logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

"Reproach & Rejoicing when the Rednecks Come Riding"

Dec.13, 2015 Zeph.1:4-13;3:11-20


This 3rd Sunday of Advent may seem to be, not so much a time to REJOICE as to RECOIL from remarks that have been made in the news. Dec.7 a Republican presidential hopeful's campaign press release said, "Donald J.Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." In response, some are calling for "Trump Towers" in Toronto and Vancouver to be renamed. I saw a plaque on Facebook: "Dear Santa, for Christmas I want some new presidential candidates."

Meanwhile, over at Liberty University in Virginia, a purportedly Christian institution of higher education, Jerry Falwell Jr.(son of the founder) Dec. 4 gestured to his back pocket's gun and suggested, in view of shootings like that in San Bernardino: "I've always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in...and killed them." He also reminded students that Liberty offers them a free gun-handling course.

What's the solution to a gun problem? More guns! "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men" - or, maybe not...

Well, with such controversial comments being bandied about, here's one more I'd like us to consider this morning: "Does Western culture DESERVE to be saved from the barbarians?" (Repeat) Don't brush it off too quickly. ISIS for instance is having great success recruiting warriors from the civilized world: they must be able to make a case somehow. Meanwhile NATO and now even Russia are sending warplanes daily trying to bomb ISIS off the face of the earth. Do we have a clear moral justification to do so? If so, on what basis? What yardstick?

Let's push the question back in history to a different time and place. Did Roman culture, wanton and corrupt as it was, deserve to be saved from the invading Goths back in 410 AD? Here's how historian Edward Gibbon described it: "In the hour of savage licence, when every passion was inflamed, and every restraint was removed…a cruel slaughter was made of the Romans..." He terms the Goths "barbarians", yet also the Romans' degraded excess as "savage" licence.

Let's push even further back, to the time of wicked king Manasseh of Judah, who reigned over 50 years (697-642 BC). 2Kings 21:3-6 summarizes his apostasy: "He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole...He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them...He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists.He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger." In response, the prophets forecasted destruction for Jerusalem, because of the degree of sin Manasseh introduced. 2Kings 21:11,13 "Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins.He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols...I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down." The nation had sinned even worse than the nations God had driven out before them (the Amorites) in order for Jacob's descendants to inhabit the land - so now THEY would be driven out.

It's not an idle question: DOES our culture deserve to be saved? How do we measure up compared to that of Manasseh's day? We turn to a prophet who spoke during Josiah's reign just afterward, Zephaniah, who points out some ways that culture was falling short. He also prophesied a time of restoration and rejoicing for those who believed in Yahweh: but joy would need to be preceded by a return to the Lord.


The barbarians were threatening. Not ISIS, or Goths from northern Europe: during Zephaniah's time the "barbarians" were the Scythians. An edition of the International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia notes: "the description of them given by Herodotus in book IV of his history represents a race of savages, ...north of the Black and Caspian seas and the Caucasus Mountains.They were nomads who neither plowed nor sowed, moving about in wagons and carrying their dwellings with them; they had the most filthy habits and never washed in water; they drank the blood of the first enemy killed in battle, and made napkins of the scalps and drinking bowls of the skulls of the slain...War was their chief business, and they were a terrible scourge to the nations of Western Asia.They broke through the barrier of the Caucasus in 632 BC and swept down like a swarm of locusts upon Media and Assyria, turning the fruitful fields into a desert; pushing across Mesopotamia, they ravaged Syria and were about to invade Egypt when Psammitichus I, who was besieging Ashdod, bought them off by rich gifts, but they remained in Western Asia for 28 years..."

These Scythians are the new threat on the horizon when Zephaniah is prophesying. They are a potential weapon God could use to discipline His people. Ultimately though, the threat of the Scythians would pale compared to the Babylonians, who in 586 BC would capture Jerusalem and deport the Jews for many decades.

Incidentally, the reputation of Scythians as savages extends even into the New Testament. Paul writes of the change Jesus brings about in Colossians 3:11: "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."


Zephaniah paints the faults of his contemporaries in 6 bold colours, which I'll summarize using words that start with C: compromise, conspiracy, commercialism, complacency, corruption, and conceit. Do those ring any bells today?

1) COMPROMISE: Zeph 1:4b-6 "I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal, the names of the pagan and the idolatrous priests-- those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molech, those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him."

(a) Those who worship "the starry host": it's surprising how many times I see references to the zodiac and horoscopes showing up on Facebook, even from people who have a church connection. If Jesus is Lord of your life, don't consult the stars regarding your future. God made the stars: trust Him and seek His will concerning your direction.

(b) A second form of compromise is "those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molech." Do you pay lipservice to God, going to church on Sunday but then giving your allegiance to gods of the culture during the week? Molech was a foreign god the worship of which included child sacrifice, astrology, and temple prostitution.

In v9 God says, "I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold". The meaning of this is not clear; it may be a pagan custom going back to 1Samuel 5:5 and the destruction of a statue of the god Dagon; perhaps a superstition that the threshold of a dwelling was a dwelling place of spirits. Do we claim to be Christians yet cling to old superstitions? Anyone "knocked on wood" lately? Think before you perpetuate empty superstitions! They compromise your trust in God.

2) CONSPIRACY: V9 "I will punish all who...fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit." 3:3 "Her officials are roaring lions, her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning." The prophet Zephaniah was a great-grandson of former king Hezekiah, so was probably familiar with court intrigue and plotting; the violence wealthy officials and rulers commit because they can "get away with it".

