By Dr. Mark Scott
“Turn out the lights” or “00:00” or “Pay day some day” are all ways of expressing the inevitable, “Time is up.” Last week’s lesson from Zephaniah predicted the day of the Lord. This week’s lesson is focused on that day actually coming. God had an appointment with his people to judge them for their unfaithfulness (see also another appointment in Acts 17:30, 31). Were it not for God’s impeccable character, his jealousy might be viewed as arrogance. But because the triune God is totally selfless and loving, his jealousy for total fidelity from his people is proper. God is a jealous God in the best sense of jealousy (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; 6:15; Joshua 24:19). Even one of his names is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). When God’s people don’t express that loyalty to him, he is compelled by virtue of his own integrity to punish the people he loves.
God’s people would not be the only ones judged. The judgments pronounced on God’s people in Zephaniah 1
were matched by the judgments pronounced on the nations in Zephaniah 2. In Zephaniah 3 the judgment of God turns again to God’s people. The judgment on the corrupt city of Jerusalem started with the word woe. This word sounds like doom and gloom. In reality it is a word that means “alas.” It implied judgment, but it is more judgment in tears. In other words, God received no joy out of it. Lined on his face are love and concern.
Zephaniah 3:1, 2 describe the city itself in three ways: oppressors, rebellious, and defiled. The city’s stubbornness is described as, She obeys no one. She accepts no correction. This is the height of arrogance. Verses 3, 4 describe the leaders in the city. God called out the officials, rulers, prophets, and priests. God’s complaints against them were that they preyed on people instead of serving them (roaring lions), they took undue advantage of people (evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning), they lacked ethical convictions (are unprincipled), and they treated the things of God as common (profane the sanctuary). Corrupt leaders corrupt others.
In contrast to the corrupt city is a just God. God’s corrupt people cannot corrupt him. Even if people are faithless, he remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). God is no creature of his environment. God lives within this corrupt city, but he remains righteous; he does no wrong. His character is unimpeachable. He cannot be less than himself, which is totally just.
In fact he acts daily within the confines of his character. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice. This phrase reminds one of his daily mercy and faithfulness mentioned in Lamentations 3:22-24. This indicates God’s ongoing involvement with his creation on a daily basis—no matter the situation. People (even God’s people) cannot derail God’s justice by their acts of shame. When it fits his purpose he will destroy nations, leave their streets deserted, and allow their cities to be deserted and empty. At the end of the day, if God’s people were punished by being sent into Babylonian captivity, they had only themselves to blame. “Let God be true, and every human being a liar” (Romans 3:4).
Verse 7 is reminiscent of Einstein’s famous rule of insanity, “doing the same things and expecting different results.” God’s people continued to disobey God yet expected that somehow things would work out differently. They did not. God was hoping for reverence and repentance. Instead God’s people were bent on self-destructive behavior that brought about even more punishment from God. They felt invincible and put their full confidence in the city (and the temple in particular), but that would be destroyed. The real attitude comes out in the phrase, But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.
The passage in today’s lesson starts with woe and ends with wait. God calls his people to wait for him. Waiting on the Lord has a positive nuance in the Bible. It can mean to wait with eager anticipation of and faith in what God is going to do (Psalm 40:1; Acts 1:4; Romans 8:23;
1 Thessalonians 1:10). But in this passage it means to wait for judgment. God would testify against nations and gather kingdoms. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.
In the world to come time shall be no more. But in our world the clock continues to tick. Someday the ultimate teacher will say, “Time is up.”
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.