Tuesday, March 9, 2010

He Will Rejoice over You with Singing

I was spending some time this week reading the Book of Zephaniah. The book is found toward the end of the Old Testament and is only three chapters long but contains many wonderful spiritual truths. Few know of or have spent any considerable amount of time studying the prophet Zephaniah as he was a contemporary of the great prophet Jeremiah, but I think much can be gleaned from this prophetical book.

As background, the Book of Zephaniah attributes its authorship to “Zephaniah, son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Atom of Judah.” It is believed that Zephaniah wrote his book during the time of King Josiah, who ruled over Judah from approximately 640-609 BC. The picture of Jerusalem which Zephaniah paints indicates that he was active prior to the religious reforms of King Josiah, which are described in 2 Kings 23. These reforms took place in 622 BC. Zephaniah was probably the first prophet following the prophecies of Isaiah and the violent reign of Manasseh. Both Zephaniah and Jeremiah urged King Josiah to enact religious reforms, which he eventually did.

The primary purpose of the book’s composition was to alter the behavior (particularly religious behavior) of the author’s contemporary Jerusalemites through the threat of future calamity for “those who have turned back from following the Lord…who have not sought the Lord or inquired of him” (1:6). Zephaniah speaks of the “Great Day of the Lord” – when the Lord will judge all the people of the earth. This coming judgment will affect all of the nations, including the author’s own nation of Judah where God is understood to reside. The book concludes by extending a promise of deliverance to the faithful remnant of Israel.

It is this glorious promise of deliverance that I wanted to spend some time discussing. It is found in chapter 3, verse 17, “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Jesus said, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). And Zephaniah tells us that when all those repentant, humble, lowly sinners gather before God, He will not look down upon them, or riddle them with guilt, or pity them but he will rejoice over them with gladness and singing! “As a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

John Piper says that in contemplating this verse, we should banish from our minds forever any thought that God admits us begrudgingly into his Kingdom, as though Christ found a loophole in the law, did some fancy plea-bargaining and squeaked us by the Judge. It is God Himself, the Judge, who put Christ forward as our substitutionary sacrifice, and when we trust Him, God welcomes us with a chorus of singing. He puts a ring on our finger, kills the fatted calf, throws a party, shouts a shout that shakes the ends of creation and leads in the festal dance.

Isn’t it a wonderful thought to know that our God is waiting to welcome us with rejoicing and singing? This image often reminds me of the prodigal son who returned home not to find his father waiting to punish him, judge him or make an example of him but running toward him, with open arms to meet him, welcome him and celebrate his return home. Therefore, while the Day of the Lord waits let all of us do as the prophet Zephaniah exhorts, “Seek the Lord all you humble of the land… seek righteousness, seek humility… Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem” (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:14). Amen.

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