We spent our Thanksgiving service thinking about the idea of thanksgiving from the book of Zephaniah. I got the idea because Zephaniah 3:17 has been such an encouragement and cause for thanks in my own life, I wanted to spend more time tracing where it came from. We made the point that since thanksgiving requires an acknowledgement of a benefit received or promised, the degree to which you see yourself benefiting from God’s work on your behalf will determine your level of thankfulness
The book is addressed to the southern kingdom of Judah during Josiah’s reign. The first two chapters are pronouncements of judgment on first Judah then on the nations surrounding her. One of the things that struck me was that God’s judgment began with Judah, and the prophet spent as much time pronouncing judgment on Judah as he did all the other nations covered combined. The other thing that seemed really important was that according to 1:12, God’s judgment was not just directed at those who violently opposed Him but those who were simply ambivalent toward Him. All those who did not respond to God’s goodness with thanksgiving were equally doomed.
The reason for thankfulness is that God has made a way of escape from His judgment. Last week as we were discussing the persecuted church around the world we mentioned that God only promises escape to those who seek Him (Heb 2:3), and the escape from persecution might just be death, so we continued by asking what kind of escape had God provided for those who trusted Him?
The answer is twofold. First of all, God provides an escape that includes far more than just a lack of judgment – it includes great blessing. God does not just restore sinners to a “fresh start” where they can start digging their hole again, He actually grants them His favor by giving them the status of Jesus. He takes away both His judgments AND Judah’s enemies, and when He’s done he hangs out with His people (v15). We looked at several verses in chapter 3 that show us that it’s actually God who is doing the work to restore these lost sinners (esp. 3:9-13). He is the one who gives His people a pure heart with pure speech, and unites us and removes our shame. And it’s not because we’re so great that we deserve it – the passage describes those over whom God rejoices as lame, outcast and shamed (3:19).
So when God rejoices over lost sinners turning to Him with loud singing (3:17), He is actually rejoicing over Himself and His work on our behalf. When you consider how necessary it is for God to work in this way, it’s not hard to acknowledge the benefit those who put their faith in the one true God have received. That’s the key to growing a thankful heart.