Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Zephaniah 2

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-3

Calls to the Shameless and to the Humble (2:1-3)

Zephaniah issues a summons to the "shameless nation" and an invitation to the humble of the land. Though the references to Philistine cities in verse 4 are attached to this stanza in the Revised Standard Version, there is no reason to identify the "shameless nation" with Philistia, and in view of the invitation to the humble in verse 3 there is more reason to think that the first three verses of the chapter offer Judah a last opportunity.

The shameless nation is called to assemble in one last effort to avert the fierce anger of the Lord. The first clause of verse 2 is somewhat obscure because of textual difficulties, but it seems to suggest the possibility that a chance remains of turning aside the swiftly moving and imminent destruction described in 1:14-18. At least the humble of the land may be hidden on the day of wrath, if they seek righteousness and humility and do God’s commands.

Verses 4-7

Concerning Foreign Nations (2:4-15)

Philistia (2:4-7)

The prophet’s declarations regarding the foreign nations begin with a statement concerning the Philistine land and cities. Using a rich variety of terms to designate the coastal area inhabited by the Philistines, Zephaniah announces complete destruction and desolation, and then looks beyond the destruction to see its reassignment as the possession of Judah.

Four of the five cities which once made up the Philistine league (see Joshua 13:3) are mentioned here by name, and for each an aspect of the coming destruction is specified. The prophet then pronounces a "woe" upon the Philistines as "inhabitants of the seacoast" and as "nation of the Cherethites," an expression parallel to "Philistines" in Ezekiel 25:16 and possibly indicating the Cretan origin of the Philistines. The prophet uses the word "Canaan" for the land inhabited by the Philistines to designate what remained of Canaanite culture in Zephaniah’s time.

So thoroughly will the area be destroyed that the coastal region will be used only for a pasture land, but then the remnant of the house of Judah will lead flocks into it and allow them to lie down "in the houses of Ashkelon [a Philistine city] ... at evening."

Because no clear historical allusion can be identified in this word against Philistia, a setting for these verses is difficult to determine. Verse 7, with its references to Judah and the restoration of fortune (or possibly the "return from exile"), may be exilic or postexilic. The remainder of the threat makes no clear reference to the Egyptian siege of Ashdod or the Scythian destruction of the temple of Ashkelon reported by Herodotus. Apparently the threat against the Philistines looks beyond any contemporary events to a time when the Lord will make a "full end" of all the inhabitants of the earth — including the Philistines.

But after the "full end" threatened in Zephaniah 1:18, the prophet (or his editors) could see first the possibility that the humble righteous would be hidden in the day of wrath (Zephaniah 2:3) and then the assurance that a remnant of the house of Judah would one day be restored to a peaceful nomadic life in the area formerly held by the Philistines.

Actually, in spite of destructions, the Philistine cities continued into New Testament times (Ashdod is known as Azotus in Acts 8:40, and Gaza is mentioned in Acts 8:26), and no complete destruction occurred during Old Testament times.

Verses 8-11

Moab and Ammon (2:8-11)

In the next part of the section concerning foreign nations the Lord notes that the Moabites and the Ammonites (here linked together because both peoples were on Judah’s eastern flank) have made boasts against his people and their territory. In the language of an oath, God announces coming destruction for them. Moab and Ammon will become like Sodom and Gomorrah, "a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste for ever."

But again the prophet (or his editors) took a second look and saw the remnant of God’s people possessing — even plundering — these peoples who had "scoffed and boasted against the people of the Lord of hosts."

Before turning to another nation the prophet makes a general statement concerning all the lands of the nations and their various gods. "The Lord will be terrible against them," says Zephaniah; "yea, he will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations." God is completely superior to any other gods and to the peoples who worship them. In view of the boasts made against the territory — and hence in effect against the person — of God, the Lord makes his threat with the oath "as I live." In earlier days the oath "as the Lord lives" was common on the lips of Israelites, but among the later prophets (particularly in Ezekiel) the words of God himself are supported by the oath in the form found in Zephaniah. The oath points to the living nature of the affronted Lord, and suggests the certainty of his retribution against those who have uttered boasts against him.

Verse 12

Ethiopia (2:12)

Zephaniah addresses the Ethiopians and deals with them in a single verse. The term "Ethiopians" (normally the people south of the first cataract of the Nile) probably stands for all Egypt, which was ruled by an Ethiopian dynasty for a period ending at about 650 B.C. These people — whether Egypt and Ethiopia taken together or Ethiopia alone — "shall be slain by my sword."

Verses 13-15

Assyria (2:13-15)

The final message against a foreign nation concerns Assyria and her capital, Nineveh. The prophet declares that the Lord will stretch his hand toward the north and will destroy Nineveh and its surrounding area, making it a "lair for wild beasts." Though the prophet mentions "herds" (vs. 14) as lying in the midst of the once inhabited city, he emphasizes rather that the fate of Nineveh is to be a place for a variety of wild animals or birds, whose identities are obscured because of uncertainties in the Hebrew text (see margin).

Speaking for the passer-by, the prophet looks contemptuously at the ruins of the city and reflects how Nineveh had "dwelt secure" and said to herself, "I am and there is none else." The statement of Nineveh (identical with that of Babylon in Isaiah 47:8; Isaiah 47:10) is roughly parallel to God’s "I am the Lord, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:5-6; Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 45:21). The exilic prophet exposes the full blasphemy of the boastings of Nineveh and Babylon, but Zephaniah was sensitive enough to quote them and to allow his readers or hearers to draw their own conclusions. Such self-sufficient security is always blasphemous, and even in the twentieth century a.d. it invites God’s action in order to bring about a proper sense of humility.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Zephaniah 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/zephaniah-2.html.
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