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9. The Song God Sings: Zephaniah

Do you find yourself fluctuating with the ups and downs of your performance? God grounds his people with a new identity rooted in his unconditional love.

In that day you will feel no shame

Because of all your deeds

By which you have rebelled against Me;

For then I will remove from your midst

Your proud, exulting ones,

And you will never again be haughty

On My holy mountain.

But I will leave among you

A humble and lowly people,

And they will take refuge in the name of the Lord.

-Zephaniah 3:11-12

What approach is the most effective way to motivate and empower people to take action? Pressure? Persuasion? Enticement?

Think for a moment about the commitment and radical devotion often expressed in love songs: “I’d do anything for you!” “You have all of me!” “I’d give up everything for you!”

This observation is interesting because people in love don’t take any convincing to commit and initiate. They’re intrinsically motivated by their love. The message of Zephaniah provides us with a picture of love’s motivation in relation to God.

Zephaniah is an Israelite prophet, called by God to speak to Israel’s southern kingdom, Judah. While God has forgiven Israel time and time again and sent prophet after prophet to call them back to Himself, the people refuse to turn to him.

Through Zephaniah, God seeks to bring Israel back on track. He confronts them in their sin, namely their pride, injustice, and lack of faithfulness, and he describes the impending judgment that will come if they do not repent. The judgment is depicted as world-ending, the undoing of creation. “I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,” God says, “I will cut off man from the face of the earth, (Zephaniah 1:2).” God again warns of his impending wrath in Zephaniah 3:8, saying, “Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, To assemble kingdoms, To pour out on them My indignation, All My burning anger; For all the earth will be devoured By the fire of My zeal.”

But then, after a lengthy discourse on judgment and wrath, the tone changes. God describes a day when things will be different. Instead of prideful and rebellious, God’s people will be humble and obedient. Instead of guilt-ridden, they will live free and without shame. No longer complacent towards God, they will be zealous in their worship. Once exiled without a home, they will then be unified as a new family. Once cowering under God’s wrath, God’s people will then bask in God’s adoration. “He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing,” Zephaniah 3:17 declares.

This transformation is possible because, as Zephaniah 3:15 states, God will take away his judgment. He will send his Son to endure this judgment on the cross.

In Zephaniah, how do we see God motivating faithfulness? He declares freedom from judgment and shame. He offers a life of transformation and belonging. He lavishly proclaims his delight in his people. He sings over them.

God wants his people to comprehend the infinite goodness of his love for them and so love him and devote themselves to him in return.

Do you ever find yourself fluctuating with the ups and downs of your performance? Do you wrestle with shame when you struggle or fail? Do you compare yourself to others and think you’re less than when you feel you don’t measure up?

In Zephaniah, God spoke a new identity over his people while they were still in their rebellion. Likewise, the gospel changes us by declaring what is true of us before we even begin to change:

God rejoices over you with gladness.

God quiets you with his love.

God exults over you with loud singing.

If you are in Christ, you are freed from having an identity tied to your performance. God unconditionally accepts and delights in you because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is coming back to this foundation of love that will motivate real growth.

RESPOND: Take a moment to ask God to help you stand on the foundation of his unconditional love rather than your own efforts to be better.

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