Monday, May 10, 2010

Lame Leaders

While Zephaniah is a short book, throughout it, the warning of God's judgement is clear, and the reason is obvious - God's people and the whole world is failing to be and do what they should be doing. Even when we get to the third and final chapter, judgement is still the prevailing theme, right up until verse 9, when there is a dramatic change (and a wonderful surprise) - but that comes another day.

It's said that it is bad enough for a child to do something wrong - if it doesn't know any better. Much worse, however for an adult to do the same thing wrong, when they definitely know better. In this hierarchy of blame and shame, there are levels of responsibility.

It's what we see in Zephaniah too. The whole world stands condemned - Judah's enemies will face judgement. Yet as we begin chapter 3, it's clear that Jerusalem is facing judgement too - perhaps even more severe, since it should have known better. Jerusalem is the city that 'does not trust in the LORD; she does not draw near to her God' (2). This is the very city of the dwelling place of the LORD, yet its people have failed, terribly so.

At the highest level of blame, though, we find the leaders of the people. In quick succession, Zephaniah declares the Lord's verdict on the leaders of his people: 'Her officials are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men; her priests profane what is holy; they do violence to the law.' (3-4)

What a disaster - the very leaders of God's people are leading them astray, disregarding and breaking the very law they should be teaching and upholding. Especially since the contrast is immediately provided - the LORD within her 'is righteous, he does not injustice.'

It is clear that leaders are particularly responsible for their conduct and behaviour - but that doesn't let everyone else off the hook! Judgement was coming, not just because of the leaders, but because of the sins of everyone.

Yet these words addressed to the leaders of God's people are particularly apt to ask of today's leaders. Are we leading people home, or to destruction? Are we devouring God's people? Are we fickle and treacherous? Do we profane what is holy and do violence to God's law?

Little wonder James should say that not many should become teachers, because we will be judged with greater strictness (3:1). Please do be praying for your church leaders - for faithfulness, humility, grace, and dedication.

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