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.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Woe to Her (3:1-2)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

Thank you for indulging me during a much-needed hiatus. I am feeling more like myself at the beginning of this final week of October. The exhaustion that nearly took me out served as a good reminder. God has not asked me to do all the things. He’s only asked me to do what He’s asked me to do. There is a difference.

Getting Back to the Scene

We are stepping into the third chapter of Zephaniah. We have read judgments on the people of God and judgments on the nations that raged against the people of God. We have learned that the Lord takes sin seriously. He is gracious, patient and ever-loving, but there comes a time when the clock runs out. The people have refused to heed His warnings. They have not listened to the prophets He sent them. They have continued on down their own path, doing their own thing. God, bound by the honesty of His character, is moved to act, just as He said He would (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted,
To the oppressing city!
She has not obeyed His voice,
She has not received correction;
She has not trusted in the Lord,
She has not drawn near to her God.

– Zephaniah 3:1-2 (NKJV)

Just a Picture

The city of Jerusalem is cast as a woman here. This doesn’t mean that God is anti-woman. This does not mean that women sin more than men. This is simply a picture of God’s relationship with His people, men and women alike. Such imagrey is abundant in both the Old and New Testaments. Those in covenant with God are often spoken of as “wife” (Israel) and “bride” (the Church).

The wife:

“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the LORD.”

– Hosea 2:19-20 (NKJV)

The bride:

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

– Revelation 19:7-9 (NKJV)

God uses human terms to explain great mysteries to us. Everyone understands what marriage is. We know what that looks like. Yet, as He so often does, He takes what we know and turns it on its head. Consider:

As a rule, the fathers arranged the match. The girl was consulted, but the “calling of the damsel and inquiring at her mouth” after the conclusion of all negotiations was merely a formality.

In those days a father was more concerned about the marriage of his sons than about the marriage of his daughters. No expense was involved in marrying off a daughter. The father received a dowry for his daughter whereas he had to give a dowry to the prospective father-in-law of his son when marrying him off. (1)

The Father has indeed arranged the match – and that arranging involved Him paying the highest of costs. He receives no payment in return, for there is nothing we can give Him that matches the expense. Nor does He force anyone to enter into the relationship. He respects the voice and choice of the individual.

(As an aside, those who complain in articles and books about the “feminization of the church” should probably take it up with God, since since the whole thing was His idea).

Not Listening

Instead of being holy, the city was filthy and polluted because of shameful sin; and instead of bringing peace (Jerusalem means “city of peace”), the city was guilty of rebellion and oppression. God gave His people to revelation of Himself in His word and His mighty acts, yet they didn’t believe Him or seek Him. (2)

The NKJV renders the Hebrew shâma‛ of verse two as “obey,” but within the imagery of a marriage relationship God is using as He speaks through the prophet, the NASB “heeded” (“she heeded no voice”) is a better translation choice. Scripture teaches that children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) but nowhere does it teach that wives are to obey their husbands. (This is, of course, where the imagery breaks down some, for we are required to obey the Lord).

The point here is not, “Hey! You women! Pay attention. You should be obeying your husbands.” Instead, the point is that God’s people weren’t listening to Him. They had access to His word. They knew how they were supposed to live. They knew what they were supposed to avoid and what the rhythm of life was to be. It is as if they stuck their fingers in their ears and screamed, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”

God is ever-speaking, even when He seems silent. In fact, the silence is often an answer, a way of communicating. He is the husband who always has the best interests of His wife at heart. He never does anything out of a desire to harm. He doesn’t try to squash His wife’s spirit. He only wants His wife to live within the protective boundaries He has designed.

“I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD.

– Ezekiel 16:10-14 (NKJV)

Not Correction

My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction;
For whom the LORD loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

– Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV)

They were not listening, so they could not – would not – receive the discipline that justly came their way in the form of: increasingly harsh and gloomy words from the prophets, growing political turmoil, disease, famine and general turmoil.

“But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them. Also My food which I gave you—the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you—you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was,” says the Lord GOD… “You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry.”

– Ezekiel 16:15-19, 25 (NKJV)

Instead of clinging to the Lord, the people attached themselves to foreign gods, foreign ways of living, foreign alliances. They filled their ears with noise and their days with busyness in order to avoid what they must have somehow, somewhere deep inside, sensed was coming.

