The John 3:16 of the Old Testament
“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 3:17 ESV
One of the most beautiful poetic passages of the Old Testament is Zephaniah 3:17. It has been described as “the John 3:16 of the Old Testament.” Sadly, it has been frequently overlooked because of its obscure location within the Minor Prophets. The book of Zephaniah carries a message of doom and the coming wrath of God, followed by a message of hope and blessing upon God’s chosen remnant. And it is in this message of hope that we find our beautiful passage of promise. Similar to its sister verse in the New Testament, it carries a great summary of God’s love. The verse has five statements about God’s loving response to His people. Let us take a moment and consider each of these five statements.
The Lord your God is in your midst. God’s presence is not limited to His leading and protecting. Here, His presence is expressed in another meaningful way; for He is in the midst of every action done by His people. His presence continually permeates the lives of His children. To put it another way, He is their constant companion. No matter what season of life or what difficulties we might face, we can be rest assured that God is always with us. God’s faithfulness to His people is never in question or uncertain.
He is a mighty one who will save. God is our helping hero who protects delivers us and provides salvation to His people. Other translations help provide a deeper understanding of this statement. The New American Standard Version says He is a “victorious Warrior.” The New Revised Standard Version describes him as “the one who gives victory.” The New Living Translation calls Him “a mighty Savior.” However articulated, we can gather a few truths. First, we need deliverance and saving. Second, God mightily saves us. Third, the victory is not ours to claim; for the victory belongs to the Lord.
He will rejoice over you with gladness. God has happy thoughts towards His people. He is filled with gladness and rejoices over His children. Like a proud father filled with pride over His children, God celebrates over us with an indescribable joy. And no matter what transpires in life, we can know that our loving Father will always orchestrate a symphony of life events with our best interest in mind.
He will quiet you by His love. Throughout the centuries, theologians have struggled with this particular portion of the text. The Hebrew reads “He will be silent in His love.” The King James Version says, “He will rest in His love.” The New International Version says, “In His love He will no longer rebuke you.” Undoubtedly, the meaning behind this statement has been thoroughly debated. But no matter which way the statement is understood, the wording is quite stirring and carries good news for the children of God. It means that God will keep silent pertaining to the sins of His people, and that the love He has for His children is so strong and deep that it is accompanied with an overwhelming silence.
He will exult over you with loud singing. Here we see that our heavenly Father’s rejoicing over His children is so exuberant, that He actually breaks out in song. The word for singing in the Hebrew means “a ringing cry.” But even more interesting, His singing is described as “loud.” This simply points to the intensity of the song. Think about that for just a moment; God the Father sings passionate lullabies to His children! Knowing this gives greater meaning to the joy we have in calling Him “Abba, Father.”
I pray that Zephaniah 3:17 would be a banner of blessing in your life; for His banner over us is love (Song of Solomon 2:4). And let us not be guilty of only reading these great descriptions of God’s love, but that we would relish and savor them! Ask God today to help you embrace His unending love!
– Pastor Eric