25 September 2014

Zephaniah 3:14-20

“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.” (v. 19)


Zephaniah was prophesying at a time of great political instability. Judah (the nation state of the people of Israel) was caught up between the clashing empires of Assyria and Babylon. Political and religious leaders in Judah were jockeying for position, and the well-being of the people of Israel was under serious threat.

Zephaniah had put emphasis in his prophecy on God's judgement, pronouncing that all nations, including Judah, would be held to account on the Day of the Lord, and experience God's wrath on the unjust.

Today's passage is a song of joy for the vision of a New Jerusalem emerging on the other side of God's judgement. Zion is the holy mountain of God, on which is built the holy city Jerusalem. God has forgiven the sins of the people of Jerusalem and turned away their enemies (verse 15). The king of Israel, God, is in their midst, and because of this they can stop being afraid of disaster.

Verse 16 again calls on Jerusalem, the holy centre of the people of Israel, to stop being afraid. The people should not stop faithful everyday activities ("do not let your hands grow weak"). God is in their midst, a warrior who will give them victory (verse 17). He will renew them in love and it will be like a festival day (verses 17-18). Disaster will not come. The oppressors will be dealt with.

The victims who have been caught up in political unrest and injustice, the lame and the outcast (verse 19) will be rescued (saved) and "their shame" turned into "praise". God will bring people home, gather them and restore their fortunes and place of honour among all peoples of the earth (verse 20).

There are echoes here in the tone of Jesus' ministry: his priority for the lame and outcast, the sense of bringing the lost son home, the Good Shepherd 'gathering' the sheep into the fold.

The theme of trusting in God to avert disaster is taken up in Psalm 20. It is a prayer for victory, for God to be with us in times of trouble (Psalm 20:1), to grant our heart's desire and fulfil our plans (Psalm 20:4). It is a rallying prayer for a community in trouble.

To Ponder

  • Why do you think that victims seem to be important to God, and the turning around of their fortunes a mark of the coming of the kingdom of God? What examples can you think of in your community or on the news?
  • What are the temptations of believing that God is on the side of your community in difficult times? Think through one example known to you.
  • Why are the lame and outcast described as being spiritually rich? Is that a price too much for you to pay?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.