Intro – context: Suppose you were about to enter a room, but you overheard some people talking: “I’ll murder you!” Sinister words! What do you do? Call the cops? Well it depends … you may have heard a sister reacting to her brother who has just sprinkled salt on her wheatbix, you may have overheard John talking to his opponent just before he goes out to play tennis, or you may have heard an underworld criminal – the first means “I’ll get you back.”; the second: “I’ll win convincingly”; and only the third actually means “I’ll kill you”. The meaning and your response depends on the CONTEXT [P]. With this in mind, let us read: [P] [Zephaniah 2:4-15 For Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon a desolation; Ashdod will be driven out at noon and Ekron will be uprooted. Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, the nation of the Cherethites! The word of יְהוָה is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; and I will destroy you so that there will be no inhabitant. So the seacoast will be pastures, with caves for shepherds and folds for flocks. And the coast will be for the remnant of the house of Judah, they will pasture on it. In the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down at evening; for יְהוָה their God will care for them and restore their fortune. “I have heard the taunting of Moab and the revilings of the sons of Ammon, with which they have taunted My people and become arrogant against their territory. “Therefore, as I live,” declares יְהוָה of armies, the God of Israel, “Surely Moab will be like Sodom and the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah— a place possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a perpetual desolation. The remnant of My people will plunder them and the remainder of My nation will inherit them.” This they will have in return for their pride, because they have taunted and become arrogant against the people of יְהוָה of armies. יְהוָה will be terrifying to them, for He will starve all the gods of the earth; and all the coastlands of the nations will bow down to Him, everyone from his own place. “You also, O Ethiopians, will be slain by My sword.” And He will stretch out His hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and He will make Nineveh a desolation, parched like the wilderness. Flocks will lie down in her midst, all beasts which range in herds; both the pelican and the hedgehog will lodge in the tops of her pillars; birds will sing in the window, desolation will be on the threshold; for He has laid bare the cedar work. This is the exultant city which dwells securely, who says in her heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.” How she has become a desolation, a resting place for beasts! Everyone who passes by her will hiss and wave his hand in contempt.] Here we go again, more of the same doom and gloom – prophecies of destruction and desolation (4x). These prophets were a cheery lot! But look at the context [P] – who is the prophecy addressed to? In chapter 1 Zephaniah was addressing Judah and Jerusalem (Zeph 1:4, 12), in (Zeph 2:1) it is a “nation” singular that is addressed – יְהוָה is speaking to His own people, His own nation. But from (Zeph 2:4) onward the prophecy is addressed to other nations.
Judgement of God’s enemies: The context is important – is it more of the same doom and gloom? If destruction is prophesied on me, then it’s bad news [P]. But if destruction is promised on my enemies [P] – then that is good news for me! [P] Here is the nation of Judah [P]. Look who the prophecy is directed against: 1/ in (Zeph 2:4-7) it is Philistia [P] – they were Judah’s direct neighbours to the west. 2/ in (Zeph 2:8-11) it is Moab [P], directly to the east, across the Dead Sea, and just to the north of Moab, Ammon [P] 3/ Then in (Zeph 2:12) it is Cush [P] – here is Judah [P] – and here is Cush [P] – Ethiopia/Sudan, a nation to the south of Egypt. So we have nations that were near to Judah, now we have a nation that is distant. We have had nations to the west, to the east, now to the south; 4/ then in (Zeph 2:13-15) we have the mighty empire of Assyria [P] – which was to the north, and again distant. So near and far; on every point of the compass; the small and the mighty – it is encompassing all the nations (Zeph 2:11). All are enemies of God’s people. Remember the context is the Day of יְהוָה, the last days – and in that day all the nations will be arraigned against Jerusalem, against God’s people. Don’t we see the signs of that today in the response to the flotilla sent to Gaza? These are the enemies of God’s people and in the Day of יְהוָה they too will be judged. Zephaniah illustrates a principle here: [1 Peter 4:17-18 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?] – Judgement begins with the house of God, יְהוָה’s own people [P] – that is what we saw in (Zeph 1:4-2:3). Judgement begins with the house of God, but it doesn’t stop there. First we will be judged – then God’s hand in unleashed against our enemies [P]. If we have a tough time, what is it going to be like for them! The enemies of יְהוָה prosper and prevail but their day is coming too! [P]
