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Go to Bible: Zephaniah 2
“Gather yourselves together like stubble.” Although most versions just have, “gather yourselves together,” the Hebrew verb is qashash (#07197 קָשַׁשׁ), and it was used of gathering stubble or sticks (cp. Exod. 5L7, 12; Num. 15:32-33; 1 Kings 17:10), so the translation “gather yourselves together as stubble” is justified, and certainly applicable here in Zephaniah 2:1, especially since verse 2 mentions “chaff.” When grain was harvested and threshed, the process of threshing produced three distinct products: the kernels of grain, stubble (or “straw”), and chaff. The stubble was the large pieces of the shaft, and the chaff was the tiny broken pieces of the stalk. The NET has, “Bunch yourselves together like straw.”
God’s wrath was going to be poured out with a fiery fury (Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Mal. 4:1). The arrogant people lived in sin, so now it seems that God calls them to gather together to see if they can face God’s fiery judgment, but from reading the whole verse (Zeph. 2:1-2), we can see that God is warning the people that they have little time to repent. The “Day” is coming and will pass by quickly, like chaff blown by the wind, so if anyone decides to repent they should do it quickly. Once the wrath of God strikes it will be too late.
“O nation without shame.” That the people of Israel could sin egregiously against God and not have feelings of guilt and shame means that they had thoroughly hardened hearts.(top)
“before the decree becomes reality.” The sheer number of different English translations testifies to the difficulty of understanding the clipped and figurative Hebrew text. What does seem to be clear is the general message of the verse, which is captured well in the paraphrased version, the NLT: “Gather before judgment begins, before your time to repent is blown away like chaff. Act now, before the fierce fury of the LORD falls and the terrible day of the LORD’s anger begins.”
The “decree” was the Word of God that foretold the coming disaster. The phrase “becomes reality” is more literally “is brought forth” (is “born”). The scholars disagree whether the “decree” is brought forth, or if it is the decree that brings forth, i.e., the decree then brings forth all the specifics of the Day of Yahweh that have been foretold. In both cases, there is a reality coming when all kinds of disastrous things will happen on earth.
“the day passes on like the chaff.” The “day” is the Day of Yahweh, and just as chaff is driven very quickly by the wind, the Day of Yahweh is coming quickly. Here again, we see no hint of anything that can stop the Day of Yahweh from coming.
“the Day of Yahweh’s anger.” For more information on “the day of Yahweh” see commentary on Zephaniah 1:7.(top)
“righteousness.” “Righteousness” can refer to a right standing in the sight of God, being accepted by God, or to doing those acts that are “right” and godly in God’s sight and that put one into a right relationship with God. Although both meanings apply here, the fact that the people being addressed in the verse are already humble and obedient to God means that when God tells them to “seek righteousness” and “seek humility,” He is encouraging them to press into being humble and doing “righteous” things, things that are right and godly, especially godly and just things for others. This verse is similar in many respects to Matthew 6:33 in that it encourages people to seek “righteousness,” both vertically to God and horizontally to other people. (For more on “righteous” referring to things we do that are right, just, and godly, see commentary on Matt. 5:6).
“It may be that you will be hidden.” It “may be” indicated that there were no promises that any one person would be spared in the wrath. Judah had sinned egregiously and was about to suffer the wrath of God (Zeph. 1:4ff). Yet some people would be “hidden” and not get the full force of God’s anger. God does not say exactly who will be hidden, and the prophet certainly does not, but doing godly, righteous and just things for others would help ensure a person that they might be hidden. Jesus frankly told his disciples that some of them would be killed in the tribulation (Matt. 24:9).(top)
“For Gaza.” The rest of Zephaniah chapter two is about the nations surrounding Israel, starting with the west, then moving east (Moab and Ammon, v. 8), then moving south to Ethiopia (the “Cushites,” v. 12), then moving north (v. 13, Assyria).
