? How gullible are we? How do we know what to believe? Do we compare what people say and write with Scripture? Because there are false teachers out there. In Jeremiah’s day they ignored gross sinfulness and said, God’s not going to judge us. They wanted God’s blessing without going through the suffering of the captivity. But the Bible teaches that suffering precedes blessing and glory, with Jesus the greatest example (Rom. 8:18; 1 Pt 3:18, 22). Christians should expect to suffer for their faith (1 Pt. 4:12-19). We should be skeptical of those who teach an “easy” Christianity that brings lots of benefits because our benefits are largely spiritual (Eph. 1:3-14). Also, beware of false hopes.

The lesson that repentance is the way to a restored relationship with the Lord applies to us as well. In the New Testament, God doesn’t promise to release us from our physical problems (if this happens it is a mercy), but deliver us from our spiritual ones. The steps of repentance include “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (Jas. 4:7-10).

As God’s plans to prosper the exiles and give them hope and a future was fulfilled in 538 BC, this promise isn’t for us today. But what sort of plans does God have for us? We can ask God in prayer (Jas. 1:5). Of course, He wants us to be faithful to Him in everything we do by following the commands and principles He gives for believers in the New Testament. We can begin by being faithful where we are (Mt. 25:21). As we do this, God usually reveals the next step. It’s one step at a time, not a jump to our final destiny.

The lesson that our situation is never helpless or hopeless applies to us as well. However, our ultimate deliverance and restoration is spiritual, not physical. When there’s despair, discouragement or bad news our hope is the good news of Jesus. Heaven is the ultimate hope for Christians, though we may have to go through suffering along the way.

Conclusion

We have seen from Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles that God judges sin (which is why they were POWs), and cares for His people and warns them not to be deceived by false prophets.

It shows that for God’s people, the situation is never helpless or hopeless because He promises ultimate spiritual deliverance and restoration.

Written, February 2015


Cavemen in the Bible

cave

caveThe word “caveman” usually means a prehistoric or primitive person who lives in caves. They are said to belong to an early stage of civilization (Paleolithic or Stone Age) and use stone, wood and bone tools. But what does the Bible say about people living in caves?

After the global flood, God told Noah’s descendants to spread out and “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). But they disobeyed and built a city called Babel with brick and tar on a plain that later become known as Mesopotamia (Gen, 11:1-4). Their punishment was to be divided into different language groups and scattered across the earth (Gen. 11:8-9). So these language groups migrated to different lands as described in Genesis 10. This means that according to the Bible, in about 2,200 BC people dispersed from the Middle East to populate the earth.

The Bible records people living in caves between the 6th and the 18th century BC. Let’s look at each of these in turn and see what they reveal about cavemen in Biblical times.

18th century BC

Abraham’s nephew Lot may have been a Councillor in the city of Sodom near the Dead Sea (Gen. 19:1). After Lot’s family fled from Sodom before it was destroyed, they stopped at the town of Zoar. But because he was afraid to stay in Zoar, Lot and his two daughters moved to live in a cave in the mountains (Gen. 19:30). It seems he was afraid that God was going to destroy Zoar as well and this seems to have happened as afterwards they thought they were the only people left on earth (Gen 19:31). So Lot and his daughters moved from living in a city to living in a cave in the mountains. They went from civilization to isolation.

Job, who lived in ancient times, said that those banished from human society lived “among the rocks and in holes in the ground” (Job 30:5-6).

15th century BC

While the Israelites were invading Canaan, the Gibeonites made a treaty with Israel. When five Amorite kings attacked the Gibeonites, the Lord helped the Israelites to take them by surprise and defeat them. But the kings fled and hid in the cave at Makkedah (Josh. 10:16-18). When Joshua found out where the kings were, he had the cave guarded until they could be executed. Afterwards, their bodies were thrown back into the cave. So the kings of the Canaanite cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon moved from living in a city to become fugitives hiding in a cave. They went from civilization to isolation.

12th century BC

When the Israelites “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”, God allowed them to be overpowered by the Midianites for seven years. “Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds” (Jud. 6:2NIV). So the Israelites, who lived in cities, prepared shelters for themselves in caves to hide from the enemy. They were ready to go from civilization to isolation.

After Samson took revenge by attacking the Philistines, he stayed in a cave in the rock of Elam (Jud. 15:8, 11). Then the Philistines came to Judah to kill Sampson. So Samson who usually lived in a town in Judah moved from living in a town to become a fugitive hiding in a cave.

11th century BC

While Saul was king of Israel, the Israelite army fled when they faced a superior Philistine army. “When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns” (1 Sam. 13:6). So an army moved from living in their camp to hiding in caves. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, dens were cut out of mountains and rocks to provide refuge and strength in times of war.

When David was a fugitive because Saul wanted to kill him, David often hid in caves. About 400 men were with him at the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-2). They also hid in the cave near the Crags of the Wild Goats in the Desert of En Gedi where David spared Saul and cut off the corner of his robe (1 Sam. 24:1-11). He also hid in caves when being pursued by Absalom (2 Sam. 17:9). David was hiding in a cave when he wrote Psalms 57 and 142. At this time he feared his enemies. So David hid in caves to escape Saul’s murderous plans and to escape from other enemies.

9th century BC

While Queen Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each (1 Ki. 18:4, 13). So the prophets hid in caves to escape Jezebel’s murderous plans.

Also, when the prophet Elijah fled to Mt Sinai, he spent a night in a cave (1 Ki. 19:9, 13). Elijah would have slept in the cave for protection from the weather and from wild animals.

6th century BC

During times of severe oppression the Israelites took refuge in caves and holes in the ground. Some Israelites were in caves when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem in 586 BC (Ezek. 33:27). They will also try to hide in these places from God’s future judgment (Is. 2:10, 19, 21).

When they are warned of a Babylonian invasion, the Moabites, Edomites and Arabians are urged to flee their towns and live in caves (Jer. 48:28; 49:8, 30).

Other instances

In the list of those who demonstrated faith and endurance in Old Testament times in Hebrews 11, it says that they “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:38). They would have lived in caves because they were expelled from their families and from society. They went from civilization to isolation.

Finally, when God will judge the world in a coming day, people will panic and try to hide in caves and among the rocks of mountains (Rev. 6:15).

Discussion

All these instances of people occupying caves in Biblical times occurred many years after the city of Babel. This means they are not steps in humanity’s progress towards urbanization. Instead they represent regression to a simpler lifestyle, not progression towards a more advanced lifestyle. These people already lived in cities and towns before they went to live in caves. The examples given above show that this move from civilization to isolation was driven by need.

Most of these people hid in caves to escape being captured by their enemies. In this case a cave is a refuge – it is strong being composed of rock and they are hidden from sight. After all, many old buildings were made of stone. The oldest buildings in Europe are stone.

Caves are also suitable for temporary accommodation while travelling. For example, they would be useful for people migrating from the Middle East to populate the earth in the 22nd century BC. Technological knowledge would have been lost when the people of Babel were subdivided into small language groups and dispersed across the earth.