Philistia: (Zeph 2:4-7) [P] To the west, towards the coast, are the cities of the Philistines — Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron. It calls them Cherethites – referring to their origin from Crete. They are strong communities, thriving on trade. But Zephaniah warns that God will destroy them, leaving them deserted and in ruins. The coastal plain will become pasture for the sheep of Judah — a glimpse of a future for God’s people after the coming crisis. Total destruction is prophesied, the picture is that of invasion by an army – leaving the major cities abandoned, desolate, the inhabitants driven away, uprooted. It speaks of the sudden expulsion from the land. From having thriving cities the land will become empty. The Palestinians, today, claim to have Philistine heritage (Philistine/Palestine) and live in the Gaza strip along the coast. They have taken יְהוָה’s land from His people but יְהוָה decrees otherwise – the word of יְהוָה is against them! [P] (Zeph 2:5) – they will not stay in the land, they will be expelled. Man, despite his plots, his plans, his violence, his politicking, despite public opinion and international consensus - the Palestinians will not dwell in the land - there will be "NO INHABITANTS" - יְהוָה has spoken! He has said "I will destroy you!" Oh foolish Palestinians to oppose the will of יְהוָה. Woe to you! The word of יְהוָה is against you! How can you succeed in your way when you oppose the will of יְהוָה Himself?! They have determined to dwell in יְהוָה’s land; He has thus determined that they will be DESTROYED! יְהוָה is against the Canaanite (Zeph 2:5) - the merchant, the one who gets rich as the middle-man, buying and selling – they will be destroyed personally by יְהוָה Himself! When יְהוָה destroys, He does so thoroughly and completely – when He destroys, there is no inhabitant, no survivor, no remnant. This is the fate of the Palestinian who has set his will in opposition to יְהוָה’s word. What a terrible position to be in - for יְהוָה’s word to be against you! If you oppose יְהוָה, you will not succeed!
Moab and Ammon: (Zeph 2:8-11) [P] – Ammon and Moab often occur together – they are both descended from Lot through his two daughters who seduced him. The Moabites refused to let Israel pass through their country on their way to the Promised Land, along with Midian, they sent for Balaam to curse them (Num 22-24). Subsequently, Israel was enticed into idolatry and intermarried with them. They were always hostile to Israel until king Saul subdued them (1 Sam 14:47) and they were later tributary to David and succeeding Jewish kings (2 Sam 8:2, 11; 2 Kings 3:4) but Solomon intermarried with them and introduced their idols to Israel (1 Kings 11:1-5). Finally they joined Babylon against Judah (2 Kings 24:2). The Ammonites were a cruel, covetous, proud, vindictive and idolatrous nation. These two nations have long despised Judah, and God has been particularly offended by their arrogance and paganism. יְהוָה has seen and heard what Moab and Ammon have done against His people – they have stored up for themselves wrath – יְהוָה’s wrath will be directed against them on the Day of the LORD. They spoke, and יְהוָה has heard (Zeph 2:8), now He declares (Zeph 2:9)! The LORD of armies, the Almighty warrior decrees judgement – destruction and desolation. He swears by Himself, by His most essential, eternal, unique quality – His LIFE! He goes on oath in decreeing their fate – it is certain and unavoidable! Moab will be like Sodom, Ammon will become like Gomorrah – the epitome of judgement, complete destruction, Divine supernatural annihilation of evil — inflicting on them, the judgment that Lot escaped. Their land will be waste and deserted – nettles and salt pits – destroyed, desolation forever! יְהוָה is totally unsparing. Is this your concept of God? Utterly ruthless against His enemies; but eternally faithful to His chosen people.
Cush: (Zeph 2:12) [P] יְהוָה issues judgement against the Ethiopians – a mighty nation, briefly dismissed in one verse. They also will be slain in יְהוָה’s day of judgement. They will die in war – יְהוָה’s own sword will kill them. Ethiopia, or Cush, was the most distant nation south – it is used to refer to the far-reaching extent of יְהוָה’s judgement.
