Finally then in verses 18-20 the prophet closes his message and the theme of his closing is the great redemptive purpose and power of God. He has talked about the grand finale, the judgment of nations, the reward of the remnant, but now at the end He comes back with a word to Judah. To those who are going to be taken into exile.
18 “I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly, who are among you, to whom its reproach is a burden. 19 Behold, at that time I will deal with all who afflict you; I will save the lame, and gather those who were driven out; I will appoint them for praise and fame in every land where they were put to shame. 20 At that time I will bring you back, even at the time I gather you; for I will give you fame and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I return your captives before your eyes,” says the Lord.
There is here again the promise of return for the people after judgment. And that return is but a foreshadowing of the great day of rejoicing that will follow the final judgment. But for now, Zephaniah returns to the promises for Judah. And we see here that even though Babylon captured Judah, we know that the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, and then the Greeks were victorious, and then the Romans, and then, just as Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed it, then came Christ, and His kingdom will never end.
In His Kingdom, with His people, look at how many things God says He will do here in these final verses. I will gather. I will deal with those who afflict you. I will save. I will appoint. I will bring you back. I will gather you. I will give you fame and praise. I will return your captives. Here are 8 things God says He will do for His people in accomplishing His purpose of redemption.
Think about this message preached to Judah and those who would have heard it. Think as it might have been repeated. As we will see next week about the reforms of Josiah and what he did in response to the preaching of Zephaniah, we have to wonder who all did hear the message that was being preached? Because we are only 15 or 20 years away from Babylon coming and capturing Judah and taking them into exile. When that happened, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, they were taken. Do you wonder if they heard the message of Zephaniah being preached?
Surely they heard what Jeremiah had said. Jeremiah was even taken to Babylon. Daniel read his writings. And in studying Jeremiah, Daniel came to determine how long the exile would last. He was able then to prepare the people for the return to the land. Daniel did not get to go back. He died in exile. He was taken as a young boy, as a teen perhaps, and 70 years is a long time. He died in his middle to late 80s still in captivity. But for those who had heard this message, for those who saw the hope of restoration, for those who saw God judge nation after nation just like He said He would do – what was their hope? It was the hope that God would keep His Word.
What is our hope? We are in exile, aren’t we? We are pilgrims, we are aliens, this is not our home, we don’t belong here. We wait for a home, for a city “whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10). And we may die in exile like Daniel. Or we may see Jesus come with our own eyes physically, standing here on the earth. If we die before He comes we get to see Him, either way. Whether we live or die we are going to be with Him. And He is coming for us.
This is our hope. This is the promise that even in the outpouring of wrath God has preserved a remnant – He has had mercy on whom He will have mercy. He will not leave us orphans. He will come for us. What an amazing day if we live to see it. And when He comes you will get to see it either way, from the earthly side, or coming with Him down from heaven, either way we will be there. This is His promise.
God closes by telling us this: Judgment is coming but He will preserve a faithful remnant. And just as Judah will return and rejoice after exile, so too, we His people will rejoice and He will rejoice over us after the Final Judgment, as we are finally and forever in His presence.
He brought His people back, He gathered them together, so that the Messianic line would be preserved. He brought them back from exile so that Jesus would be born. He saved them from judgment to save us from judgment!
And the hope here is not just a hope of reconciliation, or restoration. It is the hope of resurrection. It is life everlasting in the presence of God in the new heaven and the new earth.
In Mark 12 when Jesus is questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection – they did not believe in the resurrection – Jesus replied that the resurrection is indeed a reality. He said, “But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:26-27).
The God of the living tells us that we should sing and shout and rejoice because of His redeeming love and power. As we look at the message of judgment and the wrath of God there is a promise in the midst of this great and terrible day of the Lord that is coming. In that day, He will be in our midst, our enemy will be defeated, and we will know His love for us beyond comprehension. This is our hope in the gospel.
To conclude then, what did King Josiah and the people of Judah do after Zephaniah brought them the Word of God? Did they listen? Did they repent? Did they obey? Next week we will look at Josiah’s response to the Word of the Lord.
The first message in this series was titled, “The Days of Josiah.” Next week we finish with a message titled, “The Ways of Josiah.” And the good news is that, yes, Josiah heeded the Word of God. And we will see the reform, the revival that resulted.
It was because of the faithfulness of Josiah that young men like Daniel and his friends, were taken into captivity, trained in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, in all of the ways of living like a Babylonian, and in the midst of all of that indoctrination they remained faithful to God. Because men like Zephaniah and Jeremiah stood and at great cost preached the Word of God to the people who were in danger of judgment.
Do we tell people the truth about sin? The truth about judgment? Do we think that people will think we are crazy if we tell them about the dangers of hell? It doesn’t matter what they think about us. And we probably all are a little crazy. But that doesn’t change the Word of God. We are to preach it because there are still those out there who need to hear it, who need to repent, who need to be restored, who need to gather with us to worship God as His children.
There are still members our there of the remnant wandering. We have been tasked with going and finding them, preaching the gospel, so that through us Jesus might continue His work to seek and save that which was lost. This is our calling. Wrath is sure and it is certain. We need to tell people the truth about the consequences for sin. We also need to preach the gospel with emotion, and with passion, like we believe it!
We need to sing. We need to rejoice. We need to shout in victory to the Lord. When we look at His grace and His goodness and His love and His power and His plan and His promises – if we just sit there calmly and not get excited, we need to be born again!
God tells us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with everything that we are. May we be passionate in our pursuit of the lost and even more passionate in the proclamation of the grace of God, wherein He came and bestowed His love and His grace upon sinners like us.