Right in the Middle

January 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Zephaniah | 8 Comments
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Don’t you just love the King James Version of the Bible? Okay, maybe you don’t, but you should. It is simply the best, most accurate, most God-honoring translation of God’s Holy Word for people who speak English, bar none. Let me encourage you to read it, meditate upon on it, and ask God to use it to speak to your heart.

Many of God’s Old Testament prophets were called by God to pronounce warnings, judgments, and even condemnation and wrath upon God’s people and upon the enemies of God’s people. However, these prophets consistently ended their prophecies with words of hope. The prophet Zephaniah was no exception. In Chapter 3 of the book that bears his name, he describes God’s workings in a place that the King James Bible translates as “in the midst.” Other Bible versions use words like “within” or “among,” but the phrase “in the midst” has a connotation of God not only being positionally in the middle of His people, but metaphorically and realistically in the middle of their troubles. God is not only omnipresent in the sense that His Spirit can be found everywhere in this universe, but He is also intimately acquainted with every trouble we are going through. Sometimes when we are in trouble, we speak of being “stuck in the middle.” God is not “stuck,” but in every difficulty of life, He is right there with you, “in the midst.”

Let’s look at a few of the actions of God as He operates “in the midst,” in Zephaniah Chapter 3:

Ruling in the midst is the Lord.

The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not…

Zephaniah 3:5

The Lord is such that, no matter how bad the trouble, He will never do wrong, or be unjust.

Removing the prideful from the midst, the Lord will not share His glory with anyone.

…I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain.

Zephaniah 3:11

Remaining in the midst by the Lord’s power will be the people who have put their trust in Him.

I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.

Zephaniah 3:12

Reigning as King in the midst shall be the Lord.

…the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.

Zephaniah 3:15

His rule in the midst will not be temporary. He will reign for ever more.

Redeeming and Rejoicing in the midst, the Lord shall save His people right where they are, and He will be joyful, as is fitting and right, over His Own might.

The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

Previous posts on Zephaniah:
Don We Now Our Strange Apparel
Trouble at the Threshold

Trouble at the Threshold

January 11, 2010 at 10:16 am | Posted in Zephaniah | 4 Comments
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I have a pet peeve about people stepping on the thresholds of doorways in my home. Normally, there is some sort of rubberized weather seal in the doorways that lead outdoors, and the more these seals are stepped on, the more they are damaged and the more drafts of air they let in and out of the house, driving up my heating and cooling costs. Normally, when someone steps on the seals going in or out (and people almost always do it), I will just let it slide. However, there are a certain group of people who visit my home fairly regularly, and these particular people absolutely LOVE going in and out of the house constantly. Not only that, but they make it a point to ALWAYS give a good stomp down on the weather seals in my doorways. And – I kid you not – their favorite place to STAND while they are visiting my home is RIGHT IN the doorways. They will get a cup of coffee or a snack, and mosey on over to the door, open it up, place their feet squarely on the weather seal, and just rock contently back and forth with their full weight pressing down. Sometimes I joke with my wife that I’m going to post Verse 9 of Zephaniah Chapter 1 on the wall by the doors when these folks come to visit: “In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.”

Actually, though, the phrase “leap on the threshold” in that verse really means “jump over the doorway.” There was a Philistine tradition against doing this in the place where the false god Dagon was worshiped because of what had happened in I Samuel 5. Zephaniah 1:9 also means that the ungodly Jewish priests leaped at the chance to confiscate lands from the poor, and to give them to the temples of the false gods.

Understanding that helps us better understand Zephaniah 1:11: “Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.”

The howling in pain would not just be because the market district would be destroyed. “Maktesh” has a double meaning. It also means “mortar,” which is a bowl, or a conclave in the ground near Jerusalem, and a place where things are ground to bits. The bowl just holds objects. God does the grinding, the crushing.

Zephaniah Chapter 2 goes on to describe the day of judgment against the gentiles.

Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites! the word of the LORD is against you; O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant.

Zephaniah 2:5

This is God’s way of saying, “I have a warrant out for you.” We want to warn the lost that the Word of the Lord will be against them if they do not repent.

