"What are we waiting for?” can be asked or exclaimed for any number of reasons.
The joyful closing section of Zephaniah reveals what God’s people in Zephaniah’s day were in fact waiting for. And what a glorious future is described, which encourages the Lord’s “seekers and waiters” to trust the Lord and persevere in anticipation.
The Lord’s purpose of a transformed and restored people is affirmed with joy and rejoicing not only on the part of the people but on the part of the Lord himself.
Psalm 30:4-5 (ESV) reads:
“Sing praises to the Lord. O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”
The nighttime of Zephaniah 1:2-3:8 has given way to the anticipation of morning light, blessing, and joy (3:9-20).
Yes, the majority of Zephaniah proclaims coming judgment, but this must be seen within the context of the Lord’s continued covenantal faithfulness and love towards his people. And the Lord’s ultimate purpose of deliverance, purification, restoration, and joyful fellowship with his people is how the prophecy ends. This calls not only for faithfulness in seeking the Lord and waiting on Him but for praise and thanksgiving due to the Lord’s plans for his people.
Convictions concerning what the future holds and who holds the future are of vital significance for people needing to persevere through times of difficulty or crisis.
The cancer patient may endure harsh treatments believing or hoping (at least) that healthier days are ahead. The prisoner will anticipate the day of release, and that anticipation strengthens the resolve to persevere during hard times.
In the case of Judah, the faithful remnant of the people not only knew who held the future, but they had revealed to them what the future would be like. What is true on the historical level is also true on the personal and eternal levels.
The pains of this life will give way to the joys of eternity because Christ took our judgment upon himself. Yes, there is kingdom joy now for those faithful to the Lord, but the consummation has not been realized yet. Even as Israel’s (3:14) full restoration is ahead, so it is for Christians today, who have the first fruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23), but still wait for future blessings.
1) Rejoice in the Lord’s plan of restoration – what the Lord does to restore his people
Zephaniah 3:9-20 is a prophetic vision of the future filled with specific definite acts that the Lord will do: “change……remove…..leave…..save…….rejoice….exult….gather….deal …..save and gather ….change ….bring in …..gather together…..make you renowned…restore your fortunes before your eyes (ESV).”
These actions are part of the Lord’s specific plan for the future (The Day of the Lord). These predicted events had at least a partial historical fulfillment for Judah, but they point to a greater eschatological fulfillment. Such a vision of the future shapes how the Lord’s people should live now while trusting the Lord to fulfill his promises.
What is important to stress is the specific actions of the Lord.
This is the Lord’s “doing.” The Lord is going to act mercifully and powerfully to restore and transform His people. It is His promise and His plan. As certain as God’s judgments are, His work of restoration and transformation is the hope of Judah, His people. An ingathering of God’s changed people is predicted (3:9-10). Shame will be removed as will be proud rebellious people (3:11). The remnant will be those who are humble and call of the name of the Lord (3:12). These people will be just, truthful, and fearless in God’s presence (3:13). God’s people will be a rejoicing, singing people, and judgments against them will be taken away (3:14-15).
It is interesting to note that shared activities between the Lord and his people are singing and rejoicing. The people are singing and rejoicing in the light of the presence of the Lord and all he has done, while the Lord is rejoicing and singing over the people (3:14-17). What a beautiful picture of a restored relationship between the Lord and his people! This is the Lord’s doing and it should be and will be marvelous in our eyes.
Such a picture of God’s relationship with His people should encourage and exhort us to pray for revival and renewal in our time. The prophet is speaking of a restoration for the faithful remnant of Judah, but the picture surely should help us discern if we are out of fellowship with the Lord now, and then repent and seek Him (as the prophet has already told us).
2) Live as the Lord’s restored people – how the restored people are described
As we have noted, the description of a forgiven, purified, and restored people is more than a picture of the future of the faithful remnant of Judah. It is a picture of what God’s people are supposed to be and the type of relationship that the Lord wants to have with his people.
These people are humble, they live justly, and speak honestly. These people do not need to be afraid of their enemies because the Lord God is in their midst and he rejoices over his people (Zeph. 3:16-17, Eph. 6:10). The people will be filled with joy (Zeph. 3:17, Phil. 4:4) and the Lord will continue his work of restoration that will bring praise from the nations (Zeph. 3:19-20, Rom. 15:9-13). This picture of a time of restoration and kingdom fulfillment is a picture of how things are supposed to be.
The teachings of Jesus and the lifestyle exhortations of the Epistles call us to the same kind of lifestyle presented in Zephaniah’s closing section. Such a lifestyle is now the result of the redeeming work of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, even as a glorious eternal future is anticipated. So, the preacher can encourage his listeners to learn from this text and to live “kingdom life” now in obedience to the Word of God and in dependence on the Holy Spirit. (See for example key texts like Matt. 5-7, John 13-17, Eph. 4:17-5:21, Col. 3:1-17.)
It is important to note that the restored people (in our text) include people(s) outside of Judah (3:9-10). That non-Jews have a place in this new time of restoration reminds us of God’s call to Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), a call that would lead to the blessing of “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3 ESV).
The Apostle Paul connects this call and promise to those who have faith in Christ (Gal. 3:7-14). There is ultimate fulfillment in the future kingdom and eternity, but there is a realization of fulfillment in and through Christ himself now. This experience (in part) of future restoration in Christ due to his saving work and the power of the Holy Spirit gives the preacher reason to encourage kingdom life now, even as the Apostle Paul states in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (ESV).”
A specific vision or expectation concerning the future not only encourages patience and perseverance, but it also helps to shape priorities and behaviors now. The vision of the future does in fact impact the present. A true understanding of eschatology will lead to the shaping of our present lifestyle. We should be “becoming” what we will be.
What the Lord describes in Zephaniah 3:9-20 is therefore not only a future expectation but a pattern or picture (first of all) of what the Lord has done for us “through Christ and in Christ.”
Yes, there is still more to come, but through Christ forgiveness has been experienced, shame has been removed, transformation is taking place, the presence of the Lord is known (with love and joy), protection is provided, and all this brings praise. At the same time, as the Lord’s people, we are to live humble, obedient, righteous lives secure in the Lord, and enjoy his loving presence and protective power.
One of the great values of these prophetic writings is the “seriousness” of getting right and staying right in our relationship with the Lord God.
We learn of the Lord God and His ways. We see ourselves in the weakness and struggles of God’s people in the past. God’s justice and judgments are revealed, while we learn also of the way of repentance, restoration, transformation, and future glory.
Ultimately, the need for a Perfect Substitute and Savior is pointed to, and what He has done for us provides an entrance into His restoration and a joyful relationship with Him, while we await the fulfillment of God’s plan.