Today’s passages: Zephaniah, chapters 1-3; John, chapter 9
Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14- (NRSV) – Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away our 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 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.
Observations: The first thing that catches my attention today is the phrase, “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away our enemies.” When I hear “judgments,” I think of the legal impact of a judgment against someone. In a criminal matter, a judgment means punishment; in a civil matter, a judgment usually requires a payment to be satisfied. In both cases, the promise that the Lord has taken away the judgments against us means that an incredible burden has been lifted from us. This is made even better by the fact that he has turned away our enemies; not only has he taken away the judgments against us, he has turned away those who would seek to harm us. In a time when it seems as though things are getting more difficult for Christians, these promises to Israel should resonate with the Church.
This is confirmed by the fact that twice in these verses the prophet reminds us that The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. God is not sitting off far away, a mildly amused observer of the reality show of this world; he is in our midst. He knows what we are facing, and he is engaged and involved in our lives each day. He is a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over [us] with gladness; he will renew [us] in love; he will exult over [us] with loud singing as on a day of festival. We do not have to fear, because God is on our side. No matter what may come, God is in control; his plans and his purposes will be fulfilled in his people, the Church.
Of course, these promises come after a prophecy of God’s coming judgment: “For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth shall be consumed” (Zephaniah 3:8b). So there will be a purifying process, and that purifying will also impact us. But the key thing to remember is that God is in our midst even as that purifying is taking place. He has not abandoned us; he is working in us, strengthening us for his work, preparing us for eternity in his Kingdom. That’s why the passage begins with this challenge: Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
Applications: God is reminding me of the importance of singing, rejoicing, and exulting because he is in our midst. We are too prone to discouragement when things don’t go the way we think they should; but if we know that God is in our midst, that he has taken away the judgments against us, and that he rejoices over us, we need to rejoice in him! If Paul and Silas could sing praises while chained up in jail, I can rejoice and praise him no matter what is going on in my world – and that’s what God is challenging me to do today.
Prayer: Father, you are so good, and your mercy endures forever. I rejoice today at the knowledge that you have taken away the judgments against me – the judgment of my guilt for my sin, and the negative judgments that the world makes about me. I rejoice in the fact that you are in our midst, and that you come and meet with us when we come to you. Thank you for reminding me each day that you are the God who speaks; help me today to hear your voice and walk in your way. Help me to do your will today. Amen.