from the prophet Zephaniah and King Josiah, Zephaniah 3:5.
God Rules, O.K.?
We live in a time of ‘conflict resolution’. People of all sides want justice. But justice for one may not be justice for another. How can this be resolved?
Read Zephaniah 3:5
“The Lord within her (Jerusalem) is righteous; He does no wrong. Morning by morning He dispenses justice, and every new day He does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.”
This God spoke to Zephaniah – possibly the great, great, grandson of King Hezekiah – during the reign of King Josiah in Judah. Several commentators reckon it was Zephaniah’s prophecy that stirred King Josiah into leading a spiritual revival.
Josiah’s story is in 2 Kings chapters 22/23 and 2 Chronicles chapters 34/35. He became king aged 8 years following the popular overthrow and assassination of his wicked father.
At just 16 years old, 2 Kings 22, he:
1. Resolved to live God’s way. 2 Chronicles 34:2, 3. He was going to be God’s man in the midst of a godless time, and would positively influence those he could.
2. He repaired the place of God’s worship. 2 Kings 22:3. When he was 26 years old. Using skilled and trusted craftsmen. (vs7 makes an interesting challenge to all you Missions and NGOs who require accountability from national helpers!) (and to Sudanese: the need “to act faithfully” is also a challenge).
3. Josiah rediscovered God’s word, in the course of renovation work, vs8 “Hezekiah the high priest” (who was the prophet Jeremiah’s father, Jeremiah 1:1) had it read to Josiah. The message for so long neglected and ignored, still spoke. God used His word.
4. And Josiah repented at the waywardness of his people. “Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book.”
2 Kings 22:13.
Probably with Zephaniah’s encouragement, King Josiah launches a programme of reform and revival. He rooted out sin and corruption, he respected goodness and righteousness. The Bible’s testimony is “Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” “Nevertheless the Lord did not turn away from the heat of His fierce anger which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke Him to anger. So the Lord said ‘I will remove Judah also from My presence, as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said ‘There shall My name be.’” God knows the truth. He sees behind the external activity. He acts on reality. And He is never wrong … even today!!
Josiah resolved to live God’s way, (with Zephaniah’s encouragement), he repaired the place of worship, rediscovered and read God’s Law, repented of sin and brought reform. 2 Chronicles 34:33 says “As long as (Josiah) lived they did not fail to follow the Lord God of their fathers.” Josiah reached his death in battle aged 39 years. He died before God’s judgement came to the land. Jeremiah composed a lament for him “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. ‘Is that not what it means to know Me?’ declares the Lord” , Jeremiah 22:16. But the people were only following outwardly – there was no real change of heart. God knew. Through Jeremiah He said: “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion,” Jeremiah 22:17. On Josiah’s death the people turned their backs on his reforms. And 12 years later Babylon invaded and destroyed Judah and Jerusalem – as God’s righteous judgement fell.
Illustration: Any of us individuals here may hide their true state of heart in the KIC crowd – but God knows. He sees reality and He sees hypocrisy. He will reward genuine faith. He will bring devastating judgement on those who are false.
And so to Zephaniah!
Through His spokesperson God warns Judah of this judgement that was to come. Bad news for the 'Judah Bird-watching group' (we have one here at KIC) – God says “I will sweep away the birds of the air.”! Zephaniah 1:3. Complete and utter destruction from God’s hand!
1. God gives reasons for His judgement. He is against:
(a) Alternative gods, 1:4.
(b) Astrology, 1:5.
(c) Abortion and the sacrifice of children, 1:5.
(d) Apathy among God’s people, 1:6.
(e) Aggression in God’s name, 1:9. How foolish!! As if you can force real religion on anyone!
(f) Avarice – greed, 1:11-13.
(g) Those who try and avoid God, 1:12. God’s longsuffering makes some believe that His non-intervention means He can or He will do nothing. Illustration: Weapons inspectors from UN going into Iraq.
