In Zephaniah 3:17, the prophet tells the people of Judah that “the Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
What is the significance of this message to the nation? Is it important that we be reminded that the Lord’s presence is with us?
The Background to This Passage
Zephaniah writes during the reign of Josiah, one of the last kings of Judah. 1 Kings 22:1-23:30 tells us that Josiah was a godly king who led the nation in revival, turning away from the worship of idols, and renewing the nation's commitment to the Lord God.
On the surface, it would seem like it should have been a time of peace and prosperity for Judah. But below the surface, all was not well.
1 Kings 23:26-27 says that the Lord’s anger still burned against the nation because of the sin of Manasseh, Josiah’s grandfather. The Lord’s judgment was delayed because of Josiah’s reforms (2 Kings 22:18-20), but it was still coming.
Zephaniah, as well as Jeremiah, who served during this time, make clear that although Josiah was working to undo the work of his father and grandfather, there was still widespread corruption and idolatry.
In addition, Judah was a small nation between two powerful kingdoms. Babylon had replaced Assyria as the dominant world power. Josiah seems to have allied himself with Babylon.
But Egypt, to the south, was at war with Babylon. And Judah, Babylon’s ally was between them. Josiah was killed as he fought with Egypt in support of Babylon. And what little hope the nation had died with him.
1. We Are Forgetful
As humans, we live in a physical world of sight, sound, and experience. These are what tend to most occupy our thoughts. If I cannot see it, or hear it, or touch it, it seems somehow less real and important. Yet God is of the utmost importance.
We could not exist without him. But we cannot, see, hear, or touch him. At least not with our physical senses. And so, it is very easy to live a life that often does not recognize and respond to God’s presence.
And so, a frequent reminder of the Lord’s presence is important. It helps us to remember that this physical world around us is not all that there is. It is, in fact, temporary and only a crude imitation of the reality of the unseen realm around us.
Remembering that the Lord is with us is useful when we are facing challenging times. But it is also good even when our lives and circumstances are good.
2. Remembering When Times Are Rough
We live in a fallen world that sometimes makes life challenging. Accidents and disease can cripple us, at least for brief periods of time, and sometimes much longer.
We could be impacted by storms, earthquakes, or other natural events. And we may well suffer at the hands of others. Sometimes because we are different than they are. And sometimes because we are an obstacle to what they hope to accomplish.
On top of that, as believers, we may suffer because of other people around us who take exception to our faith. Repeatedly in the scripture, we are told that the world will treat us the way it did Jesus.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:18-22).
And that all who want to live godly lives will face persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). We have not been promised an easy life as believers. We are still subject to all the difficulties that others face. As well as what comes because of our faith.
It can be easy to become discouraged when life is hard. When God seems to be indifferent to your plight. And that is when it is especially appropriate to remember that the Lord is with us. He has not left us to cope with this life the best we can, hoping to survive each new day.
That makes Zephaniah’s words to the people of Judah and Jerusalem so relevant. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you.” Their lives were hard.
And getting ready to get much worse. But they could know that the Lord who saves, and who takes delight in them, was with them. How comforting to know that there is one like that who cares for you.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:1-3,7).
3. Remembering When Times Are Good
It is not just when times are rough that we should remember that the Lord is with us. It is just as appropriate to remember during the quiet and peaceful times. When I am faced with challenges, I tend to look for help.
Help that the Lord will provide. But at other times it is easy to fool myself into thinking that I am sufficient to handle my own life. Without any help.
When life is easy, and I take my eyes off him, it is all too easy to forget about God. Until the next disaster strikes. And then, eventually, I remember the Lord and turn back to him.
How much better to have remembered him during the good times so that when the inevitable challenges come, they come with the assurance that I am not alone.
But remembering that he is with me in the good times is not just so that I can be ready when the rough times roll back around.
When I remember that he is with me, it keeps me focused on him and growing in my faith. The good times are even better when I am walking in communion with my Lord.
Always remember, regardless of your circumstances, that the Lord is with you.
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Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.