At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord. (Zephaniah 3:20)
Zephaniah was one of Yahweh’s prophets of judgment, who foretold the day of the Lord — both the near day of judgment against Judah (Zephaniah 1:4–13; 2:2; 3:7) and the future day of judgment against the entire world (Zephaniah 1:1–3, 14–18; 3:8).
Such warnings, however, only provided the context for the book’s main purpose, which was to muster tireless trust in God’s faithfulness to preserve and ultimately satisfy his believing remnant, even through judgment. Zephaniah’s summons to submit by “seeking” and “waiting upon” Yahweh becomes a summons to satisfaction, culminating in the joy of the redeemed in their King and in his salvation, and the joy of the Savior in those whom he has saved (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:8, 14–15, 17).
At That Time
With the shadows of judgment looming, Zephaniah’s greatest motivation for patiently pursuing God comes in his glorious vision of future hope that is held out for all who persevere in faith. Growing out of the fires of judgment will come a new creation that will include transformed worshipers from the nations of the world (Zephaniah 3:8–10). And with God’s wrath now satisfied, having been poured out on the sinners or on the Substitute, the implications of this renewal are glorious for the faithful remnant of Judah (Zephaniah 3:11–20).
The book’s final verse includes a magnificent portrait of hope. It begins “at that time” — when the proud are removed and the God-dependent are preserved (Zephaniah 3:11–13), when the saving King’s irreversible victory gives rise to shouts of joy from those rescued (Zephaniah 3:14–15), and when Yahweh both delivers and takes delight in his remnant (Zephaniah 3:16–19).
“At that time” Yahweh will rally his redeemed together for a key reason. The NASB, ESV, and NIV all treat the admiration and acclaim (in Hebrew, “name” and “praise”) as something the remnant of Judah receives from the onlooking world: “I will give you renown/honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth” (NASB/NIV); “I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth” (ESV).
Elsewhere, God clearly promises to exalt his own before the world’s eyes. Fulfilling their original mission, his people would stand as a kingdom of priests and holy nation, mediating and displaying God’s greatness to the world (Exodus 19:5–6; 1 Peter 2:9; cf. Deuteronomy 4:6–8; 28:1; Isaiah 60:18; Revelation 5:10). And then God would give them a new and exalted name (Genesis 12:2; Isaiah 56:5; 62:2; 65:15; 66:22; cf. Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 1:7; 5:4).
However, this text does not say that Yahweh would give his redeemed fame and acclaim. Instead, using the preposition “to/for,” the verse declares that Yahweh will set his people in the center of the world “for a name and for praise.” Whose name and whose praise is at the fore? The closest parallel texts suggest that Yahweh’s worth and Yahweh’s honor is the ultimate goal of the new creation.
It is God’s name, God’s fame that is to be exalted in the lives of his saints. As asserted by Zephaniah’s younger contemporary Jeremiah, Yahweh originally set his people apart in order “that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen” (Jeremiah 13:11; cf. Deuteronomy 26:19).
Transformed for Worship
Nevertheless, in the new covenant, when sins are forgiven and loyalty is enabled, Yahweh declares that his people “shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth” (Jeremiah 33:9; cf. Isaiah 55:12–13; 61:10–62:3). That is, as Ezekiel would testify, by Yahweh’s doing a transforming work within his people by his Spirit before the eyes of the nations, he would act “for the sake of my holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22–23, 26–27; cf. 39:25).
The prophet Zechariah captured the meaning well when he asserted that the delivered flock of God would be “like the jewels of a crown” that would magnify God’s “goodness” and God’s “beauty” (Zechariah 9:16–17).
The ultimate end of new covenant transformation is worship. All things are from God, through God, and to God (Romans 11:36; cf. Colossians 1:16). The new creation, now inaugurated through Christ and his church is about God (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). It is about his glory, his Son, his greatness, his exaltation among the peoples of the planet.
Even today as we gather for worship, may our lives be marked by the matchless worth of God in Christ, that all “may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16; cf. 9:8; John 15:8; 2 Corinthians 9:13; Philippians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:10).