In this chapter, we have an earnest exhortation to the nation of the Jews to repent and make their peace with God – and so to prevent the judgments which were threatened, before it was too late (verses 1-3). We also find a denunciation of the judgments of God against several of the neighboring nations that had assisted or rejoiced in the calamity of God’s people. These nations included the Philistines (verses 4-7), the Moabites and Ammonites (verses 8-11), and the Ethiopians and Assyrians (verses 12-15). All of these were condemned to drink of the same cup of trembling that was put into the hands of God’s people – as was also foretold by other prophets, both before and after Zephaniah.
The prophet calls his countrymen to national repentance, as the only way to prevent their national ruin (verse 3). He takes occasion, from the awful and impending judgments denounced in the foregoing chapter, to press upon the people the vast importance of turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart; and the expressions used here are very earnest and interesting. God might justly have said to them, “Depart from Me!” But instead, He says, “‘Gather together’ to Me so that you may seek My face.” And notice how they are called, “O nation not desired” – that is, not desirable, or not lovely. And certainly, if they are viewed in themselves, there is nothing lovely or desirable in them. But in Jesus’ view, His Church – in her covenant-relationship with Himself – was always desirable! But the words of this first verse may also be interpreted as referring to a nation that had no desire toward the Lord. And in this sense also, the force of the prophet’s expression is striking; for before the judgment begins, the Lord’s grace was opened, and His mercy was revealed!
In verse 3 – which speaks of seeking the Lord and seeking righteousness – the Lord Jesus is most plainly set forth! The prophet directs all the meek of the earth to seek the Lord, and to seek righteousness and meekness. If he is referring to a meekness that they have already, why is he calling them to seek for it? But the prophet cries thus to Israel because of God’s judgments coming upon the whole earth for sin; and since Israel was just as sinful as her heathen neighbors, they are admonished to humbly seek the Lord Jesus – the meek and lowly One, and the Messiah of His people. And observe the foundation of this hope: “it may be,” says Zephaniah, “that ye shall be hid in the day of wrath.” What a sweet encouragement! The Lord’s “may be’s” are better than man’s “shall be’s”; for they are founded in God’s own gracious and eternal purpose, and they are secured in the blood and righteousness of Christ!
Since we know what God’s decree will bring against impenitent sinners, it highly concerns us all to repent in the accepted time that is appointed as “the day of salvation!” How careful we should all be to seek our peace with God before the day of grace is over, so that we may not be made to stand before His throne of justice to hear a sentence of everlasting doom! Let all who are poor and despised and afflicted seek the Lord at His throne of grace, for the chief hope of deliverance from national judgments rests in prayer. Let us pray for grace to repent from our sins while it is still today, so that our hearts may not become hardened; and let us beseech the Lord to pour out His reviving grace and mercy upon our nation in general, and our own hearts in particular!
Beginning in verses 4, we read of several of the ancient foes of Israel being dealt with in righteous justice by the Lord; and what an awful account it is! Desolation and woe are pronounced upon the Philistines; while Moab and Ammon are condemned to be places full of nettles and saltpits, like Sodom and Gomorrah. The sword of the Lord would go out against the Ethiopians; and His strong and mighty hand would bring down the Assyrians, and make their capital of Nineveh a barren wilderness – only fit for wild animals to live in.
But the main thing that we ought to learn from this section is that the destruction of these heathen nations came upon them because of their behavior towards the Lord’s people. Notice how Jehovah specifically refers to them as “my people,” despite their shameful wanderings and rebellions against Him. In fact, He repeats the phrase “my people” twice in one verse (verse 9), as if He took great delight in their relationship with Him. It was chiefly on their account that He was angry with these nations.
So we see that although the prophet opened his Book of prophecy in a tone of judgment (chapter 1:2), declaring that the Lord would consume all things from off the land; yet how soon is mercy declared to Israel, and how often is it repeated in this chapter alone! The Lord was about to make Moab and the other nations like Sodom and Gomorrah; and yet Israel was to be saved in the Lord, with an everlasting salvation. And where shall we look for the cause of this mercy, except in that meek and lowly One Whom the Lord’s people are commanded to seek? (verse 3; Isa. 45:17)
Lord, we repent of times when we have put off prayer and repentance instead of taking care to seek You during “the day of salvation!” Help us to seek peace with You now before it is too late, so that we may not be doomed to everlasting judgment when we stand before Your heavenly throne. Amen.
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