I’ve been doing some studies on the Minor Prophets, and this morning as I was rereading the book of Zephaniah, I happened upon a verse that is far deeper than a fleeting glance would indicate.
Zephaniah 1:12, “And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency, who say in their heart, ‘The Lord will not do good, Nor will He do evil.”
In order to understand the gravity of this particular verse and the book of Zephaniah in its entirety, we must realize that this harsh prophetic warning was given to the people of Israel after they had experienced what some would call a spiritual awakening. Josiah the son of Amon had come to be king of Judah at the tender age of 8, a kingship that had been prophesied three hundred years earlier with such specificity that the prophecy had even included the king’s name, this selfsame Josiah.
It was Josiah who in the eighteenth year of his reign ordered the High Priest to begin and renovate the temple Solomon had built, a temple that had been largely ignored and left to ruin. So neglected had been the temple, that as they began to clean it out the High Priest discovered the Book of the Law in the treasure room, a book whose existence had been forgotten by the passage of time.
The High priest brought the scroll that contained the Book of the Law to Josiah’s attention, and after having heard its words, Josiah ordered it read to the crows in Jerusalem, and also outlawed worship of any other gods. Josiah then proceeded to destroy the living quarters for male cult prostitutes who were in the Temple, as well as pagan objects related to the worship of Baal, Asherah, and other gods.
After having the living pagan priests executed, and the bones of the dead priests exhumed from their graves and burned on their altars, Josiah finally reinstituted the Passover.
So having seen all the good that Josiah had accomplished, having seen the restoration of the temple, the purging of the wickedness that had wormed its way within its walls, and the reinstitution of the Passover, why would God send such a strong word via Zephaniah to the people? Why the strong warning of the destruction that was soon to come upon them if the people were headed, seemingly at least, in the right direction?
The short answer is because the spiritual awakening we witnessed among Israel was only a superficial one. Yes, the idols had been destroyed, the altars had been demolished, they had turned from the worship of Baal, but they had not done away with the idols in their hearts.
The people did not return to the one true God of their own volition, they did not worship the one true God because they desired to know Him, because they hungered after Him, or because they wanted to fellowship with Him, but because failure to do these things would bring about the punishment of Josiah. Other than for Josiah himself, who had truly experienced a spiritual awakening and desired to know the fullness of the one true God, the worship of Israel was one of formality.
Israel had settled in complacency, they went through the motions of keeping Passover, of going to Temple, but in their hearts they did not believe in an omnipotent, omniscient God, but rather a god that did neither good or evil, a god that had no bearing or influence on the nation, or on individuals, a god of perfect neutrality and indifference.
Their hearts had not changed, their hearts had not turned toward God, they did what they did because they were told to do so by the king, and not because their conscience compelled them.
So what’s the point of all this? Why does this matter in the great scheme of things?
Because rather than praying for a true awakening in this nation, rather than praying for a true repentance, rather than praying for righteousness, many believers today are simply praying for a new political party to take over the leadership of the country in a few months’ time.
Yes, we need change; but we need a change of heart, a transformation and regeneration of the inner man. We need an authentic awakening, and not a superficial one, an awakening that is ignited out of hunger and desire to know God in the fullness of His glory, and not because we can’t afford to keep the new car.
Sometimes we can do the right things for the wrong reasons, and other times we can even deceive ourselves into believing that as long as we show up on Sunday, sing the songs and clap along, sit through the mini-sermon all the while suppressing a yawn, and speed on over to the local buffet afterwards so we can beat the crowds, there is nothing more that needs be done.
There must be an authenticity in our worship that cannot be mandated, one that can only come about individually, and by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
We have settled in our complacency, we desire the form rather than the substance of God, believing that a little something is better than nothing at all.
In the whole of Israel, God saw the hearts of the people, and found Josiah to be pure of heart, his motives for seeking the face of God were pure and undefiled by veiled motives, or hidden agendas. Josiah desired to know God for the sake of knowing God, he desired to worship God in spirit and in truth because He knew that God was worthy of it.
‘But we have done so much for God! We have built mega churches we sent up satellites, we’ve grown to multinational corporations in the name of God. Surely this must mean something.’
This is the same mindset that Israel had as well.
‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, behold all the good; behold what we have done to it! We cleaned the windows, and repainted the pews, and vacuumed the inside.’
The answer that God gives the people comes via Jeremiah, who was a contemporary of Zephaniah.
Jeremiah 7:2-7, “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates and worship the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Amend your ways and your doings and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’ For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not seek to shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave your fathers forever and ever.”
God sees the heart, God weighs the heart, God judges the heart, and though we may go through the motions of feigning worship, although we may point to the shiny buildings we have built, although we may itemize and list all the good things we have done, lest we amend our ways and our doings, lest we pursue righteousness wit zeal and commitment once more, the hand of God will still be outstretched against us.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.