In our study of Zephaniah chapter two, we look at the judgment of the nations surrounding Israel. In chapter one, we saw how God judged His people because of His love and jealousy for them. Now, God's focus shifts to their neighbors and how they treated His people.
Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's wrath comes upon you." NIV translation
What a wonderful picture of God's mercy as this chapter opens with a final call for God's people to assemble together. So that brings us to the question of what the people were to do when they assembled and the answer is that they were to worship and call upon the name of the Lord. This reminds us that, as the times get tougher and tougher, we are to assemble and call upon the name of the Lord.
"Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger." NIV translation
There has always been a remnant of God's people (Jews) and there is also a remnant in the "church" (Gentiles) of today. As we see, this remnant is made up of those who are humble meaning they accept the fact that they cannot be good enough to get righteousness on their own. One of the greatest dangers to the souls of men is the desire for self-sufficiency which is the opposite of humbly trusting in God. The "sheltered" here is talking about the fact that the humble (those that have trusted in Jesus instead of self) will not go through the great time of tribulation that we read about in the book of Revelation.
"Gaza will be abandoned and Askelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. Woe to you who live by the sea, O Kerethite people; the word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines. 'I will destroy you and none will be left.'" NIV translation
The judgment of Israel's neighbors begins in the west with the Kerethites who were people that came from the island of Crete and settled along the coast of Israel. The term "Philistines" actually means immigrants and the area that is mentioned would be what is called the "Gaza Strip" or "Palestine" today. We must remember that the term "Palestine" originated with the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 A.D. The Old Testament refers to the southwestern coastal area of Israel to be occupied by Philistines "Pelesheth" in Hebrew which is where the term "Palestine" comes from.
"The land by the sea, where the Kerethites dwell, will be a place for shepherds and sheep pens. It will belong to the remnant of the house of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes." NIV translation
All the talk of a two state solution and a Palestinian state goes against the words of God. As we see here, the area that is talked about has been given to the "remnant of the house of Judah" and nobody can bargain it away. God says that He will care for His people there!
"'I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land." NIV translation
The judgment heads to the east as the modern country of Jordan is described. These people were judged because of the way that they treated God's people. The same thing is going to happen again as all nations will turn against Jerusalem.
"'Therefore, as surely as I live,' declares the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, 'surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah - a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.'" NIV translation
We see that God's judgment includes giving the land to His people. We should take note here of the fact that their words and their threats against Israel were the basis for this judgment. Today, there are many countries that are taunting and threatening Israel and we can be sure that God is taking notice just as He has with Jordan.
"This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty. The Lord will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land." NIV translation
When people insult God's people they are, in fact, insulting God and we see here that He will judge all nations for such behavior. The passage speaks to the coming time when all of the false gods will be gone and all men will worship the one true God.
"'You too, O Cushites, will be slain by my sword.'" NIV translation
Now, the judgment turns to the south and Ethiopia/Africa. Although we do not see a specific charge here, we see that they will be judged according to God's sword which is His word.
"He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their calls will echo through the windows, rubble will be in the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed. This is the carefree city that lived in safety. She said to herself, 'I am, and there is none besides me.' What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists." NIV translation
Finally, God's judgment turns to the north. This passage speaks to the fate of Nineveh which was the heart of the Assyrian empire. Today, the city is still nothing more than ruins across the river from the Iraqi city of Mosul. This passage is also a warning to the modern land of Syria that they (and all others who reject Jesus Christ) will be judged. This country harbors many who wish to harm Israel (God's people) and they, too, will be judged on how they treat His people.