“This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, ‘I am, and there is none beside me:’ how is she become desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! Every one that passes by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.” (Zephaniah 2:15)
Well, that’s not a very uplifting word this morning, is it? Actually, if I think about it rightly and the rest of what God is warning through our friend Zephaniah, it can be uplifting because I can know how not to be on the wrong side of God’s judgment. I mean, why were You so angry, God? What were all these people, and even Israel doing that had to be put to an end? What was it that a remnant of Israel would not do, or would turn away from doing? What was it that a sampling of all the other nations would turn away from doing?
Maybe the problem people were doing and still are doing today is a problem that starts in the heart. It’s that place called lebab or heart in Hebrew. It denotes the will, the emotions, and thought. So here’s the problem. Here was the will, the emotional attachment, and the thinking of the people: “I am, and there is none beside me.” That’s awfully dangerous thinking. It causes people to even rewrite reality. We have that predominant thinking in postmodernism, which is prevalent in our world today. “You want it? Have it.” “You feel it? Do it.” “You think it? Then that’s truth.” And culture thought it was so advanced but; it’s just adopted a failed archaic practice.
And it’s not just that this is a practice that leads to failure whether living in ancient Biblical days or today or tomorrow, but it’s a spit in the face to You, God. In Genesis, there is nothing but God and other than You, emptiness or void. You create and You bring us forth from You. You gave us everything we had. And You gave us a choice to acknowledge who You are and what You had done by placing two trees in this garden where You placed us. We could acknowledge You by eating of the tree of life or we could acknowledge ourselves by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What a sad choice to have made when Adam and Eve had the privilege of actually walking and talking with You in the garden. There was no separation. I don’t think there was any question they couldn’t ask You and hear You answer. I don’t think there was any thing or day they did not totally enjoy because there You were, present with them, enjoying creation and “being” together. And yet, they wanted knowledge of their own.
It’s no new sin. It’s the oldest sin in the book. It’s also the sin that brings the greatest disappointment because it lies, “Then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods…” The truth is, to think one something, does not make one something. Just because I act like a god, it doesn’t make me a god.
But the undeniable truth is that there is none that is like God. Moses, through God, demonstrated that to Pharaoh by putting every Egyptian god to shame. Each plague was so that Pharaoh and the people would know “that there is none like unto the Lord our God.” (Exodus 8:10) But even Israel had to be reminded and warned. “if you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your Healer.” (Exodus 15:26) And isn’t that still our problem? We don’t want to diligently listen to the voice of the Lord our Creator and Healer. We want to create our own reality. We want to heal ourselves. We want to do what’s right in our own eyes. We don’t want to listen and heed Your commandments because we would have to change our thoughts and practices and feelings about ourselves.
In Leviticus 19, 14 of the 37 verses end with the people being reminded, “I am the LORD.” In other words, “Why should You obey Me? I am the LORD.” “I know what’s right because I am the LORD.” “I am the LORD and nothing or no one else is.” To get that down pat, is to get life down pat. To get that downpat, is to get my life in the proper perspective. To get that downpat is to walk through the door of life and eat of the tree of life. To get that downpat is to return to our original purpose.
Deuteronomy 6:4, the beginning of the Shema, is the declaration of this truth. “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He IS and He is the only God, the only One. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (6:5)
The truth of the matter is that there is only one self-existent one. God declared that to Moses in Exodus 3:14, not because no one knew yet, but people were forgetting and focussing on lesser things. Maybe even Moses had to be reminded of Your self-sufficiency. “I AM WHO I AM.” And You are the only one who can say that. People, like me, are products of our environment, our DNA, our learning, our nationality. We are things that are so easily shaped and molded. But not You. You are who You are and You don’t change. You aren’t reshaped. You aren’t fickle like human beings. You’re not molded by anyone’s thinking, or behavior, or Your environment. That in itself sets You above us and makes You a fair and just God.
Zephaniah was accusing the people of making themselves gods. They were saying, “I am, and there is none beside me.” They were trying to be copycats and rob You of who You are. But You’re the real deal. Just because we think or say something, it doesn’t make it truth. But when You speak, it is always truth. “I am He, and there is no god beside Me: I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:9) If we as people, would only start understanding this. If we would only fill our heads with this true knowledge, life would be different.
God speaks to Isaiah, You ask all those who have been called by Your name, that You created for Your glory, that You formed and made, to come and gather and listen as witnesses. Your desire is for us to know and believe and understand that You are He. “Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior…I am He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” Is it sounding like the same old problem?
But You have been trying to turn us from this old problem. Only, we don’t like to let go of what’s old and familiar. You’ve been doing a new thing and we don’t even perceive it because we won’t even look. You’re making a way in the wilderness and bringing forth rivers in deserts but we just want to wander in the wilderness and drink sand. Isaiah’s words tell us that wild beasts, jackals and ostriches see the water and drink, but not us people. The water was created for us to enjoy in You and we won’t even acknowledge it. You formed us to be Your glory and to declare Your praise, but we want to declare our own. We’re the ceramic pots boasting about creating ourselves. How ludicrous! You want us to call on You, but we want to call on ourselves. We ignore You and satisfy ourselves. The truth is, it’s not working. We are the most dissatisfied generation ever.
So many have chosen their own way and yet are torn inside. They “promote” love, yet are filled with anger and hate at those who don’t copy their standards. People would actually choose lies, than verify truth. What is truth? We think that’s such a wise question. But to ask the question and leave it unanswered as a philosophical conundrum is foolishness. To deny it because you don’t want to know it, is not an appropriate response. Denying something doesn’t make it not exist. God is God though we deny Him. Truth is truth, though we deny it. And the truth of God in His own words is, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins. Put me in remembrance; let us argue together; set forth your case, that you may be proved right.” (Isaiah 43:25,26) Do you really think you will be proved right before God? What arrogance! Not even Job was proved right before You when he set forth his case before You.
But here’s the good news. We don’t have to keep thinking like this. We can remember that You alone are God. You are the One we must run to and find our sufficiency in because You are the only sufficient One. We can acknowledge that You created us, You formed us. Your desire is to redeem us. And in Your redemption, I don’t have to be afraid because I have a God who calls me by name and makes me His. (Isaiah 43:1) Yes, You are the LORD, and beside You there is no savior. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” ( Titus 3:3-7)
The good news for me, Lord, is that I was never intended to be god. The good news is that You always have been and will be God. I can always depend on that. And just like You offered Yourself to be God the Protector, Healer, and Savior of Israel, You invite us into that relationship too. But I have to make a choice. I have to give up any idea I have of being god in any area of my life and see that as absolute foolishness. And I must choose to relinquish all my control over to You as God. I must choose the door to the Tree of Life and abandon the door to the tree of knowledge. Because for me, it’s more precious to intimately know, trust, and rely on the God who loves me and created me, than to possess all the knowledge of the world. If that kind of knowledge leads to death, I don’t want it and I don’t need it, Lord. But if trusting in Your knowledge leads to life, then I want to learn to see things and act upon things Your way.