“I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests; And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham; ” ~ Zephaniah 1:4-5
Zephaniah 1:4-13 describes six (6) practices that led to God’s judgment of Judah when He sent them off to Babylon in captivity. Here we will look at the first one, Idolatry, and see what we might learn about how we should walk before God.
Our text, Zephaniah 1:4-5, shows us that God planned to judge the idolatry of the people of Judah. And it describes the three ways in which idolatry is manifested in society:
- “the remnant of Baal” & “the name of the Chemarims with the priests”
- “them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops”
- “them that worship and that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham”
The“the remnant of Baal” was the remaining Baal worshippers in Judah. Despite the efforts of King Josiah to eradicate idolatry in Judah (2 Kings 23:24), some Baal worshippers remained. And the“Chemarims” were simply priests who worshipped idols such as Baal.
The practice of Baal worship and other forms of paganism are not prevalent in modern society. However, the principle is alive and well. Baal-worshippers exalted a “god” made by their own hands. Accordingly, the modern analog of Baal-worship is materialism.
The materialist lives to gain more stuff, or more money to be able to get any kind of stuff desired. This was also the goal of the Baal-ist. Baal worship promised prosperity without the requirement to love and look after one’s less prosperous neighbors as Jevohah demanded.
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry“Colossians 3:5
The worshippers of “the host of heaven upon the housetops” refers to astrologers and those who believe in astrology: practices that the Bible strongly warns against doing (Isaiah 47:13-14, Deuteronomy 4:19).
Astrology is at least as popular today as it was when Zephaniah prophesied. The basic idea underpinning astrology is that the universe has knowledge that can affect our lives and we can gain that knowledge by studying it or by communing with it. In other words, we can gain all the knowledge we need for life without God.
Worshipping and/or deifying the universe is currently quite trendy. However, the idea of not needing God to know how to live is more than popular, it is entrenched in the culture of the day.
Malcham means king. The third group, those who “worship and that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham”, are people who tried to maintain religious allegiance to God and political allegiance to the king, even if the king was corrupt: They were trying to “serve God and mammon”, which Jesus tells us is impossible (Matthew 6:24).
Attempting to gain favor with both God and with man/mammon by declaring allegiance to both, does not sound like typical idolatry. However, the goal of that strategy is to minimize risk for the individual. In other words, the strategy is neither driven by love for God nor love for the king. Rather, it is driven by love for self: by the desire to ensure a good outcome for oneself in any situation. In this case, the idol is the self.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,
an holy nation, a peculiar people;
that ye should shew forth the praises of him who
hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light”
1 Peter 2:9
Idolatry in any form is repugnant to God and deserving of His judgment (2 Chronicles 24:18, 2 Chronicles 34:25, Ezekiel 20:8, Ezekiel 36:18). Jehovah judged idolatry in Judah and we can expect He will judge idolatry again and again wherever it is found.
“And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass.”2 Chronicles 24:18
Perhaps the most surprising and the most pertinent part of our text is the reference to the Chemarims: the idolatrous priests. The priests were supposed to be the spiritual leaders for Judah. The priest’s job was to come to God to seek mercy for his people and himself. How horrible it was that the men entrusted to take care of God’s people were themselves idolators!
Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, that role has been given to His followers (1 Peter 2:9). And, as it was with the priests in Judah, how horrible it is when idolatry is found among Jesus’ followers today.
We do great harm to the cause of Christ, to the spreading of the Gospel, when there is evidence of idolatry in the church.
Sadly, present-day churches seem to struggle greatly with all forms of idolatry. On any day, and in too many churches the stain of materialism is easy to spot.
As each day passes it seems more and more Believers and more and more churches give in to worldly “knowledge” and give up Biblical teaching on various subjects, from creation to sexuality.
And, in the last forty years, the modern church has fostered an unholy alliance with political institutions to gain favorable legal and financial status. Daily we see the church trying, and failing, to balance its allegiance to God with its political allegiance.
Idolatry has no place in the Body of Christ. We cannot lead anyone to Christ if we do not believe in His exclusive lordship over our lives. We cannot lead anyone to faith in Christ if our faith is compromised by idolatry. We cannot be priests of God and serve another “god”.
If we don’t change, then, like Judah, we too must face God’s judgment.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”1 John 5:21