The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Fierce Anger (3:6-8)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

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.

Reflection

  1. 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).
  2. What is God asking you to give up? How is He commanding you to submit to Him?
  3. 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?
  4. Read Zephaniah 3. What stands out to you?

Signature

Sources

(1) Zephaniah 3 Commentary, Rashi

(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.

Five Minute Friday: Rest

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Ten years.

A decade.

Sometimes it feels like eternity. Sometimes it feels like a few months. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Marriage. It’s nothing like I thought it would be. Not better. Not worse. Different. In all the right ways.

Marriage is work. Marriage is mystery. Marriage is laughter and tears and empty bank accounts and cold nights made warm by the presence of another. Marriage is lighting candles because that will make your husband feel good when he comes home from work. Marriage is sitting, wrapped up in a blanket, fighting nausea while your husband brushes your hair.

Marriage is a holy thing.

Chris, I’m glad to walking this weird, wonky, wonderful road with you.

Go.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are My ways higher than your ways
    and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

– Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)

I am arrested by these words recorded by the prophet.

This portion of the Isaianic corpus concludes with a divine invitation. It is an invitation of grace, to receive lifegiving water free of charge. It recalls Yahweh’s earlier provision of manna and water in the desert and foreshadows the One who said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37).

Vv. 6-7 are a final appeal to the exiles to seek Yahweh and return to him. Vv. 8-9 remind the people that their deliverance is beyond human comprehension. God’s word has promised it. It will not return void. We recall the opening verses of this portion of the book of Isaiah, “The word of our God stands forever” (40:8).

The prophet concludes this section by announcing and celebrating the departure from exile. Again, this act of deliverance will cause all creation to join in the celebration, and restored Israel will stand as an everlasting sign to all the nations that Yahweh is faithful to His covenant. – Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

“Yahweh is faithful to His covenant.”

In the middle of the swirling, soupy clouds that so often block our vision, He clears a path. A space. He bids us come and sit with Him.

And there is rest.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Jan Schulz

An Embarrassment of Weeping

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

I made an idiot out of myself during church yesterday.

Instead of a sermon, my pastor gave everyone in attendance time and space to speak about what God has been doing in our lives. His stated goal was to “make much of Jesus.” I listened as others praised Him for His goodness and provision or shared prayer needs, chewing my lower lip and staring at my Bible. Despite maternal Pentecostal roots, I’m not really one to get expressive during church. Sometimes I’ll raise my hands during a song or groove to the beat, but that’s about it.

I really wanted to take part in glorifying the Lord, though. I wanted to share how He’s been taking me back to these words time and time again over the last two years:

This is the reason why we never collapse. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.

– 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (PHILLIPS)

I wanted to be encouraging. So, with the fluttering heart and shallow breath and sweaty palms that strike any time I gather the courage to speak publicly (a rare occurrence), I stood.

And promptly started to cry.

I’m not a crier in general, and I certainly don’t cry in front of strangers. Nevertheless, mascara-streaked mess was I.

Almost immediately I began to berate myself internally. Nobody wants to see this! Who do you think you are? Why would anyone want to hear a thing you have to say? All aboard the Negativity Express. But (and when it comes to learning how to walk this road of faith, the “buts” are holy stops along the way) this time I took all of that and spread it out before the Lord. I asked if this sense of needing to shut up and sit down was from Him.

In response, He led me here:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

– Isaiah 61:1-3 (NKJV)

This is a Messianic passage, fulfilled by and in Christ Jesus. He even read the first two verses in the Nazareth synagogue at the beginning of His public ministry (Luke 4:17-21). I pondered why God would bring these words to my mind as a way of answering my question. It struck me that just as Jesus was about His Father’s business, so are we to be. Is this passage not the Great Commission explained? We preach, we proclaim, we comfort. We do all of this in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

That took me back to 2 Corinthians 4:

This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us.

– vs. 7 (PHILLIPS)

Those common earthenware jars? Sometimes they leak.

So I have this Spirit inside of me, the very presence of the Living God. But I’m a weak and broken thing. I don’t always have the right words or the right way. Apparently I get up and cry in front of people. That’s a thing I do. I could take the familiar route of shame, shoulders slumped and head hung low. Instead I’m attempting a new perspective. Maybe, just maybe, someone in that room was comforted in witnessing my desire to please God but my total inability to do so in a coherent way. Maybe the mess I was in trying to be bold will encourage her to be bold at another time. And God will be glorified, because that’s the point, tears or not.

I think He smiles upon our efforts to do as He wills. I think He accepts that we are like newly-mobile toddlers attempting to walk on sand. I don’t know why I cried. I think I was just overcome with thankfulness. I do know that He doesn’t condemn me for it, nor does He condemn you, dear one, for the messy ways your love and obedience come out. He just wants that willingness. Things like results and responses are in His hands.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Crafty Creative Kathy