Do You Hear God Singing? (Zephaniah)
I hear singing every where I go. Whether it’s my daughter listening to a YouTube video, a car radio cranked to heavy bass thumping, a fellow gym rat wearing a Bluetooth to keep up their pace – music is everywhere. We sing in in the shower, we sing at church. We sing at the ballpark about cracker jacks. We sing off key. We sing rap, jazz, country, and opera. The whole world is a singing. From what I understand, the iTunes library of music has well over 26 million songs. It would take several lifetimes to listen to all that music. Whose music are you hearing?
Today, we take a brief look at the short 3-chapter minor prophet of Zephaniah. Minor because of the brevity of his message, these writings pack a punch. Zephaniah is one of 12 prophetic writings in this collection, and the 7th one we are looking at in our series as we progress through them historically and sequentially.
Do You Hear God Singing? (Zephaniah) from Wellington First Assembly on Vimeo.
So where does Zephaniah fit in? He is a contemporary of Jeremiah (a major prophet) as well as Habakkuk – a fellow minor prophet we looked at last week. He is writing in the same context at the end of King Josiah’s reign as the entire land is becoming a battleground between the changing superpowers between Assyria, Egypt and Babylon. He too, writes of the impending time of Babylonian captivity.
Zephaniah writes from a slightly different perspective and towards a different group than Habakkuk – he focuses on the broader geo-political schemes. Many scholars believe that the very first verse of this writing indicates that Zephaniah, paying close attention to his genealogy back four generations, connects him as a great-grandson of King Hezekiah, one of the powerful, righteous kings of Judah. That would make Zephaniah part of the extended royal family, with access to insider information. As such, he would have been respected by his peers. He used that position to bring warnings to the people of Israel that unless they turned away from their own sinful actions, they too would face the wrath and consequences of sin.
The opening chapters of Zephaniah paints a dim picture. The wrath of God seems like it is ready to undo creation. Genesis is rewound. During the day of the judgement, first humankind, then beasts of the field, then birds, then fish are all destroyed – the exact opposite of how they were created. It appears that the covenants enjoyed by God’s people will be dissolved, not only are the surrounding nations dissolved – the ones who were supposed to blessed through the covenant of Abraham, but also Judah, home to the Davidic covenant, would be destroyed, the temple destroyed, and the palace put in ruins. When more attention is put on nationalistic pride instead of attention to God’s moral laws, judgement is imminent.
Although a contemporary song lyricist might find plenty of material in this angst, this doesn’t sound like a happy dance, does it? Is this message of doom and woe, of cataclysmic dystopia the song that you are hearing? Is this the song that God is saying?
The short answer is no.
Because God doesn’t forget his covenants. He keeps his promises. He promised Noah that he would not destroy creation again after the flood—his provision of the ark and his testimony in the rainbow sealed that deal. He promised Abraham that through his seed, the nation of Israel would become a nation of blessing to all cultures, friends and foes. He promised David that a descendent of his would always be seated on the throne – not just in the capitol city of Jerusalem, but above all creation. He reassured David that even though a temple of stone could be built, God does not reside in a building, but in the hearts and lives of men and women who serve him.
Yes, there is a coming a day when destruction assails you. But God has always and will always provide a way of salvation. This is the message of Zephaniah that we find in the closing chapter.
You may remain seated as we read aloud, together. Zephaniah 3:17-20.
17 For the LORD your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
18 “I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals;
you will be disgraced no more.
19 And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you.
I will save the weak and helpless ones;
I will bring together
those who were chased away.
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles,
wherever they have been mocked and shamed.
20 On that day I will gather you together
and bring you home again.
I will give you a good name, a name of distinction,
among all the nations of the earth,
as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes.
I, the LORD, have spoken!”
Do you hear God singing?
His song is not one of destruction, but of hope. His song doesn’t bring fear, it yields calm. His song is not about judgement, but of salvation. When we hear his song, we remember he is living with us. His presence is near us. Just as the soothing song of a mother can calm the anxious crying child, so the peaceful melody of the LORD can drive out all anxiety and fear.
Do you hear God singing?
There are times in our lives where we are too busy singing our own song, tooting our own horns, that we miss the song of the LORD. Have you ever been in a practice or warm up room right before a school concert? Singers are in their corners warming up their voices. Flutes are practicing trills, drummers are testing their sticks, Brass players are running scales, guitarists are shredding licks. Everyone is focused on their own part, none of them are in unison. The cacophony of sound is deafening as everybody has their own rhythm and beat. This endless chaotic noise, once organized, will become a beautiful piece of music that will speak and resonate with the listener.
