Lost and Found

Zephaniah 1:14 The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. :15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness:16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 3:10 From beyond the rivers of Cush [the Nile] my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings. :13 They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.” :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.” :19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame;
 I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. :20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes [captivity] before your very eyes,” says the Lord. [NIV]

We need to take a few steps back from the immediate context of Judah in Babylonian captivity to see into the spiritual realm where God’s people need rescuing from this evil age. The message, in other words, is eschatological as well as historical.  God’s people will return not just to the Old Jerusalem but to the New One as well.

The prophet makes no mention of God’s people as the sheep of His fold. [Psalms 23] The reason I choose to describe Judah’s salvation as a rescued lost lamb? Jesus did. [Mt. 18:12-13; Jn 10:7, 11, 27; 21:17].  I am also more comfortable with the Hebrew term translated “lie down” in 3:13, which the lexicon tells us is “used of quadrupeds.” In Genesis 29:2 it is used specifically of sheep. The word “eat” here means “to graze.” Also, the words “scattered” in 3:10, “oppressed” and “lame” in 3:19 remind me of Matthew 9:36.  These are only a few of the many scriptures using this analogy.

Zephaniah prophesied of Israel’s—and by extension all God’s children’s—ultimate restoration. As Walter Brueggmann  summarized,

It is the same “warrior” who makes a future for Israel who had terminated Israel’s present. – [“An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2012. p 279]

Zephaniah 1:15 uses troubling language: 2 words for tribulation (no way out) “That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish,  2 words to speak of total ruin, a wasteland “a day of trouble and ruin, and 3 word to describe absolute darkness (spiritual and in every other way) a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness

The Scriptures intertwine, though, for one cannot talk of restoration without talk of peace. And even though the word SHALOM, peace, is not on the prophet’s lips, it is the beat of his heart.  As Micah said it:

Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. Micah’s 4:4

There are other lessons here. I tried to put some in a poem, but the one overarching one to take away is that God discovered us in the “lost [life ] & found.” [Luke 15:4]

Zephaniah is the prophetic account of a nation that had to discover that the only way to gain tomorrow was to lose today. God had to allow circumstances to humble them, to purge them of a pride that kept them from trusting Him.

But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the LORD. Zephaniah 3:12

Jesus gave us this lesson on perhaps a sunnier day while picnicking on some remote hillside. We listened enthusiastically hanging on His every word, though, perhaps, we may have failed to understand the dynamic in such an idea:

Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. Luke 17:33

This life and its sufferings are not what its ultimately all about. [Matthew 5:10-12; 6:20; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18] The Beatitudes may have been an early lesson in such truth. It was John, perhaps, who first perceived what the Savior was promoting.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:25

“Lose …hate”!? To lose means to waste, ruin, render useless. Hate is, well, hate! But somethings are proper to hate. I like to freely translate this:

Whoever finds this world a friend will waste their life instead of investing it in God. [a lose that is eternal] while whoever finds friendship with this world, and its lack of godliness, abhorrent [Philippians 3:20] will guard their lives [1 Corinthians 9:27] onto eternal life. [2 Timothy 4:18]

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