“I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners to punish those who sit complacent in their sins. They think the Lord will do nothing to them, either good or bad.” – Zephaniah 1:12 NLT
Josiah, the great reformer king sits on the throne. Zephaniah, the great, great, grandson of Hezekiah, was God’s prophet delivering His words of coming judgment on the people of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen in 722 B.C. to the Assyrians. But the southern nation of Judah is enjoying relative peace. Because King Josiah was moved to repentance upon hearing the words of the book of the Law, rediscovered while making renovations to the Temple, God had spared the nation from defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. They were enjoying a time of relative peace and prosperity. And while Josiah had instituted significant reforms in the nation by removing all physical displays of idol worship and re-establishing the annual celebration of Passover, much of it proved to be external in nature. The peoples’ hearts had failed to change. They were going through the motions, displaying a form of commitment to God, but their hearts were not in it. And God knew it. They had become complacent in their sin, still seeking after other gods and forsaking the one true God. They were just as guilty of spiritual adultery as they had ever been. They had grown comfortable with their sin and no longer feared God. So God sent Zephaniah with a message of coming judgment. He was no longer going to tolerate their willful disobedience and arrogant displays of contempt for His Law.
While the people of Judah were content to follow Josiah’s demands for reform, and go through the motions of sacrifice and adherence to the Law, they were still hedging their bets and worshiping other gods at the same time. Religion had become their god, not Yahweh. If Josiah’s reforms could bring them prosperity and peace, then they were all for it. As long as it did not require them to change their lifestyles, they were perfectly find with it all. If worshiping Yahweh would stave off destruction and allow them to live their lives the way they wanted to live them, then they were more than willing to add Him to their list of gods.
“Wherever excitement in religion becomes an end in itself and wherever the cult of ‘what helps’ replaces joy in ‘what’s true,’ Baal is worshiped.” – J. Alec Motyer, “Zephaniah,” in The Minor Prophets, p. 899
But God was not after religion, He wanted a relationship based on love, obedience, reverential fear, and faithfulness. He knew that these people “no longer ask for the Lord’s guidance or seek my blessings” (Zephaniah 1:6b NLT). They put more trust in their prosperity and financial stability than they did in the God who provided it. Religion for them had become a means to an end. They worshiped to get. They sought after any and every god because they wanted to make sure they had all their bases covered. They believed the gods existed for their benefit, not the other way around. Religion had become nothing more than a tool to get what they wanted or protect what they already had. The more gods, the merrier, seemed to be their life philosophy. But God had other ideas. He had something else in mind. He had different expectations of His people. And He was about to make those expectations and the penalty for ignoring them painfully clear.
Father, how guilty we are of making religion some kind of a game we play. We make it a means to an end where we get to determine the outcome. We worship based on what we think we will get out of it. We tend to give to get. But You are looking for those who will worship You out of love, respect and faithfulness. You are looking for those who seek You because You first sought them. Like the people of Judah, we can end up going through the motions, giving the appearance of religious reform, but lacking the heart change that must accompany it. Forgive us for our complacency with the sin in our lives and our comfortableness with the world and its ways. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men