A minor prophet with a major message – Tuesday, 3rd Week in Advent – Zephaniah 3:1-2,9-13
The book of Zephaniah is quite short—only three chapters in length. The prophet portrays a grand sweep of history that begins with judgment on Judah (1:1-13), the great Day of the Lord (1:14-18), judgment on Israel’s enemies (2:1-15), the wickedness of Jerusalem (3:1-7), the punishment and conversion of the nations (3:8-13), and a Song of Joy (3:14-20).
The people of Judah have disregarded their covenant with God and taken up the idolatrous practices of their pagan neighbours, and God announces their punishment through his prophet. It is the worst of times. Zephaniah prophesies that Judah will be conquered and the Israelites taken into captivity. They will suffer dire consequences as a result of their sin; the first two thirds of the book of Zephaniah are dreadfully hard to read.
After the good king Josiah died, it appears that God had laid it on the prophet Zephaniah’s heart to take up where the prophet Habakkuk left off, and to approach the difficult challenge of bringing God’s people into line; but from a somewhat different angle. So, Zephaniah appears on the scene to define the problem as pride, and he proposed humility as the solution, knowing that if the people refused to humble themselves, their pride would be defused by the Lord God who would humble them Himself. “Had you rather humble yourself before God, or would you prefer to be humbled by God?”
In chapter three we read that amid the consequence of sin, namely their pending captivity, there is a strikingly beautiful promise of forgiveness that offers a glimpse of the depth of God’s love for his people. Just when all seems lost, the prophet encourages the people to wait for the Lord to complete his plan. They begin to see the promise of forgiveness and restoration beyond judgment. God will purify the lips of the people (verse 9) and on that day they will not be put to shame (verse11). He will remove the proud and leave the humble who trust in me (11b,12)
This makes it clear that, once God’s judgment has come to pass, those who sought humility and acted accordingly will be restored to favour with God. The “high and mighty” who became haughty will be removed; only the meek (those who understand their helplessness apart from trust in God) and humble folks (those who bow in awe and reverence to God) will survive. These are referred to as “the remnant.”
The word “remnant” is important in both Old and New Testaments. The concept (if not the word itself) was introduced with Noah and the flood. In that story, God destroyed the evil populace, but saved righteous Noah and his family (Genesis 6-9). In that instance, Noah and his family constituted the remnant, the righteous nucleus preserved by God to re-establish the people of God.
The idea behind the remnant is that God will be faithful even when his people are not. The people’s apostasy will not nullify God’s promise. God will sometimes impose a harsh judgment, but for the purpose of purifying rather than destroying. God will insure that a righteous remnant will survive.
The remnant that Yahweh leaves in place will not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth. In other words, they will be obedient servants of Yahweh, committed to doing Yahweh’s will and pursuing honest dealings with one another.Those who experience this revival of humility will go on trusting God and serving Him.
So what is our take away? One way that God demonstrates his love for us is through his forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.