“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering.
“On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.” – Zephaniah 3:9-13
The book of Zephaniah drew my eyes and heart this morning as I read of how God will deal with everyone who rebels against Him. That includes Israel, the surrounding nations, you and I. It is a terrible terrifying reality to behold. And yet, at the end of the book, in the final chapter, we read of the hope God offers and we can have peace.
What caught my attention was the core issue in this text. It’s subtle but present nevertheless and if one isn’t looking closely they may pass quickly over it. First, God transforms the speech of people from an unholy speech to a pure speech. Why? So that “all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” There is something about the purity of speech that enables people to address God more directly and serve him in a more united, unified way. Then they bring God his offering in an act of worship. This is not the core issue in the text but one that stormed my mind with questions, “How has my language been unclean and how might it be affecting my connection with God and ability to serve Him? How might it affect my offering in worship to Him? How can I address this NOW?” Thankfully, we see it is God who is willing and able to change the speech of His people and so my prayer is for NOW. God, please change my tongue NOW so that I can be more connected, better serving and offer a purer form of worship.
The second paragraph is where the core issue in the text can be mined. If one reflects on how they have acted before the Lord one can be consumed with shame. Even now, in our day, we can allow our guilt about what we have done to affect our person through shame that forms how we perceive ourselves. This shame comes from having a more clearer picture of God and His love and how we have rebelled against Him — fighting for our own right to rule and ignoring His rightful claim as Lord over all. But God removes our shame — He reshapes His people. How? By removing our pride that self-exalts and haughtiness that stands before holy God with bold brashness declaring ourselves righteous. Pride is the core issue of it all. Pride affects our speech. Pride affects our rebellion. Pride affects how we defend/justify ourselves. Pride affects how we serve God, how we worship God and how we act towards each other.
In looking at the text we see its the “proudly exultant ones” that get removed so that “you should no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.” So which is it? Is it my pride God removes or is it the proud God removes? This is a very confusing sentence! I think it is worded precisely to be what it is — a choice and an understanding. If, in the full presence of God, we cling to our rebellious pride, we WILL be removed. We will be the proudly exultant ones. But if we humble ourselves God removes our shame and recreates us as a people who are humble and lowly, who seek refuge in the Lord. We will act in just ways. We will speak truth and not deceive. We shall be satisfied, be at peace and not fear anyone who seeks to intimidate and harm because we are the Lord’s people. His transformative power affects our speech, our pride, our justice, our truth-telling, who we rely on for safety, provision, rest and protection. This COMPLETELY redefines our identity! We are who God transforms us to be not the sins we have committed in the past. God removes our shame. GOD removes our shame so we can live in fruitful harmony with Him. O how I want that for myself today.
God of Zephaniah — our holy loving God, please continue Your work in my life today. Transform my speech so that it is pleasing to you and filled with worship, truth and without deception. Will you transform my heart that clings to my pride — my pride that gets me into trouble and causes me to be rebellious against you bringing me shame — remove my shame, I pray, so that I can be free and at peace with You and others. May I seek refuge in You alone and not allow the world to intimidate me with all their threats and empty promises of pleasure, security and power. Thank You for hearing Your people’s prayers to be transformed for in making us new creations we bring honour and glory to You as we bear witness in our world. Amen.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalms 23