What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem, the city of violence and crime! No one can tell it anything; it refuses all correction. It does not trust in the Lord or draw near to its God.
Its leaders are like roaring lions hunting for their victims. Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time, who by dawn have left no trace of their prey. Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain. Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions. But the Lord is still there in the city, and he does no wrong. Day by day he hands down justice, and he does not fail. But the wicked know no shame. (Zephaniah 3:1-5)
After predicting the destruction of the surrounding nations, Zephaniah returned to the problem at hand—sin in Jerusalem. The city of God (and God’s people themselves) had become “polluted” (3:1)—as sinful as the nations surrounding it. The people pretended to worship and serve God, but in their hearts they had rejected him and continued to be complacent about their sins. God’s people had become so proud that they would not hear or accept God’s correction. They no longer cared about the consequences of turning away from God.
Jerusalem’s citizens, of all people, had no excuse for their sins. Jerusalem, where the Temple was located, was the religious center of the nation. But even though the people didn’t follow God, God was within the city, present in the midst of corruption, persecution, and unbelief.
We may wonder how the Israelites could have had such clear warnings and still not turn to God. The problem was that they had allowed sin to so harden them that they no longer cared to follow God. They refused to heed God’s warnings, and they refused to repent. The more God punished them, the more they sinned. In fact, they were eager to sin.
Leading God’s people is a privilege and a responsibility. Through Zephaniah, God rebuked all types of leadership in Jerusalem—officials, rulers, prophets, and priests—because of their callous disobedience, irresponsibility, and sin. If you are a leader in the church, consider yourself in a privileged position, but be careful. God holds you responsible for the purity of your actions, the quality of your example, and the truth of your words. Don’t let pride take root and make you unable or unwilling to let God work in your life.