Zephaniah 2:3, 3:11–13
Seek the Lord, all you humble people of the earth who have carried out his commands. Seek righteousness. Seek humility. Maybe then you will be sheltered in the day of the Lord’s anger. ….11In that day you will no longer bear the shame of your rebellions against me. Then I will remove the proud boasters from among you, and you will never again be arrogant on my holy hill. 12But I will leave among you the people who are humble and weak. They will seek refuge in the name of the Lord. 13The Israelites who remain will no longer act unjustly. They will not lie, and a deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouth. Instead, they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down. No one will terrify them. (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
O Lord, it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror,
I get better looking each day.
To know me is to love me,
I must be a @#*% of a man,
O Lord, it’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doing the best that I can.
We used to put that song on the jukebox when I was in college and we’d all sing along. We thought it was funny for the same reason Mac Davis thought it would be funny to sing it in the first place—because it’s a tongue-in-cheek way of mocking overblown pride and self-confidence.
And what makes boastfulness and pride funny? The fact that God has given each of us a conscience that rightly tears us down from the inside out. Unless you’re blinded by ego, you know that you yourself have weaknesses and foibles just like everyone else. What a salutary function the conscience serves! It is true, though, that an amazing number of people manage to silence it and actually believe their own PR. In fact, there are lots of them. Overblown egos.
Are you one of them? Fact is, we all think of ourselves more highly than we ought at times, which is why we need the reminder Paul gave us in our Epistle, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
The Lord speaks through Zephaniah the prophet to all who boast in themselves. His words ought to strike fear in our hearts: “Then I will remove the proud boasters from among you, and you will never again be arrogant on my holy hill.” Whether it’s Zephaniah, or the Apostle Paul, Solomon in Proverbs, or Jesus Himself in the Beatitudes, the Word of God makes clear that blessings come to the humble, and judgment to the proud.
Zephaniah’s Message in Judah
Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of king Josiah in Judah. Josiah was a rare ‘good guy’ among the wicked kings of Judah before the Babylonian Captivity. Remember and honor his name! Josiah became king when he was only eight. His father Amon was assassinated. Amon had it coming. 2 Chronicles reports, (22-25) “He did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord…. Amon sacrificed to all the images that Manasseh his father had made, and he served them. 23But he did not humble himself before the Lord, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself. Instead, Amon even multiplied the guilt. 24His servants conspired against him and put him to death in his own house. 25Then the people … made his son Josiah king in his place.”
Others did the governing while Josiah was still a boy. But when he grew up and took control he shocked everyone. Despite his wicked father and grandfather, he became a believer.
Chronicles reports, “In the eighth year of his reign, when he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David. In the twelfth year he began to purify Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, the Asherah poles, the carved images, and the cast images. 4In his presence they tore down the altars of the Baals. He chopped down the sun pillars, which stood above them. He broke the Asherah poles, the carved images, and the cast images into pieces and ground them to dust, which he scattered over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. 5He burned the bones of their priests on their altars. In this way he purified Judah and Jerusalem.”
Next, in the 18th year of his reign, he started the ambitious project of cleansing and refurbishing the temple on Mount Zion. It was during that work, some years down the road, when the workmen famously found the Bible under junk in a back room of the temple, covered with dust. When they read it out loud, Josiah tore his robes and called on the whole nation of Judah to repent in sackcloth and ashes.
That’s what it means to humble yourself before the Lord.
Chances are that when Zephaniah delivered the words of this prophecy the temple mount was still crawling with idol-worshiping, self-serving, fat, rich boasters who made fun of the rube in the palace who wanted people to get back to God. “Ha! C’mon,” they thought. “Who’s he trying to kid. He’s just a kid himself. He doesn’t know how the world goes ’round.”
And so the Lord sent Zephaniah to preach, “Seek the Lord, all you humble people of the earth who have carried out his commands. Seek righteousness. Seek humility. Maybe then you will be sheltered in the day of the Lord’s anger. ….11In that day you will no longer bear the shame of your rebellions against me. Then I will remove the proud boasters from among you, and you will never again be arrogant on my holy hill.”
