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Monday, March 31, 2014

Scripture Reading: Zephaniah 2:4–7
For Gaza shall be deserted,
     and Ashkelon shall become a desolation;
Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon,
     and Ekron shall be uprooted.

Ah, inhabitants of the seacoast,
     you nation of the Cherethites!
The word of the Lord is against you,
     O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
     and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.
And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures,
     meadows for shepherds
     and folds for flocks.
The seacoast shall become the possession
     of the remnant of the house of Judah,
     on which they shall pasture,
and in the houses of Ashkelon
     they shall lie down at evening.
For the Lord their God will be mindful of them
     and restore their fortunes. (NRSV)

Oh boy. Here’s one of those Bible passages that give fodder to those who reject the idea of a God who would cause such destruction. For every opportunity we have to assert “God is love,” there are parts of the Old Testament that make the statement seem naïve and dishonest. Where is the love in this scorched-earth action? What loving God would do this to his creation?

To be honest, I have no explanation. Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron are not in my familiar internal Fodor’s, and the Cherethites apparently were rooted up thoroughly. If you are looking for evidence of a vicious, vengeful God, look no further.

So what message can be found under the literal reading, beyond the list of calamities? I found at least two:

First, God is in control. I’m sure the Cherethites woke up every morning feeling pretty good about themselves. Their green hills, their wealth, their beautiful coastline (good morning, Chicago). Yet like everything else in the world, it can disappear quickly. It is, after all, worldly and therefore transitory.

Second, God will comfort his people. Out of upheaval, his people will find a place to rest. Of course, this is a “remnant of Judah,” so even his chosen people have weathered some damage. For meaning in that, see the paragraph above.

Dear God, we often seek answers when confronted with disaster. Please help us know that which we can understand, and comfort us regarding what we cannot. Amen.

Written by Jim Garner, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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