Words are powerful. They can restore and heal; they can also be used as deadly weapons. When we interact with one another, we know to choose our words carefully to avoid being misinterpreted or inadvertently causing harm. But Yahweh speaks words of daunting ambiguity—proclamations that can easily be misunderstood or that are frightening beyond measure.
Consider Zephaniah 1:2–3: “ ‘I will surely destroy everything from the face of the earth’—a declaration of Yahweh. ‘I will destroy humanity and beast; I will destroy the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks with the wicked. And I will cut off humankind from the face of the earth’—a declaration of Yahweh.” Does Yahweh actually intend to destroy everything on the earth? Why is He speaking so boldly?
The phrase “face of the earth” appears twice in this passage; it encloses a miniature narrative that references the story of the flood in Gen 6:7 and 7…