ďI will punish all those who leap on the threshold in that day (Zeph. 1:9).Ē This has to be one of the more interesting condemnations recorded by God in the minor prophet books. It seems almost out of place. In a chapter were God condemns idolatry, the sacrifices to Milcam, the garments being warn (presumably the clothing idolatrous priests were wearing) and the use of high places it seems weird that God would condemn what appears to be ďcalisthenics.Ē What is so bad about jumping over a threshold?
This seems to be a reference to an ancient Philistine practice. In I Sam. 5 we read of the ark of God being captured when the judge Eliís sons were killed in battle. The Philistines placed the ark in their god Dagonís temple. It was met with disastrous results. The first night the idol fell over. The second night the idol again fell over and the head and hands of Dagon broke off, landing upon the threshold. As a result the Philistines no longer would walk on the threshold (I Sam. 5:5). It is believed they leaped over the threshold to avoid stepping upon it, a place where their god had been. It this is indeed why Godís priests were leaping over the threshold, and there is no reason to believe that it wasnít, then Godís priests were adapting the practices of idolatrous priests in Godís house. The really odd thing here is that jumping over the threshold in and of itself is not wrong. If I refused to step on the threshold of my house because I tend to trip over it that doesnít mean that I have don wrong in the sight of God. It means that I am trying to avoid falling down and making a fool of myself. So, why then is this mentioned in Zephaniah? I believe it has to do with what it was associated with. The Israelite priests were not just avoiding the threshold to keep from falling. They didnít step upon it to mimic and look like the pagan religions of the world. The priests were condemned for not being different. (Remember they were wearing their clothes too). So, what is the lesson in this for us?
Are we borrowing from the world? When we look at our Sunday morning services why do we do what we do, when we do it, how we do it and with whom we do it? That is, do we preach in the manner we do because we have biblical precedent or because it is the way the denominations do it? What if the first century church didnít have a preacher that spoke of 45 minutes before offering an invitation and then the church leading an invitation song? Have you ever asked yourself why we lead invitation songs? Do we do so because the dominations offer up an altar call? If the answer is yes, how are we any different than those that jumped over the threshold? If it is because we want to give someone, anyone, and everyone a chance to be right with God and call everyone to repentance as seen in Acts 17 in Paulís sermon on Marís Hill then I would argue that we do no wrong. When a church claims that we need to make changes to our services to be more like the other churches in town we have made the same mistake as Israelís priests during the days of Zephaniah. Adding musical instruments because everyone else is doing it or adding a kitchen because we are the only ones in town without one are awful reasons to be doing things, and yet countless churches have made these choices.
Are we keeping from sin? While I get that getting to heaven is not a magical checklist that we need to make certain that we hit every box. However, there are many examples in the scriptures were seemingly harmless practices are forbidden by God. We need to get our of our mindset that God doesnít care. In fact, their seems to be a reference to that mindset in Zeph. 1:12. ďJehovah will not do good, nor will He do evil.Ē This is not to say that God is incapable of doing good, but that God isnít going to. Why? He doesnít care. Life will continue on and no one will be punished, no scary days of justice, etc. My friends, God does care. He cares so much that even jumping over a threshold as a religious act was condemned! Let that sink in. What does that say about how he really feels about worship?
Are we failing to trust in Godís pattern? Perhaps this was Israelís biggest issue. God was eventually regulated to being a god of war. Baal was a storm god, Ashtoreth was a fertility god. Israel turned to these other gods in hopes of finding ways to have prosperous crops. They were hoping that by appease the same gods the Canaanites did that they would have just as much success in harvesting a good crop. In the hour of war, they would turn to the war God, ďJehovah.Ē We do the same thing today when we only go to God in our times of distress. God is no magic lamp that we get to rub when times get tough. Trust his plan at all times. Trust and he will not disappoint.
Grinnell church of Christ
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Have You Been Leaping on the Threshold?
Volume 8 Issue 30