Not Trusted in the Lord

He encouraged her to depend upon him, and His power and promise, for deliverance from evil and supply with good; but she trusted not in the Lord; her confidence was placed in her alliances with the nations more than in her covenant with God. (3)

Remember that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4, NKJV). We are in no position to judge the Israelites, who so badly wanted to be like everyone else, for this is all too often our own temptation.

Their struggle to trust in the Lord began even before they left Egypt. God was in the middle of rescuing them, of shaping them into a new people, a nation set apart for His glory, and they doubted. They complained. They whined. They made a golden calf to worship (well, according to Aaron it just sort of appeared on its own – Exodus 32:22-24). God didn’t choose the Israelites because they had their stuff together and were super-impressive. He chose them because He wanted to, despite all of their issues.

They just couldn’t seem to collectively and consistently choose Him in return.

Not Drawn Near

He gave her tokens of his presence, and instituted ordinances of communion for her with himself; but she drew not near to her God, did not meet him where he appointed and where he promised to meet her. She stood at a distance, and said to the Almighty, “Depart.” (4)

No listening, no discipline, no trust.

How quick a descent it is into the ice bath that turns the heart frigid.

There is no way to draw near to the Lord, to love Him, without listening. Without accepting His correction. Without trusting in Him. The people of Zephaniah’s day could no more relegate God to the side, sprinkle a little holy on their lives and be about their merry way, than we can.

And so I wonder. Could God possibly be speaking these same words to His bride today?

She has not obeyed…

She has not received correction…

She has no trusted…

She has not drawn near…

Reflection

I cannot help but take these verses personally. They roll around in my mind, exposing things I would rather remain hidden. I invite you to spend some time in thought along with me. As always, don’t head directly for condemnation as you ponder these questions. Allow them instead to bring you closer to the Lord.

  1. How are you disobeying God?
  2. In what areas are you refusing to accept His correction?
  3. Do you truly trust God?
  4. Are you drawing near to Him?

Signature

Sources

(1) Ancient Jewish Marriage

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

(3) Matthew Henry’s Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

(4) Ibid.

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

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Prophet

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;He will rejoice over you with gladness,He will quiet you with His love,He will rejoice over you with singing.” (1)

Gentle Reader,

The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah…

– Zephaniah 1:1 (NKJV)

Next to nothing is known of Zephaniah, whose name means “hidden of the Eternal.”

Where was he born? Was he old he began his ministry? Young? Married? Single? Did he rock a righteous beard or was it rather scraggly? Was he bald? Short? Tall? What was his favorite food? Did he prefer dogs or cats? What was his experience of God’s call? Did he hear an audible voice? Was he ushered into Heaven? How did he feel about having the prophetic mantle draped across his shoulders?

All questions with no answers.

What

Prophets functioned as the human means through which God declared His word. Throughout Scripture, these men and women shared several characteristics:

  1. A call from God. Attempting to prophesy without such a commission was a false prophecy.
  2. Received word from God through many means – direct declarations, visions, dreams or an appearance of God.
  3. Spoke the word of God. They were primarily spokespersons who called God’s people to obedience by appealing to Israel’s past and future.
  4. Relayed God’s message by deed as well as by word.
  5. Performed miracles that confirmed their message.
  6. Conveyed the word of God by writing.
  7. Ministered to God’s people. Functioned as watchmen and intercessors.
  8. Genuine ecstatic experiences. Prophets were sometimes allowed a glimpse into the throne room of God or to see the pre-Incarnate Christ. (1)

The job of a prophet was not just to predict the future. This was certainly part of his ministry, but primarily he focused on calling the people to repent. Over and over the Old Testament prophets draw their audience back to the covenant made before entering the Promised Land. They remind their listeners and readers of the consequences that will befall them as a result of disobeying God – consequences that they were not ignorant of.

Heart

Despite the gloom and doom, the prophetic books possess an ultimately hopeful focus. God cannot ignore the sins of the nation, but there is almost always a promise of restoration:

Thus says the LORD: “Again there shall be heard in this place—of which you say, ‘It is desolate, without man and without beast’—in the cities of Judah, in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say:

‘Praise the Lord of hosts,
For the LORD is good,
For His mercy endures forever’—

 

and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,” says the LORD.

