“And at that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who settled down comfortably, who say to themselves: The Lord will do nothing–good or bad. Their wealth will become plunder and their houses a ruin. They will build houses but never live in them, plant vineyards but never drink their wine.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Lisa and I have recently been watching through a series that popped up on our Hulu account called “Extreme Homes.” The show takes viewers inside a whole variety of houses that are “extreme” in one way or another. Some are small, some are huge, but they are all unique. But while they come in all shapes and sizes, the one thing they all have in common is that they are owned by people who are wealthy. They are homes built with the intention of being able to set aside all worries and concerns and just enjoy life. In many ways, that’s not just the American dream, but the dream of everyone, everywhere. Based on what God says to the people of Judah here, though, it sounds like it might be more of a nightmare.
This first chapter of Zephaniah is intense. It may be the most intense first chapter of any of the prophetic books in the Old Testament. God pronounces judgment on basically everyone. He’s reached the end of His patience and the end is coming soon. And indeed, Zephaniah is the last prophet God sent to the people before Babylon arrived. So far we’ve seen God judging folks with divided loyalties in two different ways. As a matter of fact, the real heart of Israel’s sin was their divided loyalties. They thought they could treat God like just one of the variety of options available to them. It wasn’t that they gave up the worship of Yahweh altogether, but that they added so many other things to it thinking they were okay. They weren’t.
What we see in this third round of judgment is another way these divided loyalties often manifest themselves. When the outcome of our lives depends on us and our effort (which was the mistake the people made in their understanding of the Law and as was demonstrated in their embrace of various superstitions like we talked about yesterday), we begin to turn to things that have the appearance of working in terms of giving us positive outcomes. Well, over the whole course of human history there is nothing that has seemed to work so consistently in terms of giving us the life outcomes we have always desired as money.
In Jerusalem, there were folks who were turning to money as a means of security. They were putting their trust in that instead of in God. And, as far as they could see, this was a bet that was paying off. They had houses that seemed secure from attack. They had vineyards (that is, sources of ongoing income). They had food to eat. They had the resources to acquire things they might need in a hard situation. They were set. And they knew it.
As for God, they didn’t know what He was going to do. They couldn’t see Him. They had worked for what they had. Maybe He would help them. Maybe He wouldn’t. Either way, they had what they needed.
God’s response to this? It’s all going to fail you. All the wealth you have amassed will go to someone else or just plain be destroyed. It’s actually worse than just that. He’s going to seek them out. He’s going to hunt them down. They think they’ll be able to hide in the darkness of the coming judgment, but He will use lamps to light His way to find them. They think they will be able to hide behind their strong houses and big bank accounts, but He will find them and bring this judgment to them. They think they’ll be able to live in comfort because of what they have, but punishment will find them all the same.
So then, what do we do with this? I think there are two quick things to observe here. First, it is tempting to see this as some kind of a judgment against having wealth generally. I don’t think that’s the case at all. The sin of these folks was not in having wealth, but in trusting in their wealth instead of in the God who provided it. Think about the context of divided hearts and loyalties. Some folks were hedging their bets with literal idols. These folks were more modern in their idolatry. They were hedging their bets with their money. Remember their cynical comment? “The Lord will do nothing–good or bad.” They may have given Him some public devotion, but their real trust was in what they had.
Second, we need to watch for this same temptation and tendency to creep up in our own lives. This is particularly true in a season like this one. With this virus still sweeping the globe and the economy struggling mightily under the weight of everything various national governments are doing to try and stem its tide, there is a great temptation to trust more in what we have to get us through than in the God who has provided it. After all, if you are one of the lucky ones whose work–and the paycheck it brings–has not been interrupted, other than the inconvenience of not being able to do what you are used to doing in the way you are used to doing it, it is tempting to think everything will be fine because you have all you need.
When we begin to place our trust–even implicitly–in things other than God, we need to do that with the full awareness that those things can be gone in an instant. The trust we place in those is not justified. It may very well have every appearance of being a safe bet, but there is too much evidence to the contrary to trust in that appearance.
Let your trust be first and foremost in the God who is bigger than your circumstances. He will not fail you. You are truly secure only when you are secure in Him.