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.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: No Shame (3:3-5)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Note: In today’s entry, I name a few people that I consider to be false teachers. How I wish you could hear my tone of voice. I don’t approve of attacking people, but I also don’t approve of ignoring what is true. The hard words tucked into the below are not written in anger.

For the record, I have for quite some time now been the opposite of a fan-girl when it comes to Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle Melton and Rachel Held Evans – a tough place to be as a female blogger. It is 100% not personal as I’ve never met any of them. This is all about what they teach. Please know that my issue with Hatmaker began long before the interview that recently appeared here.

I know I’m going to lose some of you because of this. I ask that you take the time to really look at what these women (and the more notorious men listed) teach and compare it with Scripture. In the end, it is God’s word that matters, no matter how unpopular or uncomfortable it makes us.

Gentle Reader,

Today we have before us a study in contrasts. The unrighteousness of humanity and the righteousness of God. Darkness and light. Salvation, the need for it and the answer for that need, encapsulated in just a few verses.

The Unrighteous

Her princes in her midst are roaring lions;
Her judges are evening wolves
That leave not a bone till morning.
Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people;
Her priests have polluted the sanctuary,
They have done violence to the law.
…the unjust knows no shame.

– Zephaniah 3:3-4, 5b (NKJV)

In this description, Zephaniah stands alongside Amos, the shepherd-prophet who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. (Scholars place Amos somewhere between 767-753 B.C., roughly 30 years before the Assyrian conquest and about a century before Zephaniah came on the scene). Like Zephaniah, Amos exposed the evil deeds of the ruling class, of those who should have been taking care of the vulnerable:

…Israel stands accused for crimes against fellow Israelites. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals (2:6). They trample the poor into the dust (v. 7).

Israel’s crimes against persons are at the same time crimes against Yahweh’s holiness: the people profane his holy name (2:7); they desecrate his sacred altar by their unjust social behavior (v. 8); they profane his hallowed house by their reprehensible deeds. Furthermore, they have responded inappropriately to Yahweh’s gracious gift of the Promised Land (v. 9) and to his care in delivering them from Egypt and choosing some of their sons as prophets and Nazirites (vv. 10-11). Rather than accepting God’s gifts with gratitude, they made the intoxicant-abstaining Nazirites drink wine, and they commanded the prophets not to prophesy (v. 12). (1)

This is, of course, painting with a broad stroke, because there’s no doubt that there were some among the princes, prophets and priests that were part of the righteous remnant that the majority of the Old Testament writing prophets speak of (Daniel and his friends are a good example; see Daniel 1). And again, if any of the wicked among the elite had chosen to repent, God would have responded in grace. He knows each person intimately.

Caveats aside, those in power abused their power and they did so blatantly.

Princes

God expected the civil and religious leaders of the land to take His word seriously and lead the people in the way of righteousness. Instead, the leaders acted like ravenous beasts in the way they oppressed the people and took what they wanted from them. (2)

Reaching all the way back to roughly 739 B.C. and the first of the major writing prophets, we read:

The LORD stands up to plead,
And stands to judge the people.
The LORD will enter into judgment
With the elders of His people
And His princes:
“For you have eaten up the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the faces of the poor?”
Says the Lord GOD of hosts.

– Isaiah 3:13-15 (NKJV)

Oppression is not a modern concept. It is not a Western issue. Those in power have consistently, throughout history and across every culture, placed a boot on the neck of the poor and defenseless. (Yes, very broad strokes again, as there have been more than a handful of wise leaders. Yet looking at the scope of history, considering the rise and fall of nations, these wise leaders are few and far between). There’s a reason why it is said that, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

This was not how God’s people then were supposed to function and it is not how we are supposed to function now.

“You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” …

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.”

– Exodus 22:21-24, Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (NKJV)

The government of Judah, the princes, the leaders, were treating the poor and vulnerable in precisely the opposite way. We’re talking real oppression here. As in violence, homelessness, starvation. Nothing at all like what we get so wrapped up in (bathrooms and pronouns – allow me that; no, I am not freaking out over who uses a bathroom because I really don’t care, only pointing out that there’s a chasm between that and, I don’t know, being kidnapped as a child and forced to serve in a guerrilla army) and so often exactly what we ourselves turn a blind eye to.

