By Stephen Green. (First Published in Christian Voice October 2006)
Zeph. 1:11 Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
12 And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.
13 Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof.
14 The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.
15 That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.
17 And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.
Those following the Christian Voice 'Lamplight' Bible-reading plan will have seen this passage from the prophet Zephaniah set for reading on the 1st October. Zephaniah means 'God hides,' or 'God has hidden'. (The ending 'iah' in a name always refers to 'Jah' (Ps 68:4) a shortened form of the holy name of God.) The concept of the remnant whom the Lord keeps safe for return (Zeph 2:3), even though they are afflicted and poor (Zeph 3:12-17), was an encouragement for
then, and it encourages those who hunger and thirst after righteousness today.
And why are they afflicted and poor? Because of the oppression described by Zephaniah in Chapter 1 of his prophecy. Maktesh was an area of
, and seems to have been associated with national and international trade. The judgment is falling on the merchants probably not because of the commerce as such, but because the idolatry of
described in verses 4-6 had led to the violence and robbery depicted in verses 8-9. The prophecy was made early during the reign of Josiah before his reforms described in 2Kgs 23 and 2Chr 34-35. Zephaniah plainly had the wickedness of Josiah's father Amon, who reigned but two years, and his grandfather Manasseh very much in mind. It strikes me that even though Amon followed in all the wickedness of his father, he had still named his eldest son Josiah, which means 'Whom God heals'. It seems odd that the wicked can act prophetically but all is in the purpose of Almighty God.
Manasseh had reigned for fifty-five years. The contrast with his father Hezekiah could hardly have been greater. Manasseh brought back all the fertility rites, astrology, witchcraft and human sacrifice (2Kgs 21:6) which his father abolished. Scripture says Manasseh filled
with innocent blood 'from one end to another' (2Kgs 21:16 cf 2Chr 33). Fifty-five years is a long time for a nation to turn its collective back on God. It suddenly occurs to me that our present Queen has been on the throne now for almost fifty-four years. Looking at the laws we have passed, at the consumerism and injustice of our own age, and the relegation of God to the side-lines, the replacement of the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ by worship of mankind in pagan secular humanism, and at our own versions of human sacrifice, in which infants are sacrificed to Choice and adults in our armed forces are sent overseas to die for Democracy, and the parallels are chilling.
SEARCHING WITH CANDLES
may not be
, nor London Jerusalem, nor the City of
, but we are certain that as God does not change, when He saw evil and hated the sight of it in
, He had hated it in
before, and He hates it in our land today. It is always uncanny to read the prophets and see how similar we are in our ways to the nations against whom God pronounces judgment in the Bible. God overthrew
, the Canaanites, and every civilisation of the ancient world. His hand is not shortened today (Isa 59:1).
The verse which leaps out at me from the passage quoted is verse 12. The word translated as 'candles' is from a word meaning to glisten, or to light, which implies the illumination of the darkest corners. We could think of a torch, seeking out those men who do not want their deeds to be illuminated. What a parallel with the words of the Lord in the Gospel of John:
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Zephaniah then uses a wine-making metaphor. The lees is the sediment at the bottom of a wine-fermenting vat. The wine only settles on its lees after all the work of the yeast has finished. Indeed, the lees is more or less entirely dead yeast. When the yeast is really active, especially early in the fermentation, the 'must' or grape juice is frothing and bubbling, full of energy. The yeast will only finish when there is no more sugar to work on, and at that point its production job is done. The yeast then falls to the bottom to become lees and, as soon as the wine has settled, it has to be racked quickly from the lees (see Jer 48:11) before it picks up 'off' flavours. It is a brilliant metaphor. The men referred to have done it all, finished their activity, and said goodbye to work and production. They think they are relaxing, but spiritually they are as dead or dying as the lees, and going off, losing all that made them truly human.
GOD WILL NOT SEE
Crucially, as they think they have done it all by their own efforts, they leave no place to honour God. The Lord, they have decided, does not intervene in the affairs of men. If you asked them, perhaps they would have said they believe in God. There are lots of people like that today. Perhaps some concept of God set the whole thing in motion, but the idea that this God does judgment is a bit old-fashioned 'in this day and age'. After all, is this not 639BC? Do we not have a young king on the throne? Is not
beginning to wane? (Let's ignore the signs of the rise of
.) Are we not doing quite well? And have not our own efforts done it all? It is a point of view known as 'Deism', in which God is sort of there, but not personal or interventional in any sense. It was not even a new idea in Zephaniah's time. Here are some verses from the Psalms, written around 400 years earlier:
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. (Ps. 14:1 & Ps. 53:1)
Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God. (Ps. 53:4)
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. (Ps. 73:11‑12)
And especially this:
Ps. 94:5 They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.
6 They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
7 Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
8 Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?
