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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Do not lose your first love (Zephaniah 1)

Zephaniah 1:5-6. “The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah: ‘I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against Jerusalem. I will cut off those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molech, those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.’”

Exegesis and Application

God is speaking through the prophet Zephaniah to His people who are characterized by one of three sins, or combinations thereof:
1) Those who worship the creation and the Creator
2) Those who syncretistically mingle their religious affections
3) Those who utterly neglect God completely

Worshipping the stars at night was (is) common with us humans. We still identify with horoscope readings. Since rooftops were basically another room in the house, people gathered there in the dark to seek guidance from the heavenly orbits. These Israelites were land-based ancient mariners looking to the heavens for the path home. Not smart then, and not smart now. “Starry hosts” can be translated “hosts of heaven” (Hebrew = tsava shamayim) and can refer to angels as well as planets. Another point to be made in this verse is that the Israelites make a concerted effort to worship the heavens. It doesn’t just happen. They must go to a place at a certain time in order to pay obeisance to creation. Like a walk in the woods.

There were others who didn’t worship the stars but worshiped the wood and stone idols of pagan religions. Indeed, the Hebrew word translated “Molech” is “Malkam” and is usually translated “king.” Commentators have suggested that Zephaniah is referring to the gods of the Canaanites. We don’t have to suggest anything since the prophet said that the people of God cannot worship Yahweh and anything else that attracts their service. And here we have the people of Judah and Jerusalem serving God with their lips and something else with their hearts. I don’t want to get too deep in the linguistic weeds here but it is possible to see the Hebrew in this verse indicating the Israelites swearing loyalty “to” Yahweh but swearing loyalty “by” Molech. These engage in public worship by prostrating themselves in fain worship of God yet secretly they give themselves to another.

Finally, there were others who utterly neglected God in their lives. There was no worship at all. They were truly non-religious. There was not worship of creation; there was no syncretism; there was nothing – completely self-absorbed. This group is the worst of the bunch. There is a sliding scale of judgment here: worshipping something God has created to worshipping something in addition to God and finally, to worshipping oneself by turning the back on God completely. This is the church at Ephesus leaving her first love and good deeds to fall away completely.

Christian journalist, beware of being one or a combination of these three types of people. We will go through phases in our lives when all three become attractive and a siren call of apostasy. Don’t let the lure of fame and professional advancement entice you to follow the journalism culture and forsake your first love. It is exceedingly easy to be beguiled by the surrounding world of journalism and to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Our Lord is unmistakably clear in His denouncement of neglecting Him.

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