Josiahs Need Zephaniahs

Scripture Focus: Zephaniah 3.1-5
1 Woe to the city of oppressors, 
rebellious and defiled! 
2 She obeys no one, 
she accepts no correction. 
She does not trust in the Lord, 
she does not draw near to her God. 
3 Her officials within her 
are roaring lions; 
her rulers are evening wolves, 
who leave nothing for the morning. 
4 Her prophets are unprincipled; 
they are treacherous people. 
Her priests profane the sanctuary 
and do violence to the law. 
5 The Lord within her is righteous; 
he does no wrong. 
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, 
and every new day he does not fail, 
yet the unrighteous know no shame. 

Reflection: Josiahs Need Zephaniahs
By John Tillman

Zephaniah ministered during the early reign of child-king Josiah. Zephaniah and Josiah have a common relative. They each trace their heritage back to Hezekiah. 

Zephaniah’s writing condemned the established officials, political bureaucrats, the priesthood, and the prophets. These writings may have influenced Josiah when, eight years into his reign, the 16-year-old began to “seek the God of his father, David.” (2 Chronicles 34.3) 

Josiah had many faithful “fathers” to look back to, including Hezekiah, Uzziah, and Jehosaphat, as well as faithful “uncles” like Zephaniah. However, none were perfect. The biblical narrative highlights this.

The changes Josiah implemented were the most complete and remarkable revival in Judah’s history. Josiah is the last “good” leader Judah has before she falls. His reign was a bright flash of possibility before everything went dark.

We are often tempted to think of “the good old days” with an idealistic glow recalling the past in the best possible light. However, the history of any country, any city, or any individual, is a mixed bag. Nostalgia doesn’t do us any favors.

When Zephaniah called Jerusalem, “the city of oppressors” he wasn’t being overdramatic. Israel went from being oppressed to being liberated, to being oppressors themselves. God warned them from the start that the kings they demanded would become oppressors. (1 Samuel 8.6-19) The kings, beginning with Saul, proved God right, modeling themselves on other nations.

The leaders Zephaniah condemned wanted God to powerfully save them from Assyria. They wanted a revival of the economy and of their military power…they just weren’t willing to have a spiritual revival that required any level of sacrifice or repentance.

If we long to see youth, like Josiah, rise up to lead revival instead of abandoning faith, we need to be like Zephaniah, unafraid to boldly speak of, condemn, and repent of sin. There’s no use skirting the truth about individual, city-wide, or national sins. Sins hidden grow stronger. Sins denied become recurring. Sins defended become systemic. The next generation needs us to model condemning our past sins, confessing them, and being free. Josiahs need Zephaniahs.

We have a common heritage in a greater king than Hezekiah. We trace our righteousness not to ourselves or our past but to Jesus. He is the standard we should point to and the one true king we must teach future generations to serve and model themselves after.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 3 (Listen – 3:38)
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

Read more about He Rejoices Over Us
Zephaniah looks forward with joy to when Israel’s purpose would be fulfilled in God.

Read more about Learning from the Suffering
Many “deconstructors” are spurred into this process by suffering. Some experienced sexual abuse or abuse of power. Many witnessed the defense and covering up of these kinds of abuse.

He Became a Servant

Scripture Focus: Habakkuk 3.2, 13-19
2 Lord, I have heard of your fame; 
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. 
Repeat them in our day, 
in our time make them known; 
in wrath remember mercy. 

13 You came out to deliver your people, 
to save your anointed one. 
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, 
you stripped him from head to foot. 
14 With his own spear you pierced his head

From John: This reflection on Habakkuk 3 from Advent in 2018 is equally relevant in May of 2022 as it was then.

Reflection: He Became a Servant
By John Tillman

Habakkuk’s psalm longs for the Lord to make himself known as he had in the past. 

The prophet seems to be referencing the Exodus from Egypt, as he depicts God marching out with plagues and pestilence. He recalls God intervening to save Israel from the oncoming armies of Pharaoh. 

Habakkuk trusts that calamity will come on the nation that conquers Judah, but that does not bring him joy. No matter that all seems to be failing around him, his joy will come from God.

What Habakkuk waited for, we have seen in Jesus. God served the enslaved Israelite nation by coming as a mighty warrior, a liberator. Jesus enacted a different kind of Exodus from a different kind of slavery. He attacked sin and death itself, not by becoming a warrior but by becoming a servant.

