Digging in Deeper: Zephaniah 1:8-9

“On the day of the Lord’s sacrifice I will punish the officials, the king’s sons, and all who are dressed in foreign clothing. On that day I will punish all who skip over the threshold, who fill their master’s house with violence and deceit.”‬‬ (CSB – Read the chapter)

All religion is just superstition given official sanction. Something along those lines is a common critique of religious people and their religions. And, to a certain extent, there is a small amount of truth to it. Religious people often do buy into any number of silly superstitions. Also, not a few religious rituals are little more than dressed up superstitions. But to paint with such a broad brush is to risk missing a key observation: The God of the Bible hates superstitions just as much as your scientific, secular neighbor professes to hate them.

These are an interesting couple of verses. They reveal the extent to which Josiah’s reforms weren’t taking among the people. This is interesting to me at least because Josiah receives such high marks in Chronicles and Kings. He was a good and righteous king. He followed the Lord faithfully. He rediscovered the Law, initiated a national season of repentance, and reinstituted the Passover celebration. He removed all the vestiges of idolatry from among the people more thoroughly than any of the reformer kings before him did. He received no criticism in his story at all. About the only thing he did wrong was to pick a fight with the king of Egypt, lost, and died in the battle.

But it didn’t take.

The people were too far gone. The writer of Kings tells us that God didn’t turn from His burning anger at the sinfulness of the people in spite of all Josiah did. And we can see why here. Not even the king’s own sons bought into his efforts. They kept looking to their neighbors, wishing they were more like them. They wanted to adopt their culture and customs and that included their religion. They were fashionable. It was new and different and not what they had going on at home. This brought violent and deceitful practices back into the nation that Josiah was working so hard to remove.

Right in the middle of this indictment, though, comes this odd little judgment against those “who skip over the threshold.” What does this mean?

Well, one of the beliefs common back then was that there were certain gods whose sphere of influence was the home. When you left the street and entered a home or a building, you were entering into this god’s domain. The point at which you crossed into a building was (and is) the threshold. This was considered a sacred point. As a result, treading on this sacred point could anger the god, bringing his displeasure and curse on the house and all who dwelled in it.

Okay, that’s a pagan belief, sure, but why single this one practice out of all the potential culprits. Well, what is this skipping over a threshold? It is a particular act believed to incur or avoid certain kinds of fortune or luck. We have a word to describe those kinds of acts: superstitions. What God is pronouncing judgment on here is superstition.

Let that one sit on you for a minute.

Why would He bother doing this? Superstitions are everywhere. They lie at the very heart of religion, or so our critics allege. Well, again, those critics are mostly right except for when it comes to biblically orthodox Christianity.

You see, the heart of all superstition is the belief that by doing this or that in a certain way we can somehow bend the universe just a bit to our will. This is magical thinking at its finest. It is entirely common and has been a part of every human culture…except where a biblically orthodox faith in God has held dominant sway. The reason for this is simple: that’s not the world God created.

Superstitions have no place if He is truly the sovereign creator. All such practices reflect a point at which the one who is superstitious does not truly believe God is sovereign. Consider the incredibly common phrase “knock on wood.” What is that? It comes out of a belief that knocking on a piece of wood will keep demons and other evil spirits at bay. Or perhaps this: “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” That’s more in line with skipping over the threshold here in Zephaniah. Is any of this true? Of course not. It’s silly. That’s the kind of belief that pushes people away from fully embracing Jesus as Lord because if He is Lord then we don’t need to knock on anything, we need to be faithful to Him. If Jesus is Lord, then we don’t need to try and gain power over the world for ourselves, we need to trust in the power He already has over it and do what He says.

Superstitions exist and have always existed, but not where there is a biblically orthodox belief in God. As the Gospel advanced across Europe early in the history of the church, it tended to drive out local superstitions and the beliefs undergirding them. It replaced those with faith. The world no longer depended on us and what we could do so we didn’t have to do the silly things we previously (and falsely) believed gave us power over it. Now we could trust in the God who really was in charge and is good.

Here’s the challenge: Do you trust in the God who is sovereign, or are you holding back and placing a little bit of trust in other things just to hedge your bet? The more little silly things you do at certain times and in certain ways, the more likely the answer to that question is not what you want it to be. Superstitions persist because sometimes they work. It’s just like people keep playing the lottery because someone always wins. Don’t live that way. Live by faith in the God who is good, not blind trust in a world that isn’t.

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