(Archbishop Liborius N Nashenda, OMI)
Zephaniah might mean “God has concealed.” He was one of the most zealous champions and advisers of
reform who prophesied in the days of Josiah, ruler of the Kingdom of Judah (640–609 BCE). He was
contemporary with Jeremiah, with whom he had much in common. He boldly predicted the destruction of
Judah for the evil committed by its occupiers, he spoke against the religious and moral corruption, when,
in view of the idolatry which had penetrated even into the sanctuary. Idolatry connotes the worship of
something or someone other than God as if it were God. In monotheistic religions, idolatry has been
considered as the “worship of false gods” and is forbidden by the values such as the Ten Commandments.
God’s judgement is spoken specifically on Judah, but it is, also, for the entire world. In making unnatural
human relations as legal even today we see the same false gods in our society. God sends warning to
those who are not faithful to Him. Five groups of false gods are singled out for judgment in Zephaniah
1:4-6. They are as follows:
1. “Cut off the remnant of Baal” (Zeph 1:4): Baal is Canaanite storm god, a false god often worshiped by
idolatrous Israelites (Jer 7:9). He is a god of fertility, a constant source of temptation to Israel (Num. 25:1-
5; Judges 2:13), as people tried worshipping him alongside the worship of the Lord (Jer. 7:9; 23:25-29).
This mix became a primary cause for judgment (2 Kings 17:16-20; Jer. 11:13-17; Hos. 2:8), which would
forever eliminate the worship of Baal from Israel. Those that think to divide their affections and worship
between God and idols, will come short of acceptance with God; for what communion can there be
between light and darkness? If Satan has half, he will have all; if the Lord has but half, he will have none.
Neglect of God shows impiety and contempt. May none of us be among those who draw back unto
perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. Let us love God with all your heart, soul,
mind, and Strength (Lk 10:27). No one can serve two masters (Mt 6:24).
2. “The idolatrous priests” (Zeph 1:4): Judgment of a sinful world always begins at the house of God.
Even the priests were involved in this. They also, had the law of God to go by, that the heathen world
around them did not. Their sins were with full knowledge. They were like an unfaithful wife. They had
committed spiritual adultery. Diverted mind of man of God is unable to seek the Lord and guide people.
3. “Those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens; those who bow down and swear to the
Lord, but also swear by Milcom” (Zeph 1:5): Astrology was also a prominent part of Israel’s idolatrous
practices, are we different from them? They worshipped the host of heaven from as early as the Exodus,
but they rebelled (2 Kings 23:5-6; Jer. 7:17-18; 8:2; 44:17-25). Altars were often erected on housetop
roofs to provide a clear view of the sky (Jer. 8:2; 19:13; 32:29). “Swear by Malcham”: Judah’s
syncretistic (=attempt to inconsistently to unify or reconcile differing schools of thought) worship was reflected in
swearing by the Lord and, at the same time, by Milcom, who may be either the Ammonite deity (of 1
Kings 11:5, 33), or Molech, the worship of whom included child sacrifice, astrology, and sacred
prostitution (Lev. 18:21; 2 Kings 17:16-17; Ezek. 23:37; Amos 5:25-26; Acts 7:40-43).
4. “Those who have turned back from following the Lord” (Zeph 1:6): They first heeded calls to
repentance but later had willfully turned away. This is speaking of back-sliders, when it says that are
turned back from God. The last part of this verse, also speaks of those who have never sought God at all.
They are not interested in hearing about God. They would be atheists, who do not believe God exists.
5. “Those that have not sought the Lord” (Zeph 1:6): These are the indifferent, who do not trouble
themselves about religion. They never concerned themselves about the worship of him, having no faith in
him, love to him, or fear and reverence of him; so far were they from seeking him in the first place
diligently, zealously, and with their whole heart, that they never sought him at all; nor took any pains to
get any knowledge of him, or of his mind and will, and manner of worship; but were altogether careless
about these things, and unconcerned for them.
Is our society really looking for God? God’s people had stopped looking to God and started worshipping
the false gods of the people around them. The sad thing is that some of them still went through the
formality of worshipping God. They included God, as if there were many gods. God will not be God to
anyone who has other gods. He will be the only One, or He will not be your God. Is there a fear of
(respect for) God in us? When we look to Bible we see God’s greater work was not freeing the Israelites
from slavery in Egypt but removing idolatry from the heart of the people: they considered everything of
Egypt as the best. And yet God wanted to remove ‘the best’ from their hearts. This is the great work of
God: to take away ‘that Egypt’ that we carry within, which is the charm of idolatry. Jesus came to reveal
to us the fatherhood of God; in Christ our fragility is no longer a curse, but a place of encounter with the
Father and the source of a new strength from above.