Fugitives and migrants would tend to have basic tools with them and not the trappings of civilization. So artefacts found in caves would represent particular people in particular situations. They don’t necessarily represent the civilization living at the time in towns and cities. For example, the tools used by Australian Aboriginals in the 19th century AD didn’t represent those used at the same time by Australians of European descent.

Conclusion

The Bible shows that in Biblical times caves were mainly used to hide from enemies and as temporary accommodation while travelling. It doesn’t support the popular idea of Paleolithic (Stone Age) cave man because people were urbanized at the same time that people occupied caves.

Remember that the Bible is an important record of ancient history and such recorded history trumps archaeological science, particularly in the case of ancient history.

Written, January 2015

Also see: Using history and science to investigate ancient times
The first artists?


The first artists?

chauvet rhinos

chauvet rhinosThe search for the first artists is featured in the January 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine. It is claimed that the greatest innovation in human history was the invention of symbolic expression by the first artists. What evidence did the archaeologists find? How was it interpreted? And what assumptions did they make?

The evidence

The archaeologists searched in caves which may have been occupied many years ago for the earliest expression of symbolic expression. Evidence is presented from caves in Europe (Spain, France, Germany, Czech Republic), Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Namibia), Russia, the Middle East (Israel) and Indonesia.

The human artifacts they found included drawings on cave walls, pigment, engraved shells, engraved stones, bone tools, stone tools, sculpture, pierced shells used as beads, pierced and grooved animal teeth worn as pendants, and musical instruments (flutes).

The evidence shows that sometime in the past people occupied these areas and they were capable of crafting tools and works of art.

The interpretations

The archaeologists dated the findings and related them to stages in human development and technology. The dates ranged between 5,000 and 265,000 years ago. They assign the first symbolic expressions in Africa and the Middle East to the middle Paleolithic (middle Stone Age) (40,000 to 265,000 years ago). Then abstract and realistic art is said to be more widespread in Africa and Eurasia in the upper Paleolithic (late Stone Age) (40,000 to 5,000 years ago).

The assumptions

The findings were interpreted by radiometric dating and the evolutionary model of human development. Samples were taken from cave art and from the sediments associated with artifacts for radiometric dating. The results of such dating is always interpreted in terms of the evolutionary model.

It’s unfortunate that these assumptions are not mentioned by the National Geographic. Instead they document the dates as a scientific fact with little uncertainty. This is an example of circular reasoning where these dates are used to support the evolutionary model.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible gives an eye-witness account of ancient history. After all, its message came from the God who created everything (2 Tim. 3:16).

The Bible says that God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, separate to the animals (Gen. 2:7, 21-23). This means that the idea of evolution, where apes are the ancestors of people, doesn’t match this historical record.

The Bible also says that the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, were capable of symbolic expression. Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:19-20). Adam and Eve communicated via spoken language (Gen. 3:12-13). Vocabulary and language involve symbolic expression. As they were created in the image of a creative God, they were creative from the beginning (Gen 1:27). Because they were creative, they could craft tools and art.

In the beginning Adam and Eve had a perfect human genome, with no mutations. But since they disobeyed God, more mutations have accumulated with each human generation. So their physical bodies and minds were superior to ours, which is opposite to the idea of evolution.

The next generation was also capable of symbolic expression. Cain built a city (Gen. 4:17). The design and construction of buildings in a city involves symbolic expression.

In the seventh and eighth generations they played stringed instruments and pipes and forged with bronze and iron Gen. 4:21-22). Music and metal work involve symbolic expression.

So according to the Bible, creativity and symbolic expression are intrinsic to humanity. National Geographic says “creativity made us human”. But they have it back to front, as Biblical history says being human makes us creative. The Bible also asserts that humans don’t have any animal ancestors.

Caves

Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in a limestone cliff in southern France contains stunning figurative cave paintings. Spain’s Altamira cave in the top of a limestone hill also contains spectacular cave art.

According to Wikipedia:
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Most limestone is composed of skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera. Limestone makes up about 10% of the total volume of all sedimentary rocks. The solubility of limestone in water and weak acid solutions leads to karst landscapes, in which water erodes the limestone over thousands to millions of years. Most cave systems are through limestone bedrock.

According to the historical record in the Bible, most of the earth’s sedimentary rock would have formed during the global flood about 2,350 BC (Gen. 6-8). Also, mankind didn’t disperse from the Middle East until after the tower of Babel in about 2,200 BC (Gen. 11:1-9). This means that all the cave art in the world wouldn’t be more than 4,200 years old and older dates inferred for these by the archaeologists are erroneous.

Conclusion

The radiometric data presented by National Geographic in “The first artists” don’t match Biblical history. This indicates that radiometric data is unreliable when interpreted in terms of the evolutionary model. The reason for this is that the idea of evolution is inconsistent with Biblical history. After all, recorded history trumps science, particularly in the case of ancient history.

According to the Bible, Adam and Eve were the first artists and all the cave art that has been discovered was painted after the dispersion of mankind from the Middle East about 4,200 years ago.

Written, January 2015

Also see: Using history and science to investigate ancient times
Cavemen in the Bible


What is God warning us about?

Cliff warning 2 cropped

Cliff warning 2 croppedA few weeks ago a Victorian woman died when she fell down a cliff in the Blue Mountains. She had ignored the warning signs and climbed over the safety fence. The police said it was a tragic warning for people to obey warning signs. Last week a British man also fell to his death off a cliff in Sydney after climbing a fence. It’s dangerous to ignore warnings.

In this article we are looking at the book of Zephaniah where the Jews are warned of an impending terrible destruction. We will see that, because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming, but deliverance is promised for the repentant.

Context

The Israelites were God’s special people who He rescued from Egypt so they could live in Canaan. The laws He gave them to follow are given in the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy of the Bible. After peaking in the days of King Solomon, their land was divided into Israel and Judah. Then in 722 BC, the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel.

Zephaniah was written about 630 BC during the reign of king Josiah (Zeph. 1:1). At this time Judah was a weak nation; surrounded by many enemies including the superpowers of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia.

Josiah’s father Amon and grandfather Manasseh were wicked kings who spread idolatry across Judah. They worshipped Baal, Asherah, and the stars and planets with child sacrifice to Molech and ritual prostitution (2 Ki. 21:6-9; 2 Chr. 33:6-9) and the righteous were martyred. Josiah turned back to God and repaired the temple, restoring temple worship in 622BC.

Zephaniah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. He lived about 70 years after Isaiah and Micah and was a contemporary of Nahum and the young Jeremiah. He is recognised as the last prophet before the exile.

Zephaniah diagramBefore Zephaniah, Isaiah proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He warned that Judah’s wickedness would be punished by the Babylonians. The judgment is called “the day of the Lord”. But they would be restored when the Messiah would reign. Micah also proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He lists their sins, and predicts a ruler from Bethlehem and the restoration of a remnant. The main theme of these prophets was God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. We will see that this is what Zephaniah prophesied as well. So he may have been already familiar with the content of his message from these earlier prophets.