“Gaza…Ashkelon…Ashdod…Ekron.” There were five chief Philistine cities that contributed men to a council that ran the government, these four that are mentioned in Zephaniah 2:4, and the city of Gath (cp. Josh. 13:3; 1 Sam. 6:17-18). The reason Gath is missing from this list is unclear, but the most likely explanation is that it ceased to be a city, or a city of any importance, by the time Zephaniah wrote. Gath was attacked and destroyed by the Assyrian king Sargon II in 715 BC, and it disappeared from history after that. In fact, today archaeologists are not completely sure where Gath even was. If it was where archaeologists think it was, it was the easternmost of all the chief cities of the Philistines, which explains why David conquered it, so he would not have any quick surprise attacks from Gath into southwestern Judah (1 Chron. 18:1). However, at some later date, Gath regained its independence from Judah and was considered a Philistine city again, as it was when Sargon conquered it. The prophets who wrote after the Assyrian conquest do not mention Gath when they mention the other chief Philistine cities (cp. Jer. 25:20; Amos 1:6-8; Zeph. 2:4-6; Zech. 9:5).(top)
“I will destroy you.” God briefly speaks in first person for emphasis.(top)
|Zep 2:6||- (top)|
“And the coastland will be for the remnant of the house of Judah.” This is a prophecy of the restoration of the land for the tribes of Judah. Ezekiel 47 and 48 show a much more complete picture of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom. In Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom on earth, the tribes of Israel will be restored and given territory. The west boundary of the tribes of Israel will be the Mediterranean Sea (Ezek. 47:20). The “house of Judah” in this context refers not just to the tribe of Judah, but the tribes of the Kingdom of Judah, and in the prophecy of Ezekiel, given some decades later, the area of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon did indeed stretch westward to the Mediterranean Sea and thus cover the area where the chief Philistine cities had been located (Ezek. 48:7, 24, 25).
“restore their fortunes.” The Hebrew text may be read as “restore their fortunes” (HCSB, ESV, NASB, NIV) or “return their captivity” (ASV, DBY, JPS, KJV), depending on which way the Hebrew text is vowel pointed. However, in the original Hebrew text which had no modern vowel pointing, the phrase could be naturally read both ways and is an amphibologia, a double entendre, in which both meanings are equally true. God will visit Judah and end their captivity and restore their fortunes.(top)
“I have heard the reproach.” Once again God speaks in the first person for emphasis.(top)
“surely Moab will be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah.” The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were not picked at random. God could have used any number of examples of destruction, such as the destruction at the time of the Flood, the destruction of Egypt, the fall of Jericho, etc. But the countries of Moab and Ammon overlooked the Dead Sea region to the west of them, and the sites where Sodom and Gomorrah had been would have been clearly visible (those sites are now lost in history). So Sodom and Gomorrah should have been a warning to Moab and Ammon not to defy God, but that warning went unheeded, and eventually Moab and Ammon were mostly destroyed, a destruction that will be completed in the Great Tribulation and Battle of Armageddon.
“and the survivors of my nation will inherit them.” This can be confusing because according to Ezekiel 47 and 48, in the Millennial Kingdom the tribes of Israel will be on the west side of the Jordan River, while traditionally Moab and Ammon were on the east side of the Jordan. But early on in history when Moab and Ammon were born as sons of Abraham’s nephew Lot, they were born on the west side of the Jordan River, in the territory that would become Israel, because Abraham conceded that territory to Lot (Gen. 13:10-11).(top)
“This they will get.” The narrative now shifts back from first person to third person.
“pride.” Pride was often associated with Moab (Isa. 16:6; Jer. 48:29).(top)
“starve.” The Hebrew word is very rare, and only used here in the whole Bible. It most likely means something like “make lean,” and “starve” (or “cause to waste away”) is a very likely translation. Various English translations include, “starve,” “waste away,” “shrivel,” “weaken,” and “destroy.” The gods of the nations will not be worshipped; there will not be any sacrifices or sacrificial offerings burned to them, so they will starve to death. This is a graphic way of saying they will disappear or be destroyed.
“each one from his own place.” There are scholars who say that “from his own place” refers to the fact that the nations will travel “from” their own place to Jerusalem to worship (cp. C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament). While that will certainly happen (Isa. 2:3; 60:6; Micah 4:1; Zech. 14:16; Matt. 8:11), that is not the primary emphasis of this verse. In the Millennial Kingdom people all around the whole world will worship Yahweh, and that will not only be when they travel to Jerusalem; they will worship from their own homes and lands. This will be a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that “all of the clans of the earth will be blessed in you” (cp. Gen. 18:18; 22:18). God intended that the blessing of salvation and knowing Him would be available to everyone everywhere, but years after Abraham lived that blessing was obscured by the Jews, who tended to view Yahweh as their personal possession and denigrated the Gentiles. But God’s promise to Abraham did not mean that people would be blessed if they traveled to Jerusalem to worship, especially since God spoke to Abraham more than 400 years before there even was a Jewish nation and “Old Covenant,” and more than 850 years before Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and the site of the Temple.
In the Millennial Kingdom, people all over the world will worship Yahweh right at home as well as travel to Jerusalem to worship Him. For example, many years before Zephaniah lived, the prophet Isaiah said that there will be an altar to Yahweh in Egypt and a pillar erected to honor him at the border between Egypt and Israel (Isa. 19:19). Even the Assyrians and Egyptians, historical enemies, will worship Yahweh together (Isa. 19:21-25). Isaiah also said that even though there will be relatively few people left alive on earth after the Great Tribulation, people will praise and honor God all over the earth (Isa. 24:13-16). Isaiah foretold that people around the world would honor God, and because of that God would bring them to Israel and they would worship at His Temple (Isa. 56:3-8). Malachi also prophesied that Yahweh’s name would be honored with incense and offerings all over the world (Mal. 1:11).
