I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests. (Zephaniah 1:4)
God makes it clear that Judah and Jerusalem are to be singled out for judgment.
" I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place." The thing that brings the judgment of God upon the land is very specific — it is idolatry. In the prophecy of Habakkuk, God mentions five woes He was going to bring upon the people because of certain sins which they had committed. Idolatry was the last one; it was the fifth woe. But here Zephaniah narrows it down and puts his hand on idolatry — that is, false religion.
The Scriptures, beginning with the Book of Judges, teach a philosophy of human government, which you will find was true of God's people and which has been true of every nation. The first step in a nation's decline is religious apostasy, a turning from the living and true God. The second step downward for a nation is moral awfulness. The third step downward is political anarchy.
A great many people in the United States today think that our problem is in Washington, D.C. — I don't think so. Another group of people feel that if people could be reformed, if we could get people to act nicely, not be violent and not steal, if we could just lift our moral standards, then that would solve our problems. Again, I don't think that is the problem. Very frankly, I believe that the problem in this country is religious apostasy. The problem is out yonder with you and right here with me. The problem is that the church has failed to give God's message. I am not talking about every church or your church necessarily. There are many Bible-teaching churches across this country which have wonderful pastors who are standing for God — and I thank God for them. But the great denominations, by and large, have now departed from the faith. They have come to the place where they no longer give an effective message to the nation. As a result, from this religious apostasy have flowed moral awfulness and political anarchy.
If you think that this is just the wild raving of a fundamentalist preacher, you are wrong. Let me quote an excerpt from an editorial in a major metropolitan newspaper a number of years ago. Speaking of the failure of the churches to present any spiritual message whatsoever, the editorial concluded:
This betrayal of Christ in the name of Christianity is one reason for the moral and spiritual malaise with which this country is afflicted. The melancholy fact is that the churches no longer influence the development of national character. People go to church mainly because of an impulse to participate in a service of worship, not because of any spiritual guidance they expect from the clergyman.
What a note of condemnation this is! This is true not just of our nation but of every nation.
The historian Gibbon concluded that there were five reasons for the decline and fall of Rome. Gibbon was not a Christian, but here is why he says Rome fell: (1) The undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human society. (2) Higher and higher taxes; the spending of public money for free bread and circuses for the populace. (3) The mad craze for pleasure; sports becoming every year more exciting, more brutal, more immoral. (4) The building of great armaments when the great enemy was within; the decay of individual responsibility. (5) The decay of religion, fading into mere form, losing touch with life, losing power to guide the people.
The message of Zephaniah carries out this scriptural principle of human government, and he puts his finger right down on the sore spot in the southern kingdom of Judah — idolatry. Zephaniah saw what was happening. The people were now on the toboggan; they were on the way down and out, and judgment was coming. Idolatry is where every great nation has gone off the track. When a nation departs from the living and true God or when it gives up great moral principles which were based on religion, when it goes into idolatry, these factors eventually lead it into gross immorality and into political anarchy.
—From Dr. J. Vernon McGee's Edited Messages on Zechariah ©1994