Zephaniah on the fate of the nations: lost and found

“Therefore wait for me,” declares YHWH, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of YHWH and serve him with one accord.”

(Zephaniah 3:8–9 ESV)

How should we understand biblical talk of God consuming people in his fiery wrath? Here Zephaniah offers some interesting fuel for the flames of debate. The nations that are consumed seem to end up worshiping God.


scoop88 said…
Great observation Dr. Parry. It seems to me that in this scripture in Zephaniah and in others, God is going to bring all nations to worship Him. Fundamental to this particular scripture is in the timing of this event. It seems as if it is after the Millennium because The Word in Zephaniah is speaking about a significant event: ". . . for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed." I am aware that various commentators respond to this in different ways; some thinking this of the "world of Judea" others consider it the “world of Rome” or of Babylon, etc. I rather see this as a great work of God being performed in all the world. I perceive an important identifying feature of this time as that of the single pure language. This feature was not present during the destruction or fall of the great nations of Babylon, Rome, or the others. So this feature of a pure language together with the fire of His jealously which consumes the earth could be the Tribulation and before the Millennium. However, I rather feel this is the time more near the end of the earth, when the earth shall be consumed and a new heaven and a new earth is created. I believe it is after all the dead have stood before Jesus and before us His church who shall with the Messiah, judge this world. Clearly just before the Great White Throne Judgement, Satan is judged finally and for all eternity. Then at the Great White Throne Judgment, comes the judgment of all of humanity. After these things, the nations shall walk in the light of the glory of God (Rev. 21:24) in agreement with Zephaniah where God brings through the evidence of His firery indignation, the nations to Himself and they will serve Him. This could only be true after the Great White Throne Judgement if God intends (and I believe He does) to save humanity. This is the only time when everyone who has ever died will stand before God; when all the nations of men and women through the countless ages will remember their lives without God and now they shall see God in His glory and in His mercy. His Mercy shall be His glory as many will cower and fear the Living God Jesus while their sad former lives are being called into question while they stand there before Jesus. Certainly many will re-discover the pain of not knowing Him in their short human existence. Some will have been innocent victims of the evil of this world. Some will have been slow-witted even damaged vessels. Others will have been deceived and angry and yet others will have been willing accomplices and murderous villains. There are many categories of human beings, but all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Yet these all stand before Him now. Zephaniah teaches of a wondrous time far into the future. But it is there standing in a place in time. It is there where we shall all see His Glory shine, for all shall know that it is His Mercy which shall endure forever, not an age lasting fire.
Robin Parry said…
Thanks, Scoop 88

I could not really comment as I have no settled view on issues of the millennium. I'd either be a historic premilennialist or a realized millennialist, but have not really focused on sorting out what I think abput such matters. But thanks for sharing your thoughts and glad you find the text suggestive, as do I.
TamtheTyper said…
Yes, this really is a good one. And the Hebrew word “ki” at the beginning of verse 9 surely does connect vv 8 & 9, and make the two sentences hang together.

So I’m a little surprised that the ESV actually inserts a new heading between verses 8 and 9. This gives the impression that verse 9 is starting a new topic altogether -- instead of being a continuation of the same topic.

The NIV does the same -- and to confuse matters more, it claims that verse 9 is limited to the “Restoration of Israel’s Remnant”.

But isn’t this exactly the same kind of problem we have with Mark 9 : 49 “For everyone will be salted with fire”?

The NIV missed out the word “for” at the beginning. It’s almost as if the translators didn’t want it to connect with the preceeding verses. They wanted to avoid the implication that we are ALL equally involved in a purification process -- either in this world (which is better) or in the next (which is harder).

So, isn’t it odd that the “ki” in Zeph 3:9 and the “gar” in Mk 9:49 are seemingly being ignored? I wonder if this is another case of “the theological tail waging the textual dog”!
Robin Parry said…

Thanks. That is a very interesting observation. One's previous ideas always feed into translations, so you may be right.

scoop88 said…
Dr. Parry, I very much respect and understand your being “unsettled” about your view of the millennium. I preach sermons and I also teach bible studies to church members from many different denominations in the US. I am fascinated and perplexed by their lack of even a rudimentary knowledge about “the kingdom.” They pray the Lord’s Prayer yet most haven’t considered, “Thy Kingdgom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

You and I are both well aware that in The Word of God the Kingdom of God is significant and important. So, why is it that in the church there seems to be (at least to me), an underdeveloped knowledge about the subject?

It is perhaps caused by at least two related conditions in the church. One, the Kingdom of God is not widely or well taught to the church. Who can blame any rational pastor? Should they preach about it, they are obliged to confront the debate about the kingdom being a spiritual concept or a natural coming reality. Ironically, for much of the laity, the debate is unimportant because the thought of going to heaven takes a dominant position. Furthermore, the “gift” of eternal life is accepted as “going to heaven” and going to heaven is thought to be the kingdom anyway.

The second related condition: Understanding the Kingdom of God grows and is developed over time. It comes as a result of reading God’s Word, fellowshipping with others, meditating about Jesus the King of Kings, and best of all, by being instructed by Holy Spirit. Given the present world culture, the popular concept of heaven is simpler to accept. It doesn’t require any more thought than can be considered while at church. I am left with this observation, “The kingdom of God is just to darn hard to think about and what does it have to do with me anyway?”

I appreciated and was amused by your comment that you have “no settled view on issues of the millennium. I'd either be a historic premilennialist or a realized millennialist . . .” What strikes me amusing is that you chose (perhaps with your tongue in cheek) to say that you would either be on one side of the fence or the other. To me, that is quite like saying, “When I decide, I will either be for the Conservative Party or the Labour Party.” Even if I am wrong about your having tongue in cheek, your “no settled view” is that of a mind yet open. That seems to me a good place in the greater context of Gregory MacDonald and his Evangelical Universalist.

Contemporary Christian musician Tim Timmons wrote and sings a compelling song: “Awake Our Souls.” Notice some of the lyrics:

“To listen to the sound now
Of the kingdom calling
Open our eyes to see it ‘cause
Everywhere the King is, there is the kingdom”

“Everywhere the King is, there is the kingdom.” So true are these words. Nicodemus finally saw the kingdom in King Jesus – perhaps in His Passover Lamb sacrifice. I like to think Nicodemus was finally born from above so that he could see and know the invisible kingdom of Jesus Christ.

From my chair Dr. Parry, we are quite like each other. You are unsettled (I read: remaining flexible) in your view of the millennium and I am viewing the Kingdom of God on both sides of the spectrum of light – within me the King has come, and the Kingdom is indeed a coming reality. That is rather nice I think.

I will see you in Denver, Colorado, USA, in August. I am very much looking forward to seeing you there.
Robin Parry said…
Thanks scoop88,

I look forward to seeing you in Denver.

I don't think of the situation in quite the way that you do. Within biblical studies and theology (as opposed to many churches) there is quite a lot of discussion of the kingdom of God (which does not conflate it with heaven). But that discussion tends not to say much about the question of the millennium, which is considered somewhat peripheral to the issue of the kingdom. You appear to treat the kingdom and the millennium as close to interchangable, whereas within much of the academy that tends not to be the case. My point is nothing more than that lack of attention to the millennium is not necessarily the same as lack of attention the the kingdom.

In the past I was always a realized millennialist. Then I read J. Webb Mealey on the millennium in Rev 20 and I thought he made a very good case for historic premillennialism. So now I am open to either — happy to wait and see how it pans out. Happy if others take a different view.


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