So although Zephaniah 2:11 certainly includes the fact that in the Millennial Kingdom people from around the world will travel to Jerusalem to worship, when Christ reigns as king over the whole world people will also worship Yahweh right where they live. Jesus basically said that also, because he told the woman at the well that it would not just be in Jerusalem that people would worship, but Jesus knew from the Old Testament prophets that the holy spirit of God would be poured out on people in the Millennial Kingdom, he said that people would worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:20-24).
[For more on the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth].(top)
“slain by my sword are they.” Several things about this statement draw the reader’s attention. The statement abruptly changes from the second person “you” to the third person “they” (although uncommon, that does occur other places in the Bible, cp. Zeph. 3:18; Ezek. 28:22; Zech. 3:8). Also, the fact that when God turns from speaking to nations on the east and speaks to a nation on the south, we would normally expect it to be Egypt, the more powerful and important nation, or perhaps the traditional enemy Edom, but instead He addresses Cush (Ethiopia). Also very noticeable is the very brevity of this address. God spends much more time speaking to nations on the west, north, and east, but then only makes this very short but powerful statement to the Ethiopians. The evidence is that God mentioned Ethiopia because it was the furthest south of all the nations known (or perhaps just written about) by the Hebrews, and thus it was a way that God could express the fact that when His vengeance came upon the earth, it would come upon the entire earth—no one would be “too far away” to be affected (cp. Isa. 18:1).(top)
“Nineveh.” The capital city of Assyria. Assyria was weaker than it was when it destroyed Israel but was defeated in Judah (2 Kings 17:6; 19:35-37). Nevertheless, it was still powerful enough to destroy Judah, and a prophecy that it would be destroyed would be welcome in Judah.(top)
“herds.” The Hebrew word eder (#05739 עֵדֶר) can refer to both flocks and herds. The NET conflates the English to “flocks and herds” for clarity.
“all the animals of the nations.” The meaning of the Hebrew is unclear because it literally reads “all animals of a nation.” Most scholars feel that the phrase means “every kind of wild animal” (HCSB), and that seems to be the most likely way to understand the verse. However, O. Palmer Robertson (New International Commentary on the Old Testament) may be correct in constructing the genitive “of a nation” (“nation” is singular in the Hebrew text) as “making up a nation.” In that case, the phrase would be something like, “And herds will lie down in the middle of her; every animal constituting a nation.” Robertson points out that the locusts are referred to as a nation in Joel 1:6, and thinks that is the case here. If Robertson is correct, the “nation” of Assyria has defied God and so become replaced with a “nation” of wild animals. What is clear is that the animals will take over the capital city of the great country of Assyria.
“desert owl and the screech owl.” The exact identity of these animals is unknown. The desert owl is some kind of unclean bird, but the screech owl may be a bird or a rodent. The Hebrew vocabulary may be unclear but the point is not: Nineveh will be uninhabited ruins.
“Devastation will be on the thresholds.” The beautiful buildings of Nineveh will be destroyed, exposing the cedar beam framework. The stonework, decorations, etc., will fall down and cover the thresholds of the buildings, so the “devastation” will be on the thresholds. For ease of understanding, some versions nuance the text, e.g., “Rubble will cover the thresholds” (NET). Also, the Septuagint reads “raven” instead of “devastation,” so some English translations have “ravens.” The fact that Nineveh will go from a city of beautiful buildings with cedar woodwork to a devastated haunt of animals and birds shows that Yahweh is the Most High God and defying Him and hurting His people will only result in destruction.(top)
“I am, and there is none besides me.” The people of Nineveh proudly boasted that they lived in the most exalted city on earth, but pride goes before a fall, and it certainly did in their case. It is one thing to be blessed by where you live, but it is quite another to think that somehow makes you better than others.
“will hiss and wave his hand in contempt.” The people who pass by Nineveh will show utter contempt for it. The actions of hissing and waving the hand in contempt, as a person does today when they are over something, done with it, almost “flipping it off,” shows how the feelings and actions of people are “very human” and have not changed in over 2,500 years. We today still hiss at villains and “wave off” people and situations we have contempt for. Some modern translations have “shake the fist” (ESV; NAB; NIV), but “wave the hand” it the more literal translation of the Hebrew text. Nevertheless, both actions can demonstrate contempt.(top)