Zephaniah and Thresholds

Every so often I come across a passage that illustrates well why students–and really, Christians in general–need to actually read the Bible. At our Wednesday evening high school gathering this week we tackled the question of how to read the Bible. Our students have been asking some great questions about how to read and apply the Bible recently, so we decided to spend some time doing exactly that.

We divided students into groups of three, then gave each group a passage that they had to read and answer some questions about. One of the groups had Zephaniah 1.4-9. They actually did a pretty good job of grasping the background, and also trying to figure out how the passage might affect us. As we were discussing the passage I asked students if verse 9, which says in part, “On that day I will punish all who leap over the threshold.” So, I asked students if that meant that we should be sure to step on thresholds as Christians.

We had a brief discussion in which students admitted it looked like God didn’t particularly like non-threshold-steppers. Obviously, this was a somewhat perplexing realization. I quickly pointed students to 1 Samuel 5.5, however. That verse is park of the Ark narratives in 1 Samuel 4-6. It recounts how, after an unhappy encounter with the Ark of the Covenant, Dagon’s image ends up broken upon the threshold of his temple. Thus “to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any other who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.”

The issue ends up having nothing to do with stepping or not stepping on run of the mill thresholds. Rather, those who leap over the threshold out of some misbegotten devotion to a god other than Yahweh are violating the single-deity devotion with Yahweh demands. The issue isn’t the way people enter buildings, but rather a violation of commandment #1. Now, if someone has never read 1 Samuel, it’s fairly unlikely that they will understand what the Zephaniah passage is trying to explain.

It is safe to say that reading the entire Old Testament multiple times is hard work. Most worthwhile things are. But when we begin to know the ins-and-outs of the story, we begin to understand other parts much better. When we understand the story better we’re able to understand God better and understand ourselves better. People have often asked me why we need to bother with the Old Testament as Christians. The answer, of course, is that our story as the people of God begins in the Old Testament, and the God we serve is the same God they served.

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