Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Seek and Hide

A very short chunk of Zephaniah today, and yet a blink of encouragement and good news in the midst of the building gloom surrounding the fearsome and awesome day of the Lord, when God will judge Israel and the nations.

Zephaniah 2:1 continues in the stream of gloom - promising the burning anger of the LORD. The prophet calls for the shameless nation to gather together, yet it seems that even an assembly of the people of Israel will be able to change things. The purpose and course of God's wrath is set - it is the LORD's anger. The capital letters LORD is the covenant-making and covenant-keeping LORD, who will fulfill the covenant perfectly, either through rewards and blessing for those who obey, or through curses and punishment for those who disobey. Israel and Judah have turned aside, so the covenant calls for their punishment.

A bleak situation indeed. One we're becoming very familiar with in Zephaniah's book. Yet at this moment when things seem to be so dark, so set, so certain, there is a glimmer of hope. 2:3 says this:

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
perhaps you may be hidden
on the day of the anger of the LORD.

Even in the face of certain judgement, there is the offer of grace. Even to hardened rebels, there is the final opportunity of mercy in this instance. Firstly, there is some seeking, and then there may be some hiding.

The humble of the land are being addressed - those who know their place, who are not lifted up or full of themselves. Those who, on hearing of the problem of sin, are convicted and repentant, rather than being brazen and stubborn. They are urged to seek the LORD, to seek righteousness, and humility. They are to seek out how to be right with God, to be in a right relationship with God and therefore live out of that right relationship.

It's not something that we can just do once and think that we've finished it. Rather, seeking righteousness and humility is an upside down turn around for us, something that has to be continually worked at (building on the finished work of Christ).

For those who seek righteousness and humility, who obey the LORD's commands, there is a remarkable answer. Normally we think of hide and seek, but here is it seek and hide: those who have sought the LORD may be hidden on the day of anger.

Remember, earlier we had the image of the LORD searching Jerusalem with lamps to punish the complacent - there was no hiding place for the wicked. Yet here, there may be a hiding place for those who seek righteousness, those who are in right relationship with God - precisely because they will have been hidden from the wrath.

It's like the picture of a nuclear bunker - the world is destroyed in a nuclear explosion. Plant life, animal life, humans, all wiped out, apart from those who are hidden from the blast in the bunker. But where is this hiding place? Where is it that is the place to be hidden when the wrath of the LORD is unleashed?

You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
(Psalm 32:7)

God himself is the only hiding place, the only secure place in the day of wrath. For Christians, after the cross, we can see that as Jesus himself bore our sins on the tree, bearing our punishment, paying our debt, he is indeed the hiding place - within that spear-pierced side. Jesus protects us from his wrath, and we who shelter there are safe. Indeed, as the old hymn says:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.

Seek the LORD, and you will be hidden in him.

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