Zephaniah calls the Nation to repent of its evil ways, especially for having embraced the Baal worship of Jezebel.  The only reason they have not faced God’s judgment so far is that God is patient. The prophet explained that God’s patience with their idolatry would not last forever, and He would soon act to bring justice to the poor and redeem those oppressed. Zephaniah knew that the hearts of the nation’s kings and priests had become hardened and would never turn back to God. Like Pharaoh in the Exodus, the hardened hearts of the leader will bring destruction to the whole population. That time is at hand, Zephaniah 1:10-11 explains, and the suffering will be great, “On that day, declares the Lord, a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off.” What we see in this passage is a monetary collapse in Jerusalem, the New York City of the nation of Judah. Bentley says, “Zephaniah is obviously very familiar with the layout of the city. He knows the market district. The Fish Gate was situated in the most vulnerable part of the city; it was not surrounded by hills. The prophet is also familiar with the New Quarter. All of these places were centers of trade and industry. They were also likely to be the seat of much corruption and dishonesty, where, as always, the poor were the losers.”[1]

Just like today, much of the stability of a nation is dependent on its economy. We’ve had tough times in the history of our nation and know what this means. October 29, 1929, has become known as “Black Tuesday.” Black Tuesday is known for being the worst day in the U.S. stock market. Throughout the 1920’s stock prices reached new heights, more than quadrupling in value. But on Black Tuesday, the bubble burst, and by 1933 prices were down about 80% from the heights of the late ’20s. The great crash of 1929 plunged the U.S. into what is known as “The Great Depression.” Between 1930 and 1933, about 9,000 banks failed. Production in U.S. industry hit rock bottom and left millions of Americans out of work, and the rest, struggling to survive. A proud nation found itself filled with soup lines, hobos, and shanty towns.”[2] I have photos of my father standing in one of those soup lines.

Everything that builds and sustains a solid citizenry and stable living situation is connected to the moral fiber of the nation. The well-being of all its citizens is a responsibility of everyone to some extent. The early Christians, according to Luke, shared all things when things got tough, and this is still a principle we should live by today. Because of the great depression and other hard times, we sometimes want to withdraw from society and take care of ourselves, hiding in well-supplied bunkers. Some take warnings like this passage in Zephaniah, and others panic into unchristian behavior. Sailer rightly concludes, “To predict imminent economic ruin for a nation because of moral bankruptcy is to misrepresent God’s purposes in Christ. To encourage believers not to cling to the things of the world and share with those in need is consistent with the gospel. To frighten them into hoarding resources to survive the supposed impending economic collapse is without a biblical mandate or example.”[3] When such an attitude is embraced, only the poor will suffer.

[1] Bentley, Michael. 2008. Opening up Zephaniah. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications.

[2] Benfield, Chris. 2015. “The Collapse of Babylon (Message #41) (Revelation 18:9–24).” In Pulpit Pages: New Testament Sermons, 1878. Mount Airy, NC: Chris Benfield.

[3] Sailer, William, J. Creighton Christman, David C. Greulich, Harold P. Scanlin, Stephen J. Lennox, and Phillip Guistwite. 2012. Religious and Theological Abstracts. Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts.