[P] [Zephaniah 1:1-13 The word of יְהוָה which came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah: “I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,” declares יְהוָה. “I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked; and I will cut off man from the face of the earth,” declares יְהוָה. “So I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. “And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, and those who bow down and swear to יְהוָה and yet swear by Milcom, and those who have turned back from following יְהוָה, and those who have not sought יְהוָה or inquired of Him.” Be silent before the Lord יְהוָה! For the day of יְהוָה is near, for יְהוָה has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests. “Then it will come about on the day of יְהוָה’s sacrifice that I will punish the princes, the king’s sons and all who clothe themselves with foreign garments. “And I will punish on that day all who leap on the temple threshold, who fill the house of their lord with violence and deceit. “On that day,” declares יְהוָה, “There will be the sound of a cry from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. “Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar, for all the people of Canaan will be silenced; all who weigh out silver will be cut off. “It will come about at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, ‘יְהוָה will not do good or evil!’ “Moreover, their wealth will become plunder and their houses desolate; yes, they will build houses but not inhabit them, and plant vineyards but not drink their wine.”] Last time we looked at that most shocking and devastating of prophecies – the destruction of everything (Zeph 1:1-3). יְהוָה has declared a day of judgement, complete destruction! It is יְהוָה’s doing – “I will” 10x in the verses I read. Destruction is coming on all the earth but destruction was first coming on Jerusalem (Zeph 1:12) and Judah (Zeph 1:4) – judgement begins with the house of God, with His own people. But this terrible judgement is not without cause – and today we see the reason [Zephaniah 1:4-6 “So I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. “And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, and those who bow down and swear to יְהוָה and yet swear by Milcom, and those who have turned back from following יְהוָה, and those who have not sought יְהוָה or inquired of Him.”]. The reason is idolatry! [P] יְהוָה was going to destroy His nation and people because of idolatry. The whole nation was so riddled with it that it had to be destroyed, that was the only way to cleanse the idolatry out of it. When the Israelites invaded the land, יְהוָה destroyed it because of the idolatry, the worship of Baal and Asherah, which pervaded it. He had given the inhabitants of the land centuries before He finally destroyed them from the land and gave the Israelites strict instructions to extirpate idols from the land. But the very same idols that the Canaanites worshipped were still being worshipped – the Canaanite god, Baal; Milcom, the Ammonite god; reference to the Philistine god of Dagon in (Zeph 1:9), the Assyrians worshipped the host of heaven (Zeph 1:5). So, with absolute consistency, יְהוָה had to destroy the land once more to get rid of these false gods.
Idolatry: Why does the Bible make such a big deal about idolatry? Warnings against it, judgement against it, and records of idolatry make up a significant percentage of the O.T. If idolatry is not an issue then a significant portion of Scripture is totally irrelevant. But it isn’t. But we don’t have idols – the Catholics, maybe; the Buddhists, yes; but not us, civilised Protestants! Is idolatry an issue, yes it still is. We don’t have little shrines with images in. I must confess that growing up I used to be amazed that Israel continually fell into idolatry. Why worship an idol when there is a יְהוָה who does miracles for you and yet the idols do nothing. How could they be so foolish?! That is the impression the Bible gives – and they were completely foolish forsaking God that which is no god at all. But still they kept reverting to idolatry! Why? There must have been some appeal. It must have made sense to them. Why did they do it? Well lets have a look at some of the idols listed here: Idols: Baal [P] – God of the storm, thunder, controlled the weather. They were an agricultural economy – you had to be on side with the weather to ensure the harvest was good. So you sacrificed, appeased this god, did what was required to ensure that things went well for you materially. They were trying to manipulate the divine forces in order that things go well materially for them. Now, we would not try to control or influence things in order that we might profit materially – would we?! Their god was materialism! Things aren’t that much different today. We are a materialistic society – we love our shopping and all the nice things we can buy, things that make life comfortable and tie us to this world. Our heart is where our treasure is – and we have stocked up pretty heavily on this planet. The measure of a man is the things that he has managed to accumulate! The car he drives, the clothes he wears, his house, his boat etc. – and we will try and manipulate the forces that operate to ensure