I've been reading in Zephaniah 3 this morning. I know for many of us that book of the Bible is rarely, if ever, opened. But over the last few years, chapter three of this obscure book has become my favorite passage of Scripture. I'm sure you are wondering why. My first instinct is to say, "Go read it!" But I know that what is deeply meaningful to me right now may or may not be apparent to you just by reading the passage. So, let's just start from the beginning and I'll break it down.
"Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God." (v. 1-2)
This verse has two meanings for me. But before I go there, please know this: I have read NO commentaries on this passage. I am certainly NO scholar. True scholars, if they ever heard my thoughts, would probably disagree with me whole-heartedly! This is just what this means for me, right now. Not necessarily what the LORD meant when He spoke these words through Zephaniah. Okay, that out of the way, the two meanings for me are:
1) The city of oppressors reminds me of...me. I am rebellious and defiled. I often refuse to obey God and turn a deaf ear to His correction. I greatly lack in trust and often let other things get in the way of my relationship with my God.
2) The city of oppressors reminds me of Satan. I can not think about oppression and rebellion without thinking of the one who spends all his energy trying to oppress and encouraging rebellion. He is everything defiled and he is about the business of defiling. He wants us to refuse correction and causes us to doubt the Lord. He will do anything to keep us from drawing near to our God.
Don't misunderstand me and freak out. Satan is the epitome of all things evil. He is everything opposite of God. I am not drawing parallels between myself and Satan! But on two very different scales, I can see how verse one and two can loosely be a description of both me and my enemy. Though I know it was originally written to describe rebellious Jerusalem, it just has this meaning for me at this time in my life.
Theses analogies can loosely be applied through the next several verses. For example, verse three speaks of roaring lions, which exact phraseology is used to describe our enemy in 1 Peter 5:8. Also, verse four speaks of arrogance, which we can most readily use to describe Satan, and, unfortunately, it can also be descriptive of me.
But I LOVE verse 5! "The LORD within her is righteous; He does no wrong. Morning by morning He dispenses His justice, and every new day He does not fail..."
No matter the depth of our depravity, God is always righteous and just and steadfast. Whether we are in a right relationship with Him, no relationship with Him, or an inconsistent relationship with Him, He is ever the same in our ebb and flow.
Please remember as I go through these verses, I am VERY loosely applying meaning here. Some Scriptures just speak to us in a season of life. I do not necessarily think that anyone else will interpret this passage the same way, or even that anyone else should! This passage was written about Jerusalem and prophesied her coming Savior. I'm loosely applying theses Scriptures to my rebellious self, all the while looking to Jesus as my once-and-for-all Savior.
God goes on to describe (v. 6-8) how His wrath will be poured out on His people. Thankfully, as those who live on the other side of the cross, we do not have to fear God's wrath. However, what these passages mean to me is that God will use whatever means are necessary to get us in a right relationship with Him. Sometimes that even means allowing us to fall into captivity. For Jerusalem it was literal captivity to the Babylonians and Assyrians, but for us today it is most often spiritual captivity--the chains of sin. If we wander, He loves us too much to leave us wandering in the desert forever. He will continue to woo us until we come home. If we become slaves to sin, He stands ready to remove the chains. He will continue to offer the key to freedom until we stop running and accept His help. And, for some of us, there is a lot of tripping and falling along the way, because, for some of us, the only way we'll look up is if we first fall flat down.
In verses 9 and 10 we see the returning of God's people to Him. After wandering, after captivity, after God finally secures our attention, we see the first glimmer of purification: "Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings." We receive freedom and purification and we praise Him! But you know what may be my favorite part of this verse? We "serve Him shoulder to shoulder." His church becomes united. Differences no longer dominate. Denominations diminish. Divisions disappear. We stand shoulder to shoulder and we serve Him as one united body. I literally tingle with anticipation!
And the passage only gets better from here!
"On that day you will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust int he name of the LORD." (v. 11-12)
Amen! Let it be, let it be.
In verses 1-4 we saw an arrogant, rebellious Jerusalem that did not trust in the LORD. But after a good deal of sifting, there was not one ounce of pride or arrogance. God's city was filled with the meek and the humble who fully trusted in Him. And that is the promise I am clinging to today--that after a good deal of sifting there will not be one ounce of pride or arrogance in me, that "never again will [I] be haughty on [His] holy hill."
