I attended North Central University in Minneapolis in the 90s. I was a non-traditional student so decided to live off campus. Unaware of the dynamics, I moved into an apartment off of Lake street – just a couple blocks down from the third precinct. The pizza shop around the corner was filled with police officers one night and a gang drove by and gunned them all down. I had never encountered anything but respect for the police and this was devastating to me. Racial reconciliation was at a stalemate as lawlessness seemed to prevail. I prayed for their families and the precinct while getting to know my neighbors which included a variety of families trying to make a living. Most used that bus stop shown on CNN this week. Many did not drive so they relied on the local businesses. Many of my neighbors were minorities. That same year there were riots due to the Rodney King incident and cars were burned outside my bedroom window in protest of injustice. I got to experience – a city that feared gangs and a city that feared police. What I heard was vastly different than what the news portrayed. When I heard the stories of why some got involved and the stories of young sons being beaten and even killed, my heart broke. I could not bear all the suffering. Watching the news this week was like a rerun and I wonder what it means that the same passions and biases are in play. Many are citing MLK on both sides of the fence, wishing he was still here to address the issues. Billy Graham has passed, Ravi Zacharias has passed, and many voices of reason have left the stage.
This month we are studying Zephaniah the minor prophet. History records he was the son of Cushi (an Ethiopian). He was a man of social standing. His genealogy line has royalty in it – King Hezekiah and King Josiah. His name means Yahweh has hidden. Somehow, he lived through the atrocities of his time to share God’s protest. He was sheltered while the battle raged around him. Being from a royal family he had much to lose by sharing the judgement and word of the Lord. One of my boys’ teachers (in her twenties) posted her experiences of discrimination and when they found out who it was, they had tears in their eyes. I was ashamed and cannot fathom how these things still happen in their generation. Where did we fail, why did we tolerate things, how does it continue?
So, in a land that was supposedly fertile and growing because the foreign gods were active, God dries up everything (man, beast, birds, fish, etc.). He shuts down the marketplace so they can listen. He gives them much room to consider their ways but they – don’t, so God increases the judgement and gives them time to consider their doings and change their ways but they – don’t. Sound familiar? He lets them know He is cutting the false worship down and that the syncretism must stop. Before we get a chance to feel morally superior to these folks, let us examine who else God was frustrated with:
Those who turned back from following the Lord (The Backslidden)
Those who have not passionately sought the Lord (The Apathetic)
Those who did not seek God frequently or with persistent care (The Arrogant)
Yikes. That is harder to dismiss isn’t it? In many of the reforms the people changed their outward behavior but did not change their inward hearts, so revival was short-lived. Zephaniah brought the word that God was after BOTH. God tells them through Zephaniah that He will punish those who leap over the threshold (Looters, robbers and thieves). Even young believers know crime is bad but look at the next sentence – God will also punish the men (women) who are settled in complacency. Like the lees and dregs in a bottle of wine, they were worthless and needed to be shaken up. It points to being in a rut and not being stirred up for God. Sometimes I wonder how many are staring at God instead of following Jesus. This group is not worried at all but prefer staying in their houses and oblivious to others pain. I am guessing these are the folks that say, “it’s not my problem” and go on with their day. God places this group right along with the looters! You won’t hear that on CNN or FOX news. We know what political leaders prefer but how many are aware of what the sovereign Lord thinks on these matters? This same group in Zephaniahs day thinks (but are to pious to say it out loud) “God will not do good, nor will He do evil.” They had decided He was not going to get involved in any of it. It is a fate or karma statement. God doesn’t work that way. God addresses both groups and tells BOTH that the DAY of the Lord is coming. Then God through Zephaniah defines it and it is scary. No matter what your political party or church affiliation the Lord will return and that Day will be intense. Zephaniahs choice of words in the Hebrew states God is so angry His nostrils are flaring and He is full of indignation regarding rampant sin.
