The LORD Your God in Your Midst: No Shame (3:3-5)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Note: In today’s entry, I name a few people that I consider to be false teachers. How I wish you could hear my tone of voice. I don’t approve of attacking people, but I also don’t approve of ignoring what is true. The hard words tucked into the below are not written in anger.

For the record, I have for quite some time now been the opposite of a fan-girl when it comes to Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle Melton and Rachel Held Evans – a tough place to be as a female blogger. It is 100% not personal as I’ve never met any of them. This is all about what they teach. Please know that my issue with Hatmaker began long before the interview that recently appeared here.

I know I’m going to lose some of you because of this. I ask that you take the time to really look at what these women (and the more notorious men listed) teach and compare it with Scripture. In the end, it is God’s word that matters, no matter how unpopular or uncomfortable it makes us.

Gentle Reader,

Today we have before us a study in contrasts. The unrighteousness of humanity and the righteousness of God. Darkness and light. Salvation, the need for it and the answer for that need, encapsulated in just a few verses.

The Unrighteous

Her princes in her midst are roaring lions;
Her judges are evening wolves
That leave not a bone till morning.
Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people;
Her priests have polluted the sanctuary,
They have done violence to the law.
…the unjust knows no shame.

– Zephaniah 3:3-4, 5b (NKJV)

In this description, Zephaniah stands alongside Amos, the shepherd-prophet who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. (Scholars place Amos somewhere between 767-753 B.C., roughly 30 years before the Assyrian conquest and about a century before Zephaniah came on the scene). Like Zephaniah, Amos exposed the evil deeds of the ruling class, of those who should have been taking care of the vulnerable:

…Israel stands accused for crimes against fellow Israelites. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals (2:6). They trample the poor into the dust (v. 7).

Israel’s crimes against persons are at the same time crimes against Yahweh’s holiness: the people profane his holy name (2:7); they desecrate his sacred altar by their unjust social behavior (v. 8); they profane his hallowed house by their reprehensible deeds. Furthermore, they have responded inappropriately to Yahweh’s gracious gift of the Promised Land (v. 9) and to his care in delivering them from Egypt and choosing some of their sons as prophets and Nazirites (vv. 10-11). Rather than accepting God’s gifts with gratitude, they made the intoxicant-abstaining Nazirites drink wine, and they commanded the prophets not to prophesy (v. 12). (1)

This is, of course, painting with a broad stroke, because there’s no doubt that there were some among the princes, prophets and priests that were part of the righteous remnant that the majority of the Old Testament writing prophets speak of (Daniel and his friends are a good example; see Daniel 1). And again, if any of the wicked among the elite had chosen to repent, God would have responded in grace. He knows each person intimately.

Caveats aside, those in power abused their power and they did so blatantly.

Princes

God expected the civil and religious leaders of the land to take His word seriously and lead the people in the way of righteousness. Instead, the leaders acted like ravenous beasts in the way they oppressed the people and took what they wanted from them. (2)

Reaching all the way back to roughly 739 B.C. and the first of the major writing prophets, we read:

The LORD stands up to plead,
And stands to judge the people.
The LORD will enter into judgment
With the elders of His people
And His princes:
“For you have eaten up the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the faces of the poor?”
Says the Lord GOD of hosts.

– Isaiah 3:13-15 (NKJV)

Oppression is not a modern concept. It is not a Western issue. Those in power have consistently, throughout history and across every culture, placed a boot on the neck of the poor and defenseless. (Yes, very broad strokes again, as there have been more than a handful of wise leaders. Yet looking at the scope of history, considering the rise and fall of nations, these wise leaders are few and far between). There’s a reason why it is said that, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

This was not how God’s people then were supposed to function and it is not how we are supposed to function now.

“You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” …

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.”

– Exodus 22:21-24, Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (NKJV)

The government of Judah, the princes, the leaders, were treating the poor and vulnerable in precisely the opposite way. We’re talking real oppression here. As in violence, homelessness, starvation. Nothing at all like what we get so wrapped up in (bathrooms and pronouns – allow me that; no, I am not freaking out over who uses a bathroom because I really don’t care, only pointing out that there’s a chasm between that and, I don’t know, being kidnapped as a child and forced to serve in a guerrilla army) and so often exactly what we ourselves turn a blind eye to.

