Judgment on Judah’s Enemies
1 Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, 2 before the decree takes effect—before the day passes away like chaff—before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the Lord. 3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord. 4 For Gaza shall be deserted, and Ashkelon shall become a desolation; Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon, and Ekron shall be uprooted. 5 Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast, you nation of the Cherethites!The word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left. 6 And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures, with meadows for shepherds and folds for flocks. 7 The seacoast shall become the possession of the remnant of the house of Judah, on which they shall graze, and in the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down at evening. For the Lord their God will be mindful of them and restore their fortunes. 8 “I have heard the taunts of Moab and the revilings of the Ammonites, how they have taunted my people and made boasts against their territory. 9 Therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Moab shall become like Sodom, and the Ammonites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste forever. The remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.” 10 This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they taunted and boasted against the people of the Lord of hosts. 11 The Lord will be awesome against them; for 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. 12 You also, O Cushites, shall be slain by my sword. 13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and he will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert. 14 Herds shall lie down in her midst, all kinds of beasts; even the owl and the hedgehog shall lodge in her capitals; a voice shall hoot in the window; devastation will be on the threshold; for her cedar work will be laid bare. 15 This is the exultant city that lived securely, that said in her heart, “I am, and there is no one else.” What a desolation she has become, a lair for wild beasts! Everyone who passes by her hisses and shakes his fist.
Bible Commentary: Chapter 2
Chapter 2 opens with a direct appeal for Israel to gather and humble themselves (vv. 1-4). Where God’s judgment had been against those “who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him” (v. 6), the exhortation comes in 2:3 to “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,” with the hope that they would be “hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.” Zephaniah goes on to foretell God’s judgment on the other nations, in order to warn Judah if they do not repent.
In a sense, the divine judgment against the other nations–Philistines (v. 5), Moabites and Ammonites (v.8), Cushites (v. 12), Assyrians (v. 13)–empties the the need for any retribution against them to be made by Judah, and this overcoming of Judah’s enemies is a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people. A remnant of Judah will “lie down” in the houses of the Philistines (v.7) and plunder the land of the Moabites (v.9). Even amid judgment, God offers hope of restoration (v.7) and provision (v.9) to those who humbly renew their loyalty to him (v.3).
God is the one who judges our enemies. When wronged, we can endure, as our Savior did (1 Pet. 2:20-23). A day of vindication is coming. But we ourselves will also be judged–and rightly so, if we will not humble ourselves before the Lord. The heart of God is drawn to those who bow before him, whatever their failures (Isa. 57:15; 66:2). It is contrition despite failure, not feigned perfection, that brings the mercy of God raining down on sinners. Jesus himself said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance:(Luke 5:32).
Judgment on Jerusalem and the Nations
1 Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! 2 She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God. 3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. 4 Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men; her priests profane what is holy; they do violence to the law. 5 The Lord within her is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame. 6 “I have cut off nations; their battlements are in ruins; I have laid waste their streets so that no one walks in them; their cities have been made desolate, without a man, without an inhabitant. 7 I said, ‘Surely you will fear me; you will accept correction. Then your dwelling would not be cut off according to all that I have appointed against you.’ But all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt. 8 “Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.
God’s heart is fierce in its protectiveness of his own holiness and unyielding in his demand that his people be faithful to him. In this passage God declares the destruction that is coming upon not only the nations (vv. 6-8) but also his own people (vv. 1-5). Because the Lord is unsweringly righteous (v.5), he cannot let the guilty go free. To do so would undo the moral order of the universe. It is axiomatic that God “will not acquit the wicked” (Ex. 23:7). Yet in sending his own Son as a propitiation, satisfying God’s righteous wrath toward all those who receive his Son’s work as a free gift, a way out from the horror of the judgment of Zephaniah 3:1-8 is provided. The scandal of the gospel is that God “justifies the ungodly.” If the ungodly will put their faith in Christ (Rom. 4:5). And just as judgment will come upon the impenitent both of God’s own people and of the nations, so too does his salvation flow freely not only to his own people but also to the nations (Zeph. 3:9-10; Rom. 4:9-12)
The Conversion of the Nations
9 “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord. 10 From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. 11 “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. 12 But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, 13 those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”
Despite the nations’ and Judah’s record of evil, Zephaniah foretells a day when their arrogance would be expelled and they would be a humble people who worship God alone. The transformation is all God’s doing, first for the nations: “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech,” declares the Lord, in order that they may call upon his name (9); then, the children of Israel who have been dispersed by God’s judgment will also be allowed to return to true worship, bringing God’s offering to him (v. 10). Those who then engage in true worship “shall not be put to shame, ” despite their past rebellion (v. 11), because the proud will be removed and the “humble and lowly” will “seek refuge in the name of the LORD” (v.12). Thus, Zephaniah teaches us fundamental truths about a true relationship with the Lord. Having the benefits of his provision and blessing requires becoming “a people humble and lowly,” who do not proudly seek to distinguish themselves but find their identity and security “in the name of the LORD.”
Such persons reflect the grace they have received from God in their community as they “do no injustice” and “speak no lies” (v. 13). Philippians 2:3 similarly describes how those who know the grace and character of Christ are to “in humility count others more significant” than ourselves, and goes on to describe how Jesus models that humility for us and makes it available to us through his sacrifice on the cross. As Paul says to the Colossians, Christ is our life (Col. 3:4), and he provides all the blessings that Zephaniah promises. United to him and indwelt by the Spirit, we begin to manifest, from the inside out, the fruit of such a radical internal transformation–not least as we become “a people humble and lowly” who “seek refuge in the name of the LORD” (Zeph. 3:12)
Israel’s Joy and Restoration
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. 18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. 19 Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.
Zephaniah’s closing exhortation begins by calling Judah to sing in triumph because God’s mercy has delivered his people from judgment. This is a marked contrast to 1:7, where Zephaniah had told them to “Be silent before the Lord God” because of his wrath that would be poured out on the “day of the LORD.” The gospel of forgiveness, of cleansing and healing, is a gospel that turns us from a people who shake our fist in the face of God to those who seek the face of God. The people of Judah sing because God first sang over them (3:17), just as we are able to love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The Lord rejoices in his people, delights in them, and cares for them. The majesty and the mystery of this passage is heightened by the severity of the judgment message that reverberates throughout the preceding sections of Zephaniah’s prophecy. That God’s wrath is so clearly on display in the book heightens our sense of wonder at his astonishing mercy.
Zephaniah’s final word points us toward the gospel of grace; God’s people can live in freedom, in joy, because of the good news that their judgments have been removed by God’s merciful provision and not earned or achieved by them. In Zephaniah we see the severity of God’s judgment against sin, the passionate wrath that he is willing to pour out, and the ‘fire of his jealousy”(Zeph 1:18). Yet as the book closes we see God’s equally fierce love for his covenant people. He delights over them. He rejoices in them. He loves them. He saves them 3:17. In Christ, we ultimately see this great love and provision in fless and blood.
It is hard to read some of this sometimes, but for me, it has really made me a stronger Christian. As I read about the disobedience, I try to bring it forward and compare it to today’s time and how I might be disobedient like they were. Throughout the Old Testament, it tells us God wants us to fear him. Show him how much you love him by obeying his rules, if you don’t, he will do what he says he will do. I want to try and be the best I can be in all situations so God can use me wherever he needs me. I want to eventually be able to say, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 4: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’
Since it is the end of this book, I would also like to add this video summary of the book of Zephaniah.
I wish everyone a very blessed day.