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.
We’ve spent the last two class sessions considering three passages from the Old Testament prophets that employ the metaphor of wine being “left on the lees.” The “lees” are the dregs, that is, the sediment that drops out of the grape juice during the fermentation of the wine. It is tempting to me to simply view the lees as something that embitters the wine and that ought to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. But the picture is more complicated than that. In fact, in the passage in Isaiah, it seems clear that the wine that is “on the lees” is the best wine, worthy to be served, in that instance, at the Lord’s great feast.
Leaving wine on the lees was/is a normal and beneficial part of the wine-making process. The lees impart flavor and body to the wine. So the idea in these passages is not so much that the wine – or the peoples for whom the wine is a symbol – has become bitter. It is more that they have settled on their own strength. Their own culture of security and prosperity. They have become so strong and confident in themselves that they see no need of God. In the passage in Zephaniah, that idea is explicit. Then in Jerusalem, the people were so secure in their own ways that they said “in their hearts” that God will do nothing. He will not intervene in their affairs; there will be no divine judgement.
Yesterday we talked about how this attitude – that men can walk in their own strength and way without regard to the holiness of God and without regard for His rule in the affairs of humanity – has become manifest in today’s news; news that not only powerfully demonstrates the pervasiveness of that very cavalier attitude in the high places of American culture, but the falsity of it, as well. We may see today’s news as evidence of God’s judgement. Evidence of the holiness of God and the righteousness of His moral law and the inevitable judgement on those who flout it.
There are too many names to list. And any list we’d try to make here would be outdated tomorrow. But it is safe to say that the rich and famous from almost every walk of life – broadcasting, movie- making, politics, sports and religion – are being brought to justice for their exploitation of those who are weaker and subservient to them; for their abuse of the immense power that society had invested them with.
Next week we’ll move away from the sensational sins of the rich and famous and talk instead about us regular Joes and how it may be that we settle on our own lees and what we might do to turn thing around in our own lives.
Just to be ready for next week’s class, take a look at this blog post by Rod Dreher, commenting on the philosophy of the novelist, Walker Percy.