Do not mistake me. I do not promote the so-called “social gospel,” and neither does God in His condemnation of the princes. Caring for the marginalized and poverty-stricken cannot and should not ever be divorced from the Gospel. Which leads us to our second group.

Prophets

The prophets were unfaithful tot he Lord and His word and dealt treacherously with the people. They didn’t proclaim God’s truth; they only preached what the people wanted to hear. (3)

Go now and read all of Ezekiel 13.

Seriously.

God does not tolerate false teachers. He does not pat them on the head and say, “Oh, it’s okay, honey.” I often wonder if the misrepresentation of His word, and therefore Himself, doesn’t make Him angrier than any other sin. (Just a wondering. I know there aren’t hierarchies of sin). The Joel Osteen/Benny Hinn/Joseph Prince/Jen Hatmaker/Glennon Doyle Melton/Rachel Held Evans types and all the rest who slide on the scale of “all is well” and “I’m so much smarter than you” and “give me your money” must make Him seethe.

But then there are people who listen to them, people who should know better. I wonder how that makes Him feel.

(And now I’ve lost some readers. Farewell, dears).

False teachers are evil, period. It doesn’t matter if 90% of what they say is good. The 10% makes all the difference. I mean, really, if someone gave you a batch of chocolate chip cookies and told you that there was just a little dog poop mixed into the batter, would you eat them?

These bad-news dudes that stood against Zephaniah must have just annoyed him to the point of gritting his teeth. Here he is, doing his best to preach the message, the actual words of God, and he slams against a brick wall of capped-toothed grins. He keeps hearing that this sin or that sin is no big deal. He has to listen as Scripture is contorted to mean something it couldn’t possibly mean in order for people to feel good about themselves. Over and over again he hurls himself against that wall of fake cheer and ear-tickling. It must have been exhausting.

The problem really hasn’t changed, has it?

Priests

As for the priests, their very ministry was toxic and polluted the sanctuary! … Instead of serving God for His glory,the priests twisted the law to please themselves and gain what they wanted. (4)

The priests had a very specific role in society and a very specific way they were to play that role. Large chunks of Torah (the first five books of the Bible) are dedicated to outlining how they were to dress, who they could marry and how the sacrificial system was to work. God was exacting in His requirements. A certain group of people took care of the physical Tabernacle and the Temple after it. A certain group sang songs. A certain group performed the sacrifices. Only one, the High Priest, was ever permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested, and then only once a year.

There job was to care for the spiritual state of the people. They were to teach them how to have a proper relationship with God. They were to help them maintain that relationship. By the time of Zephaniah, their eyes were focused elsewhere. As we discussed before, the reforms of King Josiah were the last gasp, the final effort to get Judah back on track. Barely a generation later, the Temple was filled with idols (see Ezekiel 8).

The Righteous

The LORD is righteous in her midst,
He will do no unrighteousness.
Every morning He brings His justice to light;
He never fails…

– 3:5 (NKJV)

I can’t even begin to imagine God in the middle of all this. Yet somehow He was, and somehow He is today, because He who cannot and will not abide sin remains completely loving. In His justice He must respond to those who reject Him. This is true. It is also true that He calls to the worst of sinners in the middle of their sin, flinging grace before them, working to draw them to Himself. But He is a gentleman. He forces no one.

So the light shines into the darkness, dispelling and exposing. Then as now, all who encounter this brilliance must choose: flee or fall at His feet.

Reflection

  1. Read Proverbs 14:31 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. How does God view generosity?
  2. Read 2 Peter 2. What are some signs of false teachers? What will happen to them?
  3. Read 1 Timothy 4:16. What steps do you need to take to guard your life and doctrine?
  4. Read Ezekiel 8. How does God respond to what’s happening in this scene?
  5. Read Zephaniah 3. What stands out to you?

Signature

Sources

(1) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

(2) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 156.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

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