I received some expected heat over last week’s entry. What I wrote was decidedly not politically correct. How odd that theology should be expected to be politically correct. Ah, no. Do we shape God to suit ourselves or do we allow Him to shape us?
The Bible – it is not meant to make us feel comfortable or affirmed in our sins, whatever those sins are. It is not to be manipulated, cherry-picked or brushed aside. Grace is not a blank check ensuring our ability to do whatever we want without consequences.
Christianity is a wide tent. There is plenty of room for legitimate differences over interpretation and application. What there is not room for is the thinking that “well, you can’t really trust the Bible on _________.” If you can’t trust the Bible on _________, then you can’t trust what the Bible says about anything. If you can’t wrap your head around x, y, or z being sin, and therefore something that separates us from God, then you question the entire concept of sin, which leads to questioning the need for Christ.
It’s all a puzzle that fits together so tightly that removing even one piece causes the whole picture to fall apart.
There is a discussion covering topics such as textual integrity and faith behind these brief paragraphs that I simply don’t have time to get into right now. I encourage you to think about the “hot button” issues of our day. How does Scripture address them? In specifics or general principles? How does this impact you? Do you need to change your thinking or behavior? Study some more?
I haven’t “arrived.” I am just as much a sinner as anyone, and probably worse. There isn’t a lot that I haven’t done or seen at this point. I need Jesus desperately. He gets pickier with me as we walk along together. Sometimes I ignore His conviction. I don’t always get it right. Nevertheless, I know, for sure and for certain, that His way is always best. Whatever He asks to lay down, however He commands us to submit, is, without fail, for our good.
On with the show.
Surely They Will Change
“I have cut off nations,
Their fortresses are devastated;
I have made their streets desolate,
With none passing by.
Their cities are destroyed;
There is no one, no inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely you will fear Me,
You will receive instruction’—
So that her dwelling would not be cut off,
Despite everything for which I punished her.
But they rose early and corrupted all their deeds.”
– Zephaniah 3:6-7 (NKJV)
That phrase, “Surely you will fear Me, you will receive instruction,” informs the entire book of Zephaniah and even Scripture as a whole.
“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?”
– Ezekiel 18:23 (NKJV)
God doles out discipline because He wants people to turn away from death. He isn’t pleased when anyone chooses to live apart from Him. Those who are in covenant relationship with Him are called to repentance and the often difficult work of restoration when they choose to engage in sin. Those outside of that covenant are punished as a means God uses to draw them to Himself. He does not throw bricks for the fun of it. He does not delight in painful consequences. Anything that happens as a result of our beliefs and actions, whatever they are, can be a tool in His hands, used to move us deeper into holiness, whether we’re at the starting line or at mile 30.
Rashi writes that God had planned good things for the people of Judah and He didn’t want to have to cut that good off from them. (1) How did the people of Jerusalem respond to this? “…they arose early and corrupted their deeds.” This draws us to Romans 1, where Paul makes the argument that those who do not follow God actively suppress the truth. There is a choice involved. This is exactly what they were doing. They had been warned and the devastation would come. They chose to ignore what was right in front of them.
Zephaniah records that God essentially wonders what else it would take for the people to repent. This wondering is, of course, not a true wondering, for God knew already. (It’s a mystery to us, how He exists outside of time, therefore knowing all, yet does not force Himself onto anyone. We cannot unravel that). He knew that many would keep marching down the path of destruction.
So He turns His eye toward those who have remained faithful.
The Faithful Remnant
“Therefore wait for Me,” says the LORD,
“Until the day I rise up for plunder;
My determination is to gather the nations
To My assembly of kingdoms,
To pour on them My indignation,
All My fierce anger;
All the earth shall be devoured
With the fire of My jealousy.”
– Zephaniah 3:8 (NKJV)
In knowing that God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked, we could mistakenly come to believe that God is never angry. This would be wrong. We have trouble understanding how God can be angry yet not vindictive, because we assume He is like us. He is not. His anger is perfect, meaning that it is never expressed as a grudge or vendetta. He is holy and just. His character requires a response toward the sin that He cannot stand.
Yes, sin makes God angry. But He is not an abusive parent, boss, friend or spouse. He is not twisted. He doesn’t have a dark side. He doesn’t clap His hands and get all excited in His anger. His responses are always right. (What about the jealousy He brings up here? It is not jealousy of, because God is completely secure in Himself, but jealousy for. He knows what is best for each person He created).
Despite the mentioning of emotions and fire, the scene changes. Zephaniah’s head must have spun more than once with all the shifts in narrative throughout his short book.
In the face of such a dismal picture of human corruption as Zephaniah drew in 3:1-7, believers are exhorted to “wait” for the Lord to come as witness, to pour out His wrath against all peoples, and to purify a remnant who will seek refuge in Him. To “wait” for the Lord means to “long for” Him (Job 3:21; Isaiah 30:18) and to place one’s confident hope only in Him (Psalm 33:20; Isaiah 8:17, 64:4). (2)
Those who remained faithful to God are counseled to be patient in the midst of the oncoming storm. To place all their trust and hope in Him. The days were about to get dark. They were to cling to Him as the light in that darkness. To look for Him. To long for Him.
To love Him, even when the majority didn’t.
A New Focus
There is little in the way of commentary in this entry for good reason: we are crossing a bridge. God, through Zephaniah, is pushing the lever on the ViewMaster (not a sponsor).We have seen the depths of destruction and chaos. We understand why Judah was going to suffer. We understand why the surrounding nations were going to fall. We understand that God was (and is) perfectly just.
We have looked at the past. We have studied the events that would occur as a result of that past, perhaps within Zephaniah’s lifetime. Now our eyes will turn to the future, to another prophecy layer cake.
We are about to move into the hope.
- Do you trust the Bible? Do you find it to be reliable? Read this as a jump off point. (Note: I dislike his use of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because they are loaded; there is not much consensus on what it means to be “liberal” or “conservative” because the definitions are always biased).
- What is God asking you to give up? How is He commanding you to submit to Him?
- I’m calling on my Presbyterian peeps here to help us understand God’s emotions. How can God have feelings and yet remain constant? Read this. What do you agree with? Disagree with?
- Read Zephaniah 3. What stands out to you?
(2) Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, eds., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003. “Zephaniah.” p. 1706.
For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.