That’s quite a description for a capital city. But that is exactly how God described the capital city, Jerusalem, in Zephaniah 3:1.
While “the city” is referring to Jerusalem, she stands for the corruptions that were prevalent throughout Judea at that time. The prophet Zephaniah was preaching against the corruptions in Jerusalem just a short time before the Babylonian invasions and captivity of Judah. However, there are some powerful lessons for America today in how God felt about the way Jerusalem was going in 630 BC.
Woe to her!
Zephaniah pronounces a “woe” against Jerusalem. The “woe” here refers to a “negative warning or threat of God’s physical chastisement” (TWOT). Zephaniah was pronouncing a coming judgment of God against Jerusalem for their rebellion against Him.
The prophets frequently referred to this coming judgment as “the day of the Lord” (Isa. 2:12; 13:6; Jer. 46:10; Joel 1:15; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:7; et al). Both Israel and Judah were warned over and over again about the way they were going — going away from God instead of walking with God.
Because they would not repent and honor the God of their salvation, He would empower and allow the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish them with war and captivity.
In pronouncing this “woe” on Jerusalem, Zephaniah describes her as “rebellious,” “polluted” and “oppressing.” Clearly these are things that displease God. To be rebellious means to fight against the established rule of law.
They were fighting against, rebelling against, God’s law. In Zephaniah 3:3, it is specifically her “princes” and “judges,” that is the civil leaders — the government — that was rebelling against the established law of God for them in governing the people (cf. Romans 13:1-7). Also, her “prophets” and “priests,” i.e. her religious leaders, are included in this “woe” for rebellion.
She was “polluted.” The word translated “polluted” means “stained by blood” (cf. Isa. 59:3). The “Theological Wordbook Of The Old Testament” (TWOT) says this word means “pollution … due to the blood of murder (Isa. 59:3; Lam. 4:14), the blood of vengeance (Isa. 63:3), or by sin in general (Zeph. 3:1; Neh. 13:29).”
Just like Judea of 630 BC, has our land become polluted — stained by blood — because of the misguided policies of our civil leaders and the toleration of sin on the part of our religious leaders?
Zephaniah calls her “the oppressing city.” He describes the oppression of the governing authorities in graphic terms. They are like “roaring lions” and “evening wolves” (Zeph. 3:3).
They were like wild beasts eating up the people! They were so ravenous that they “leave not a bone till morning.” They were feeding on the people, not leaving the smallest scrap behind.
When a nations leaders oppress the people they are not leaders that please God and the people under their ungodly leadership suffer for it.
Four reasons for the “woe”
In Zephaniah 3:2, there are four reasons given for the “woe” of coming judgment from God.
First, she would not heed God’s voice. In the original Hebrew language, that statement is the negative form of a word that means “hearing with pleasure and effect.”
They had no pleasure in the word of God and would not allow the word of God to have the effect in their lives that it was supposed to have. They would not allow the word of God to be the guide for their lives that God gave it to be. They refused to listen to God!
Second, she would not receive correction from God. He had done so much to show them the benefits of following His ways. Just like a loving father corrects his children when they do things harmful to themselves or others, God had patiently corrected them over and over again (Jer. 2:30; 7:25; Deut. 11:2; Prov. 3:11).
She would not be corrected. She was obstinate in her rebellion against her God!
Third, she did not trust in God. God had demonstrated His sovereignty over the false gods of Egypt in the 10 plagues He used to deliver Israel out of Egypt. He had saved them from the Egyptian army by drowning them in the same Red Sea they had passed through on dry ground.
He had provided them food and drink in the wilderness. He had given them victory over stronger nations and given them the land of promise. However, despite all that God had done for them, they put their trust in the military might of Egypt and Assyria, and in their false gods.
They trusted in everything but the God of their salvation! (Ps. 78:20-25; Heb. 3:12; 4:11).
Fourth, she would not draw near to her God. Even in the face of her approaching doom, she refused to repent and draw near to God. They refused His longsuffering attempts to draw them back to Him (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8, 9; Ps. 73:28; Heb. 10:22; Jam. 4:8).
For these four reasons God was going to judge Judah. Her civil and religious leaders had let her down in the worst ways. The “day of the Lord” was going to come and they were going to learn the error of their ways in a very graphic way.
Carefully compare the condition of Jerusalem described here and the current condition of our country. Does America hear the word of God with pleasure? Does America desire the beneficial correction of God’s word (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16, 17)?
Regardless of what our money says, does America truly trust in God? Does America draw near to God? Why would we think God’s response to America in these four things would be different from His response to ancient Jerusalem?
Please contact me for a free Bible Correspondence Course by mail.
Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or [email protected]