Turn to Zephaniah chapter 3 [pray] [P] Let’s read [Zephaniah 3:1-4 Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the tyrannical city! She heeded no voice, she accepted no instruction. She did not trust in יְהוָה, she did not draw near to her God. Her princes within her are roaring lions, her judges are wolves at evening; they leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are reckless, treacherous men; her priests have profaned the sanctuary. They have done violence to the law.] Here we go again! More woe! Who would want to be a prophet?! Funny thing is they spoke יְהוָה’s message. Now we all want to hear God speak – well this is what He says! How come when people give a message from the LORD it doesn’t sound like this? This prophecy is addressed to the “tyrannical city” – remember what I said last time about the importance of context [P]. We need to know who this prophecy is spoken to. Who is the “tyrannical city”? Is it Nineveh who was mentioned in (Zech 2:13-15)? It has priests and prophets (Zeph 3:4), it has the sanctuary in it (Zeph 3:4), יְהוָה was her God (Zeph 3:2), יְהוָה is in it (Zeph 3:5). It isn’t Nineveh; it can be talking about none other than Jerusalem itself! [P] The prophecy bursts out with a message of "WOE"! It is an urgent desperate message – no gently coming to address what needs attention. It is a last minute cry to Jerusalem to repent. What is Jerusalem? It is the city of God! The holy city! The city of peace! The city where righteousness dwells! It is where God’s people gather to worship their God, יְהוָה! Can you feel the tragedy here! This is the city that יְהוָה loves, that is His city yet it is rebellious! (It defies God’s instruction) [P] It is defiled! [P] (followed heathen, worldly customs). יְהוָה calls it tyrannical! [P] (gone its own way). It is unresponsive [P] – it doesn’t listen or obey יְהוָה. It is un-teachable [P] – it doesn’t obey His discipline! It doesn’t trust Him – it is unbelieving [P]. These are the essential qualities required of God’s people - what is needed in order to maintain relationship. We must know, hear and obey, respond to His voice [John 10:27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;). We need to be teachable – when we go astray we must humbly receive instruction, realize that we have gone wrong and be willing to be brought back on track. It is vital that we hear YHWH’s voice, know it, delight in it; respond to it. That we humbly receive teaching and correction, have a soft heart and are open to the LORD’s renewing work in our life. Our trust, our confidence must be in Him alone, not in ourselves or in man. These are essential qualities of being close to Him but יְהוָה’s city is far from Him! [P] Its leaders are ravenous – devouring others in order to satisfy their own desires and lusts. Her rulers were rapacious, ravenous and cruel. Instead of caring for the people under them they, in their selfish self interest, devoured them! They are likened to lion, roaring because they have captured prey. They are loud and arrogant in their position, cruel and merciless in regard to the inhabitants. Judges also, who should ensure justice for the individual, are equally rapacious. Likened to wolves, they gang up, they to devour the people, leaving nothing, preying upon the people until they have nothing left. [cf. Ezekiel 22:6-7 Behold, the rulers of Israel, each according to his power, have been in you for the purpose of shedding blood. They have treated father and mother lightly within you. The alien they have oppressed in your midst; the fatherless and the widow they have wronged in you. Ezekiel 22:27 Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain.] They exploit their position for their own gain. They are meant to ensure justice for others, yet they are unjust themselves. From civil ruler, to legal authority, to spiritual and religious leaders – the whole of society is corrupt! When leadership in every area is like this, the whole of society will be so also – for they lead it and determine its quality – they can only take people to where they are themselves. It was not only the civil leaders (princes); it was also the spiritual leaders (priests). The evil that is in the secular sector is also in the spiritual area. The priest corresponds in the religious world to the prince in the civil sector – he is the leader, the authority, governing and directing the way things are run. The prophet corresponds to the judge – he is there to ensure corruption doesn’t enter, to keep the system honest, to turn it back to the right way, to fight against evil and wrong. But both priest and prophet are useless. The priests, whose role is to distinguish between holy and profane, are the very ones who have profaned the sanctuary (the holy place)! [Malachi 2:7-8 For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of יְהוָה of armies. But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says יְהוָה of armies.]