When Zephaniah prophesised, the Judeans were threatened by foreign enemies and idolatry and sinfulness was prevalent. They were no longer following the laws given to Moses. So Zephaniah warns them of the consequences of their behavior.

Zephaniah’s themes

God is the central character of the book of Zephaniah. At the beginning He is a merciless judge. But by the end He shows mercy and pardons people. The story is that God wants Judah to serve Him. But this is prevented by their sins. Through the judgment of “the day of the Lord”, Judah is restored to serve Him and they are joined by believing Gentiles.

Zephaniah diagram resizedThe two main themes of Zephaniah are predictions of God’s judgment and God’s deliverance, which show His justice and mercy. Judah and other nations are to be judged and punished because of their sinfulness (1:2-3:8). This is to be followed by the restoration of a Jewish remnant (3:9-20). So an imminent threat is balanced by the hope of ultimate deliverance. The themes of judgment and restoration are linked by a call to repentance (2:1-3).

Looking at these linkages shown in the schematic diagram, four major themes can be identified: Humanity’s sinfulness, God’s warning, God’s judgment, and God’s deliverance. We will now look at each of these in turn.

Humanity’s sinfulness

Zephaniah shows that human sinfulness is a universal problem; it affected both Judah and the other nations.

The sins of Judah included: idolatry, syncretism (where God is worshipped through or alongside other gods), apostasy, violence, apathy, pride, love of money, oppression, rebellion, self-sufficiency, unruliness, ungodliness, greedy and corrupt leaders, lying, deceit, and thinking that God doesn’t punish sins or reward repentance. They didn’t “seek the Lord” or “inquire of Him” via prayer or the Scriptures (1:6). The sins of other nations included: pride, self-sufficiency, and insulting, mocking and threatening God’s people.

This sinfulness was the reason for God’s judgment. God had given His people standards to live by in the Mosaic law. So they should have known better.

Now we come to God’s response to their sins.

God’s warning

The prophets warned God’s people about the consequences of their sinfulness. They were breaking the covenant with their God. Instead of living like God’s people, they were living like pagans. They were breaking most of the ten commandments. The punishment for disobeying the covenant is given in the Pentateuch (Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68). It included being defeated by their enemies, having their cities besieged, plundered and destroyed and their people captured and scattered to other nations.

Zephaniah calls for repentance (2:3). “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” There is deliverance for the repentant who trust God. But Jerusalem is unrepentant (3:6-7). They didn’t learn from the mistakes of the northern kingdom about 100 years earlier that lead to them being captured by the Assyrians and destroyed as a nation. So God is merciful, He warns His people of the consequences of their behaviour. And we know that king Josiah did repent.

There are two possible responses to a warning. The first is to ignore it.

Now we come to the major theme of God’s judgment.

God’s judgment

Judgment is predicted for both Judah and other nations for their ongoing sinfulness.

First for the Jews. The “day of the Lord” is a time of great judgement for Judah. The judgment is directed to the unrepentant, those who don’t seek the Lord (1:6). Zephaniah gives three pictures of God’s judgement: a devastating flood (1:2-3), a great sacrifice (1:7-8), and a great battle (1:14-18). Everything on the ground will be devastated (1:2-3, 18). But, where will it occur? Both Judah and Jerusalem will be attacked (1:4). Jerusalem will be devastated (1:10-13) because of her sinfulness (3:1-5) and unrepentance (3:7). It was a judgement of the land of Judah.

When will the judgment occur? “The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly” (1:7, 14). It’s imminent. It describes the desolation after an army invades Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-18a). Nothing will be able to save the Judeans (1:18a). It will be “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (1:15). A time of wailing (1:11). This prediction was probably given at least 30 years before Babylonia invaded Jerusalem. That’s when the judgment occurred. In the meantime, the purpose of the distress was so Judah would repent.

Secondly, judgment is also predicted as total destruction for nations around Judah (2:4-6, 8-11, 12, 13-15). As there is judgment in all directions, no one can escape. God also promised to judge all the wicked Gentiles (3:8). This is when other nations experience “the day of the Lord”. It was announced by Zephaniah to call Judah to repentance (3:6-7). All these judgements occurred within 100 years of Zephaniah’s predictions. They have already been fulfilled.

God’s judgment in “the day of the Lord” shows that justice comes to all. Today we don’t see God’s justice and likewise in Zephaniah’s day he didn’t see God’s justice, but it did eventually come to all.

The other response to a warning is to take notice and change your behavior so as to avoid the consequences. Now we come to the other major theme of God’s deliverance.

God’s deliverance

Zephaniah wasn’t just a prophet of doom, but of doom and hope. After all God is characterized by both justice (when He punishes sinners) and mercy (when He restores the repentant). God’s judgment and His deliverance is an example of “the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). These are two aspects of God’s character. The kindness is for those who repent, while the sternness is for the unrepentant. So deliverance is predicted for both Judah and other nations.

First for the Jews. Jewish believers would be protected during “the day of the Lord” (2:3). Then God promises to restore a Jewish remnant (2:7; 3:10-13, 18-20). Deliverance and salvation follow judgment. The scattered Jews will return to the land of Judah. They will seek the Lord, trust in Him, obey Him and be humble (2:3; 3:12). They will resume the temple offerings. Their enemies will be punished and there will be peace and honesty in their land. Shame and wickedness will cease (3:11-13). The Jews will be praised and honored around the world – praise and honor has replaced their shame. This leads to joyful celebration in Jerusalem under God’s leadership (3:14-17). Singing has replaced their wailing (3:14), because the punishment has been taken away, the enemies turned back and God is with them (v.15). There is joy and singing in heaven as well. God “will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17).

When will the deliverance occur (Zeph. 3:10-20)? A Jewish remnant returned to Judah after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Although Gentiles called “on the name of the Lord” when they became Christians (Zeph. 3:9; Rom. 10:13), I don’t think that the deliverance described has been completed yet. Did Judah have peace (3:13)? No! After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and in 134 AD the Romans attacked again and the Jews were killed, enslaved and dispersed to surrounding countries. Since this time, Judea has been ruled by other nations and the Jews were persecuted and driven out of many regions culminating in the holocaust. Also the Jews have not yet been praised and honored in other lands (3:19-20).

Secondly, deliverance is also predicted for believing Gentiles. When God destroys Judah’s enemies: “Distant nations will bow down to Him, all of them in their own lands” (2:11) . When they realise the awesomeness of God, they will repent and worship Him. They will also seek His help in prayer and serve Him (3:9). This has been fulfilled to some degree in the Christian church, but it seems as though the full deliverance is yet to come.

God’s warning today

Just as God used Zephaniah to warn the Jews of his day, He uses the Bible and godly people to warn us today. Our warnings are different because we live in a different era to Zephaniah. Since Zephaniah wrote his book, Jesus came and died for our sins, the New Testament has been written and the good news of deliverance has gone out to all nations across the world. We aren’t God’s nation living in the promised land. Today, God’s people are those who have confessed their sins and chosen to follow Jesus Christ. They comprise the global church.

