Zephaniah 1:7-9, 12b, 14 - Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated His guests. And on the day of the LORD's sacrifice—"I will punish the officials and the king's sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master's house with violence and fraud. ... I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, 'The LORD will not do good, nor will He do ill.' ... The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter ....
The book of Zephaniah starts with a party—or at least it looks that way. "Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated His guests." In Old Testament days, when you wanted to celebrate, you sacrificed an animal at the temple and then took home most of the meat to share with your family and friends. This was a special occasion, and guests would want to be prepared inside and out to do honor to the sacrificial meal.
But keep reading, and watch out! The party vanishes, and God says, "I will punish the officials and the king's sons ... those who fill their master's house with violence and fraud ... the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, 'The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.'" Wait a minute. This is not a party after all, but a judgment; the sacrifice is no animal, but the wicked people of Jerusalem—and nobody wants to be a guest at this sacrifice!
At this point, I want to shut the book and move on. But that would be a big mistake, because whenever you find God's judgment, God's mercy is close behind. The rest of Zephaniah describes that compassion which God will show to His people after He gets their wickedness cleaned out. He says, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save; 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). It sounds like the party is on again. God will forgive His people, and all will be well.
What happened? Why is God changing direction again? Let's go back and look at those first words again: "For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated His guests." Maybe that is a party after all—but a very different one than we imagined. "The Lord has prepared a sacrifice"—yes indeed; He has prepared to make Himself the sacrifice, getting rid of all our evil by suffering and dying on the cross. "He has consecrated His guests"—and those guests are us. He has consecrated us, made us holy, through Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now we are no longer under judgment; now we are God's beloved family, gathered around His dinner table. Now we feast on His own body and blood in Communion, and we rejoice with the Lord who died and rose to make us His own—because He loves us.
THE PRAYER: Lord, thank You for bringing us out from judgment and making us Your own beloved guests. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
1. Have you ever read a story or a sign that could be taken two ways?
2. Do you remember any Bible stories where God follows up judgment with mercy?
3. Do you think that God likes carrying out judgment on people? Why or why not?
To Download Devotion MP3 to your computer, right click here and select "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" or "Download Linked File As"