– Jeremiah 33:10-11 (NKJV)

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of who God is? He is just and righteous and so He will faithfully execute judgment. He will honor our choices by responding to them with either positive or negative consequences. Yet He doesn’t throw a party when people reject Him. His heart is instead for all to know and be in relationship with Him:

“For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”

– Ezekiel 18:32 (NKJV)

God is whole. Complete. Perfect. We, in our broken, incomplete, imperfection have a hard time understanding how justice and mercy come together. We wonder how kindness can be so very firm. I have no answer beyond that this is simply who God is and how He operates. Punishment for sin is a means God uses to finally bring humans, individually both and collectively, to repentance. That’s His goal. Really, that’s wild. He could ignore us. Or blow us off the face of the earth. He doesn’t

Perhaps wilder still, in a move that makes little sense given His transcendent nature and power, in the Old Testament era God chose to use people loyal to Him to proclaim that goal.

And so the prophets spoke.

Why

Their lives were never easy. Danger dogged every step. They were unpopular and unwelcome. They spoke and wrote harsh truths to people who longed only to be told what they wanted to hear (much like our own day). While at any given moment they may have been surrounded by people, the nature of their call was solitary. They had to be tough. Yet they were just as human as the people to whom they spoke. They struggled with despair. Their burdens were great. I don’t think that we would be out of line to imagine that there were times when they spoke or recorded the holy messages with tears stinging their eyes.

…the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

– Hebrews 11:32b-3 (NKJV)

Why did they endure?

They loved the Lord. These were the men and women God found when His eyes searched the earth for those who were loyal to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). Whatever they had to face was worth it because of the sweetness of His presence and pleasure.

Zephaniah’s heart beat in concert with the Lord’s. I imagine that first day, that moment when he knew, beyond doubt, what he was to do. Eyes closed, head bowed, shoulders slumped. Then, as if moved by an unseen hand, he straightens, shoulders square. Lids glide across corneas and suddenly brown irises blaze with fire. He stares into the crowd. He speaks.

An apparent 50 years’ silence of prophetic inactivity is shattered by the forceful and articulate voice of Zephaniah. The long reign of Manasseh (687–642 B.C.E.) witnessed the promotion of cults of other divinities alongside Yahweh, a situation which the Hebrew prophets, with their zeal for the worship of Yahweh alone, opposed. The abuses attacked by Zephaniah in chapter 1, such as astral worship (1:4–5) and aping foreign customs (1:8–9), are largely those decried in Kings (II Kings 21:2–9; 23:4–7), which Josiah’s reform (621 B.C.E.) sought to eliminate. The external situation was even more ominous. The breakup of the mighty Assyrian empire with the attendant cataclysmic upheaval was already causing a premonition of doom to pervade the international atmosphere. Such a time was propitious for a sensitive person, steeped in the cultic and literary traditions of his people, to arrive at a deepened meaning of the swiftly approaching Day of YHWH. (2)

Reflection

  1. What do you think Zephaniah was like? (Don’t panic. I’m not asking you to add to Scripture. This is simply a creative exercise meant to help immerse you further into the context of the book).
  2. Read Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1. These chapters record the initial experiences of other prophets.
  3. John Wesley wrote of Hebrews 11:33, “Faith overcomes all impediments; effects the greatest things; attains to the very best; and inverts, by its miraculous power the very course of nature.” (3) Pause now and pray. Confess your doubts and worries to God. Ask Him to grow your faith.
  4. You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

    – Romans 2:4 (MSG)

    How do you respond to the idea of God’s kindness including firmness? What does this make you think? What does this make you feel?

  5. Read through Zephaniah again, this time from the viewpoint of the prophet. What stands out to you?

Until next time.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, eds., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003. “Prophecy, Prophets.” p. 1334.

(2) Zephaniah

(3) Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Kings

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;He will rejoice over you with gladness,He will quiet you with His love,He will rejoice over you with singing.” (1)

Gentle Reader,

The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:

– Zephaniah 1:1 (NKJV)

Last week we established that Zephaniah (and the rest of the Bible) cannot be fully understood when divorced from the historical timeline. Today we take another slice from the interpretive pie and savor it: politics. Specifically, the kings that informed and influenced the writing of the book.

