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The Judgments Of The Nations
It is a principle over and over again emphasized in the Scriptures that while God will overlook nothing in His people’s ways that merit its rebuke, He will, on the other hand, visit severest judgment on all who lift their hands against them. Philistia, Moab, Ethiopia, or Assyria, might be used of Him to chastise Israel; but they should not delight in such service, and glory over them. Because of their unholy hatred and vindictive spirit, their own punishment would be all the more severe.
This is all a picture of the time of the end. Judah then will be much in the position she occupied in Zephaniah’s day-in the land, surrounded by enemies, a feeble remnant, crying, “How long, O Lord?” the mass, apostate and swayed by Antichrist-and all this because of their rejection of Messiah when He came in grace. Therefore they must drink the cup of retribution to the dregs; but that cup emptied, the Lord will arise in His might as their Deliverer, and their enemies who have gloried over their helplessness shall become the objects of His avenging wrath, preparatory to the ushering in of the world-kingdom of our God and His Christ.
The three opening verses are a call to Judah with a view to the distinguishing of the remnant. The nation as such is not desired; they are no more lovely in His eyes. Polluted by sin and bearing the brand-marks of apostasy, Judah has become as a vessel wherein is no pleasure. But, ere the day of the Lord’s anger arrives, there is a summons for the faithful to gather together. As in Malachi’s day, they will speak often one to another, and will be drawn to their own company by a common tie and common interests. They are bidden to seek the Lord, to seek righteousness and meekness. Indeed, they are distinctively called, “Ye meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgment” (ver. 3).
Pretension is never becoming in fallen creatures, much less in a remnant in days of apostasy. Nor power nor great things are they to seek, but Jehovah Himself is to be their object, and therefore, necessarily, righteousness coupled with lowliness. It is the only suited state to such a company at such a time. No matter what the ruin that has come in throughout each succeeding dispensation, God has always had a remnant who have sought grace to walk in His truth. But there is ever danger of pride destroying such a testimony, and thus they who begin in weakness, owning their nothingness, become occupied with their fancied remnant place and character, in this way getting out of the very position they at first took in meekness.28
The true remnant will not be occupied with their remnant character, but with Him to whom they are separated. Such will not talk of being “the testimony,” or “Philadelphia,” but will be here to testify of Christ, and will seek to manifest Philadelphia (“brotherly love”) in their ways, while holding fast Christ’s word and not denying His name. Thus will they have His approbation in that day, if content to be unapproved of men in this. Satisfied to let the Lord act for them, they will be concerned about acting for Him. In His own time He will show what was truly of Himself, even as, in connection with Judah, the hour was about to strike when He would deal with the surrounding nations and the apostate mass, bringing to light the hidden things of darkness and making manifest the counsels of the heart.
Philistia must be one of the first powers destroyed, answering largely to corrupt Christendom; for the Philistines, of Egyptian origin, were dwellers in Canaan, who sought to hold all for themselves apart from divine title, and vauntingly gave their name, Palestine, to the whole land. It is religious pretension seeking to control all that stands for God, yet only an imitation like that false, corrupt church that for centuries dominated Christendom, and still claims, while but a fragment of the professing body, to be alone catholic and apostolic. Verses 4 to 7 relate to Philistia’s judgment and the deliverance of the despised Jewish remnant, picturing for us the overthrow of prelatic domination and the setting free of a Thyatiran residue (Revelation 2:24) at the coming of the Lord. For Judah and Philistia there has already been a carrying out of this prediction literally. A more complete fulfilment will take place in the last days.
Moab and Ammon (vers. 8-11) are, as often in the past, linked together, both being illegitimately descended from fallen Lot (Genesis 19:33-38). They too will be judged nationally in the last days, when the remnant of Jehovah’s people shall possess them. “This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of hosts” (ver. 10). For centuries they have been under God’s hand. They shall be fully dealt with at the time of the end. For us they speak of those who, having a name to live, are dead: who, professing to be of the family of God, were never truly born again, but are “strange children,” in whom is no faith. We see them all about us in the so-called “church,” saying, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” while in God’s sight they are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” It is the proud, Christless professors of the day who look with contempt and pity on any who seek to be guided only by the Word of God, and press the need of new birth giving life eternal.
Ethiopia and Assyria are appropriately joined together, Nineveh being the chief city of the latter (vers. 12-15). Man in the darkness of nature -the Ethiopian unable to change his skin-and man in his pride and haughtiness, having no sense of need whatever-of these do the two nations speak: on all, such desolation is soon to fall. We get a full description of Nineveh’s doom in Nahum’s prophecy. She shall never rise again. For Ethiopia there is yet hope, when she shall stretch out her hands unto God (Psalms 68:31).
The true significance of Nineveh is given in verse 15: “This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me.” It is man all-sufficient in himself, utterly indifferent to God, living in pleasure on the earth, and nourishing his heart as in a day of slaughter. But the hour of his doom is about to strike, when he will learn that power belongs to God alone.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Zephaniah 2". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13