Seek the Lord

by LA UBF   04/19/2009     0 reads


Seek the Lord, All You Humble of the Land��

 Seek the Lord, All You Humble of the Land

Zephaniah 1:1-3:20

Key Verse 2:3

“Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger.”

In Hebrew the name Zephaniah means "Yahweh has hidden," or "Yahweh has preserved (or treasured)." The words "preserved" and "treasured" are synonymous with "sheltered" and "protected." The antonyms of these are: exposed (instead of hidden), wasted away or trashed out (rather than preserved or treasured), or endangered (or even harmed--as opposed to protected).

The meaning of the prophet’s name is indicative of the point of the message Zephaniah intends to convey, that is, the way for one to come under the wings of the Lord's protection, provision, and preservation, even in times when all peoples on earth are marked out for destruction. 

In what respect then are people "exposed" (to dangers, harms, and destruction)? How can one protect himself from the exposures?    

Part I. In what respect are people exposed?

In the eyes of the Prophet Zephaniah people are exposed to the ways of destruction (or simply the judgment to come), so they need to be made aware of the dangers that are going to hit them down the road. Zephaniah saw that all peoples on earth are “doomed” and yet they remain ignorant of their destiny. Zephaniah could clearly see the ultimate destruction destined to fall on all men (both Jews and Gentiles). [The generations of people exposed to the ultimate destruction to come are classified first in a general category in 1:2-3, then in specific categories like Judah (1:4-13), Philista (2:4-7), Moab and Ammon (2:8-11), Cush (2:12) and Assyria (2:13-15).] 

In regard to the ultimate destruction that is going to hit all people on earth, Zephaniah describes: 1) how it [i.e., the destruction] will happen (1:2-3; 1:18-2:2 etc.); and 2) when it will happen (that is the Great Day of the Lord coming) (1:14-18). According to the account of man's fall described in Genesis 3, all descendants of Adam came to be exposed due to the fall of the first man Adam. Due to men sinning, the relationship between the Creator God and men came to be broken. This is the origin of the history of exposure. The exposures arrive at the door of each fallen man both individually and collectively. On an individual level, upon Adam sinning it was decreed that Adam shall turn to dust. So in Adam all sinners came to die. Thus man is born only to die. [It is a debatable issue on whether or not Enoch and/or Elijah are exceptions to the said decree, but this issue is beyond the scope of our study tonight.] On a collective level, the entire human race that is going to come onto the surface of the planet earth is destined to roll down the road only to be hit with the ultimate decimation. Let us read Zephaniah 1:2-3. The human race along with other creatures such as animals on the land, fish in the ocean, or birds in the air, is going to come to the point of total extinction. The Lord himself will ensure that the earth would be rid of all the wicked. 

Part II. Who does the Lord preserve (or spare)?

In 2:3 Zephaniah says, "Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger." This passage says that the Lord may shelter those who seek the Lord. Supporting the same idea, in Zephaniah 3:12 it is written, "But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the LORD."

The Lord himself either destroys or preserves people. What makes the difference? Why does the Lord destroy a group of people and yet why does he choose to protect another group? The difference is that when one turns away from the Lord and thereby sins against him, the Lord himself will work to cause destruction to fall on the one who turns his back on the Lord. Collectively, those who turn their backs on the Lord are called "the wicked."

On the other hand the Lord himself will spare from disasters and protect and preserve those who seek the Lord and come under the wings of the Lord's protection. Collectively, the Bible often times calls this group of people “the righteous.” 

We can easily understand this distinction when we admit the fact that the universe and everything in it came from the Lord and are being sustained because of the Lord. In this regard Hebrews 1:3 reads: "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." This passage indicates that when one chooses to turn his back on the Lord and thereby cuts his relationship with the Lord, that person effectively puts himself outside the bounds of the Lord's provision, protection, and preservation. By the same token when one seeks the Lord and places himself in the hands of the Lord, the Lord in turn sustains his life.  

"Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger." Here the word "seek" is repeated three times: 1) seek the Lord; 2) seek righteousness; and 3) seek humility. This repetition holds the key for preserving good life in the Lord. So let us stop for a moment and think about the key in order.  

First, seek the Lord. Seeking the Lord narrows down the objects of our pursuits, for in order for one to be able to seek the Lord, one must drop seeking all other objects,  just as the old saying goes, “The one who runs after two rabbits at the same time will end up catching nothing.” So in order to seek the Lord one must stop chasing after other things or people of this world. The world offers many attractive alternatives as purposes or goals, but in order to seek the Lord, one must sacrifice seeking other alternatives. This is more easily said than done, for worldly alternatives such as money making opportunities (e.g., good businesses producing a good income) look like more realistic solutions to the practical problems we have in life like the problem of financial security. Compared with worldly goals, the goal to seek the Lord looks vague, uncertain, and unreliable as the way to build a security in this uncertain world. 

But to Bible believing people, like Zephaniah, the Lord is the source of true life-security; to a spiritual man like Zephaniah physical phenomena, such as the economy or politics, are as unreliable as shifting shadows. Why are the things or people of this world not reliable? Why is it that the Lord alone is the only reliable source for life? The answer is obvious: The Lord is without a limit, whereas all others are limited. So between that which is limited (and therefore is imperfect) and that which is unlimited (and infinitely perfect), which one would you rather choose? 

Second, seek righteousness. The call to seek righteousness further defines the call to seek the Lord, for seeking the Lord has its own purpose, that is, righteousness. Thus the Prophet Zephaniah says, "Seek the Lord," and then, "seek righteousness." In seeking the Lord one should not treat the Lord like a son coming to a father for the money in the father's wallet. Rather one must seek the Lord for the sake of the Lord's person, not for the sake of the Lord's provisions. This is what the call to seek righteousness means, for as used here “righteousness” means God's essential characteristics, such as his love, his mercy, his holiness, etc. The call to seek righteousness then is the same as the call to "be like God." 

