Monday, May 19, 2008


The little book of Zephaniah is, sadly, probably overlooked a great deal in modern Christian circles. (Indeed, we could say much the same for most of the Old Testament, but that is another post for another evening.)

For the last 16 months I have been slowly working my way through the Old Testament in chronological order. I've read all these books before. And I've taken side trips along the way - the foundations of a word-study on glory (before I realized that I would continue to gain in that as I continued to study through the Old Testament, and that the latter would more thoroughly inform the former than a simple word study), diversions through a few brief book studies in the New Testament. I keep coming back to this slow progression through history, though.

Why? Because it is incredible. The character of God is revealed in unique ways in the historical narrative - sometimes surprising ways. His broken heart for the dying world is so evident. His sorrow at the sins and rebellion of men is beyond mere words to describe. His mercy and love are on display in ways that are surpassed only by the incarnation, cross, and resurrection.

As I read Zephaniah one evening last week, two verses struck me forcefully, both from the final chapter. The book, like the other minor prophets, is a broken-hearted tirade against the foolish sins of Israel, with the hope and promise of God's eventually redeeming her to Himself - by wiping out those sins, not only forgiving them but making Israel truly righteous: a promise which began to see its fulfillment in the nations and will someday be completed when Israel herself returns to Christ.

In Zephaniah 3:5 we read:
The Lord in her midst is righteous;
He does no injustice.
Every morning he shows forth his justice;
Each dawn he does not fail.
But the unjust knows no shame.

This is an incredible verse. We see highlighted and sharply contrasted - as in many of the surrounding verses - God and the sinner. God's injustice is on clear display: He is in the midst of Jerusalem and Judah (the context referenced here). The unjust ones to whom the book is directed in call for repentance, however, knows no shame. Even with the perfect example of what he is not, still he blithely walks on his way, content in his sinfulness.

How easy it is to smirk at the folly of it all. But how frequently is it you or me that, despite the clear evidences of the character of God that we ought to be reflecting, walk unconcernedly along in stubborn pride and rebellion? And this after we have been reborn, redeemed, given a heart of flesh instead of stone! How great should be our sorrow when we see our own sinfulness and the depravity from which are gradually but oh-so-certainly being redeemed!

The other text which stood out to me was the oft-quoted Zephaniah 3:17:
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a Mighty One who will save.
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you with his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.

I have heard the passage referenced frequently. Yet I have not stopped to truly consider all its implications until that evening last week. So much is buried in this single verse: so much of who God Himself is, so much of His nature and character, so much of the way He interacts with us - and will in the glory of Heaven.

First, He will be in our midst. Right in the middle of us, with us wherever we are. Incredible!

Second, He is not merely the Lord God, He is the Lord our God. That's worth pondering. He is not merely some abstract deity: He is not merely the God of all creation (though to lead that latter phrase with "merely" is a misnomer all its own) - He is personally each of our God as individuals and He is our God as a community of redeemed ones. How remarkable!

Third, He is a Mighty One who will save. Two things worth noting here - first, He is Mighty, which means He is able to save: the promise is not made vainly; second, He is absolutely going to save: the verb is will, not may.

And then we come to the oft-quoted (but perhaps not oft-pondered) part. He will rejoice over us with gladness. Wait: the God of all will rejoice of us with gladness? And it's such a great rejoicing - in which gladness is automatically implied - that it must be reinforced by saying "with gladness"? What kind of rejoicing is this? Indeed, it is the kind of rejoicing that only God, with His infinite capacity for joy can do.

He will quiet us with His love. The image is of a child falling silent in their parent's loving arms: secure, completely at peace, because the trust is so complete. And why is the trust so complete? Because there is utter assurance of the parent's love. And so it is here with God: we will be quieted by His love, as we trust Him perfectly. Interestingly, while this is a future promise, I think this part of the verse has perhaps the most immediate application for our daily lives now: when our hearts, troubled by the circumstances in which we find ourselves, are loud and complaining, we may see them quieted when we turn back to Christ and recognize His love.

And last but not least - as if to reinforce the image of rejoicing and then step again farther - He will exult over us with singing. To exult: to revel, to be so completely filled with joy that it exceeds words' capability to convey. And out of this is born singing. But not just any singing: loud singing, like the shout that bursts from your chest when your wildest aspirations are birthed before your eyes. God will do that over us.

And again, as I did the other night, I find myself with tears in my eyes as I ponder this. It is beyond belief: and yet we believe it because He Himself promises that it is true. We who are so unworthy will, in our glorification (which will so perfectly glorify God Himself as all finally see just how great His goodness, mercy, lovingkindness, justice, righteousness, and holiness are), He will rejoice over us.

I do not understand.

I am humbled, broken before this.

And I find in myself awe and reverence.

As it should be: for we are to bring to God an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.

He is a consuming fire, as Israel learned well in her disobedience - as you and I have learned well in our idolatries. Yet He is, now that we are His redeemed ones, a fire that consumes all the dross and destroys the chaff that is not of Him.

Glory to God in the highest! Glory!

- Chris

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