Zephaniah 1:4-6

“I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests; and them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham; and them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him.”

The Lord’s chief complaint against Israel was their idolatry. Even a casual reading of the Old Testament prophets reveals this. Here was God, their creator and deliverer, arms open wide toward them, and they were attributing their blessings to pieces of gold or silver or stone or wood. Or, they decided to come to God in ways that they had made up, instead of following His clear direction and desires.

Two types are described by Zephaniah. The first is those who were guilty of blatant idolatry. These verses mention the names of Baal, Chemarims, and Malcham. They also speak of the worshippers of the heavens from the rooftops. And, they mention those that swear by the LORD and by Malcham.

Baal, Chemarims, and Malcham were idols at the time of Zephaniah. Each were part of systems of belief which Israelites held to. But they were not what the Lord had commanded. For example, child sacrifice was practiced in these religions. All of them included representative statues, believed to be the god, so called, which were worshipped. In the verses above God promised that He would cut off all of these idolatries from Judah and Jerusalem.

Others worshipped the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars. They were worshipping the creation, instead of the Creator. It is the Creator Himself that is worthy of worship, not the things that He has made. God promised to remove this practice from Judah and Jerusalem.

Some swore by the LORD and by Malcham. They were mixing their idolatry with the ways of the LORD. They figured that they needed to cover all possibilities, honoring the LORD and their idol. But God does not share His glory with any idol. Those practices, too, will be removed from Judah and Jerusalem by the Lord.

Those that were the LORD’s served Him. Those that served the idols at least acknowledged spiritual things, though went about it wrongly. But the second group of people had a different view. They had no interest in either the One True God, or the idols. This is the same problem displayed differently. While the idolators took up with some form of religious practice, acknowledging that something was worthy of worship, the second group had no use for any spiritual things. Both groups missed the mark regarding spiritual matters, and what pleased God.

In the second group there was “…them that are turned back from the LORD”. At one time they had some kind of inkling about God. They went along with the practices of their religion which brought enjoyment or satisfaction or inspiration in some way. But for some reason they turned back from the Lord. Maybe some devastating personal event caused them to doubt His existence, or His care. And since they were insincere in the first place, they concluded that it was a waste of time and energy. People who don’t hold to the Lord, but are “playing the game”, will easily become discouraged when life becomes difficult. Pain or loss takes away the enjoyment of the rituals, and they conclude that God does not care, and so they turn away.

Then there were some that “have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for Him.” God and His things didn’t enter their thinking. They had no interest in finding out Who He is. But, as Paul put it in Acts 17:27, 28, “…He be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being…” The fact is God is near to us and interested in every aspect of our lives. He knows us completely, even our hearts. But they refuse to ask after Him or find out what He is like, or what it is that honors Him, or how to please Him.

But lest we think too harshly of those about whom Zephaniah wrote, their actions match the actions of all of mankind. We all are guilty of idolatry and rejection of God, just as Israel was. Those who are not of Israel are also guilty before God for idolatry and sin. To this day people think that God to be aloof or uninterested in their lives, or events on the earth. They think as the leaders of Israel did in the day of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 9:9, the Lord told the prophet, “…they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not.”

But nothing could be further from the truth. He cares so much for all of mankind that He made a plan to reconcile us to Himself. He came as a man, He did many wonderful things, healing the sick and raising the dead, to prove Who He was. But He was rejected by the world, and was nailed to a cross. He endured man’s wrath in beatings and tortures, and endured God’s wrath against mankind’s sin. He himself never sinned. How could He do that if He were aloof and uncaring? What more would we want Him to do?

Like Zephaniah said, the day will come, and soon, when all of these idolatrous behaviors will be cut off. Jesus will come again, and He will rule the earth. Every eye will see Him. As we read in Philippians 2:9-11, because of the willing sacrifice of Jesus, “…God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” All idolatry gone, all apathy gone, He will receive the glory He deserves!

Man of Sor­rows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sin­ners to re­claim.
Hallelujah! What a Sav­ior!

Bearing shame and scof­fing rude,
In my place con­demned He stood;
Sealed my par­don with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Sav­ior!

Guilty, vile, and help­less we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atone­ment! can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Sav­ior!

Lifted up was He to die;
It is fin­ished! was His cry;
Now in Heav’n ex­alt­ed high.
Hallelujah! What a Sav­ior!

When He comes, our glo­ri­ous king,
All His ran­somed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Sav­ior! (Philip P. Bliss)