Zephaniah speaks about God’s judgment coming upon his own people of Judah because they have permitted and supported the pagan worship of other gods in the land. The people themselves prefer the sensuality of Baal worship. Some priests have endorsed Baal worship, and others have included worshipping another pagan god in their worship of Yahweh. They turn to pagan gods for the answers to their problems and do not bring them to the Lord. This is what Zephaniah 1:4-6 says, “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.”

Bruckner wants to clarify exactly what was going on. He writes, “Baal was a Canaanite household god of prosperity and fertility. The local Baals and the nationalized Baal were gods or a spirit that controlled the fertility of people, land, and animals. Good fertility of land and animals meant prosperity and wealth. Baal was incited to give the gifts of fertility and prosperity through ritualized public sexual acts.” Israelite priests were “leading the people in worship of other things even as they worship Yahweh. These priests are syncretistic and corrupt, leading the people astray and confusing their pure worship of Yahweh. Those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host followed the old mistake of worshiping a beautiful creation rather than the Creator. Worship of the stars occurred in Canaan, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt. It was a prevalent and growing problem in Judah as well. Zephaniah includes them all with a generic description of their worship. No idols are used, but incense is burned, and libations are poured out on the flat rooftops with the stars and moon in view.”[1] In addition, Molech was involved! Milcom is another name for Molech. The most heinous practice of the Molech cult was child sacrifice. God repeatedly condemned this. Finally, we see practical atheism in that the Israelites sought solutions to their problems everywhere but from their God.

Barber makes a very pointed application of this passage to us today. He writes, “While some may object that people today do not prostrate themselves before idols, the fact remains that they are frequently caught up on the treadmill of their desires for prosperity and security by their attempts to rationalize their behavior. Any form of greed is regarded by God as idolatry (see Colossians 3:5). God’s word through Zephaniah was that men needed to turn to Him, to seek Him, and to ask Him to meet their needs. If men today do not do so, then they show how little they differ from those who first heard Zephaniah’s warning. They demonstrate by their actions that they are characterized by similar degrees of spiritual apathy and indifference. To the Hebrews of old, as well as to men today, God shows His amazing grace and mercy in that He, for a long time, withholds His punishment. Such judgment, however, will not always be delayed.”[2] Peter also reminds of the truth of God’s patience. He writes in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

++[1] Bruckner, James. 2004. Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] Barber, Cyril J. 1985. Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Everyman’s Bible Commentary. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.