As Christians, we are continually aware that we are in the process of growing in our faith and seeking righteousness and humility. There is a saying that many of you may be familiar with, ‘None is so brave as he who stoops to conquer.’ It is this humility that we strive for and that Jesus, himself, displayed. We seek simplicity, living by the words of the prophets and those of our Lord and savior. But what does it mean when it says that it will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger? What day shall this be? How shall we know that it has arrived? And, perhaps most of all, why is the Lord, usually so loving and compassionate, angry?
To try to understand this verse, it is helpful to recognize several historical and theological themes. Zephaniah’s message on the Day of the Lord warned Judah that the final days were near, through divine judgment at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, who lived around 605-586 B.C. Yet, it also looks beyond to the far fulfillment in the judgments of Daniel’s seventieth week. The expression, Day of the Lord is described as a day that is near and as a day of wrath, trouble, distress, devastation, desolation, darkness, gloominess, clouds, thick darkness, trumpet and alarm. Yet, even within these oracles of divine wrath, the prophet exhorted the people to seek the Lord, offering a shelter in the midst of judgment and proclaiming the promise of eternal salvation for His believing remnant.
The Book of Zephaniah presents an unambiguous denunciation of sin and warming of imminent judgment on Judah. Some have interpreted the phrase, ‘I will restore to the peoples a pure language,’ as a renunciation of a universal language, similar to the days prior to confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel. They point out that the word language is also used in the Book of Genesis.
It is better, however to understand the passage as pointing to a purification of heart and life. This is confirmed by the context and corroborated by the fact that the word language is most commonly translated lip. When combined with pure, the reference to speech speaks of inward cleansing from sin, including the removal of the names of false gods from their lips. It does not imply a one-word language.
May we understand the need for purification of our hearts and our lives. May we seek to follow in the paths of goodness and truth that will help in this process of every growing closer to the people God would want Hid children to be. Help us, O gracious Lord, not to fear but rather to continue to learn, to strive and to grow in your triumphant ways.
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