The people of Jerusalem should have set an example to their near neighbour nations (2:4-15), but they had been just as bad as them. Straight away (3:1) you see, by contrast, some qualities of godly people. They include:
- Prayerfulness (see the promise in James 4:8);
- Trust in God
- Humility – expressed in submission and teachability;
- Kindness and fairness in the treatment of others. (See also verse 3. God does not appreciate leadership that ravages people. There is such a thing in the church as ‘spiritual abuse.’ It happens when shepherds turn themselves into dictators, and try to dominate and control people. They become ‘’oppressors’’, whether or not they realise or intend it. ‘’Her very own leaders are rapacious lions, Her judges are rapacious timber wolves out every morning prowling for a fresh kill.’’ The Message. )
In (1) God was speaking about ‘’the city’’ of Jerusalem, but he clearly wasn’t referring to the stones and buildings that made up the place. This was what the general populace were like. ‘’Sewer City!’’ The Message.
But we cannot expect a people to be living right when the ministry they sit under is all wrong (4). The spiritual leaders in Zephaniah’s day had strayed from God’s truth in proclamation, and from God’s character in their conduct. A preaching ministry that dilutes or twists the Bible; or leaves important (and unpalatable) bits out, may make you popular (with some), but it will not make the people pure. It is an awesome responsibility to speak from a church pulpit. Here were spiritual leaders who dishonoured God’s Word and were marked by sinful characteristics. It is a serious crime in the eyes of heaven to ‘’do violence’’ to the Bible. It is still being done today – with the same catastrophic results (2 Peter 3:16). As a general principle, I believe it is true to say that a quality ministry will produce a quality people. We need leaders in the church who have integrity written through their core, like the words ‘Blackpool’ or ‘Scarborough’ in a stick of rock. The city of Jerusalem was as it was in those times because the leaders were as they were; and especially because the spiritual leaders were what they were: wide of the mark. They were (blind) guides carrying wilfully damaged road maps. As church leaders, our authority lies in God’s Word. If we move away from this we’re in serious trouble, and we endanger everyone under our care and influence.
What a contrast with ‘’The LORD within her…’’ (5).
‘’Yet GOD remains righteous in her midst, untouched by the evil. He stays at it, day after day, meting out justice. At evening he’s still at it, strong as ever. But evil men and women, without conscience and without shame, persist in evil.’’ The Message.
God remains unchanged by all this evil around Him, even though He is close to it. That is the challenge for disciples of Christ, called to be ‘’the salt of the earth’’ and ‘’the light of the world’’ (Matthew 5: 13, 14) We have to live in the polluted city and influence it for good, whilst remaining clean. God Himself will teach us and help us do this.
Prayer: I pray today for all who preach your Word, that they will speak your Word, and not their own.