Zephaniah calls out the sin of God’s people very clearly – they simply do not listen. “She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God”. Stubborn and unwilling to submit to God’s authority, Zephaniah repeats these four phrases and tells us the root of Jerusalem’s sin:
- God called to His people, but they did not listen.
- Correction certainly came, but she did not receive it as correction from the Lord.
- God never gave her a reason to stop trusting in Him; He never proved Himself unfaithful or untrustworthy. Now God’s people will openly deny and contradict God’s word and promises.
- The worst offense is saved for last. God longs for relationship with His people, but they rejected His desire and went their own way.
God makes it clear that His people won’t be allowed to go on their merry way and ignore Him. “Surely you will fear me; you will accept correction. Then your dwelling would not be cut off according to all that I have appointed against you”. And as is often the case, God will do what He needs to in order to get their attention. I’ve had a number of 2X4 moments in my life, where God does something in order to gain my attention. He’s going to do that to His people, and will cause them to know that He is God.
God has a plan for His people who will be the center of a coming nation. “But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord”. Even as God’s chosen people though, they will understand that they are under His power and protection. They will be under the leadership of the Lord Jesus and His redeemed and they will know that their standing is because of His extravagant grace. God continues to show that He is in the redemption business, and even when His people have chosen to walk away from Him and been punished as a result, He always is ready to welcome them, and us back.
We often underestimate the joy God has in His people, and too often think God is annoyed and frustrated with us. “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 by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing”. He is not only able to save us, He takes great joy in doing it. All that is required is that we repent and believe and come running back to Him. He can’t turn loose His lavish love for us if we don’t make the first step. He wants to sing about our return and restoration!
Zephaniah 1 has this prophet bringing the word of the Lord to God’s people in the day of Josiah. And the word he has to share isn’t pretty. “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth….I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem”. God’s had enough of their sin and is going to deal with their sin and idol worship of Baal. He is a jealous God and doesn’t tolerate our choice to share our affection with another god.
What’s driving God’s anger toward judgment? “Those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him”. When we get full of ourselves and believe we can live without Him, things go poorly. When we turn our back on Him and His Word and stop seeking His direction, we are setting ourselves up for correction. God expects us to walk with Him. “I will search Jerusalem with lamps,and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill”. God hates lukewarm. He wants us hot and on fire for Him. If we aren’t, we face the reality of His judgment.
The prophet proclaims the truth that God’s judgment is on the way. “The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry”. It won’t be pretty, particularly for those who are not walking with God and set free from their sin.
Sin wil be the determining factor of what happens on Judgment Day. God will examine us and determine if “they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust”. It’s really pretty black and white. We’re all sinners, scripture is clear on that and certainly life validates what God has said. So we have the option of addressing that sin problem through God’s grace offered to us through the blood of Christ, or standing before Him on our own and giving account of our choices. God will hold us responsible for those things, and that sin will separate us from God for eternity if we haven’t received the salvation of Jesus. Are you ready for that day?
Zephaniah 3 gives us a good picture of the very nature of God. The prophet makes it clear that “The Lord within her 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”. God is a God of justice. He does not ignore what we do or how we live. We will answer for our decisions and choices before Him. It is important that we don’t lose sight of that reality. God loves us, but He is a God we should fear because He is just. “Surely you will fear me; you will accept correction”.
Part of that justice will be correction. When we sin, we will be corrected. Maybe not immediately, but God must act. He cannot just ignore our actions. And He will bring us into obedience. There are no exceptions: “that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord“. Scripture tells us multiple places that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. We will come into submission to His power and judgment at some point. It will not be optional.
Yet while God is a God of justice, that is only one part of His nature. Zephaniah also points out that God is a God of love. “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 by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing”. Can you see Him rejoicing over how you live today? Is He singing with gladness because of your obedience and walk with Him? God’s love will overwhelm us if we let it. He wants to exult us!
So what does your experience with God look like? Are you one who has experienced His love? He is always ready to come to us and express His goodness and love. Are you making time to walk with God and talk with Him? How is your quiet time going each day? God desires a relationship, not just for an hour on Sunday, but continually throughout the week and even during the day. He wants us to not only be aware of Him and to consider His righteousness, but to love Him and be in a place where He rejoices over us in gladness. What a joy that will be!
Zephaniah 2 continues the prophets warning of destruction that is to come. God is ticked, and He will take action. Zephaniah tells the people to “gather together….before the decree takes effect”. Many times in scripture God has a plan to destroy people, but that isn’t His desire. He loves us, and would rather find a way for us to work out the sin problem we have through repentance. So history shows that on some occasions, intercession has worked and God has listened to the plea of His people, or in some cases like Moses, the intercession of one person. That is what Zephaniah urges the people to do here. Get together…..
There is power in community, particularly when that group of people is focused on serving and living God’s way. Zephaniah tells them to do three things:
– “seek the Lord
– Seek righteousness
– Seek humility”
First we need to come to the Lord and recognize that He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. We need to get Him back in His rightful place as the Lord sitting on the throne of our lives. He comes first. He is central. He must be Lord.
Then we need to seek righteousness. We need to turn from our wicked and evil ways and follow God’s directions and plan for our life. We need to move to obedience. We tend to drift from that when self takes the wheel and we stop doing the things that God has commanded us. We do what we want, not what God has instructed us to do. The third directive Zephaniah gives is to seek humility. We need to put ourselves in right position in relationship to God. We are not the center of the universe, He is. We are not in charge, He is. We are servants to the Master.
Pride is a big problem for us. It is that selfish approach that we are in charge and will do what we want as we are above God. Big problem and very far from the truth. God does not take kindly to that self centered attitude – He can’t stand pride which is described in scripture as ‘thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought’. “This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they taunted and boasted against the people of the Lord of hosts. The Lord will be awesome against them”. We need to put God first and keep Him there. When pride becomes our lifestyle, we’re going to go down. I for one, don’t want to see the Lord’s awesomeness in action against me. How about you?
Zephaniah 1 has the prophet painting a pretty powerful response from God against the sin of the people. This is during Josiah’s reign, and God promised not to do it while Josiah was alive, but he has now passed on and God is being true to His Word and taking action. “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth”. God is pretty fed up with things. Sin has had its way, and even though Josiah was a godly king who worked to destroy the ways of the past, the consequences still remain and punishment is coming.
He gives some direction on how we should deal with the sin problem in life. “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near”. Let’s face it. The people had totally been disobedient to God by their lifestyle of idols and greed. And now the time of payment is coming. We often think we are getting away with something when in fact, God is not deceived and will not be mocked. What we sow, we will reap. Zephaniah addresses that attitude by writing “I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill’”. The reality is that God has to deal with sin, and He does, just not always the way we might expect.
The word “complacent” may be a little close to home for a lot of us. We allow the world to press in and lull us into a place where we believe that what we do doesn’t really matter. But it does, and we will stand before God some day and give account. If we have fallen short, which we all have, we will face the reality that God doesn’t just turn His head and give us a pass. The truth is that mankind “shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord”. Sin is a big problem – it causes us to miss what God has in store for us.
But the real truth is that sin will carry a big price. “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements”. If we haven’t dealt with our sin problem, life will not end well. Jesus came to offer us a solution. His gift of grace when He went to the Cross is the way we can overcome the punishment for sin. But we have to receive that gift and make it our own. And we can’t do that after we are standing before God. Deal with it today!