Third, seek humility. "Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility..." According to Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary, humility means the state of being humble. And the word humble means "not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive; reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission; ranking low in a hierarchy or scale." “Humble” is synonymous with such words as insignificant or unpretentious. 

The call to seek humility balances out the call to seek the Lord and the call to seek righteousness. God is God in his own order. No matter how much we are made to be like God, still we are what we are, that is, created beings. The call to seek humility then is the same as the call to remind ourselves of our own position as God's creation. God made us out of dust. So we are merely a handful of dust. We are nothing, but God is everything. No matter what moral or spiritual level one might have reached in his pursuit of the Lord’s righteousness, one's identity as God's creation remains the same. We all must be like God, still knowing that one will “never” be the same as God. Jesus said that we are to be at one with God, as he prayed in John 17:21, "That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Jesus prayed that we would form a perfect unity among ourselves, just as Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus, and we in Jesus. But this oneness does not mean that we are the same as God. God is God, man is man. God is holy but we are a handful of dust. 

Abraham, in Genesis, understood man’s humble state, so he prayed to the Lord, saying, "I am nothing but dust and ashes." Let us think about dust and ashes. Dust is dust. Let us think about a gardener doing his lawn. With a lawnmower he mows the lawn. Then he rakes the area. As a final step of clean up, he uses a gas blower. With a gas blower, he blows the side walk around the lawn. As the blower blows the area, along with debris, dusts are blown away. And the area becomes clean. And look at the dusts being blown away. How easily are they blown away? A particle of dust is so light and insignificant that it is blown away quick. Such is the case with our existence. No matter where we might have reached in our maturity, we still remain nothing but a handful of dust. Let us consider ashes. What are ashes? Ashes are powdery residue of matter that remains after burning. It represents ruins, especially the residue of something destroyed. So when Abraham described himself as "ashes" before the Lord, he found himself as no different than a dead corpse, a man as good as dead, a man who after death has been reduced to a handful of ashes. 

Seek humility! Why then should we "seek" humility? An immediate answer can be found when we think about the Lord's economy. God is the God of economy. He does not do what is not needed. So when God asks us to do something it is because he wants to address a specific need we have. When the Prophet Zephaniah asked his audience to seek humility he found the exact need to call people to seek humility, that is, their tendency to become proud. Indeed we are so easily puffed up, and pride is the beginning of downfall. 

Humility is the beginning of the life that is upward mobile as the Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 5:6, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."

Seek the Lord, seek righteousness, and seek humility! These are Zephaniah's framework for the life that is treasured in the hands of the Lord. 

Part III. How will the Lord preserve the meek and the humble? 

In the book of Zephaniah those who "seek the Lord, seek righteousness, and seek humility" are described with different names: "all you humble of the land" (2:2); "the remnant of the house of Judah" (2:7), "the remnant of my people" or "survivors of my nation" (2:9b); "the meek and humble" [who trust in the name of the Lord] (3:12); or "the remnant of Israel" (3:13). 

How then will the Lord protect, preserve, and provide for those who seek the Lord? In 3:14-20 the Prophet answers the question. Let us read this passage. While other verses promise that the humble and the meek shall inherit the earth (2:7,9), the Bible passage we read poetically describes the secure life the meek and humble find in the Lord, for 3:17, for example, reads, "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." The shelter found in the Lord where the Lord treasures his children works like a spiritual pentagon for it comes with a five-fold protection: 1) the Lord is with you; 2) he is mighty to save; 3) he will take great delight in you; 4) he will quiet you with his love; and 5) he will rejoice over you with singing. 

This passage conjures up in our mind the image of a father lifting up a son or a daughter rejoicing. He is so joyful for the child that he sings and dances. He is so happy with such a loving child that he had to sing. He is so proud of the child that he rejoices over the child with singing. 

This scene stands in strong contrast with the Lord being angry over his creation, for in many places of the book the Prophet Zephaniah talks about the Lord's anger: "...fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you" (2:2); "the day of the Lord's anger" (2:3); "I have decided to assemble the pour out my wrath upon them - all my fierce anger; the whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger" (3:8).

The Lord is angry over those who: turn their back from following the Lord, neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him (1:6); the one who obeys no one, accepts no correction, does not trust in the Lord, does not draw near the Lord (3:2). 

But the Lord rejoices over the one who seeks the Lord, righteousness, and humility. 

In conclusion, the contrast between the way the Lord relates himself with the wicked and the way the Lord blesses the righteous helps us better understand the way of death and destruction vs. the way of life and prosperity. Some people try to build their own security of life based on worldly means. They build and live in their own shelters, and yet they still remain exposed to all sorts of harms and dangers. But the righteous are different. They seem exposed to harms and dangers. Yet they are fully protected by the Lord, so that despite difficulties, such as persecutions like beatings or even executions in public arenas, their souls are preserved with a five-fold protection, so that they are filled with joy even as they go through fiery ordeals. The secret of such a joyful life begins with one seeking the Lord. 

One word: Seek the Lord


Class Exercise

1. In Hebrew Zephaniah means: ___________________________

2. What does the following Bible passage mean? "The Lord prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited" (1:7) [Cf. Isaiah 34:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 39:17; Jeremiah 12:3]


3. Fill the blanks: "The Lord within her is ______; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses with _______, and every new day he does not _____; yet the __________ knows no ______." 

4. The book of Zephaniah begins with prophecies on disasters to come, but ends with the promise of ________.


The end