Yesterday, we considered the words of Zephaniah 1, which one commentator has suggested are the most vivid description of divine wrath in the Bible. His anger in the first chapter, we saw, was directed at his people for their sin.
As we move into chapter 2, Yahweh’s anger continues to burn, but here it burns at the foreign nations who took advantage of his people. Yes, he would ordain judgement against his people, but the instruments of his judgement would overextend their arm and he would punish them for that. Chapter 2 essentially contains words of judgement against the whole then-known world for its oppression of God’s people.
The major sin that the Lord confronts in this chapter, which makes him so angry, is pride. It is the arrogance of the foreign nations that draws his ire. These nations were shamelessly arrogant (v. 1). Zephaniah rebukes them “for their pride, because they taunted and boasted against the people of the LORD of hosts” (v. 10). He describes the arrogant as an “exultant city that lived securely, that said in her heart, ‘I am and there is no one else’” (v. 15). Imagine mere creatures of the Creator declaring, “I am,” using the very name that God reserves for himself. What utter arrogance.
As you read Zephaniah 2, you are struck, as you were struck in chapter 1, by the seething anger of Yahweh against sin. Zephaniah does not seem—at least not yet—to be a book that rejoices in the grace of God. A commentary on Zephaniah, it seems, would probably not be called Gentle and Lowly! And yet, in the midst of the wrath we find in this book, hope begins to whisper. The reader who pays careful attention will notice glimpses of hope in chapter 2.
The chapter opens by calling the “shameless nation” to “gather together” (v. 1). And to what end should the gather? “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” (v. 2). There is hope for those who will humble themselves. The contrast in this chapter could not be clearer: There is no hope for those who persist in their arrogance, but wonderful whispers of hope for those who will humble themselves before Yahweh.
Those who have been around Christian theology for any amount of time know that humility is a virtue. Unfortunately, too many do not understand what humility is. The unbelieving world may associate humility with insecurity, indecisiveness, or inactivity, but this is not the picture of biblical humility. If we will heed Zephaniah’s call to humility, it is important that we understand the nature of true humility. Here, briefly, are three characteristics of Christian humility.
First, Christian humility recognises the believer’s utter dependence on God. Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10–14). The tax collector was commended for his humility because he recognised his dependence. Unlike the Pharisee, who boasted in his own righteousness, “the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Jesus commended the attitude of the tax collector and summarised the moral of the story: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Humility begins when we recognise our own sinfulness and cast ourselves entirely on the mercy of Christ for grace and forgiveness. Those who are humble recognise that, outside of Christ, they are in a desperate position and that they are utterly dependent on the mercy and kindness of God.
Second, Christian humility is unconcerned about power, prestige, or position. Jesus once concluded another teaching with the words, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” This time (Matthew 23:8–12) he urged his disciples not to seek positions of recognition or leadership. Don’t seek out positions for the sake of recognition, he warned. Instead, “the greatest among you shall be your servant.” When the disciples argued over who was the greatest, Jesus urged them instead to be “last of all and servant of all.”
Humility displays itself in despising rank and stooping to serve even the least of Christ’s disciples. It assumes the character of Christ who, though equal with his Father, subordinated himself in order to serve (Philippians 2:5–8).
Third, as difficult as it might be, humility gladly accepts the word and the will of God. Isaiah said it perhaps most clearly: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (66:2).
Humility recognises that God is right and we are not and therefore bows in gratitude and submission to his will, as revealed in his word.
Zephaniah 2 reminds us that God strongly opposes the proud but graciously showers mercy on the humble. As you reflect on this chapter today, ask for grace to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.