Today we finally reach the last chapter of Zephaniah and this gives us hope because we know restoration is coming. We know that God will use Jerusalem as a place of new beginnings and of new life. But not yet. Before God can use Jerusalem for such purposes, He must first expose it and break it down, and that is where our passage starts.
Zephaniah 3 begins like a medical discourse, treating Jerusalem’s sins as a disease, indeed a cancer that is in needed of laceration. For this city is “rebellious”, “defiled” and oppressive (verse 1). There is no genuine worship or obedience to Yahweh in it. Rather, this city busies itself with idolatrous, syncretistic and even murderous worship. This is how the city has brought a cancer upon itself. Zephaniah 3:2 elaborates further that whenever God sent prophets to Jerusalem to repent (and thus find spiritual healing), the people rejected God’s words. God would send, as it were, doctor after doctor to warn the people of their evil behavior, but instead of listening to them, the people would intensify their perverse practices (“she listens to no voice; she accepts no correction”).
Perhaps the real tragedy, though, is where the cancer originated from, namely, its leaders. Listen to how the prophet describes these cancerous men: The officials (i.e., the royal leaders) are compared to roaring lions (verse 3a). Instead of justice and equity, greed has driven them to become lions. They search around the city for unjust gain, even at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. Moreover, the judges of the city are likened to ravenous wolves (verse 3b) as they pervert justice by taking bribes; and, once again, who are the ones that fall prey to this system? The poor and vulnerable. This is the state of Jerusalem, God’s city.
Even worse, the religious leaders are cancerous. In Zephaniah 3:4, the prophets (who are “fickle, treacherous men”) freely offer up words that God has not given them. And do you know the message these prophets are good at speaking? Messages of health and prosperity. They are quick to tell the people that God is pleased with them; that they are doing fine; and that the people of Judah are soon to receive blessing upon blessing. Consequently, the prophets are doing nothing but deceiving and misleading God’s people. The same is true for the city’s priests. For not only are they polluting the Temple, which is a grievous sin, they are also butchering God’s law. Instead of teaching God’s law correctly, the priests offer up words that encourage sin, idolatry, and injustices. The priests are skewing the Mosaic Law to fit the sinful lifestyles of the people. Instead of calling out sin and injustices for what they are, the priests are somehow justifying it by using God’s law. This is what the religious leaders are doing, and it is sickening!
When we consider what the political, judicial, and religious leaders are doing in Jerusalem, it is no wonder that the city has become so cancerous. Going back to our focus on types for the book of Zephaniah (click here for more info), we must realize that Jerusalem is a shadow of our cities today. There is no doubt that every city throughout the world today is plagued by injustices that stem from their leaders, both political and religious. This message is not meant to discourage you, but rather to make you critical and thoughtful. For we can either be led astray by our leaders and thus become inflicted with the same cancer as Judah or we can resist false teaching and protect our spiritual health. The choice is ours; and our greatest empowerment to do so is God’s Word. We can test it against what human officials teach in order to humbly discern whether to follow or not. Do your political leaders cheat or take bribes? Do they show a blatant disregard for the poor and vulnerable? Don’t support them! Do your religious leaders (i.e., your pastors and elders) teach messages of health and wealth? Do they teach you to “follow your heart” or just do what you think best as opposed to listening to God’s Word? Don’t support them! There are so many more examples, but the bottom line is this: Believers must use God’s Word as a road map, not only to fight against this cancer for themselves, but also for others. But it all begins by clinging to God’s Word – delighting in it; meditating on it. For God’s Word is the ultimate and only true treatment against the spiritual cancers of this world.