What is God warning us about today? As the Bible is God’s main warning sign to us, we will take some examples from Paul’s letters to various churches.

First, what did he warn unbelievers about? Paul preached about the need to repent and turn to God so we will not spend eternity in hell. We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). Because of this we all deserve God’s punishment and God is going to judge everyone (Acts 17:31; Rom. 6:23). But forgiveness of sins and eternal life is available through Jesus (Acts 13:38; Rom. 6:23). When we confess our sins, God provides His unconditional forgiveness. So God is merciful. In the Bible He warns us of our situation and our need to repent. Jesus took the punishment for us when He was crucified.

When Paul addresses the sins of the self-righteous moralist, he writes “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). Also, Peter warns that God’s final judgment of the universe is coming as “the day of the Lord” (2 Pt. 3:7-10). So God warns people today of a coming judgment.

Some people ignore tornado warnings in the US because they may wait until they can see or hear it coming. Or they may think the probability of it affecting them is very small. Or they aren’t paying attention. Or they don’t realize the devastation it can cause. They don’t realize how serious it is. Do we realize the importance of God’s warnings?

Second, what did Paul warn believers about? Believers are those who have repented of their sin, whose sins are forgiven and they are redeemed to worship Christ as their Lord. Christians will not be judged for our sins because Jesus paid that judgment price on the cross for us when He died in our place. But we will be judged on the basis of how faithfully we have served God since we became Christians—and be rewarded accordingly at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). God wants us to serve Him. But this is hindered by our sins. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul gives a warning from Israel’s history. He describes their sins (v.6-10) and the fact that they were punished for these (v.5). Then he makes the application to us: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:11-12).

It’s a warning to the self-confident. We can also be tempted like they were. They failed and sinned. We can also fail and sin. But a remnant repented. Let’s be a part of that remnant today.

Unconfessed sin hinders our daily fellowship with God. When we confess our sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for all our sins and our daily fellowship with God our Father is restored. This confession should occur regularly in a believer’s life so we can experience God’s conditional forgiveness (Mt. 6:12, 14-15; 1 Jn. 1:5-2:2).

Of course Paul gives other warnings to believers in his letters. He warned against things like false teachers, false teaching, syncretism (mixing Christianity with other ideas and ways of living), factions, divisive people, misusing wealth, immorality, legalism, liberalism, pride, and giving up the faith.

Conclusion

We have seen that Zephaniah told the Jews that because of humanity’s sinfulness, God will judge the Jews and the Gentiles in the “day of the Lord”. And God did judge them. But God is merciful. He warns them of their situation and their need to repent. After this a Jewish remnant will be restored and they will worship Him as King of Israel.

The Jews should have known about this because the Pentateuch contains rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience. God wanted them to repent – to turn back to following Him once again.

God still warns us today. Examples like this from the Old Testament warn us that we face the choice of whether to obey or disobey the Lord. Unbelievers are warned of the need to confess and repent of their sins in order to be delivered from God’s judgment. Whereas believers need to keep confessing their sins in order to maintain their daily fellowship with the Lord.

Even though it was written over 2,600 years ago, Zephaniah’s book is relevant to our times. We can apply the four main themes to ourselves. What are our sins? What are our gods? Are we apathetic? Are we materialistic? Are we selfish? How loyal are we to God? There is deliverance and salvation for the repentant who trust in the death of Jesus Christ for their sins. Do we have the hope of heaven? The hope of a better time to come.

So because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming, but deliverance is promised for the repentant.

Written, December 2014


God’s warning

IS killing resized

Zephaniah’s themes

The Islamic State is killing minorities in Iraq and Syria who won’t convert to Islam. It’s genocide. Women and children are taken as sexual slaves. People are fleeing to save their lives. How would you feel in the face of this onslaught if you were one of the Turkmen, Shabaks, Yazidis or Christians? Terrified? Shocked in unbelief? Wanting to escape?

This article looks at the book of Zephaniah where the Jews are warned of an impending terrible destruction. We will see that, because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming, but deliverance is promised for the repentant.

Context

Zephaniah prophesised “during the reign of Josiah” (Zeph. 1:1NIV), who was king over Judah in 640 – 609 BC. At this time Judah was influenced by three foreign powers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. There was tension between these super powers for world supremacy (like between USA, Russia and China today). Power shifted from Assyria and Egypt to Babylonia when Assyria was conquered in 612BC and Egypt conquered in 605BC. These large nations dominated the smaller ones. Judah was a vassal state of Assyria during much of the 7th century BC. So Judah was a weak nation that was surrounded by many enemies.

Zephaniah time line resizedJosiah’s father Amon and grandfather Manasseh were wicked kings who spread idolatry across Judah. They worshipped Baal, Asherah, and the stars and planets, with child sacrifice to Molech and ritual prostitution (2 Ki. 21:6-9; 2 Chr. 33:6-9). There was occultism and the righteous were martyred. Josiah turned back to God and repaired the temple, restoring temple worship in 622BC.

Zephaniah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. He lived about 70 years after Isaiah and Micah and was a contemporary of Nahum and the young Jeremiah. He is recognised as the last pre-exilic prophet.

Before Zephaniah, Isaiah proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He warned that Judah’s wickedness would be punished by the Babylonians. The judgment is called “the day of the Lord”. But they would be restored when the Messiah would reign. Micah also proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He lists their sins, and predicts a ruler from Bethlehem and the restoration of a remnant. The main theme of these prophets was God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. We will see that this is what Zephaniah prophesied as well. So he may have been already familiar with the content of his message from the earlier prophets.

During the time of Zephaniah, Nahum predicted the destruction of Nineveh, the largest city of the time. This would have been good news for Judah who had been threatened by Assyria since the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. It showed that God judges His enemies. At this time, Jeremiah (Ch. 1-38) denounced the sins of Judah. He predicted that because of these they would be defeated by the Babylonians and be exiled for 70 years. But he also predicted their restoration and life under the Messiah with a new covenant.

So, at the time when Zephaniah prophesised, the Judeans were threatened by foreign enemies. Idolatry and sinfulness were prevalent; they were no longer following the laws given to Moses. So Zephaniah warns them of the consequences of their behavior.

Literary structure

Apart from the first verse, the book of Zephaniah is poetry, not prose. It teems with figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, metonymy and synecdoche.

God is the central character. He is a God of action. At the beginning He is a merciless judge. But by the end he shows mercy and pardons people. Zephaniah is a humble spokesman: he speaks about God and not himself.

The story is that God wants Judah to serve Him. However, this is prevented by their sins.
Through “the day of the Lord”, Judah is restored to serve Him and they are joined by believing Gentiles.

