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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Zephaniah 2

B. The judgment on Judah 1:4-2:3

Zephaniah gave more particulars concerning the fate of Judah (Zephaniah 1:4 to Zephaniah 2:3) and Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:1-7) than about the fate of the rest of humanity (Zephaniah 1:2-3; Zephaniah 2:4-15; Zephaniah 3:8). He did this both in the section of the book dealing with coming judgment and in the section about blessing. In the section on blessing he gave only one verse to the purification of the nations (Zephaniah 3:9) but 11 to the transformation of Israel (Zephaniah 3:10-20).

Verses 1-2

Zephaniah called the shameless people of Judah to gather together, evidently in a nationwide public assembly, to repent (cf. Zephaniah 1:6; Joel 2:12-14). They needed to do so before the Lord’s decree to punish them took effect and His burning anger overtook them. Nineveh had repented at the preaching of Jonah, and the Lord relented from judging it. Perhaps He would do the same if the Judeans repented. That day was coming as swiftly as chaff blows before the wind, so they needed to act immediately.

Verses 1-3

4. A call to repentance 2:1-3

This section of the book (Zephaniah 1:4 to Zephaniah 2:3) concludes with an appeal to the Judeans to repent and so avoid the punishment destined to come on them if they did not repent.

"The prophet meant in that terrible description of approaching judgments not to drive the people to despair, but to drive them to God and to their duty-not to frighten them out of their wits, but to frighten them out of their sins." [Note: Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 1168.]

Verse 3

The prophet urged his humble hearers who had sought to be obedient to the Lord to continue to seek Him in prayerful dependence. He was appealing to the faithful remnant in particular (cf. Zephaniah 3:12; Isaiah 11:4; Amos 8:4; Matthew 5:3). They needed to continue to pursue righteous behavior and place themselves under the Lord’s sovereign authority by listening to Him and obeying Him. If they did this, the Lord might hide them when He poured out His anger on the unrepentant. [Note: See Wiersbe, pp. 433-35, for an excursus on "the company of the concerned."] Repentance was open to anyone. God did indeed protect some Judeans from destruction when the Babylonians invaded (cf. 2 Kings 24:14-16). Zephaniah’s exhortation appears to have been effective.

Zephaniah called on the humble of the "earth" to seek the Lord. While the Promised Land may be in view, this is probably a worldwide invitation. All people need to seek the Lord by repenting.

The Hebrew word satar is the root of the word translated "hidden." Satar is a synonym of saphan, which may be part of Zephaniah’s name. If it is, "Zephaniah" probably means "Yahweh hides." Thus his name could have had connection with his message of preservation for the godly remnant.

Verse 4

The prophet announced that destruction would overtake four of the five cities of the Philistine pentapolis (cf. Isaiah 14:28-32; Jeremiah 47; Ezekiel 25:15-17; Amos 1:6-8). He listed them from south to north. Gath had evidently declined already (cf. 2 Chronicles 26:6; Amos 1:6-8; Zechariah 9:5-7), or perhaps Zephaniah selected only four towns to preserve literary parallelism. "Gaza" and "abandoned" sound similar in Hebrew, as do "Ekron" and "uprooted." Being driven out at noon may imply an unexpected time since people normally rested during the hottest part of the day.

Verses 4-7

1. Judgment coming on Philistia 2:4-7

Verses 4-15

C. judgment on Israel’s neighbors 2:4-15

Since all people need to seek the Lord (Zephaniah 2:3), Zephaniah revealed that judgment was headed for the nations around Judah as well as for Judah. He selected nations that lived in four directions from Judah to represent all the nations. Philistia lay west of Judah, Moab and Ammon east, Ethiopia south, and Assyria north.

"He [God] would also judge nations that were near as well as nations that were far away. Those near would be plundered and possessed by Judah. Those far away would simply be destroyed by the Lord." [Note: Dyer, pp. 810-11.]

Zephaniah prophesied to the people of Judah about these nations rather than to these nations themselves, though they might have heard about Zephaniah’s prophecies. His prophecies about the nations reminded the Judeans that Yahweh was sovereign over all the earth and that He was not just singling out Judah for punishment.

Verse 5

Zephaniah announced woe on the Philistines because destruction was coming on them. They inhabited the Mediterranean seacoast, and they had come from Crete (cf. 1 Samuel 30:14; 2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 20:23; 1 Chronicles 18:17; Ezekiel 25:16). Yahweh’s powerful word was all it took to afflict them, and it would come against them. He promised to destroy them and their land, the coastal plain of Canaan, so no one would live there any longer. Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt (609-594 B.C.) initially fulfilled this prophecy (cf. Jeremiah 47).

Verses 6-7

The flat Philistine seacoast would become depopulated pastures, and its caves-there are many in Judah and Mt. Carmel-would serve as refuges for shepherds and folds for sheep. After this destruction, the survivors from Judah would take possession of the coastal plain and pasture their sheep there. They would also take over the houses in Ashkelon and make them their homes because Yahweh would care for this remnant and restore their fortunes (cf. Zephaniah 3:20; Genesis 15:18-20).

