Zephaniah 2

1 The whole nation of Judah had committed sins, but the people were not embarrassed about it. Nonetheless, God calls for them to come together and examine their spiritual condition before this dreadful prophecy is fulfilled. The term used for "gather" is one that refers to collecting sticks or the chaff from wheat.
2 Zephaniah warns them again that this day of wrath will come quickly - it would seem to go as fast as the chaff blew away from the wheat when the harvested grain was thrown into the air. After the wheat and chaff were separated, the chaff would be collected and burned in the fire. To this largely agricultural society, the illustration was clear and vivid.
3 God calls those who would humble themselves before Him and do what was right to do so. They would be spared in the day of wrath. God's desire is that people would turn to Him and repent from their sins. This theme applies as much today as it did in Zephaniah's day. The people of Jerusalem were warned of the day of wrath and told how to escape its fury. There is still a Judgment Day for the entire world that will happen, but we are told in both the Old and New Testaments that we can escape the eternal punishment we deserve if we trust and obey the Messiah, who is Jesus Christ.
4 Zephaniah then prophesied to four Gentile nations surrounding Judah to the north, east, west, and south. To the west was Philistine, noted by its five major cities. Judah already controlled one of the cities, Gath, so only the remaining four are listed for destruction. The Babylonians would be relentless in their conquest, even fighting through the traditional noontime rest to overcome one of the cities.

Several plays on words are used to describe the destruction. Gaza, which is a word that means "strong", sounds like the word for "desolate." Ekron, meaning "deep rooting," sounds like the word for "uprooted." In the next verse, Cherethites, meaning "those who cut off," sounds like the word for "diggings." Chebel, meaning "the band," has another meaning, "inheritance," referring to when the Jews will possess the land.

5 The Cherethites were a group of Philistines in the southwest part of the territory. Their name implies that they originated from Crete, possibly as settlers. Their behaviors were historically offensive to God, and He had determined back in the time of Moses that there was no chance the Canaanites (which included the Philistines) or their descendants would ever turn to Him. The Israelites had been charged to wipe them out and take over their land. Israel's own disobedience prevented this from happening. However, the word of the Lord was still against them and would eventually prevail.
6 God would give the seacoast country of the Philistines to Judah as pastureland. The word here, "diggings," probably refers to shelters that shepherds dug in pastures for protection from the daytime sun rather than "caves" or permanent "dwellings." The urban areas if Philistine would become the home for nomadic shepherds.
7 The "remnant of Judah" indicates that Judah would face the destruction declared in the first part of this prophecy, but they would not be completely wiped out. The relatively small band of Jews that would remain would grow and spread out to inhabit all the land God had promised them. Despite their punishment, God still loved Judah and would restore them because of His plans and the potential the Jews had to be obedient enough to carry them out. It was finally the Maccabees that completed the conquest of Philistine.
8 Moab and Ben-Ammi were sons of Lot, Abraham's nephew. While related to Israel by genealogy, the two descending nations to the west never did get along with them. The two were cohorts in threatening Israel both verbally and with amassed armies (i.e., 'magnifying themselves against their borders').
9 God then makes an oath to carry out His treat against Moab and Ammon. He reminds them that He is the only living God, implying that their lifeless idols would be of no use in resisting Him. He is the Lord of hosts, that is, the universe is ultimately subject to Him. He is also the God of Israel. He had chosen them to be His special people, and woe would certainly come upon those who opposed them because of their Protector.

The punishment states that their land would become nearly uninhabitable. Parts of the land would remain fertile, but the nettles would be a testimony to the unkempt wasteland they had become. Other parts (especially around the Dead Sea) would become salty, unfertile, and would no longer support life. The Moab territory is still desolate into modern times.

Moab was conquered by the Babylonians, then the Persians, and then by various Arab groups. By the 2nd century BC, the country was wiped out. Finally, Judas Maccabaeus gained control of the region (1 Macc 5:6-8).

10 The two nations seemed particularly proud, both against Israel and God. However, pride and confidence cannot save a person or make them right. It is what one is confident in that matters. We can have confidence in God because He is the only One who's Word, will, and works will endure and prevail forever. If there is anything we can have pride in it is that God loved us enough to send His only Son, Jesus, to die in our place for our sins so that He could adopt us as His children. Having confidence or pride in anything else is futile.
11 This is not just a prophecy against Moab, but against all people who worship false gods. When God cuts off the people, the false gods will "starve" for lack of worship and sacrifices. Instead, everyone on Earth will acknowledge the true God, no matter where they happen to live. The "islands" or "coastlands" likely refer to Europe, but is meant to show the universality of people's turn to God throughout the pagan world. Some see this verse as referring to the spread of the Gospel, since people can now legitimately worship God from their homelands instead of traveling to Jerusalem. However, this verse is probably related to end times, when "every knee will bow" to God (Isa 45:23-24). Thus, conversion may not necessarily be the reason everyone confesses Him as God, but rather it is their acknowledgement of His sovereignty, which has become plainly obvious to all - including those who never believed.
12 To the south, Zephaniah prophesies against the Ethiopians (Cushites). Nebuchadnezzar, after conquering Moab, Ammon, and Judah, would also conquer Egypt and her ally, Ethiopia.
13 To the north, Zephaniah prophecies against Assyria represented by its capital city, Nineveh. Nahum gave a very detailed prophecy against Nineveh.

Two ironies are noted here. First, this very large, thriving, and powerful metropolises would be reduced to a wilderness inhabited by wild animals. Second, the city was famous for its irrigation system, but the area was to become dry without people there to tend it. It would be obvious that only the work of God could bring this great city to ruin so quickly. In Jonah's day, this warning was heeded, but Zephaniah's warning was not.

14 All kinds of animals will inhabit Nineveh, both those that roam in herds and those who live solitary lives. The exact animals are not known because the meaning of the original words is lost, but generally accepted identities include owls, pelicans, and hedgehogs. Pelicans require water of course, but Nineveh was beside a river that became a marshy hunting ground for various birds. Pelicans capture their meals in water and then go inland to eat them on dry land.

In those buildings that remained exposed, the voices of birds would be heard. There would be exposed cedar walls and beams, but these last remaining visible ruins would decompose in time, and the city would be lost to history for around 2500 years.

15 Nineveh exceeded in pride. Its size, defenses, and power were impressive. However, the people resigned themselves to a false sense of security and self-idolatry. They considered themselves all-important and able to determine not only their destiny, but also those of the surrounding nations - which they considered relatively nothing compared to themselves. They would not hold themselves to any moral standard, and much less the commands of God.

Nineveh and Assyria came to the point where neither they nor their descendents would ever turn back to God. For this reason God executed His judgment against them as if it were the Last Day. The contemporary people of the day would see the destruction and animal infested ruins and mock the city for its pride. The city was lost to history until modern times, and now we can only marvel at the quick and permanent destruction that befell such a powerful city. The remains are a visible lesson about spiritual truths. No one or group of people is powerful enough to withstand the judgment of God. If we do not willingly submit to Him during this lifetime, we will suffer the eternal consequences of His wrath.