Zephaniah’s Message to the World
Zephaniah’s message was for the people of Judah in 600 bc. But it was also written for us today. “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be complete, well equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
God’s universal message through Zephaniah, as it also is through Paul and Jesus Himself is: Humble yourselves before God. Put yourself in perspective. You are dust and to dust you shall return. You are a sinner and God is holy. “I am weak, but He is strong—yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so. And that’s “The Blessing of Humility.” Only in lowliness, can we receive the gift of God. Only in repentance can we receive the forgiveness of God. Only in recognizing our weakness, can we truly experience the power of God.
Listen to Paul in the epistle: “Consider your call, brothers. Not many of you were wise from a human point of view, not many were powerful, and not many were born with high status. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are strong, 28and God chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to do away with the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:26–29).
It’s true that it’s harder for the rich and powerful to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. It’s true that those who love Jesus are the ones that felt the need of the love of God Who loved them first. It’s also true, ironically, that the rich and powerful are afraid of the weak. Why else do they attack Christianity and Christians. Everyone from media elites to Communist party leaders fear and attack the church. Go figure! The powerful fear the meek, but “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Or as Zephaniah puts it, “I will remove the proud boasters from among you, and you will never again be arrogant on my holy hill. 12But I will leave among you the people who are humble and weak.”
The Blessings in Humility
Why is that? Why is Jesus OK with us enduring persecution willingly? Why does He want us to humbly and meekly endure? Why does God promise blessings to the humble, rather than the proud? It’s because humility is the only way into the kingdom!
Isn’t that the central message John the Baptist preached? Isn’t that the same message Jesus preached? That’s what we heard in last week’s Gospel: Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17b). Repentance is all about humility, because repentance is recognizing what a mess we are, what worthlessness is in our own works. Rather than singing “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble,” Repentance is recognizing, “O Lord, it’s impossible to be anything but humble if I’m honest! When I look at your righteous requirements, when I look at my miserable record, when I recognize that even my humility and repentance is halfhearted, how can I do anything but tear my robes like Josiah, how can I not crawl on the ground in dust and ashes and weep and wail over my countless sins? O Lord, I get it. Even my righteous acts ‘are as filthy rags.’”
That’s why humility is the only way into the kingdom! Only Jesus can save us. And He did! God requires holiness. Yet we are anything but holy. We are nothing, but Jesus is everything! Jesus was holy. Jesus was perfect. Jesus kept the commandments that we didn’t. And He gives His holiness to any and all who humble themselves, who stop bragging about and trusting in themselves and who finally, out of desperation, trust in Him alone.
If you’re one of those, if you are humble enough to admit the worthlessness of your own works, and cry out with the Publican, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” then God eagerly and lovingly lifts you up—all the way to heaven. You are forgiven. “Blessed are the meek! Blessed are the humble, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
Fruits of God’s Elevation
Have you ever noticed that the nicest people on earth are the ones who are humble? People who’ve survived cancer, people who’ve looked death in the eye, people who’ve been wronged to the hilt and who survived purely by the grace of God…. People like that are the nicest people in the world, because they realize grace and only grace is the most powerful force in the world, and that Jesus—only Jesus—is their Redeemer.
And He is their Lord. Zephaniah concludes, “The Israelites who remain will no longer act unjustly. They will not lie, and a deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouth. Instead, they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down. No one will terrify them.”
Friends, that’s who you want to be. You want to be one of those humble people who knows grace and acts gracefully. You want to be one of those people who shares the grace of God with everyone you can, because you know, “there but by the grace of God go I. I was nothing, and God gave me the world and more! And I want you to have that too!”
The Blessings of Humility are forgiveness, life, and salvation. Drink them in! And share them with everyone! Amen.
Pastor Timothy Buelow
Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Lake Havasu City, Arizona