Wednesday

24 September 2014

“For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord.” (v. 12)


Background

Little is known of Zephaniah. He prophesied in Josiah's reign (640-609BC), the last great reforming king of Judah, who tried to reform the injustices of his predecessor Manasseh. Judah was the nation state of the people of Israel. The name 'Zephaniah' hints at a meaning of the hiddenness of God.

The political world was unstable for Judah. It was a vassal of Assyria, but the Babylonian Empire was rising. In this political turmoil, Zephaniah believed the fate of all nations (Judah and nations who had power over them) was in God's hands. In the Day of the Lord, a day of judgement would come, a day of reckoning.

Verses 1 and 2 pronounce judgement on the wickedness of Jerusalem, the religious capital of Judah. They describe a religious city, where the people who are losing their faith identity. They are a proud people who listen to no-one, accept no correction and do not trust or draw near to God. To draw near to God is to worship God. Further verses describe how their officials abuse their power and oppress. The king of Judah (Josiah) is not mentioned by Zephaniah, maybe because he is a faithful reformer for God.

Verses 9-13 describe an idyllic future centred on God's holy mountain and a faithful, humble remnant of people. These will be people who seek refuge in God and through whom God's kingdom will come. Because of these people God will be merciful to Judah. Jesus in his ministry focused on, healed and commended humble lowly people whose faith in him saved them.

Verses 9 and 10 speak of God transforming the language of the people, so that all those who were scattered in exile, will be brought together to serve God with one accord. A purified language will bring people together in harmony, rather than scattering them through misunderstanding (cf the Tower of Babel - Genesis 11:1-9).

The harmonising power of language is a theme taken up in Psalm 19. Creation speaks of God's glory (verses 1-4);. '... the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes" (Psalm 19:8). The psalm ends with the meditation 'Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer' (Psalm 19:14) - a desire not to give expression and oxygen to unworthy thoughts.


To Ponder

  • In what ways is it useful to focus on the idea of God's judgement for people in positions of leadership and exercising power? Try thinking it through with a concrete example from a story in the news this week.
  • Can you think of an example where God has worked through a person or people with humility? What happened?
  • Words can powerfully divide or unite. Think of a community you belong to, where you have noticed this to be true and identify how the power of words was working.


Bible notes author: The Revd Jenny Ellis

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