The LORD Your God in Your Midst: I Will Save (3:18-20)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

“I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly,
Who are among you,
To whom its reproach is a burden.
Behold, at that time
I will deal with all who afflict you;
I will save the lame,
And gather those who were driven out;
I will appoint them for praise and fame
In every land where they were put to shame.
At that time I will bring you back,
Even at the time I gather you;
For I will give you fame and praise
Among all the peoples of the earth,
When I return your captives before your eyes,”
Says the LORD.

– Zephaniah 3:18-20 (NKJV)

The God of Hope

I can think of no better way to dig into these last verses than to quote Warren Wiersbe:

God’s promise is that His scattered people will be gathered, His lame people will be rescued, and His sinful people will be forgiven and no longer bear the shame of their wicked deeds. “I will bring you home” (vs. 20) is God’s gracious promise, and He will keep it. Where once the Jewish nation brought shame and disgrace to God’s name and were poor witnesses to the Gentiles, now Israel will bring honor and praise to the Lord their God and reveal to the Gentile nations to glory of His name. Israel will receive honor from the Gentiles and give the glory to the Lord. …

…there is a present-day practical lesson here for any of God’s people who have strayed from His will and experienced His chastening. When you come to Him with a broken heart, confessing your sins, He will receive you the way a loving mother receives a disobedient child. He will love you and even sing to you! He will bring peace to your heart and “quiet you with His love.” Yes, we suffer for our disobedience; and sometimes we carry the scars of that disobedience for the rest of our lives. But the Lord will forgive us (1 John 1:9), forget our sins, and restore us to loving fellowship.

Dr. William Culbertson, late president of Moody Bible Institute, sometimes ended his public prayers with, “And Lord, help us bear the consequence of forgiven sin and to end well.” There are consequences to forgiven sin; for though God in His grace cleanses us, God is His government says, “You will reap what you have sown.” After King David confessed his son, the prophet Nathan assured him that the Lord had put away his sin, but the rest of his days David suffered the tragic consequences of what he had done (2 Samuel 12:1-15).

But when God establishes His kingdom on earth, He will restore His people, renew the land, and give His people a new beginning that will cause them to forget their past disobedience and focus on praising the Lord and glorifying His name.

Jehovah is “the God of hope.” (1)

Darkness Passes

Zephaniah knew that his people weren’t going to escape the judgment that they had brought upon themselves. He understood that the would have to crawl through the valley before they would reach the heights his book ends on. Yet he also relished in the fact that the judgment would not last forever. His people were not a lost cause.

The final verses of the book (vv. 18-20) are spoken by Yahweh himself as he promises to reverse the fortunes of his people who must go through the destruction measured out to the nations in the Day of Yahweh. For them judgment becomes remedial, not final.(2)

Sometimes it seems that sin and darkness will win. The assumption is that grace is the lesser force. Forgiveness and the presence of God are surely far beyond the reach of mere mortals. Try as we might, there comes a point when we recognize that the mess is of our own making and we deserve to live in it. It is tempting, so tempting, to hang our heads and give up. We have offended God.

Whether this recognition comes for the first time or the thousandth, how breathtaking it is when God bends low and pulls us toward Him. He uses the mess. He uses the consequences. He takes the very chains that bind us and turns them into cords of love (Hosea 11:4). As we comprehend the full horror of our sins, He allows us to catch a glimpse of stunning, merciful light.

There is a decision to be made in that moment. He never forces it. We can go back to the darkness and the weight. Or we can learn, as Judah did. We can cry out for forgiveness. We, to whom God owes nothing, can be saved. By His will. By His hand.

All Him 

Strong emphasis lies in the repeated “I will.” All that they will gain—relief from burdens, salvation from oppression, return from exile, honor and praise—will be due to the direct action of Yahweh. Salvation belongs to him alone. (3)

Calvinists like to accuse anyone who isn’t Calvinist (i.e., me) of holding to a man-centered salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can quibble over the ordo salutis all day long, but the glaring fact is that all the work necessary for life and salvation was initiated, carried out and completed by God. Anyone who reads the Bible honestly must come to this conclusion.

The Jewish people won’t live in peace and harmony because they are more deserving than others. God did not choose them because they were special. They became special because they were chosen, just as with Gentile believers. He will lift their burdens (and ours) because He wants to. He will deal with their enemies (and ours) because He wants to. He declares them (and us) His children because we have done the only thing that is left to do – accept His free gift of grace.