Again I’m tempted to try and teach the entire Old Testament.

#aintnobodygottimeforthat

I’ll do my best to narrow my focus.

Theocracy

Following their release from slavery, the Hebrew people were to function in a theocracy, “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided” (1). This word doesn’t appear in the Biblical texts; it is instead:

A word first used by Josephus to denote that the Jews were under the direct government of God himself. The nation was in all things subject to the will of their invisible King. All the people were the servants of Jehovah, who ruled over their public and private affairs, communicating to them his will through the medium of the prophets. They were the subjects of a heavenly, not of an earthly, king. They were Jehovah’s own subjects, ruled directly by him. (2)

This does not mean that God was opposed to government. He used Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead His people out of Egypt and in the wilderness. He wasn’t mad when Moses took his father-in-law Jethro’s advice and appointed judges to hear and deal with disputes (Exodus 18). The entire book of Judges (a narrative that ends with the passing of the prophet Samuel [1 Samuel 25:1]) records God raising up men and women to lead His people. The Lord has always seen fit to include humans in the working out of His plans and purposes.

He even makes provision for a king:

When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

– Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (NKJV)

The point of this theocracy, then, was not anarchy but an organized system whose members continually looked to the Lord and obeyed His leadership.

None of Them

The short of it is that every one of the kings of both the united and divided kingdoms basically ignored the commands of Deuteronomy 17. Even David, the man after God’s own heart, had multiple wives and amassed a great deal of wealth. Those who followed him fall along various points of the “good, bad, worse” spectrum, but even the ones who could be called “good” kings turned a blind eye in one way or another to at least some of the things they were to do and be.

This is perhaps best illustrated in the nation’s continual relationship with false gods and goddesses, for what the king allowed, the people would embrace (save for the “righteous remnant” addressed here and in the other books of the prophets). We touched on this in our discussion of the setting of Zephaniah and will explore it more fully next time, when we look at the culture of ancient Judah.

We Three Kings

Zephaniah wrote during the reign of Josiah, but we can’t understand who Josiah was and why he did what he did without looking at his father and grandfather:

Grandfather Manasseh (“Forgetting, Forgetfulness”): reigned 696-642 B.C.

His story:

2 Kings 21 –

  • 12 years old when he began to rule (vs. 1)
  • Reigned 55 years (vs. 1)
  • Mother’s name Hephzibah (vs. 1)
  • Did evil in the sight of the Lord (vs. 2)
  • Rebuilt the high places that his father had torn down (vs. 3)
  • Made altars for Baal, made a wooden image as Ahab had done, worshipped all the host of heaven (stars, planets, etc.; astrology) and served them (vs. 3)
  • Built altars to other gods in the Temple (vs. 4)
  • Sacrificed his son to Moloch (vs. 6) It is unclear whether the “passing through the fire” in the worship of this false god meant the child was murdered or if this was some sort of initiation into a pagan priesthood (3). Given the record of Manasseh’s life, I am inclined to believe that the child was murdered.
  • Practiced soothsaying and witchcraft (vs. 6)
  • Consulted evil spirits and mediums (vs. 6)
  • Provoked the Lord to anger (vs. 6)
  • Set up an image of Asherah in the Temple (vs. 7)
  • The people paid no attention to God, and allowed Manasseh to seduce them to do more evil that any of the nations the Lord had destroyed when the Israelites conquered the land (vs. 9)
  • God declares that great calamity is coming to the people because of Manasseh (vs. 10-15)
  • The same judgment as befell the Northern Kingdom of Israel (vs. 13)
  • Sheds a great deal of innocent blood (vs. 16)

2 Chronicles 33 –

  • Vs. 1-9 mirror the 2 Kings account
  • The Lord warns Manasseh and the people, but they don’t listen (vs. 10)
  • The Assyrian army descends upon them (the judgment of Israel) and captures Manasseh, carrying him to Babylon (vs. 11)
  • At this point, Manasseh repents
  • Humbles himself greatly before God
  • God hears and accepts his repentance
  • Restores him to the throne
  • Manasseh knows now that the LORD is God (vs. 12-13)
  • Goes on to complete construction projects in Jerusalem (vs. 14)
  • Puts military captains in all the fortified cities of Judah (vs. 14)
  • Takes away all the foreign gods, throwing them out of the city (vs. 15) But he doesnot tear down the high places. This is key.
  • Repaired the altar of the Lord (vs. 16)
  • Commands the people to worship God (vs. 16)
  • The people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to God (vs. 17) Really? Can places of idol worship ever be turned into places of God worship?
  • Vs. 18-19 mention a prayer

