Monday, November 4, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Zepahniah 1-3 and My Own Article on "Continuing Revelation" (Part 6)

Introduction: Zephaniah, one of the “minor prophets,” was the great-grandson of Hezekiah and lived during the time of Josiah (641-610 BC). He was a contemporary and supporter of Jeremiah and was active as a prophet during the reign of King Josiah (641-611). The two preceding kings – Amon and Manassah had introduced the cult of Baal and Astarte into the Holy City and Josiah wanted to put an end to it.

Zephaniah 1 – After introducing Zephaniah, there is no preliminary statement saying that the words are from the Lord.  He begins with the Lord’s message and it is painful: “I mean to sweep away everything off the face of the earth . . .sweep away men and beasts. . .send the wicked staggering, and wipe man off the face of the earth. . .” (1:2-3)

“I will put an end to all the idolatrous priests, so that the memory of them will disappear. [T]hey go up to their roofs and bow down to the sun, moon, and stars. They claim to follow the Lord, but then they worship Molech too” (1:4-5).

“Stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign Lord, for the awesome day of the Lord’s judgment is near” (1:7).

The Lord will punish the leaders of Judah, those who take part in pagan worship and those who engage in violence and deceit (1:9). The merchants and traders also will be destroyed, those who are complacent about how they live. “That terrible day of the Lord is near. . . a day of bitter tears a day when even strong men will cry out” (1:14). Silver and gold will not save anyone. “He will make a terrifying end of all the people on earth” (1:18).

Zephaniah 2 – The prophet puts out a call to conversion: “Seek the Lord, all who are humble, and follow his commands. Seek to do what is right and to live humbly” (2:3). If you do this, perhaps the Lord will protect you on the day of anger.

“Gaza and Ashkelon will be abandoned, Ashdod and Ekron torn down” (2:4). The Philistine coast will be destroyed. “The remnant of the tribe of Judah will pasture there. They will rest at night in the abandoned houses in Ashkelon. For the Lord their God will visit his people in kindness and restore their prosperity again” (2:7).

Zephaniah refers to Egypt as Ethiopia because the Ethiopians ruled there right around this time; they too will go down, along with the land of Assyria to the north (2:13). All of those who were full of pride and looked their noses down on Judah, they all will be brought low.

Zephaniah 3 – Jerusalem will suffer too. “She would never listen to the call, would never learn the lesson; she has never trusted in Yahweh, never drawn near to her God” (3:2). The leaders, the judges and the prophets are all like “roaring lions”, “ravenous wolves” and “arrogant liars”; the “priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions” (3:4).

The Lord will not entirely abandon the city, however. God promises to one day “live among [them]” (3:15), King of His own land Israel. “He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears” (3:17). Those who oppressed you will be punished and those who have been exiled will return. “I will give you a good name, a name of distinction, among all the nations of the earth, as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (3:20).

I have long been interested in the difference between the language and mentality of the Old Testament prophets and the language and mentality of those “reformer”/”prophets” who lived in Europe during the time of the Reformation. The early prophets saw God as ready to punish and even completely reject his “chosen” ones, but these prophets never separated themselves from the punished ones, never went off and thought of starting the whole thing over again from scratch.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism -
“Continuing Revelation”
Part 6
While the statements of Friends’ principles and testimonies in the “Disciplines” are not technically binding, the way things are articulated among members tends to stray a good deal from official statementsadopting more contemporary ideas, approaches, and ways of articulating values. The whole tenor of antiwar discussions among Friends during the Vietnam conflict varied hardly at all from what I had heard among atheistic antiwar activists. Of course, I speak only from my own experience here and do not mean to imply that Friends elsewhere did not employ more faith-based rationales for opposing the war. But I also noticed this in other areas as well, such as support for women’s rights and human rights generally. Here Friends’ articulation was rooted in Enlightenment rights theory—not in any radical understanding of Christ’s teaching.

In the early 1980s, when I was considering joining Friends, the issues of continuing revelation and the question of personal and community discernment were at the root of many of the tensions that existed in the Society. There was no unity among unprogrammed Friends on the question of whether or not the Scriptures were texts somehow “given forth” by the Spirit we worshipped, and there was no fundamental unity over the nature or identity of that Spirit itself. So while most Friends went about confidently asserting that the Spirit was giving forth truth today as it had done throughout history, virtually every attempt to test openings against Scripture or against tradition fell flat. In the year when I was considering joining, however, the seriousness of the situation did not hit me. It seemed so logically possible to win the day—everything in the earliest witness of Friends was so consistent and so deeply Christian it just seemed impossible for things to be as off track as they now sometimes appeared. But time would change my assessment.

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