Zephaniah 3:1-4 and The Impossibility of Legislating Morality and the Need for the Holy Spirit

bible-zephaniahKing Josiah of Judah was probably one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 22-23. He followed two horrible kings who led the people terribly astray from the Lord, Manasseh and Amon. But during Josiah’s reign great reforms were accomplished and the Lord even relented of the judgment he was going to send on Judah because of Josiah’s faithfulness. It always amazed me, therefore, how quickly the people fell back to worshiping false gods and doing detestable things after Josiah died.

As I read Zephaniah, I realized that his prophetic ministry was during the reign of Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). With that in mind, look at this passage:

Doom, obstinate one,
        the defiled one,
        the violent city.
She listened to no voice;
        she accepted no discipline.
She didn’t trust in the Lord,
        nor did she draw near to her God.
The princes in her midst are roaring lions.
        Her judges are wolves of the evening;
        they leave nothing for the morning.
Her prophets are reckless, men of treachery.
        Her priests pollute that which is holy;
        they do violence to the Instruction.

Josiah may have loved the Lord with all his heart, and he may have legislated the destruction of the high places, the temples to the false gods, and re-instituted the festivals to the Lord in a cleansed Temple, but he could not change the people’s hearts. The civil leaders, the princes and judges, were still corrupt. The religious leaders, the prophets and priests, were still false. It is no wonder that the nation reverted so quickly after Josiah died to its idolatrous ways. Josiah could change external actions, but not internal spirits.

The amazing thing about Josiah is that the Lord, full of grace and mercy, actually held off judgment during Josiah’s lifetime because of his faith. The rest of the nation had not repented of its sins, nor did it feel the need to repent, yet the Lord counted Josiah’s faith-filled life as worth holding back the coming judgment.

The only way for true reform is with the power of the Holy Spirit to change our lives, our hearts. And the only way to access the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Legislation morality or appropriate behavior will never work, as evidenced with Josiah. The corruption in people goes too deep once it is there. The people were merely waiting for Josiah to shuffle off this mortal coil so they could get back to the pagan ways they desired. True change can only come through God. This is a good reminded for anyone in any type of leadership at all. We can be as faith-filled as Josiah, and we can see tremendous blessings like he did, but if it was our wills superimposed on the people around us, it will not last. We need to seek the Lord for our people and help them learn to seek the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their own lives so real, lasting reformation can take place.

2 thoughts on “Zephaniah 3:1-4 and The Impossibility of Legislating Morality and the Need for the Holy Spirit

  1. Appreciate your comments, always. I couldn’t agree more that the work of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth, including the truth about ourselves and our violations of God’s moral and spiritual code. However, for those whose lives are not enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit, if the governments don’t legislate morality, what do they legislate (at least some of the time)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Too true. Governments are ideally put in place by God (Romans 13) to keep the peace and safety of the people. There are times when they pass laws that are moral in nature, especially if those governments are formed in a culture that is/was shaped by the Gospel reality. I think the problem comes in when people expect the legislation to be the cure-all for immoral behavior. If that were true, there would be no need for police, as no one would break any laws. Even God moved from legislating morality (Old Covenant) to an inner transformation (New Covenant). We still have the laws of the Old Covenant, but now with the advent of the New, they can function in their true purpose, pointing the way to the reality of Jesus Christ in our lives. I suspect good government should function the same way, pointing the way to the deeper reality of life, but how that could actually play out in life with all of the brokenness we have as people in various stages of redemption, I don’t know.


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