Deal Violently With Self-Satisfied Attitudes
I read the prophet Zephaniah this morning. He has to be one of the hardest hitting in all of Scripture. His first recorded words?
“I will destroy everything on earth,” says the Lord….”I will punish Judah and all the people in Jerusalem.”
That startled me at first, because the book says that “the message of the Lord came through Zephaniah…while Josiah son of Amon was king of Judah.” Josiah was a *good* king--one of the three best that Israel ever had.
After Judah spent 77 years under two horrible kings--his father and grandfather--Josiah came to the throne. “He did good things as his ancestor David had done. Josiah did not stop doing what was right. In his eighth year as king, Josiah began to obey the God his ancestor David had followed. This was while Josiah was still young”--sixteen, to be exact. “In his twelfth year as king” (age 20) “Josiah began to remove the false gods from Judah and Jerusalem. He destroyed the places for worshiping false gods.” Under Josiah’s direction, the people cut down every Baal altar and Asherah pole in the nation. He desecrated those altars by burning the bones of their priests on them. He didn’t stop in Judah, either--Josiah did the same in all the towns in Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, regions under Assyrian control where he had no legal authority.
Then at age 26, Josiah purified and restored the Temple. The workers found the Book of the Law and brought it Josiah. He tore his clothes and ordered: “Go ask the Lord about the words in the book….Ask for me and for all who are left alive in Israel and Judah. The Lord is very angry with us because our ancestors did not obey the Lord’s word. They did not do everything this book says to do.” The men consulted a prophetess of God. God spoke through her: “You, Josiah, heard my words against this place and its people. And you became sorry for what you had done. You became sorry in my presence. You tore your clothes to show how upset you were. This is why I have heard you, says the Lord.”
Josiah had the entire book read to the people, and made all of them agree to a covenant with God to obey the Law. Then he celebrated the Passover--the first one anyone in Israel had done right since Samuel was prophet, centuries before. From his own flock, Josiah gave 30,000 sheep and goats and 3000 cattle for the sacrifice.
When Josiah died, Jeremiah wrote laments about him. The scriptures record that “the other things Josiah did are written…in the book of the kings….It tells how he loved the Lord and obeyed the Lord’s teachings.” (These events are found in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35.)
This was a wonderful king!
So why was God still so upset? Why the message of doom and gloom for Judah through the prophet Zephaniah?
One telling phrase is in 2 Chronicles 34:33--”Josiah led everyone in Israel to serve the Lord their God. *While Josiah lived*, the people obeyed the Lord, the God their ancestors obeyed.”
“While Josiah lived, the people obeyed”…but within three months after he died, they went right back to their idolatry.
God saw through their hearts even when *externally* they were still obeying. Josiah had a terrific heart. He led a wonderful “restoration movement” in the nation. He was zealous beyond all precedent, and the people followed his lead. *But they themselves had no faith of their own.* God is never satisfied with us trying to ride on someone else’s coattails.
You can read Zephaniah if you wish to see some of the telltale signs that the people’s *hearts* weren’t in line with Josiah’s. I’ll just point out two that especially struck me.
Zeph 1:6--”I will destroy those who turned away from the Lord. They quit following the Lord and consulting Him.” What do we do when we’re riding someone else’s coattails? *We quit consulting the Lord.* He no longer is God of our daily decisions. We do what seems right in our eyes; we follow our own notions. We make plans without even asking Him. It may *look* right on the outside, but to God, it is the same thing as “turning away from Him.”
This same heart is confronted in verse 12: “I, the Lord, will search Jerusalem with lamps. I will punish those who are settled and satisfied with themselves. The are like wine left to settle. They think, ‘The Lord never does anything. He won’t help or punish us.’”
Earlier in 2 Chronicles a prophet says: “The Lord searches all the earth for people who have given themselves completely to Him. He wants to make them strong.” (16:9) But those aren’t the only people He’s searching for! God gets out the search lamps to find the “settled and self-satisfied,” who in practical terms don’t think He has any relevance for their lives. He is not the Lord of the current moment for them; in their hearts, they don’t really believe He “rewards those who diligently seek Him” or that He will punish sin. As Paul would put it to the Galatians, they mock God internally, all the time they are worshiping externally, because they don’t believe Him when He says we reap what we sow.
Those are warning signs to watch for in our hearts! Externally, things may be going well; other people may be destroying idols, and we may even pitch in and do our duty. But if in our private lives, we aren’t driven by something inside to consult Jesus, if we don’t believe He is keenly interested in what’s going on this moment, if to us He’s off in another galaxy rather than “in our hearts and on our lips,” then we don’t really have our own faith.
God is not mocked! Let us deal violently with any “settled, self-satisfied,” and independent attitudes we find in our heart of hearts.