Whether you fall on the side of predestination and the irresistible nature of grace or see salvation as genuinely offered to all and believe free will is real doesn’t matter. A lot of people think it does. A lot of people think a Christian lives or dies on being able to recite the Doctrines of Grace or the Remonstrance from memory. This is not the case. Salvation is the work of God. You can think it flows via this avenue or that. It doesn’t matter. In fact, we’re probably all a little bit right and a little bit wrong and will be surprised when we see the whole picture.

What matters is that you stake your life on His. That you cast yourself entirely on the mercy of God. That you confess, out loud, that Jesus is Lord and believe with purity (Romans 10:9). That you live this thing out as He enables you to do so (Ephesians 2:10, James 2:14-26).

Per gratiam. Per fidem. Quae in operibus.

By grace. Through faith. Expressed in works.

Amen.

Reflection

  1. Read the whole book of Zephaniah. What stands out to you? What words and phrases have a deeper meaning for you now?
  2. Sum up what you have learned in a few simple sentences.
  3. Obviously we did not explore every nook and cranny of this fabulous book. That is the nature of Scripture; it is bottomless. What concepts or people do you want to learn more about now?
  4. The goal of Bible study is threefold: to know God, to love God and to obey God. After this study, do you know Him better? Love Him more deeply? Want to obey Him?
  5. How can you take the lessons of Zephaniah and apply them to your daily life?

Signature

Sources

(1) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 161, 162.

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

(3) Ibid.

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.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Then I Will Restore (3:9-11)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

Today I look out the window and see dark, cloudy skies and bare tree limbs. The transition between the short Autumn season and frigid Winter has begun. Nature settles in for a rest. The dogs fur grows thicker, fluffier. It’s harder to get out of the warmth of my bed to exercise as the mornings are chillier.

Hard to believe that we’ve been in Zephaniah since the beginning of June. Yet the timing somehow makes sense, in a way that reminds me that God really does move in grace. For as Advent draws near, the time of anticpating the coming of the King, weeks of celebration culminating in Christmas, the prophet’s words move to their cresendo.

“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language,
That they all may call on the name of the LORD,
To serve Him with one accord.
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia
My worshipers,
The daughter of My dispersed ones,
Shall bring My offering.
In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds
In which you transgress against Me;
For then I will take away from your midst
Those who rejoice in your pride,
And you shall no longer be haughty
In My holy mountain.”

– Zephaniah 3:9-11 (NKJV)

Layers: Again

How one interprets these final passages largely depends on one’s eschatological view. I write from an historical pre-millenialist position, meaning that Revelation 20:1-6 can be taken at face-value:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a[a] thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

– (NKJV)

The pre-millenial view also helps to make sense of Ezekiel 40-47, which record a restored Temple, worship customs and the re-division of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel. God is a God who keeps His promises, so it is my (very non-expert) opinion that the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign are largely about the Jewish people finally and completely receiving what God had given them before the close of this earthly age. (Of course this doesn’t mean that non-Jewish people are left out, as we’ll see in a moment).

Obviously I have barely skimmed over a huge subject, so I encourage you to study on your own. It’s okay if you disagree with me. The fact is that nobody knows precisely how the these things will play out. What matters for our purposes is that, in Zephaniah, we are once again confronted with layers. The first layer of the prophecy here was fulfilled in 539 B.C., when Cyrus the Great of Persia decreed that the people of Judah could return to their homeland if they wished (covered in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi [the Italian prophet]). Their time of punishment had come to an end and God was drawing them back home. The second layer was fulfilled in the founding of the modern state of Israel on May 14, 1948, following 1,878 years of diaspora, or scattering, after the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army in 70 A.D. During the millennium, the Jews will experience full relationship with God through Jesus Christ and lasting peace in their land.

The Lord will not be thwarted. He gives humans freedom to choose, but He will accomplish what He set out to accomplish. He gave that little section of land to the Jewish people and they will have it, come what may.

