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Zephaniah 2:4-15 – Taunts Reversed


The judgment that spills beyond Judah sweeps up surrounding nations because of their indifference to Judah's suffering or their explicit taunting of Judah in its judgment.


Oracles against the nations are a common occurrence in prophetic books. These speeches of the prophets address concerns beyond those of Israel and Judah, yet it is unlikely that they are to be understood as directly addressed to the named nations. The audience for these oracles remains focused on Israel and Judah.

The oracles function in multiple ways. The destruction announced in chapter 1 included all humanity and the oracles against the nations function as an explication of that theme for those outside of Judah, as the central section of chapter one did for Judah. The indifferent arrogance of Judean officials in chapter 1 is paralleled by the taunting arrogance of the nations in chapter 2. Both are judged. Chapter 3 returns the focus to Judah where haughtiness is again an issue. The judged nations of chapter 2 are the weapons of God's anger against Judah, but readers know that they are doomed agents. The nations return as a part of the chorus that praises Judah's restoration (3:19-20). Whatever roll the nations play as God's agents against Judah, the nations retain their own agency for which they are responsible. Beyond the complete destruction depicted in the beginning of the book, Zephaniah envisions a future for both Judah (3:11-20) and the nations as a whole (3:9-10).

The destiny of the nations spoken of by Zephaniah is not focused on end times as in Daniel. The concerns are more immediate. The oracles of Zephaniah are to read in the context of the historic and/or narrative context of judgment. Judah and Jerusalem are not delivered from the taunts of these nations to spare them from devastation. Rather, in the midst of the devastating judgment of the Day of the Lord, the oracles of the nations articulate the first glimpse of a future beyond the existing devastation. The nations, to whatever extent they have been agents of the Lord in the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, are also agents acting according to their own intentions. Their agency is not canceled because they are agents of God's judgment. Therefore, the sins of the nations are to be judged just as God has punished the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. God's demands have a particular focus on Judah and Jerusalem, but they extend to a wider horizon. Within that wider scope, the particular focus on Judah reemerges. God will not abide the mocking of God's own judged people. God will recreate and transform the people.

God's passion for the people of God breaks open the judgment of God to forge a new future. The oracles against the nations become self-serving nationalistic literature only if they are separated from the context of the judgment of God that is already in place and occurring in the lives of the Judean audience.

Zephaniah 2:4-15

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 Ah, inhabitants of the sea coast,
   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 sea coast, shall be pastures,
   meadows for shepherds
   and folds for flocks.
7 The sea coast shall become the possession
   of the remnant of the house of Judah,
   on which they shall pasture,
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, says 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 for ever.
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 scoffed and boasted
   against the people of the Lord of hosts.
11 The Lord will be terrible against them;
   he will shrivel all the gods of the earth,
and to him shall bow down,
   each in its place,
   all the coasts and islands of the nations.

12 You also, O Ethiopians,*
   shall be killed 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 it,
   every wild animal;*
the desert-owl* and the screech-owl*
   shall lodge on its capitals;
the owl* shall hoot at the window,
   the raven* croak on the threshold;
   for its cedar-work will be laid bare.
15 Is this the exultant city
   that lived secure,
that said to itself,
   ‘I am, and there is no one else’?
What a desolation it has become,
   a lair for wild animals!
Everyone who passes by it
   hisses and shakes the fist.

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