Prayer attributed to Manasseh –

The following is not found in the Bible. It is an apocryphal work (unknown authorship, doubtful authenticity). Whether Manasseh prayed it or not, it is a beautiful record of repentance:

O Lord, Almighty God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; who hast made heaven and earth, with all the ornament thereof; who hast bound the sea by the word of thy commandment; who hast shut up the deep, and sealed it by thy terrible and glorious name; whom all men fear, and tremble before thy power; for the majesty of thy glory cannot be borne, and thine angry threatening toward sinners is importable: but thy merciful promise is unmeasurable and unsearchable; for thou art the most high Lord, of great compassion, longsuffering, very merciful, and repentest of the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against thee: and of thine infinite mercies hast appointed repentance unto sinners, that they may be saved. Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. My transgressions, O Lord, are multiplied: my transgressions are multiplied, and I am not worthy to behold and see the height of heaven for the multitude of mine iniquities. I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot lift up mine head, neither have any release: for I have provoked thy wrath, and done evil before thee: I did not thy will, neither kept I thy commandments: I have set up abominations, and have multiplied offences. Now therefore I bow the knee of mine heart, beseeching thee of grace. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge mine iniquities: wherefore, I humbly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me, and destroy me not with mine iniquites. Be not angry with me for ever, by reserving evil for me; neither condemn me to the lower parts of the earth. For thou art the God, even the God of them that repent; and in me thou wilt shew all thy goodness: for thou wilt save me, that am unworthy, according to thy great mercy. Therefore I will praise thee for ever all the days of my life: for all the powers of the heavens do praise thee, and thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (4)

In Matthew 1:10, Manasseh is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.

Daddy Amon (Egyptian, “Hidden One”): reigned 642-640 B.C.

2 Kings 21 –

  • 22 when he came to the throne (vs. 19)
  • Reigned two years (vs. 19)
  • Mother’s name was Meshullmeth (vs. 19)
  • He did evil, like his father (vs. 20)
  • Walked in all the ways of his father, in idol worship (vs. 21) Manasseh’s example of repentance was too little, too late for his son.
  • Forsook the Lord (vs. 22)
  • Killed by his servants (vs. 23)
  • The assassins killed by the people (vs. 24)

2 Chronicles 33 –

  • Did not humble himself before the Lord, as Manasseh did (vs. 23)
  • Did more and more evil (vs. 23) (“ever increasing nature of wickedness”)

In Matthew 1:10, Amon is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.

Josiah (“Yahweh Helps”): reigned 640-609 B.C.

1 Kings 13 –

  • Josiah’s birth and his actions against idolatry prophesied (vs. 1-2)

2 Kings 22

  • Came to the throne at 8 years old (vs. 1) Would be tutored and advised by the High Priest until he reached adulthood.
  • Reigned 31 years (vs. 1)
  • Mother’s name was Jedidah (vs. 1)
  • Did what was right in God’s eyes (vs. 2)
  • In the 18th year of Josiah’s reign, he sends the scribe Shaphan to the Temple to tell Hilkiah the High Priest to take the money given by the people and make repairs to the Temple (vs. 4-7)
  • Hilkiah tells Shaphan that he has found the Book of the Law (vs. 8) This is definitely Leviticus and Deuteronomy, possibly the whole of the Torah.
  • The Book has been missing for 75-80 years (the years of Manasseh and Amon)
  • The people are steeped in idolatry
  • Shaphan reads the Book (vs. 8)
  • Shaphan reports to the king that his task is completed and reads the Book to the king (vs. 9-10)
  • Josiah’s reaction is one of mourning, he tears his clothes (vs. 11)
  • Sends Kilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan and Asaiah to seek out the Lord in this matter; he knows that the Lord is angry with the people for failing to keep the Law (vs. 12-13)
  • The men go to Huldah the prophetess to ask her about what they should do, what God feels (vs. 14)
  • She tells them: calamity is coming because of the failure to keep the Law, God’s wrath is aroused at idol worship. He is tender toward Josiah because he wants to follow God, he has humbled himself. God has heard Josiah and Josiah is not going to see the calamity (vs. 15-2)

