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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Zephaniah 2

Verses 1-2

Examine Yourself, Before …

After a judgment that is so radical and definitive, everything seems over and out. But God does not announce a definitive judgment without keeping and offering a way out. That is why there is a penetrating appeal to the people to come to repentance (Zep 2:1). The fact that it is said twice that they have to gather indicates how emphatic the call is. The meaning is to sift yourself through and through, and to sift on. A diligent sifting and search into oneself must be the beginning of all true repentance and pardon.

The call is made to a nation that the prophet calls a “nation without shame”. It indicates the indifference or even the hardening of their hearts. They are numb to what God wants.

That the call is urgent is shown in Zep 2:2. There is no time to lose… time is short. The day to come to repentance is a wonderful day, but it is very fast over, just as quickly as chaff disappears that is carried away by the wind. Chaff is also a picture of the wicked people disappearing through the anger of the LORD (cf. Mt 3:12). The call must be answered immediately. Delay is fatal.

Verse 3

Seek the LORD and What Marks Him

Repentance must appear from works which here, consist of seeking the LORD and doing what He says. They must seek “the LORD” and also “righteousness” and “humility”. This call seems to be addressed to the remnant, which includes “all the humble of the earth [or: land]” (Psa 76:9; Isa 11:4; Amos 8:4). They have been converted. Although they are humble, they are urged to seek humility, that is to say, they are called to increase in it.

Humility is the hallmark of the Lord Jesus (Mt 11:29). A remnant is recognized as having His features. They are not concerned with themselves and their faithfulness, but with Him to Whom they have taken refuge. The LORD then hides them and protects them from judgment. He is the ark that offers salvation against the waters of the deluge. This corresponds to the meaning of the name of the prophet. After all, Zephaniah means ‘Yahweh hides’.

Verses 4-5

The Judgment on the Philistines

When the LORD judges His people for their sins, it does not mean that he ignores or condones the sins of the surrounding heathen peoples. The cities of the Philistines in the west are the first to be judged. Philistines are a picture of depraved Christianity. They print their name on the land: Palestine. In them we see the religious posturing that tries to control and rule everything of God according to human standards.

The four main cities are mentioned: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron. Gath is missing (cf. Amos 1:6-8). As a reason for not mentioning Gath, it has been suggested that this city did not recover from the destruction that King Uzziah brought upon it (2Chr 26:6). Also in some other lists of the Philistine cities Gath does not occur (Jer 25:20; Zec 9:5-6).

Ashdod will be driven out “at noon”, which is the hottest part of the day. This means that that city will have an extra heavy judgment, because the inhabitants will have to flee at a time when in the east people usually rest because of the great heat. It also means that it will happen when one least expects to be attacked (2Sam 4:5; Jer 6:4). Attacks are usually expected at night, not during the day, and certainly not during the hottest part of the day.

The Philistines are called “Cherethites” (Zep 2:5) because of their relationship with Crete (Jer 47:4; Amos 9:7; Eze 25:16). They are a people who unlawfully took God’s land. Also in our days there are religious, spiritual powers that want to drive the people of God, the church, out of their inheritance. God will defeat those powers and put His people in possession of their inheritance. To defend and enjoy the inheritance now, He has given us His armor (Eph 6:12-18).

Verses 6-7

Judah Gets What the Philistines Possess

When the land has been stripped of the Philistines, the land that they have unlawfully claimed for themselves will be inhabited by the remnant of the house of Judah. They are entitled to it. It belongs to what God originally promised Abraham. “The remnant” is “all Israel” that “will be saved” (Rom 11:26). It is the new Israel that receives all the blessings that God has promised His people.

Verses 8-10

The Judgment on Moab and Ammon

Moab and Ammon are connected by Zephaniah, as many other prophets do (Zep 2:8). They are characterized by great arrogance towards Israel. This has become greater as the decay in Israel and Judah has increased. They taunt the people of God and try to enrich themselves and take advantage of the discipline that God brings upon His people.

