Week 32 Devotion
This week we will focus our reading on two prophets, Zephaniah and Jeremiah, who both served as prophets leading up the downfall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the nation of Babylon. These men lived during the worst time in Israel’s history as a nation and their task was to call God’s people to repentance while warning them of the judgment that God was set to bring against them. It wasn’t a pleasant responsibility.
Let’s look at these two prophets in a little more detail starting with Zephaniah. We don’t know much about the prophet himself but the book of Zephaniah contains some of the most intense images of God’s justice in all of the prophetic literature. He prophesied during the reign of Josiah, who was instrumental in bringing reformation to the worship scene in Jerusalem. Josiah removed the idols from the temple and restored the worship of God alone. But the situation in Israel was so bad by this time that Josiah’s work was too little and too late.
The problem was that the people had become so accustomed to worshipping false gods that even though Josiah threw them out of the temple, the hearts of the people still were still fixed on their idols. Judgment was coming on the people and it started when Josiah was killed on the battle field and the nation of Babylon set its sights on Jerusalem. Zephaniah witnessed all of this and had spent his life warning the leaders and the people of Jerusalem to turn from their idolatry and sin to worship and serve Yahweh alone.
This book is filled with warnings of the judgment that is coming upon Jerusalem, warnings of the judgment that is coming upon the nations and then finally the book ends with a picture of hope for God’s people. This pattern can be seen in Jeremiah as well.
Jeremiah was an Israelite priest who served in Jerusalem during the final years of the southern kingdom of Judah. God called him to be a prophet when he was a young man and he was to warn Jerusalem of the severe consequences that would come from breaking their covenant with God. Jeremiah prophesied about the nation of Babylon coming to overthrow Jerusalem and lead the people into exile and he lived to see this prophecy become a reality.
There are three key themes found in Jeremiah: 1. God’s people have sinned grievously against the Lord, 2. The Lord will judge His people for their sin, in this case through the onslaught of the Babylonians, 3. God is both faithful and merciful and will one day bring restoration and salvation to His people. These themes from a similar pattern to what we see in Zephaniah, which is the warning of judgment, the coming of judgment, and the promise of hope and restoration.
Now that we have an introduction let’s get into the books.
Something to meditate on…
One of the ideas that come to mind as we read of the wrath of God against sin is that God’s wrath is intended to bring purity to creation. In the opening paragraph of Zephaniah, God lets us know that His plan is to “utterly sweep everything away.” He is planning to bring a judgment that serves to purify the face of the earth. Now, all the images that he uses to convey the idea of God’s judgment and its purifying effect are being directed at the people of Jerusalem.
The judgment of God is going to fall on the city, her leaders, and all the people. The judgment is going to come as an invading army set on ruining and destroying all of the life within the city and when they day comes goods will be plundered, houses will be laid waste, vineyards will go unused because the great day of the Lord is near.
Zephaniah never really tells us the name of the army that is coming but we know that it is the army of Babylon. But the real interesting thing about this army remaining nameless is the fact that in Zephaniah's eyes the judgment is not simply a product of this coming nation’s strength, it is coming by the direction of God. Even as the city of Jerusalem is about to face destruction God is still in control. He hasn’t abandoned them but is actually going to do exactly what He said He would do when He made a covenant with them all the way back in the days of Moses.
God is the one bringing judgment upon His people and He is doing this for a reason. That reason is that He wants to purify His people and restore them to true joy that comes from being in relationship with Him. In chapter 3:9-20 we see this picture of the final result of God’s purifying work and in this picture, the people will be humble and just. They will sing and rejoice because God will remove their sin and He will dwell among them.
So Zephaniah wants us to see that the judgment of God is meant to purify us from sin. It is intended to cleanse away the idolatry in our hearts so that we can be restored in our relationship with God. That’s not generally how we think about God’s judgment but it should be. So take some time this week to read through this prophet and pay special attention to the language of purification that can be seen throughout the book.
Something to discuss…
As we turn our attention to the prophet Jeremiah it is important to know some of the themes that we should be looking for. For starters, this is also a book about God’s coming judgment and it is directed at the tribe of Judah. But notice how Jeremiah describes the sin that has brought about this judgment. Throughout the first 3 chapters, Jeremiah introduces the idea of seeing idolatry in the same vein as adultery. He repeatedly uses the language of prostitution and marital unfaithfulness as a metaphor for the people’s worship of false gods.
In chapter 2:13, he identifies two evils that are pervasive in Judah:
My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Judah has turned away from Yahweh, their redeemer God and they have begun to worship idols that are nothing more than dead lifeless images carved in wood and stone.
In chapter 4:4 Jeremiah tells them that they have uncircumcised hearts and in 6:10 he tells them that they have uncircumcised ears. Both their reception of God’s word and their obedience to God’s word have been completely corrupted by rebellion and sin. Then in chapter 5:28-29 Jeremiah calls them out for injustice.
They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy…
And God’s response is a rhetorical question, “Shall I not punish them for these things?”
The situation in Judah had completely deteriorated. All the reforms that Josiah brought have not resulted in turning the hearts of the people back to God. Their ears are closed to God’s Word, their rebellion, idolatry, and injustice have risen to the point that God is obligated to punish them. He would be going against His very nature to not address their sin.
The reason I point these things out is to show that the judgment of God that is to come for Israel is just. God has been patient with them for generations but now the time has come for discipline, the poor need justice, the widows and orphans need justice and God deserves the glory He is due.
There are two points that I want us to discuss in this: 1. Is the role of the prophet to confront the nation. Jeremiah had the unenviable task of pointing out these sins to his fellow Jews and it wasn’t always pleasant. He is fairly animated about how much he doesn’t want to say the things God tells him to say, but in the end he delivers the message despite the difficulty of doing so. We will not all be given the same platform as this prophet, but we must all be faithful to speak the truth even when it’s difficult or when it may come with a cost.
2. Is our role in remaining faithful to God despite the moral and social decay taking place around us. I’m guessing that some of the people had simply become so desensitized to sin that they didn’t even notice it in the culture, maybe they didn’t even notice it in their own lives. Brothers and sisters, we need to repent of our own laziness when it comes to culturally accepted sin. Let’s discuss how we can be faithful to speak the truth in hard places but also how we can be sensitive to God’s Word so that we recognize the sin that is taking place around us and in our very own lives.
Something to pray about…
In Jeremiah 7, we read one of the prophet’s temple sermons where he is actually standing in the temple when he delivers this message to the priests and religious leaders of the day. In this sermon, he not only points out the sin of the people but he also lays out what it would look like for them to repent.
Jer 7:5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
God wants to see us repent so much that He is willing to give us a step by step guide on how to do so. Sometimes we think of repentance in ways that never really impact our day to day lives, but God is so generous that He spells it out for us here. Be just with one another, care for the people around you, especially the widows and orphans. Don’t worship at the altar of a false god but instead worship the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Let’s take some time this week to let our prayer be a prayer of repentance where we confess our sins to God and ask for His clear help and direction of how our lives can be restored to faithfulness.
 ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, Introductory Notes on the book of Jeremiah (pg. 955)