Zephaniah’s themes

The two main themes of Zephaniah are predictions of God’s judgment and God’s deliverance, which show His justice and mercy. Zephaniah mainly concerns the coming judgment and punishment of Judah and other nations because of their sinfulness (1:2-3:8). This is followed by the promised restoration of a Jewish remnant (3:9-20). So an imminent threat is balanced by the hope of ultimate deliverance.

Zephaniah diagram resizedThose who “have sinned against the Lord” (1:17) will be judged and those who obey and trust the Lord will be restored (2:3; 3:12). The themes of judgment and restoration are linked by a call to repentance (2:1-3).

Looking at these linkages shown in the schematic diagram, four major themes can be identified: Humanity’s sinfulness, God’s warning, God’s judgment, and God’s deliverance. We will now look at each of these in turn.

Humanity’s sinfulness

Zephaniah shows that human sinfulness is a universal problem; it affected both Judah and the other nations.

The sins of Judah included: idolatry (1:3, 4), syncretism (where the true God is worshipped through or alongside other gods) (1:5; 2 Ki. 17:41), apostasy (1:6), following foreign (pagan) customs and culture, which compromised their identity as God’s special people (1:8-9), violence (1:9), apathy and pride (1:12; 3:11), love of money (1:18), oppression (3:10), rebellion (3:10), self-sufficiency, unruliness and ungodliness (3:2), greedy and corrupt leaders (3:3-4, 7), lying and deceit (1:9; 3:13), and thinking that God doesn’t punish sins or reward repentance (1:12). They didn’t “seek the Lord” or “inquire of Him” via prayer or the Scriptures (1:6).

The sins of other nations included: pride (2:10, 15), self-sufficiency (2:15), and insulting, mocking and threatening God’s people (2:8, 10).

This sinfulness was the source and reason for God’s judgment. God had given His people standards to live by in the Mosaic law. So they should have known better.

Now we come to God’s response to their sins.

God’s warning

The prophets warned God’s people about the consequences of their sinfulness. They were breaking the covenant with their God. Instead of living like God’s people, they were living like pagans. They were breaking most of the ten commandments. The punishment for disobeying the covenant is given in the Pentateuch (Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68). It included being defeated by their enemies, having their cities besieged, plundered and destroyed and their people captured and scattered to other nations.

Zephaniah calls for repentance (2:3). There is deliverance for the humble who trust God. But Jerusalem is unrepentant (3:6-7). They didn’t learn from the mistakes of the northern kingdom about 100 years earlier that lead to them being captured by the Assyrians and destroyed as a nation.

So God is merciful: He warns His people of the consequences of their behavior. And we know that king Josiah did repent.

There are two possible responses to a warning. The first is to ignore it. Now we come to the major theme of God’s judgment.

God’s judgment

Judgment is predicted for both Judah and other nations for their ongoing sinfulness.

First for the Jews. The “day of the Lord” is mentioned at least eleven times in the book of Zephaniah (1:7, 8, 9, 10, 14 (twice), 15, 18; 2: 2 (twice), 3). Each occurrence is associated with a message to Judah. According to the NET Bible the concept of “the day of the Lord” may have originated in the ancient Near Eastern idea of the sovereign’s day of conquest, where a king would boast that he had concluded an entire military campaign in a single day. In the Old Testament the phrase first appears in the book of Amos (Amos 5:18-20).

It is a time of great judgement. But when and where will it occur? The book begins with God declaring (1:2-3): “I will sweep away (“destroy” NET) everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.

At the end of chapter 1, Zephaniah comments (1:18): “In the fire of His jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.”

So everything on the ground will be devastated. Where will it occur? It is clear from the next verse that both Judah and Jerusalem will be attacked (1:4). He calls it “the day of the Lord” (1:7, 14) and “the day of the Lord’s wrath” (1:18; 2:2). Jerusalem will be devastated (1:10-13) because of her sinfulness (3:1-5) and unrepentance (3:7).

But why does the NIV say the judgment is on “the face of the earth” (1:2, 3), “the whole earth” and “all who live on the earth” (1:18)? It seems to me that these phrases are translated poorly by most modern translations of the Bible. Click the link to see my reasons. A better translation is: “the land (of Judah)” (1:2, 3), “the whole land (of Judah)”, and “all who live on the land (of Judah) (1:18).

The judgment is directed to the unrepentant, those who don’t seek the Lord (1:6). Zephaniah gives three pictures of God’s judgement, “the day of the Lord”: a devastating flood (1:2-3), a great sacrifice (1:7-8), and a great battle (1:14-18).

As it described total destruction of living things and idols, yet there are survivors (a humble remnant), the description of the judgment seems to include hyperbole (1:2-3, 18b, 2:3; 3:11-13). Some resolve this dilemma by assuming that the verses on deliverance (3:9-20) were written after the time of Zephaniah. But this isn’t necessary because the combination of the themes of judgement, deliverance of a remnant and a new life of blessing for the faithful is an old as Noah’s flood. So the day of the Lord includes both punishment and purification. Zephaniah wasn’t just a prophet of doom, but of doom and hope. After all God is characterised by both justice (when he punishes sinners) and mercy (when he restores the repentant).

When will the judgment occur? “The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly” (1:7, 14). It’s imminent. It describes the desolation after an army invades Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-18a). Nothing will be able to save the Judeans (1:18a). It will be “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (1:15). A time of wailing (1:11). This prediction was probably given at least 30 years before it was fulfilled when Babylonia invaded Jerusalem. That’s when the judgment was to occur. In the meantime, the purpose of the distress was so Judah would repent.

Secondly, judgment is also predicted as total destruction for nations around Judah. Philistia in the west (2:4-6), Moab and Ammon in the east (2:8-11), Egypt in the south (2:12) and Assyria in the north (2:13-15). As there is judgment in all directions, no one can escape. God also promised to judge all the wicked Gentiles (3:8). This is when other nations experience “the day of the Lord”. It was announced by Zephaniah to call Judah to repentance (3:6-7).

About 50 years later Ezekiel also prophesied the destruction of Ammon, Moab and Philistia (Ch. 25) (Assyria had already been invaded by the Babylonians). Ammon and Moab would be invaded by Babylonia. God would take vengeance on Philistia. Also, Egypt and its allies would be invaded by Babylonia (Ch 29-32). After this it was invaded by the Persians. So all these judgements occurred within 100 years of Zephaniah’s predictions.

God’s judgment in “the day of the Lord” shows that justice comes to all.

The other response to a warning is to take notice and change your behavior so as to avoid the consequences. Now we come to the other major theme of God’s deliverance.

God’s deliverance

Deliverance is predicted for both Judah and other nations.

First for the Jews. Believers would be protected during “the day of the Lord” (2:3). Then God promises to restore a Jewish remnant (2:7; 3:10-13, 18-20). Deliverance and salvation follow judgment. The scattered Jews will return to the land of Judah. They will seek the Lord, trust in Him, obey Him and be humble (2:3; 3:12). They will resume the temple offerings. Their enemies will be punished and there will be peace and honesty in their land. Shame and wickedness will cease (3:11-13). The Jews will be praised and honored around the world – praise and honor has replaced their shame. They will occupy Philistia, Moab and Ammon (2:7, 9c). This leads to joyful celebration in Jerusalem under God’s leadership (3:14-17). Singing has replaced their wailing (3:14), because the punishment has been taken away, the enemies turned back and God is with them (v.15). There is joy and singing in heaven as well (3:17). God “will rejoice over you with singing”.

