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: 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: Alive & Active

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;He will rejoice over you with gladness,He will quiet you with His love,He will rejoice over you with singing.” (1)

Gentle Reader,

Next week we will begin digesting Zephaniah’s book bite by bite. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! This journey with you has already been so rewarding. I can’t wait to learn more!

Today we pause between ending the background work and beginning the detail work. In this space, this breath, we settle on the awesome, holy nature of the Bible.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

– Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)

These words, nestled between a commentary on the need to submit to God in order to enter into rest and a beautiful exposition on how the work of Christ in His identification with and salvation of humanity enables that rest, grab our attention. God’s word is alive? God’s word is a sword? What does this mean?

…a sharp word of discernment, which penetrates the darkest corners of human existence.

The author describes God’s word first of all as “living and active.” The former adjective stands at the head of the verse, perhaps for emphasis, and asserts that that word, rather than being outdated, a “dead” speech-act of a bygone era, still exists as a dynamic force with which one must reckon. “Active” proclaims the word as effective in carrying out God’s intentions. The same word that at creation set the elements of the cosmos to their appointed tasks and still governs the universe toward God’s desired intentions (1:2–3), has the ability to effect change in people. It is not static and passive but dynamic, interactive, and transforming as it interfaces with the people of God.

The sword imagery emphasizes that while God’s word is a word of promise to those who would enter God’s rest, it is also a discerning word of judgment. Verse 12 asserts that like a sword that cuts and thrusts, the word penetrates and divides, being able to reach into the depths of a person’s inner life. In listing the parts of a person on which the word acts—“soul and spirit, joints and marrow”—the preacher simply proclaims the word’s ability to break past a surface religion to an inner, spiritual reality. Rather than dealing with externals such as religious observance, the penetrating word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Lest one think carelessly about the extent of God’s discernment, the author assures us through verse 13 that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The word translated “uncovered” (gymnos), which normally communicates nakedness or having a lack of adequate clothing, was also used figuratively of being helpless or unprotected. In the context of God’s penetrating word, the concept calls to mind a complete inability to hide anything from God’s gaze. Those who have not responded to God’s word in obedience are spiritually naked, vulnerable before his awesome gaze. A similar imagery is evoked by the participle translated “laid bare,” which means “exposed.” This theme of complete exposure and vulnerability of all creation before God was common in Jewish theology of the era. (1)

God has not ceased speaking. The book you hold in your hands or the words you read on the screen have not lost their importance or meaning or immediacy. What was true for Adam and Eve remains true today.

The world rejects metanarrative, or one overarching “big story.” The Bible stands against this rejection. It declares that God exists. Truth is not relative. Sin is a real condition and a real problem. There is only one way to remedy that condition and problem. Every “little story” fits within that simple yet deeply confrontational declaration of dependence.

Zephaniah’s voice rises with the other Divinely-inspired prophets and authors in praise of the True Lord. He points up, to the One who sits on the throne. He joins in exposing the willful blindness and the depth of darkness found within each and every human being. He pushes the reader toward the light, toward a breaking point. Choose God and live. Anything else is disaster.

This is the message of the Bible.

Reflection

  1. Consider the fact that God sees all and knows all. With that in mind, carve out some time to pray. Is there anything you need to confess to Him right now? Anything you need to deal with? (Prayer doesn’t need to be eloquent or long-winded. Just talk to Him as a child would a loving father).
  2. Think about your approach to the Bible. Do you understand the power in the words you read? Do you understand that you need to cultivate an attitude of worship and reverence?
  3. The point of Bible study is not to gain more head knowledge, but to develop an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Where are you at right now? Close to Him? Far away? Confident? Unsure? Where do you want to be? Why?
  4. Many Christians have trouble reading anything in the Old Testament beyond the creation account in Genesis. We assume that it doesn’t really matter for us today. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. How much of Scripture is useful? How much is relevant?
  5. Think about everything you’ve learned so far. What do you want to know now? What do you hope to gain from studying Zephaniah?

Until next time.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) NIV Application Commentary (under the “Study This” tab)

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