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Chapter 2 YHWH’s Judgment Will Also Come On The Surrounding Nations For Their Sins.
A Final Plea to Judah and Jerusalem (Zephaniah 2:1-3 ).
“Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together,
O nation which has no shame (or ‘is not longed for’),
Before the decree brings forth,
The day passes as the chaff,
Before the fierce anger of YHWH comes on you,
Before the day of YHWH’s anger comes on you.”
The ‘shameless’ (a translation based on an Aramaic root) or ‘not longed for’ (i.e. unloved = the literal Hebrew) people of Judah are commanded to come together, to assemble themselves, before God’s decree produces its final result in the coming of the invader. Before ‘the day passes as the chaff’. The chaff is the waste matter which is rapidly blown away once the threshing of the grain takes place. So as quickly as the chaff is blown away will the time pass before God visits them in judgment. The idea is that they should come together to consider their position and repent before it is too late, before YHWH’s fierce anger comes on them. For all too soon will come the day of YHWH’s anger.
‘Seek you YHWH, all you humble of the land,
Who have wrought His demands (His judgment).
Seek righteousness, seek humbleness,
It may be that you will be hid in the day of YHWH’s anger.’
The message is brought home. The purpose of the warning is that men might seek YHWH. Indeed had they all repented the day of YHWH would have been delayed (Jonah 3:10). But Zephaniah, who as a member of the royal house had no hope that they would respond, calls to the ‘humble’ of the land, those who have listened to Him and have wrought His demands as revealed in the covenant, the Law of Moses.
The ‘humble’ are often paralleled with ‘the needy’ (Job 24:4; Psalms 9:18; Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 32:7), and with the broken-hearted (Isaiah 61:1), for riches are often a hindrance to godliness (although we must remember that Zephaniah was probably from a wealthy family), and broken-heartedness is the sign of a godly spirit (Psalms 34:18; Isaiah 57:15). They are those who are ready to be taught His way (Psalms 25:9), they are those who hear YHWH (Psalms 34:2), they are those to whom He gives His kindness and favour because they are not scornful (Proverbs 3:34), and they do not hunger after wealth (Proverbs 16:19). They are the godly.
They are to continue to seek righteousness and godliness. For them there may be a way of escape from the coming wrath (compare Amos 5:15). Or they will find it easier to bear.
God’s Judgment on the Surrounding Nations.
These judgments on the surrounding nations were declared to Israel as an assurance to them that they will not be alone in coming under God’s judgment, and to demonstrate that God was the Judge of all the world. All nations came under His jurisdiction. All would be dealt with in accordance with His word. Their own gods are disregarded. And in the case of the first two they will finally be possessed by God’s people.
The Philistines (Zephaniah 2:4-7 ).
‘For Gaza will be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation.
They will drive out Ashdod at noonday, and Ekron will be rooted up.
Woe to the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites.
The word of YHWH is against you, O Canaan, the land of the Philistines.
“I will destroy you so that there will be no inhabitant.” ’
The Philistines (Cherethites) who dwell on the sea coast of Canaan are to be annihilated. Their great cities, Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron are to be desolated and emptied of inhabitants (Gath had already been destroyed - 2 Chronicles 26:6). For YHWH has spoken His word against them. He has passed judgment on them for their sinfulness, and for their attitude towards His people (Ezekiel 25:15; Isaiah 9:12). This judgment is a constant theme of the prophets (Isaiah 11:14; Jeremiah 25:17-20; Jeremiah 47:1; Jeremiah 47:4; Ezekiel 25:16; Amos 1:8; Amos 6:2; Zechariah 9:6), and indicates YHWH’s universal sovereignty.
‘At noonday’ may be intended to suggest ‘at the height of their glory’. For ‘in the evening’ is when they have become a desolation (Zephaniah 2:7).
The Philistines originally came from Crete (Cherethites) (see 1 Samuel 30:14; Ezekiel 25:16). They had had trading posts there since the time of Abraham, but had come over in large numbers in 1200 BC, not long after Israel’s invasion of Canaan, and had established themselves in a confederation of five cities in the coastal plain of Canaan. In the early days they had caused much trouble to Israel, until finally defeated by David. As Israel declined they once again became fiercely independent. Gath had previously been destroyed (2 Chronicles 26:6; Jeremiah 47:1) and now the same fate was to befall the other four.