When will the deliverance occur (Zeph. 3:10-20)? A Jewish remnant returned to Judah after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Although Gentiles called “on the name of the Lord” when they became Christians (Zeph. 3:9; Rom. 10:13), I don’t think that the deliverance described has been completed yet. Did Judah have peace (3:13)? After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and in 134 AD the Romans attacked again and the Jews were killed, enslaved and dispersed to surrounding countries including Europe and North Africa. Since this time, Judea has been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Crusaders, the Mamluk Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. The Jews were persecuted and driven out of many regions culminating in the holocaust. Have the Jews been praised and honored in other lands (3:19-20)? It says “never again will you fear any harm” (3:15), yet Jerusalem, was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Secondly, redemption is also predicted for believing Gentiles. When God destroys Judah’s enemies (2:11): “Distant nations will bow down to Him, all of them in their own lands”. When they realise the awesomeness of God, they will repent and worship Him. They will also seek His help in prayer and serve Him (3:9). This has been fulfilled to some degree in the Christian church.

Conclusion

We have seen that Zephaniah told the Jews of the 7th century BC that because of humanity’s sinfulness, God will judge the Jews and the Gentiles in the “day of the Lord”. And God did judge them. But God is merciful. He warns them of their situation and their need to repent.
After this a Jewish remnant will be restored and they will worship Him as King of Israel.

So Zephaniah’s main themes are: Mankind’s sinfulness, God’s warning to repent, God’s judgment (the day of the Lord) for the unrepentant, and God’s deliverance for the repentant (the remnant). This is an example of “the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). These are two aspects of God’s character. The kindness is for those who repent, while the sternness is for the unrepentant.

The Jews should have known about these themes because they come from the Pentateuch. It contains rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience. It also says if they confess their sins with humility, then God would remember their covenant (Lev. 26:40-45). So their repentance is the goal of their punishment. God wanted them to turn back to following Him once again.

Zephaniah also implies that God is the God of all nations. In those days each nation had their own gods. People were polytheistic. Here we see that Judah’s God is sovereign and supreme over other nations. He will destroy all the other gods (2:11). Therefore, He was sovereign and supreme over their gods. So the fact of one true God as expressed in the first two commandments is another theme of Zephaniah.

Furthermore, it implies that God intervenes in history (1:12). They thought He wouldn’t intervene, but God says He will search Jerusalem (2:11). So the fact that Judah’s God intervenes in human affairs and history is another theme of Zephaniah.

In order to apply Zephaniah’s prophecy to our modern world, we need to take of account of what God has revealed since then. Today we know that the New Testament teaches that because of humanity’s sinfulness, we all deserve God’s punishment. But God is merciful. In the Bible He warns us of our situation and our need to repent. Jesus took the punishment for us when He was crucified. Those who repent are redeemed to worship Him as their Lord.

When Paul addresses the sins of the self-righteous moralist, he writes “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). So God warns people today of a coming judgment. Also, Peter warns that God’s final judgment of the universe is coming as “the day of the Lord” (2 Pt. 3:7-10). In the meantime, we are to be faithful followers of Christ (2 Pt. 3:11-14).

Even though it was written over 2,600 years ago, Zephaniah’s book is relevant to our times. We can apply the four main themes to ourselves. What are our sins? What are our gods? Are we apathetic? Are we materialistic? Are we selfish? How loyal are we to God? They had a choice. So do we. Will we confess and repent of our sins in order to maintain our relationship with the Lord? There is deliverance and salvation for the humble who trust in the death of Jesus Christ for their sins. Do we have the hope of heaven? The hope of a better time to come.

Because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming; but deliverance and salvation is promised for the repentant.

Written, November 2014

Also see: What is the meaning of adamah and erets in Zephaniah?


Visiting Noah’s ark

IMG_3279 resized

IMG_3279 resizedDid you know that there is a full-sized replica of Noah’s ark in Dordrecht in The Netherlands? This post was inspired by a visit to this replica.

Flood stories

Many nations all over the world have flood stories. Even tribes that never heard of the Bible. The Biblical story in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 of the Bible is the only realistic flood story. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, for instance we find a brawl between gods and a cubic shaped ark, which is the least stable shape. However, the dimensions of Noah’s ark made it almost impossible to capsize. The ratio of 6:1 for length to width appears to be most stable and seaworthy and is still being used for unmotorised vessels.

Size

When God decided to destroy the earth because of humanity’s corruption and violence, He told Noah to build an ark that was “three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high” (Gen. 6:15NIV). The length of a cubit was based on the distance from the elbow to the fingertips, so it varied between different ancient groups of people. Two types of cubit are mentioned in the Old Testament, with the older one being one handbreadth longer than the newer one (2 Chron. 3:3; Ezek. 40:5; 43:13). According to the NIV Study Bible, the old cubit was 7 handbreadths and the new one was 6 handbreadths.

Because it is not known what cubit Noah used, the replica uses a different definition of the cubit for each dimension! They call these the “three most famous cubit sizes” as follows:
• 45 cm (Hebrew) for the length, making 135 m
• 60 cm (Egyptian) for the width, making 30 m
• 70 cm (18th Century) for the height, making 21 m (but they state 23 m)
IMG_3199 resizedThis means that the replica has a different shape to the original (being wider and higher for the given length). The original would have been about 140 m long, 25 m wide and 15 m high, which is shaped more like the barges that travel past the replica on the Rhine River.

Construction

Noah was told to “make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out” (Gen. 6:14NIV). The Hebrew word translated “rooms” also means “nests”. There were to be rooms within the ark, which were pitched both inside and outside. The ark had a very solid construction. It was partitioned into many compartments, which led to extra strength. These rooms had different functions. Some were used to store food and if the rooms were large enough, they could be used as an animal cage. Furthermore, in the case of damaged compartments, the remaining rooms would maintain the buoyancy of the ark.

It is not known what type of wood was used to construct the ark – many translations call it “gopher wood” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew text. Pinewood seems to be the best option – this was used in the 1599 Geneva Bible and many modern translations render the Hebrew term as “cypress” (NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV). The ark was to be covered with pitch, both inside and outside. Pitch can be made from pinewood and is created by putting pinewood waste under a pile of sand and burning it to produce a think liquid pitch. Because of the large amount of resin present, pinewood is soft and flexible. After several years, the wood and resin become hard and strong. If the ark was made out of pinewood, it would have been very strong and durable. The replica ark was built out of 12,000 Scots pine trees from Scandinavia.

