Photo credit to Doug Gochenour.
“Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God.” (Zephaniah 3:1-2)
Zephaniah was known as the “fiercest of prophets.” Imagine hearing him make these declarations before you. Read all of his words, given by God, in Scripture. He held nothing back. But it seems that there was a reason for Zephaniah holding nothing back. That “oppressing city” and its people were holding nothing back either. It seems as though they were holding nothing back from themselves and it was causing havoc.
Who was that oppressing city? It was Judah and Jerusalem. What was her problem? She was rebellious and defiled. That was the root of the problem. What does it mean to be rebellious? Well, Noah Webster, back in 1828, defined a rebel as “One who revolts from the government to which he owes allegiance, either by openly renouncing the authority of that government, or by taking arms and openly opposing it. A rebel differs from an enemy, as the latter is one who does not owe allegiance to the government which he attacks.” Jerusalem existed because God created her. He called Abram out of Ur and made Himself a people, a nation. But this nation named Israel, first through the tribes of Israel and then through the tribes of Judah abandoned the God who created them. They were God’s people who had turned against the God who had formed them.
Zephaniah tells of the heart of the people that is bringing God’s judgment on them. They were disobedient, unresponsive to God, unbelieving, and impenitent. Their leaders and judges were greedy for self gain, not righteousness. Those who were supposed to be prophets didn’t take it seriously and they were treacherous and served lies. The priests violated the sacrifices. They all acted as though God was not there, as though You would not act, as though they were in control. Yet, there You were the whole time.
Oh, yeah, bad Israel, bad Judah, right? How foolish can they be? But what about the application to us in the rest of the world? Do I resemble this kind of thinking before You, God? Because the message doesn’t just talk about Judah and Jerusalem. Zephaniah tells of the destruction of the wicked Gentiles. Why? I’m pretty sure since we all started out from the same roots in the garden that all men really have the same opportunity to know the God who created them, who formed them. And we, just like Jerusalem will be held responsible for our own rebellion against You. And the good news is that You have a heart to convert many in those remaining nations because You formed them too. And the good news for Israel is that You have a heart to restore them. More good news is that Christ will be returning and there will be even greater rejoicing! God will be in our midst. He will gather those who mourn for what lacks in Him, He will deal with our oppressors, He will save the lame and gather the outcast and bring us in and gather us together in Him.
But let’s go back to the bad news. “She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God.” It’s not about listening to just any voice. It’s not even about listening to her voice. It’s all about listening to God’s voice. And listening, Hebraicly, meant acting upon that listening. That’s the point here. She doesn’t listen and when she doesn’t act on that correction, it shows she isn’t acting upon that listening. And why do You correct us? I mean who likes correction? Even Paul said, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Now isn’t it interesting the in Zephaniah, God makes reference to healing the lame? And here, Paul continues the thought about discipline by saying, “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12,13) Being able to submit to correction brings healing. A refusal to be corrected by God brings further disjointedness and pain and suffering, not only for ourselves, but for those under our influence.
Why wouldn’t we accept correction? Why wouldn’t we listen to Your voice, God? Because we don’t trust You. We trust our own way. We ask the questions for the answers we want to receive and we avoid asking the questions that might reveal the truth. Or, we ask questions and don’t stop to listen to the answers. Or we ask questions without really meaning to ever listen to an answer. Our answer is already sufficient in our own minds. We would rather choose to believe lies and falsehoods because we like the idea of the response we can have. We can feed our feelings, our egos, our pockets, our lusts, and write everything else off because we can have what we want the way we want, or so we think.
Well, that’s true. I can choose to have what I want. I can choose to be a rebel against the God who formed me, just like Israel. I can choose to design my own reality and my own truth or lack thereof. I can live by it. But then too, I shall die by it. I shall die in the emptiness of that “reality” when all along, there was a True Reality, the I AM, the Ever Existent One, who would have taken me under His wings and brought me into His wonderful presence into eternity through Jesus Christ, but I wanted my own way, my own choice, my own voice, more. What a tragedy! You know what? Rebellion is not worth it. It’s not as great as everyone in the world makes it out to be. It’s lonely and painful and empty and eternal.
I’ve thought about eternity a long time ago. Like, what would make me good enough that God would accept me into His eternal glory? And I realized that there is nothing in me that is that wonderful and that good. But I listened to Him. And He reminded me of Jesus and how He, as God and man, offered Himself in my place to fulfill the glory and righteousness of God and make a way for rebellious men and women to return to Him. So, accept my correction, because Christ accepted my punishment for me and for you. I trust in Him because He gave His life for me who didn’t deserve it. I’ll draw near to Him because He drew near to me when I was still rebellious. He deserves my allegiance. I don’t deserve Him. But He gave Himself for me.
I don’t care if you are black or white or brown or pink or gay or straight or whatever or whoever. Not listening to God’s voice, which we can verify from spending time in His word, leads to woe for any of us. Sure, you can rebel and choose to live your own way, whatever that is, but be ready for your lameness to get worse. If you want healing, listen to the One who can bring it. Pledge your allegiance to Him with Your whole life and all your attitudes and all your actions and all your thoughts. Why? Because when He exults over You, His precious treasure, with loud singing, you don’t want to miss it. It’s our choice. I can choose screaming and gnashing of teeth, or I can choose rejoicing and gladness forevermore. To me it’s a no-brainer but maybe that’s the problem, we’re not really using our brains fully and examining all the evidence.