The other day I had to go and buy myself a new study bible, as the old one was falling apart. Upon arriving home and opening it, I started reading a text that caught my eye. At first I didn’t know where this excerpt was from but the following is what captured my thoughts: “Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with intoxicating drink. For YHVH has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers. The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, ‘Read this, please.’ And he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, ‘Read this, please.’ And he says, ‘I am not literate.’ Therefore YHVH said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden’" (Isaiah 29:9-14).
Where are the true prophets today? Where are the seers? YHVH is fulfilling His word even in the midst of this world’s chaos. But because YHVH is looking at the heart and not at external behavior, we cannot fool Him into thinking that all the loud or even contemplative forms of worship are pleasing to Him. In Ezekiel 14 the prophet warns of the idols that Israel has set up in their hearts and then come before Him to worship Him. This is why in many Shabbat or Sunday gatherings you will hear very little prophecy read from the Tanach, and if it is read many will not understand because it is sealed. Preachers want to call people to repentance and revival etc. Yet many are not just sleeping, but are “drunk”, and when in that state it is almost impossible to shake them out of their stupor.
With such a grim picture before us, the question may arise in our hearts and minds: Is YHVH really in the process of waking up and raising a nation that’s been lost, scattered, in oblivion as to its identity, and what’s more, according to the promise, is supposed to be not only great in numbers but also in its spiritual stature and become YHVH’s kingdom nation here on earth? What’s more, how ‘on earth’ is the gathered and identified part of the family (namely Judah), who is in oblivion as to its brother’s existence, going to become one with the former? Common sense would say, “Totally impossible”; “highly unlikely”; mere “pipe dream”. Those “settled complacently on their dregs say in their hearts, ‘YHVH will not do good or evil’”. Further they murmur: “It is useless to serve YHVH; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before YHVH of hosts?”; "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (Zephaniah 1:12; Malachi 3:14; 2 Peter 3:4).
Zephaniah goes on to say that these skeptics will be visited by YHVH and they will be held accountable (the verb being “pakod”) for these statements of unbelief, and continues with a description of the Day of YHVH being “a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (1:15), being only a partial list.
What a dilemma? How are we to respond to these words, while at the same time we are also facing the world’s fast deteriorating conditions? If we go back to Zephaniah, in chapter 2, verse 1 Elohim is addressing an “undesired nation”, telling them to… yes…. “be gathered together”, using a double verb (hitkoshashu vekoshu) which means that He is driving a hard and emphatic message, as we can see from the warning that follows: “Before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before YHVH's fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of YHVH’s anger comes upon you!” (verse 2). But there are more instructions, with hope imbedded, which follow: “Seek YHVH, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of YHVH's anger” (verse 3)
The humility mentioned above is right in line with the verb for being gathered (k.sh.sh). This is the only instance where this verb is used for gathering people. Normally it refers to gathering sticks and twigs lying low on the ground. It was used to describe our ancestors’ stooped position (and condition) when they gathered straw (which is, not coincidentally,”kash”) in Egypt, just before their deliverance. It was used in 1Kings 17:12 regarding the widow from Zarephath who in her destitute “gathered” two sticks in order to prepare the last meal for herself and her son, just before Elijah came in and saved the day.
Shortly before deliverance from dire straits in Egypt and a rescue in Zarephath (which means “smelting”, “refining”, “purifying”) by Elijah, we find the protagonists “stooping in humility”, and if this is not clear enough, we go back to the direct address in Zephaniah 2:3, that we looked at above. Let’s read it again: “Seek YHVH, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of YHVH’s anger.” Be encouraged, as the long account of the impending judgment segues into: “In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds in which you transgress against Me; For then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain. I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people, and they shall trust in the name of YHVH. The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness and speak no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed their flocks and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid" (3:11-13). The rest of this chapter, all the way to the end of Zephaniah, crescendos into a joyful portrayal of the days to come.
Ephraim and Rimona