The residents of Jerusalem during King Josiah’s reign (640-609 BC) experienced a revival that came with a rediscovery of God’s previously ignored and misplaced Word. Zephaniah, a prophet, warned that enjoying the memory of a revival is not the same as living in response to God.
The problem? The people of his day were ready to include Yahweh in their pantheon of gods but it was just a matter of covering all their options rather than a heartfelt devotion. They would “bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by [the Chaldean god] Milcom, [as] those who have turned back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him” [Zephaniah 1:5-6].
Listen to God’s response:
“At that time [in a coming day of judgment] I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill’” [1:12].
God’s warning showed that he was aware of the logic among his supposed followers: it had everything to do with his divine potency. The people were looking around and asking, “What sort of spirituality offers the best returns?” When they considered the massive Chaldean armies in the region that were threatening them it seemed clear that Milcom’s potency was greater than Yahweh’s—so it was wise to cover their bets by giving Milcom spiritual primacy while still hanging on to the memories of Yahweh.
In Zephaniah’s warning he answered this logic by offering a glimpse of the future: God would, in due time, “make Nineveh [the Chaldean capital] a desolation, a dry waste in the desert” so that all those who pass by the site would hiss and shake their fists [2:15].
God’s purpose is first and foremost to draw hearts, not to defeat armies. But after a time he shows off who really is in charge: Milcom is now a distant memory and Nineveh a crumbled archaeology site. Real faith in the true God always wins in the end.
Yet it may be that many Christians today are measuring God’s potency by his standing in today’s culture. It seems as if God is neither doing good nor ill while many of the political, spiritual, educational, and financial power-brokers and cultural icons of our day treat him as despicable—as a past pretense rather than a living reality.
And the outcome? Spiritual complacency emerges as any of us shape our spirituality to share the expectations and appetites of those around us who despise God. This comes off as a practical atheism: maintaining our “God-words” while embracing worldly values.
If, on the other hand, we continue to stand strongly—and patiently—as those who really love God; and as we wait for him to trip up the seemingly wise but actually foolish leaders of our own age, we will be rewarded. As we avoid complacency and seek God with whole hearts and full devotion we can look forward to sharing the promise the “mighty” God gave Zephaniah’s Jerusalem audience:
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” [3:17].
For those who are now complacent: start seeking God. For those on Yahweh’s side: I can hardly wait to hear his voice as he sings over us!