Yesterday I read the book of Zephaniah. I wanted to read it to get better context on the reading that is schedule for this Sunday – Zephaniah 3:14-20, which happens to be the end of the book. The assigned reading is a joy-filled text with much rejoicing.
But to really appreciate that joy and rejoicing, it helps to read the rest of the book and see how joyless it is.
Here’s a segment that caught my attention:
Ah, soiled, defiled,
It has listened to no voice;
it has accepted no correction.
It has not trusted in the Lord;
it has not drawn near to its God.
The officials within it
are roaring lions;
its judges are evening wolves
that leave nothing until the morning.
Its prophets are reckless,
its priests have profaned what is sacred,
they have done violence to the law.
The Lord within it is righteous;
he does no wrong.
Every morning he renders his judgement,
each dawn without fail;
but the unjust knows no shame.
(Zephaniah 3:1-5, NRSV)
As I read this, I was struck by the timelessness of this passage. It could have been written about any city, any capital, any nation, any leader, at any time.
Zephaniah describes the norm of humanity and human governance. If you don’t believe that humanity is sinful and broken, and is bent towards evil, then look through human history. Humans are not good at the core. We only become “good” because of what God does to and for us.
But there are plenty who reject God. They pursue other gods – wealth, power, influence. This is nothing new.
And the message of the prophets is always the same – the day of reckoning is coming for those who use and abuse power and wealth against the poor and outcast. The wealthy and the powerful will fall. It is inevitable.
And that is where we pick up the end of Zephaniah – the joy-filled and rejoicing message. When the evil and abusive are brought down, there will be rejoicing.
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.
(Zephaniah 3:14-20, NRSV)
No matter how bad things are or are headed, we can rejoice, because the day of the Lord is coming to bring salvation. The mighty will fall and be made low. The abusers will be swept away. Those that attach themselves to the wicked will scatter. And there will be a day of rejoicing. The faithful remnant will be restored. God is always in the business of restoration, resurrection, and rejoicing. Rejoice! Shout for joy! Exult!