I had to search through my Bible a bit to find the book of Zephaniah. He’s not one of the prophets that I can say I know much about, and the book of his prophecy is only three chapters long. Wanting to justify my unfamiliarity, I did a quick search of the Lectionary, expecting to find that today was the only day that his book is referenced. I was wrong. I found entries not only for Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Advent, but also December 21, the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Cycle C), the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A), and the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31. I have no excuse.
Zephaniah’s prophecies, we are told at the beginning of the book, were delivered during the reign of King Josiah, the last good king of Judah. Josiah’s great-grandfather, Hezekiah, was king of Judah during the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. Hezekiah was faithful to the Lord, but grew proud. Hezekiah’s son and Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh, was wicked. He repented and was forgiven, but it was Manasseh’s reign that sealed the doom of Judah (2 Kings 21:10-15). Josiah turned back to God and instituted reforms throughout Judah, but God had already decided Judah’s fate, and Zephaniah’s prophecy seems to bear this out.
What piqued my curiosity was that, although Judah’s fate was decided during Manasseh’s reign, God’s hand was stayed during the reign of Josiah. It took two generations before God’s judgment was made manifest, first through Neco of Egypt and then through Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. That would be like America today suffering for the sins of the Johnson or Nixon administrations.
Lest you think the comparison is far-fetched, consider that we’ve been living for 39 years with a legal framework that makes abortion-on-demand a constitutional right. Marriage is under attack and the traditional two parent family is becoming the exception rather than the norm. Vague spiritualities are displacing doctrinal Christianity. Nevertheless, there are signs of light. They have stayed the hand of God all these years, and they are not going to vanish quietly into the night.
I cannot help but wonder, in my darker moments, whether the fate of our land has already been decided. America has had its moments as a shining city on a hill, conceived in liberty and blessed by the Almighty, but then so did Judah and Israel. It’s a nice country we’ve got here; it would be terrible if something bad were to happen to it.
I don’t mean to suggest that God is extorting us. What I mean to suggest it that the fate of our country is in our hands. We are in a continuing state of crisis, and the only thing that will stay the hand of God’s judgment is our fidelity. God promised Abraham that Sodom would be spared if only ten righteous men could be found there. Sodom was destroyed.