H is for Hope
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Setting the Scene
The passionate words of Zephaniah, the prophet of today’s first reading, were likely spoken sometime between 640 to 625 BCE. At this point in Israel’s history:
- roughly 600 years have passed since the Israelites, under Joshua’s leadership, crossed into the Promised Land (Canaan).
- about 350 years since David was crowned king and united the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah.
- almost 300 years since Solomon’s death and the split of Israel back into the two kingdoms of north and south.
- about 80 years have passed since the Assyrian destruction of Israel’s capital city of Samaria in 722 BCE and the subsequent scattering of the northern tribes of Israel.
Zephaniah speaks during what we now know to be the last days of Judah (the Babylonian exile takes place almost 30 years after the words of Zephaniah are first recorded). His words are weighted with his fierce devotion to YHWH and his unyielding condemnation of the idolatry and pagan practices rampant in the southern kingdom.
Source: Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York, N.Y.: Paulist Press, 1984.
Zephaniah doesn’t mince words as he lists the signs of corruption that he sees in Judah and the world at large. It’s a reality check that many people would find distasteful in today’s world of political correctness and the hands-off attitude when it comes to passing judgment on other peoples’ behavior. But if we’re looking closely at how God has acted throughout history, it’s a reality check that God thinks we need from time to time.
Who are the prophets that God has sent to speak to you on his behalf? Who do you allow to be a mirror for your life? Who has your permission to hold you accountable when you’ve gone astray?
But despite Zephaniah’s initial words of condemnation and acknowledgement that there are necessary consequences to the Israelites’ failure to honor YHWH’s covenant with them, he still ends with words of hope.
Hope that God is a faithful God.
Hope that God will remember his covenant.
Hope that, in any circumstance, whether in success or failure, times of joy or disappointment, God is always present.
What is the quality of your hope? Is it steadfast in the face of hardship, or does it waver when things don’t go according to plan? In whom or what do you place your hope? In your capacity for getting things done? In your spouse’s ability to meet your family’s needs? In job security? In God’s promises?
As you celebrate the second night of Simbang Gabi, may you begin to understand what it means to place your hope in a God who we cannot see, but whose desire is to make himself known to us. And, for whatever reality checks God has in store for us, may we have the courage to accept truth and do what God requires from us.