Jesus also marched out, with his face set like flint toward those he came to save and what he came to do. But instead of bringing with him destruction and plagues, he brought compassion and healing. Instead of girding himself with armor and taking up weaponry, he stripped himself and took up a towel. Instead of slaying the firstborn of Egypt, Jesus, the only begotten son of the Father, offered himself to be slain.

And just like Pharoah rushed into the parted sea with his armies, thinking he had won, Satan must have thought the cross a moment of victory. Instead, it was the instrument of his destruction.

Habakkuk wanted God to make himself known, and he has done so in the person of Jesus. Jesus is our perfect and complete picture of what God is like. He is still among us as one who serves and we are to be like him.

May we serve him well by serving others. Worldly leaders will continue to puff themselves up. Kings will continue to abuse their power. Darkness will continue to wage a futile war against light. But as for us, we will rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in God our Savior.

May the Sovereign Lord be your strength, making your feet like those of a deer, to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3.18-19; Psalm 18.33)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

Today’s Readings
Habakkuk 3 (Listen – 2:59)
Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

This Weekend’s Readings

Zephaniah 1 (Listen – 3:09), Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)
Zephaniah 2 (Listen – 2:44), Mark 10 (Listen – 6:42)

Read more about God, Can You Hear Me?
Honest reflection on suffering is how the book of Habakkuk opens. The heart of the prophet cried out to God. Was God deaf to his pain?

Read more about Anointed Servants
Jesus’ 33-year incarnation was a long, elaborate ritual which tore open the curtain of the Temple, allowing us to enter God’s presence.

Woe to Abusers and Victimizers

Scripture Focus: Habakkuk 2.15-17
15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, 
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, 
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies! 
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory. 
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed! 
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, 
and disgrace will cover your glory. 
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, 
and your destruction of animals will terrify you. 
For you have shed human blood; 
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

Reflection: Woe to Abusers and Victimizers
By John Tillman

Habakkuk describes the host of a party who betrays his neighbors by getting them drunk and then taking sexual advantage of them. This story has a chillingly familiar ring. 

The details could be copied from today’s headlines. It is similar to reports of heinous actions exposed during the #MeToo era. The betrayal goes beyond the sexual element. These people were neighbors who trusted their host and accepted drinks poured by his hand. Only afterward did they realize the person they thought was friendly was victimizing them. What seemed like generosity was selfishness and what seemed like hospitality was making them hostages to the host’s lust.

No era has ever been without sexual abuse and sin. However, this description by Habakkuk is metaphorical. The scene he paints is about a larger, worldwide pattern of abuse. The host in this metaphor is Babylon. Nations who allied themselves politically with Babylon bought into the hype of Babylon’s greatness and superiority. They thought they were guests at this party enjoying the wealth and spoils of Babylon’s reign, but actually, they were just victims lured into a trap. They were eventually despoiled and humiliated.

When we sip from the cup of empires, we will be dominated and controlled by them. It’s easy for us to be suckered and find ourselves victims of those who at first seem to be on our side. Whenever and wherever we live there are and will be those who will seek to take advantage of us.

Babylon, like Nineveh, was a city built on bloodshed and humiliation. Habakkuk proclaimed that exactly what was done by Babylon to others would be done to them in return. God will bring justice to victimizers and abusers. All the wickedness they think they have gotten away with will be exposed. They will be the ones naked and exposed and shamed. Let us pray for that day.

Let us pray that all victims, nations, groups, and individuals will see justice fall on their abusers and victimizers. Let us pray that abusers’ defenses and excuses and denials will be stripped from them. Let us pray that all victims would find shelter, acceptance, care, and healing in the arms of the church. 

And finally, let us pray that we will be wise and discerning, not easily falling into the traps set by those who would take sexual, spiritual, or political advantage of us. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

Today’s Readings
Habakkuk 2 (Listen – 3:20)
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

Read more about Beyond Consent
Our culture has groomed many of us to accept the idea that the “freedom” of unlimited sexual experiences is harmless

Read more about Degrading Each Other
As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own…

God, Can You Hear Me?

Scripture Focus: Habakkuk 1.2
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?

Mark 6.27
27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison…

Reflection: God, Can You Hear Me?
By Erin Newton

Recently, Beth Moore posted on Twitter, “Aren’t there times when you raise your face to the sky and say, Lord, do you care that you have nearly killed me??” The post gained quick responses of affirmation and personal anecdotes of others in pain. This honest reflection on suffering is how the book of Habakkuk opens.

The prophet looked at the culture around him and saw only violence, destruction, injustice, and strife. The heart of the prophet cried out to God. Was God deaf to his pain? The legal system which was meant to bring wholeness, peace, and justice was perverted and paralyzed. It was a world much like our society today.

