The Promise of International Unity

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 18 March 2010.


“For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9).

The book of Zephaniah is one of the least known of the minor prophets. Few of us, I believe, have any impression about this book. If I ask you about Jonah, I am sure you will speak of a whale. If I ask you about Joel, you will speak about locusts. If I ask you about Nahum, you will speak about Nineveh. If I ask you about Habakkuk, you will speak about justification by faith. But most us will draw a blank when asked about Zephaniah.

Yet Zephaniah is a very important inspired book of the Bible from which we can draw many precious lessons, and therefore we must not shy from studying it.

The name Zephaniah means “Yahweh Hides.” And Zephaniah had a rich ancestry. None of the prophets have their ancestry traced back four generations like in the case of Zephaniah.

1:1 Zephaniah [was] the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah,

Who is this Hizkiah? Well the fact that Zephaniah traces his ancestry back to him suggests that he is someone famous, and we only know the only person named Hezekiah who is King Hezekiah.

So Zephaniah was of the kingly line. He was the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah.

And Zephaniah ministered during the days of Josiah. Josiah was the great grandson of Hezekiah. So Zephaniah would be a nephew of Josiah,—although in all probability, when Zephaniah began his ministry, Josiah was but a young boy. He was a boy uncle to the older Zephaniah!

Now, you will remember that Josiah was only 8 years old when he became king. When he was 18 years old, Josiah would lead Judah and Jerusalem in a great reformation like in the days of Hezekiah. But for the first 10 years of his reign, the people of God were steeped in apostasy and idolatry. This is because his father and grandfather, Amon and Manasseh, were very wicked kings. Manasseh eventually repented under the severe chastisement of the Lord, but the damage was already done.

From all indications, the prophecy of Zephaniah was preached during these first ten years of Josiah’s reign. Zephaniah, in other words, would have been used by the Lord to instruct Josiah and to prepare his heart for the great work that he would do on his 18th year.

Let us who are parents therefore not underestimate what the Word of God can do in the teenage years of our children.

But in this study, the LORD helping us, we want to consider one of the many promises found in this book. In particular, we want to look at Zephaniah 3:9—

For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.

Let us consider this prophetic promise under 3 heads. First, let us consider who the beneficiaries of this promise are. Secondly, what is the blessing promised? Thirdly, what is the result of the promise?


1. The Beneficiaries of the Promise

Who are this people? Zephaniah does not make it clear, but the Hebrew is in the plural so some translators render it ‘peoples’ rather than the singular ‘people.’ But it does not matter, for the people of God would no longer be contained within the geographic boundary of Palestine.

They will come from all over the world. We see this in verse 10—

From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.

The people will be the suppliants of God, dispersed throughout the world! A suppliant is a worshipper!

What a glorious promise! God would gather His people from all over the world and bless them as one people.

The exile of God’s people of the old dispensation in 722 BC and 586 BC set the stage for the prophecy that God’s people in the new dispensation will be gathered from the four corners of the world. God’s elect under the new dispensation will not be found only in Palestine. They will be from all over the world.

The rivers of Ethiopia represented the most remote regions known to the ancient people of Israel. Zephaniah is telling them that God would gather his people from far off and from unknown lands. He would gather his people from the remotest corners of the world.

Today that has happened. God’s people are offering up prayers unto Him and worshipping him from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, yea, from all over the world! They will come from the Middle East, from America, from Europe, from Asia, from Australia, from the Philippines, etc, etc.

This is the people that God will bless as a people. This is the people which is the beneficiary of the promise that God made through Zephaniah. Thank God that we can be part of this people.

But let’s consider the blessing promised to this people.


2. The Blessing of the Promise

For then will I turn to the people a pure language” says the Lord.

What does this mean?

Well, this does not mean that God will give his people a new language (like Hebrew, English or Mandarin) to use. You see, the word translated ‘language’ (שָׂפָה, saphah) literally means ‘lip’ as in the lip of the mouth. It is translated as ‘lip’ 112 times in the KJV. So by the phrase “pure language,” the Lord is, no doubt, referring to purity of verbal expression rather than a more effective linguistic tool.

