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.

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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: 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?

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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 Years On

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Gentle Reader,

At this hour on a Monday, I’m usually be up to my elbows in Zephaniah.

Not today.

This is a special day.

Five years ago, on a cloudy, cool, early autumn day much like this, I determined that my life had no value. No purpose. Enveloped in a dark, intense pain, unlike anything I had ever felt, I concocted a plan. An exit.

An escape.

Those who contemplate or carry out suicide are not in their right minds. Yes, self-murder is an angry act. In some ways, a selfish act. I get that. What you need to understand is that, in the moment, it doesn’t feel angry and it doesn’t seem selfish. Thoughts get twisted. Emotions get jumbled. To commit suicide is to enact the worst, harshest form of judgment on oneself. People in that pit of blackest dark genuinely believe that the best thing they can do, for everyone, is to cease to exist.

It’s a nightmare of hellish proportions.

There are many things I don’t and will never know, but two things I do, five years on:

  1. Mental illness is as real as physical illness, and just as nobody with a broken bone should be expected to “pray it away,” neither should the depressed, the anxious, the schizophrenic, the borderline. Oh, my, yes, prayer is powerful. But it’s stupid and theologically shallow to believe that therapy is sinful and medication is bad. When a person is too sad to get out of bed, so sad that his whole body hurts, is it reasonable or even compassionate to flip a verse or two at him and then judge him for not having “enough” faith when the problem doesn’t go away? Please. What a load of crap. There’s no deliverance or healing in heaping condemnation on someone, especially when she’s busy throwing stones at herself. 
  2. Satan is real, and he wants to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). I have been in the midst of evil. I have seen it. I have felt it. Don’t tell me that there is no Enemy. Again, stupid and theologically shallow.

If you’d like to fight me on either of these points, I’m down. Let’s go.

Today I remember. Today I thank God for saving me from myself. Today I sit in the quiet, allowing myself time and space to rest. The war is not over for me. Just over 24 hours ago, I had a panic attack.

But I know in Whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is faithful.

If you find yourself worn out, pressed on to the point of being crushed, just so very done with it all – I understand. Sweet friend, I know you’re exhausted. I know you just want to stop the hurting. Jesus Himself felt the same way, that night in the garden when He sweat drops of blood. He knows your agony.

Fight on. Keep going. Take your pills, pray, see a counselor, do whatever you need to do. Get the help that you deserve. Yes, deserve. Because you have value and purpose. You were placed on this planet, in this context, in this generation, for a reason. Anything else is a lie. You don’t have to listen.

I pray today for you, fellow scarred and bruised and bleeding and small sojourner. I stand with you, little sheep who’s wandered so far and wonders if the Shepherd will ever come. He’s already there. You may not feel Him. You may not see Him. But He’s there. He lifts your head and beckons you to look in His eyes. In them is fire.

In them is all the strength you need to slay the beast.

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