The Wall

The use of the word “peoples” in verse 9 points to the Lord’s plan for all tribes, tongues and nations (Revelation 7:9). Not only will He restore the Jewish people, but He will gather together His children from all across the globe. This has been the plan all along:

God’s call of Abraham involved bringing God’s blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3). God accomplished this by giving the Jews the knowledge of the true God, the written Word of God, and the Savior, Jesus Christ (Romans 9:1-5). Therefore, they were to share these blessings with the Gentiles. (1)

400 years stretch between the close of Malachi and the conversation between an angel and a priest (Luke 1). Centuries of rules came to function as thick wall between Jew and non-Jew. I give this process and the people behind it the benefit of the doubt. In the New Testament, Jesus wasn’t joking when He addressed the burden of legalism, to be sure, but it was in more of a “let me show you the better way, My way” and less of an “you idiots” way. (Unless the people He was speaking to were being a idiots. Then we get the “whitewashed tombs” and “brood of vipers”).

It is my personal belief that legalism arose out of two things: fear and not knowing what else to do. No way did these people want to go through punishment and exile again. They didn’t want to make God mad. They wanted to do everything as correctly as possible. Then, when the prophets ceased speaking and years turned to decades turned to centuries, they simply kept doing what they knew to do without the benefit of fresh insight or revelation. Fear joined hands with pride and prejudice and “this is the way things have always been done.”

But no matter, for Jesus came to blow up that wall.

…you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

– Colossians 2:13-15 (NKJV)

The New Testament epistles show a very Jewish church figuring out what it means to maintain their identity as Jews while accepting God’s plan of salvation for all people. Today we live in the other extreme, as the very Gentile church begins to figure out what it means for us to maintain our identity as non-Jews while embracing Jewish (Messianic) believers. Just as thy struggled with the beauty of God-ordained diversity in the first century, so do we today.

My Worshipers

What we must remember is that we are all worshiping the same God. First, the Jews:

Zephaniah closes with a joyful note of redemption. Jerusalem, the city of God, will be cleansed from the arrogant so that Yahweh himself might dwell among his people. They also will be cleansed so that their language and their deeds might reflect the moral nature of the God they serve. With Yahweh, the Mighty Warrior, dwelling among them, the people will not fear their enemies but will rejoice in the care he will provide.

There is no distinctive break between vs. 8 and 9. They are linked by the concept of fire, which on the one hand consumes the world but on the other purifies God’s people. The prophet, in v. 9 and 10, draws upon the imagery of the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9) to portray a once-scattered but soon to be united people whose lips (speech) have been purified. This reestablished community will be characterized by worship, the natural activity of a redeemed people.

The theme of purification continues in v. 11 in that the proud will be removed from their midst. (2)

Then, the Gentiles:

Instead of calling on their false gods, the Gentiles will call upon the true and living God and have their lips purified. Since what we say with our lips comes from the heart (Matthew 12:34-35), cleansed lips indicate forgiven sin and a cleaned heart (Isaiah 6:1-8). … The prophets teach that in the kingdom age the Gentiles will go to Jerusalem to worship and serve the Lord (Isaiah 2:1-15, 4:1-6; Ezekiel 40-48; Zechariah 14:9). The God of Israel will be the God of all the earth, and the Gentile nations will honor and serve Him. (3)

Harmony

Zephaniah paints a picture of a harmonious land, free of proud people and all the troubles their pride causes. People stream into Jerusalem from all over the earth in order to worship God. This happens now, in little bits and snippets, as those who truly belong to God seek to live in obedience to Him. We are graced with glances of what a completed world will look like, bathed in the everlasting presence of God. This is the “already” reality of the kingdom existing within each of us (Luke 17:21).

But there is the “not yet” as well. Jerusalem is not a peaceful city. The Temple that Ezekiel saw doesn’t exist. Overwhelming numbers of Jewish people are not suddenly proclaiming Christ as Lord (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5). Jesus has not returned in bodily form.

We wait.

Reflection

  1. We just barely began to unpack some heavy concepts. It is difficult to distill such things as end-times views, the role of the Temple in the millenial reign of Christ and how Jews and Gentiles related to each other into a few simple sentences. What questions do you have after reading this entry? How will you go about getting them answered?
  2. Do you understand that Christianity is firmly rooted in Judaism? Do you have a hard time accepting that? If you have time, watch this video (part of a series).
  3. How will you worship and obey God today?

Signature

Sources

(1) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 158.

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

(3) Weirsbe, 158-159.

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