Cain’s descendant Jabal “was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah” (Genesis 4:20-22NIV).
IMG_3071 resizedThe Bible says that Tubal-Cain was a blacksmith and that there were stringed instruments at that time. The strings of a harp are made out of steel and are complicated to forge. Therefore, Tubal-Cain and his descendants must have been good blacksmiths. Tubal-Cain lived about 600 years before Noah. From this we can deduce that Noah probably had steel, hammers and nails for the construction of the ark.

Could all the animals fit in the ark?

Noah was told “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them” (Gen. 6:19-21).

A common criticism of the Biblical account is, “How can millions of species fit on the ark?”. But this fails to recognize that “every kind” does not mean “every species”. Instead, a “kind” is more like a “genus” than a “species”. Noah only needed a pair of every kind of creature, not of every species. For example, one kind of dog and one kind of horse, not many. Since the flood each kind has produced many species (variety within a genus). It is estimated that there were about 8,000 genera at that time, including extinct genera. This means that about 16,000 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians would need to be housed on the ark.

IMG_3159 resizedIt is estimated that the median size of all animals on the ark would have been that of a small rat, while only about 10% would have been much larger than a sheep. As the animals were to repopulate the world after the flood, they would have been young and not old. The ark had three “decks”. If the smaller 90% of the animals were in two layers on one deck, each pair would have an average of 1 square metre. If the remainder of the animals were on another deck, each pair would have an average of 4 square metre. This indicates the feasibility of housing the animals in two thirds of the ark.

Purpose

The Bible says that eight people survived the great deluge because they were on the ark. Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. However, there would have been more than eight beds on the ark. What is the reason for that? It took Noah about 120 years to build the ark. During this time he told the people that they could be safe on the ark (2 Peter 2:5). Unfortunately no one accepted the invitation.

Jesus said He is preparing a place for us in heaven, just like Noah prepared a place for the people of his age (Jn.14:2). In Noah’s time the ark was the only way to survive the great deluge. In the same way, Jesus came to earth to save us. Just like in Noah’s time, the Lord has a way to rescue people. Because God loved the world so much, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Jesus died on the cross, to bear our sins and He rose again so we can be saved from the penalty of our sin; eternal death (Jn. 3:16). We are to tell the world of this salvation. Otherwise those places will stay empty (Mt. 28:19)!

Written May 2014

Also see:
Why was Noah’s family saved while the rest died in the flood?


Why was Noah’s family saved while the rest died in the flood?

noahs ark

noahs arkHollywood has produced a blockbuster movie that is loosely based on the life of the biblical character Noah. It includes stunning visuals of the catastrophic global flood via computer generated imagery. But why was Noah’s family saved from the disaster? And why were the rest of the people and the animals of the earth destroyed in the cataclysmic flood? To find the answers we need to go to the original record, the book of Genesis in the Bible (Gen. 6:1-13). Here we will see that mothers have strong influences on their children. So much so, that ungodly mothers often lead their children into ungodliness.

Context

The first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) were compiled and written by Moses for the benefit of the Israelite nation. Genesis begins with the creation of the universe, including the first people who were told to populate the earth. After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, their son Cain murdered his brother Abel. Then Adam and Eve had another son named Seth.

Following this:
• A selection of Cain’s descendants are listed to the 8th generation on earth (Gen. 4:17-24).
• A selection of Seth’s descendants are listed to the 10th generation on earth (Gen. 4:25 – 5:32).
• After this reasons are given for the flood (Gen. 6:1-13).
• And then Noah and the flood are described including the preparation before the flood, the flood itself, followed by its aftermath.

Characters

The characters in this prelude to the flood are the “sons of God” (Gen. 6:2, 4NIV), the “daughters of humans” (v.2, 4), the “Nephilim” (v.4), Noah (v.8-10) and the Lord (v.3, 5-8). In order to understand what these words meant to the Israelites, we will look at how Moses used them elsewhere in the Pentateuch.

The “sons of God” (Strongs # 1121, 430) are also mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:1 and 32:3-6. Deuteronomy describes God’s covenant with the Israelites, who are called “sons (or children) of the Lord your God”. God was their Father and Creator because He made the Israelite nation, even though they didn’t always behave like His sons (or children). But the Israelite nation commenced well after Genesis 6. As the Israelites were God’s people, the meaning of “sons of God” in Genesis 6 would be the people who followed God at that time. Enoch and Noah were said to have “walked faithfully with God”, so they would have been “sons of God” (Gen. 5:22; 6:9). As they were descendants of Seth and because when Seth had a son “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26), presumably the “sons of God” were male descendants of Seth who followed the Lord. However, as faith in God is not necessarily restricted to one lineage, some of the “sons of God” may have been descendants of Seth’s brothers.

Such faith in God would have been evident in their obedience to God’s commands. As both Abel and Noah offered animal sacrifices to God, presumably that was one of God’s commands (Gen. 4:3-5; 8:20-21). At this time people knew the difference between right and wrong (Gen. 3:22). For example, Cain knew what was right, but didn’t do it (Gen. 4:7).

Traditionally the “sons of God” have been understood to be angels, but this is based on Scriptures outside the Pentateuch and on extra-biblical sources.

The “daughters of humans” (Strongs # 1323, 120) are also mentioned in v.1 where it is clear that they were women who were alive at that time. After looking at all the evidence, we will clarify what type of women they were.

The “Nephilim” (Strongs # 5303) were “the heroes of old, men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). The 10 bad spies said that the Nephilim “are of great size” (Num. 13: 32-33). The root word also means a bully or tyrant (Strongs Concordance). The term seems to describe mighty warriors with giant stature and great strength.

The passage says, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). Notice that the Nephilim existed “in those days.” Which days? The days “When human beings began to increase in number on the earth” (v.1) and “when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them” (v.4), “and also afterward (v.4)”. The passage doesn’t seem to indicate the Nephilim were caused by the union, but that they existed at the same time as these unions took place. So they are a historical marker.

Traditionally the “Nephilim” have been understood to be the product of the union between fallen angels and women, but this is not what the Hebrew text says and is based on Scriptures outside the Pentateuch and on extra-biblical sources.

Contrast

In Genesis 6, Noah is contrasted against others. He is righteous and blameless, while they are wicked. We will see that he is being compared with the other descendants of Seth who were alive at that time.

The order within Genesis is a historical sequence, which provides an overall genealogy from Adam to Joseph’s grandchildren. Within each family the children of lesser importance are usually mentioned briefly followed by a more detailed account of the children that were divinely chosen to be God’s agents. The latter were either Christ’s ancestors or Israelite patriarchs. For example, Shem over Japheth and Ham (Gen. 10:1-32; 11:10-26), Isaac over Ishmael (Gen. 25:12-18; 25:19 – 35:29), and Jacob over Esau (Gen. 36:1-43; 37:1 – 50:14).

Likewise, the genealogy of Cain (Gen. 4:17-24) is given before that of Seth (Gen. 4:25 – 5:32). “The written account of Adam’s family line” goes through Seth, not Cain (Gen. 5:1). Cain’s genealogy in the Bible only goes to Lamech’s children (8 generations), but Seth’s goes to Christ (Lk. 3:23-38; at least 75 generations). So Cain’s descendants are of lesser importance in the Bible than those of Seth.

