Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3.14-17.
Almost all the prophecies of Zephaniah are about “the day of the Lord” — the day when the “King of Israel” will be “in the midst” of his people. And here, in this morning’s reading, that King of Israel is identified as being none other than God himself: “the LORD your God, a mighty one who will save.” What a wonderful description of the Lord Jesus … for that is who Zephaniah is talking about! When, 600 years later, Nathaniel first meets Jesus, he says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1.49).
But what a wonderful description too of the way the King will relate to those whom he saves and who belong to him … He will rejoice over them with gladness; he will quiet them by his love; and he will exult over them with loud singing.
I begin with the second of these phrases, however, because, as I see it, it is the key to the whole picture that is being presented here. A glance at the way the Hebrew phrase is translated in different versions of the Bible will show that there are differing views on what it means. The ASV, Derby and KJV all have “he will rest in his love.” The MKJV has “he is silent in his love.” And then a number of other versions, NAB, NEB, RSV, and JB, for example, that have phrases on the lines of “he will renew you in his love.” To arrive at the idea of renewal, however, the translators of these last-mentioned versions have all changed the Hebrew word from charash (“will quiet”) to chadash (“will renew”) with no justification other than that (so far as they are able to see) the idea of “quieting with love” doesn’t make sense. And that was the problem that led the other translators to come up with their alternatives to “quiet you by his love.”
But why? Have none of them ever had to deal with a distressed child in the middle of the night? To quieten with love is surely something that any parent knows all about. “Shhhh! Shhhh! There … there. Mummy (or Daddy) is here.” And he/she picks the little one up, holds it to his/her breast, and rocks it gently until all the crying has ceased. This is what Jesus does to each of his own as they cry out in the darkness of this present age. He soothes, he comforts, he imparts that peace that passes all understanding, his peace, the peace that the world cannot give … he quietens with love.
The same image lies behind “rejoicing over them with gladness” and the final phrase. I have a young friend whom I watch as he holds the one he calls his “Champ” — his first-born son. Every fibre of his being cries out with joy as he bounces the little one in his arms. Every look and word and action expresses his sheer delight in the wonder of being the father of such a child. And, yes, in his joy, he does indeed “exult over him with loud singing.” It is what parents of new babies do, and it is what God in Christ — the King whose among us — does over each of his own.
The King is among us,
His Spirit is here:
let’s draw near and worship,
let songs fill the air!
He looks down upon us,
delight in His face,
enjoying His children’s love,
enthralled by our praise.
For each child is special,
accepted and loved
a love gift from Jesus
to His Father above.