In the early part of this book the prophet speaks of the day of the Lord’s wrath;
And on that day all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:18)
Then at the conclusion of the book the prophet speaks of the Lord’s mercy;
The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy…I will bring you in, gather you together and give you renown and praise. I will restore your fortunes before your eyes. (from Zephaniah 3: 18-20)
If we are trying to compose a song from Zephaniah alone our lyrics will not make sense. God seems to be at cross purposes with himself. He is committed to gathering His people together in order to lavish his affection on them from a spot on the earth where he has just brought a terrifying end to all its inhabitants. How can a new creation emerge from a place of death?
To us, it is impossible to comprehend how the same God can go from wrath to mercy, from judgement to restoration in 3 chapters. Our comprehension suffers because it has no choice. Until that day when we will finally know as we have been known, our grasp of an eternal God is going to be limited by our finite minds.
The finite seems to drive mankind toward the either-or, as opposed to the more complex, both-and kind of understanding. Because we cannot simultaneously hold onto wrath and mercy, we assume neither can God. For many it is hard to worship a God they cannot fully understand, who seems capricious in his dealings with nations and people, who does things that violate their sense of justice and civility. To them God seems cruel or barbaric – unsafe.
Even though God’s wrath is alien to me today, I am not going to quit reading the scriptures or cower in fear before God my Father because I don’t perfectly understand him. God gave us the New Testament as a lens to sufficiently comprehend the deep mystery of who he is. Some are so offended with the God of the Old Testament they are boycotting all but their select opinions about him. I want to take these folks by the hand and say, “Let it go. Here is the good news.”
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in the Son, whom He appointed as heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (from Hebrews 1:1-3)
If our songs are written about an angry Old Testament God our music will sound like a dirge in some minor key. But when we see children in the New Testament being welcomed onto his lap and realize Jesus has become our righteousness, our songs should change. The songs of sons differ from the songs of servants. Exclamation points replace periods! Rejoicing replaces weeping! Dirges become anthems and crying turns into laughter! Nor is God limited emotionally toward us. While…
He will be quiet in His love.
He will also……
rejoice over us with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Zephaniah tells us God’s people will be a humble people and will take refuge in the name of the Lord. Humility includes laying down our protests where we do not possess exhaustive understanding. Regardless of man’s conditional position with God in the Old Testament, humility requires us to accept the good news that his children may now be…
kept from stumbling and enabled to boldly stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy! (from Jude 24)
Lord, I am humbled knowing that you adopted me and are now my Father. Thank you that exclamation points are replacing the old question marks. Before the eyes of an unbelieving world, gather and restore us to the fortunes of your grace. Teach us to compose our song from the clear simple truths You have given us. May we sing of your goodness as we pay the bills, buy the groceries, deliver the product or whatever the high calling you have entrusted to us. All for your name’s sake. Amen.