Book of Zephaniah Chapter
Two Commentary by
Audio Sermon - Zephaniah 2
Call To Repentance
Long before the words in Zephaniah were written, the people of Nineveh had been offered repentance through the prophet Jonah. They surprisingly accepted God’s offer and were spared for 100 years. Now a similar offer was being made to Judah, a people that supposedly worshipped the true God but had actually become a nation of idolaters (Zephaniah 1:4-6). In the Bible, the nature of God is revealed in innumerable, beautiful and unmistakable ways. He is our Creator, our God and He has become our Savior (John 1:1-4, 14). To devise some other idea or be part of some man-made religion is to become an idolater.
Those in a church or in some religion or nation might think of themselves as a godly people. The nation Judah did, but now Almighty God was advising them in Verses 1-3: “Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together, O undesirable nation. Before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger comes upon you! Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.” Judah needed repentance.
You might take the time to read the Book of Jonah, where little is seen of an offer of repentance and restoration. The Ninevites were simply told that in 40-days they would be destroyed (Jonah 3:4). Jonah was angry about the message he gave. The Ninevites were the sworn enemies of his own people and he saw like we should, that God is not only holy and willing to judge, but He is also full of mercy and grace. Ninevah repented at that time and was spared.
And now Judah was to be shown what would happen to their neighbors in Verses 4-5: “For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon desolate; They shall drive out Ashdod at noonday, and Ekron shall be uprooted. Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, the nation of the Cherethites! The word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines: I will destroy you; so there shall be no inhabitant.” Gaza is seen today on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It was populated then, but would soon be “forsaken.” “Ashkelon” was a Philistine city 12-miles north of Gaza and “Ashdod” was another such city 10-miles north of Ashkelon. “Ekron” was further north still and the “Cherethites” were paid soldiers for the Philistines. Note that when some individual or people is judged by the Lord, others are affected, too. Judah’s destruction would hurt others.
And yet there is mercy within devastation. Not everyone in that place was to be destroyed, but instead God carefully picked and chose many to be saved, to be plucked out of the fires to come. And they would be returned to the land. He said in Verses 6-7, “The seacoast shall be pastures, with shelters for shepherds and folds for flocks. The coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed their flocks there; in the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down at evening. For the Lord their God will intervene for them, and return their captives.” The judgment of God is upon the whole world. “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As it is also revealed, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). A faithful remnant of Judah would find safety and shelter on the “seacoast,” and you and I can find refuge and safety in Jesus Christ.
Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod were to the west of Judah, and now the narrative shifts to the east, to the countries of Moab and Ammon. God said about them in Verse 8, “I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the insults of the people of Ammon, with which they have reproached My people, and made arrogant threats against their borders.” Both Moab and Ammon came from the incest of Lot with his daughters, as recorded in Genesis 19:30-38. The people in those places exhibited continual hostility toward the people of Israel, making “arrogant threats” toward them.
It’s interesting that God will allow so much and then, after His people have experienced decades, centuries and even millennia of difficulties, God will suddenly act for them. Moab and Ammon came from the time when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. They were the sad progeny of one man – Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Now they would experience the fate they escaped earlier. God said in Verse 9, “’Therefore, as I live,’ says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Surely Moab shall be like Sodom, and the people of Ammon like Gomorrah - Overrun with weeds and salt pits, and a perpetual desolation. The residue of My people shall plunder them, and the remnant of My people shall possess them.’” A restored Israel would destroy them.
Verse 10. “This they shall have for their pride, because they have reproached and made arrogant threats against the people of the Lord of hosts.” It’s time to let our pride go and become humble before the Lord. We must trust in the Lord because the alternative is that all proud, arrogant and threatening people will find destruction. Our idolatry and our anger will ruin us. What do you love? Do you love money, technology of all sorts, sex, false religious beliefs, the worship of others, power, fame, some kind of drug? Are we like Moab and Ammon? Note with care Verse 11 - “The Lord will be awesome to them, for He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth; people shall worship Him, each one from his place, indeed all the shores of the nations.” He wants a people who care for others and worship the Lord in truth.
In Verse 12, the Lord through Zephaniah turns to the south, saying, “You Ethiopians also, you shall be slain by My sword.” After that, He reaches toward the north, stating in Verse 13, that He “will stretch out His hand against the north, destroy Assyria, and make Nineveh a desolation, as dry as the wilderness.” The Empire of Assyria was actually to the northeast of Israel, but its armies often attacked from the north and was generally thought of by those in Judah as a northern power. That entire region would be destroyed because of sin.
Note that the land of Canaan which had been given by God to Israel was considered by all in the region to be an extremely fertile place. It was known as “a land flowing with milk and honey” in Leviticus 3:8 and other places. Urbanization had come to Jerusalem and other cities in the area and no one expected things to ever change, but it did. Destruction would destroy that city and all its neighbors. The civilization that had been advancing would suddenly disappear as armies swept through. Destroyers like Assyria would themselves be destroyed.
In Verses 14-15, we find a wilderness instead of buildings, bridges, roads and people’s homes: “The herds shall lie down in her midst, every beast of the nation. Both the pelican and the bittern shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be at the threshold; for He will lay bare the cedar work. This is the rejoicing city that dwelt securely, that said in her heart, ‘I am it, and there is none besides me.’ How has she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down! Everyone who passes by her shall hiss and shake his fist.”
Our pride will not last. Our accomplishments done outside the will of the Lord will be destroyed. Note very carefully the words of Psalm 147:1 – “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” See also that God through the writer of the Book of Hebrews, mentioned a “city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Those named in Chapter 11 of Hebrews found safety through faith in the Lord. Give up your false values that have no foundation and trust in the Lord. He will save you – forever.
Lord, I believe in You. I am a sinner in need of God and repent of my sins. Salvation is mine in Christ Jesus, and so I trust in Him. Please forgive my sins and save me from destruction. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.