Zephaniah 1:14-17

War! War! The storm clouds of war hang heavy over the Middle East. The Middle East has been the site of hostilities due to the hatred between the Arabs and the Jews. We know, according to Bible prophecy, war will eventually encompass the entire Middle East. I speak, of course, concerning the great culminating battle of Daniel’s “Seventieth Week” (Dan. 9:24-27) – the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16).

If your thinking is along the same lines as mine when the subject of war, Armageddon, or the Tribulation period is discussed, then you will be asking Why? Why? Why must there be bloodshed and war? Why must there be a Tribulation period and a battle of Armageddon? Why is the world in such a mess? How did it get that way?

IT’S A LONG STORY

It didn’t happen overnight, nor can all the blame or responsibility be placed upon one person or nation. However, if we view the world’s history through Bible spectacles, with the understanding that a major part of history and the role for world peace lies in the hands of God’s chosen people, Israel, then we realize that we can’t understand history or where the future will take us by ignoring God’s dealings with Israel.

Israel was the “apple of God’s eye” (Deut. 32:10). They were the “head” nation (Deut. 28:13) and as such, they were God’s “witnesses” (Isa. 43:10). The ball was in their court. It was their chance to impact the world for God’s glory, but little by little they abdicated their responsibility and privileged position (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:3-4) in the world because of sin and unbelief.

Please note:

(1) Israel’s Military superiority was lost with the blinding of Samson (Jud. 16:21).

(2) Israel’s Political superiority was lost with the blinding of King Zedekiah (cf., Ezek. 21:25 with Jer. 52:11).

(3) Israel’s Spiritual superiority was lost with the     blinding of Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:4-13).

At that time, Paul declared, “…we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). The gradual growth of Gentile domination over Israel was complete. These “times of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:24) will continue until the end of the Tribulation and Christ’s return to establish His Kingdom. Then regenerate Israel will be restored to a place of power and glory (Isa. 2:1-5; Mic. 4:1-7).

BECAUSE THEY HAVE SINNED AGAINST THE LORD

Our text (Zeph. 1:14-17) tells us plainly that Israel “sinned against the Lord.”  It is not that the nations and peoples of the world have not sinned; of course they have and they are accountable to God (Ps. 9:17; Prov. 14:34). Sin is man’s worst blunder; it must be punished no matter where it is found (Gal. 6:7-8).  It is entirely possible that God’s judgment of the awful, wicked conditions of today’s world will prove to be the setting of the stage for the Tribulation period: the “time of Jacob’s trouble.”  However, the specific, pointed, simple reason for the Tribulation period is that Israel, as God’s chosen vessel for the execution of His plan, had sinned.

 The “fire of God’s jealousy,” spoken of in our text (vs. 18), is Israel’s “baptism of fire” (Mal. 3:2-3; 4:1; Mt. 3:11-12). God uses this fiery baptism to cleanse the land of sinners and to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

Many people, those who are closer to apostasy than they are to the truth, speak about the baptism of fire as though it were some spiritual experience to be desired for themselves and others. Well, nothing could be further from the truth! The baptism of fire is associated with judgment and it is the Tribulation period! It would be foolish for one to pray, “O God, baptize me with the Holy Ghost and fire!” They had better hope that God doesn’t answer that prayer! Running Bible references to the “Day of the Lord” will manifestly prove just how terrible this “Time of Jacob’s Trouble” really is and how desirable it would be to avoid it.

WHAT WAS ISRAEL’S SIN?

 Israel’s sin! Herein lies the reason for the Tribulation. It will not suffice to say simply that Israel sinned. What we need to do is to see and learn what the sins are, for which cause, there must be a Tribulation. As I see it, there are several.

Israel had:

(1)  Rejected the Word of God (Jer. 13:10; Zech. 7:4-14).  One of the most damaging indictments against Israel is that they were “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6).  A knowledge of God’s Word, more than anything else at their disposal, was neglected and refused. This would have strengthened the men and stabilized the nation.

(2)  Abandoned the Lord (Jer. 35:13-15; 2 Kings 17:13-23).  If a person rejects the Word of God, a rejection of God is sure to follow, as surely as night follows day!

(3)  Deserted the Sabbath (Ezek. 20:12-24; 22:8, 26; 23:38). The seventh day, like the seventh year, taught a lesson in grace; namely, that God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day, and, thusly, hallowed the Sabbath day/year; the intent being that the believer should rest his soul entirely on the completed work of God. The reason we do not set aside the seventh day or year in this Dispensation of Grace is because God’s plan was for man to rest the eternal welfare of his soul entirely in the redemptive work that Christ finished on the Cross (Rom. 10:4). For the Grace believer in this dispensation, every day is a Sabbath! The rejection of the Sabbath was tantamount to the Jews saying, “Please God, we’d rather do it ourselves,” or “we reject Christ!” or “we reject grace.”

(4)  Trusted in foreign alliances (Jer. 2:17-19; Hos. 8:8-10).

(5)  Depended upon man (Jer. 17:5-9). Reasons 3, 4, and 5 are similar. They teach that the unregenerate man or carnal  man, whether he be Jew or Gentile, will always seek the solution to his problems and the very meaning of life, independent of God. This proves once again that, “There is a way that seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 16:25). The heart of man is incurably diseased and hopelessly corrupt (Jer. 17:9).

(6)  Turned to idolatry (Isa. 2:8, 20; Jer. 17:1-4). Israel’s gods of stone, wood, precious metals or mammon were a poor substitute for Jehovah God, Maker and Ruler of Heaven and earth. The Psalmist has rightly said of Israel and their gods, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths but they speak not: eyes have they but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet  have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that made them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them” (Ps. 115:4-8).

(7) Relied upon human viewpoint (Jer. 17:9-11). Having departed from the wisdom and strength of the Word of God, the Israelites, like today’s Modernists, were left to stand upon the shifting, sinking sands of emotionalism and subjective thinking. They trusted their “vain imaginations” for direction. The wisdom of this world had turned them into fools.

(…to be continued in Part 2 … )

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