we do well. We come to God for His material blessing. Asherah [P] – goddess of fertility – she is not mentioned in this passage but she was Baal’s consort – we use the term “partner” today. In their story Baal died and there was a resurrection – life came anew in spring through the sexual union of Baal and Asherah. Fertility was ensured by the act of sexual union with a priestess. The Canaanite religious system was depraved and permeated with sexuality. Cultic prostitution was part of the religious ceremony – you went to the shrine and had sex with a priestess. I used to wonder why Israel would fall into idolatry; sexuality was part of the snare. Remember at Peor? Balaam had not been able to curse Israel so he persuaded the Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men into idolatry. And today, sexuality is worshipped. You look at the films, the music, the gossip that fills the magazines – it centres around sexuality – people with fantastic bodies, who are having endless series of relationships. We still worship sex and it still proves a snare. We go out to the prison – we see the casualties, and the church is not immune. Milcom [P] was a terrifying god, demanded child sacrifice – they would burn their children in fire to this god. Why? Tremendous fear! Why worship such a god? – because he had power, had power to terrify. I have seen people who have sold themselves to demonic influence who torture their lives and make them miserable – why do they do it? – Because through it they gain power over others. It is amazing what we will sacrifice in order to have power. It is the same with the “host of heaven” whom the Assyrians worshipped. They were a powerful conquering empire – if we serve the same god as they do then we will have the same power. So they sell themselves in order to be powerful. How we worship the powerful and the mighty today. Who are our heroes, those we admire? Edmund Hilary who conquered Everest, the sportsmen who make their living by crushing the opposition – a highly Christian motive! Yet we regard sportsmen as great role models! We worship the self made man: the mighty, the clever, those who assert themselves and get to the top. Why did the Israelite consistently fall into idolatry? One reason is that the idols were tangible [P] – they found it hard worshipping that which was unseen, preferred what they could see, what they could do – the opposite of faith! They preferred to walk by sight and not by faith. But God calls His people to exactly the opposite! We find that which we see, the evidence of our eyes, much more real than that which is spiritual and eternal – the true reality. We focus on what we see, the tangible. Then there is the attraction of something new, different and exciting [P] – they got bored, religion became humdrum; they turned to something new and exciting. That is why a large portion of the church is turning to idolatry and worshipping music and entertainment, rather than יְהוָה. There is something here that underlies the whole issue of idolatry and what יְהוָה hates about it – infidelity. [P] Idolatry was often likened to adultery – because it was forsaking the one you were pledged in covenant relationship to. Breaking of covenant – and that is abhorrent to a covenant keeping God! – unfaithfulness is rife! ….. it is not even seen as a virtue anymore. [Proverbs 20:6 Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?] What happens if we get hurt, something goes wrong, we have a disagreement? – we up and leave, go to another fellowship. What happens if marriage gets difficult – up and leave. What happens if God doesn’t do what you want Him to, the going gets tough – go back to Egypt. Christianity – “Oh, I tried that”! Give it a go, if you don’t like it, if you get bored, if it isn’t meeting your needs – give up, move on to something else! No commitment! UNFAITHFULNESS! But material wealth, lust, power – these things we worship – Do you see something that is at the root of them all? SELFISHNESS! [P] A God who does me good, suits me! Who exists for me, to do me good! That is the essence of idolatry – a God of your own making to suit you, who does what you want. If “god” does what you want, then you are controlling him and not He you! Let me tell you an obvious fact that we sometimes overlook: [P] God created man – man doesn’t create God – that is idolatry! [P] So man was made for God, not God for man. God doesn’t exist to do what you want – a supernatural power to cater to your whim! If this is the case, then you are on the throne, you are in effect god, and god is your servant. A God you can control and make is no God – it is an idol! And we have multitudes in the church because they want God to do things for them, to sort out their problems, provide their needs. They tell God to do this and do that – who is on the throne?! It is idolatry! It is very much an issue. When selfishness is in religion it is idolatry! It is trying to manipulate the gods to get what you want. Man trying to control God – this is the essence of idolatry and you find it in churches. People come to God, not because of who He is and what He requires of them, but because of what He can do for them. Do you approach יְהוָה with a selfish motive? – If you do, then it is idolatry!