Nebuchadnezzar’s seizing of Ashkelon in 604 BC is reported in the Babylonian records known as the Babylonian Chronicle.
‘And the sea coast will be pastures,
With shelters for shepherds and folds for the flocks.
And the coast will be for the remnant of the house of Judah,
They will feed their flocks on it.
In the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down in the evening,
For YHWH their God will visit them and bring again their captivity.’
The vivid description of well populated Philistia becoming simply a place for sheep, and its cities mainly being replaced by shelters for shepherds and folds for their flocks, brings home the enormity of what is to happen.
There may be an intended contrast here between the noonday (the hot part of the day is an unusual time for battle) in Zephaniah 2:4 and the evening, indicating the passage of time.
The idea is that finally the sea coast ‘in the evening’ (line 5), will become Israel’s as part of the promised land. Once the ‘day’ is past evening will come. They will dwell there and feed their flocks, and the Philistine cities will be available for their use. This is confirmation that Israel will finally be restored to an even bigger and better land, and that the Philistines will finally ‘disappear’.
Moab and Ammon (Zephaniah 2:8-11 ).
“I have heard the reproach of Moab,
And the revilings of the children of Ammon,
With which they have reproached my people,
And magnified themselves against their border.”
Judgment is to come on Moab and Ammon, not only because of their sinfulness, but also particularly because of their attitude and antagonism towards God’s people. Note that their sin is reproach and revilings, not invasion, although they are clearly threatening the border. This fits the fact that it occurred at this time, and not later when invasion had taken place. There was clear hostility indicated in all their dealings with Judah. This would later reveal itself in taking advantage of Israel’s condition once the invader had done his work, by occupying their territory (Jeremiah 49:1), but that is not mentioned by Zephaniah. The fact that Edom is not mentioned here confirms that this is not written after the event, for it was Edom which incurred the greatest wrath from Israel once the exile had taken place.
Moab and Ammon were in Transjordan, east of the Jordan, to the south and east of Israelite territory there (Gad). They had a record of constant enmity against Israel (Numbers 22:0; Numbers 24:17; Judges 3:12-14; Judges 10:7-9; Judges 11:4-6; 1Sa 11:1-11 ; 2 Samuel 10:1-14; 2 Kings 3:0) and always worked closely together, with first one and then the other in ascendancy.
“Therefore as I live,” says YHWH of hosts,
the God of Israel,
“Surely Moab will be as Sodom,
And the children of Ammon as Gomorrah,
A possession of nettles and saltpits,
And a perpetual desolation.
The residue of my people will spoil them,
And the remnant of my nation will inherit them.”
This will they have for their pride,
Because they have reproached and magnified themselves,
Against the people of YHWH of hosts.’
Moab and Ammon were to be made as Sodom and Gomorrah, permanently destroyed and turned into wasteland. Moab occupied territory that had once been the surrounds of Sodom and Gomorrah. This should have been a continuing warning to them. Nebuchadnezzar in fact devastated both areas. Both territories suffered for a period of over two hundred years when there was no sedentary occupation (Jeremiah 48:42), and when resettled it was by different peoples. These consequences were put even more strongly by Jeremiah, Moab was to be destroyed from being a people (Jeremiah 48:42), and Ammon was to perish out of the countries and be destroyed (Ezekiel 25:7).
‘The residue of my people will spoil them, and the remnant of my nation will inherit them.’ Compare Isaiah 11:14. This probably refers to a period we know little about when Ammon and Moab were sparsely populated and partly taken over by a residue of Israelites. Later Judas Maccabaeus (second century BC) fought against the Ammonites and occupied Jazer and its surrounding towns ( 1Ma 5:6 ) and Alexander Jannaeus subdued the Moabites in the second/first century BC, taking tribute from them. But these would be different peoples.
‘This will they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of YHWH of hosts.’ The judgment that is coming on them is because of their pride in reproaching and assuming themselves as greater and more important than God’s people, and with it have reproached YHWH Himself. But this will lead on to them recognising His power and glory in the eschatological future and being in awe of Him.
‘And YHWH will be terrible to them,
For he will famish all the gods of the earth,
And men will worship him, every one from his place,
Even all the coastlands of the nations.’
