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.’
Therefore their goods shall become booty,
And their houses a desolation;
They shall build houses, but not inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.
– Zephaniah 1:12-13 (NKJV)
Again I am thankful that we have the privilege of feasting on Zephaniah slowly, enjoying every last morsel. Even the bits that in the tasting send a chill down the spine, as in our selection today.
The LORD Searches
These verses sit between two pictures of judgment. Last week we discussed the sacrifice and feast of 1:7-11 and next week we’ll look at the great battle of 1:14-18. Today our focus is almost laser-like, zeroing in, as Zephaniah so often does, on God Himself.
No one will be able to hide against the judgment of God. It is coming, and even if God must get out the “flashlights,” He will find them. (1)
Of course Zephaniah was not being literal when he recorded these words of God, but imagine this with me. Picture in your mind’s eye God, the Master of All, descending to Jerusalem and searching every house. The lamp in His hand would have looked something like this:
The bowl was filled with oil and a wick (made of flammable material such as linen) was placed in the small hole at the front. The wick would soak in the oil for a few minutes, at which point it could be lit.
Why do we care about an oil lamp?
God has always spoken to us in ways that we can understand. He uses objects and concepts that we know so well as to take them for granted. If this were happening today, He might have said, “I’m going to come into your house and flip every light switch. Nothing is going to get past me.”
The original audience understood then, just as we understand now, that the Lord exposes sin. Our deeds will always be uncovered. Whether we choose to acknowledge this reality or not is another matter entirely, but we know, in that place in our minds that never can seem to be repressed no matter how hard we try, that God knows. Our consciences poke and prod at us until we bleed.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
– Psalm 139:1-4 (NKJV)
God knows everything.
Settled in Complacency
Merriam-Webster defines complacency as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies; an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction.” (2) The Hebrew is shalvâh, “quietness, ease, prosperity.”(3) Everything is fine. I’m good. Nothing bad is going to happen to me.
We are not unlike the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem, are we? It’s more than laziness. More than smugness. More than just going through the motions. It is an attitude of complete uncaring. What God wants doesn’t matter. What God says doesn’t matter. I’m going to do what I want to do.
How many of us today give as much time and energy to worshiping the Lord as we do to our families, our jobs, our hobbies? Do we give Him as much love and effort as we give to crafting the perfect (and often fake) Facebook status? How many of us complain that such-and-such church event wasn’t “good enough” when we didn’t bother to lend a hand (or if we did commit to doing something, how often do we show up late or flake out altogether)? How many of us, despite our sharing of Bible passages and inspirational quotes, just really don’t care?
How many of us assume that we’re Christians by virtue of being born in a certain country?
Simmer down. I never ask you questions that I haven’t asked myself. It’s time we really think about this. Zephaniah’s people thought the could get away with it.
We won’t, either.
Not Good, Not Bad
God reveals the inner thoughts of the people to the prophet: “God won’t do good and He won’t do bad.” They believed that He wasn’t in the business of rewarding the righteous and He wasn’t in the business of punishing the wicked. Though not an exact match, this view is similar to Deism, which is,
the recognition of a universal creative force greater than that demonstrated by mankind, supported by personal observation of laws and designs in nature and the universe, perpetuated and validated by the innate ability of human reason coupled with the rejection of claims made by individuals and organized religions of having received special divine revelation. (4)
God exists, but He has nothing to do with us. Man becomes the center, never required to place faith in or worship God. Reason and logic are the means by which the world is understood. God is essentially unknowable. (This explanation is very simplistic. Please do some reading on your own).
The fact that the people had come to believe that God doesn’t respond to obedience or disobedience reveals a clear lack of understanding of Scripture. They didn’t have the completed canon as we do know, but they had the Pentateuch, books of history, many of the psalms, etc. These writings explicitly state that God is intimately involved in His creation. He knows what’s going on. He blesses the obedient (that blessing doesn’t always look like we think it will) and He punishes the wicked (again, not always as we think He will).
God is not a disinterested deity. He is not content to leave humanity to its own devices. If that were true, then the Beloved Disciple would never have had cause to pen:
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
– John 1:1-5, 9-14 (MSG)
As they say, the beds were made and those who made them would be forced to sleep within. Their things would be stolen. Their houses destroyed. Their vineyards left for another’s enjoyment. They broke the covenant made so long ago at the foot of that holy mountain. What follows is all they should have expected.
I wonder what Christians living in a pampered Western context expect. The Church has compromised and watered-down and gotten wrapped up in things that won’t last. Or gone the opposite route, indulging in fear and hatred and legalism. The one seeks to accommodate and have a good time, the other to control and dominate. Neither one is an expression of Christianity that God is pleased with. Neither one hungrily pours over the Bible in an effort to know and love Him.
God can’t be pleased.
Those of you who truly love Him, and I know there are many who do, please don’t feel condemned. I would never place a weight on your shoulders. Still, we need to face reality in all of its ugliness. God wants true worshipers, people devoted to Him – and those have the task of going out and standing against not just the tide of the world at large, but more specifically against false and fake religion that calls itself by the name of God.
Our day is not so different from that of Zephaniah.
- How do you respond to God knowing everything, that nothing is hidden from Him? What do you think? What do you feel?
- We all battle complacency. Where does it show up in your life?
- Do you see God as removed and disinterested, or present and intimate? Why?
- Spend some time in prayer. Ask the Lord if there are things you need to let go of, changes you need to make. What needs to happen for you to be fully on board with Him? What do you need to ask forgiveness for?
For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.