. They are meant to preserve the law, the Torah, but they are the ones who have done violence to it! If those whose role is to guard these things have corrupted it, what is the situation amongst the laity?! [Ezekiel 22:25-26 There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her. Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.] The prophet is to be a man of integrity, calling the nation back to God, a man of truth – yet they are treacherous. Those who are meant to be pillars and supports of society and faith, cannot be relied upon – when this is the case the whole of society disintegrates. There is nothing to hold it up, to preserve its structure, nothing that is fixed and can be relied upon! This is a terrible, hopeless situation. Praise God that there is One who remains righteous and just (Zeph 3:5). The priests’ role is to preserve holiness – keep the separation between common and holy, defiled and undefiled – to uphold the law. What is their role and responsibility, this is what they neglect! What a tragic, hopeless picture. But isn’t there some resonance with the church?! We are meant to be holy, but we are rebellious and defiled. We’ve all gone our own way, followed the world’s practices, are unresponsive to יְהוָה. There are high paid, high profile pastors who are followed by a mass of simple believers – extorting huge sums out of them with heart-wrenching appeals. Sow a seed of faith teaching – knowing that the offering bag comes to them! I’ve heard shameful stuff as charismatic personalities attempt to extract as much as they can from a congregation. Go to South America, and there amid abject poverty the RC church has magnificent property. They live in luxury by keeping the flock in poverty – this has gone on for centuries! The prophet has the job of keeping the people on track, keeping them honest. They had a message of coming judgment, a responsibility to warn the people. This is their consistent, albeit gloomy, message. But here are the prophets being irresponsible! There is impending doom and they say all is going to be fine. Optimistic prophets have a responsibility to prove the validity of a message that goes contrary to the consistent message of all that have gone before [cf. Jeremiah 28:8-9 “The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence. The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom יְהוָה has truly sent.” But people do not want to hear a sombre message. I have heard it said that a prophecy that is negative is not from genuine – a prophecy must edify, exhort etc. So the prophets are irresponsible, they say that they speak from God but only tell people happy trivial stuff that they want to hear. What a state the holy city is in! יְהוָה longs for her to respond to Him but she refuses [Luke 13:34-35 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”].
Let’s read [P] [Zephaniah 3:5-7 יְהוָה is righteous within her; He will do no injustice. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He does not fail. But the unjust knows no shame. “I have cut off nations; their corner towers are in ruins. I have made their streets desolate, with no one passing by; their cities are laid waste, without a man, without an inhabitant. “I said, ‘Surely you will revere Me, accept instruction.’ So her dwelling will not be cut off according to all that I have appointed concerning her. But they were eager to corrupt all their deeds.] The holy city of יְהוָה is in a terrible state; but amazingly: יְהוָה is still in her! [P] Hallelujah! You know if it depended upon us, God’s holy people, then the situation would be hopeless. We, like Jerusalem, consistently fail. But, praise God, He never does. He doesn’t abandon His holy city. His people fail Him, but He remains faithful! Bless His Name! [2 Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.]. Not only does יְהוָה not abandon Jerusalem, He remains righteous. [P] They are unrighteous but He is righteous within her. Praise God, יְהוָה is righteous! Unalterably! When all else collapses, society is falling apart, standards crashing around us; when those supposed to be good are actually leading the evil – still יְהוָה remains righteous! Hallelujah! There may be no justice from the judges, but יְהוָה will not act unjustly [P] – He will bring justice to light! Praise His Name! He will do justice – all others may have abandoned justice and pursued wickedness but He remains righteous and just – He cannot deny Himself, who He is! Hallelujah! Jesus is coming to reign as King – He is going to reign in righteousness and