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
The Lord brought this beautiful verse to my attention one morning recently as I was battling an unsettled heart. Where do we turn, how do we respond, when life seems out of control on so many levels?
The prophet Zephaniah was speaking to the Jewish nation during the time of King Josiah, when massive spiritual reforms were being carried out in the nation of Israel. Although much was being done to make things right with God on the surface, unfortunately the hearts of the people were still far from Him. Yet after Zephaniah had warned the Israelites and called them to repentance, he closed his message with these beautiful promises of restoration. One day, God will make all things right. His covenant relationship with His people will endure and His love will draw them to Himself.
And here’s the best part: because we, as believers in Christ, have been “adopted” into God’s covenant family, these promises belong to us as well! (see Ephesians 3:6) Let’s take a closer look at them:
The LORD your God is in your midst…
Especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty, it is critical that we guard our minds. Satan loves to distract us with worst case scenarios, condemnation, and insecurity (among other things). We battle him by fixing our minds on the promises of God; on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8). Yet if you are like me, it’s not always easy to get my emotions and my body to follow the example of my mind! Even as I strive to fix my thoughts on Christ, my spirit can still feel oppressed and my stomach can still roil. This phrase in Zephaniah 3:17 encourages me. While the prophet is telling the people that God is in their midst collectively, it also applies on a personal level. The Hebrew word for “midst” literally means the “inward part” in a physical sense, as in the very center of the human body. One definition uses the word “entrails”! The Lord’s presence is not only in the midst of my circumstances; He is also present in the midst of my physical being by His Spirit. He understands the frailty of the human emotions, the human body—He knows that we are but dust—and He is there in the midst with us.
A Mighty One who will save…
My dad was a large, strong man with a tender heart for others and an unwavering commitment to following Jesus. In writing about our father’s life, my brother Steve describes what happened one summer day when we were kids, vacationing with our family in New York City. We were standing in a long, hot line to see the Statue of Liberty when we suddenly became aware of an altercation in front of us: three young men in their late teens or early twenties were looming aggressively over a woman and her two kids while shouting profanities. Steve writes:
The biggest of the youths took another step forward and raised his right hand threateningly: “You better shut your mouth, @#$%&!, or I’m gonna smack your face.” Dad was standing beside me…I felt his hand on my shoulder, pulling me back as he stepped forward.
“No, you’re NOT.”
(When I remembered this event later, what leapt to mind was the episode in the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel, when God speaks from heaven. And—it goes on to say—"some said it thundered.”)
Dad was chest to chest with the tallest of the youths.
It was suddenly both loud and quiet. It felt as if those three words from Dad—statement, command, and threat—continued to resonate around the room. But now no one else was speaking. Everyone was turned toward Dad and the three young men staring intently at one another.
Probably only two seconds passed. But two full seconds. Completely silent.
And then it was over.
The ringleader waved dismissively at Dad and made a loud ‘pffff’ sound as he turned and walked toward the exit.
I felt safe—secure, protected—with Dad. That’s one of the things that strikes me as I recall that morning at the feet of Lady Liberty. I did feel the adrenaline charge of conflict and danger, but once Dad stepped in front of me, I felt secure and confident. If the same incident happened to me today, I’d be nervous the rest of the day. (What if those kids are going out to their car to get a gun and then come back in here after me?). But I went through the rest of the day and the rest of the trip without ever looking over my shoulder.
Remembering that incident gives me just the tiniest inkling of what it means when God says He is the Mighty One who will save. How infinitely more powerful, how much greater our Champion who steps forward to rescue and defend; and how comforting is the security and confidence that is ours as we stand in His shadow.
As His children, we need never look over our shoulder.
He will rejoice over you with gladness…He will exult over you…
In the remaining phrases of this verse, the “rejoicing” words just pile on top of one another as if to emphasize the excessiveness of God’s joy in His people. “Rejoicing,” “gladness,” and “exult” are all various words for “joy” in Hebrew, all expressing different aspects of an overflowing heart. Brightness, cheerfulness, gaiety, mirth—even “spinning around”—are just a few of the definitions given for these words. He even sings over us in His joy! Sometimes it’s easier to believe that God loves us than to grasp the concept that He also delights in us…
But He does.
He will quiet you by His love…
This line is expressed differently in some versions of the Bible. Warren Wiersbe says, “The Hebrew phrase has been variously explained: ‘He will quiet you with His love’; ‘He will be silent in His love’ (i.e., not bring up your past sins); ‘He will renew you in His love.' Perhaps it all means the same thing: A new and deeper relationship with God will bring peace and joy and make all things new.” Regardless of which way it is translated, the idea of restfulness is conveyed as being the fruit of a deep love relationship with the Father.
So, returning to our original question: when we are feeling unsettled in spirit or perhaps a little off-kilter as life seems to careen around us, where do we turn? How do we respond?
We turn to the One Who is in our midst; Who is mighty to save; Who rejoices over and delights in His children; Who quiets us by His love.
Memorize it, meditate on it, say it out loud! For as the mind soaks more and more in these truths, we finally find the pathway to internal rest.
“Concerning the storm you may be going through even now
or perhaps will face tomorrow, the Lord is not wondering if you’re going to make it. He’s resting in His love. He knows He’s going to see you through.
Therefore, if Jesus is at rest, you can rest as well.”