Application: We who are visitors in Sudan, in the largely Moslem north of Sudan, must be aware of the dangers of ‘enculturation’ (becoming too like the people around us). As well as learning local language, custom and tradition, we can be unconsciously influenced by the values of the Sudanese majority – which are not Christian values! Where individuals count for nothing. Where deceit is a sign of cleverness not of sin. Where bribery discriminates against the poor. Where ‘works’ bring salvation – earning by human effort, not relying of God’s loving provision of Jesus the Saviour. Beware!
Others around us, from the south, mainly black, non-Arab Sudanese can influence us by their bitterness towards others, their revengeful hatred towards perceived oppressors, their resentful attitude towards their fate, their total lack of respect for government authority. Beware!
Illustration: Cook a frog? Don’t place in boiling water. Place in the cold and heat the water up gently.
2. God describes the Day of (Judgement) the Lord.
1:14, 15. It will be bitter, full of wrath, distress, anguish, trouble, ruin, darkness, gloom, clouds and blackness. Illustration: Here in Khartoum the lowering sky, turning brown, darkening, rubbish flying in the squally wind: all signs of an approaching ‘haboob’ (dust storm). If you don’t shelter you’ll be in trouble!
How much more trouble 2:2 “before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you.”?
This “Day of the Lord” is an Old Testament Holy War concept. Israel and Judah expected God to put everything right by destroying their enemies. But Zephaniah (and the other prophets) say: God will also put everything right in you, His people! Wrongs will be righted. God is on the side of true truth!
What can save you? 1:18 “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” Nothing! Your money may buy you out of trouble now – but it won’t in the Day of the Lord.
3. God makes an offer to everyone 2:3.
(1) Seek the Lord – put the preeminent value on God Himself.
(2) Seek righteousness – put the right value on the rightness of right!
(3) Seek humility – put the right value on yourself.
“Perhaps you will be sheltered in the day of the Lord’s anger.” Not 'I have a right to be saved'. Rather 'I rely totally on God’s mercy'!
God is going to judge the surrounding nations as well as Judah, chapters 2 and 3. For example 2:11 “The Lord will be awesome to them when He destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship Him.”
(a) God will defend His own.
(b) God will destroy His opponents.
(c) God will demand worship and respect.
Application: Notice, no-one can speak against God’s people and escape God’s judgement. Encourage those who say they are abused and misused Southerners to look for God’s justice – not just for man’s! When people mock God’s people they mock God, and God will not be mocked. Man’s justice may disappoint. God’s will be just!
“The Cushites” get a mention in Zephaniah 2:12. Not one of the verses quoted by those who claim ‘Cush’ promises for Sudan – a somewhat inconsistent exegesis! “You too Cushites, will be slain by my sword”, says God. It is a possible reference to Egypt, who were conquered by the Ethiopians in the 7th/8th century: may be Zephaniah is sarcastically calling the Egyptians ‘The Cushites’?
2:13-15 Jonah’s desired destruction of Nineveh is predicted. The city revival Jonah saw brought only superficial repentance.
4. Finally, chapter 3, God affirms He is right to do what He does. Even Jerusalem, God’s chosen city, is to be judged. Verse 2 her people are self-centred, self-righteous, self-sufficient and bent on self-destruction! There is civil corruption and religious hypocrisy. False prophets and priests arrogantly speak their own wishes – or those of their benefactors: Not God’s!
Verse 5 contrast God “(Who) is righteous; He does no wrong. Morning by morning He dispenses justice and never fails any day.”
At least 16 times in chapter 3 God declares what He has done or is doing. A time of universal judgement for the nations. But as God judges so His mercy flows like Cush’s rivers to the sea of the saved! His judgement is never only punitive: always aiming to bring blessing.
Verse 12 “the meek … the humble … who trust in the name of the Lord” will be left. Verse 17 “the Lord is mighty to save.” God’s mercy, majesty and might are all revealed. Burdens are lifted. Oppressions released. Shame is removed. “Honour and praise” breaks out as, verse 17 “God takes great delight in (those who are really His). He rejoices with singing.”
My challenge to you:
Be like Zephaniah, speak for the Lord.
Be like Josiah, live for the Lord.
Be like God … and sing!
God Rules, O.K.?
Khartoum International Church 20th October 2002.