justice – this is the foundation of His throne. Hallelujah! Despite יְהוָה being in her midst still the wicked go on in their injustice and evil – they know no shame but יְהוָה remains unsullied. The judges leave nothing for the morning (Zeph 3:3) but יְהוָה brings His justice to light! – every morning without fail. All others will fail but HE DOES NOT FAIL!! [P] Hallelujah!! יְהוָה is in Jerusalem, maintaining righteousness and justice – He is active against evil. He acts on behalf of His city and defeats the nations that set themselves against her to destroy her. [P] יְהוָה Himself will cut off the nations. Their defences will prove futile – their fortifications are no obstacle to יְהוָה of hosts (cf. Zeph 1:16). Their cities, together with their fortifications lie in ruins – laid bare by יְהוָה’s judgement. He leaves desolation in His path. Following His judgement the great cities of the nations are waste places, deserted, laid waste, without inhabitant. The judgement of the Day of יְהוָה is terrible and devastating indeed! The cities, the great products of man’s organisation and enterprise, are no more – there is no one in them any more, they are empty! Deserted! יְהוָה’s destruction is thorough and complete. But יְהוָה’s judgement is not vindictive – It has a purpose – It is intended to be instructive – drastic action that shocks and forces people into a realisation of God. The great motivation behind all that יְהוָה does is HIS GLORY! That He be honoured as who He is: GOD! [P] He acts severely in order that through it men may recognise who He is and fear Him – that they receive instruction. In (Zeph 3:2) they did not receive instruction – through His dealings (severe though they may be) יְהוָה wants to bring a change in us – repentance. He doesn’t want them to be destroyed. If they would fear Him and accept correction they would be spared total destruction, they would not be cut off. But, tragically, man is obdurate and obstinate of heart. He does not respond to יְהוָה. Despite overwhelming evidence of His existence man still rejects Him and persists and insists on going his own way. Man is eager to corrupt his deeds – he will not be corrected, there is no fear of God before his eyes. יְהוָה had not appointed man’s dwelling to be cut off – terminal judgement – but man insisted on it by his inveterate and determined delight in corruption. יְהוָה did everything possible to turn him from it and to spare him – but he refuses to respond. Therefore a destruction, for which he was never intended, will be his lot.
יְהוָה’s Solution: So what have we got? – a holy city that is corrupt and evil, coming hopelessly short of יְהוָה’s intention; and we have an incorruptible God who is righteous and just who does not fail, whose purposes for Jerusalem have not changed. There is an impasse! What is going to happen? יְהוָה has appointed things for Jerusalem, she will not be cut off, yet she is determined to be corrupt. What is יְהוָה going to do? [P] יְהוָה has His solution, He is going to put it all right. [Read Zephaniah 3:8-13 “Therefore wait for Me,” declares יְהוָה, “For the day when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out on them My indignation, all My burning anger; for all the earth will be devoured by the fire of My zeal. “For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, that all of them may call on the name of יְהוָה, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder. “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, My dispersed ones, will bring My offerings. “In that day you will feel no shame because of all your deeds by which you have rebelled against Me; for then I will remove from your midst your proud, exulting ones, and you will never again be haughty on My holy mountain. “But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of יְהוָה. “The remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths; for they will feed and lie down with no one to make them tremble.”]
wait for the day of יְהוָה [P] The major theme of Zephaniah is the Day of יְהוָה – things are not right now but there is coming a day when יְהוָה will act – He will put all things right. Our response to the growth of corruption and wickedness, the failure of the church is to wait! That’s not much of a response! Shouldn’t we be doing something?! It is not a waiting that is sitting on our hands, but an eager looking forward and seeking יְהוָה’s return [2 Peter 3:11-12 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God]. It is an active anticipation, pleading in intercession. Placing our sole trust in Him to sort things out – no one else can! We look for Jesus to come and reign. What should be our response to the prevailing tide of evil – wait for Me! To who else shall we look?