Syncretism: Judah was going to be judged because of her idolatry. Oh they still worshipped יְהוָה alright – but they worshiped others as well (v.5) “swear to יְהוָה but swear to Milcom”! [P] – it is called syncretism, mixing other gods with יְהוָה. They were commanded to destroy the surrounding nations but instead they made peace with them, became friends with them, assimilated them, were influenced by them and their gods. God’s special people, instead of being separate (holy) from the surrounding nations, embraced their gods! Judah’s own priests became priests for idols! The same situation is in the church today: instead of being holy, separate from the world, we have become friends with it, accommodated it, become assimilated to it, to its values, its gods. Many Christians worship the same gods that the world does (e.g. T.V., sport, humanism - man centred) – their god is man! - his achievements, his potential, his inventions, his organisation. If Judah will be judged for embracing the gods of the nations, will not the church also?! They worshipped יְהוָה yet at the same time worshipped the gods of the surrounding nations. יְהוָה is a jealous God, He tolerates no rivals [P]. You cannot worship Him and another. How would I like it if Rhoda was married to someone else as the same time as me?! That is what it is like – we are in covenant relationship with יְהוָה – it is exclusive love, there is no place for another alongside Him! They put a lifeless block of stone on par with the Living God who created all things! Like many Christians today - they haven’t abandoned Christianity (so they think) - they still pray, worship, read the Bible, go to Church etc. – acknowledge יְהוָה – but they worship the gods of this world at the same time – they are humanist in outlook – man centred, man and his technology and science holds the solutions to life’s problems. They depend on man as well as יְהוָה – it is SYNCRETISM! We worship and place out trust and allegiance in God but at the same time in man – in man-made gods. This is not possible! This is abandoning יְהוָה! [Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.] [Exodus 34:14 —for you shall not worship any other god, for יְהוָה, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—] They thought that they were still worshipping יְהוָה and following Him, but in fact they had turned back from following Him - they were apostate! - similar to the syncretistic church of our day.
Seek יְהוָה: How does one follow after יְהוָה? - by asking of Him, seeking after Him [P], inquiring of Him (Zeph 1:6), desiring Him. They had turned from יְהוָה because they had ceased to continue to be doing these things. As soon as you let up from seeking יְהוָה you have in fact turned back from Him (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:2 Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: יְהוָה is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. 2 Chronicles 16:12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek יְהוָה, but the physicians.). We must continually seek יְהוָה and never let up (cf. Isaiah 55:6 Seek יְהוָה while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Amos 5:6 “Seek יְהוָה that you may live, or He will break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, and it will consume with none to quench it for Bethel,).
The day of יְהוָה: [P] [Zephaniah 1:7-10 Be silent before the Lord יְהוָה! For the day of יְהוָה is near, for יְהוָה has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests. “Then it will come about on the day of the יְהוָה’s sacrifice that I will punish the princes, the king’s sons and all who clothe themselves with foreign garments. And I will punish on that day all who leap on the temple threshold, who fill the house of their lord with violence and deceit. “On that day,” declares יְהוָה, “There will be the sound of a cry from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.] The day of יְהוָה was coming! It is near! [P] Four times in those 4 verses it talks of that DAY – a day of sacrifice, of slaughter of all those who worshipped other gods. It is a day of judgement [P], יְהוָה’s day is coming – and it is not far away! It is a day of punishment – punishment of those who clothe themselves with that which is foreign [P] (Zeph 1:8) – the values and mindset of those who are not Christ’s. I have been studying the Sermon on the Mount in my quiet time and have been struck by how utterly different Jesus’ way is to that which is natural to us. We live in this world, but tragically I can see how much I have imbibed the way of thinking of those I live amongst. That is what Judah had done, they had taken on the way of thinking of those around them – they were no longer different and distinctive – I think to a large extent that is true of the church. They became indistinguishable from the world – they looked just the same – they were clothed the same. Is this not what the church has done?! Our music is the same, our behaviour is the same, our entertainment, our attire is identical. How can you tell the difference between a Christian and someone in the world? We have lost our distinctiveness. We don’t stand out as different, nor do we want to! We don’t see that as a positive ideal – rather, we are very keen to get alongside them, become their friends; show them that we are no different to them (friendship evangelism). But we were called to be holy – to be separate, to be different! The strange garments were probably cultic garments worn in idolatrous worship and fertility rites. Clothes today show our allegiance – we have T-shirts emblazoned with our god, what we worship. What kind of garments am I wearing? (cf. Rev 3:17,18; 16:15; 19:7,8; Matt 22:11-14). [P] (Zeph 1:9) Violence, fraud, falsehood and deceit were rampant, as they are today. People use these to gain advantage, to get what they want; and often they get away with it. But they will not get away with it – for in the Day of יְהוָה they will be punished for their unrighteous deeds. "On that Day ..." (Zeph 1:10) [P] – mentioned 14x in the 18 verses of this chapter! It will be a dreadful day as יְהוָה’s wrath and fierce judgement are poured out. People will be in great distress, they will cry out in their anguish. A great wail will ascend from one side of the city of Jerusalem to the other It is a time of great distress and calamity and calamity – men cry out in anguish at the disaster that has overtaken them. [Zephaniah 1:11-13 “Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar, for all the people of Canaan will be silenced; all who weigh out silver will be cut off. It will come about at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, ‘יְהוָה will not do good or evil!’ Moreover, their wealth will become plunder and their houses desolate; yes, they will build houses but not inhabit them, and plant vineyards but not drink their wine.”] In (v.Zeph 1:) יְהוָה Himself tells the residents to wail! So wail they will! Canaanites were knows as merchants – that is what the name means [P]. All merchants will be silenced – their end has come on the day of the LORD – commercial enterprise, making money from buying and selling, will come to and end. Middle-men, getting rich out of their merchandizing will be judged in that day (this is what יְהוָה judges at the end – cf. Rev 18; Zech 14:21; John 2:14-16; Mark 11:15-17). All the traders will be cut off. Those taken up with commercial enterprise (getting rich by selling with a mark-up what they have bought); will be judged, they will perish. The iniquitous capitalist, materialistic, trading business will come to an utter end. This will cause great rejoicing and praise in heaven (cf. Rev 18:9-19:6). Such business is portrayed as a prostitute. We live in a commercial materialistic society – taken up with buying and selling. Look how the world howled at the recent recession! We love our shopping, trading. It is the god we worship. [P] (Zeph 1:12) יְהוָה searches – He searches hearts, reveals what is truly in them. And the heart that you find in most people today is: that God is irrelevant, He doesn’t do anything – they are stagnant in spirit, spiritual things are utterly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what we do, God doesn’t intervene. They forget history and they ignore prophecy – He has intervened in the past and He will do so again. They are stagnant in heart – they think that all will go on as it always has [Psalm 10:3-4 For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, and the greedy man curses and spurns יְהוָה. The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” Psalm 10:11 He says to himself, “God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it.”] [2 Peter 3:3-7 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.] Who is it that יְהוָה will punish? - those who are "stagnant in spirit" - those that are thickened sludge - wine settled on its lees (cf. Jeremiah 48:11-12 “ Moab has been at ease since his youth; he has also been undisturbed, like wine on its dregs, and he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavour, and his aroma has not changed. “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” declares יְהוָה, “when I will send to him those who tip vessels, and they will tip him over, and they will empty his vessels and shatter his jars.) Undisturbed, comfortable in their luxury, nothing ever to disturb them – those who think that things will continue as they always have, that they will not be disturbed, unsettled, tipped upside down, that calamity won’t strike – compare today’s evolutionist mentality – things have always been as they are, the change is gradual, there never has been catastrophe, intervention by God, No judgement, nor will there ever be – G od does nothing. He, if He exists, is to be ignored because He never does anything. How utterly foolish and mistaken they are! For יְהוָה will act! The Day of יְהוָה is near! Man makes his plans, totally leaving God out of the equation. (v.Zeph 1:13) [P] His plans all have to do with his own personal comfort, leisure and luxury - wealth, houses, property, wine. His heart is fixed on material things, the things of this world. But every plan of man will be frustrated. יְהוָה will frustrate them all in the Day of the LORD. None of them will come to fruition. All that planning, effort, labour and enterprise will come to NOTHING – how utterly futile! A total waste of effort! The wealth that they have amassed for themselves will be plundered! Someone else will enjoy the riches that they have worked so hard to accumulate. Others will benefit from all their labour. Their whole life will have been for nothing. All their plans brought to naught. Their houses will be desolate – no one to live in them for they have all been slaughtered! They planed and build great mansions but they never get to live in them; planted vineyards expecting to enjoy the wine but they will never get to drink it – frustrated at every twist and turn. Nothing that they plan will ever come about because יְהוָה is against them. They arrogantly dismissed Him; therefore He has set Himself against them. What a terrible position to be in, when יְהוָה Himself, the Almighty, has set Himself against you. If He is against you then nothing you do will ever succeed. Their great plans for success are a sure recipe for disaster! The Day of the LORD will reveal them! The Day of the LORD will bring disaster upon them! It will be the worst day ever. Despite them saying that יְהוָה will not act, He will act! All their confident assertions will not alter the fact! (cf. Psalm 33:10,11; Jer 15:13; 17:3-5; Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15). Desolation is coming upon those that sideline YHWH – in the light of the Day of יְהוָה – is it not wise to seek יְהוָה [P] and live! [P]