3) COMMERCIALISM: 1:10f ""On that day," declares the LORD, "a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined." Our culture is very economy-conscious: when the stock market crashes, there is wailing from investors and businesses. Central banks are now talking about NEGATIVE interest rates. Is there anything "commercial" about Christmas? It becomes a painful time of year for families who can't afford much, yet feel pressured to buy "stuff" to put under the tree for their kids Dec.25.

1:18 "Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD's wrath." There are many valuable things in life which money just cannot buy - in fact, the most important things: health, more years, true love. When God judges us, He who owns the cattle on a thousand hills won't be impressed by the size of our bank accounts! (Psalm 50:10) You can't take it with you - but you CAN 'send it on ahead', storing up treasure in heaven by generosity here on earth.

4) COMPLACENCY: Zeph 1:12 "At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, 'The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.'" Here is a besetting Canadian sin: to become COMPLACENT; we're rated one of the best countries in the world in which to live, with free health care, so if we land a decent career and get the house paid off we may tend to relax and say to ourselves, "We have it made!" Then your goal in life kind of collapses in on yourself, entertaining and amusing oneself into oblivion with your disposable income.

God in v12 says complacency is "like wine left on its dregs": John MacArthur explains, "With this term, referring to a thickened crust which forms on wine when left undisturbed for a long period of time, the prophet described the people's hardened indifference and slothfulness toward God.Their spiritual complacency led them to regard God as morally ambivalent." God doesn't really factor into their lives or their decision-making; life revolves around keeping oneself comfortable, the next holiday, the next cruise. God becomes largely irrelevant, without a "say". Complacency. Unsensational but VERY deadly spiritually!

5) CORRUPTION: 3:7 "I said to the city, 'Surely you will fear me and accept correction!' Then her dwelling would not be cut off, nor all my punishments come upon her.But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did." Apparently corruption in government circles was not unknown in Zephaniah's day. Years before, King Manasseh "shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end" (21:16). We used to think corruption was more of a Third-World problem; like the latest Mission To Haiti team not being able to get the container cleared from customs until the very last day they were there. But corruption can infect government agencies at high levels in developed countries, too. Think of the FIFA investigation underway, or that involving Senator Mike Duffy's expense claims. Are you absolutely truthful in all your income tax reporting and business dealings, or do you let some things just kind of "slide by"?

6) Our sixth and final "C" is perhaps the hardest to put your finger on, but one of the most significant: CONCEIT. 3:11b "...I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride.Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill." Also 3:1-2 "Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction.She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God." Pride - haughtiness - rebelliousness - disobedience - not accepting correction: all these relate to CONCEIT, having an over-inflated opinion of oneself, not being willing to submit to the Lord's leading. "I want to run my life MY way, do what I want, call my own shots." The theme song echoing down the corridors of hell will be, "I did it MY way!"


So, have you been keeping score? How does OUR culture measure up on this scoreboard of a civilization that most mirrors Manasseh's mess? Compromise; Conspiracy; Commercialism; Complacency; Corruption; and Conceit. Sounds like a capsule summary of the 6:00 news, no?

In this context, the prophet Zephaniah warns that the "Day of the Lord" will be quite a shock for most people. 1:14f ""The great day of the LORD is near-- near and coming quickly.Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness..." Three words are associated repeatedly in Zephaniah's prophecy with the Day of the Lord: ANGER, WRATH, and JEALOUSY. 1:18, 2:2 "Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD's wrath.In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth...the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you...the day of the Lord's wrath comes upon you." Later in the book this cluster reappears, 3:8 - God declares, "I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them-- all my fierce anger.The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger."

Does God have a right to be jealous of the affection and worship of the creatures He made? Of course; we owe Him all we have and are. Does the Creator of the universe have just cause to be wrathful and angry when we reject and dishonour Him? Indisputably. This is not just an Old Testament concept. In that great primer on theology, the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes (Rom 2:5): "But 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." WRATH!

So where is Jesus in all this? The "Day of the Lord" is not just a future point in history when God's judgment will be unleashed upon sinful forces arrayed against His people in a vast epic battle. "The Day of the Lord" also occurred in some sense when the wrath and anger of a holy God was unleashed against His precious Son at the cross - incidentally, also a day of darkness and gloom, of clouds and blackness (1:15). Paul writes in Romans 5:8f, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!"


The path to true joy lies through repentance and resignation at the cross of Christ. We have to agree with God's woeful assessment of our moral status: we have sinned, we are guilty, those 6 "C's" are US! But repenting and believing in the Messiah God sent, Jesus His Anointed One - our guilt is removed, our sins are forgiven, we are received as dearly loved sons and daughters with a clean slate, a fresh start. That is how we discover true joy.

We need to humble ourselves and BELIEVE. Zeph 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." Seek the Lord: as Peter recalled Joel's prophesy at Pentecost in Acts 2:21, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Zeph 3:12 God says, "But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the LORD." Believe, trust in His name: Romans 10:9 "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Next, BE LOVED. In stark contrast to the grim images of God's destruction of the wicked, Zephaniah also presents one of the most beautiful and intimate pictures of God's cherishing of His redeemed people in all of Scripture: Zeph 3:17 "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Almighty God rejoicing over US, delighting in us greatly, quieting us with His love - amazing! Let Him fill your tank.

Finally, BE GLAD. God rejoices with singing over those who commit themselves to Him; they also rejoice in Him, because we are saved from the punishment, the doom, that so justifiably was coming upon us. Zeph 3.14f "Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm."

Such joy is rooted indelibly not in circumstances or material prosperity or top-notch health nor anything else that is subject to this world's vagaries and can be taken away - but in knowing and being eternally safe in our redeeming, cherishing God and Saviour. GK Chesterton once observed, "Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian." Believe; be loved; be glad! Let's pray.