I've been pondering Zephaniah 3 for several days now, and I think I'm still working it out. It's one of those chapters that is just full of stuff to think about, so I just keep re-reading it over and over again every night. It just keeps reminding me of someone with bulimia. Except it's sort of a spiritual bulimia, and God is doing the purging.
Jerusalem is the one doing the binging. She keeps taking in more and more of the world, and her rebellion is taking over. "She obeys no one, she accepts no correction, she does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God." She reminds me of me sometimes. When I'm stuck in my own ways, I don't want to accept correction, and I don't want to believe that someone else's way may be better than my own. It reminds me of little kids who are stubborn and know they're in trouble. Instead of coming near to mommy or daddy, they go into hiding. The last thing they want is to see mommy or daddy and receive punishment. That's what Jerusalem was doing. She wanted nothing to do with her God. Neither did her leaders, who were expected to be held at a higher standard. They failed.
But the Lord wasn't giving up. Not on the righteous, and not on the unrighteous. He wasn't conquered. He wasn't finished. He was still among the people. Working. Moving. I love the strength in the words that say "He does no wrong" and "He does not fail." And those who lived in sin had no shame, because they didn't know anything different. But they didn't care. Aren't we like that sometimes? I sure am. And yet "morning by morning He dispenses His justice..." I find it funny that the NIV uses the word "dispenses" because it makes me think of a soap dispenser...maybe one that you can't turn off. Whether you need more soap or not, you're going to get it. You can take God's justice or you can let it fall on the floor. Either way, it's going to come out, and it's going to be messy. It's better just to accept it.
The chapter continues in verse 6 with how God "cuts off nations" and "pours out his wrath" upon them. They were a people who "were still eager to act corruptly." They weren't just acting corruptly on ignorance, they were EAGER to sin. They chose it. And because God is a jealous God, and His glory didn't seem to be enough to attract their attention and distract them from their selfish lives, He acted. He purged Jerusalem of her rebellious leaders and disobedient followers. "The whole world [was] consumed by the fire of [his] jealous anger." That is a really dark world.
So what about the few who were obedient?
It's a breath of fresh air...a sigh of relief...to know that YHWH set aside a remnant of people who wouldn't be cut off from Him. A people whose lips would be purified and whom would serve "shoulder to shoulder" in community. Verses 9 & 10 are like a preview of the Acts 2 church...not perfect, but purified. Not selfish, but serving. Not independently, but in unity. Near and far, people who were scattered around the world were allowed to bring offerings of worship. We were never meant to be alone, but we also weren't meant to be in only one place while here on earth.
So why did God choose these few? They were meek, they were humble, and they trusted in the name of the Lord. It's that simple. All because of those 3 things, the Lord set them apart. They had reason to sing and shout, because they, too, could have been punished with the rest of Jerusalem! But praise God, they had no reason to lose hope. Verse 17 is one of my favorite verses, partially because it reminds me of a peaceful song I learned my freshman year at LCC, but it says these words: "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."
And again, I ask, WHY? Why would He take delight in me? a sinner? Why would he want to rejoice over me with singing? It reminds me of a strong father and a little girl, and maybe that's why I love this verse so much. The words "he will quiet you with His love" make me think of a parent putting his or her little girl to sleep by singing to her in a soft whisper. I'm not sure if my mom or dad actually ever put me to sleep that way, but I know we sang silly songs a lot. Either way, it's a beautiful picture of peace...quiet...even if the little girl--Jerusalem, me, you--has been rebellious and disobedient all day...it's covered over with love. Why? Because she was meek, humble, and trusted in her Father.
In the end, He restores. He acts in His justice. He rights wrongs. He removes evil, and He restores good. Verse 20 says "At that time, I will gather you. At that time, I will bring you home." It's good to know that even though the remnant may be scattered around the world, someday we'll be brought home. I love going home.
And I love the pictures that this chapter paints. It shows the extremes of God's characteristics...His wrath and His love. But both were deserved. I'm thankful that we serve a God who is jealous for our love and won't purge the world of every soul who ever sins and turns away. I'm glad He purifies and comforts and gives us time to trust Him, even when we mistakenly think the world has more to offer.