Do not mistake me. I do not promote the so-called “social gospel,” and neither does God in His condemnation of the princes. Caring for the marginalized and poverty-stricken cannot and should not ever be divorced from the Gospel. Which leads us to our second group.

Prophets

The prophets were unfaithful tot he Lord and His word and dealt treacherously with the people. They didn’t proclaim God’s truth; they only preached what the people wanted to hear. (3)

Go now and read all of Ezekiel 13.

Seriously.

God does not tolerate false teachers. He does not pat them on the head and say, “Oh, it’s okay, honey.” I often wonder if the misrepresentation of His word, and therefore Himself, doesn’t make Him angrier than any other sin. (Just a wondering. I know there aren’t hierarchies of sin). The Joel Osteen/Benny Hinn/Joseph Prince/Jen Hatmaker/Glennon Doyle Melton/Rachel Held Evans types and all the rest who slide on the scale of “all is well” and “I’m so much smarter than you” and “give me your money” must make Him seethe.

But then there are people who listen to them, people who should know better. I wonder how that makes Him feel.

(And now I’ve lost some readers. Farewell, dears).

False teachers are evil, period. It doesn’t matter if 90% of what they say is good. The 10% makes all the difference. I mean, really, if someone gave you a batch of chocolate chip cookies and told you that there was just a little dog poop mixed into the batter, would you eat them?

These bad-news dudes that stood against Zephaniah must have just annoyed him to the point of gritting his teeth. Here he is, doing his best to preach the message, the actual words of God, and he slams against a brick wall of capped-toothed grins. He keeps hearing that this sin or that sin is no big deal. He has to listen as Scripture is contorted to mean something it couldn’t possibly mean in order for people to feel good about themselves. Over and over again he hurls himself against that wall of fake cheer and ear-tickling. It must have been exhausting.

The problem really hasn’t changed, has it?

Priests

As for the priests, their very ministry was toxic and polluted the sanctuary! … Instead of serving God for His glory,the priests twisted the law to please themselves and gain what they wanted. (4)

The priests had a very specific role in society and a very specific way they were to play that role. Large chunks of Torah (the first five books of the Bible) are dedicated to outlining how they were to dress, who they could marry and how the sacrificial system was to work. God was exacting in His requirements. A certain group of people took care of the physical Tabernacle and the Temple after it. A certain group sang songs. A certain group performed the sacrifices. Only one, the High Priest, was ever permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested, and then only once a year.

There job was to care for the spiritual state of the people. They were to teach them how to have a proper relationship with God. They were to help them maintain that relationship. By the time of Zephaniah, their eyes were focused elsewhere. As we discussed before, the reforms of King Josiah were the last gasp, the final effort to get Judah back on track. Barely a generation later, the Temple was filled with idols (see Ezekiel 8).

The Righteous

The LORD is righteous in her midst,
He will do no unrighteousness.
Every morning He brings His justice to light;
He never fails…

– 3:5 (NKJV)

I can’t even begin to imagine God in the middle of all this. Yet somehow He was, and somehow He is today, because He who cannot and will not abide sin remains completely loving. In His justice He must respond to those who reject Him. This is true. It is also true that He calls to the worst of sinners in the middle of their sin, flinging grace before them, working to draw them to Himself. But He is a gentleman. He forces no one.

So the light shines into the darkness, dispelling and exposing. Then as now, all who encounter this brilliance must choose: flee or fall at His feet.

Reflection

  1. Read Proverbs 14:31 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. How does God view generosity?
  2. Read 2 Peter 2. What are some signs of false teachers? What will happen to them?
  3. Read 1 Timothy 4:16. What steps do you need to take to guard your life and doctrine?
  4. Read Ezekiel 8. How does God respond to what’s happening in this scene?
  5. Read Zephaniah 3. What stands out to you?

Signature

Sources

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

(2) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 156.

(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: Woe to Her (3:1-2)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

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).

The wife:

“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)

The bride:

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).

Not Listening

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)

Not Correction

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…

Reflection

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.

  1. How are you disobeying God?
  2. In what areas are you refusing to accept His correction?
  3. Do you truly trust God?
  4. Are you drawing near to Him?

Signature

Sources

(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)

(4) Ibid.

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