Zephaniah thus far has spoken extensively on the Day of the Lord. Yet, as this book ends, it seems to end on a different note. The God who has been judging so far, appears to be singing. As we read the closing verses, let's also listen to the words of the song that God is singing and hear His voice.
(A) Past Tense: You were saved to sing (Zephaniah 3:14-16)
Zephaniah addresses Israel and also refers to Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:14). Some understanding of the historical context of the book will be helpful. This book was written likely between 641 and 612 BC (Zephaniah 1:1), and Assyria conquered Israel in c.740 BC (c.f. 1 Chron 5:26). Thus the prophet was not likely to be merely addressing the split kingdom of Israel, which did not exist by this time. God is referring to the whole people of God as Israel. This command to sing is addressed to all of God's people.
There are 4 verbs in the verse -- "sing", "shout", "rejoice" and "exult". He is rousing them to action and to emote because something is happen. This is His command. There is another related follow-up command to Judah in Zephaniah 3:16. God also tells them that they don't have to be afraid anymore. God's people at this point are silent and not responding to God because of fear. This fear causes their hand to be weak and have no strength (Zephaniah 3:16). God does something (Zephaniah 3:15) and therefore, they can sing in response (Zephaniah 3:14). Let's now see what God does.
In Zephaniah 3:15, God has removed the judgment against them, and their enemies. Their wrongdoing that has caused a judicial response and fear and guilt has been removed. The people of God were laboring under the burden of guilt, but that has been dealt with now. God himself promises that that will be removed, dealt with and sorted out. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (c.f Rom 8:1).
God also promises to remove their enemies. The people of God have been attacked repeatedly by numerous enemies -- the Philistines, Assyrians etc -- and now He promises that He will clear them! How will God do so? He comes into their midst! The King Himself comes in and by His presence, He deals with condemnation and enemies, and therefore, they never again have to fear evil! Isn't this verse amazing? This verse contains all of God's actions and Him acting on their behalf, and this is why His people can sing!
(B) Future Tense: You will have reason to sing (Zephaniah 3:18-20)
Zephaniah 3:18-20 switches verb tenses from the past to things that will happen in the future. Through a series of "I will", God promises to act. God promises to act for 4 different groups of people:
- Those who mourn for the festival and suffer reproach (Zephaniah 3:18a)
- Those who are oppressed (Zephaniah 3:19a)
- The lame and outcast, ashamed and without renown (forgotten/despised) (Zephaniah 3:19b)
- The marginalised, scattered people of God (Zephaniah 3:20)
God is committing to do something for His people, even when it feels like the world is against them and they don't seem to have any status. God achieves each one of His promises eventually. To those who mourn, He promises comfort (c.f. Matt 5:4), a Helper and peace (c.f. John 14:26-27). Jesus Himself came to free the oppressed (c.f. Luke 4:18). Those who seem to have no status in this society are promised the kingdom of heaven and the earth as their inheritance (c.f. Matt 5:3-5) and all who does the will of the Father has been called into the family of God (c.f. Matt 12:46-50).
This is the song that God is singing! Do you hear the words of this song? He promises to do what His people have always wanted Him to, to restore the kingdom and bring back the glory of the nation (c.f. Acts 1:6). This is not so hard for us to understand because it speaks of life in a fallen world, the same world we still live in. Isn't this what our hearts have been longing for? Yes! We too were saved to sing, and we too have reason to sing! Some of these truths are not foreign to us, but we may have forgotten them. The simple application from these verses is: sing! The command is simple, and it doesn't really matter if we have great vocals or if we're slightly tone-death. God Himself calls His people to sing, not because they've great voices, but because there is a wonderful reason for them to do so. Singing draws out emotions and brings emotions to words. Sometimes we struggle with singing precisely because we don't know why we ought to be singing. We go into worship without thinking about why we are singing and Zephaniah 3 reminds us again why we ought to sing -- He has dealt with judgment, removed enemies and also is in our midst! Christianity is unique because we have people that gather together to sing! What a wonderful thing God gave us in singing. So, the next time you gather with the people in your church to sing, sing and sing loudly despite the imperfections in the service! Sing because of what God has done in your past, and what He promises to do in the future. Sing because He is in your midst!
(C) Future Tense: God (who does not change) sings (Zephaniah 3:17)
Zephaniah has revealed God in different ways throughout the book. In Zephaniah 3:17 we are shown a God that is singing and He is singing because of us. The mighty one, the warrior is also the one who will save His people! All of that power and force is now used for the salvation of His people. What a gentle, tender picture of this might!
Do you believe that He sings of His love for us and His delight. What does God's voice sound like? There will one day when you close your eyes to the sound of this earth, but open to the most beautiful voice ever heard, the voice of this King. Some of us don't really believe that God can really exult over me. Some of us don't believe that anyone can really love us because of all our mistakes and failures, much less exult in us. Are you burdened by all the chaos and worries of the world? Read the verse above. He promises to quiet us by his love. God loves us in all the worries and chaos and struggles. He calls us to remember that He has it all together and is still in control, and we can rest in that!
This section of Zephaniah tells us a simple truth -- God loves you and me. Do you doubt this? Hear the words in Rom 8:1. Read 1 John 4:14-18 because John connects the dots in Zephaniah for us. God's love, the real, exulting, singing love described in Zephaniah, is distilled and displayed in Jesus Christ. This love will be our confidence on the day of judgment. The God who sings, sings this song of love to us. He is our only hope, the only one in whom we can be hidden in on the day of judgment. What are we to do? Nothing. Stop trying to earn everything. Rest in and enjoy God's love so we can sing to Him.