Assyria: (Zeph 2:13-15) [P] Lastly, Zephaniah declares the fate of Assyria and her capital Nineveh. As he speaks, she dominates the international scene with invincible power and legendary cruelty. For half a century she has demanded and received tribute from Judah as the price of peace. She thinks she is God (“I am and there is no one beside me!”) – What blasphemous arrogance! But that is the attitude around today. Man thinks that he is the centre, that he can do anything, that he has all the answers, knows how the universe came into being, can sort out any problem, that he is answerable to no one! Assyria thinks she is God, but Zephaniah proclaims her destruction. The judgement of the Day of the LORD extends to all the nations – even the mightiest of empires will be brought to nothing! They will cease to be, under the hand of יְהוָה’s wrath! Assyria was the mighty empire that ruled the world, the military power that conquered all before it – invincible – but not before יְהוָה! The one that destroyed so many would herself be destroyed. Nineveh, the capital, that "great city" (cf. Jonah 1:2; 3:2,3; 4:11), would become a rubble-strewn ruin, inhabited only by wildlife, empty like a desert. A picture is painted of a desolate city – just as its kings had left so many other cities desolate. יְהוָה will return on her head what she had inflicted. The once thriving bustling metropolis on Nineveh, the capital of the world with its fine buildings and sculpture is now empty. It is desolate because יְהוָה has laid its fine construction bare – He has demolished it! All the might of Assyria was nothing before Him! Hallelujah! Divine justice, retribution, vengeance, vindication. Nineveh fell in 612 B.C., two decades or less from when this prophecy was written. Assyria’s destruction was complete by 609 B.C. – an object of derision and mockery – almost completely forgotten until her ruins and treasures were uncovered in the 19th Century. But it foretells the destruction of the nations in the Day of יְהוָה, as prophesied in Psalm 83 – exactly the same nations.
What were they punished for?: [P] There is all this destruction poured out from יְהוָה – terrible wrath and judgement; punishing all the nations surrounding Israel. Why? What was the reason for it? What were they being punished for?
Insulting God’s people (Zeph 2:8, 10) [P] Moab and Ammon shall be destroyed in the Day of the LORD because they jeered at the LORD’s people and boasted against יְהוָה. There are several prophecies against these nations in God’s Word: (cf. Isaiah 15; 16; 25:10-12; Jer 48:1-49:6; Ezek 25:1-11; Amos 1:13-2:3). What did יְהוָה have to say about them?: [Jeremiah 48:27 “Now was not Israel a laughingstock to you? Or was he caught among thieves? For each time you speak about him you shake your head in scorn.] [Ezekiel 25:3 Say to the sons of Ammon, ‘Hear the word of the Lord יְהוָה! Thus says the Lord יְהוָה, “Because you said, ‘Aha!’ against My sanctuary when it was profaned, and against the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and against the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore, behold, I am going to give you to the sons of the east for a possession,] They had mocked and insulted יְהוָה’s own people and יְהוָה has heard! How often we are scorned for our faith – but יְהוָה hears! They will be held accountable for the words that they have spoken against His own! His day of judgement will come to them. To taunt God’s people is to taunt God Himself (remember Jesus said to Saul who persecuted His Church: “Why are you persecuting Me?”) – He will not let such action go unpunished. יְהוָה counts our attitude to His people as being our attitude toward Himself – and we will be judged accordingly. Israel is the litmus-test of our heart toward יְהוָה. יְהוָה heard! And now He will pay them back for the taunting of "My people". How Israel is mocked, vilified, taunted and denigrated in the media today! How rapid and rabid was the outcry when Israel stopped the flotilla. יְהוָה is a jealous God who will act on behalf of His people. How people are storing up judgement upon themselves by their attitude towards God’s people.
Gloating over their misfortune (Zeph 2:8) [P] Three times the word “taunting” is used. Moab and Ammon had perennially opposed Israel and taken any opportunity to trouble her – they taunted her when she suffered defeat and joined forces with other nations that fought against her. They rejoiced over her downfall – when things went bad for her they gloated. They did not feel sorry for them when they were judged but put the boot in and took advantage of their weak position: [Amos 1:13 Thus says יְהוָה, “For three transgressions of the sons of Ammon and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their borders.] They were glad that Israel copped it: [Ezekiel 25:6-7 ‘For thus says the Lord יְהוָה, “Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the scorn of your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out My hand against you and I will give you for spoil to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and make you perish from the lands; I will destroy you. Thus you will know that I am יְהוָה.”] Do you recall when Saddam Hussein fired scuds at Israel? There were the Palestinians dancing on the rooftops! They took advantage of Israel when they were low, kicked them when they were down. They used their misfortune, their judgement at יְהוָה’s hand, to further their own ends. יְהוָה is not ignorant of what they have done historically. They will be paid back for what they have done against God’s people, their delight in her misfortune. An attitude that is not unknown in our own day. Doesn’t the media gloat when a pastor falls morally.