So essentially what our text is telling us is that God will give His people a new heart by which they will worship God with purity—so that whatever they exclaim with their lips they agree in their heart, and they agree with God’s truth and therefore they agree with one another.

God is essentially saying the same thing through the Prophet Jeremiah, when he says in chapter 31:

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

God will gather His people from all corners of the world. The people may speak different languages. They may have different cultures and experiences. They may be Singaporean, Australian, Filipino, Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Chinese, American, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Welsh, etc. But they will have a pure, unmixed language when it comes to expressing their love and adoration for God.

They will praise Him for the same reason, for they will all be redeemed by the same Christ. They will receive the same spirit. They will receive the same revelation of God. They will all worship God in the manner appointed by God, out of love and gratitude for Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit!

All these began to be fulfilled at Pentecost when Parthians and Medes and Elamites and Asian and Egyptians, and Cretians and Romans etc (Acts 2:9-11) were added to the church after hearing of “the wonderful works of God” spoken by the apostles in their language.

Mankind was scattered at Babel when God confused their tongue, but now God has by His Spirit given his people, as it were, a new language so that they may be gathered together to serve Him with one heart.

The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down. The barriers between the nations due to language differences have also been torn down for God’s people because we now have a common language in Christ.

God’s people are able to worship God and commune with one another with the pure language of love and gratitude supplied by the Lord.

For consider, thirdly,…


3. The Result of the Promise

For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.

Because they have a new heart, God’s people can serve the Lord with one consent, or literally ‘with one shoulder.’ The people will be able to stand shoulder to shoulder to serve the Lord because they all have the mind of Christ.

Thus we are told through Jeremiah:

34 And they [i.e. God’s people in the New Covenant] shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD…” (Jer 31:33-34).

The day of the New Covenant has begun. We are beneficiaries of the New Covenant.

Thank God that today we are beginning to experience the benefits that Zephaniah and Jeremiah prophesied about; for as the children of God, we have been given the Spirit of Christ, and we have the Law of God written in our heart so that we find it desirous to do God’s will.

What a marvellous thing has happened as God fulfilled His promise! In Old Testament days, God’s people were only found in Israel and even then, the Northern and the Southern Kingdom spoke, as it were, a different language. But today, God has His people everywhere in the world and we can worship together and serve Him together because we speak, as it were, the same language. We may be Singaporean or Australian or Filipino or Cambodian or Sri Lankan or Chinese, but we have the same language and we can worship and serve together because of what God has done in giving us a pure language by the Spirit of Christ.

Yes, because of the remnant of corruption the unity between God’s people is not yet perfect. But thank God that one day sin will be completely eradicated and any remaining differences between believers will be removed and we can stand shoulder to shoulder in heaven praising the Lamb that was slain with one heart and one voice! Thank God for the pure language of praise that He has begun to teach us.

Thank God that the church has been raised out of the ashes of the Old Testament church that turned apostate. Thank God for the unity that we can enjoy together with all the saints in the world even as we run together towards the Celestial city!


Conclusion

For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.

What a wonderful promise this is! It is in fulfilling his promise that God has enabled His people from all over the world to worship him together and to serve him together.

It is true that today due to the remnant of corruption, not all true believers can see eye to eye and worship together in unity. But really, among true churches, there is far more unity and agreement than there are differences. And moreover, the day is coming when Christ our King will remove every barrier that today stands between communions. In that day we shall fully call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one consent for all eternity.

But beloved brethren, I believe it behoves us to respond to God’s promise by seeking to cultivate Christian unity that is founded on the truth. As God’s people we cannot be isolationistic or insular or parochial.

We must understand that it is the Lord’s will for his people from different cultures and countries to labour and worship together for the glory of God. He has given us a pure language of love and gratitude to Christ for this purpose.

Shall we not therefore seek to cultivate relationships with brethren of like mind everywhere to be blessed and to be a blessing to churches everywhere which speak the same language of love and gratitude to Christ as us? Amen. Ω