This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.
We’ve gone through Zephaniah 1:1-2:3. We re-start with section 3 – Zephaniah 2:4-15
KEY VERSE: “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people” (verse 8)
God sees all – all the peoples of the world, and all the injustices done. He judges and punishes others for their pride and their selfishness. We see in Zephaniah, however, that God is more interested in speaking to his OWN people about THEIR shortcomings. The entire 18 verses of chapter one are a message of God’s judgment on Israel. Here God proclaims his judgment on 11 different nations, and he does it in 12 verses. We see something similar in the book of Amos, another minor prophet, who spends only the first 1.5 chapters of his 9 chapter long book on God’s judgment against other nations – the rest concerns Israel.
God’s people have been chosen, blessed, invited in to the wonders of God Almighty. They have been given the law. They should know better. Judah is punished for adultery – for abandoning the God they know, who has demonstrated his love over and over.
I wonder if God puts this section in Zephaniah to remind his people that he’s in charge, and he’ll deal with all the other nations, too – they don’t need to concern themselves with that. What Judah needs to worry about is Judah. Jesus said it’s hypocritical to try to fix other people before working on our own issues (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:41-42), and Paul writes something similar (Romans 2:1-4). I need to be humble enough to recognise my own shortcomings, and then work on them. I need to trust that God is big enough to deal with the shortcomings of others. Jesus brings up the same principle when the woman caught in adultery is brought before him (John 8:1-11). Although some manuscripts of the Bible don’t include this story, I love it. It rings so true with me! Sometimes the very act of remembering my own sinfulness, the things I’ve done that have hurt others, defuses my anger at someone else.
It can be REALLY hard to trust God to deal with the problems we see around us. Sometimes he asks us to take action – but we do so as part of HIS plan, not according to our own plans. We don’t get to see God’s whole plan for humanity, but there IS a plan, and he IS big enough to accomplish it. I do my own part, working on what he puts before me, and trust the big picture to him.
- Think of a problem area in the life of a friend or family member. Something that really bugs you.
- Does it feel like God has a plan to work on this? Why/why not?
Section 4 – Zephaniah 3:1-8
KEY VERSE: “The LORD within her is righteous… morning by morning he dispenses his justice” (verse 5)
God is faithful (have a look at 2 Timothy 2:11-13). Even when his people abandon him and embrace sin, even when he takes them into a season of hardship, God is GOOD. It is his nature –and he does not change. The picture Zephaniah paints here is of God STILL with his people, still IN THE HEART of the nation, still AT WORK doing good, despite their almost total lack of goodness/faithfulness. Hold that thought – I’ll come back to it.
KEY VERSE: “I said to the city, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’… But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.” (verse 8)
Severe consequences like famines and capture by enemy nations are not God’s first approach. He tries various things to get our attention – and when a people repent, and cry out to him, his turns it all around. I imagine it must break his heart, to see us hurting and yet unwilling to leave the dangerous path we’re on, knowing that he must watch us endure more before we will turn back. Perhaps the age-old parents’ saying holds true here, too – “This hurts me much more than it hurts you.”
I have held firm to a counterproductive path more times than I’d like to admit. Sometimes God gets my attention and before I get in too deep, but other times I get myself in all sorts of trouble before I’m willing to make a change. I read verse 8 and I see my own sinful nature, my innate tendency to do stupid things, rebellious things, self-destructive things.
So here’s where the two points come together for me. Something that humbles me time and again is when I see God doing good things RIGHT IN THE MIDST of my stupidness. One time he might use me to bless someone despite the fact that I’ve been acting like an idiot. Another time he might bless me with some small unnecessary thing that makes me happy, despite the fact that I’ve been ignoring him lately.
God’s ability to do good is not limited by my lack of goodness.
God’s faithfulness is not dependant on my faithfulness.
- Have you ever seen God at work doing good right in the midst of something you would normally call bad?
- What does it mean to you that God is both GOOD and FAITHFUL at all times?