God has described the problem that is occurring with his people in the book of Zephaniah. Even though Josiah is the king (1:1) and even though he is making spiritual reforms, the people are complacent (1:12). They bow down to God while they are bowing down to false gods (1:5). They are worshiping God but they do not follow him, seek him, or inquire of him (1:6). So the prophet has called for the people to gather for repentance (2:1-3). The nations are going to be judged for their wickedness (2:4-15). Judah needs to turn back before it is too late. Unfortunately, the people were all the more eager to make all their deeds corrupt (2:7). God thought that they would surely listen and accept correction. But the people will not. The question that hovers over us is this: what is God going to do since his people have rejected him? What is God going to do with a people worthy of judgment? What is God going to do with a people who are eager to make their deed corrupt? These are the questions that are answered as the book of Zephaniah concludes.
Changed Speech (3:9-10)
The first thing God is going to do is change the speech of all the peoples to a pure speech. Please notice that God is not going to only change the speech of Judah or of Israel. God is going to change the speech of the peoples (plural). This point is emphasized in verse 10. Worshipers of God will come from even beyond the rivers of Cush, which is in Africa. The point is that people from the ends of the earth are going to come to the Lord to worship him.
Changing the speech of the people means that God is going to change the hearts of the people. The tongue says what is in the heart. Jesus said that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45). The heart has to be changed for the speech of the people to be changed. A repentance will be accomplished in the hearts of the people so that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve the Lord together. What is pictured is a radical change of desire! We have read that the people are complacent, hypocritical, arrogant, unwilling to listen, and unwilling to draw near to God. But now the people will have hearts that want to call out to God. Please notice that calling on the name of the Lord is not just saying words but a completely reformed and purified life. Rather, the changed lips is so that the whole world can serve the Lord shoulder to shoulder.
No Shame (3:11-13)
Listen to the beautiful event that is going to happen in verse 11. You will not be put to shame because of all the rebellious deeds committed against the Lord. This is a picture of God taking away the guilt of the people. I want us to think about this idea for a moment. God acknowledges our sinning but declares that we will no longer be ashamed of those deeds. God’s forgiveness of our sins is intended to be so complete that we do not continue loathing ourselves for what we did. Nor are we going to find our trust in the Lord to be in vain because of our prior sins. God’s forgiveness is so complete that we can trust in God, free from worry or guilt.
Notice the reason why is because we are able to point to the transformed life. God says he will remove the arrogant and haughty from their midst (3:11). Those who are left will be humble and lowly. They will not do wrong, speak lies, or be deceitful (3:12-13). The remnant will be purged from these sins. As we come to God in humility, God is taking away our shame and establishing our hope through his gracious forgiveness. Notice the end of verse 13. We are made to graze and lie down and no one will make them afraid. Does this remind you of Psalm 23? The shepherd is making us lie down and enjoy peace. We have come to the Lord and are free from the threat of fear of wrath and judgment. We have been brought to a grazing place to enjoy peace with God.
Our Hope (3:14-15)
Now I want us to see where this hope and this transformation is coming from. What is going to change our hearts and change our lips? What is going to cause us to humble ourselves? What is going to cause us to seek refuge in the Lord? What will put an end to injustice, lies, and deceit in the people? Look at what the prophet says in verses 14-15.
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. The Lord has cleared away your enemies. Sin and evil are not allowed to have the final say. Judgment and wrath does not even have the final say. God has taken away the judgments and punishments that stand against us. How has this happened? Look at verse 15. “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” Think about this prophecy. When the King of Israel, the Lord himself, is in your midst, then your punishment is taken away and you have no need to fear disaster, harm, or evil. This is the picture that the Gospel of John wants to give regarding the arrival of Jesus. Listen to what the Gospel of John says in the first chapter.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:11–16 ESV)
Jesus came to us and to all who would receive him, he gave the right to become children of God, receiving grace on top of grace.
Strength For Today (3:16-20)
Now I want us to see what this is supposed to mean for us. Look at verse 16. On that day it will be said, “Do not fear. Do not let your hands grow weak.” So here is the message to us. Do not be afraid. Do not grow weary. Do not let your hands hang limp. Do not weaken. Why? What is supposed to keep us strong and keep us from fear? There are six truths God reveals to give us the strength we need for today.
First, the Lord is with you (3:17).
You are not alone. God is with you. Think about how many times God tells people in the scriptures to not be afraid because he is with them. It happens many times. God is telling people like Moses, Joshua, and Elijah that they can continue forward because God is with them. They are not alone.
Second, the Lord is a mighty warrior who gives salvation and victory (3:17).
God likes to picture himself as a mighty warrior. He is a fighter who fights for you. Again, think about how many times God was the one who fought for his people, driving the enemies away when they put their trust in him. Jesus is pictured as a mighty warrior in Revelation 19 who conquers the enemies of his people and gives them victory. Isaiah 59 gives a wonderful picture of our God picking up the armor and putting it on so that he can achieve victory for us.
Third, the Lord will rejoice over you with gladness (3:17).
God is pictured in having joy and delight in us. This is hard to get our minds around sometimes to think that God can take pleasure in us. But if we think about this like parents and children, then the image becomes much easier to grasp. Parents take great joy in the joy of their children. What happens to the children directly affects the parents. Your salvation and your transformation is what gives the Lord great joy. He takes delight in you moving from darkness to light. You can be strengthened knowing that God takes joy in you. In fact, the end of verse 17 pictures God singing over you because of his great joy. What makes God sing? Our saved and transformed souls make God sing.
Fourth, the Lord will quiet you by his love (3:17).
His love for you is what gives you peace and calm in life. This is a picture of God’s love soothing us in a similar fashion that the love of the parent gives calm and soothing to the child.
Fifth, the Lord gathers the outcasts and the broken (3:18-19).
This is a promise that God makes in Isaiah that Jesus said was fulfilled when he came (Luke 4:16-21). God has compassion for his broken people. God did not come to us and tell us to shape up or ship out. He does not come to us with harshness. Remember again the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the arrival of Jesus, saying, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus did not come to kick us while we are down. Jesus came to restore us. He comes and gathers the broken to himself. We even have a song in our songbooks that echo this idea. The title is “Bring Christ Your Broken Life.” We do not sing to bring Christ your perfect life. God receives the broken.
Finally, the Lord will restore our fortunes (3:20).
This is another promise that the prophets repeatedly made throughout the scriptures. God will restore us. We cannot begin to understand the full restoration that we will enjoy when Jesus returns and brings us to the Father.
These six truths are given to us so that we will not falter or give up. The motivation to continue serving the Lord and being transformed by his grace is found in knowing that the Lord is with you, a mighty warrior who saves, who rejoices over you, who gathers the outcasts and quiets them with his love, promising to restore their conditions and their fortunes. What is supposed to change us from being people who are complacent and eager to make all their deeds corrupt? Seeing the reversal and love that God has for us. Jesus has come and it is grace upon grace to us. He has taken away our shame and made us lie down in peace and rest with him. Is this something you do not have in your life yet? The invitation is also to you to let God change your lips and your heart so that you can serve shoulder to shoulder with a world of people are seeking rest, peace, and hope. Let God quiet you with his love and restore your life.