The LORD Your God in Your Midst: the Mighty One (3:16-17)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear;
Zion, let not your hands be weak.
The LORD your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

– Zephaniah 3:16-17 (NKJV)

Here we are, finally. These beautiful words that have been our focus for 24 weeks.

I have good news: These are true words.

I have bad news: These words are often misunderstood.

What it Means

I realize that I have very nearly beaten you to death with the word “context,” but it never ceases to be important. Many, myself included, have been guilty of using Zephaniah 3:17 in a way its author never intended and its original audience wouldn’t have understood. Consider:

Yahweh dwells among his people. They may rejoice and not be afraid, for they will be protected from any harm. Yahweh will be their God, a warrior of salvation. His people will rest securely in his covenantal love (v. 17). (1)

As well as:

…with exceeding great joy, not to be conceived of, or expressed; as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride: this will be the time of the open marriage of the Lamb with the Jewish church; and there will be strong expressions of joy on this occasion; Christ will rejoice over them to do them good; and there will be such singular instances of his goodness to them as will abundantly show the joy he will have in them… (2)

And:

He is a Mighty One, Who will save [Israel] from the enemy. … He will conceal your transgressions with His love…He will cover your sins with His love. (3)

This isn’t about God singing to you.

I know. Harsh.

We’ve learned so much about context and prophecy and layers. Don’t get upset and walk away now. Of course the metaphor can be extended and you can know that God takes delight in you. We simply must acknowledge that Zephaniah remains a Jewish man writing a Jewish book in a Jewish setting. God doesn’t dismiss non-Jews, but we are not His primary concern in these verses.

Don’t Miss It

How does verse 16 begin? “In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem.”To the Holy City. To the people who rightfully dwell there by virtue of having been given the Promised Land. The suffering is over. The centuries of back-and-forth have ended. The promise-keeping God does just that, keeps His promise.

…why is God so joyful? This passage of Zephaniah speaks of a future time when God has ended His judgment upon Israel. All of their enemies have been destroyed, and Israel is entering a time of safety and blessing (verses 8, 15, 19). Zephaniah is speaking of the future millennial kingdom when the Messiah (Jesus) will reign with His people in Jerusalem (Isaiah 9:7; Revelation 20:1–6). (4)

He rejoices over His people as they rejoice over Him. He pours out His love. Bonds of eternal, unbroken affection are renewed. Restored.

Jeremiah echoes the theme:

“Now therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’”

– 32:36-41 (NKJV)

The entire focus of the Bible is God. Not us. He does what He wants because what He wants is best and right and good. So the fact that He takes some time to enjoy the Jewish believers? It doesn’t diminish we non-Jewish believers in any way. In fact, we should (and I believe we will) celebrate. We, the Bride, will watch as Israel, the Wife, parties with her Husband. For just the briefest of moments, we will stand on the edges and watch the reunion. And then, wonder of wonders, we will be ushered in, invited to take our places as the family of God truly becomes one.

Imagine the singing.

Quiet, You

…God holds them next to His heart like a loving mother holds a baby; He quiets them with His love, and He even sings to them! This image of the “motherhood of God” assures forgiven sinners that God is with them, that He loves them, and they have nothing to fear. (5)

This is something that every Christian can take to the bank: God loves us. He loved us even when we didn’t know Him, when we were blind and stupid and wretched (Romans 5:6). He loves us when we choose to be blind and stupid and wretched even though we know better (Romans 7:15-25). We can race to the throne of grace at any moment (Hebrews 4:16). When we are born again into His family, we can call Him Abba – Daddy (John 1:12-13, Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:7).

Does it really matter if the music that Zephaniah writes of was composed for a specific moment in time and for a specific people? The point of the passage is not the song but the love. Our souls can be quiet, assured of His grace. We can hold up trembling hands to Him and know that He will pull us close.

Wait a Minute

So does God not sing over us as a mother does when she rocks her baby to sleep?

Never base your entire theological framework on a question that can’t be answered. Personally, I won’t be shocked if we do find out one day that God sang to each of us, a song that we understood in our spirits but could never fully comprehend. That would be quite like Him. All we can know for sure is that this is not what Zephaniah meant and that we are commanded to sing to God. We don’t need to wonder about whether He’s singing in return – that puts the focus on us and we are very much not the focus.

Reflection

  1. As we drawn near the end of our study, do you understand and embrace the importance of context?
  2. Does it bother you that Zephaniah 3:17 doesn’t mean what most people think it means? Why or why not?
  3. Read Jeremiah 33. Does it excite you to know that you will see the restoration of Israel?
  4. Read Ephesians 2. What verses stand out to you? How do they confirm God’s love?
  5. Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to open your eyes to His love.

Signature

Sources

(1) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

(2) John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible

(3) Zephaniah 3 Commentary, Rashi

(4) Got Questions (note: not the best resource, but I like how this answer was phrased)

(5) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 160.

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Sing! Shout! (3:14-15)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

Small, clear lights bounce off of ornaments, throwing a cheery glow about the room. Candles burn, hazelnut and vanilla melting in the heat, filling the air. Advent. Christmas.

