And it will come at that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and I will punish the men who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good or evil!”
Zephaniah was a prophet sent to call Judah to repentance and return to the Lord. He was preparing the people for the revivals under good king Josiah. He was also predicting the future judgement when God would bring Nebuchadnezzar to take Israel captive for seventy years. This minor prophet only has three chapters but makessome profound statements for us to contemplate.
The first great statement is chapter one verse twelve (above). The previous eleven verses predict the “day of the Lord” which means God is bringing judgment on his people and there will be no place to hide or find refuge (1:7, 9). Judah’s wickedness has become a way of life involving idolatry (4-6), punish the leaders for their reliance on other nations and desecrating the Lord’s temple (7-9) and there will be no place that will not experience this judgement (10-11).
The people had neglected God and had become “stagnant in spirit”. The word “stagnant” is also translated as: dregs, thickness, condense or congeal. Some translations will use the term “complacent”. I personally love the concept of stagnant which communicates the idea of lack of movement like a stream that is just sitting still; there is no inflow of fresh water nor is there an exit. It also carries the idea of being stale because of long disuse or something that is not advancing or developing. Clearly the problem with Israel is they had become spiritually stagnant and had not been advancing in their relationship with the Lord. They had stopped listening to the prophets and their spirit was becoming a waste place for idolatry and self-worship.
The idea that God would search Jerusalem with lamps is a picture of the spiritual darkness of God’s people. It gives the picture that even for God it is very hard to find anyone with any spiritual vitality at all. God has to search for them because the majority have neglected God. God promises to punish, discipline, and deal with this stagnation, and for Israel that was being set up as being taken captive by a pagan nation.
A stagnant spirit is one that has no sense of the work of God. Zephaniah says the ones who are spiritually dark are those who have become so indifferent to the presence of God that they cannot point to one thing that shows God at work. “The Lord will not do good or evil”. They have no spiritual discernment to see God’s hand on their life. They have no reason to honor God and no inclination to pray or seek him because they believe that God is no longer involved and does not care.
The problem is not that God has stopped speaking to His people, but they simply have stopped listening. The problem is not that God has failed to keep his promises, but the people have become bored with God. The problem is not that God stopped working in the midst of his people, but they had pushed God aside to pursue other priorities – they were busy chasing after the gods of other nations. The problem is not that God would not provide for them, but Israel had become greedy and wanted to become like the other nations.
They idea of being stagnant in spirit is more of a result than a cause. It becomes the result of a spiritualy toxic culture which permits the pursuit of other gods rather than absolute faithfulness to God alone. Everything had become corrupted: the people worshipped other gods (1:4), the priests had corrupted their worship (1:4-6), and the leaders were relying on other nations than God himself. One of the indicators that we are growing spiritually stagnant is that we cannot tell anyone how we see God at work. We cannot answer the question about how God is at work in our lives or in the community of faith. The world will provide lots of distractions but we are to remain faithful to God by listening to His Word and living by His truth. As we step into the New Year, make time to refresh your heart so that you clearly hear his voice and obey His word.
In His grace,