Complacency Will Not Go Unpunished

“Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off. And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil. Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof.” (Zephaniah 1:11–13, AV)

People resist change — that is no revelation. Change is inevitable — that, too, is no revelation. But God will change everything. Now, there’s some revelation! But what exactly will he change? He will change what needs changing. How will he do this? He will make good on his promises. Is anybody in peril? Those who put themselves in harm’s way shall suffer for their foolishness. And what greater foolishness could there be than to ignore God and hope that he’ll go away?

God will not go away, of course. For one thing, he does not do "away." He is omnipresent. For another, he does not want to go away. He keeps watch over his creation, he keeps his own counsel and he brings his judgment to bear. In our key passage, Zephaniah was speaking about times future, including the time of great national restoration which Israel would enjoy at the hands of their mighty God. But in the meantime people have been wool-gathering, going about their mundane lives while forgetting the most important part of being the nation Israel — God.

I wonder if the people thought that God would leave them alone if they paid no attention to him. After all, life was going along pretty well, and God had not vexed them recently. So, perhaps he would not do so in the future. Besides, life was pretty good for an oppressed people. Commerce was flowing, the affairs of life were advancing — they were “settled on their lees.”

Lees was the solid settled-out part of wine which collected into a mass at the bottom of the containers. As an idiom, lees represented complacency, as when men became settled in their lives of ease. If times were good and a container of wine had the luxury of sitting around not being consumed, the lees might become hardened by the stagnation. See the problem? People will become hardened, too. Was Israel at ease during Zephaniah’s time? Yes, they were enough at ease. Even an oppressed people can find their comforts after they settle into routine. But there is ease and there is ease. Now, God does not mind if we have a few extra casks of wine, but he does mind when a full storeroom keeps our hearts away from him.

The people’s assumption in our passage is that God would not interact with them — not soon enough to worry about, anyway. And this attitude was tantamount to stating that God did not exist in a meaningful way. Let’s face it, God had to use some serious show-and-tell over the years just to keep his people focused, and he wasn’t doing that at the moment — but the cycle proves true. After a period of (perceived) non-activity on the part of God, the people behaved as if he did not exist at all. They began to think because God has not recently thumped or thrilled us that he will never call on us again. Let’s hear Peter on this.

“…scoffers will come in the last days… They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”” (2 Peter 3:3–4, ESV)

Life does indeed seem to just go on and on… doesn’t it? There is little in our day-to-day experience to signal the end of life as we know it — the coming of the Lord. But God has a plan. He is sticking to it… and we should stick to him. First, it is not logical to assume that since something has not happened recently that it will never happen at all. Second, Scripture calls for our faithful patience. Remember, God is patient too.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)

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