Can We Celebrate Shock and Awe?
Reverend Anthony R. Locke
September 4th, 2011 www.FirstPresTucker.org
at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker
Click HERE for the Zephaniah Sermon Series. Sermon # 7
Zephaniah 2:5–15 English Standard Version
5 Woe to you who live by the sea, O Kerethite people; the word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines. “I will destroy you, and none will be left.”
6 The land by the sea, where the Kerethites dwell, will be a place for shepherds and sheep pens.
7 It will belong to the remnant of the house of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.
8 “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land.
9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah— a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.”
10 This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty.
11 The Lord will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land.
12 “You too, O Cushites, will be slain by my sword.”
13 He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert.
14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their calls will echo through the windows, rubble will be in the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed.
15 This is the carefree city that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am, and there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.
The first six sermons of our Series in Zephaniah covered the the first section of Zephaniah. Zephaniah 1:2–2:4—God warned Judah of His judgment and called His people to repentance. Judgment always begins at the house of God. He purifies us so we can join Him in His glory.
The second section, 2:4-3:8 contains an announcement of God’s rule over the entire world and a warning that all nations are answerable to him. That’s absolute. It’s black and white.
After the attacks of 911 President Bush told the world, “Over time it’s going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity,” he said. “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”
Our President spoke with absolute clarity. There was no ambiguity. Everyone had to choose sides or face the righteous march of the American people against worldwide terror organizations.
God is making the same sort of absolute statement in our passage. He is coming back. You are either with Him or against Him. Black and white. No ambiguity. God’s march brings shock and awe on His enemies. Like our President, he warns the world to choose sides.
The righteous march of our Lord will secure absolute accountability. Judgment Day.
Our country recently brought American justice to the mastermind of 911. We finally hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden. Praise the Lord.
Karl Rove, a senior advisor to president Bush, tweeted “Justice has been done to Osama bin Laden: all Americans are proud of our military, intel & Presidents Bush, Obama. USA! USA!”
On Facebook I posted, “Bin Laden is dead and on a highway to Hell. Good riddance!”
As some American were feeling the triumph of righteousness, others were struggling with their Christian compassion for a man on his way to Hell.
One person posted, “I don’t think that as Christians we should delight in the death of any nonbeliever. It is very sad. Here is a man that is now going to spend ETERNITY in Hell. I know there are many people who will think something to the effect of “Well, he deserves it after what he’s done.” They are right. He does deserve it… but so do you.”
We won’t have time to unpack the false premise of this world view, but the argument is one of “moral equivalence” and it is used improperly in this context.
These events, and the confusion within the Christian community in developing a Biblical response, prompted this sermon.
Here’s the question, “should we feel joyful at the Shock and Awe that comes from God on sinners? Should we celebrate the demise of the wicked? Can we cheer God on like Karl Rove cheered the USA?”
How should compassionate Christians feel about the death of the wicked? Can we sing Ride On King Jesus as God brings His Shock and Awe on sinners or must our cheers be muted?
Let’s look at our passage. First, make no mistake, all are accountable to God.
Joel 3:12 Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side.
Every great nation on this earth will bow under the judgment of God. China, France, North Korea, Germany, Britain, Iran, Russia and the USA will all bow the knee to Lord Jesus.
Obadiah told this truth to Edom, Nahum to Nineveh, Amos to the top six secular power of his day. Zephaniah speaks this truth to half a dozen nations. Either they are with God, or against God. There is no middle ground.
What did God tell them?
The Philistines pursued slavery with great cruelty. They used their military supremacy to enslave whole populations—soldiers and civilians, men and women, adults and children—all for commercial profit. This made God angry. God promises to hunt them down.
Zephaniah explains God’s pending Shock and Awe to Moab and Ammon. Why are they judged? Amos 1:13 They ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his [the country’s] borders. This made God furious. God signed the order for them to be taken out.
What was the response of Moab and Ammon? Zephaniah 2:10 they kept insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty. Wrong answer.
The Cush of Zephaniah 2:12 is Ethiopia; but it does not get much mention, only the passing, You too, O Cushites, will be slain by my sword. Not necessarily a fulfillment of this passage, but over the last ten years 6 million people in that part on North Africa had been slain by machete. Cush was one of the sons of Ham, who was a son of Noah, and is therefore mentioned several times in the genealogies of Genesis 10 and 1 Chronicles 1. Isaiah 18 also pronounces a “woe” against Cush. They were on God’s hit list for reasons only known to God.
Assyria was the greatest nation at that time. Nineveh was the capital city and the world’s largest. It had an inner city and an outer city, and these were probably augmented greatly by suburban development. The inner city was surrounded by a wall eight miles in circumference. It was 100 feet high and was so wide that three chariots could have raced around it abreast.
