It's difficult to understand the craziness in the world around us these days. For some, it's cause for panic. Others act as if the world has never been further from God, but this is not true, and it's not a reason to freak out. It was much worse in Zephaniah's day, and yet all of it was in God's hands. All that you see today is in God's hands too.
As we've been journeying through the Minor Prophets, a theme has come to the surface. The people turned from God in rebellion. They were off their mission to be a blessing to the nations, and they worshiped other gods. People no longer loved one another. As they cherished themselves, they took advantage of those around them, especially the poor and outcast. All the while arrogance and pride grew among the people. It might sound a little like our day, right?
The prophet Ezekiel wrote about God removing his presence from the people. Where he once dwelt among them in the temple, he packed up and left town. It was symbolic of the removal of his favor and protection, but it was only for a season. Zephaniah wrote of a coming destruction that would refine the faithful. And at the conclusion, God would once again dwell among his people and gather the lame and outcasts to himself. There will be grand celebration and praise. God's glory will once more be seen in what he has done in and for his faithful people.
I remember how people were freaking out when flames ripped through Yellowstone National Park in 1988. But then I learned something remarkable. Pinecones, those hard seedpods on evergreen trees, are a resilient restoration. They open and close. Some cones only open and drop their seeds after extend hot, dry days. By God's design, the seeds start in drought, knowing that the terrible season weakens older trees and new growth will be necessary to keep the forest healthy.
The Lodgepole Pine has especially fascinating cones. A unique resin holds them tightly closed. They can remain on the tree, closed, for as long as 30 years. Why? Because they only open when the extreme heat of a forest fire comes through. The old lodgepole pines burn quickly, but the seeds fall into the ash. The fire typically only scorches the top inch of soil, and the ash makes for more nutrients in the earth. The seeds take with ease, and new, healthy trees begin to grow right away. But only if the forest has been refined by fire.
If God designed forests to grow by fire, how much more might he use the metaphorical fires to refine his people?
This Sunday, we will see how God allowed destruction to come to his holy city and exile to befall his beloved people so that healthy restoration would refine the faithful. Zephaniah is only three chapters, but in this packed little book, we see an intense refining that should shock us, but we also see God's restoration, and that should bring us to tears of joy.
Here's a short video that provides a good overview of the book of Zephaniah.
I pray you'll read Zephaniah this week and you'll join God's people for corporate worship, fellowship, and an opportunity that God might speak to you through his Word. We meet at 10am to pray together and take the Lord's Supper. At 11am we worship in song and hear a message from the book of Zephaniah.
For the Kingdom!
Pastor Bryan Catherman