Today, I am reading and commenting on Zephaniah and Habggai.
It is not clear to me if the opening of Zephaniah’s prophecies is about the end of the world, or merely hyperbole to get people’s attention. However, in either case it is quickly apparent that while he is mainly talking to the people of Jerusalem his message is for everyone. Actually as I start to write more about this passage I realized that the opening message is a kind of warning (and perhaps gives us an idea about the conditions which will exist just before the end of the world). Zephaniah condemns those who claim to worship God, but also worship the sun, moon, and stars. Those who claim they can worship both the Creator and the Creation. Further there is a reference to those who claim to worship God yet also worship “Molech”. The translation notes that the Hebrew word translated as “Molech” could also be translated as “their king”. I think that these two possible translations are intentional. “Molech”, as used in Old Testament literature, was a god who demanded child sacrifice. I believe that Zephaniah was telling us that when we worship our king, our government, we will end up sacrificing our children. We cannot worship both God and Nature. We cannot worship both God and government. If we make Nature our god, it will make demands upon us which are incompatible with those made by God. The same is true of the government. Although the latter will do so whether we worship it or not.
Zephaniah’s prophecy is not completely pessimistic. Zephaniah promises that the day will come when God will purify the speech of all people. God will gather together those who seek to do what is right and live with humility. The day of God’s judgment will come upon the earth. On that day, He will wipe from the face of the earth all who are arrogant and haughty. Only those who humbly trust in the name of the Lord will remain. Again and again God has given us warnings, messages, and examples that this day is coming, but we as people refuse to pay heed.
I started out to say that Haggai’s message is completely different from Zephaniah’s, but realized that is not really true. Zephaniah warned about the suffering we will experience if we try to worship something else alongside our worship of God. Haggai tells us the importance of putting God first. If we wait to give to God until we have enough for our other needs, we will find that we never have enough. On the other hand, if we discipline ourselves to give the first fruits to God we will find that we have enough for everything else we need. This works in two ways. First, if we give first to God we need to discipline ourselves and our desires in order to do so. As we discipline our spending and our behavior we will find that our resources seem to go further. Second, if we give first to God, He will bless us. That blessing may be material things which we can further use to honor God, but much of that blessing will be in the positive position we find ourselves in before God. I always have trouble properly expressing the nature of God’s blessings here. God does not promise us material rewards for following Him and His instructions, yet often when we do so we receive greater material goods. The complicated thing is that many of those most faithful to Him seem to be always lacking in material goods.