9 He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
10 He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?
Psalm 12 talks of men 'Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?' (Ps 12:4) These wicked rulers, who exalt 'the vilest men' (v8) refuse to recognise the authority of Almighty God. They are their own sovereign, caught in the original sin of being 'as gods' (Gen 3:5), deciding their own morality, doing what they want, because they have made up their mind that God 'will not see'. Even when the remaining people of
were on the point of being taken into exile in
, for some had already gone, even then, they would not acknowledge God as God, according to what Ezekiel was made to see, even in the depths of the temple itself:
Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of
do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, the LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth. (Eze. 8:12)
LAW FROM THE PIT OF HELL
The religion of a land, whatever it might be, is reflected in its morality. The one follows the other. There is no neutrality, no 'religion-free zone', in legislation. If God is not given His rightful place as lawmaker, man makes the law, and the law he makes is inevitably from the pit of hell. As Ezekiel was taken out of the temple, just before God's glory departed from it, he saw the wickedness of the whole city. Chapter 9 is that in which judgment begins at the house of God, and Ezekiel was beside himself with anguish. He poured out his heart to God, and received this reply, a mirror of the earlier verse:
Then said he unto me, The iniquity of the house of
is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not. (Eze. 9:9)
The New Testament has similar imagery and sees similar attitudes in men. The Apostle Peter writes this, in a prophetic sideswipe at evolutionists, eighteen centuries before that literally godless doctrine reared its head:
2 Pet. 3:3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water.
Is there any way back for a society in which those in authority and those with influence scoff at the Almighty? We all know what happened to
because they decided that God was not a God of judgment. Each was placed in subjection and then deported by a stronger nation with a more vibrant culture. Ezekiel was in the unenviable position of seeing it all.
Zephaniah prophesied the deportation of
and its consequences. All that the merchants had built up, before they settled on their lees, was taken from them, just as he said. They lost their goods, their property and their land. Many lost their lives in the terrible 'Day of the Lord'. It was 'a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.' The enemy could not even be bought off with financial inducements.
Am I alone in seeing Islam today as
was then? Islam is certainly as ambitious and just as aggressive. There is an echo in that there are also people in the Establishment who believe that if they throw enough money at the Muslims, and be nice to them, the latter will be placated and pacified. But Zephaniah says 'Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD's wrath.' A few golden eggs do not interest Mohammed's followers when they can have the whole goose.
, led by the righteous Josiah, repented at the preaching of Zephaniah, and began rebuilding the temple. When God saw that they were serious in their intentions, He sent Josiah the miracle of the finding of the book of the law.
had one last opportunity to completely turn to God. In the end it could not last, but they had twenty years of blessing before Josiah went on one foreign adventure too many. God can and will act when he sees that His people are fully determined to seek His face, desiring His glory and wanting to exalt His name.
A GODLESS EUROPEAN
So we, like the Psalmist, are crying 'Help, LORD!' (Ps 12:1) We are also standing up for the Lord Jesus Christ and calling for national repentance, just like Zephaniah. We say that without Jesus Christ at its centre, the European Union is doomed, just as Zephaniah preached judgment on the nations surrounding
. We are not the only European nation facing the threat of Islam. Will God use Islam in judgment against the European Union which has rejected Him? He used
, to Habakkuk's consternation.
So we keep praying, and we keep showing God how serious our prayer is by what we are prepared to do. Who can tell if God will turn and repent of the evil, leaving instead a blessing? (Jonah 3:9; Joel 2:13-14) He is merciful after all, and not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2Pet 3:9).
The Psalmist speaks of the long-suffering and merciful character of God and the hope we have in that His heart is to see judgment and righteousness established:
For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance. But judgment shall return unto righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it. (Ps. 94:14‑15)
CHRISTIANITY MUST FACE ISLAM DOWN
I still have hope that our prophetic voices will be part of how the Lord Jesus Christ will defeat the twin foes of Secular Humanism and Islam in our land. It will happen when and if Britain senses from the Church that the historic Faith of these isles has muscle and conviction and something to say about law-making and the affairs of men. To put it another way, that we shall trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He, not Allah, is to be God in this
. Secular Humanism, with its deliberate spiritual vacuum, is powerless in the face of Islam. Only Christianity can face Islam down. In fact, the Church probably has first to shake of the shackles of Deism and say that God can and will move in judgment, that He will 'do good and evil', before the nation will accept that of God and lay the foundations for renewed faith in Christ our Redeemer, to whose power and empire the whole earth is subject.
But if it will not happen, and if the Crescent Moon is destined to overcome our nation for our sins, we must still keep praying and working and speaking the truth. It is all we can do, it is our duty to confess Jesus Christ and it is the only way the Godly remnant can survive. As Zephaniah says:
Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD's anger. (Zeph. 2:3)