Summary: A word picture of the justice and mercy of God, set against the dark backdrop of a rebellious people.
GOD IN THE CITY
A Christian applied for a job which would involve helping some of those on the margins of society.
‘Why would you want to work in this God-forsaken place,’ asked the interviewer.
‘Because it is not God-forsaken,’ replied the candidate.
This short passage of Scripture certainly has a lot to tell us about ‘the polluted city’ (Zephaniah 3:1): but the surprise is that the LORD is still in the midst of her (Zephaniah 3:5)! The city being described is not Nineveh, or Babylon, but Jerusalem: a city which once knew the voice of the LORD, but now (in Zephaniah’s time) chose not to obey Him (Zephaniah 3:2); a city with priests and a sanctuary, and an outward knowledge of God’s law (Zephaniah 3:4). It is the city in which, from time immemorial, God chose to make His dwelling (Zephaniah 3:5).
However, this prophecy does not only apply to the Jerusalem of Zephaniah’s day: it speaks today to any city, any nation, which has had the privileges of the Gospel, but has corrupted both truth and justice. It speaks also to the church, when the church has corrupted the Word of God, or has refused to teach it. It speaks to those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus, when our lives do not reflect His life and teaching.
All this represents a dark backdrop against which we might better perceive the presence, justice and mercy of the LORD. God’s judgments are always tempered with mercy.
Jesus ‘came unto His own, but His own received Him not. BUT to all the people who received Him, He gave right to be sons of God, to everyone who trusts in His name’ (John 1:11-12).
The word picture of God in Zephaniah 3:5 also accentuates the rebellion of the people in Zephaniah 3:2, and particularly of the leaders of the people in Zephaniah 3:3-4. The wonder is that the LORD does not give up on us altogether, given the fact that we are so unlike Him!
I. The just LORD is in the midst of the rebellious city (Zephaniah 3:5a). His righteousness is manifested even in the deviant city, nation or church. The LORD sets His tabernacle amongst us (John 1:14).
Yet His people refuse to draw near to their God (Zephaniah 3:2d) - and their priests defiled both the holy place, and the holy law (Zephaniah 3:4b). Unconverted ministers are a blight on any church; and those who teach ‘another gospel, which is not another’ are calling down the curse of God upon themselves (Galatians 1:6-9).
II. The LORD does not deviate from His own righteousness (Zephaniah 3:5b). He is totally trustworthy.
But His people will not put their trust in Him (Zephaniah 3:2c). Their prophets are unstable and treacherous fellows (Zephaniah 3:4a): who cry, ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Ezekiel 13:10).
III. The LORD, the just judge, makes His judgments known (Zephaniah 3:5c). He brings His justice to light. Whom the LORD loves He chastens, and it will yield the fruit of righteousness in our lives if we will but receive it (Hebrews 12:6; Hebrews 12:11).
Yet His people refuse correction: they will not accept His discipline (Zephaniah 3:2b). Their judges are ‘evening wolves’ - who belong to the night, not to the day - and are too busy feeding themselves to care (Zephaniah 3:3b).
Their civil leaders are ‘roaring lions’ - politicians who make lots of noise, but who are only in it for themselves (Zephaniah 3:3a). Professional churchmen, perhaps, who are fleecing the flock? Blind leaders of the blind, both of whom are headed for the ditch, says Jesus (Matthew 15:14).
V. ‘Every morning’ (Zephaniah 3:5c) perhaps refers in point of time to the morning sacrifice. Or it might refer to the daily provision of manna during the wilderness wanderings of God’s people (Exodus 16:21).
The LORD speaks to us in the wee small hours, when we take the time to listen to Him. His mercies are new every morning: great is His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).