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Gathered and at Rest

Daily Bible reading is one of the most difficult habits for me to keep. I can’t explain it; I love reading and I understand the importance of reading the Word of God consistently. Yet, I struggle. This morning, however, was a good one: I made my coffee, grabbed a Bible, and read from my reading plan (after asking the app to “Catch Me Up” for my missed days). Right now, the chronological reading plan I’m using has me going through some of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, which feels very timely. Reading about the justice of God, the disciplining of His children, and His future promises of deliverance makes for tough but compelling reading.

Today’s first few passages came from the book of Zephaniah, which details the judgment of Israel and surrounding nations for their rebellion against the Lord. It’s a short book (only 3 chapters), but I’m not sure I’d ever really studied it before. Those minor prophets aren’t usually our go-to Bible study books, are they? Reading about God pouring out His indignation on the nations doesn’t usually make for an Insta-worthy graphic, and hearing about the fire of the Lord’s zeal isn’t quite as heart-warming as studying the miracles of Jesus might be. Today, however, I am so glad the Lord had me open His Word to this particular book.

Zephaniah 3 talks about God’s judgment on His people, and reading about the desolation prophesied felt like appropriate reading in this time of pestilence and plague. The general theme of discipline as a corrective, purifying tool of the Lord’s led me to ask questions of the posture of my own heart in difficult circumstances – was I allowing the Word of God and the power of His Spirit to refine me, or was I simply focused on getting through a difficult time? Was I asking the right questions and thinking the right thoughts? I wasn’t so sure that I had been. Isn’t it such a grace of God that He has given us His Word to reframe our thinking after His own?

After this moment of conviction and soul-searching, I read on, and came to a passage that had Zach looking over at me in concern as I sniffled my way through the chapter.

Side note: do not try to sip hot coffee while crying! You will spill it and make scary sob-like noises that frighten your family members and distract them from their own devotional time.

After discussing the coming judgment of God on Israel, Zephaniah 3 says this:

“I will leave a meek and humble people among you,
and they will take refuge in the name of the LORD.
The remnant of Israel will no longer do wrong or tell lies;
a deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths.
They will pasture and lie down,
with nothing to make them afraid.”

A bit later, the promises continue:

“At that time I will bring you back,
yes, at the time I will gather you.
I will give you fame and praise
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes before your eyes.
The LORD has spoken.”

We have to be really careful about putting ourselves into passages of Scripture or taking verses, especially prophecies, out of context. I understand that this was written to the people of Judah prophesying their coming exile and subsequent return to Jerusalem. However, we also know that prophecies in the Old Testament often have immediate fulfillments and then later, further fulfillments, and the promises listed here seem to point us forward to an ever greater fulfillment to come after God judges the earth for the final time.

I was moved to tears by the reminder that one day God promises to give us rest, as sheep lying in His green pastures with nothing to fear. No more anxiety. No more panic. Nothing to make us afraid. How can this be possible? My anxiety-prone heart can scarcely imagine such a time. And it is only through the blood of Christ that we can believe it to be so. His righteousness lets us “no longer do wrong”. His sacrifice means we have nothing to make us afraid.

And this promise is plenty to strengthen our weary souls. But the Lord in His vast goodness doesn’t end there. He paints us a further picture of the glorious future to come. He promises to gather us all together again! I’ve seen the posts on Facebook this week of people promising to come dancing into church when the quarantine is lifted and we can gather together as a body of believers again. But this gathering promised in Zephaniah goes beyond the reuniting of a local body, as wonderful as that already sounds to a scattered church today. One day, the whole Body of Christ, from every tribe and tongue and from all time periods in history will gather together before the throne. And because of the sacrifice of our Redeemer, we will have nothing to fear. All glory be to Christ!

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