Friday, August 03, 2012


And at that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish the men who settle down comfortably, who say to themselves: The Lord will not do good or evil.” (Zephaniah 1:12 HCSB)

If we are indifferent toward iniquity, we may be assured God is not!  The word of God delivered by the prophet Zephaniah underscores that. 

One understands why a sinful people despised prophets.  Their words were like an alarm clock on Monday morning, jolting one out of sleep, a reminder of work to do.  They were in no mood to hear it.

In chapter one, we see THEIR CONDITION BEFORE GOD.

And at that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish the men who settle down comfortably, who say to themselves: The Lord will not do good or evil.” (Zephaniah 1:12 HCSB)

They were indifferent toward iniquity and this led to compromise.  Some were a lot like Lot—who did not commit the sins of Sodom, nor in his heart condone them—but neither confronted nor condemned them.  His silence was deafening.  It has been said, “Silence is golden.”  Sometimes, it is just plain yellow!

Speaking up causes a disturbance.  Dan Cathy discovered that.  He created a national uproar, when he as the owner of Chik-fil-A, dared to say that marriage was a commitment of a man and woman, and a union that God blesses, while a nation that rejects this faces judgment.  It would have been a lot easier to be quiet and look the other way.  The prophet Zephaniah would not, but many of his contemporaries did.

Then, compromise for others dwelling in Jerusalem went beyond indifference toward the iniquity around them, but also toward the iniquity within them.  Their compromise with wickedness, led them farther and farther away from God.  While they still went through some of the religious ritual associated with the worship of God, they had given their hearts to idolatry.

I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the residents of Jerusalem.
I will cut off every vestige of Baal from this place, the names of the pagan priests
along with the priests; those who bow in worship on the rooftops to the heavenly host;
those who bow and pledge loyalty to the Lord but also pledge loyalty to Milcom; and those who turn back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him.” (Zephaniah 1:4-6)

It would be like those who go to church on Sunday to salve their conscience and then live like the devil Monday through Saturday to satisfy their lust.  They sit in the pew—in their sporadic attendance—yawn, look at their watch, wonder occasionally, “What is that preacher so worked up about?”  Their minds wander toward where they will go for lunch, what time does the game start, anything but the thought of standing before God.  That kind of self-examination is disquieting.  Finally, they breathe a sigh of relief, “Amen!”  The service concludes and they smile as they walk out, shake the pastor’s hand and congratulate him, “Enjoyed the sermon, Pastor.”  What he or she means is, “I did my duty” as they leave self-satisfied—now it’s on to bigger and better things.  What the pastor thinks is, “How can they have enjoyed that?  It was a message meant to confront them and shake them up.”  Doubtless, Zephaniah felt similarly.

But, preachers don’t know for sure what is in people’s hearts.  God, however, is another story.  In picturesque language, He is pictured as coming with a spotlight to shine into the dark shadows of people’s souls, and find those indifferent toward iniquity.  They thought God was aloof.  Since they were indifferent, they judged Him to be.  God was going to rock their world.

The great Day of the Lord is near, near and rapidly approaching.  Listen, the Day of the Lord—then the warrior's cry is bitter.  That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet [blast] and battle cry against the fortified cities,
and against the high corner towers.” (Zephaniah 1:14-16)

The temptation now is to hit the snooze button and roll over and go back to sleep.  We think, “Well that was then, and this is now.  Too bad for those Jews in ancient Jerusalem, but that doesn’t affect me.”

Zephaniah’s alarming words go far beyond his day, to the Day of the Lord—the end time judgments visited upon the entire globe—and that could begin very soon.

I will bring distress on mankind, and they will walk like the blind because they have sinned against the Lord.  Their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung.

Their silver and their gold will not be able to rescue them on the day of the Lord's wrath.
The whole earth will be consumed by the fire of His jealousy.  For He will make a complete, yes, a horrifying end of all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:17-18)

In chapter two we face THEIR CORRECTION BY GOD.

“Gather yourselves together; gather together, undesirable nation, before the decree takes effect and the day passes like chaff, before the burning of the Lord's anger overtakes you, before the day of the Lord's anger overtakes you.

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who carry out what He commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be concealed on the day of the Lord's anger.”  (Zephaniah 2:1-3)

God firmly, yet lovingly, will correct them.

He corrects their complacency with a call to come urgently,  “Gather yourselves together; gather together, undesirable nation, before the decree takes effect and the day passes like chaff, before the burning of the Lord's anger overtakes you, before the day of the Lord's anger overtakes you.” (v.1)

They had heard it all before.  Nothing had happened yet.  But, it would—and it did.  Zephaniah ministered in the days of Josiah’s reign (1:1).  It was a brief respite of revival.  Josiah would be the last godly king before Jerusalem would burn like chaff.  God meant business.