When we live our lives too busy, too inward focused, too self-centered, too judgmental of others, we are no longer tuned into God’s wavelength. It becomes difficult to hear his message of love singing into our lives. But when we take the time and energy to focus on his song instead of our own, then we hear a message of salvation. This verse, Zephaniah 3:17 is the First Testaments parallel to the New Testaments John 3:16-17. God loved us, God lives with us. God saves us.
What does the song of the Lord do? It brings salvation. Verses 18-20 give some specifics which are just as true today as back then.
First, the song of the Lord re-establishes your honor and dignity. (18). You will be disgraced no more, verse 18 states. This is a message of restoration. The LORD recognizes that you have been in captivity for a while. The LORD recognizes that your spirit of joyfulness has been suppressed. That LORD recognizes when you haven’t been allowed to celebrate.
There is no dignity being sold off into slavery. There is no honor when forced into work camps. There is no respect shown when treated unfairly. For the Judeans who would be forced into Babylonian captivity, they long for the day of freedom. For those of us listening today who have been caught up in bondage, paralyzed with fear, chained by destructive addictions, caught in a web of gossip – this is a message of hope
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Respect. That’s what all humanity craves. That’s what the students in my classes always say they want from each other. Respect and genuine appreciation for who we are and what we do. When we undergo trials, when we encounter pain and suffering, we discover that our dignity is not based in our possessions or family, but ultimately in our identity with our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our very essence was created, since the days of Adam and Eve, to worship God. To sing his song with Him. Jesus sought time alone with his Father. Adam walked in the cool of the garden to fellowship with Christ. When we lose those appointed festivals – those times of worship, those times of fellowship with our Savior whether here for corporate worship or in the privacy of your own home, we make it nearly impossible to Him to restore our dignity. But when we come together in humility and walk with Him, then the LORD is able to re-establish our honor and dignity. He raises us up. This is what happened to the eventual royal cousins of Zephaniah carried off to Babylon. Daniel’s honor and dignity were restored after the experience in the lions’ den. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego’s honor and dignity were restored after their experience in the fiery furnace. Yet in each of those situations, they listened to the song of the LORD and were saved.
Do you hear God singing?
Second, the song of the Lord rejuvenates your strength and authority. (19)
Ever been weak and helpless? We like to think that we are strong, invincible, self-reliant. There is more than just an element of pride there. We were born helpless into this world, and we will exit this life the same way. We want to do things for ourselves and become independent. And yes, that is all good. But as those of us who have gained a few years’ experience soon realized, without others in our lives, we become weak and helpless.
The weak and helpless include those who have encountered poverty, disability, oppression. Many times those go hand in hand. The weak and helpless include kids bullied, women abused, people of color harassed. The weak and helpless include all those pushed down by economic misfortune or family violence. All of these things I just listed are not in the ideal plan God has ever had for his people.
When we join in the song of the Lord, we discover his plan. In our disability, in our weakness, in our helplessness, He is made strong. In our trials, he forges character. He gives us new strength, like that of eagles. He gives us new authority, to do even greater things than Jesus did.
Our task of people of God, who have been lifted out of the miry pit, is to use our new strength and authority – not to oppress other people, not to sit in judgement and condemnation, but to combat the forces of evil in this world and proclaim the kingdom of Christ. Our authority is rooted in Christ and gives us dominion – not over people, but over the evil present in this world, the principalities and powers of darkness that have been defeated once and for all at the cross. Our power lies in forgiveness. Our strength in love.
Do you hear God singing?
Third, the song of the LORD reunites your family. He can bring together those that were scattered in exile. He can reunite those who were chased away. He can restore relationships between people who could not stand each other. He can bring people back home again.
When government policies forced families to be removed from each other, separating siblings apart, sending them to different places in Babylon, this promise recorded by Zephaniah rang deep in their hearts—as they longed for they day they would see each other again.
When slave owners in the South sold off sons and daughters from their parents, those black Americans sang spirituals longing for a day they would see each other again.
When the Nazi occupiers took babies away from their mothers and scattered them across the country, this promise kept hope alive. In 2015, after 70 years of separation and exile, twin brothers born in a Polish labor camp were finally reunited.