In Christianity we recognize them in people who say they are Christians, but are not born again. They claim they are alive, but they are dead (Rev 3:1b). They are confessors who confess to belong to the family of God while they are children conceived in lewdness. They are the proud Christian confessors who, with contempt, look down on anyone who wants to be guided only by God’s Word and emphasize the new birth as the only possibility to get eternal life. Their pride is condemned by Isaiah and Jeremiah in their prophecies (Isa 16:6; Isa 25:11; Jer 48:29-30).

The comparison of Moab and Ammon with Sodom and Gomorrah (Zep 2:9) should come as no surprise when we think of their origins (Gen 19:30-38). They originated from an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters, after he was got drunk by them. This happened after he and his daughters fled from Sodom. Although they may have left Sodom, Sodom did not leave them and is characteristic of their descendants.

Their offspring, the Moabites and the Ammonites, behaved as wickedly as Sodom and Gomorrah. Therefore, the judgment on them will be the same as that of Sodom and Gomorrah. They will become “a place possessed by nettles and salt pits”, symbolizing desolation, infertility, and perpetual disaster (Deu 29:23; cf. Gen 19:26; Num 18:19; Jdg 9:45; Psa 107:34; Eze 47:11).

Because Moab and Ammon have acted in pride against God’s people, they will be judged by God. No people who harm God’s people, whether through domination or taunting, have a sense of how much God is grieved by this and how He will punish them for it. He will use His people to carry out that punishment. Israel will inherit the territory of Moab and Ammon, located east of the country.

Verse 11

Judgment on the Idols

By judging the heathen nations, God also judges the gods these nations worship. Idols have no reason to exist without nations that worship and serve them (1Cor 8:4-6). Then each nation will worship the one true God, each in the place where that nation lives, making that worship general, universal (Mal 1:11). Now it is not general yet, although it happens wherever there are worshippers (Jn 4:21-24). It will only be universal when the Lord Jesus will reign as Messiah, during the realm of peace.

Verse 12

The Judgment on the Ethiopians

After judging the peoples west and east of Israel, Zephaniah draws attention to Ethiopia, south of Israel. By “My sword” is meant Nebuchadnezzar, who is used as a sword in the hand of the LORD for His people (Jer 46:9; Eze 30:24-25). Ethiopia represents man in the blackness of his sinful nature, for whom it is impossible to change anything themselves (Jer 13:23). God will execute His judgment on this, just as He did that for all who believe by judging His Son on the cross for them.

Verses 13-15

The Judgment on Assyria and Nineveh

Finally, there is the judgment on Assyria (Zep 2:13), located north of Israel. The judgment on Nineveh is described in detail in the book of Nahum. Nineveh falls in 612 BC after a siege by the Medes and the Babylonians. In Assyria and Nineveh we see the pride, which needs nothing and nobody and is completely indifferent towards God. The fact that Nineveh will become “parched like the wilderness” shows how drastic the judgment will be because Nineveh has an enormous irrigation system that provides itself with an abundance of water.

Nineveh, a large city with a large number of inhabitants, will offer a desolate and desolate sight (Zep 2:14). Instead of marching armies and a prosperous population, according to the prophet’s prophecy all kinds of animals will find a home in a devastated area where they feel at home.

Nineveh boasts of his own satisfaction – “I am, and there is no one besides me” –, as if she is dependent on nothing and nobody (Zep 2:15). Babylon does the same (Isa 47:8; cf. Rev 3:17). God is the only One Who has the right to say what Nineveh is arrogantly boasting about here: “There is no other God besides Me, …There is none except Me. … For I am God, and there is no other” (Isa 45:21-22). Nineveh is greatly humiliated because of this presumption and is a dwelling place of wild beasts only. Anyone who sees it will clearly demonstrate that it is her own fault. No one will feel sorry for her, but instead mock her.

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Zephaniah 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.