Read: Zephaniah 3:9-20
Consider: A few days ago we looked at the phrase ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Joshua 1:5), a promise made to Joshua and the Israelites as they prepared to enter the promised land. What was the response of the Israelites to Joshua? We read: Then they answered Joshua, ‘Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go’ (Joshua 1:16). Having received God’s promise you might expect that the people would live in such a way as to honour God. This, however, is not the history of the people of Israel and Judah (the two nations eventually formed from those who entered the promised land).
The books of Chronicles and Kings reveal the two nations wavering between honouring God and rebelling against him. This often depended upon the king who was in power at the time. If the king was righteous, then he would seek to bring the people back to worshipping the one true God and not idols or Asherah poles. If the king had no regard for God and his rule, then the people would follow their bad example and return to idol worship.
The prophet Zephaniah wrote his prophecy during the early period of King Josiah’s reign (640-609BC), probably around 635BC. Josiah came to the throne when he was only eight years old and it was when he was sixteen that the Book of the Law was discovered by Hilkiah the High Priest. When Hilkiah read the Book of the Law to Josiah he knew its significance and realised that his father Amon and the people of Judah had wandered far from God. It was King Josiah who, during his reign, implemented a series of religious reforms that sought to bring the people back to God.
We should not underestimate the challenges Josiah faced when at sixteen he knew that it was important for the nation to return wholeheartedly to God. Certainly at aged eight (when he acceded to the throne) he would have had adult advisors who would be guiding him. At sixteen this might have been the same, but he had an independence of mind that told him what he should do. Because of his faithfulness to God, Josiah was promised that the ruin that would come upon Judah would not happen in his lifetime (2 Kings 22:18-20).
There is great encouragement to be found in Zephaniah’s prophecy. We read: 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). Also later in the passage we read: At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,’ says the Lord (Zephaniah 3:20).
What can we learn from today’s passage in Zephaniah and also from the life of King Josiah?
Firstly, that even when things seem desolate, God can preserve a remnant who remain faithful to him. This is just as true in our day as in Zephaniah’s. My experience of churches in the United Kingdom is that even when churches may seem dead or dying, there will be a remnant there who remain faithful to God, even in the face of general unfaithfulness.
Secondly, although Josiah was young when he started to implement radical change in Judah, this did not put him off seeking God’s will for his life and the life of the nation. Equally, whether we are young or older, we need to seek God’s will and to fearlessly go forward with what God has planned for us to do. It may not be as grand as bringing a nation back to a God-centred focus, but as James says: Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark (James 3:5b).
Pray: Father, may we take encouragement from Zephaniah’s prophecy that despite outward appearances, you preserve a remnant of those who are faithful to you and you can bring about spiritual revival at a time and in the way you choose. May we seek you will and help us to rely on your strength when called to serve you. Amen
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