יְהוָה will gather the nations [P] We look for the day when יְהוָה will intervene, He will come in that day. What is He going to do in that day? He is going to gather the nations together, bring them into the valley of decision for judgement. "Decision" = "My judgement" – יְהוָה’s judgement is to gather all the nations in order to destroy them - note the emphasis on assembling (“gather” “assemble”) [cf. Joel 3:1-2 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, (this is יְהוָה’s solution, His plan, to restore Jerusalem) I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there on behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; and they have divided up My land. Joel 3:11-14 Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down, O יְהוָה, Your mighty ones. let the nations be aroused and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat (יְהוָה judges), for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of יְהוָה is near in the valley of decision.].
יְהוָה will pour out His wrath [P] Why does יְהוָה gather them? – for judgement. יְהוָה will gather them in one place, and then pour out His indignation and wrath upon them – destroy them all together in one fell swoop. It talks of "My rage"; "all my burning anger"; "the fire of My jealousy will consume all the earth" – the emphasis is on יְהוָה’s rage, anger and indignation – It is burning, hot, all consuming, unstoppable! There is a consequence for man’s inveterate pursuit of corruption - JUDGEMENT! - "Therefore wait ...." it is coming!! Complete destruction of the earth is inevitable because of man’s refusal to respond to יְהוָה, his refusal to fear Him and receive correction. "All the earth will be consumed in the fire of My jealousy"!! יְהוָה is a jealous God! A consuming fire! (cf. Heb 12:29). יְהוָה has declared! The judgement is certain! A "day" has been appointed! A day when יְהוָה will arise and act! Arise in wrath, burning anger and indignation to consume all before Him! Who can stand?!
יְהוָה will purify His servants [P] But the day of יְהוָה is not just destruction, a blind outpouring of wrath – it is a precision surgery. Evil is excised but this is to leave that which is pure – this is what Jesus was talking about in the parable of the Tares and the net of fish. Evil is removed to leave that which is pure. On that day יְהוָה will purify His servants. Notice that the purity is given, it comes from יְהוָה. The gift of a pure speech removes the curse of Babel (cf. Gen 11:1-9) and anticipates the great outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Joel 2:28-32) of which Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11) was an illustration and a mere foretaste. In the day of יְהוָה wicked are burned up, leaving a purified remnant – a remnant chosen by grace, whom He will purify for Himself [cf. Titus 2:14 He gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession,). The tares have been uprooted and burned – leaving behind a pure clean harvest of fine wheat (cf. Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). The curse is removed! Hallelujah! Babylon has been destroyed! (cf. Rev 18). Man’s humanistic system and enterprise brought to an end. Now the curse of Babel is removed, and the nations that remain have clear speech, a purified tongue – one language. A pure language which is used for its intended purpose: to call on the Name of יְהוָה – to give praise to Him. The remnant that is left will be those who rely on יְהוָה. They are those that call upon the name of יְהוָה – It is they who are saved, who find deliverance on that day (cf. Joel 2:30-32). They call on the LORD, but they are in fact the called of God – It is they who survive. In deep gratitude for their wonderful salvation from such a terrible judgement, these will serve יְהוָה with one accord – united and totally dedicated in their service to the King. "With one shoulder" – they will pull together in perfect cooperation in the yoke (cf. Matt 11:29-30) – like oxen – the picture is of the servant. It is the humble servants, not the high and mighty who dominate, who will be the purified remnant.
יְהוָה will re-gather His own [P] A repeated theme in the prophets is the re-gathering of יְהוָה’s people who have been scattered in His judgement. He will bring them back. From distant nations they will come to Jerusalem bringing tribute to the King – to Jesus who reigns! Hallelujah! He has those who worship Him scattered throughout the world. When He is on His throne in Jerusalem, they will come to Him. Though dispersed, they will gather, gather to Jesus, the One whom they worship. They bring fragrant offerings, gifts for the King of kings. Not just Jews but from the nations. The wealth of the nations will be brought to the One to whom it is due! Hallelujah! (Isaiah 60:5-9; Psalm 68:31-32 Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth, sing praises to יְהוָה.).
