Continuing in Zephaniah 3, the people now hear from the Lord as He offers Himself and His Ways as a contrast to their pollution and corruption. We read in verses 5-7:
“The Lord is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails, But the unjust knows no shame. 6 “I have cut off nations, Their fortresses are devastated; I have made their streets desolate, With none passing by. Their cities are destroyed; There is no one, no inhabitant. 7 I said, ‘Surely you will fear Me, You will receive instruction’— So that her dwelling would not be cut off, Despite everything for which I punished her. But they rose early and corrupted all their deeds.”
Notice that while they were doing all of this wickedness, God was still there in their midst. That is kind of scary isn’t it? They were doing violence to His Word and His Name, and He is still there. God is righteous, to the point that the text says He will do no unrighteousness.
Here is what the people would do – times were tough, crops would fail, livestock would die, they would go worship God and offer Him sacrifices but then if things didn’t get better they would go and sacrifice to idols and worship false gods hoping someone would hear them and remedy their situation. Worship for them was the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. Maybe this god would be the winning number.
God contrasts Himself to His people, saying that He only ever does what is right.
When we struggle and when we have trials, we sometimes fail to believe what the Bible tells us. That God is sovereign. That God is perfectly holy and completely good. And that He is powerful enough to work any circumstance out for our good and His glory. We don’t really believe that though, do we, when “bad” things begin to happen?
If anything that happens in our life can be used and is used to conform us to the image of Christ then what truly bad thing can happen to us? If God can do no unrighteous thing, then what truly bad thing can happen?
Let this sink in for a minute. The Scriptures here tell us that God, who cannot lie – not that He chooses not to lie, in His holy character and person, He cannot lie – He is the truth. God who cannot lie makes promises to us. There is no chance in all of eternity that what God says will not come to pass. His Word is sure.
Look in contrast at the people. Unrighteousness and injustice overflow in their lives and their society. But God does not only stand in contrast to their corruption. He is the cure. Every morning He brings His justice to light – every day is an opportunity to walk in His ways and to draw near to Him.
What other verse in the Scripture tells us about what God makes new every morning? Here we see every morning He brings His justice to light. Aren’t you glad then that He has also promised to bring new mercies every morning? In fact, a daily dose of justice is exactly why we need a daily dose of mercy, right? Each daily dose of mercy lasts forever. Aren’t you glad?
Zephaniah goes on to say, “He never fails.” The people have failed God but God will never fail His people. He will never fail to accomplish His purposes.
The end of verse 5 says, “The unjust knows no shame.” Those who are not just are blatant in their lack of justice. The revel in their unfaithfulness. The people were running is this flood of debauchery, often in the name of worship, and they were doing this without any shame. Their conscience had been seared. There was no sense of guilt. They were bold in their sin.
God tells them, “I have cut off nations, Their fortresses are devastated; I have made their streets desolate, With none passing by. Their cities are destroyed; There is no one, no inhabitant.” God has demonstrated judgment for them. He had judged other nations. In fact, in the middle of these 100 years between Amos and Zephaniah, between 766 and 660 BC, what had happened in 722 BC?
Back in Amos 2:9-16, “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, Whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was as strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath.” This refers to the Canaanites, those living in the Promised Land that God uprooted so His people could live there.
He goes on, reminding them that before they went to the land God had led them out of Egypt. God just didn’t promise them a promised land and give it to them, before that He brought them up out of the oppressive land of Egypt. In Amos 2:10 He goes on. “10 Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, And led you forty years through the wilderness, To possess the land of the Amorite.” Do you know what is amazing about the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, from the banks of the Red Sea to Kadesh Barnea? You can make that journey on foot in less than a month. And when they got to Kadesh Barnea what happened? They had the first ever vote in a church meeting in history. After they sent twelve men to spy out the land, those men saw the Amorites. They saw the giants. They saw all that was going on and when they came back what did they do? They said, “Should we go?” And they said, “It is a beautiful land, it is a great land God is giving us….No.” Ten said no, two said yes, Caleb and Joshua. And forty years later the only two who walked out of Egypt and walked into the Promised Land were Caleb and Joshua.
God reminds them. He led them forty years through the wilderness to possess the Land of the Amotites. He goes on in Amos, “11 I raised up some of your sons as prophets, And some of your young men as Nazirites. Is it not so, O you children of Israel?” Says the Lord. 12 “But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink, And commanded the prophets saying, ‘Do not prophesy!’ 13 “Behold, I am weighed down by you, As a cart full of sheaves is weighed down. 14 Therefore flight shall perish from the swift, The strong shall not strengthen his power, Nor shall the mighty deliver himself; 15 He shall not stand who handles the bow, The swift of foot shall not escape, Nor shall he who rides a horse deliver himself. 16 The most courageous men of might Shall flee naked (that is without armor) in that day,” Says the Lord.”
God called and set apart prophets to speak His Word to them but the people abused them and rejected them and would not listen to them, and even killed some of them. God reminds them of all He gave them in the Promises and the Land and now in their rebellion and in their wickedness He says that He is going to come down on them like a cart overloaded with sheaves – the harvest, the judgement they are about to reap, it will be more than they can bear! There will be no escape. There will be no defense.