“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 …. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord. Zeph. 1:12, 3:12

God, searching in Jerusalem with candles!

Jehovah, the faithful covenant God of Israel, visiting His people with candles, in order to find out their iniquity and trespass.

Terrible were the days of which the prophet speaks. They were days of great apostasy. Historically, they were the days of the kingdom of Judah when Josiah reigned, about six centuries before the coming of the

Christ of God.

But at this time it was very dark in Jerusalem.

Yes, yes, I know all about the reform that was instituted by the King of Judah, how he had tried to cleanse the foul stable of Baal worship.

But there was a terrible state of moral decay nevertheless. And this state of decay no moral reform of Josiah can cure.

There was a terrible admixture in Judah. On the one hand, the text speaks of men like Josiah. They “seek the Lord”, and they grieve for their sin. And they are characterized as an “afflicted and poor people”.

On the other hand, there are the men who coagulate on their lees. They say very wicked things in their heart, and that is terrible. We can say terrible things with our mouth sometimes, but to say those things in your hearts is doubly sinful. It reveals a wicked heart. Well, they said in their heart: The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil.

And these two kinds of people made up the historical people of God in Judah.

And this mixed mass the Lord God of Israel is going to visit with candles.

Jerusalem is visited with candles!

God will surely come and will not silent be!

He will come with a devouring fire; He will be a shining light so that it will be clearly established what kind of people He shall find.

No, this is no interesting story which you may read at your leisure. . . .and forget.

This is the Word of the Lord unto Judah and Israel.

And as such it has its message even today for us. Not only did the Lord really visit Jerusalem with His searching light of judgment, but all these things are also typical, and they are repeated throughout the ages.

Israel and Judah are the people of God of all the ages. And their states of innocence or guilt, their departure from the truth or their cleaving to the same is also typical. And typical is their punishment or their reward of grace.

Israel is the Church of God of all the ages.

And you may apply the text even today. What did I say? You must apply this text today. It is the living Word of God for our day in a deeper sense than it ever could be in the days of Zephaniah. Things have developed, but they are the same things as in the days of this prophet.

There is a terrible admixture in our present Judah and Israel.

There are the men who are settled on their lees. These people are compared to wine that grows cloudy because of the sediment: the lees. They are thoroughly permeated with evil in its many forms. They are coagulated in that evil. To sin for them has become very natural.

And this evil people reveal themselves over against God as those who are practical deists: God is so far away from us that He will never find us out.

But also today there are the other kind of people: the poor and the afflicted ones. They are the people that seek the Lord.

Beautiful characteristics! Especially that last one: they seek the Lord!

From the morning to the evening, yes, and even in the watches of the night, they are on the lookout for the living God. They love Him, and therefore, they seek Him.

And they also found Him, for we read of them that they trust in the name of the Lord. God be blessed, there are such people today. And they shall remain among those that reveal themselves as practical deists. And they shall abide among the wicked until the last day. But when they are gone, then the end will come, and at that time this text will have been entirely fulfilled.

But remember that this text describes our present set-up in this world.

God is searching Jerusalem with candles!

And He finds a terrible admixture!

Yes, God is searching!

And a searching God is first of all a terrible God who taketh vengeance.

Oh, how the people of God were witness to that fact! This text began to be fulfilled in the latter days of Jeremiah, who even then prophesied. It is for that reason that he is called the weeping prophet.

It began to be fulfilled when the light of the candles of God’s judgment came in the form of the Babylonian captivity.

Oh how they were searched with candles.

How literally this was fulfilled. The high and mighty hid themselves, but they were found out. God gave ingenuity to the wicked Babylonians, enough ingenuity to find the men that had settled on their lees of godlessness.

And as to these candles of God, they are the always judging God. The light of this search is the light of His blessed virtue. They are the outgoing virtues of righteousness, holiness and truth. They are the candles of God. Terrible it shall be if a man is entirely wicked, thoroughly dark and evil. This light of God’s judgment will surely find him out and make him to taste His utter condemnation.

And thus the Lord will deal with the church of God throughout all the ages and in every clime.

God’s candles burn brightly indeed.

They are the Word of God.

That Word is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart.

O those candles of the living God! You simply cannot hide from them. They and their light follow you in every recess and cranny of the Universe. There is no escaping their piercing light. It is really the living God Himself that looks at you!

And notice in the text that He looks, by the light of these candles, into the eyes of your heart!

Oh yes, there are the shining candles of God!

Searching, ever searching Jerusalem!

God is searching His people!

He did so in the days of this prophet. And He does so today.

Every day and every minute of the day, the Lord is searching Jerusalem, and that is you.

You see, God is always judging. He is judging me at this very moment when I am writing these lines. He judges every day, says the Holy Scripture.

And this judging is brought home to me, first, by His glorious Word. And, second, His Holy Spirit applies that Word in my heart. And there, in my heart, He tells me what He thinks of me.

