“Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God: for the day of the Lord is at hand: for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice, He hath bid His guests. And it shall come to pass in the day of the Lord’s sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.” ~ Zephaniah 1:7-8
Zephaniah 1:4-13 describes six (6) reasons for God’s judgment of Judah when He sent them off to Babylon in captivity. In previous articles, we examined the first two categories of Judah’s rebellion: idolatry and pride. Now let us turn to the third category: worldliness.
First, notice that there is a shift in emphasis from the earlier verses (Zephaniah 1:4-6). In the preceding verses, the issues were devotional: they covered the relationship between God and man: the place God had (or didn’t have) in the lives of the people. However, from vs. 7 onwards, the focus shifts to how people live and how people treat each other.
Our text tells us that the ones to be punished are the wealthy and powerful of Judah: “the princes, and the king’s children”. However, God’s judgment was not due to their wealth. Rather, they were being judged for what they did with the wealth God had entrusted to them.
Our text gives one telling example of how the upper-crust of Judah spent their wealth, as it describes them as being “clothed with strange apparel”. Here, strange means the clothes (apparel) were foreign, not from Judah/Israel. And, in that period of history, foreign clothes (and goods) were expensive and thus a way to display one’s wealth. Common people could not afford such extravagances.
Why is that a problem?
First, the affluent elite of Judah failed to acknowledge that it was God that had allowed them to have wealth and privilege. And, therefore, they were obligated to use those resources to do His work according to His will. In other words, they were to be stewards of God’s assets.
In the economic circumstances of Zephaniah’s time, there were many poor who needed help. Hence, there were many better ways for the elites to spend money than on expensive foreign clothes. Again, the clothing in itself was not the issue. Rather, the problem was their disregard for those in need and their (tacit) denial of their obligation to God as stewards of His blessings.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” ~ Romans 12:2
7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 11
8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,James 2:15-17
And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
The sin of Judah’s elite is often repeated by the elite of today. But that is to be expected. Except when it happens in the Church. Because we know better. Or, at least, we should know better. Unlike the world, the children of God should be fully aware of our calling as stewards and our obligation to help the poor. We must know, we must acknowledge, that to ignore the needs of the poor is sin.
The second problem was that, in their choice of clothing, Judah’s elite were imitating the idolatrous cultures of the neighboring ungodly kingdoms. Why should God’s people use God’s blessings to imitate the lifestyles of those who hate God?
Why should Hollywood, Paris, or Milan determine how we dress or what we wear?
Why should the world define our values?
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:Ephesians 4:17-20
Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But ye have not so learned Christ“
Sadly, our churches, for the most part, have acquiesced to the immoral, strange, fashions of our society. We have exchanged chastity for conformity, purity for prurience, wholesomeness for worldliness.
Don’t worry about whether this viewpoint is old-fashioned. Only ask whether it is the truth.
Scripture makes it clear that worldliness, in all its forms, is incompatible with God.
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”Matthew 6:24
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”James 4:4
To embrace worldliness is to relinquish godliness.
Judah was judged because, in pursuit of worldly ways, they chose to ignore the poor and needy and they chose to imitate the godless. Let us be sure not to make the same mistakes. For we will surely reap the same consequences.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.1 John 2:15-17
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”