Self-confidence (Zeph 2:15) [P] The great city of Nineveh was so sure of herself – of her greatness, her might, her defences, her wealth. Assyria was convinced no one could touch her – she had subdued the whole world. She dwelt securely, exultant – but she would become a desolation. I don’t know, I guess I am showing my age – but what a self-confident generation we have raised. I know when I started work you knew your place, you went to late morning tea, did the menial jobs, you respected those who had experience on the job and learned from them. But the brash young upstarts that enter the work place today! They tell you what to do, think they know more than someone who has being doing the job for 30 years. They are full of self-confidence that they can do it. The trouble with self-confidence is that it is misplaced! Their trust and confidence is in the wrong place! Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind (Jer 17:5). Assyria trusted its defences and military might, their security; they were sure they were secure – but they were wrong!
Pride and arrogance (Zeph 2:8, 10, 15) [P] Moab and Ammon are characterized by pride – they made themselves great – enlarged their territory at Israel’s expense. יְהוָה will bring devastating judgement upon the proud – He hates pride and arrogance [Proverbs 16:5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to יְהוָה; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.]. But these are the very qualities our society encourages: ambition; make yourself great, get ahead, make something of your life. It is a recipe for יְהוָה’s judgement! "I have heard .....!" Moab and Ammon set themselves against the people of יְהוָה of armies! In doing so they set themselves against God Himself! What pride! What arrogance and presumption! PRIDE was the cause of their downfall, the reason for their judgement. The judgement is in (Zeph 2:9); the reason for it is given both before (Zeph 2:8) and after (Zeph 2:10) – In both verses PRIDE (“arrogant”) is emphasized – making yourself great at the expense of God’s people. Do I exalt myself, think myself something? It is a recipe for certain judgement! PRIDE is the cause of downfall. [Jeremiah 48:42 Moab will be destroyed from being a people because he has become arrogant toward יְהוָה.] [Isaiah 16:6-7 We have heard of the pride of Moab, an excessive pride; even of his arrogance, pride, and fury; His idle boasts are false. Therefore Moab will wail; everyone of Moab will wail.] [Isaiah 25:11 יְהוָה will lay low his pride together with the trickery of his hands.] Assyria was the same (Zeph 2:15) – It led to blasphemous arrogance – she considered herself god - the supreme power! - "I am and there is no one beside me"! What arrogance! What pride! יְהוָה, the jealous God, cannot tolerate such pride and claiming what is His place alone! So He makes her to be a desolation, an object of contempt and mocking. No great men live there – wild beasts lie down there with no man to chase them away. How the pride of man will be annihilated in the judgement of יְהוָה! He alone must receive glory and honour! (cf. Isaiah 42:8 “I am יְהוָה, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.). Come look at this noisy bustling city! It is but a deserted mound in an empty wilderness! All who pass by will laugh in contempt at the "great city". יְהוָה will humble the proud and the arrogant. Pride will be judged in the Day of יְהוָה. How man exalts himself! Pride is our perennial sin – but on the Day of יְהוָה, He alone will be exalted and every man made low. This is how it should be! Before Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. He will be exalted! Above all! In His rightful place, and every man in his rightful place - lowly, humble, made low before יְהוָה. Hallelujah! Amen! May it be so soon LORD!