As Noah is a descendant of Seth, Genesis 5-10 is an account of the descendants of Seth. This includes the passage we are looking at (Gen. 6:1-13).

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” who “walked faithfully with God” (Gen 6:10). “Blameless” (tamim Strongs #8549) means sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity. It includes being innocent of the behavior listed below and of idolatry and spiritism (Dt. 18:13). Instead he usually followed God and did what was right. But he still sinned as indicated by his drunkenness after the flood (Gen. 9:21).

In contrast, at that time the other descendants of Seth were characterized by:
• “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). This was extreme evil – note “every inclination,” “only evil,” and “all the time.”
• “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Gen. 6:11).
• “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Gen. 6:12).
• “the earth is filled with violence” (Gen. 6:13).

Three Hebrew words are repeated in these verses. They are given below together with their usage in the Pentateuch.
• “Wickedness” & “evil” (ra Strongs #7451). This word is also used to describe the people of Sodom (Gen. 13:13); adultery, when Joseph resisted Potiphar’s wife  (Gen. 39:9); and Israel’s rebellion when they refused to enter Canaan (Num. 32:13).
• “Violence” (chamas Strongs # 2555), which means violence or wrong, including Hagar’s injurious language and harsh treatment of Sarai (Gen. 16:5).
• “Corrupt” (sachath Strongs #7843), which means moral corruption, including idolatry (Ex 32:7; Dt. 4:16, 25; 9:12; 31:29; 32:5).

Compare

IMG_3279 resizedWhat can we learn about this situation from the New Testament? Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” and those destroyed in the flood were “ungodly” (2 Pt. 2:5). For 120 years before the flood, Noah preached in the power of the Holy Spirit to those who were disobedient and God waited patiently (1 Pt. 3:19-20).

Noah had great faith in God (Heb. 11:7). When warned about things not yet seen (God predicated a destructive flood), in holy fear he built an ark to save his family. The salvation of his family and the animals in the ark is symbolic of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Pt. 3:21).

The ungodly people didn’t expect the flood. They carried on living as usual until it was too late when the flood came (Mt 24:37-41; Lk. 17:26-27). That’s how it will be when Christ returns to judge the world. The ungodly are taken away in both instances for judgment because they reject God’s mercy.

Thousands of years after the flood, people forget that the world was destroyed in the flood and doubt that God will judge the world again 2 Pt. 3:6-7). But the next time it will be by fire.

Noah is included in the genealogy of Christ (Lk. 3:23-38). After Adam sinned God told Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). This was a promise that one of Eve’s male descendants would destroy Satan. People may have wondered who would be the destroyer and Satan would be trying to stop the fulfilment. The first candidate was Abel, but Satan had him murdered by Cain. Noah was the only candidate of His time, so Satan would be trying to introduce ungodliness into Noah’s family. So this was a crucial point in the genealogy of Christ. We see that God acted decisively to remove this threat.

Cause

The Bible says that the flood was God’s judgment of humanity’s wickedness. But what caused this wickedness to spread amongst mankind? The Bible seems to give a clue when it mentions the marriage between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of humans” before and after the warning in Genesis 6:3. The implication is that the cause of the departure from righteousness amongst God’s people in Noah’s day was because godly men chose ungodly wives. They chose wives based on their beauty alone – “the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (Gen. 6:2). It seems as though the wives spread this ungodly behavior through their children (Gen 6:4). Like those destroyed in the flood, they were “ungodly”. When a godly man marries an ungodly woman, the children are likely to be ungodly. If most godly men marry ungodly women, after a few generations, most of the people are likely to be ungodly.

So one of the reasons why Noah was godly was because he probably had a godly mother. He learnt to obey God when he was young and continued to be godly when he was an adult. Likewise one of the reasons his mother was godly was because her mother was probably godly. Here we see how the godly influence of mothers can propagate to their descendants. So one of the reasons why Noah was godly was because of the godly influence of his female ancestors.

This explanation is consistent with the rest of Scripture which teaches that the Israelites were not to intermarry with the Canaanites because they would cause their children to follow idols (Dt. 7:3-4). When they disobeyed this command, they were expelled from the promised land (Jer. 44:1-30). After the exile, they were punished for continuing to marry idol worshippers (Ezra 9:1-4, 10-15; 10:1-44; Neh. 13:23-27; Mal. 2:10-12). Also, Christians shouldn’t marry unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).

If Noah’s ancestors were godly and they didn’t die in the flood, then they must have already died when the flood came. Otherwise, they should have been on the ark. Using the dates in Genesis 5 we see that his father Lamech died 5 years before the flood and his grandfather Methuselah died in the year that the flood came. This was enabled because Noah didn’t have a child until he was 500 years of age, which was more than double the next largest recorded time period of 187 years. Also, Lamech was the youngest to die at 777 years, appreciably younger than the next recorded youngest of 895 years.

Maybe the ungodly were influenced by descendants of Cain such as the different Lamech who practiced polygamy and murder (Gen. 4:19, 23-24). This evil was so widespread that Noah was the only man to resist this temptation. But if the ungodliness continued unchecked, the godly remnant would have ceased to exist (humanly speaking).

Some say that Genesis 6:2 refers to intermarriage between the descendants of Seth and of Cain. But this implies that all the descendants of Seth were godly and those of Cain were all ungodly. This is not true, because when the flood came all the descendants of Seth except Noah’s family died in the flood, which implies they were ungodly.

Why were the rest of the people destroyed in the flood? The Bible says they were ungodly. One of the reasons they were ungodly is because they probably had ungodly mothers. They learnt to disobey God when they were young and continued to be ungodly when they were adults. They disobeyed God by refusing to offer animal sacrifices. Instead they probably worshipped idols. Also, they refused God’s mercy because they refused to believe that they faced His judgment.

Was God unfair to judge the world in this way? Well we see that they had plenty of warning. At that time, the Lord said “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal (or corrupt); their days will be a hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). Here God is giving the people 120 years warning of their coming judgment.

Chief lesson for us

For us today, the salvation of Noah’s family in the ark is symbolic of the salvation available through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Pt. 3:21). There is a warning that unless we respond to God’s rescue plan, we will perish spiritually in hell, just like those who perished physically in the flood. Meanwhile God is waiting patiently “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). Those who confess and repent of their sin and trust that Christ has paid the penalty are godly in God’s sight (like Noah) and will live eternally in heaven.

Conclusion

So Noah was saved from the flood because he took after his godly mother. The rest of the people were destroyed in the flood because they took after their ungodly mothers.

This shows the power of a mother’s influence on her children. Godly men need to be careful when choosing a wife because of the impact on the spirituality of their descendants. Ungodly mothers often lead their children into ungodliness. After all, godliness is more important than beauty.

Written, April 2014

Also see:
Visiting Noah’s ark


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