The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing…. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Tucked in the back of the OT, among those ‘minor’ prophets, is this remarkable affirmation by Zephaniah. God sings over people? That picture is so different from the ‘angry’ God so many see in the OT. It’s powerful, profound, deeply moving.
In an era when music is so important, how marvelous to find God’s interest in it, and how interesting to consider God singing over people. But why does God do this? And, what does God say?
Think of the songs you’re used to hearing–not just those in rotation on your iPod, but the songs that have been playing much of your life. What sounds have filled your head? Your body is wrong, you’re clumsy, the path you’re on at the pace you’re going won’t lead anywhere good any time soon. You are surrounded by fools and thieves. Have messages like these created soundtracks for your life?
Peter comes along and offers a different playlist.
…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God… (1 Peter 2:9)
Words that had been previously used in a particular context are now brought out by Peter to describe a wide array of women and men. The list begins with ‘you are’, a potent Biblical phrase. Jesus used it–you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, branches, heirs, friends. Paul said you are good, God’s temple. John said you are strong. When someone who matters, someone who knows, makes this sort of declaration, we can let it sink in and take root.
Chosen, as in prized and valued. As in delight. Think of the kid in a candy store staring at the cases. The clerk asks, What do you want? The kid says, Everything.
Royal priesthood is better understood as ‘priests in a royal house’. Just before this, Peter had mentioned a spiritual house, reminding his readers that God is fashioning them, by Spirit, so that they take on certain characteristics. Here, Peter shifts to remark on what people do once they have turned toward God. The Reformation idea of ‘the priesthood of all believers’ is not Peter’s focus here, however. Rather, he is saying that God’s people–all of them–have, as priests, both access to God and an obligation to others.
Holy nation moves away from the distinctives of being from Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia or wherever (see 1 Peter 1:1) so as to embrace a different sort of ‘ethnicity’. This group of people chosen by God is marked not by skin color or birthplace but by holiness: they are set apart, dedicated to, eager about being with God.
The people belonging to God–a phrase once restricted to Israel, but now widened by Peter to include many more–are welcomed, accepted. They are to be busy as well, for in establishing identity, Peter also describes activity: those he has in view are expected to declare God’s praises. And as this occurs, we find that you are becomes I am. I start believing–and you do, too–that what God says about us is true, real, valuable.
We hear so much as we’re growing up. Even as adults we are surrounded by noise that insists we see ourselves in particular ways–and so often those messages leave us tired, afraid, and anxious. So what Peter says is music to our ears. He’s telling us that God sees us differently, that God knows us as we are, as we can be with Spirit in us. God sings us these songs, as warm as James Taylor and as lively as Zac Brown, to replace those old tapes. And, as happens when any good music washes over us, we are refreshed, inspired, and full of hope.