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The Meek of the Earth Hidden
In verses 1-3 of chapter 2, Zephaniah addresses an "undesirable nation," calling them the "meek of the earth." The latter expression would seem to denote the Church of God—particularly when we view the prophecy in context as dealing mainly with the end time. Moreover, these people are described as those who have upheld God's justice or righteous judgment, thus walking by His laws—again pointing to true Christians. The Church is described as a spiritual nation in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:9-10). And it is certainly undesirable in the eyes of the world—as God's people are, as Christ was, despised, hated and persecuted by the world (see John 15:18-20).
If these Christians will gather together (Zephaniah 2:1; compare Hebrews 10:25), seek God in prayer and study of His Word (see Zephaniah 2:3), and seek righteousness (obedience) and humility (same verse), they have an opportunity to be hidden and protected during the time of God's punishment—in line with other prophecies that describe God's faithful people being sheltered in a place of refuge in the end time (compare Revelation 12:14). Interestingly, Zephaniah's name means "The Eternal Hides" or "Hidden of the Eternal"—which may have factored into the wording of Zephaniah 2:3.
Verses 4-5 foretell divine retribution to come on the people living in the land of the Philistines, here synonymous with Canaan—which, in an end-time setting, would appear to indicate the modern Palestinian people. The Jews, returning from captivity, will be given the former Philistine seacoast, including the Gaza Strip, which is now occupied by the Palestinians (verses 6-7). In verses 8-10, ruin is prophesied to come upon Moab and Ammon, which are areas of modern Jordan, still the homeland of these ancient peoples. And this is said to be because of their pride and because they will have reproached God's people and threatened their borders. It is not clear whether the reproached and threatened people of God here are the physical Israelites or the spiritual people of God referred to in verses 1-3. If the latter, the whole passage would seem to be parallel with Isaiah 16, where Moab is apparently punished for refusing to hide God's outcasts (see highlights for Isaiah 16).
Verse 11 again shows the passage to be primarily an end-time prophecy, as people from all the shores of the nations will come to worship God after He utterly wipes out idolatry.
The chapter culminates with judgment against Assyria and its capital city Nineveh (verses 13-15). Babylon and other forces conquered ancient Assyria and laid waste to her proud capital in 612 B.C. No doubt this prophecy did in part refer to that ancient overthrow—as it was yet a few years away when Zephaniah wrote. But realize again that this is mainly a prophecy of the end of this age. Nineveh is directly parallel here with end-time Babylon, speaking the same words and suffering the same penalty (verse 15; compare Isaiah 47:10-11). So it is likely that the prophecy is primarily aimed at Assyria of the last days—a German-dominated European superpower also known as Babylon (see highlights for Isaiah 10)—and its future seat of power. The prophet Nahum, as we will later see, prophesied against Nineveh around this time too. And in his prophecy there is also a very close parallel between Assyria and end-time Babylon.
Zephaniah 3 begins with an indictment against Jerusalem, probably representative of the Jewish nation as a whole—and perhaps even of all Israel in the end time, since Jerusalem was the ancient capital of all 12 tribes. Four specific charges are brought against the people. Verses 3-4 indict four classes of leaders for their corruption, and God promises He will bring them to justice. The priests not only don't teach the laws of God, "they have done violence to the law"—they despise and ridicule God's law as being a yoke, burden and curse that has been "done away with" or "annulled." God warns that He has judged other nations and His nation should expect no less. Yet sadly, the people continue to rebel (verse 7). In Zephaniah's day, there was a measure of repentance at the time of Josiah's reforms. And in the future, all Israel will at last repent, as we see later in this chapter.
Verse 8 describes the return of Jesus Christ to fight the nations gathered against Him (compare Revelation 19:19). An interesting feature about Zephaniah 3:8 is that, according to Charles Feinberg, it is the only verse in the Old Testament that contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The chapter then progresses forward into the wonderful, peaceful reign of Christ over all nations—that is, over all those who are left after the cataclysmic wars of the end time. Verse 9 describes God providing a "pure language" for the peoples of the earth, much better suited for praising and serving God. Today's languages are filled with pagan references and other ungodly elements. That won't be so in the language of the future. The tone of the book from this point on is quite positive, as conditions that will exist on earth under the rule of the Kingdom of God are described. Verse 15 prophesies, "The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst."
Feinberg states that the "appointed assembly" of verse 18 refers to the "feasts of the Lord" (p. 235). This parallels Zechariah 14:16, which tells us that the Feast of Tabernacles will be observed at that time. The chapter ends with the wonderful truth that, though God will bring national punishment on the Israelites, He will still regather those who are left to at last be the model nation Israel was intended to be (verses 19-20). They will then be, as verse 12 shows, the meek and humble people of God.