God had promised that one day he would ‘bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days’, and spoke similarly of Ammon (Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6 compare Jeremiah 49:39). This must mean in the eschatological future and be part of the idea that in that day all nations would worship YHWH, because in the end none can be outside His offer of mercy (Isaiah 2:2). He cannot be promising restoration to their land, for they are unidentifiable. They have ceased to be a people. There is no pure blood Moab today. And the same applies to Ammon. The idea is rather that they will be restored as part of the worldwide peoples who turn to YHWH at the spread of the Gospel.
‘YHWH will be terrible to them.’ This must mean that one day even some of these enemies of Israel will acknowledge YHWH, and will be in awe of Him, recognising that He is the great and terrible God (Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 9:32). They will have recognised Him for what He is. Then the ‘gods’ of the earth will starve because no one takes any notice of them. So much for the gods of the nations. All His own will worship Him in all lands, even the furthest known, ‘the coastlands’.
So this further eschatological promise confirms that in the end the residue of all nations will worship YHWH (Malachi 1:11). One day God alone will be God, and He will be all in all, worshipped by some of all the nations who have responded to Him. The final fulfilment of this awaits the new heaven and the new earth in the eternal state when all the redeemed will serve Him, every one from his place. Idealistically they will have their own place there as well.
The Ethiopians (Zephaniah 2:12 ).
“You Ethiopians also, you will be slain by my sword.”
This brief reference takes us by surprise. The Ethiopians (Cushi) would probably be the furthest nation south known to Zephaniah. But we would have expected more comment. This suggests that rather than having any particular reason for targeting the Ethiopians he was just deliberately thinking of as far south as possible. Basically he was indicating that almost the whole world of his day was to be included in the coming catastrophe. The ‘Ethiopians’ were more in the area of the Sudan on the upper cataracts of the Nile, although they may have extended into Ethiopia.
It has been suggested that Egypt was in mind for they had been ruled by Ethiopian kings for sixty years in the not too distant past (up to 664 BC), with the reference being contemptuous, ‘you Ethiopians’. But it seems unlikely that if it were Egypt the reference would be so brief, whereas Zephaniah probably knew little about the Ethiopians apart from the fact of their existence.
Nebuchadnezzar would in fact conquer Egypt and include Ethiopia in his conquests.
The Assyrians (Zephaniah 2:13-15 ).
‘And he will stretch out his hand against the north,
And destroy Assyria,
And he will make Nineveh a desolation,
And dry like the wilderness.
And herds will lie down in the midst of her,
All the beasts of the nations,
Both the tawny owl (qa’ath) and the little owl (qippod) will lodge in its lintels,
Their voice will sing in the windows,
Dryness will be in the thresholds,
For he has laid bare the cedar work.’
Having dealt with the far south he quickly moves to the north with which he is more familiar, for there lay Israel’s arch-enemy the Assyrians. They too will be caught up in YHWH’s judgments. They will be destroyed, and that great city Nineveh be flattened into ruins. It will be the dwellingplace of herds, the beasts of the conquering nations. Birds will lodge in its ruined lintels, and will sing in its window spaces. The wood will go dry having been exposed to the sun.
The words translated tawny owl and little owl probably represent birds, although the type is not certain. The names were probably chosen because both began with q and would go well together. Alternately qippod might indicate something like lizards darting around the ruins.
But Zephaniah’s stopping short at Assyria counts against too much emphasis on a world view. He was well aware of nations to the north of Assyria which could have been mentioned.
‘This is the joyous city that dwelt carelessly,
That said in her heart, “I am, and there is no other beside me”.
How she has become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in.
Everyone who passes by her will hiss and wag his hand.’
Attention is drawn to the attitude of Nineveh. In a world of poverty and suffering she was a good time city, a roistering city, that grew careless, as great empires do after a time, because they consider themselves invincible (compare Isaiah 10:12), saying ‘I am and there is none beside me’ (compare Isaiah 47:8 of Babylon). She was sure that no one could be compared with her. But she would shortly become a scene of destruction occupied by beasts and all who went past her would hiss or shake their heads.
Nineveh would fall to the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BC. For a time its ruins would be a thing to be derided, but in the not too distant future it would become a mound which passers-by simply looked on as a ruin. So quickly would the glory of Nineveh forgotten.
It is a reminder to us how little there is of real, lasting importance in this world. If we wish to achieve anything lasting we should do it by building up the Kingly Rule of God.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zephaniah 2". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25