Zephaniah prophesied the economic collapse of Jerusalem. The marketplaces will be vacant, and the comings and goings of tradesmen will stop. Business will be at a standstill, and hard times will fall on everyone because of their apostasy. They have fallen from faith and confidence in the one true God who cares for them all. He is the God that protects them from harm and blesses them with good things. They have taken matters into their own hands and then denied the existence of God. They blame God for not acting for either good or bad. God did not come to their aid when they thought He should have. God did not destroy their enemies as they thought He should have. They became bitter with God. They thought they could harbor ill will for God because He did not act like they wanted Him to. They could hide such attitudes from God. But God searches our hearts. Zephaniah warns the people of this danger and tells them they can’t hide from God. In Zephaniah 1:12-13 he says, “At that time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.”

 God doesn’t do what I think he should do. He doesn’t judge evil but allows the wicked to prosper. He doesn’t reward the faithful but allows them to be persecuted. I’m unhappy with how God operates, and I give up on expecting anything from Him. This is the character of a bitter heart. Harboring bitterness with God is the sure way to live dissatisfied lives. I think this is why Paul tells us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31).  The writer of Hebrews tells us, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness, someone has commented, is like cancer. It eats away the host. Harry Emerson Fosdick was a famous Baptist preacher who focused his preaching on Love. He said, “Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.”[1]

It is a matter of the heart. “The word heart occurs over 600 times in the Old Testament and at least 120 times in the New Testament. The extensive use of the word heart in all its varied implications places it in a position of supreme importance in Biblical psychology.”[2] God isn’t that impressed with how much we know. He doesn’t care about how much we have. A person’s popularity, celebrity status, or anything else cherished in the world finds God indifferent. Wiersbe writes, “The Lord wasn’t impressed with Solomon’s royal splendor, for the Lord looks on the heart and searches the heart. It was Solomon who wrote, ‘Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life,’ yet in his old age, his own heart was far from the Lord. Since the discovery of the circulation of blood by William Harvey in the 17th century, everybody knows that the center of human physical life is the heart. But what’s true physically is also true morally and spiritually. We are to love God with all our hearts and receive His Word into our hearts. God wants us to do His will from our hearts. If our heart is wrong toward God, our entire life will be wrong, no matter how successful we may appear to others.”[3]

[1] Water, Mark. 2000. The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.

[2] Chafer, Lewis Sperry. 1993. Systematic Theology. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

[3] Wiersbe, Warren W. 2002. Be Responsible. “Be” Commentary Series. Colorado Springs, CO: Victor.