Verse 8

Probably Zephaniah linked Moab and Ammon because both nations descended from Lot (Genesis 19:30-38) as well as because both lay to Judah’s east. Both nations had taunted and reviled the Israelites from their earliest history. They had repeatedly lifted themselves up as enemies of God’s chosen people (cf. Numbers 22; Numbers 24:17; Judges 3:12-14; Judges 10:7-9; Judges 11:4-6; 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 2 Samuel 10:1-14; 2 Kings 3).

Verses 8-11

2. Judgment coming on Moab and Ammon 2:8-11

Verse 9

Because of their hostility toward the Israelites, almighty Yahweh, Israel’s God, would definitely destroy these nations as He had Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Isaiah 15-16; Jeremiah 48:1 to Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 25:1-14; Ezekiel 35; Amos 1:11 to Amos 2:3). God had completely destroyed these cities that stood in the territory later occupied by Moab shortly before either of these nations came into existence (Genesis 19:23-29). Sodom and Gomorrah had become a notorious perpetual desolation, a place of salt pits where nothing but nettles grew (cf. Jeremiah 48:9), and that would be what Yahweh would make of Moab and Ammon. The remnant of Israelites would plunder these neighbors and take over their territory as an inheritance from their God (cf. Isaiah 11:14).

Verse 10

Yahweh of armies would bring this fate on these nations because of their pride and arrogant ridicule of His people Israel (cf. Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:26; Jeremiah 48:29; Ezekiel 25:5-6; Ezekiel 25:8).

Verse 11

The Lord would terrify them. He would remove the inhabitants of these nations from the face of the earth so they would not be able to offer sacrifices to their pagan gods. As a result, these gods would starve. What kind of a god needs the sacrifices of mortals to sustain it? People from all the nations, pictured as living on the coastlands of the world, would worship Yahweh (cf. Malachi 1:11). This part of the prophecy awaits future fulfillment.

Verse 12

3. Judgment coming on Ethiopia 2:12

Zephaniah’s oracle against Ethiopia is very brief (cf. Isaiah 18-20; Jeremiah 46; Ezekiel 29-32). Patterson suggested that Zephaniah may have meant Egypt rather than Ethiopia. [Note: Patterson, pp. 349-50.] Biblical Ethiopia occupied the territory now held by southern Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and northern Ethiopia. The Ethiopians were the southernmost (really southwestern-most) people known to the Judeans. God promised to send His sword against this nation. His instrument of judgment proved to be Nebuchadnezzar who defeated Ethiopia shortly after overrunning all of Judah in 586 B.C. (cf. Ezekiel 30:4-5; Ezekiel 30:9; Ezekiel 30:24-25). The prophet gave no reason for this overthrow, though it must be that Ethiopia shared the same disregard for Yahweh that the other nations he condemned did.

Verse 13

Zephaniah also prophesied the destruction of Assyria to Judah’s north (really northeast) and her capital Nineveh (cf. Isaiah 14:24-27; Nah.). Since Nineveh fell to the combined forces of Babylonia, Media, and Scythia in 612 B.C. Zephaniah must have uttered this prophecy before that date. The Lord would make Nineveh a parched desolation (cf. Nahum 3). Until her fall Nineveh had much water surrounding and circulating through it, but in the future she would be dry (cf. Nahum 1:8; Nahum 2:6; Nahum 2:8).

"Nineveh is part of Scripture’s early-warning system." [Note: Motyer, p. 937.]

Verses 13-15

4. Judgment coming on Assyria 2:13-15

Verse 14

Beautiful Nineveh would become a dwelling place for wild animals and birds rather than populated with multitudes of sophisticated citizens. The very idea must have seemed incredible in Zephaniah’s day because Nineveh was the greatest city in the ancient Near East. [Note: M. R. Wilson, "Nineveh," in Major Cities of the Biblical World, p. 186.]

Verse 15

In Zephaniah’s day Nineveh was proud, carefree, and apparently impregnable. Its residents boasted of being citizens of the most important city in the world (cf. Isaiah 10:12). Yet in the future it would become a desolate place for beasts rather than barons. Passersby would ridicule the pride of Nineveh verbally by reviling it and bodily by shaking their fists at it after its fall (cf. Nahum 3:19).

Motyer summarized five principles that Zephaniah taught in this section (Zephaniah 2:4-15). First, the Lord is the God of all the earth. Second, the Lord plans for the spiritual needs of the world. Third, the Lord is in charge of the whole historical process. Fourth, the Lord’s people are central to his world purposes. And fifth, the Lord is the fierce enemy of pride. [Note: Motyer, pp. 938-39.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Zephaniah 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/zephaniah-2.html. 2012.