He goes on to describe his post-sifting, purified people: "The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid."
Not only is He sifting out pride, but fear as well. I think about the verse that says, "There is no fear in love because perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). As we are consumed with His love, as our eyes focus on Him Who Is Love, there is no room for fear. He is sifting out the fear. No one, not even our enemy who prowls about like a roaring lion, will make us afraid.
In appreciation for all that God had done for them, Zephaniah says Israel will sing, shout, be glad and rejoice. Today, in anticipation of all God is going to do for us, He says,
"Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!" (v. 14)
I have written in a cross-reference here to 2 Samuel 6:14. It says, "David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might." And I thought about all the parallels between this verse and Zephaniah 3:14. In Samuel, David was bringing the ark back to its rightful place in Jerusalem; He was welcoming the presence of God back into the heart of the city, back into the hearts of the people. In Zephaniah, God was once again taking His rightful place as King of His people. And today, He is promising the same thing to us who are His; He will be King in our lives. We who desire Him to be our all-in-all will one day see that as a reality. We will welcome Him into the center of our lives and we will be rid of our pride and our fear as we come to the full realization of what the LORD has done for us...
"The LORD has taken away your punishment [on the cross], He has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm."
I'm going to back up and take a detour here. Zephaniah says "rejoice with all your heart." Samuel says David "danced with all his might." Who remembers what happened when David publicly and profusely worshiped His Lord? His wife, Michal, despised him in her heart (2 Samuel 6:16). Perhaps we should be prepared for the same. As we rejoice with all our heart, there may be some people who haven't experienced abundant freedom in Christ, perhaps even some of the very ones who profess Christ, who will despise the public spectacle we make of ourselves in our total abandonment to worship. Worship on, warriors, and remember that our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms...With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people (Ephesians 6). One day we will all worship in total abandonment. I pray it is this side of heaven, but if not, be assured all our brothers and sisters will experience "all-your-heart" worship someday and it will be a beautiful thing!
Okay, back on track with verse 16..."On that day they will say to Jerusalem, 'Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."
Can there be any better promise in Scripture? The LORD, the very One Who tells us to sing and rejoice for all He has done, is doing, and will do for us, the same One says He will rejoice over US with singing! Can you picture that? A dancing, singing God? If Michal thought it was undignified of her king-husband to dance for his LORD, can you imagine what she would think if she could see that his King-LORD was dancing over her husband?!
If it is proper for the King of the universe to dance and sing and praise over us, then what in heaven's name is to keep us from giving Him the worship that He deserves? Verse 16 says, "Do not let your hands hang limp!" Lift holy hands to God in whole-hearted praise. Our God is mighty to save! Our God delivers us from our enemy! Our God has taken away our punishment and turned back our enemy! Our God purifies us! And--imagine it--our God rejoices over us! So, let's rejoice in Him with all our heart!
I'm saying this to me today. Forget what others think. Forget that others see the black spots of pride and fear in my heart. It is for that very reason that I need to praise! There is still junk in my heart that needs purification, but God has taken away my punishment! While others may see all the yuck, He sees me as holy and blameless (Eph 1). While I am dismayed at my junk, He is rejoicing over me. He sees me for what I will be (meek, humble, fearless), not what I am (prideful, arrogant, fear-driven). He will leave within me the meek and the humble. Never again will I fear any harm. He has turned back my enemy! Even as there is still blackness in me, and others see it and wonder at the authenticity of praise from such a sinner as me, I will praise Him with all my heart.
"Oh, bless the Lord, oh my soul! Oh, my soul, worship His holy name. Sing like never before! Oh, my soul! And worship His holy name!" ("10,000 Reasons"--Matt Redman)
May no one make us afraid to rejoice.
Attitude of Gratitude
#224. music that says exactly what my heart feels
#225. that we can worship anywhere, anytime
#226. instant access to worship music through the internet
#227. the perfect placement of the sun, moon, planets, and stars to sustain life
#228. fresh air through the screen door
#230. the physical ability to raise my hands
Post script: A couple hours after writing the above, I read Ann Voskamp's blog (of which I haven't been reading much lately). Always amazed to see how God reiterates an idea for me. If you have it in you, read this.