The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
I think it wouldn’t be unfair to claim that the book of Zephaniah is one of the least known books of the Bible, if not the least. The books of the minor prophets were split into two parts, the first 9 books being of pre-exilic times, meaning they were written before the Babylonians conquered and exiled Judah, and largely contains prophesies regarding the destruction and the exile. The last 3 books are post-exilic, written during or after the return of Israel from Babylon to the promised land. Zephaniah is the last of the pre-exilic books, and could be said to be a form of summary of the previous 8 books, with Zephaniah often drawing on the words of previous prophets. As with most books of the minor prophets, the book of Zephaniah isn’t long, but perhaps one unusual thing about Zephaniah is that he was of royal lineage – a descendant of Hezekiah [Zep 1:1], who was a godly king.
The LORD your God is with you – This is a very common consolation to the Jews, and often an encouragement given to them in times of need. In Deuteronomy 31:8 for example, the Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. It is important to note that the Lord is with you can only be such a massive comfort and encouragement to the Jews because the Jews know their God. They know that God is strong and mighty, and most importantly he will deliver them from the depths of suffering. If they did not know the qualities of God, they will not be able to take comfort in the fact that God is with them. If God is not powerful and not able to save them, it is no consolation or encouragement that God is with them.
The idea of being with us is even more expanded upon in the days of the New Testament, where there was a physical representation of God amongst his people in Jesus Christ, saviour and redeemer of the Israelites. The Word became fleshand made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1:14].
Mighty to save – this is a phrase that has been much been popularised in recent years, it was a phrase that was first said through the prophet Isaiah [Isa 63:1]. Most other translations are not as poetic, rendering the phrase, He is might, he will save – but the meaning is clear. God is mighty, and he will save us. Because he is mighty, he can deliver us. If God is for us, who can be against us [Rom 8:31]?
Joy comes from the Lord, and it is through Him that we can experience through joy even in harsh times. He will take great delight in you – we are his best creation, and when he made Man he said, very good [Gen 1:31]; he will quiet you with his love – Quiet our fears, as stated in the previous verse, do not fear, O Zion [Zep 3:16]. God will calm our fears with his love. In him we can find peace and calm; he will rejoice over you with singing – Singing is always a joyful thing in the Bible. Singing is traditionally done to celebrate, to exalt, and to worship – it’s always meant to be joyful, very much unlike the songs of today. To rejoice over us with singing is an expression of a great joy, an extraordinary joy, a joy that God expresses when his people is reconciled to him through Christ.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” said the angel to Mary in Luke 1:28. God rejoices in her, God took great delight in her, God is with her. According to Luke, Mary was greatly troubled by that greeting, as she wondered what it might mean [Luke 1:29]. I wondered about her reaction. Mary was a great woman of God who was highly favoured and became an important woman in history. We most likely won’t have angels coming to us with private messages from God. Her reaction was most likely out of surprise at the extraordinary occurrence of an angel coming to her rather than the words the angel spoke. But her reaction is probably our reactions today when we know that the Lord is with us, though for different reasons. We do not feel comforted or glad when we are told that the Lord is with us. Perhaps we even feel burdened.
Is it heartening to know that the Lord is with you? Or would that knowledge weigh down your heart? It is a tendency of Christians, stereotypically, to tell a brother or a sister-in-Christ, don’t worry, the Lord is with you, so go ahead and do this or that without fear. Why are you upset? Don’t worry, God is with you. Why are fearful? Don’t you know that God is with you? If you have been a Christian for some time, you’d probably know that even if God is with you, you can still be subjected to suffering. You can still be subjected to temptations. Look at Job. Even if God had been with him, God remained silent for the first 38 chapters. I think the key here is not just about knowing that God is with us. I’m sure when you’re in need, there are certain types of people you wouldn’t want to be near because you know that they wouldn’t be of any use to you. If they cannot help us, then even if they are with us in times of need, there is no point. Similarly, even if you know that God is with you, what kind of God is he? Do you know his qualities? Zephaniah says God is mighty to save. He is omnipotent. And because he loves us, he will save us. Do you know his other qualities? His omnipresence? Omniscience? Omni-benevolence? The list goes on. It is only when we truly know God‘s qualities that we can take comfort in his presence in our times of need. His presence gives us courage to move on, because he is mighty. His presence clears our doubts, because he will deliver us. Let us take heart and rejoice in the Lord, just as he rejoices in us. When we know who God is, when we know his qualities, we can truly take heart in the fact that he is with us.
From the hymn, Mighty to save, and mighty to keep:
Mighty to save by power divine,
Mighty to keep in this evil time;
Watching and praying, trusting, obeying,
Thus life is all sublime.