Woe to Oppressive Jerusalem

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Zephaniah 3:1-20, Isaiah 30:18, Hebrews 7:22-28

Scripture Reading: Zephaniah 3:1-20, Isaiah 30:18, Hebrews 7:22-28

“Woe to the city that is rebellious and defiled, the oppressive city!” declares Zephaniah (3:1). Woe is a scary word, isn’t it? It is a word used to indicate deep grief and calamity. It is a declaration of impending ruin, tidings of bad times to come. Who wants to talk about woeful tidings? I’d rather talk about joyful ones (Isaiah 9:6). But here in Zephaniah 3, the word woe is offered as a relief because it signals the end of injustice and the dawn of righteousness and hope.

God’s rebuke of Jerusalem centers on its inversion of justice and injustice. Leaders, prophets, and priests are supposed to uphold justice, not instigate injustice, right? But that’s just what they are guilty of, and so God’s rebuke is followed by a series of specific indictments. The rulers of the city are characterized as lions who devour, rather than shepherds who protect. The prophets are reckless, not wise. The priests are profane, not holy. And when God confronts them, their response is not repentance, but increased corruption. All of this sounds a little convicting and familiar.

But God “applies his justice morning by morning; he does not fail at dawn” (v.5). He cannot abide continuing injustice, but restores righteousness. Woe to those who persist in doing injustice! The final fulfillment of God’s promise is found in Christ, who is the true King, Prophet, and Priest—just, wise, and holy.

His restoration, however, is not only a resetting of the social order; it’s also the transformation of a people, who will be marked by pure speech and wholehearted devotion to the Lord. Their sins will be washed away, and they will walk in humility, meekness, righteousness, and truthfulness before God. On His holy mountain, they will dwell in peace and security.

The contrasting images of woeful ruin and righteous security are often hard for us to grasp simultaneously, but we find them perfectly pictured in the image of God as a warrior who saves. His warfare is the warfare both of justice and of salvation. But He is not just a warrior who saves—He is a warrior who sings. In one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible, we read:

“The LORD your God is among you,
a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing” (v.17).

You! With all your injustices and vices, and in spite of your failings—when God looks at you, He sees Christ’s perfect righteousness. He rejoices over you with gladness, delight, and singing. Thanks be to God for both His justice and His love. Hear His faithful promises today, and let your heart be quieted and calmed by His love.


Rebecca Faires loves the gospel story and needs it every morning when she wakes up to her five little people. Rebecca holds a bachelor’s degree in German from Hillsdale College, and most recently worked as the managing editor and writer at She Reads Truth. She now works from her log cabin in the hills of Tennessee, writing and illustrating books with her favorite mountain man. There she enjoys porch-sitting as it rains, reading the Oxford English Dictionary, and getting in way over her head. She is expecting her sixth baby and her first book in February of 2019.

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38 thoughts on "Woe to Oppressive Jerusalem"

  1. Lois Wilson says:

    Morning by morning… Thank You Father!

  2. Maiya H says:

    Oh how thankful I am that my God thinks of me..He loves me…He fights for me