The Day of War the Day of Horrors
Zephaniah 1:7-18
Hold your peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD has prepared a sacrifice…

Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord. These verses present a graphic and soul-stirring description of the horrid day of war which was about to dawn on the Hebrew land. It is called a "day of wrath," a "day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers." No more awful day than the day of war. It is a day when fiends are released from prison and let loose on earth, The war day is represented here -

I. AS A DAY OF ENORMOUS SACRIFICE. "Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God: for the day of the Lord is at hand: for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice." .4. sacrifice!

1. It is an enormous sacrifice of life. Several classes are referred to here as the victims of this war.

(1) Royalty. "I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and. all such as and clothed with strangle apparel." The reference is here probably to the princes of the royal house, to the children of the king who would be on the throne at the time of the fulfilment of the prophecy. In 2 Kings 25:7 it is said that Nebuchadnezzar slew the sons of King Zedekiah before his eyes. When the savage and bloodthirsty lions of war are let loose, they are regardless of all social distinction; they seize the princes as well as paupers. No class in society, perhaps, as a rule, deserve the destruction more than the rulers of the people. They for the most part create the wars, and often deserve to be struck down. Through all history they have generally been the war makers. War is their own child, and their child sometimes strikes them down.

(2) Another class referred to is the nobility. "In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit." Some suppose that there is a reference here. to the Philistine custom of not treading on the "threshold," which arose from the head and hands of Dagon being cut off on the threshold before the ark (1 Samuel 5:5). It scarcely matters; reckless men in power are referred to - men that fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit. "The servants of princes," says Calvin, "who have gotten prey like hounds for their masters, leap exultingly on their masters' threshold, or on the threshold of the houses which they break into." War sometimes, and insurrectionary war always, strikes savagely at the higher classes. It plays sad havoc with aristocracies; it sets manors in flames, and treads coronets in the dust. (See another and more probable interpretation in the Exposition.)

(3) Another class referred to is that of the traders. "Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down: all they that bear silver are cut off." Some translate Maktesh, "Mortar," a name employed for the valley of Siloam, from its hollow shape. It was a valley at the eastern extremity of Moriah, where the merchants dwelt. The invading army seizes the wealth of the country. Greedy conquerors have always had a keen eye to this.

(4) Another class referred to is the masses. "And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil." This is not a bad description of the masses of people in all ages. They are:

(a) Unconspicuous. Pretty well all alike, they do not stand out in the country from the generality. War has no particular aim at them, though it strikes them indiscriminately; still, though unconspicuous, war will find them out. "I will search Jerusalem with candles."

(b) Religiously indifferent. "Settled on their lees." This means crusted, hardened, like wines long left at the bottom undisturbed. "That say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil." Religious indifferentism has always been the leading characteristic of the masses. Note the sacrifice of life in all these classes - the rulers and the ruled, the rich and the poor, the ignorant and the learned, the innocent and the guilty, the young and the old, all in war form one huge sacrifice of blood. It is overwhelmingly awful to think of the lives that have been sacrificed in war even since the year 1852. In the Crimean War (1854) it is estimated that 750,000 fell; in the Italian War (1859), 45,000; in the war at Schleswig-Holstein, 3000; in the American Civil War, 800,000; in the war between Prussia, Austria, and Italy (1866), 45,000; expeditions to Mexico, Cochin China, Morocco, Paraguay, 65,000; in the FrancoGerman War, 215,000; Turkey massacres in Bulgaria, 25,000; total, 1,948,000. This is one of the sacrifices that war has made, not only in civilized lands, but even in Christendom during the last thirty-five years; and the perpetrators of these enormities call themselves Christians, professed disciples of him who said, "I came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." "If thine enemy hunger, feed him."

