Zephaniah prophesied to the people God had chosen, formed and redeemed out of weakness and idolatry, out of slavery and rebellion. The USA is not that people, as a nation: God graciously makes a people now of those who humbly find refuge in Him, in His Christ. But if that is the call, in which temporal judgement is a warning, it worries me how Obama's speech pointed rather to the power of the people to improve.
I thought of citing Zephaniah in contrast to Obama's speech point for point, but that would imply a one-one correspondance which isn't the case. The USA as a nation is not God's chosen people, called into covenant with Him. However, through Christ, it does contain some people who are in covenant with YHWH, and as one of the nations of God's earth, all its people are owned by Him. It's a God-centred universe. And while Presidents are always going to encourage the people to strive for glory, my concern is that Obama's speech described a man-centred, man-made nation which will be rescued by man's collective efforts. God has said that the whole earth, deserving to be wiped of rebellious humanity as we seek to establish autonomy from God as Ruler and Author of Life, will be redeemed and purified in the fire of God's jealousy, because all the earth is His.
"America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents." ... "We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense."Now it's a good thing to call people to remember the founding ideals and documents of a nation - there's usually some good in them, healthy to preserve. But no people remain true even to our own ideals, never mind those of our forebears - and that's completely leaving aside God's ideals. We have much for which to apologise. In fact, in one big way we have remained true to our forebear's ideals - those of Adam, falling short of God's glory and seeking to establish our own!
Now true to life, Obama goes on to give a reckoning of the crisis facing the nation - and ours, across the Pond.
"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.But I worry. In Zephaniah, the crisis of judgement on nations is described graphically. No one can ignore it. But whereas Zephaniah said to the people then,
Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights."
"Gather together, yes, gather,Obama says,
O shameless nation,
before the decree takes effect
—before the day passes away like chaff—
before there comes upon you
the burning anger of the Lord,
before there comes upon you
the day of the anger of the Lord.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
perhaps you may be hidden
on the day of the anger of the Lord."
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.I know that a nation state today must respond wisely to economic crisis. But a wise response does not start with boasting in the past and end with picking yourself up by the bootstraps. It starts with acknowledging we are God's and before Him, our way of life is shameful. It seeks the LORD who is Jesus, seeks righteousness and humility.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture,
the time has come to set aside childish things.
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit;
to choose our better history;
to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea,
passed on from generation to generation:
the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free,
and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. ...
"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. ...
"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
"We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.
"All this we can do. All this we will do."
We have been given wisdom from God if we know the difference between what we may do as nation-states established by Him, and what He does in His Christ, Who must have all the glory.
Obama on the USA:
And YHWH, on what is His to do:
"We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.
"And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
“Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD,
“for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
all the earth shall be consumed.
“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
and serve him with one accord.
From beyond the rivers of Cush
my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,
shall bring my offering."
I'm not seeking to disparage Obama himself as opposed to previous American presidents or indeed as opposed to other world leaders! I heard half the speech, read the whole speech, and found it very moving and inspiring. But I worry that this is because my heart responds well to the message that we have it in us. We can save the day. Or to downgrade from Presidential inauguration to saving the multiple and parallel universes in Dr Who, "You are the most important woman who has ever lived in all creation!"
None of our countries is the Israel of Josiah's reign. But we would do well to heed a prophet who called for a humble people, prepared to take refuge in the Lord who saves - in Jesus. We'd be wise to heed warnings of judgement, and know that this is God's universe. We'd be loving to proclaim that when the markets are in trouble, it is indeed because of the sin of a few - and the sin of many. But the solution is not to be better people and work harder, because the problem is greater than discomfort in lifestyle: it's the fire of a rightly jealous God.