Zephaniah 1:12 And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.
Forgive me for quoting wikipedia, but this concise summary well serves its purpose:
“Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or "the Supreme Architect") does not alter the universe by intervening in it. This idea is also known as the Clockwork universe theory, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own.”
The entire page would probably be interesting to search, but the purpose of this post is not at all to discuss the history or beliefs of what we might call “philosophical” deism. It’s to point out the fact that in Zephaniah’s day there were those who, in a very practical sense, though they believed in God, had this idea that He was very uninvolved in their lives. We’ll call them “practical” deists. And they’re still around.
In the passage, they convince themselves that God doesn’t bless the good or judge the evil. He’s the Lord, but He’s off somewhere far away in heaven – far enough off that I don’t really have to worry about Him too much.
Granted, the deist – philosophical or practical – is a step up from the fool, who denies (or temporarily forgets, Proverbs 24:9) God’s existence all together (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). The deist acknowledges His existence, but thinks of Him more so as a disinterested spectator.
Now let’s take a little closer look at the passage. The Lord said He would search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees. Maybe I’m just dumb, but I had no idea what lees were, or how one would settle himself upon them. Sounded to me like a professional couch potato. Anyway, I looked it up in a Bible dictionary on my shelf (World’s Reference Library), and here’s what I found:
“Wines on the lees,” were wines allowed to stand after the first fermentation for better preservation of the wine (Isaiah 25:6). Figuratively, it means contentment with one’s self and state, indifference and sloth (Jeremiah 48:11; Zephaniah 1:12). To drink the lees, or dregs, is a picture of God’s punishment (Psalm 75:8). No one can escape until He is completely finished; the cup must be drained, not tasted.
So the lazy complacency of these practical deists was a result of their failure to believe that God would DO anything, good or evil.
Now, the application my mind went to was the failure of God’s church in their charge to reach this lost and dying world with the gospel. Why is it that so many of God’s people are “settled on their lees” while the world is lost and going to hell?
Maybe it’s that we’ve slipped into some sort of practical deism. We don’t deny the Creator, the Savior, the Redeemer. We just refuse to really believe, or fail to remember, that there really is a hell, there really is a lake of fire, people really are going, and we really are commissioned to bear the message of the only means whereby God’s judgment can be averted. It just seemed like if we really believed those things, we’d be doing SOMETHING to pull them out of the fire (Jude 1:22-23).
And it seems like we’d realize THAT is far more important than things like feeding the homeless, curing aids, building habitats for humanity, fighting abortion, drilling wells in third-world countries, etc. Don’t get me wrong. All those things are great. But all of that without Jesus Christ will only benefit a man in THIS LIFE. Fact is, every man, woman, boy, and girl has an ETERNAL SOUL we need to be concerned about. And eternity lasts quite a bit longer than the 70 years or so we’re allotted down here.
Further, the passages states that this practical deist fails to believe that “The Lord will…do good.” God will bless His word (Isaiah 55:10-11). Souls will be saved (Psalm 126:5-6; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Our work will be rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:19).
So let’s get up off our lees and do something to help reach this world with the gospel. Pass out some gospel tracts. Hold a gospel sign at a busy intersection. Knock on some doors. Put a bumper sticker on the back of the car. Go ahead and bring it up with our co-workers or family member. Write a letter to that relative that needs to hear the gospel. Support a missionary. Pray for a missionary. Better yet, be a missionary. Whatever we do, let’s do something.