Sep 5, 2021
The thirteenth century Dies irae (“Day of Wrath”) is one of the best-known hymns of the middle ages. Containing terrifying descriptions of the “tearful day” (Lacrimosa) in which the wicked are confounded (Confutatis maledictis) and consigned to “acrid flames,” this poem became a standard part of the medieval funeral liturgy. As such, it has been set to music numerous times by composers such as Mozart (Requiem K. 626, 1791) and Verdi (Messa de Requiem, 1874). Further, the chant melody first associated with this text, with its seesawing half-step motion, is often used as a musical trope indicating death, mourning, or the supernatural. You can hear it in places as varied as Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique (1830), Holst’s The Planets (1919), and the scores for movies like Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and The Lion King (1994) among others. While Dies Irae has had enormous cultural influence, the source material might surprise you: the poem was inspired by the prophecy of Zephaniah, specifically verses 15-16 of chapter one (“a day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish…”). As we walk through this passage today, a passage that has fascinated and terrified for generations, I pray that our hearts will be lifted by the surprisingly hopeful note at the end: “perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.” —Henry C. Haffner Key Words: Wicked, Day of the Lord, Punish, Wrath, Anger, Seek, Humble, Hidden Keystone Verses: 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. (Zephaniah 2:3)
Zephaniah 1:1-2:3 1 The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. 2 “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. 3 “I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. 4 “I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, 5 those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, 6 those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him.” 7 Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated His guests. 8 And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice—“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. 9 On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud. 10 “On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, a loud crash from the hills. 11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off. 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will He do ill.’ 13 Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.” 14 The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. 15 A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. 17 I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of His jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end He will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. 2:1 Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, 2 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. 3 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.