Zephaniah closes out his prophecy in Chapter 3 with words of comfort, which is common with the Old Testament prophets. God never leaves His people without comfort.

The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.

Zephaniah 3:13

God tells the people that, when He has removed their sin, they will find comfort in fearing Him – and no one else will make them afraid. This applies not only to the Jews, but also to gentiles. God’s people will be converted into “one people” – truly one nation under Christ.

For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.

Zephaniah 3:9

Don We Now Our Strange Apparel

December 28, 2009 at 10:58 am | Posted in Zephaniah | 6 Comments
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If the Hezekiah in Zephaniah 1:1 is “King Hezekiah,” then the eponymous Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah. In any event, we do know that the minor prophet Zephaniah ministered during the reign of King Josiah, and that Josiah led the nation of Judah in what looked like a spiritual revival. He found the Book of the Law and sought to enforce it.

However, the “revival” may have been just a government-enforced or peer-pressure-induced outward show. We see this sort of thing in churches today. One example is youth camp meetings. A group of teenaged children will spend Friday and Saturday night at a retreat, playing games, listening to “Christian rock,” and supposedly getting “fired up for the Lord.” They will show up during the Sunday morning service, and go racing back and forth like stampeding cattle in front of the church, showing how “on fire for God” they suddenly are. There will be a great deal of pressure among them to do what everybody else is doing, and then all of their parents and the “church elders” will give them pats on the back and laugh it up at their shenanigans. They will be allowed to play around with the church’s microphones, instruments, and sound equipment, like little kids set free in dad’s tool shop, and everybody will congratulate themselves on how “we’re really reaching the youth for Jesus.”

But a few days later these worldly teenaged children are back to their old stunts. You will not see them showing respect for their elders, helping with church clean-up, opening doors for ladies, or doing any heavy lifting. You will see no fruit of growth in the Word, no sign of a prayer life. If you offer to get up a “youth activity” trip to the movies or a party, they are gung ho, but they will have no desire to start up a Bible study or go door-to-door soulwinning. This is because they have been conformed, and not transformed.

So, we cannot be sure if the “revival” of Josiah’s time was real or was just this sort of outward show. But if it was in fact genuine, then Zephaniah may have been that rare thing – a prophet whose message was actually heeded. Since Zephaniah does not mention the “revival” of Josiah (but since we know he preached during Josiah’s reign), it may be that his prophecies had an effect on Josiah.

I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests;

Zephaniah 1:4

Baal was the false god whose priests had been slain by the prophet Elijah. Chemarims refers to the priestly robes which were supposed to be white for Jewish priests, but which were now black due to the influence of the pagan priests. It also refers to the zeal and enthusiasm of their unholy worship, as they tried to show how “wild” they could get.

God had prescribed worship of Himself to be done in order. The false priests could make a lot of hay by saying, “That sort of God-prescribed worship is boring. You need to get free from that. Oh, we’re still going to worship Jehovah – but we’re going to use the contemporary tools and methods – and we are going to get wild.” This technique was very seductive, and it’s very seductive today.

And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham;

Zephaniah 1:5

The false priests deliberately brought the idea of angels into their worship, so that they could still claim they worshiped something close to God. They shouldn’t have been swearing by the Lord and by Malcham at the same time – any more than I should make a vow to the Lord and to Allah. Can you imagine someone at a Christian wedding taking his marriage vow before God and Allah at the same time? Or a deacon standing up in a Christian church to pray over the offering in the name of God and Allah?

God did not take this lightly.

Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests.

Zephaniah 1:7

It was as if God was saying, “You want to invite ME to a party for Baal? For Malcham? I’m preparing something for you – hold your peace – shut your mouths – you’re going to be My guests now…”

And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.

Zephaniah 1:8 (emphasis added)

The priests would be sorry they had ever worn those black robes. Will there be modern Christians who will be sorry they wore that skull and crossbones t-shirt even though they slapped the name of Jesus on it? The false priests were suddenly confronted with the hypocrisy of all their Ammonite and Moabite fashion-wear which they had bought at Spencer’s in the mall of Judah. God calls these mixed-message garments “strange apparel.”


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