And now, according to the presence or the lack of grace in your heart, you are either afflicted in that heart, or you are foolish, very foolish in your heart.

Imagine: they say in their heart: God does not see anything! For it is plain, so they say, that He will do neither good nor evil! Are they not foolish?

But the others say: I am poor and afflicted!

And that is because with the light of God’s judgment which also judges and condemns them, they receive the grace of God, and through that grace they humble themselves, seek God and plead for His mercy, even as the true Israel of all the ages has ever done. In the days of Zephaniah we find such people. Well, wherever you are that read this, you will find that the Lord has left Himself a remnant that trust in His name, also among you. And they shall remain among us unto the end of time.

God is searching His people in Jerusalem!

But there will be an end of this, God be thanked!

We do not have to remain among the wicked as the remnant forever!

The time will come when this searching of God shall have been finished, and at that time the judgment of God shall be fulfilled.

For that time we hunger.

Then the Word of the Lord shall find them.

Yes, they still shall be settled on their lees. But the coagulation on their lees shall be terrible. It shall seem that they have entirely identified themselves with sin. The same picture you have in the Bible, for at the end of time these people are called the man of sin!

But the Word of the Lord shall find them. The all-penetrating light of His glorious virtues shall reveal them in all their horrible perversion and iniquity. And the whole Universe shall be witness to the evil of their sin.

In this present dispensation they seem to have success with their philosophy: the deist seems to have his measure of success. Does it not seem as though he is right? Does it not seem as though the Lord will neither do good nor do evil? Does it not seem that the only one that does anything is sovereign man? Is he not babbling today of destroying the whole universe? I have read statements such as these: Another war will destroy our whole civilization such as we know it. I have read that man is speaking of destroying the whole Universe with the inventions he has found out. Man is setting off atom blasts: what is God doing? Where is He?

But I would like to read a text to the Deist. It is found in Psalm 50:21, 22: “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence: thou thoughtest that I was altogether such ah one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.”

Listen also to another Scripture: “The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man, He shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: He shall cry, yea, roar; He shall prevail against His enemies. I have long time holden My peace; I have been still, and refrained Myself: now I will cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once.” Isaiah 42:18, 14.

Note three points in these two Scriptures: No. 1: God kept silence, He seemed to be far away and He seemed not to interfere at all; No. 2: these wicked men did wickedly and thought that God would never come to destroy them for their evil deeds; and No. 3: God finally will come to destroy them.

And so it is in our text too: God will search out Jerusalem with His candles of righteousness, holiness and truth, and according to His findings He will either destroy or save to the uttermost.

For that we must wait awhile.

It seems as though He is slack in coming. But it is not slackness. He is coming as fast as He can. And that means that He will come as fast as the things are developing in His counsel. And when all the things of God’s counsel are realized, then He will finally come with His candles.

And for that final coming we long and pray.

God, searching out Jerusalem with candles!

The searching God of Jerusalem!

I have been a listener to many complaints. Some of them were my own. But I have also listened to many that were not my own. And among them I have listened to good people that were almost desperate, for they thought that someone was “getting away with something”. You could tell by the very fervor of the teller of the story that they required haste, that tne wicked-doer better be stopped at once, that if we do not act immediately, he will escape, and there nevei will be any retribution!

Poor deluded people!

God is ever searching with candles!

And at the end of time there will be a searching such as we have never seen before.

The Word of the Lord will find the men that are secure on their lees. Their sin, all sin, shall be found out to be sin indeed, and. . . .shall be punished.

But at that time the poor and miserable in Jerusalem will also be searched by God’s candles. The judgment will begin with God’s people.

And then the Lord will discover what He found in them. In their hearts the Lord will discover Himself. And He will find Himself there in the face of Jesus the Son of God.

In the day of God’s judgment that people shall be adjudged to be entirely innocent, for it shall be shown how God paid the price in His own beloved Son.

God will show that these people were poor in themselves. They knew themselves to be sinners, and they cried to God for mercy. They were an afflicted people. For since they receive God’s grace in their hearts, they were hated of all. They were treated as the wicked treated God Himself. When He came to them in the appearance of His Son, He said: what will ye do unto Me? And they said: We will hate Thee all the day long! And we also hate Thy Son, Jesus Christ. And we will nail Him to the accursed tree for He is too much like Thee! And we will hate also all the people that are baptized in that Son, and that reveal that Son in all their walk of life!

That is what the wicked have always said, and always have done.

They did it initially when Cain slew Abel.

Oh yes, there is an afflicted people. God has left them among the wicked.

But they trust in the name of the Lord.

There you have the difference.

They know this God in the face of His Son. They have listened to His self-revelation. They have experienced the application of this revelation in their heart.

And since that time they trust in God.

What that means?

It means that you rely on Him. That you let Him shape your life, and that you expect from Him all the strength you need to walk before Him in uprightness and integrity of heart. And that you long for His coming with candles.