God’s wrath is coming. It was coming for the people of ancient Israel and it is coming for us today. This is His promise in Zephaniah 1 and nothing can stop it. To add an even greater level of terror to this already rising feeling of dread, in verses 1 through 6 He then expounds in detail on the totality of His wrath.
God will come and sweep away everything within the natural order. He will begin with humans and land animals before then “sweep[ing] away” (verse 3) the birds and the fish. This totality reflects the extent of His anger – it could not be any greater and neither will the extent of His destruction. But His destruction is by no means mindless. Do you not see in His promise a reversal of the creation? If you look at the order in which God will sweep life away in Zephaniah 1:2–3, you will see an opposite chronology to that in the Genesis 1 account, and the meaning for this is plain and simple: in rewinding the clock, God shows how, through His destruction, He will return the earth to a state of nothingness. But there is even more destruction than this. In the second part of verse 3, God promises to also sweep away all idols of the world along with their idol-worshipers (“the rubble with the wicked”).
So who are these idol-worshippers that God will destroy? In verse 4, God clarifies that His anger here is specifically against Judah. He declares, “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” and His reason for doing so is because the people of Judah are worshiping foreign gods, something that God had expressly forbidden them to do (read, for example, Deuteronomy 4:16-18). It’s not even just one idol – there are places of worship for Baal (verse 4), for astral worship (“on the rooftops”; verse 5) as well as Milcom (verse 5). Now the term, “Milcom,” is a variation of the term, “Molech.” If you are familiar with the pagan god, Molech, than you are aware of the insidiousness of this god. Leviticus 18:21 and 20 explain the horrors of how this god is worshiped, including the burning of children and babies as live sacrifices. It is a horrendous act of worship, yet this is what God’s people are doing; and the peoples’ brazen defiance has kindled God’s anger to such an extent that He has decided to no longer tolerate them. Looking back to Zephaniah 1:3, we see that He intends to blot them out of the world: “I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth.”
God’s anger, however, stems far deeper than just simple pagan worship. For the scope of Judah’s idolatry is much worse than that. These people are two-faced, serving pagan idols while still pretending to worship the living God. They have turned their backs on Yahweh, yet they still think that they are true worshipers of God. They either don’t realize the offense they are committing against God or they think God won’t see them or won’t mind what they are doing. Either way, they are completely blind and they are guilty. As God Himself points out, they have “turned back from following the Lord” and they “do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him” (verse 6). You cannot worship two different gods. It is as simple as that.
Now, though we have just seen this first prophetic point to Judah, do not think it is for them alone. This prophetic word stands against professing Christians today too, as many of us think and act no differently from these ancient Hebrews. This is the first of the types and shadows we will see in Zephaniah: the rebellious and two-faced Hebrews in ancient Israel are a type for the same rebellious and two-faced people of God today. For many of us, our lives are rampant with idolatry and syncretism, from our love for money and tendencies to be workaholics to our obsession with sex, media and power. These are all outright idolatrous practices that prevent us, in the same way as the people of Judah, from seeking the Lord or inquiring after Him and, whether you like or not, God’s coming for you and His wrath will bring your death. This may sound a bit dramatic, but it is nevertheless true. For all of you enjoying your lukewarm lives, you may want to stop and reconsider the consequences.