Heart of God: For all peoples

Howard Culbertson
Monday, March 24, 2014
Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, so that all of them may call on the name of the Lord” -- Zephaniah 3:9
 
Grim details of coming judgement fill the little book of Zephaniah. Mixed in, however, with images of fiery destruction and of places being laid waste comes Zephaniah 3:9 and words about redemptive transformation available to all.
 
Through Zephaniah, God declares His readines to cleanse all people everywhere of defilement.  He wants to do that in order that all may fully embrace Him. The purifying of lips is described in a few other places in the Bible.  That image symbolizes a cleansing made necessary because, as Hosea 2:17 and Psalm 16:4 note, people’s prayers to false gods have defiled them. 
 
The possibility raised by Zephaniah of Gentile people groups everywhere turning to Yahweh may have jarred at least some Jews of the 7th century B.C.  Nonetheless, “peoples” seems purposefully plural.  Indeed, God further emphasizes the global implications of the word by saying “all of them.”
 
That “all of them” phrase builds on older verses like Genesis 12:3 where God tells Moses, “Through you all peoples will be blessed.”  The phrase also looks forward to anticipate  Jesus’ “whoever believes” declaration in John 3:16.  In the words of Zephaniah 3:9, God may have had in mind the response to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost when people of cultural groups from around the Mediterranean called on the name of the Lord.  Zephaniah 3:9 also announces the door is open for the conversion of Gentiles like an Ethiopian government official (Acts 8), a Roman Centurion (Acts 10-11) and a jailer and his family in Philippi (Acts 16).
 
Four times in his three chapters, Zephaniah mentioned “the Day of the Lord.”  That phrase, used as well by other biblical authors, refers to End Times.  Here, in an Old Testament prophet’s words, is affirmation that the blessings of the Day of the Lord will be for all peoples.  Isn’t the image in Revelation 7:9 of worshippers “from every nation, tribe, people and language” therefore a logical outcome of Zephaniah 3:9?
 
Tragically, at least one-third of the world’s popualtion has yet to hear of the One on whom Zephaniah says they must call for salvation.  To the Romans, the Apostle Paul asked:  “How shall they call on Him in whom they have not heard” (Romans 10:14).  As Paul was writing those words, was Zephaniah’s phrase “all of them may call on the name of the Lord” on his heart?
 
God stands ready.  Indeed, He seems anxious that all peoples everywhere call on Him.  The sad thing is that many, many people groups still have not heard.  Paul’s solution to that dilemma is that we must go to them and tell them.  If Zephaniah were here today, wouldn’t that be actualy what he would encourage us to do?