I grew up in a time period when the word “awesome” meant neat, cool and great; but that is not the original meaning behind the word. The word awesome obviously comes from the root word “awe.” It means “overwhelming respect and reverence.” With that context of the word one can understand how the word “awesome” can apply to the power of God.
The first three verses of the short book of Zephaniah remind me of the word awesome and the scope it has when it is applied to God. They say, “The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. “I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land,” says the Lord; “I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land,” says the Lord.”
What a way to introduce a sermon! If a statement like that does not grab your attention and demand your respect then I don’t know what will. God’s prophet is talking about some awesome power there, a power that was going to be revealed in “the day of the Lord.” (Zephaniah 1:14,18; 2:2; 3:8)
God could easily accomplish what was written then and do it just as easily today. I sometimes think about how sensitive our world can be. America has the best agriculture system in the world, but even it is sensitive at best. Our beef supplies can be ransacked by “mad-cow disease.” Our poultry can easily become the prey of the “Asian bird-flu.” Our fruits and vegetables can become tainted with salmonella. Floods in the mid-west can show us how quickly our corn crops can be taken away. Take all of this and factor in the fact that a severe drought can effect all of the above and we quickly realize that God is still the One that blesses our nation and fills the grocery stores.
Now back to Zephaniah’s admonition. Judah knew about the awesome power that God possessed. They knew about the flood of Noah’s day. The early generations of their fathers saw first-hand the effect that God’s hand could have on a nation. They watched the “mighty” Egypt suffer in every point of its economy due to the mightier plagues that were sent by God through Moses. Zephaniah’s countrymen were well aware of how Joshua, with the help of God, led their descendants into the very land that they called home by defeating nations that were mightier than they were. God’s display of power in the past should have been a reminder of God’s capability to their present and future, and it should have created a sense of awe toward God in all three.
Because of Israel’s lack of awe toward God, Judah watched Israel become decimated by Assyria with their own eyes. They were being taught a lesson that God bows down to no nation; but all nations will bow down to God (Acts 17:30,31). God wanted Judah to learn by example, but they refused to open their eyes. So the storm clouds of Babylon that were on Judah’s horizon were growing closer and Zephaniah was reminding them of the power and control that God had.
That power is something that points to the final judgment. In that “day of the Lord” the awesome power of God will be displayed in a way not yet seen by man (2 Peter 3:1-12). Think about it, and be in awe of it. EA