December 16, 2018 | “The Lord Will Take Great Delight in You” • Zephaniah 3:14-17

Scripture Reading • Zephaniah 3:14-17(NIV)

Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”


A new gas station opened in the small town where I lived, it was exciting to have a new gas station because the town was really small … and secretly, I think, we all hoped some competition might bring down gas prices. For the grand opening, the gas station made a big deal about “putting a tiger in your tank.” They had all kinds of tiger stuff to give away, I especially remember the funny little furry tiger tails they gave us to hang on our cars’ gas caps. 

The owners of the gas station even hauled in wild cats with these funny little cages on trailers. There were three trailers – one with a mountain lion, one had a bobcat, and one for a big old tiger. 

It was weird to see a powerful creature like a tiger in such a little, rinky-dink cage – the cage didn’t look at all strong enough to contain such a powerful creature. The trailer shook and bounced when the tiger moved around. Some people got really close to the tiger. They looked it in the eyes. They took their pictures beside it. They waved their fuzzy little tiger tails at its face; confident the metal bars on the trailer would keep them safe from the tiger. I watched from across the parking lot, which still didn’t feel all that safe to me.

One guy walked up to the tiger to get a better look. 

He got closer than everyone else had, I guess he thought that since the tiger was in a cage he would be safe. I don’t know if the tiger was tired of people or tired of being cooped up in a tiny trailer, the tiger stood up, turned around and sprayed the man – just like a ferrel tomcat. The man almost fell over from surprise and shock. 

He thought he could get close. 

He thought the tiger couldn’t really do anything. 

He was wrong. He really underestimated the tiger.

It seems like God’s people were thinking something along the same lines about God … They were underestimating God, they had somehow gotten the idea God couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do much of anything to be involved in their lives. Apparently, there was a saying going around, “The Lord will not do good, nor will God do harm” (Zephaniah 1:12b). 

This indifferent understanding of God troubled the prophet Zephaniah.

Zephaniah knew his people were underestimating God. 

He knew God was not indifferent … i’m curious if this understanding of God could have said more about themselves than it did about  God.

Israel had been through a difficult political time.

They had a really good king, Hezekiah, who was followed by two really bad kings, Manasseh and Amon. The bad kings, Manasseh and Amon, seemed set on undoing all of the good things Hezekiah had set in motion. They did a lot to lead God’s people astray. Now Israel had a great king, Josiah, who was starting to make some much needed political and religious reforms. 

Josiah became king when he was only eight years old. Zephaniah probably prophesied sometime during the first 18 years of Josiah’s reign, the years before Josiah repaired the temple, rediscovered the book of the law, and made some big changes to lead his people back toward faithfulness, because nothing in Zephaniah mentions Josiah’s reforms.

Zephaniah is one of the gloomiest and doom-iest prophets there is. (He kind of seems like the Eeyore of prophets.) That makes the hopeful and joyful verses Bailey read to us really stick out. Zephaniah was convinced God was not at all indifferent … Zephaniah offers a picture of God caring deeply about his people … a God who grieves Israel’s faithlessness and rebellion, who takes action to make things right … and who rejoices over his people.

I love this picture of God in Zephaniah 3:17 –

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

That is very different from the saying the people used that grated on Zephaniah – “The Lord will not do good, nor will God do harm.” God is not indifferent … God loves his people … God reveals himself to humanity … God acts on behalf of his people … God works to recreate and reshape his people to be faithful … God rejoices over his people … God cares and God is involved. God seems to be the opposite of indifferent. 

Christmas, the day we set aside to celebrate, God sending Jesus to us as Immanuel, God-with-us in human skin and bones, is the ultimate challenge to any claim that God is indifferent. In Jesus we see how much God cares, how much God is involved in our world and in our lives … When the apostle Paul introduces us to Jesus in his letter to the church in Colossae, he  writes:

1.15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

This is not someone who is indifferent. 

This is a picture of a God who very much cares and who goes to the greatest lengths to be involved in our lives … to reconcile us … to bring us back into a relationship … or as John 3:16 and 17 point out, 

3.16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

There is nothing indifferent about God … God grieves his people’s rebellion and God delights and rejoices in his people’s faithfulness. God absolutely cares. God gives himself to us in Christ … God goes to great lengths to show us how much he cares in sending Jesus to us.