For a while, the fad among my daughters’ peers was to express surprise by crying out ‘shut up!’ Translated from teenager into English that means ‘no way!’ or ‘you’re kidding!’ Zephaniah 3:17 expresses God’s love for us in such a way that surprises me, but when he says he will ‘quiet me with his love’ does that mean shut me up? Translation, especially of the bible, is rarely a simple matter. ‘Quiet’ piqued my curiosity because it is used as a transitive verb or a verb with a direct object. I enjoy being caught off guard by scripture, especially since God’s grace is so shocking.
Confused or Expanded?
The English Standard Version use of ‘quiet’ as a verb differs from the NIV, KJV, and CSB. The Christian Standard Bible is closest word-wise: ‘he will be quiet in his love’ (my emphasis); however, readers know from my first blog (Grade 5 Grammar) that ‘be quiet’ refers to a state of being in which ‘quiet’ actually acts as a descriptor of God, whereas ‘to quiet’ is an active verb as indicated in the ESV. The King James Version says ‘rest in his love’ while the New International Version says ‘he will no longer rebuke you.’
Really? I mean, couldn’t theologians get together in a room and agree on the use of verbs, over a calming cup of chamomile tea perhaps? Is it too much to ask that verbs at least be either transitive or linking? Okay, in their defense many editors of various bible versions are no longer with us, but still…is there any consistent meaning to be gleaned from even four renditions of Zephaniah 3:17?
Making Peace with Words
At least readers of the bible can be sure of one thing: in each case, we are talking about God’s mercy and peace. He could variously cease rebuking, take a break from his wrath or actively pacify Judah, but this ‘quiet you with his love’ piece is sandwiched between his glad rejoicing and singing in exultation.
Each translation leads to the same result: a wrathful and jealous God offering peace when he doesn’t have to (a free gift, aka mercy). Remember, as El Shaddai or God Almighty, our Lord could have smote Judah for their disobedience (great word smote), but opted instead to act as forgiving Abba, Father. Whether he silences his people or decides to rest from rebuking amounts to the same thing –God withheld his just wrath.
Celebrating the Possibility
In their introduction to Zephaniah, editors of the ESV wrote that ‘God is calling for Judah’s punishment because she [is] sinful’, yet, ‘if she should repent’ and change her ways, maybe ‘God will forgive’. His peace is particularly moving because ‘Judah refused to turn back as a nation to her covenant obligations toward God’ (Commentary on Zephaniah, ‘Purpose, Occasion, and Background’). Zephaniah 3:17 celebrates the forgiven Judah as though they have repented, but they must repent. I wonder how many hearers realized their God still loved them and were shaken out of their sinful blindness to do as the Lord had hoped, knowing they still had time. Their cause was not lost. I wish I could hear the song God sung out of pure joy as these hearts turned back to him.
God was in their midst, powerfully present. Much has been written on the topic of his rejoicing, his gladness; of the contrast between the images these words create and the harsh nature of God many unbelieving people imagine; but the ‘quieting’ part draws my mind to the intimate, personal relationship he desires and which his people should also long for if they know what is truly best for them.
I picture, hear, and feel the low tremble of my Father’s long sigh reaching deep into my racing heart, slowing it; blowing adrenaline straight out of my heaving chest and, with his inhalation, sucking pain straight from my pounding head. God is quietening me in the midst of stress, but what does that really mean?
Subdue your Anxiety
Judah’s greatest danger was not oppression, even death, at the hands of spreading, war-mongering empires; it was the sin. Strong’s lexicon of Hebrew and Greek words led from ‘quiet (v) to the synonym ‘subdue’, which leads to further possible meanings. Thanks to BibleHub.com for listing the following definitions.
Nikao is Greek for ‘conquer, prevail’ while nekroo means ‘put to death’. The word ‘stauroo’ can mean ‘to crucify’. There are more possibilities from Greek plus Hebrew: kabash (bring into bondage), radad (beat out, beat down), and kaphah (subdue). The last of these seemed most fitting out of several possible synonyms for ‘quiet’.
I chose Strong’s Hebrew definition of subdue as the best one for Zephaniah 3:17. Diverse understandings include ‘render submissive’, ‘overpower’, ‘disable’ but also ‘make mellow’ and ‘soften.’ In any case, ‘quiet’ or ‘subdue’ carries a lot of war-related subtext in its ancient baggage. Today, ‘subdue’ means ‘overcome, quieten, or bring under control (a feeling or person)’ (Oxford English Dictionary Online). Many definitions above indicate control and abuse, but we can rule them out for Zephaniah 3:17 because God’s love and peace are so rich here; I can’t see ‘disable’ or ‘put to death’ in this context. God is offering free choice and rejoicing. That’s why I believe God intends ‘to reduce the intensity’ of Judah’s suffering by ‘quieten’, not ‘conquer by force.’ Besides, other versions say ‘cease to rebuke’, so there is a general sense of rest. I almost want to say this is a truce, except that God wasn’t fighting; he was parenting.
Judah and the Cross
Let’s not be hasty, though, and dismiss other meanings entirely. Judah was deep in the sin of worshiping false gods and of disobeying the Lord. That’s when ‘quiet’ and ‘subdue’ should mean ‘crucify’, ‘put to death’, or ‘conquer’ as in ‘crucify sin’ lest it enslave the individual or bring her into bondage. Romans 6:6 (CSB) says ‘for we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin’. Replace ‘crucified’, ‘ruled’, ‘rendered powerless’, and ‘enslaved’ with ‘subdued’: it works every time. The word ‘quiet’ and its corollary suggests that in Zephaniah 3:17, Zion is at a crossroads between the Law and the Gospel: God’s potential rebuke and the conquering of sin. A single word quietly encapsulates God’s story and foreshadows the cross. No way! Shut up! Legit (more teen language). The more I dig, the more I realize how little I know and the richness of what God has to say. Isn’t language fun?