What is the consequence for God’s people?: [P]
This is prophecy of destruction and desolation but remember; it is not addressed to God’s people. This is what will happen to the enemies of God’s people. What is doom from the enemies of יְהוָה is blessing for His people. Judgement comes upon Judah (Zeph 1:4) but there will be a remnant (Zeph 2:7) (unlike the Philistines for whom there will be no survivor). There will be those who survive, who are faithful, who call upon the Name of יְהוָה for salvation (cf. Joel 2:30-32). There will be a remnant of the house of Judah (i.e. Jews). This is an important principle that is found particularly in the Minor Prophets: God will keep a remnant for Himself – they will survive His judgement and their enemies will be destroyed. All the nations will oppose Jerusalem and attack her but on the Day of יְהוָה; Jesus will come and destroy them. What is disaster for them is blessing for the faithful remnant:
Fortunes restored (Zeph 2:7). [P] יְהוָה will restore their fortunes; give back to them all that has been taken from them by the Palestinians. Judah has suffered, but יְהוָה will restore their losses and give to them what belonged to those that took from them [cf. Zephaniah 3:20 “At that time I will bring you in, even at the time when I gather you together; indeed, I will give you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” Says יְהוָה.]; [Jeremiah 31:23 Thus says יְהוָה of armies, the God of Israel, “Once again they will speak this word in the land of Judah and in its cities when I restore their fortunes, ‘יְהוָה bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!’; Jeremiah 33:11 the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to יְהוָה of armies, for יְהוָה is good, for His loving-kindness is everlasting”; and of those who bring a thank offering into the house of יְהוָה. For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were at first,’ says יְהוָה.] All that they had lost, all that had been taken from them, will be restored to them. They will ultimately not suffer any loss. In that day יְהוָה will once again be "their God", the people of Judah will have יְהוָה as their God and they will be His people. Hallelujah!
Possessing the lands of the nations: (Zeph 2:6, 7, 14). [P] This is so up to date! – Because some things never change. The Palestinians want the land of the people of God. You know, some people try to spiritualize away the plain words of Scripture – but you can’t get around the fact that the promises of God centre around a certain piece of real estate – the actual land and territory of Israel! The Philistines are in land that is not theirs! But here יְהוָה drives them from their territory (Gaza strip); it is becomes pasture. The Philistine cities are empty, so the shepherds will use their empty houses for accommodation whilst tending their flocks. It paints a picture of a pastoral landscape with shepherd and his flocks dwelling securely. Instead of the bustle of man’s organisation, the bustle of the city and its accompanying evil, the land will be at peace and rest – with no hateful Palestinian to threaten him. This will be the peace and prosperity and well-being of Messiah’s millennial reign – the time that follows the Day of the LORD, after justice has been established. The land that the Philistines (i.e. Palestinians) occupied and dwelt in will be for the remnant of יְהוָה’s people. They will pasture on it. There will be a change in economy and lifestyle when יְהוָה rules – people will be occupied in agriculture, not industry – It will return to an agrarian society. They will live in houses that they did not build, the houses abandoned by the Philistines. They will lie down and rest in the evening after their day tending the flock. Rest and peace – total security – anxiety is gone because יְהוָה will visit them – not in punishment now, but to care for (watch over) them.
Plundering them (Zeph 2:9). [P] The nations have amassed wealth. In their greed they have taken all they could – this wealth will go to God’s people. Just as Israel left Egypt with its wealth, so too in the Day of יְהוָה, the remnant will plunder the nations and take their wealth – great riches that they didn’t work for. The wealth of the heathen will come to the people of God. They strive so hard to get it but they won’t keep it – it will go to the people of God.
An inheritance (Zeph 2:9). [P] It is a time of vengeance, retribution and vindication. Israel has suffered under Moab and Ammon; in Divine justice she will now inherit their land. It does not pay to set yourself against God’s people! God has spoken! He uses His full Name: יְהוָה of armies, the God of Israel – the One who acts on Israel’s behalf.– to guarantee what He will do. Israel is His special people; although punished, they will not be destroyed – there will be a remnant, a remainder (2x in this verse cf. v.7). Their fortunes will be restored; they will inherit the land of the nations. His people will plunder those that taunted them – Inherit them – they will be Israel’s permanent possession. Hallelujah! An inheritance is that which is yours forever, that which will last. The nations have will be left with nothing, but the people of God will have a lasting inheritance – something that is passed on in perpetuity. He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light!
Vindication (Zeph 2:15) [P]
The nations have mocked Israel, jeered at her when she is down, when she was being punished. They arrogantly think that they are superior, that they are right. But the Day יְהוָה is a day of vindication! יְהוָה will vindicate His people. Now it is the mighty empire who is desolate, and treated with contempt. People pass by and hiss and mock. How are the mighty fallen! Those who exalt themselves, those who set themselves against God’s people have set themselves on a course for disaster! They will become nothing, an object of derision to all who pass by. Often it seems that God’s people are at the bottom of the heap – but that is not the end of the story – they will be vindicated! It will be seen who God’s people are – they will be eternally blessed while those who oppose them are brought to nothing. We see things as they are now, but the Day of יְהוָה, the day of vindication is coming!