2. It is an enormous sacrifice of property. "Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof." Who can estimate the amount of property that the wars during the last thirty years have utterly destroyed? The Crimean War cost £340,000,000; the Italian, £60,000,000; the American Civil War, £1,400,000,090; the Franco-Prussian, £500,000,000; and the comparatively smaller wars, £1,000,000; an amount altogether of £2,400,000,000 - a sufficient stun to supply every inhabitant of the globe, not only with the necessaries, but with the comforts and educational advantages of life. "Give me," says Stebbins, "the amount that has been spent in war, and I will purchase every foot of land of the globe. I will clothe every man, woman, and child in an attire that kings and queens might be proud of. I will build a school house upon every hillside and in every valley over the habitable earth. I will supply that school house with a competent teacher. I will build an academy in every town, and endow it; and a college in every state, and fill it with able professors. I will crown every hill with a church consecrated to the promulgation of the gospel of peace. I will support in its pulpit an able teacher of righteousness, so that on every sabbath morning the chime of one hill shall answer to the chime of another around the earth's broad circumference; and the voice of prayer and the song of praise shall ascend like the smoke of a universal holocaust to heaven." To talk of the glories of war is to exult in the horrors of hell. I confess that a quivering seizes my nerves, and a chilly sadness comes over my spirits, when I hear men calling themselves Christians, especially ministers, uttering one word in favor of war, whether defensive or aggressive. The man who defends war defends the devil himself.

II. AS A DAY OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION. All, these horrors of war are here represented as judgments from the Almighty. It is called the "day of the Lord." He is represented as having "prepared a sacrifice," referring to the awful sacrifice of life and property; as having summoned his guests - the warriors, men of blood - to battle. Indeed, it is called the "Lord's sacrifice." He is represented as saying, "I will punish the princes;" "I will search Jerusalem with candles;" "I will bring distress upon men." And again, "The whole land shall be devoured by the fire" of his jealousy; "for he shall make even a speedy riddance." In Bible phraseology, the Almighty is often represented as the Author of that which he merely permits. He does not originate wars. The consciousness of warriors attests this. All the passions of greed, revenge, and ambition, whence all wars spring, are self generated in the breast of the man of blood. His moral constitution will not allow him to ascribe them to his Maker; he charges them on himself. He feels that he is not their Author, and he knows that they stand in awful contrast with the holy and beneficent will of the almighty Maker of the universe. He does not instigate these abominations, but allows, uses, and controls them. In using war as a punishment for sin, three things are to be observed.

1. That all who perish in war righteously deserve their fate. God says here, "I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned." War, in its most savage recklessness, does not strike one man down who has not sinned, and whose sin does not deserve death. The penalty of death that comes to men in war would, by the moral laws of the universe, come to them sooner or later in some other form. "It is appointed to all men once to die;" "The wages of sin is death."

2. That warriors, in executing the Divine justice, demonstrate the enormity of the evil requiring punishment. Where can sin be seen in aspects so complete in all that is morally horrific, outrageous, and infernal, as in the battlefield? No thoughtful man can gaze on it there without feeling that the righteous Governor of the universe, for the happiness of his creation, is bound to visit it with his hot displeasure.

3. War, as an officer of Divine justice, reveals the amazing freedom allowed to the sinner in this world, and God's controlling power over hostile forces. Who will say that man is a slave when he sees the warrior going forth with a free step on a mission directly hostile to the beneficent laws of the universe, the moral institutions of his own nature, and the revealed will of Heaven? He allowed men even to put to death his own Son upon the cross. Here is liberty. Whilst human freedom is revealed, God's controlling power is also most strikingly manifest. "He maketh the wrath of man to praise him." He has servants who serve him against their will, as well as servants who serve him with their will. Warriors and devils are of the former class. "Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good" (Genesis 1:20); "I have raised thee up for to show in thee my power" (Exodus 9:16); "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ." Out of the wars and tumults of his enemies he will bring something glorious, a Lord and Christ.

"Patiently received from thee,
Evil cannot evil be;
Evil is by evil healed,
Evil is but good concealed?

(Charles Wesley.) - D.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests.

WEB: Be silent at the presence of the Lord Yahweh, for the day of Yahweh is at hand. For Yahweh has prepared a sacrifice. He has consecrated his guests.

The Day of the Lord's Sacrifice
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