Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where the opening scene seems to come out of nowhere, only for the author to say something to the effect of, “But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning and I’ll tell you how all this started…” That’s how the book of Zephaniah seems to start. Just out of nowhere, God starts talking to Zephaniah about all of this destruction that is going to happen to Judah. He is going to destroy man and beast, birds and fish, paupers and princes.
So how did we get here? Judah had begun to follow after other gods (literally a violation of rule number 1!) and even some of those who did claim to follow God were using his name as a byword rather than sincerely worshipping him. God shows the extent of the judgment before circling back around and showing the solution to the problem. In Chapter 3, verses 9 and following, God shows his intent in all of this destruction: to return the hearts of the people to serve Him singularly.
Their hearts were what was important to God and we see this fact restated in Proverbs 4:23. This is one of the most well known verses in the entire book of Proverbs: “Keep thy heart with all dilligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” If our hearts aren’t right before God, how can we expect our actions to be right? And if neither of those is right, how can we expect or even have the audacity to ask for God’s blessing?
So many people in 21st century society have abandoned following God for a myriad of reasons that they attribute to God. Let me give you a couple I have heard in the last month:
- “I was reading my Bible, but God wasn’t answering my prayers.”
- “It doesn’t seem like God really cares about what is going on in the world.”
- “A loving God couldn’t __________…”
In all three of these, the accusation is made against God and the speaker assumes no responsibility. But let’s examine them a little more closely. In the first sentence, the speaker assumes that there is a direct causation between reading the Bible and getting what they want. But Psalm 37:4 says that our heart must be aligned with God’s Word and His will before He can fulfill the desires of our heart.
The second assumes that the speaker’s understanding of reality is more accurate than God, who is omniscient. It is ultimately a statement of idolatry with the speaker worshipping himself and his own understanding in the place of God.
The third statement singles out God’s love to the exclusion of His other attributes. When we choose to only worship a God who acts how we want Him to, we establish ourselves as the dictators of the universe instead of allowing God, in the fullness of His character to rule over the world He has created. Again, this is the idol-worship of self.
Instead of desiring that God fit the mold of my desires, we should reorient our hearts to fit the mold of His desires. In times of distress, we should echo the psalmist’s words: “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance…Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice…”