The God Who Sings
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.
Have you ever been reading the Bible and had a verse stop you in your tracks? That’s what happened to me the first time I read Zephaniah 3:17 many years ago. I read it. I stopped. Then I read and re-read it a few more times. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Look again at what Scripture says here. The Lord, your God, “will rejoice over you with gladness.” He “will quiet you by his love.” He “will exult over you with loud singing.” Rejoicing? Exulting? Loud singing? Over us? Over sinners?
In his commentary on Zephaniah in the NICOT series, O. Palmer Robertson calls this verse “the John 3:16 of the OT.” He says it brings us into the Holy of Holies (p.339). This is certainly true. I’m also reminded of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). This language about God in Zephaniah 3:17 reminds me of how the father of the prodigal son reacts when his son returns to him. The father in that parable represents God, and what does the father do when he sees his lost son returning? He runs. For the one who was lost.
What makes Zephaniah 3:17 even more powerful is its context. The first two-thirds of Zephaniah contain some of the most fearsome oracles of judgment found in Scripture. Judah has forsaken God and broken the covenant. God had warned the people through Moses of what would happen if they did this. They failed to listen, forsook God, and now the curses that Moses had promised as a result of such sin were imminent. Zephaniah is now sent to warn them of the coming Day of the Lord.
However, after all of these dire warnings, Zephaniah turns in the final section of his prophecy to God’s promise of salvation on the other side of this coming judgment. Zephaniah 3:17 falls within this final part of the prophecy.
Observe what God commands His people to do in verse 14 of chapter 3: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” The people are being called to rejoice about the coming salvation even though judgment is coming first, and it's coming soon. Why? Because judgment is not the final word. God will not completely forsake His people. He will preserve and purify a faithful remnant.
In verses 15–16, we read about God’s coming redemption of His people: “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.”
Then we read those amazing words in verse 17: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save . . .”
Your God, the mighty One, the Creator of heaven and earth, the infinite, eternal, immutable God, is in your midst. For centuries, God had been in the midst of His people in the tabernacle and temple. But His presence would be removed as judgment fell upon Israel (cf. Ezek. 10). Here Zephaniah points to a time when God will be in their midst again.
He continues by talking about the love of God for His people, but the way he describes that love is what is so amazing: The LORD your God “will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
God has called his people to “sing and shout, to rejoice and exult!” Now it is said that God Himself rejoices and exults and sings over His people. Can we even begin to fathom that? If we by God’s grace are His people, He rejoices and exults and sings over us. It’s almost incomprehensible! The love of God Almighty for us overflows into singing and rejoicing over us!
It’s so incomprehensible because we know that we are sinners, deserving of nothing but God’s wrath. And the first part of Zephaniah vividly describes that wrath. We know we deserve hell.
But if we are sinners who are saved by grace, sinners who have trusted in Jesus Christ, the One who has died for our sins and who is now risen from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father, we don't receive what we deserve.
The Lord our God pours out His love, rather than His wrath, on us. He rejoices over us with gladness. He quiets us by his love. And he exults over us with loud singing.
Imagine how loud heaven will be.