We may be tempted to respond in much the same way.  After all, haven’t preachers warned of the return of Christ and the Judgment for two thousand years?  The caricature of the wild-eyed prophet standing on a street corner in a robe, wearing a sandwich board sign reading, “Repent! The end is near” is familiar to us, and is the subject of humor.  Nobody takes it seriously.  We should.

God corrects their compromise with a call to commit unequivocally, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who carry out what He commands.  Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be concealed on the day of the Lord's anger.”  (v.2)

They had turned away from God, and now needed to turn around—that’s repentance.  It is making a U-Turn on life’s highway.  The stubborn pride that causes one to refuse confession and the sinful passion that leads one to reject commitment must be exorcised and humility and holiness must be exercised.

This was the only avenue of escape from God’s anger.  We have heard the saying perhaps, “God allows U-Turns” and it is true.  What a comforting thought that is to a sinner like me!  But, it has its limitations which make this “bumper sticker” theology more complicated.  You can’t make a U-Turn anytime, anywhere.  Certainly, there are opportunities, but haven’t you also seen the sign indicating, “No U-Turn”?  There could come a time too late—the decision to seek the Lord is urgent and needs to be unequivocal.  When you commit to make a U-Turn—do it!  Or you might get run over.  The sinner is speeding down the road the wrong way and is about to have a head-on collision with the wrath of God.  When that happens, it is too late to make a U-Turn.

I have heard the taunting of Moab and the insults of the Ammonites, who have taunted My people and threatened their territory.   Therefore, as I live--[this is] the declaration of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel—Moab will be like Sodom and the Ammonites like Gomorrah—a place overgrown with weeds, a salt pit, and a perpetual wasteland.  The remnant of My people will plunder them; the remainder of My nation will dispossess them.  This is what they get for their pride, because they have taunted and acted arrogantly against the people of the Lord of Hosts.” (Zephaniah 2:8-10)

When the fire fell on Sodom, it was too late to run.  The destruction was complete.  Zephaniah warns the Moabites and Ammonites that God will do the same to them.  Jesus likewise says that in the last days,

It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: People went on eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.  But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.  It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed.  On that day, a man on the housetop, whose belongings are in the house, must not come down to get them. Likewise the man who is in the field must not turn back.  Remember Lot's wife!” (Luke 17:28-32)

Such indifference toward iniquity!  They expected each day to be like the day before.  No fire had fallen from heaven—the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were complacent, apathetic, oblivious to God and the impending judgment.  Moab and Ammon did the same.  It is characteristic of our culture today.  Why can’t we see where that road leads?  Making a U-Turn is long overdue.

In chapter three we find THEIR CONSECRATION TO GOD.

Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves.  He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring [you] quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy." (Zephaniah 3:17)

God had warned the Jews of a time of consumption as they would be consecrated in sacrifice:

Be silent in the presence of the Lord God, for the Day of the Lord is near.
Indeed, the Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated His guests.

On the day of the Lord's sacrifice I will punish the officials, the king's sons, and all who are dressed in foreign clothing.” (Zephaniah 1:7-8)

But, in the last days the Jews will enter a time of consolation as they will be consecrated in salvation:

I will gather those who have been driven from the appointed festivals; [they will be] a tribute from you and a reproach [on her]. Yes, at that time I will deal with all who afflict you.  I will save the lame and gather the scattered; I will make those who were disgraced throughout the earth receive praise and fame.  At that time I will bring you back, yes, at the time I will gather you.  I will give you fame and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes.  Yahweh has spoken.” (Zephaniah 3:18-20)

God will bind up the broken-hearted, give grace to the grieving, console those who are contrite, restore those who are repentant.  The difficulties the nation would face would be the Master’s ox goads to drive Israel back to His pasture,

The remnant of Israel will no longer do wrong or tell lies; a deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. But they will pasture and lie down, with nothing to make [them] afraid.” (Zephaniah 3:13)

I would not suggest that the difficulties you may be facing are necessarily the result of your personal indifference toward iniquity—but they may be.  God may be using these crises to bring you to your knees in confession.  Search your heart—God does ( Zeph.1:12).

Doubtless, the multitude of troubles that are coming exponentially to America and our world are the result of indifference toward iniquity.  Not just indifference among those who practice such evils—for that is the inclination of the unregenerate.  It always has been and always will be.  The source of our coming demise is the people of God who by and large have become accustomed to and assimilated into the corruption of contemporary culture.

Jesus did not have good things to say about those who hide their light under a basket.  I understand why we do.  Those who are asleep in the dark will not be happy when you shine a light in their face.  But, if their house is on fire and they are able to escape from it, they will be grateful later.

Our Lord’s words to His followers who lose their potency to season society as salt are serious,

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It's no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.” (Matthew 5:13)

Salt in a wound stings.  That’s why we hesitate to apply it.  Those who are stung by our saltiness will retaliate.  This is why Jesus prefaced that statement with this,

Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.  You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me.  Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

Just ask Dan Cathy.

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