It had twelve hundred towers and fourteen gates. Another mighty wall surrounded most of the outer city. At the heart of the city was King Sennacherib’s “Palace with No Rival.” Lions of bronze and bulls of white marble guarded it. Its great hall measured 150 by 40 feet. Nearby was a 46-acre armory where the king kept his chariots, armor, horses, and other military equipment.
Nineveh was an awesome and seemingly impregnable metropolis. It was overthrown suddenly and was left utterly desolate. God’s shock and awe.
Why was God angry? Nahum lists idolatry (1:14), violence (3:1–3), and sorceries (3:4). Zephaniah blames it for being “carefree,” for saying, “I am, and there is none besides me” (2:15).
Our culture cries, “I am the master of my soul; I am the captain of my fate.” We boast that we do not need God. We don’t need anybody. How foolish! It is a lesson of history that those who exalt themselves are brought low (Isa. 14:12–15).
What’s the obvious lesson to be learned? God will use every resource at His disposal to bring His enemies down to the grave and Hell itself. God doesn’t overlook sins. God initiates His Big Plans by disciplining a sinful church and then handling His enemies with shock and awe.
God will use every necessary and appropriate force to accomplish His purposes.
One week after the September 11 attacks, the congress and Senate sent to the President Public Law 107-40, in which Congress authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”
First, how should we feel about God’s judgment against sinners, and then, how should we feel against the enemies of America who plotted terror on American soil?
When God destroys the enemies of His Kingdom we should (1) fear God, (2) look to Jesus in humble repentance for our own sins, (3) receive grace for our salvation, (4) and then shout for joy that our enemies are also conquered. We are made fit to reign with Christ. Praise the Lord!
Our country is not doing what God is doing. God determines when earthly sins become too great and must be judged. The American war on terror is not on the same level with God.
The United States uses deadly force to protect the citizens of America. This is a good and righteous purpose for government. When our government succeeds in these goals, then we should feel national pride in our just cause.
God decides what country has sinned beyond His patience. God wipes out whole civilizations at His discretion. Americans do not judge people for their sins against God. We put down threats against the American people. Praise the Lord!
If we criticize our government for sending unbelievers to Hell, then we falsely place our activity on equal par with God’s activity of eternal judgment. That’s a false comparison and unhelpful to the national dialogue. It’s a lie wrapped in sophistry.
Should we celebrate the death of our enemies? God celebrates the demise of His enemies.
Revelation 16:5–7 says, And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”
In Exodus 15 the Israelites celebrated the death of the Egyptians who drowned in the Red Sea. They didn’t feel guilty for wanting the death of their enemies.
It is not the fallen human spirit that rejoices at the demise of an evil empire.
Proverbs 11:10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.
To rejoice at the demise of evil men is the goal of a moral society. We should pray for God’s judgment on people who sell drugs to our teenagers. After our prayers, we should then work for American justice to catch up with them.
We should feel satisfied in our soul when a rapist dies by capital punishment. We should pray for their conversion and repentance more than we pray for their demise, but if our justice system gets to them before the Gospel, then we still praise the Lord.
And we should feel righteous indignation toward those who tear down the morals of our culture with immoral behavior. We should fight to keep marriage defined as between two people of the opposite sex. We should work to see the Ten Commandments and prayer in our schools.
So in conclusion, we should praise the Lord when God uses the American people to end the life of evil men. It’s a blessing to the American people that God chose to use us to end the life of Osama bin Laden. If he had died of old age it would have been a lament for all just people.
God says that, “Vengeance is Mine.” Vigilante justice is never in God’s will. God rather chooses to delegate justice to civil government. We should rejoice when that justice is satisfied.
God doesn’t take delight in the death of the wicked, but God takes delight that His justice is satisfied. We should feel the same.
One final point from our passage. Who did God use to bring judgment on the Philistines? How did God judge the ungodly nations of this passage? Answer: God used the military might of secular nations to bring His words of judgment to pass.
Over the last ten years God has used the American people to bring His Shock and Awe on some evil people around the world. The Lord will be awesome to evil people. God is using us to bring His Shock and Awe on evil people. That’s quite the honor.
But don’t get too proud. Remember the final words of our passage in verse 15, This is the carefree city that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am, and there is none besides me.”
America hasn’t fought a war on our soil in over a hundred years. We feel safe. We fell carefree. But we need to remember that we are not the world police. There is someone beside us. There is a God who will bring us also into account for our sins if we do not repent.
We can celebrate the demise of our enemies, but we must also feel the need to humble ourselves and repent for our sins. God uses sinful nations to accomplish His will, but eventually God will get around to dealing with us too. We can prepare by looking to Jesus. Amen.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.