The Lord answered the prophet with a forecast of something unpredictable. The future was going to continue to be painful. What dreadful news! The prophet struggled to make sense of it all. Tolerating evil was the antithesis to the character of God.

This perplexing tolerance of injustice can be felt at the individual level. In the gospels, John the Baptist is imprisoned for his criticism of Herod. In prison, he likely doubted if he had risked his life for false hope. He sent his messengers to inquire of Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus responds with tales of the miraculous healings that had taken place, fulfillments of the messianic prophecies. Jesus proclaimed his omnipotence. He was the Messiah. But John remained in prison. The Lord, all-powerful and all-knowing, healed the sick but allowed his friend to be bound by an oppressor. His answer was also a future of more pain.

In her book, Gold by Moonlight, Amy Carmichael reflects on the question John the Baptist sent to Jesus and Jesus’ answer in return. “That is the word for you. The Father trusts His broken child to trust.” It is a hard word to hear. We want God to answer with pleasant words. We call out to the Good Shepherd hoping that he will let us rest beside still waters. We despair and cry out, “Are you really God?”

It can feel like God is slow to respond. We confuse the patience of God as the endorsement of evil. Habakkuk struggled with God’s answer because it didn’t seem to fit his character. In the end, he will praise God and trust that God is still good.

When we are broken, may our faith sustain us as we trust in his timing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

Today’s Readings
Habakkuk (Listen – 2:39)
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

Read more about Ordinary Measure of Faithfulness
The Shunammite woman is a tale of the slow, quiet, and ordinary walk of faithfulness.

Read more about Occupation of Meditation
Meditation and occupation with God’s Word can bring us peace in our frustrations, and give us power to oppose evil and help the suffering in this world.

Transforming Cities of Blood

Scripture Focus: Nahum 3.1-3
1 Woe to the city of blood, 
full of lies, 
full of plunder, 
never without victims! 
2 The crack of whips, 
the clatter of wheels, 
galloping horses 
and jolting chariots! 
3 Charging cavalry, 
flashing swords 
and glittering spears! 
Many casualties, 
piles of dead, 
bodies without number, 
people stumbling over the corpses…

Reflection: Transforming Cities of Blood
By John Tillman

“Woe to the city of blood,” Nahum says. 

God is often described as a vineyard owner or farmer, but God also loves cities. God will one day unite our world with the city of Heaven. This heavenly city will also be a life-giving garden with a tree at its heart, providing healing to the nations.

Cities can produce life, industry, and creativity, and can bless the surrounding country. Instead, Nineveh is built on blood. Ease of life for the powerful is whipped from the bodies of slaves. The profit of industry rolls on wheels that crush the poor. Cavalry, sword, and spear enforce the will of prideful tyrants, setting themselves up as gods among men.

God placed humans in a garden to cultivate the earth, but as soon as we got the chance we made cities rather than gardens. Cain, cast far from his agricultural family, plants a city. Rather than a harvest of righteousness, suffering and oppression bloomed. The great cities of humanity throughout the scripture (Babylon and Nineveh are archetypes) are symbols of human rebellion. Cities in their mold run counter to our divine vocation.

One false narrative says that cities are always evil and “small towns” are always good. Another says that cities are always wise and sophisticated and outlying areas are populated by rubes and fools. Christians shouldn’t fall for either of these. Big doesn’t equal malevolent and small doesn’t equal benevolent. A city with a population under 1,000 can be a city of blood as easily as one with millions of citizens. We should be honest evaluators of ourselves, our culture, and our communities, considering them with sober judgment. (Romans 12.2-3)

Do we live in “cities of blood?” We might be shocked to think of our communities as “Nineveh” but if we open our eyes and ears we might find similarities. Can we honestly say we don’t notice modern versions of Nineveh’s whips and chariot wheels? Don’t we see, metaphorically, the blood of the poor and bodies of the discarded in our streets? Don’t we see people bowing down to leaders who set themselves up as god-like saviors?

The false urban versus rural dichotomy obscures the fact that no matter if you plant a city or a garden, God judges it by its fruit. Whether in the city or in the countryside, God loves cultivation. Wherever we reside, transforming communities is a divine mission.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

Today’s Readings
Nahum 3 (Listen – 3:04)
Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)

Read more about Moving Into the City
Cities simultaneously hold some of the greatest potential for our planet and the greatest evils.

Read more about No Such Thing as God Forsaken
It may be a long road and a long exile between condemnation and redemption. May we not lose hope in our God or hope for our cities.