The Lookout, 6.19.16
By Alan Dowd
Devotional thoughts on Zephaniah 3:9-14, 20
There’s no doubt that the book of Zephaniah is about God’s judgment, his “fierce anger” with a wayward world, his punishing and purifying “fire” for sin (Zephaniah 3:8). But Zephaniah’s contribution to Scripture is also about love, mercy, and the promise of a world made right.
After the fire, after the correction, after the discipline, the Lord promised to welcome his children back into his presence. “I will gather you,” he cheered. “I will bring you home,” (v. 20) he promised, emphasizing his love by describing his children with the beautiful words “Daughter Jerusalem” (v. 14).
Amazingly, awesomely, thankfully, the Lord is merciful even in delivering justice. We see glimpses of this throughout Scripture. Cain was punished for his sin, exiled from his family, but the Lord mercifully protected him from physical harm. When Jesus freed a young boy from demons, “they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss”—a place of “torments” (Luke 8:31). So, Jesus mercifully sent them into a herd of pigs to die quickly.
Purified by God, made holy by God, restored by God, his people would gather under his banner of love, serving him “shoulder to shoulder.”
“On that day”—when all is put right by the Lord, when he makes all things new, when his will on earth perfectly and finally reflects his will in Heaven—“the meek and humble” will receive his inheritance. The proud and the haughty and the deceitful will be no more.
This promise, echoed throughout Scripture, should give us confidence, joy, and peace—and a strong dose of humility. After all, he alone has taken away the punishment I deserve for being wayward; for being sinful from the very beginning, “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5); for being oblivious to his many invitations; for being too stubborn to accept the gift of grace; and worst of all, for being self-assured and self-righteous after accepting that precious, priceless gift. Yet mysteriously, miraculously, he forgives me and forgets my sin. He calls me home. He carries me home. He prepares a place for me in his home.
Devotional thoughts on Zephaniah 3:1-8
Zephaniah wrote about God’s beloved city—Jerusalem—which had veered far away from its true King. What was once the holy city had become “rebellious” and “defiled.” Jerusalem, seduced by godless people, “accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God.” For her sins, she would feel the full force of God’s justice.
It’s also a cautionary and fearful tale for God’s people in America on two levels.
First, as our nation grows less rooted in Judeo-Christian values, as Hollywood and academia (oblivious to the irony) tell us there is no absolute truth except the absolute which declares there are no absolutes, we seem to be marginalizing a number of institutions—marriage, the nuclear family, religious liberty—that have made America a good and great nation. The American people didn’t invent these institutions, but enough of us respected these institutions that they undergirded our society. As these institutions are marginalized, we veer further off track.
As Christians and as Americans—in that order—we should care about this. We must never put our country ahead of our faith in Jesus. As Paul reminds us, “Our citizenship is in heaven,” and so is our hope. Even so, Paul describes us as “Christ’s ambassadors.” Yes, that means we are living in a foreign land. But to extend Paul’s metaphor, it also means this country is our diplomatic posting. This piece of earth matters enough that God has placed us here to speak the truth in love, to be salt and light for a world bent on decay and darkness, and to care about our country even as we keep our hearts focused on eternity.
Second, individuals can veer off track too—even believers. And there’s always a cost. Consider David, Jonah, and Peter—all men of God who turned away from God. We must never forget that God is both just and merciful. “Morning by morning he dispenses his justice.”
Zephaniah reminds us that the Lord calls all of his wayward children to return to him. The fact that he wants us to “accept correction” means that he does not expect perfection. The given, it seems, is he knows we will fail. What he expects is for each of us to seek him and then get back on track.
Devotional thoughts on Zephaniah 1:4-6, 14-16; 2:3
It may be easy to dismiss Zephaniah’s words. After all, none of us worship Baal or Molek or go up to the roof to praise the moon and stars. But how often do we place other things—money, the world, self—ahead of the one true God? How often do we count on these little gods for our security and protection? How often do we live, as C. S. Lewis wrote, in a “contentedly fallen and godless condition” captivated by created things rather than the Creator?
God is serious about being first in our lives. Zephaniah 1:4, 5 is a reflection of the first and second commandments: “I am the Lord your God . . . You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:2-5).
Only the God of creation deserves our adoration. Only he deserves to be first. Anything that gets in the way of him in our lives is an idol. If we do not find the humility to admit that and to remove those false gods, he will find us guilty. And he will find a way to remove them.
He’s too good, too perfect, too holy, and he loves us too much to allow his people to be content with toys and trinkets and created things.
The world’s defense is that they do not know him. But what is ours? Are we too familiar with the one who stooped low to call us “friend” to notice that he is perfectly pure? He’s so holy that our ancestors dared not pronounce or write his name. His law is so perfect that we cannot even keep the letter of it, let alone approach the spirit of it.
Zephaniah’s solution to our problem is to “seek the Lord,” to encounter the Holy One. This is what changed Moses and David, Peter and Paul, the thief on the cross and the woman at the well, Zacchaeus and Nicodemus. By encountering him we start to grasp his holiness and our sinfulness. And in this we realize there is no other place for him than first.