How appropriate that we are invited into a joyous celebration.

Sing, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away your judgments,
He has cast out your enemy.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
You shall see disaster no more.

– Zephaniah 3:14-15 (NKJV)

With Them Then

In the last seven verses of his book, Zephaniah shares a hymn of praise. The excitement is palpable. After all the sin, after all the disaster, after all the chaos, after all the years of judgment – God reveals to His prophet that He has not given up on the people. Those who choose to reject Him are rejected in return, but He will not leave them as a whole. He will not turn a deaf ear to sincere repentance. He will not fail to come through.

..the people of God are summoned to rejoice in the presence of Yahweh. The recurring word qirbek, “your midst” (NIV “within you,” vs. 12; “with you,” vs. 15, 17), contains the central theological idea of the passage, Yahweh dwells among [H]is people. (1)

As we have discussed so many times before, many prophecies had an immediate fulfillment, with final unfolding yet to come. Israel is obviously not at peace. The glory of God obviously does not fill the Temple, which will not exist in its proper form before the thousand-year reign of Christ. This time of singing and celebration must be in the future.

And yet.

 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD:

“For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”

 

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.

– Ezra 3:10-11 (NKJV)

But.

…many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off.

– Ezra 3:12-13 (NKJV)

The people returned from exile. They rededicated themselves to God. Under the leadership of Ezra the priest/scribe and Nehemiah the gutsy cup-bearer, they repaired the city walls and rebuilt the Temple (as much as a ragtag group could). There was joy. There was hope. There was gladness.

But there was weeping. The Temple was not as it once was, not just in lack of beauty but in lack of weighty holiness. The lack of Shekinah, the glory of the Divine. The people did their best. They were reaching out, wholeheartedly, to the Lord. I believe that He responded – His way of responding had simply changed. Here was the precipice, the time between the times. The years just before the silence. He was still good. He was still involved. He was still working out His plan.

It just didn’t look like what they imagined it would.

With Us Now

No trumpet. No fanfare. Only those with the keenest eyes and clearest senses even noticed with the glory of God, the Divine presence, returned to the Temple.

…when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord…

– Luke 2:21-22 (NKJV)

And yet.

…weep with those who weep.

– Romans 12:15b (NKJV)

But.

“…He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

– John 14:16-18 (NKJV)

And yet.

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…

– 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 (NKJV)

All is not complete. All is not well. Their songs and our songs – tinged with tears. Mouths that fill with praise equally fill with mourning.

Sing Now, For Tomorrow Comes

The “already.” The “not yet.”

Where we live.

We sing through the sobs, as they did, because we know that tomorrow comes. We know that there will be a day when we are no longer afraid. No longer sick. No longer in pain. No longer at odds with another. Not longer depressed. No longer anxious. No longer wrapped up in distractions and vain ambitions. The day will come when the wavering notes are transformed, becoming bright, clear and strong.

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,  “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” …

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

– Revelation 21:1-7, 22:20b (NKJV)

Sing now. Seek the beauty.

Tomorrow comes.

Reflection

  1. Listen to these songs. Spend some time in worship.

Signature

Sources

(1) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: A Meek and Humble People (3:12-13)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

Sometimes we are forced to grapple with words and concepts that conflict with what we know to be true of God. Such is the case today. We are going to dig into words that will help us make sense of these beautiful, hope-filled verses. (Note: All original words and definitions can be found at StudyLight, using “Original Language Tools”).

“I will leave in your midst
A meek and humble people,
And they shall trust in the name of the Lord.
The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness
And speak no lies,
Nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth;
For they shall feed their flocks and lie down,
And no one shall make them afraid.”

– Zephaniah 3:12-13 (NKJV)

Meek

The Hebrew for “meek” here is dal, meaning “low, poor, weak, thin.” Webster’s defines “meek” as “having or showing a quiet and gentle nature,” but adds confusion when it goes onto include the phrase “easily imposed on.” Does God want His people to be beaten down? Does He want to break their spirits?

The holy habitation of God (“holy hill”) is in the midst of the meek and humble (vs. 12). He will not dwell with the arrogant but must first humble and purify the people of all that is contrary to his nature. (1)

I have heard meekness defined as “strength under control.” To be meek is to choose to submit oneself to another. It is to actively avoid oppressing or harming other people. It is a refusal to allow the passions and temptations of the moment to have mastery.

Meekness is directly related to trust.

…the one who is guided by God’s spirit accepts God’s ability to direct events. … Meekness is therefore an active and deliberate acceptance of undesirable circumstances that are wisely seen by the individual as only part of a larger picture. Meekness is not a resignation to fate, a passive and reluctant submission to events, for there is little virtue in such a response. …. The patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances identifies the person as externally vulnerable and weak but inwardly resilient and strong. Meekness does not identify the weak but more precisely the strong who have been placed in a position of weakness where they persevere without giving up. (2)

Judah was a small nation. Population numbers shrank during Nebhuchadnezzar’s campaign of terror. Then the years of exile, which for some caused the sting of memory to fade and the comfort of the familiar to settle in. When Cyrus the Great set the people free, Ezra and Nehemiah led a much-diminished company, for some chose to stay behind. While attempting to avoid casting too wide a net, for God clearly used those who did not return to Judah for the prospering and protection of His people (see the book of Esther), we might think of these as having a general attitude of “unmeekness.”

