The reign of Josiah was one of unparalleled revival, the proof being that “there was no passover like to that holden in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel hold such a passover as Josiah held” (2 Chron. 35: 18). It was the last, glorious flicker of the flame before God’s earthly people entered their long, dark night of divine chastisement. Though Josiah was just a child when he ascended the throne, heaven’s glowing review of his reign was that “he did what was right in the sight of Jehovah, and walked in the ways of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand nor to the left” (2 Chron. 34: 2). Would that there was such leadership among the people of God today!
It is instructive, however, to look beneath the surface of the revival. Though the heart of the king was truly touched by God, the mass of the people were only outwardly reformed. They had a name to live, but were dead (see Rev. 3: 1). God could not overlook such a state, and so the word of Jehovah came “unto Zephaniah ... in the days of Josiah” (Zeph. 1: 1). Of this short prophecy, one verse is particularly striking, and seems specially relevant for the day in which we find ourselves: “And it shall come to pass at that time, [that] I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men that are settled on their lees, that say in their heart, Jehovah will not do good, neither will he do evil” (v12). Jehovah will not do good, and neither will he do evil! Remarkable verdict to be arrived at by the people of God! God is thus viewed as either powerless or indifferent––a flagrant denial, in both cases, of His true nature. As a consequence, His people felt they could do what they liked without fear of divine retribution. God was never going to interfere in their lives. They might not say it outright, but in their hearts they viewed God as utterly irrelevant. He could be ignored.
Now the reason this Scripture has a voice for Christians today is because they too are in danger of ignoring God. On every hand we see Christians disputing among themselves as to how their churches should conduct their affairs, and what their theology should be––with little or no reference to God’s Word at all. If the Bible is brought forward, it is only as one voice amongst many others. It may contribute to the debate, but it cannot be allowed to instruct or command. Man must be allowed to do what he likes––even in divine things. If God’s Word sanctions what man decides, then the fact will be shouted from the roof–tops, but if it does not, then it will be contemptuously dismissed as irrelevant. This is to use God’s Word for our own ends––a shameful way to deal with what ought to be handled with reverence and fear. The spirit of the age is akin to that of the time of the Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21: 25), and where Micah adapted the divine religion as he saw fit (see Judges 17, 18). Even if the most awful immoralities or doctrines are endorsed, God will not interfere because surely “Jehovah will not do good, neither will he do evil”! God is not only a God of love––the horrible, unholy ‘love’ invented by modern theology––but above all, a God of supreme inaction, a God who does nothing apart from ‘love’, a God oblivious to man’s behaviour. What is the answer of heaven to these blasphemous assumptions? “Be silent at the presence of the Lord Jehovah; for Jehovah hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath hallowed his guests” (Zeph. 1: 7). As sure as night follows day, so judgment follows wickedness––and apostate Christendom will be no exception to this rule (see Rev. 3: 16). It is a perilous business to ignore God: “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov. 15: 3).
Right from the beginning man has been seeking to go on in independence from God: “Come on, let us build ourselves a city and a tower, the top of which [may reach] to the heavens; and let us make ourselves a name …” (Gen. 11: 4). Babel of old finds its answer in the Laodicean conditions of today: “I am rich, and am grown rich, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3: 17). It is man in independence, whose arrangements, even in that which carries God’s name, has no place for God. Thus in Laodicea, as in Christendom, Christ is outside. Those that had settled down on their lees in Zephaniah’s day are the same, morally, that had grown rich when John wrote eight centuries later. We can join their company and go on in our self–satisfaction and complacency, putting the name of the Lord upon arrangements that are not His but our own––or we can humble ourselves before Him and seek His unseen presence in every facet of our lives. You either believe in a god who, in reality, is no better than an idol of wood or stone “which can neither see nor hear nor walk” (Rev. 9: 20)––or in the God in whom “we live and move and exist” (Acts 17: 28). Which is it?