Connections 06.19.2016: I Will…

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Zephaniah 3:9-14, 20

Two weeks ago, I wrote about God’s “perhaps” in Zephaniah 2:3. If the people chose to seek God, then perhaps God would protect them from wrath.

In today’s passage, I find the assurance I always crave. There’s no “perhaps” in the lesson text from Zephaniah 3. Instead, we find God saying, “I will.” And this assurance is attached to many beautiful things: purified lips, meekness and humility, faithfulness, peace, courage, home, honor, praise, fortunes. We all want such blessings from God, don’t we?

So how does the “perhaps” in chapter 2 lead to the “I will” here in chapter 3? I think we find the answer in the natural progression of a sinner’s life with God on Earth: God offers love, we struggle to accept it through obedience, we fail, God brings judgment, and then God restores us and gives us a new chance. This cycle seems to happen time and again in the Bible, and it certainly happens time and again in our lives.

Think about any relationship that you value: close friendships, spouses or partners, children, relatives. I bet you could tell me a story about the cycle of love, betrayal, judgment, restoration, and second (third, fourth, fifth…) chances within these relationships. I could tell you many such stories—on both large and small scales. You’d think we would eventually get the hang of the cycle and stop its progression before things get ugly. Sometimes we do, but most of the time we go through the cycle yet again and feel sheepish, though grateful, when we come out on the other side.

I’m truly grateful for the dear people in my life who allow me to repeat this cycle in our relationships and yet still find room in their hearts to love me and let me in. And I’m beyond grateful for God, who allows me to repeat this cycle in our relationship and yet still finds room to love me and let me in. Even more, I get the sense that God pursues me, just as God pursued the first people who heard the words recorded in Zephaniah. I’m overwhelmed, humbled, and awed by this. Thanks be to God!

Discussion

1. What does God’s “perhaps” in Zephaniah 2 mean to you? How have you experienced a sense of uncertainty in your journey with Christ?
2. What does God’s “I will” in Zephaniah 3 mean to you? How have you experienced a sense of assurance in your journey with Christ?
3. Do you agree that most people walk through a repetitive cycle of love, betrayal, judgment, restoration, and second (third, fourth, fifth…) chances in their relationships with others? If so, what stories could you tell about this cycle in your relationships?
4. Do you feel that any of God’s “I will” promises have come to pass in your life? If not, when do you think they will happen, and what sustains your faith until they do?
5. How can we read a text like this without believing in a “prosperity gospel” that insists God wants to bless us with health, wealth, and happiness in return for our faithfulness?

Reference Shelf

Reversing the Story of Babel, 3:9-10

Zephaniah 3:9-10 changes course dramatically from the judgment against Jerusalem and the nations to a message of hope that foreigners from the nations will bring offerings to YHWH in Jerusalem. For the third time in Zephaniah, a major structural clue to the writing draws on a text in Genesis 1–11 as a foil. Zephaniah 1:2-3 began with a message of judgment whose allusive language reversed the order of the Priestly creation account in Genesis 1 while evoking the flood story. The second occurrence appeared in the allusions to Genesis 10:5-12 in Zephaniah 2:11-13, which in turn changed the birth announcements of the line of Japheth and Ham into announcements of this line’s destruction. Zephaniah 3:9-10, however, introduces the theme of promise to Zion with an oblique allusion to Genesis 11:1-9 that reverses language from the tower of Babel story in order to offer words of restoration for the world and Jerusalem.

The phrases “Daughter of my dispersed ones,” and “my worshipers,” are often taken as problematic because interpreters are not certain how to understand “daughter” in 3:10. Actually, the MT makes sense if “Daughter of my dispersed ones” is treated as a vocative referring to Lady Zion, while “my worshipers” are the subject of the plural verb. The “Daughter of my dispersed ones” accounts for the second feminine singular address beginning in 3:11, and her identity is clarified explicitly in 3:14 as Lady Zion. Thus, the metaphor emphasizes those who have been dispersed. Lady Zion is the mother of Jerusalem’s citizens, and the phrase “dispersed ones” here refers to that group (or those groups) who have vacated her space.

The phrase “Rivers of Cush” has been taken by many as an allusion to Isaiah 18, where it refers to Ethiopia/Egypt. Because of Isaiah 18:1, one cannot entirely rule out Egypt as the intended meaning of Zephaniah 3:10, but Berlin’s arguments are stronger that in Zephaniah 2:12 and 3:10 Cush makes better sense as distant portions of Mesopotamia associated with paradise. Even if it refers to Egypt, 3:10 still makes sense, given that Egypt was the destination of the “exiles” who fled the Babylonians after the events of 587 BCE (see 2 Kgs 25:22-26; Jer 41:1–43:13.) In any reading, however, 3:10 presumes an awareness of the Diaspora and promises that those living in exile will bring offerings to Jerusalem. Conceptualizing 3:10 as a seventh-century statement remains problematic in spite of some recent attempts to understand it in that way.

James D. Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011) 743–45.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.

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