Today: [Zephaniah 3] The Remnant of God is Comforted. In the concluding chapter of Zephaniah, it is prophesied that the ruling classes and elite peoples of the population of Jerusalem and Judah will go into captivity for their sins. Those that are impoverished, marginalized and oppresses are promised that they will be the remnant who will inherit the resources of their oppressors. This literally took place under the Babylonian occupation and is a reminder to us that God champions the cause of the marginalized peoples and will defend them and care for them when no one else will.
[Zep 3:1-20 KJV] 1 Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! 2 She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God. 3 Her princes within her [are] roaring lions; her judges [are] evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. 4 Her prophets [are] light [and] treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. 5 The just LORD [is] in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame. 6 I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. 7 I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, [and] corrupted all their doings. 8 Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination [is] to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, [even] all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. 9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent. 10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, [even] the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering. 11 In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. 12 I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. 13 The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make [them] afraid. 14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. 15 The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, [even] the LORD, [is] in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more. 16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: [and to] Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. 17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee [is] mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. 18 I will gather [them that are] sorrowful for the solemn assembly, [who] are of thee, [to whom] the reproach of it [was] a burden. 19 Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. 20 At that time will I bring you [again], even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.
The closing chapter of Zephaniah begins with a scathing denunciation of apostate Jerusalem. The prophet describes the city of David as filthy, polluted and oppressive. In v. 2 he indicts the city for three transgressions:
- She obeyed not the voice of God.
- She trusted not in the Lord.
- She did not draw near to God.
It is interesting that these primary disobediences are not social injustices or sins of vice or avarice. All three of them relate to the posture of the population in their relationship (or lack of relationship) to God Himself. Even in the Old Testament economy there was an expectation that they people would listen in their hearts for the voice of God in their lives and in the midst of their city. They were accountable in God’s eyes as to whether they trusted in their own economic policies or diplomatic relationships with other nations or whether they trusted in the living God. The entire book of Isaiah deals with this subject.
During David’s reign the people deeply trusted in the Lord alone and saw their borders come closer than at any other time to the boundaries that God established for the nation through Moses’ law. When Solomon became king however he followed established traditions in taking wives and concubines from all the countries around him for the purposes of diplomatic ties and treaties of peace with those nations. The result was to turn the trust of the people of God away from God and for centuries they put more confidence in political process than they did in the sovereign, miraculous deliverances from God that had been manifest in Jerusalem’s behalf time after time before Solomon’s time. As is the leader, so goes the nation.
Zephaniah goes on to reprove the elite, ruling class of Jerusalem, along with her judiciary, the prophets and the priests for their treacherous, evil, predatory habits and practices. Though corruption was rife at every level of the social strata, v. 5 yet declares that the Lord was in the midst an in spite of how leaders were conducting themselves, the Lord will do no iniquity and would consistently bring His judgment to light, but there was still no repentance in Judah. For this reason the nations around the southern kingdom would be cut off, because they represented the false confidence of Jerusalem, and the city of Jerusalem would be chastised and her people led into captivity for her sins. To those whose hearts were inclined to God’s law, Zephaniah exhorts them in prophetic utterance to wait upon the Lord until he assembles the nations and pours out the fire of His jealousy and fierce wrath upon them. At that time, the promise is that God will return even the language of the people to a pure language that they might call upon His name without the pollutions of foreign tongues and influences.
In verse 12 the prediction is that the haughty and arrogant people will be expelled from the land of Judea, and only the afflicted and the poor who trust in the Lord will remain. This happened and was brought about when the king of Babylon, wearied with continued insurrection against his rule, ordered Judea depopulated by force, and left only shepherds and vinedressers to tend their farms and flocks in the land. These are called the remnant of Israel that would do no iniquity nor speak lies with a deceitful tongue. The promise of God is that they would lie down and none shall make them afraid. This is very powerful, because it shows us that God uses even despotic rulers such as the king of Babylon as His instrument, so profoundly that it is as though God Himself drove out the elite of Jerusalem and replaced them with shepherds and vinedressers by His own hand.
These poor and disenfranchised people were marginalized by the elite class in Jerusalem, and are described now as the remnant of God. This is the introduction into the scriptural narrative of the concept of the true people of God being a holy remnant, that in fact originated as a deportation order by the king of Babylon that allowed these poor and marginalized peoples to remain and take possession of the lands and properties of those who had once been their oppressors claiming they were only exercising their God given right to do so. The judgments and enemies Zephaniah says will be taken away are not the Babylonians, but the elite class of those of the southern kingdom that oppressed the lower peoples.
To this lowly remnant the Lord declares to them in v. 16 that they will fear not. They are encouraged in that day to not be slack or to be hesitant to develop the lands that are transferred to their ownership because the Lord is mighty in their midst, and He will save and rejoice with joy over this remnant people. For anyone who has ever felt marginalized, oppressed, overlooked or systemically maltreated because of the color of their skin, or social standing, or economic class, this is good news. God is a God who right injustices, by precept if possible, by sovereign mandate when necessarily. The people of God were commanded time and again in Moses to judge righteously, to treat the poor fairly, to never neglect the poor, the widow or the prisoner, and to deal kindly with the strangers and foreigners in their midst. Because for centuries they have done the opposite, and ignored the calls of the prophets to change their policies, now the upper classes, and ruling elite of Jerusalem and Judea will be removed, and these marginalized peoples will be given the benefit of the resources that had been denied them for so long.
This is the turning back of the captivity that Zephaniah proclaims in the conclusion of the book that bears his name. For us it represents the hope of the New Covenant in Christ and a reminder that God adjudicates for the marginalized of the earth, and instructs us to never be found in the number of those who oppress the poor, neglect the impoverished, or despise the prisoner, the widow or the orphan, for the Lord is watching over them.
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