God then calls them to GATHER or as the writer of Hebrews states, “forsake not the assembling of yourselves.” We are commanded in chapter two (verse three) to massively, intentionally, and passionately SEEK the Lord, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. It is imperative that we seek righteousness (justice), and humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”
Zephaniah continues to remind the people caught in the unrest of the day that God has seen their plight and has heard the insults and arrogant threats against them. He is well aware of the actions of those who were trying to harm them. He lets them know that God will visit and intervene. What a promise!
I want to draw your attention to chapter three of Zephaniah. The city (and by extension the people) have not obeyed, received correction, trusted in God, or drawn near to Him. It is filled with spiritual pollution and oppression. Her
have not protected but allowed the injustices to continue! That is a problem. They have done violence to the Law and have acted fraudulently, recklessly profaning what is holy. The ministers are described as frothy, light and wanton. Those who could protect, instead brought harm. Ouch. I can’t imagine Zephaniah, looking back over this cities history, wondering how things had gotten so bad.
Beloved, listen to God’s Word through Zephaniah. In contrast to all the wickedness:
The Lord is JUST/Righteous in her midst (God being just means this – that God guarantees to punish ALL evil, reward ALL good and keep ALL His promises).
He will not do unrighteousness or iniquity
Every morning He brings HIS JUSTICE to light;
He NEVER fails (perpetual, continual – does not cause to want or lack and never ceases to help, like one that disposes an army).
So, God says, “I have made their streets desolate, with none passing by.” He hopes they will honor Him and receive instruction but instead they multiply their efforts to do evil.
“Therefore WAIT …
(Piel- an imperative verb commanding us to WAIT, TARRY- this means to cut or carve a space for your waiting confidently for Yahweh, tying a knot to hang on)
until the day I rise up… In other words carve out time to long for, encounter and hear God!
He prophesies a day will come when He will restore to the people a pure (shining and kind) language and that the worshippers will come forth. This reminds me of the book of Acts and people having one language and magnifying the Lord together.
If you celebrated Pentecost Sunday you would have heard something about the Spirit being poured out on ALL flesh. Galatians 3:28 says it like this: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are ALL one in Christ Jesus. Through Zephaniah, God promises to restore to the peoples a pure language that they ALL may call on the name of the Lord to serve HIM in ONE accord. Accord means with one shoulder bearing the burden or with the same yoke.
In the midst of the judgement — God tells His people to sing, shout, be glad and rejoice with all their hearts and gives them the sweetest promise:
THE King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst!
Though it has been many years the message that follows still pertains to us in the midst of racial conflict, a pandemic and political war: …
Do not fear (be dreadful or afraid)
Zion, let not your hands be weak (dropped, slack, disheartened, sunken or withdrawn)
The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness (joy, mirth, and pleasure)
He will quiet you with His love (cause you to rest)
He will rejoice over you with singing. “I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly who are among you to whom its reproach is a burden. Behold at that time, I will deal with (undo) all who bother and afflict you; I will save the lame and she who limps and is weary from the journey. I will abundantly and radically gather those who were driven out; I will appoint them (ordain and establish them) for praise and fame in every land where they were put to shame. At that time I will cause you to be brought back even at the time I gather you; for I will give you (a name/ reputation), and praise among ALL the peoples of the earth, when I return (turn back to restore, refresh and renew) your captivity (restored to former welfare and happiness, i.e. Job 42:10) before your eyes,” says the Lord.
Dear Readers, you have seen the news, you have experienced the cultural temperature, you have lived through racial conflict. The ONLY hope of things changing is in Christ. I watched this week as leaders repented of apathy and coldness. It came from an authentic place and I believe God was pleased. I heard a former police officer pray for both officers and victims and I began to believe change was possible. I saw children wrestle with these topics and I too wondered how those in power and authority, how we could let such injustices take place. I am comforted that God is in our midst and that HE is just, He never fails and there is a DAY coming when ALL will be revealed. May we hide ourselves in that Leader- the Lord who is just and righteous, seeking His face and His heart, praying for our nation.
God says ALL matter and wants praise from ALL the people of the earth.
Thankful for our Ethiopian brother Zephaniah who waited on God to hear His voice and proclaim it! Thankful for others who repeat it today.