The message God is speaking is quite clear. He will bring us home again. Evil may separate us for a time, but eventually we will be reunited. For Zephaniah and his countryman, they longed for the day exile would be over and Jerusalem would be restored. For Christians, we understand that this world is not our home – we are just passing through. We long for the day when Jesus shall gather his people together and we live in the home that He is preparing for us. We look forward to his return – the day we will be reunited once again. A place of no more sorrow, no more tears. No more separation.
Do you hear God singing?
Fourth, the Song of the Lord Recasts Your Character.
This part of verse 20 is one of my favorites. It goes to the essence of redemption. It’s like the Witness Protection Program on steroids. Jesus gives us a new identity. We gain a new name. Not just any name. But a great one. A distinguished one. A royal one.
One of my favorite Star Wars scenes came at the end of the 1983 Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader gets a complete character makeover. During the entire 3 movies he is portrayed as an evil villain – yet at the very end, he accepts an opportunity to be redeemed. His character was recast.
We have to be careful when reading Zephaniah to not automatically place the different people groups into bad or good. Because the reality was the people of Judah faced their judgement because they had not been faithful to God either. They were not living up to their part of the covenant. Their job was to bless all the other nations of the earth – but they had resorted to doing evil just like everyone else as well.
Yet, even in their sinfulness, this passage shows that the LORD will never leave us or forsake us. He is tenacious. He holds one and pursues us. When we allow him, when we give him access, he can change who we are, transforming us from what we have settled with into what we were created to be. This is what Jesus did with Peter, changing his name from Simon. This is what Jesus did with Paul, changing his name from Saul. Paul later writes to the Romans (12:2) that our minds (our character, our name) is to become transformed so we would do the will of Jesus who lives with us.
As humans, created in the image of God, we all have capacity to do good things. The only problem with good things is – they don’t last forever. When our character is transformed through the power of Christ, however, we have the capacity to do great things – revealing His kingdom with all the authority given to us through His wonderful name. Salvation is a beginning point where we accept his name. The process of sanctification is where we allow His name to shape our lives and recast our character. Being a Christian is not checking off a demographic box on a census form. Being a Christian is allowing the Holy Spirit to continually work in your life to make you more like Christ.
Do you hear God singing?
Finally, the Song of the Lord Restores Your Future.
Zephaniah is a contemporary of Jeremiah. He knows who he is – he has heard him speak. One of Jeremiah’s verses heard and quotes often is (29:11) For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Zephaniah expounds on this theme. Not only will you have a future, but your fortunes will change. The Hebrew slaves did not have much before the exodus – but where showered with lavish gifts as they exited Egypt. Fortunes are not always prosperity – although it can be. Fortunes are more about the Future. What are the hopes and dreams you have that God has birthed in your heart? What can God do through your life for others when you are no longer held back by chains of oppression and bonds of fear? When you hear the song of the LORD, when you follow that song and walk in his joyful path, the future is not a dreaded dystopia, but a bright opportunity. Find the silver lining. Discover your abilities within your limitations. Share your gifts in the simple manner that you are able to do now.
The key to overcoming rough times is being in tune with God’s song.
There is no where in our study of this ancient writings that says we will ever be able to avoid rough times. People do stupid bad things and the consequences reverberate around the world with individual, national, and global implications. Not until the final judgement and Christ’s reign in a new heaven and new earth will rough times go away. Kingdom living is learning how to navigate the rough times with the power of Christ that he has given us. How do we do that? Be being in tune with God’s song.
We are out of tune when we sing our own song – it produces a different wavelength. Sometimes that harshness is grating, screeching even. But as we learn to tune in and harmonize with what God is doing, we can ride the rough waves instead of fighting them. This is the message of hope that Zephaniah brings in his writing.
THINK THIS THROUGH
What register of my life needs a tune-up?
Because here is the reality. Our singing doesn’t quite cut it all the time. Thirty years ago, when I took vocal singing lessons, my teacher modeled what I should sound like. Then he worked with me to make my voice even throughout several octaves. Like many singers, in higher registers, I would sing flat. He taught me how to tune up. How to support my diaphragm. How to shape the position of my mouth or blend my head voice. Every great singer today still has a vocal coach to work with them and tune them up. Know one ever gets to the point where they’ve got it down perfect.
So what part of your life needs a tune up today, so you can hear and then harmonize with God’s joyful song of love in your life?
Do you need to abandon fear? Do you need his strength? Are you craving dignity? Are you feeling hopeless in face of the future? Does your character need to be strengthened?
The LORD wants to do all of that for you.
Do you hear Him singing?
Shall we pray.
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July 22, 2018 at 09:38PM