Blind zeal is not of course a good thing. It’s not informed by knowledge of the truth (Romans 10:2). It can achieve a lot and go a long way but all in entirely the wrong direction (Galatians 1:14). So what can we possibly learn from it? Well, have you never felt rebuked by the dedication and devotion others have to a false religion or sect? It can be a challenge to our self-satisfied complacency and make us think about true zeal. Shouldn’t the truth make us equally if not more passionate and dedicated? It’s true that blind zeal is often self-directed because it’s about earning salvation. But shouldn’t salvation by faith alone produce true zeal in us (Titus 2:14)? Zeal is important (Galatians 4:18). But does the Bible teach that true zeal can learn from false zeal?
Yes, Micah 4:5 says, “For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”. Micah seems to point forward to a time under the gospel when converts will seek to renounce all heresies and sects. Instead they will adhere constantly and zealously to God and the profession of the Christian religion. As George Hutcheson notes though, it seems that they will provoke themselves to this by the example of idolaters being steadfast in their ways of false religion. This is evidence of the glory of the Church and provides encouragement for the godly. Israel had various periods of apostasy where they adopted the false religious practices of the heathen nations around them. Here is a promise of a better time when the Church will prove to be constant in the true religion. We live in unsettled and changeable times and there is a great need for being constant. There is false religious zeal in New Atheists and other activists as well as those who profess a false religion. Instead of troubling us, their commitment to a bad cause should be a spur to us in devoting ourselves in the cause of truth.
1. True Zeal can Learn Constancy
Constancy in adhering to the true religion is the great glory of a Church. It is an encouragement to the godly, to whom backslidings are a sad affliction.
2. True Zeal can Learn Dependence on God
The Christian profession and religion consists in walking in the name of the Lord. This means professing and practicing according to the revealed rule “the name of the Lord our God”. It means not seeking to be wise above what is written or doing these things in our own strength (1 Samuel 17:45; Psalm 118:11). We will have the encouragement we need from God. The phrase “his name is the same as “the light of the Lord” i.e. light for direction and comfort (Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 2 is a parallel passage).
3. True Zeal can Learn Resolution
Those who seek to walk in these paths and adhere to them should make certain their claim to God by covenant. They ought to be filled with great affection toward their covenant God. To our duty in the right way we need to renew our resolutions and motives frequently. This will maintain our sharpness. Thus, they draw reasons for new resolutions from those that serve idols.
4. True Zeal can Learn Constant Perseverance
Eternal resolutions, or resolutions of constant perseverance are fitting for so high a duty as walking in God’s name. There can be no reason for us to be weary in this. The benefits of being constant in it will only appear greater as time goes on and comes to an end. It says “we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”.
5. True Zeal Must Expect to See Blind Zeal
Even in the days of the gospel, there are still many who are so blindfolded and deluded they do not see the glory of Christ’s kingdom. Instead, they obstinately follow their idols. It says “all people,” that is, many, “will walk in the name of their god”.
6. True Zeal can Learn from Blind Zeal
The Lord’s people should (and by grace will) be far from being unsettled or drawn away by the multitude who forsake the true God. Instead, the steadfastness of idolaters is a motive for those who seek God to renew their own resolutions for greater obedience and faithfulness. Their blind zeal towards that which is no god may teach us our duty towards the true God (see Jeremiah 2:10-11).
Read the blog post Why Zeal and Reformation go together