How well do we know God?

The calendar readings for Sunday, April 15 (Easter 3) as a Bible study for this week

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – A time when God will rejoice over us

Psalm 4 – Opposition calls for a close relationship with God

Luke 24:36b-48 – Jesus’ personal appearance opens the disciples’ minds

Acts 3:12-19 – Jesus’ ministry continues through faith in His name

1 John 3:1-7 – Knowing we are children of God helps say ‘No’ to sin

MONDAY, APRIL 9
Zephaniah 3:14-20

Judgment on Israel and dispersion gives way to a new gathering of exiles to receive love and blessing

The prophet Zephaniah was a contemporary and probably mentor of Jeremiah in the late 7th century BC less than a generation before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This was a troubled time for the nation of Israel where those of true faith were few and far between. King Josiah, also of that period, was a righteous king following a succession of disastrous leaders. His reforms were good but short-lived – perhaps as we would say, too little, too late. Zephaniah was a temple, preacher whereas Jeremiah was more of a street preacher; both warned their hearers of God’s impending judgment on the nations around as well as Jerusalem. At this point of Zephaniah’s teaching, the likely judgment gives way to a note of grace; those that heard and responded and repented before God would know His love and favour again.

14  Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!

Looking ahead, there will come a time of joy for the faithful remnant. This develops as a messianic prophecy.

The Lord’s people are described in three ways, as Israel (roots and ethnicity), and the people of Jerusalem (a description predating David) and Zion, David’s city.

The prophet’s call to worship uses three kinds of praise for emphasis – sing, shout, and rejoice (or exult).

15 The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

Following the call to praise, the prophet now gives the reason for praise – Yahweh is with them and has withdrawn “punishment” or judgment and turned back Israel’s enemies

The apparent contradiction works like this: The Day of the Lord promised earlier is a day of judgment and wrath, Zephaniah 3:8, for the proud and wicked; but within that is grace for those who are humble and able to respond in a purification once the “arrogant boasters” are removed, Zeph. 3:11. Sometimes God lets things go from bad to worse – and some people will question and realise. Any who have the humility to turn to Him in repentance will then find that He has grace for them. Gladness comes from the Lord’s presence; the Lord’s presence is invited by people having a humble heart attitude and following His ways – then, as now.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.

The day of judgment and powerlessness and fear under God’s wrath is now depicted as an empowering encounter. The Divine Warrior who led Israel out of captivity and through numerous hostile people groups is still the Mighty God to Israel at its time of need, and the power of the kingdom of God to His church.

For further study, read Psalm 24:8; Isaiah 9:6 and 10:21; Mark 9:1; 2 Cor. 10:4.

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

God is now saving those who humbly turn to Him and take “great delight in” them, even celebrating with singing.

18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.

Difficult to translate but probably: “I will remove from you all those who [rightly need to] mourn… the loss…”. Those who regret the distance between God and His people arising from festivals abandoned, and the consequences of that distance, will not be seen to be mourning anymore.

19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.

For further study, read Genesis 6:17; Exodus 10:4; Jer. 30:10, Ezek. 22:14 and 23:25; Micah 5:15.

20 “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.

“At that time” – as with “on that day”, the prophecy covers more than one appointed time. King Josiah’s reforms followed Zephaniah’s message and were good reforms, but did not endure, and Jerusalem fell with the people exiled to Babylon, less than a generation later. The land came under Greek, then Roman rule. The War of Jerusalem, AD 66-70 which destroyed the later temple cost a million lives with a further 100,000 enslaved. But Christians were dispersed, boosting the rapid growth and spread of the church, which today numbers comfortably more than two billion believers.

Application

Prophecy in Scripture often spans different time frames. For some hearing these words, exile was imminent and the “gather” and “bring…home” would be a further 70 years. Another five centuries or so would see the coming of the Messiah. The cycle of oppression and subsequent vindication stretches and establishes the faith of believers today.

Oppression comes back on the oppressors and God’s intervention is imminent.  For those who doubt that mocking God brings consequences, “at that time” is an adverb of immediacy and there is plenty of support in Scripture for the cause-and-effect relationship of attitudes and actions against God’s ways.

For reflection and discussion

As we come to experience God more and more from our background of selfishness and independence, how free are we to experience His love and rejoicing for us, v.17?


Also published on Medium.

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