Summary: God is tough to figure out at times. But there’s one aspect of His character which we rarely think about - God is JOYFUL! Why does God rejoice over His people? Why can we rejoice?
God is tough to figure out. During this series, we’ve heard about:
His great love – and His great wrath
How He is patient and will never let us go – and yet there can come a time in our rebellion when judgment will fall
Difficult to come to terms with. But there’s one part of God’s character I’ve always had a tough time grasping and remembering – and it’s right here in the writings of the prophet we’re about to study this morning.
God is happy! Or, to be precise, joyful!
Oh, sure, the bulk of this book is about judgment – against Judah and nations to the north, south, east and west. Zeph. 1 to 3-½ is about the coming “Day of the Lord:”
It will be a day when the LORD’s anger is poured out – a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness…
A day of doom! Yet it’s the last half of the last chapter which caught my eye and heart – especially the last line of vs. 17:
“He (the Lord your God) will rejoice over you with joyful songs (shouts of joy).”
It doesn’t seem to fit after all this talk of anger and judgment. Like I said, God is tough to figure out. And yet, God being joyful – even outrageously joyful – makes sense, doesn’t it?
How do you feel after a good, hearty laugh? You know, the type of laugh that just doesn’t want to stop? Don’t you find yourself saying afterward: “I sure needed that!”
If it’s so good, where did it come from? The Bible says all good gifts come from only one source.
Can you imagine God belly-laughing?!
Or, if God isn’t joyful, how do we explain verses like:
“The joy of the Lord is my strength” Nehemiah 8:10
Or Jesus’ own words about one of the chief reasons He came:
“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” John 15:11
Or why would Paul list joy as the second of the fruit of the Spirit, with only “love” coming before it? (Gal. 5:22)
I won’t be giving you the full sweep of the book of Zephaniah, but you will catch a picture of God that we rarely think about. Begin with…
1. GOD’S STRANGE COMMAND 3:14
Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
What’s so odd about it? It sounds like perfectly biblical language. But what’s odd is that God is commanding us to be joyful! Now, how can you demand that someone be joyful – especially when they’re hurting or depressed or just don’t feel like it?!
In fact, it’s my experience that many people here in this little nook of America we call Silicon Valley absolutely refuse to have anything to do with joy at all! How odd, then, that God tells us to be joyful! How odd that He says not only that we can rejoice, but that we must rejoice!
I find myself wondering – what does this old prophet know that we don’t? So I look further into the passage and find the clue right there. In fact, Zephaniah repeats it 2x so we can’t miss it.
“The Lord your God is living among you” :15, 17
You see, Zephaniah understood what most then and today have forgotten – the final ingredient of any recipe for unhappiness is to forget Immanuel – God with us. And if you want to know why such a simple truth, a simple promise, is still the key for joy today, listen in on what one man of God learned over 2,600 years ago.
2. LIVING UNDER THE KING’S PROTECTION 3:15
First, God with us means we live under the protection of a king:
“And the Lord Himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!”
He is a great king! A mighty king! A good king! Now, that may not seem all that impressive to us today, unfamiliar as we are with monarchies, but to the people Zeph’s time it meant everything! And it still does for us today. Look at the verse.
A. WE ARE SAVED
“The Lord will remove His hand of judgment…”
Kings dished out life or death – it was in their power and right. “Rejoice!” the prophet says, because the hand our King lays on us is not the fist of an oppressor, but the open hands of forgiveness and blessing.
B. WE ARE SAFE
“…and will disperse the armies of your enemy.”
In ancient days, great, strong walls would be built around large cities. Whenever attacker came (and they often did), the people who lived and worked outside would rush behind these fortified walls for protection. And, of course, they couldn’t return back to their houses and fields until the foe was gone.