Shame will be removed [P] Jerusalem was covered in shame but יְהוָה’s judgement will remove the wicked and He will re-gather a righteous remnant. He will remove their shame. The remnant has failed like everyone else – they have rebelled but they are יְהוָהchosen and He makes them righteous – a righteousness that is given to those with faith. The proud think that they are OK, that they are righteous – they will be removed by יְהוָה. On the other hand, the humble acknowledge their weakness, admit their fault, don’t rely on themselves but on Jesus. It is the humble that will make up the remnant [James 4:6 “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”]. Note the emphasis on pride – יְהוָה has set Himself against all pride, haughtiness and self exaltation. Those who make themselves great will be removed – pride and haughtiness, arrogance and ambition will not be countenanced any more. They will not exist under Jesus’ Messianic rule. They will be no more on His holy mountain, Mount Zion, from where He rules in righteousness and justice. But the humble will be forgiven – their shame has been removed, for they have been justified! They have been declared righteous, not guilty! Clothed in Jesus’ righteousness! It is all God’s grace – grace that is only given to the HUMBLE. The shame from our body of flesh will be removed as we receive our redemption bodies! Hallelujah!
Security for a humble remnant [P] So the proud will be removed leaving a humble righteous remnant who rely and take refuge in יְהוָה alone (Zeph 3:12). They will dwell securely in peace and prosperity. “Among you is a humble people” – who is the "you" and who is the "people" who dwell among the them? "you" = Israel, "people" = Christians – believing Gentiles who have been grafted into the Olive tree of Israel. It is the humble, the lowly, the poor, and the oppressed who will survive. Man boasts in his wealth and strength, seeks to be strong and secure, to have an important position – he is seeking the very things that guarantee his destruction! Man hates, avoids and shuns being poor and insignificant – he is escaping the very thing that guarantees his survival!! Man seeks to preserve his life, to be secure – but if you seek your life you will lose it! It is those who depend on יְהוָה to be their security, who rely on Him as their refuge in the time of trouble, who will survive. It is a narrow way and few find it – the majority follow the broad way, the way everyone else is going – but it leads to destruction (cf. Matt 7:13-14). God’s way is contrary to the natural way of human thinking. יְהוָה helps the weak, those suffering and in distress; not the competent, strong and self-sufficient who have no need of Him. It is those who are low, who lack, who are in a state of deprivation; who their extremity cry to God that יְהוָה saves. It is the poor who depend on God, who are rich in faith whereas the wealthy tend to trust their ability, their riches, themselves, their own resources (cf. James 2:5; Luke 6:20, 24). The poor have gone without during their lifetime so it will be make up to them on the day when justice is established (cf. Luke 16:25). It is only those that יְהוָה helps who will survive – those who take refuge in Him. For in that Day יְהוָה will be the only effective refuge. They flee to the name of יְהוָה for refuge and are not disappointed. [Proverbs 18:10 The name of יְהוָה is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.]. Hallelujah! Our refuge is in Jesus [Isaiah 28:16 Therefore thus says the Lord יְהוָה, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.]. They will dwell in security, peace and prosperity, with no one to make them afraid. They will lie down in rest and peace, feed – they will have plenty. The change will not only be in their material state but also in their moral state – they will do no wrong, tell no lies. Their time of hardship and lack is over. They went without for a short time but their prosperity and peace is eternal. The proud, rich, mighty and famous had their time but for a moment – now they are no more – their torment is eternal. How back to front the world’s thinking is – we are encouraged to be strong, assertive, proud – but the lesson is encapsulated in Jesus’ words: “It is the meek that shall inherit the earth!” It pays to humble ourselves and depend solely upon יְהוָה. He is the only hope of deliverance in that day.