Thank you for indulging me during a much-needed hiatus. I am feeling more like myself at the beginning of this final week of October. The exhaustion that nearly took me out served as a good reminder. God has not asked me to do all the things. He’s only asked me to do what He’s asked me to do. There is a difference.
Getting Back to the Scene
We are stepping into the third chapter of Zephaniah. We have read judgments on the people of God and judgments on the nations that raged against the people of God. We have learned that the Lord takes sin seriously. He is gracious, patient and ever-loving, but there comes a time when the clock runs out. The people have refused to heed His warnings. They have not listened to the prophets He sent them. They have continued on down their own path, doing their own thing. God, bound by the honesty of His character, is moved to act, just as He said He would (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted,
To the oppressing city!
She has not obeyed His voice,
She has not received correction;
She has not trusted in the Lord,
She has not drawn near to her God.
– Zephaniah 3:1-2 (NKJV)
Just a Picture
The city of Jerusalem is cast as a woman here. This doesn’t mean that God is anti-woman. This does not mean that women sin more than men. This is simply a picture of God’s relationship with His people, men and women alike. Such imagrey is abundant in both the Old and New Testaments. Those in covenant with God are often spoken of as “wife” (Israel) and “bride” (the Church).
“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the LORD.”
– Hosea 2:19-20 (NKJV)
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
– Revelation 19:7-9 (NKJV)
God uses human terms to explain great mysteries to us. Everyone understands what marriage is. We know what that looks like. Yet, as He so often does, He takes what we know and turns it on its head. Consider:
As a rule, the fathers arranged the match. The girl was consulted, but the “calling of the damsel and inquiring at her mouth” after the conclusion of all negotiations was merely a formality.
In those days a father was more concerned about the marriage of his sons than about the marriage of his daughters. No expense was involved in marrying off a daughter. The father received a dowry for his daughter whereas he had to give a dowry to the prospective father-in-law of his son when marrying him off. (1)
The Father has indeed arranged the match – and that arranging involved Him paying the highest of costs. He receives no payment in return, for there is nothing we can give Him that matches the expense. Nor does He force anyone to enter into the relationship. He respects the voice and choice of the individual.
(As an aside, those who complain in articles and books about the “feminization of the church” should probably take it up with God, since since the whole thing was His idea).
Instead of being holy, the city was filthy and polluted because of shameful sin; and instead of bringing peace (Jerusalem means “city of peace”), the city was guilty of rebellion and oppression. God gave His people to revelation of Himself in His word and His mighty acts, yet they didn’t believe Him or seek Him. (2)
The NKJV renders the Hebrew shâma‛ of verse two as “obey,” but within the imagery of a marriage relationship God is using as He speaks through the prophet, the NASB “heeded” (“she heeded no voice”) is a better translation choice. Scripture teaches that children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) but nowhere does it teach that wives are to obey their husbands. (This is, of course, where the imagery breaks down some, for we are required to obey the Lord).
The point here is not, “Hey! You women! Pay attention. You should be obeying your husbands.” Instead, the point is that God’s people weren’t listening to Him. They had access to His word. They knew how they were supposed to live. They knew what they were supposed to avoid and what the rhythm of life was to be. It is as if they stuck their fingers in their ears and screamed, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”
God is ever-speaking, even when He seems silent. In fact, the silence is often an answer, a way of communicating. He is the husband who always has the best interests of His wife at heart. He never does anything out of a desire to harm. He doesn’t try to squash His wife’s spirit. He only wants His wife to live within the protective boundaries He has designed.
“I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD.
– Ezekiel 16:10-14 (NKJV)
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction;
For whom the LORD loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
– Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV)
They were not listening, so they could not – would not – receive the discipline that justly came their way in the form of: increasingly harsh and gloomy words from the prophets, growing political turmoil, disease, famine and general turmoil.
“But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them. Also My food which I gave you—the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you—you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was,” says the Lord GOD… “You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry.”
– Ezekiel 16:15-19, 25 (NKJV)
Instead of clinging to the Lord, the people attached themselves to foreign gods, foreign ways of living, foreign alliances. They filled their ears with noise and their days with busyness in order to avoid what they must have somehow, somewhere deep inside, sensed was coming.
Not Trusted in the Lord
He encouraged her to depend upon him, and His power and promise, for deliverance from evil and supply with good; but she trusted not in the Lord; her confidence was placed in her alliances with the nations more than in her covenant with God. (3)
Remember that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4, NKJV). We are in no position to judge the Israelites, who so badly wanted to be like everyone else, for this is all too often our own temptation.
Their struggle to trust in the Lord began even before they left Egypt. God was in the middle of rescuing them, of shaping them into a new people, a nation set apart for His glory, and they doubted. They complained. They whined. They made a golden calf to worship (well, according to Aaron it just sort of appeared on its own – Exodus 32:22-24). God didn’t choose the Israelites because they had their stuff together and were super-impressive. He chose them because He wanted to, despite all of their issues.
They just couldn’t seem to collectively and consistently choose Him in return.
Not Drawn Near
He gave her tokens of his presence, and instituted ordinances of communion for her with himself; but she drew not near to her God, did not meet him where he appointed and where he promised to meet her. She stood at a distance, and said to the Almighty, “Depart.” (4)
No listening, no discipline, no trust.
How quick a descent it is into the ice bath that turns the heart frigid.
There is no way to draw near to the Lord, to love Him, without listening. Without accepting His correction. Without trusting in Him. The people of Zephaniah’s day could no more relegate God to the side, sprinkle a little holy on their lives and be about their merry way, than we can.
And so I wonder. Could God possibly be speaking these same words to His bride today?
She has not obeyed…
She has not received correction…
She has no trusted…
She has not drawn near…
I cannot help but take these verses personally. They roll around in my mind, exposing things I would rather remain hidden. I invite you to spend some time in thought along with me. As always, don’t head directly for condemnation as you ponder these questions. Allow them instead to bring you closer to the Lord.
- How are you disobeying God?
- In what areas are you refusing to accept His correction?
- Do you truly trust God?
- Are you drawing near to Him?
(1) Ancient Jewish Marriage
(2) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 156.
(3) Matthew Henry’s Commentary (under the “study this” tab)
For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.