It can be a horrifying thing when we witness the decline or destruction of a society, nation, or city that was once known for its cultural advances and vitality. One modern example of is the South American nation of Venezuela. It was at one time the pride of Latin America because of its wealth that came about due to its energy independence from its oil industry. Now it’s nothing more than a third world dystopian hellhole. The same can be said about certain American cities in California, Oregon, and Washington. In ancient Judah, God used the prophet Zephaniah as one of many witnesses to explain why such catastrophes tend to happen.
Zephaniah’s primary message was to Judah, but in his message there was a broader application the Lord addressed prophetically to all mankind in every time period. The Lord spoke the following words through Zephaniah:
6 I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant.
7 I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.
8 Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.
9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. Zephaniah 3
In general, we find at least three timeless truths in verses 6-8. Genuine prosperity only comes by heeding them. They are:
- God has a hand in societal catastrophes. As he told the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 18, he has the power to plant nations and to pluck them up. Whether the Lord was talking about Canaan, Egpyt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, the Soviet Union, or the Ottoman Empire, he allowed them all to experience destruction via human agents. In cases like Pompeii, he also utilizes natural disasters to mete out his destruction, as well.
- Catastrophes give humans the loving message that they need to change course. Why does God permit such drastic occurrences? He explains in verse 7 that it’s with the hope that surely people will amend their wrongdoings so as not to be destroyed by his punishments. He anticipates there will be some repentance for the salvation of certain people’s souls as they realize their need to be in a right relationship with their Creator.
- Ignoring the spiritual lessons behind catastrophes brings greater judgment. In most cases where he allows judgment to happen, the Lord took note that the majority of people double down on their corruptions to spread even more severe wickedness (v. 7). Evildoers will become so bad and so resistant to the goodness of the Lord that he will turn their own desires against them for his future final judgment, which he predicts in v. 8 for the last of the last days. Given that nations are so determined to assemble together to compound their evil, God has determined that he will use their desire for an evil united front to unleash his fierce anger on all of mankind in one fell swoop when they are all gathered together in one place. They will experience both the figurative and literal fire of his just jealousy. Since he is the only one who deserves mankind’s worship and has showered mankind with all sorts of blessings for them to prosper, but most have shown disdain and disloyalty toward him, his jealousy is a just reaction.
Nevertheless, there are undeniable blessings at the end of all the catastrophic judgment the Lord can justifiably muster against sinful humans. He will have for himself a pure race of people of every tribe and nation as he originally intended (v. 9). We will be pure in the following two ways:
- We will be pure in our language. In every way that we will express ourselves, it will be in synch with God’s divine reality.
- We will have pure unity in worship. The false unity of compromising sound doctrine to avoid confronting sin will be a forgotten thing of the past. God’s truth is the only thing that will be in effect in our bodies, souls, and spirits and throughout the heavenly kingdom so that we can serve the Lord with one consent in perfect harmony without any static or background noise from spiritual enemies trying to stir up confusion.
It’s understandable for us in our limited human capacity to have a grim view of catastrophes. But from God’s point of view, those catastrophes are seen as opportunities to distribute his remedies.