You see, the meek learn the lesson. Their bodies may be broken, but their spirits aren’t. They may have lost every outer sign of position and favor, but they come to know that none of that matter. They come to understand that self-rule is a disaster. They see that God alone knows what is best. They lay themselves at His feet in the middle of the exile and the difficulty and the longing and beg forgiveness. They offer themselves to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

God does not break us for the sake of breaking us. He doesn’t desire we be defeated or function as automotons. Meekness is all about placing ourselves in His hands. Placing ourselves under His authority. When we learn to trust God and bring all of our gifts, talents and strengths to Him as an offering of obedience and worship, that is meekness.

Humble

Here we have the Hebrew ‛âniy, derived from ânâh, meaning “to afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down.” We could easily misinterpret this, as with meek, to mean that God wants to destroy people and then hold them in some sort of autamotonic servititude. This could not be further from the truth.

Biblical humility is grounded in the character of God. The Father stoops down to help the poor and needy (Psalm 113:4-9; 138:6-7); the incarnate Son exhibits humility from the manger to the cross (Matthew 11:29; Acts 8:32-33; Philippians 2:5-8). (3)

Just pause for a bit and dwell on the fact that God humbles Himself to help and save you and me.

He doesn’t have to do that.

What does it look like for us to be humble in return?

As the absence of self (Matthew 10:38-39; Luke 9:23-25), it is a bankruptcy of spirit (Matthew 5:3) that accrues no merit but depends solely on God’s righteousness for salvation (Luke 18:9-14; Luke 18:15-17). … Intimately associated with the fear of the Lord (Psalms 25:9; Psalms 25:12-14; Proverbs 15:33) … A person must not claim honor for self (Proverbs 25:6-7; Luke 14:7-11) but have an unassuming attitude (Romans 12:3). Jesus’ teaching and life illustrate this perfectly. He humbled himself as a servant (John 13:1-16), even unto death ( Isaiah 53:7-8; Acts 8:32-33) in obedience to the Father ( Philippians 2:5-8), who highly exalted him (vv. 9-11). … The Lord rewards the humble with wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). He does not ignore the plight of the humble and contrite (Isaiah 66:2;Isaiah 66:5) but encourages the lowly and afflicted of heart (Isaiah 57:15 ; 2 Corinthians 7:6). (4)

Humility is found in realizing that the world does not revolve around one’s belly button. It is both the exact opposite of arrogance and the exact opposite of self-flagellation. Humility is a correct understanding and estimation of self in relation to others and, more importantly, to God. It is neither overestimation or underestimation.

A proud person will not bow her head or bend her knees. She sees the world either as something to be conquered by her in her exceptionalness or as an entity that “owes” her something, again because of her exceptionalness. She is her own god. She can save herself.

God opposes the proud through one simple yet profound statement, a revelation of His character: “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). His existence flies in the face of everything the proud believes about himself and the world. He demands recognition, not because He needs an ego-stroking but because worship is what we are made for. Harmonious relationship with God, which naturally extends to harmonious relationships with others, is the original design.

It has been said before but it bears repeating: We all worship something. We’re all slaves to something. Some piece of our souls, perhaps a piece buried way down deep, yearns for connection with the Divine. Only the humble person will find it.

Unafraid

Finally, chârad, “to tremble, quake, move about, be afraid, be startled, be terrified.”

At the end of this phase of existence, peace will cover the earth like the warmest of blankets. No longer will there be any cause to tremble. Because everyone who will live in the presence of God will be meek and humble, there will be no bullies. No intimidation. No jumping at things that go bump in the night. No shaking hands. No chill up the spine at the sound of a wild animal.

These words of Zephaniah’s cannot apply to the present moment for either God’s people the Jews or God’s people the Christians. There is much that can cause trembling, especially for those living in Israel today. Unease, unrest, bullets, bombs. Peace does not cover the earth.

Once More

And yet it can cover our hearts.

How we long for the day when we will be unafraid! I know I do. Desperately. I call to mind the words of Paul, words I love and hate all at once:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

That little word, let? That’s meekness. That’s humility. That’s taking all the things that make us tremble and throwing them at God’s feet, then crawling up into His lap and trusting that He will keep us safe – even if that safety looks nothing like we expect it to.

Once more, it is the “already” and the “not yet.” A siren blares down the street and I know that there is no complete peace on earth. Someday. It will come.

Until then, there can be peace in you and me.

Reflection

  1. Read Psalm 37. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
  2. Read Proverbs 16:1-9. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
  3. Read Matthew 5:1-12. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
  4. Read Colossians 3. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
  5. Are you meek? Humble? Full of peace? What do you need to do to cooperate with God in developing these qualities in you? (Don’t condemn yourself. We’re all works in progress. I sure am).

Signature

Sources

(1) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

(2) Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.