2 Kings 23 –

  • Josiah gathers together all the elders of Judah and all the people of Jerusalem (vs. 1)
  • He reads the Book in their hearing (vs. 2)
  • Makes a public covenant before the Lord to keep His commandments (vs. 3)
  • All the people declare they will do so as well (vs. 3)
  • Commands the priests to bring out all the idolatrous articles from the Temple (vs. 4)
  • He burns them (vs. 4)
  • Removes the idolatrous priests (vs. 5)
  • Brings out the image of Asherah and burns it (vs. 6)
  • Tears down the booths of the religious prostitutes inside the Temple (vs. 7)
  • Breaks down the high places (vs. 8-9)
  • The priests of the high places remain unrepentant (vs. 9)
  • Destroys the place where people sacrifice to Moloch (vs. 10)
  • Removes the horses that the kings had dedicated to the sun (vs. 11)
  • Destroys every vestige of idolatry and burns bones on the altars (vs. 12-20)
  • Executes the idolatrous priests (vs. 20)
  • Commands the people to keep the Passover (vs. 21-23)
  • Arrests those who persist in idolatry (vs. 24)
  • No king would arise after him who was so devoted to God (vs. 25)
  • Nevertheless, calamity is still coming for Judah (vs. 26-27)
  • Josiah dies in battle, at the hand of an Egyptian Pharaoh Necho IIwhen he goes to battle the Assyrians (vs. 29)

2 Chronicles 32 –

  • In the 8th year of his reign (age 16) he began to seek the Lord (vs. 3)
  • In the 12th years of his reign (age 20) he began to purge the land of idolatry (vs. 3)
  • Goes throughout all the land and then returns to Jerusalem (vs. 4-7) The reforms began before the finding of the Law but were incomplete, hence the Lord prompting Zephaniah’s prophecies.
  • Vs. 8-33 mirror 2 Kings 22

2 Chronicles 35 –

  • Vs. 1-19 detail the keeping of the Passover, which had possibly not been celebrated in many years. Josiah’s words in vs. 3 have led to the belief that the Levites who remained loyal to God had removed the Ark from the Temple.
  • Necho attempts to convince Josiah not to do battle (vs. 21)
  • Josiah disguises himself to go into the fighting (vs. 22)
  • The archers shot King Josiah (vs. 23)
  • He dies (vs. 24)
  • All of Judah and Jerusalem mourn (vs. 24)
  • Jeremiah (the prophet) also mourns (vs. 25)
  • It was made a custom to sing of Josiah (vs. 25)

Jeremiah 1 –

  • Jeremiah begins prophesying in the 13th year (age 21) of Josiah’s reign (vs. 2)

In Matthew 1:11, Josiah is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.

Seesaw

In the lives of Manasseh, Amon and Josiah we see the back-and-forth nature of Judah’s relationship to and with God. Following the death of Josiah, the people slid down, down, down into the darkness of idolatry. A little over twenty years later, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II would lay waste to Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and carting off a large portion of the population into exile.

Reflection

  1. What, if anything, surprised you about the lives of the three kings? Did you learn anything new?
  2. Whether Manasseh prayed the words in the prayer attributed to him or not, it is clear from the biblical account that when he made his confession, he held nothing back. He looked his sin straight-on in the light of God’s holiness. He knew that he had deeply offended the Lord. How do you view sin? Do you see it as something “safe” or “not a big deal?” How can you apply Manasseh’s example to your own life?
  3. Does it bother you to know that such evil people are included in Christ’s family line? Why or why not?
  4. What do you think it would have looked like to be righteous during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon? What does it look like to be righteous today?
  5. Read through Zephaniah again, this time with the three kings in mind. What stands out to you?

Until next time.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) Theocracy

(2) Easton’s Bible Dictionary 

(3) Moloch 

(4) Prayer of Manasseh

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