For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough 

2:1.  “Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; “

The nation, of course, is still Judah, and God is calling the people to come together in repentant confession of their many sins, those sins having made her “not desired,” which is also translated without discipline: detested: shameless; unabashed: unconscious of sin.

In spite of what she had made herself, God still loved her, and desired to save her, but sadly, apart from a very few individuals who did repent, the nation as a whole rejected every overture made by God, and thus sealed her doom.

2:2.  “Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger come upon you.”

“Before the decree bring forth” might be paraphrased, “Before the decree of doom is executed against you.”  In other words, Repent while you have the opportunity. 

“... before the day pass as the chaff” is understood by some to refer to the brevity of the period of grace and the speed with which it is passing; while others apply it to the scattering, i.e., the blowing away of the people like chaff.  There is a measure of truth in both.

The second half of the sentence emphasizes both the fierceness of the coming angry or burning judgment, and the terrible character of the day or time when it would burst upon the guilty nation.  The discrimination between the two, rests in the fact that the judgment itself would be different, depending on whether the victim was a believer or an unbeliever.  In the case of the former it would affect only his body, while transporting his soul to paradise; but for the latter it would consign his soul to continued torment in hell until the resurrection of death when the individual (body, soul, and spirit), will be delivered into eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Relative to the time of the judgment: for the believer of that day its occurrence would end the toil and trouble of earthly life, and begin an eternity of bliss, first in paradise, and finally in heaven.  (Since Christ’s resurrection the soul’s of believers go immediately to heaven).  For the unbeliever it would end for ever the day of grace and the possibility of salvation, and would begin an eternity of torment, first in hell, and then in the lake of fire.

2:3.  “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.”

This was addressed to the few, the meek or humble, foreknown by God as is every believer, that foreknowledge not to be confused with God’s predestination.  Salvation or damnation is each the result of a free will choice on the part of the individual to accept or reject the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  God’s foreknowledge of what the choice will be in no way affects the free will of the individual to make it.

“... which have wrought his judgment” is also translated “have kept His ordinances,” or “who obey His commands.”  This is not to be understood as teaching salvation by works.  Their obedient lives were simply the outward evidence of their inward faith; but as with believers in every age, there can be no genuine obedience apart from faith.

The command to seek righteousness, and meekness (humility) was addressed to the unconverted: the period preceding judgment was a time in which salvation was available to any who would repent and cast themselves on God’s mercy.  As that short time preceding judgment was a period of grace for Judah, so is this present time a period of grace for today’s world.  For Judah, the destruction was to be that executed by the Babylonians; for those of today, the coming destruction is that of the impending terrible Tribulation judgments.

There are two possible views of the words, “... it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.”  One is that the believer of that day might be preserved physically through the destruction that would bring wholesale slaughter to the people in general, those thus preserved being types of those who will be physically preserved through the Tribulation judgments.  The other, and equally valid view, is that the preservation would apply to his soul.  He might die physically, but he would still be preserved, for the only part that matters - his soul - would be instantly transported to paradise.  This will be true also of the Tribulation age saints.

2:4.  “For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up.”

This verse begins a new section in which the prophet announces the coming of judgment upon the surrounding Gentile nations similar to that which had destroyed Israel, and was about to destroy Judah also.  The wider scope of this prophecy seems to confirm that the judgments of those earlier times were foreshadowings of the coming Tribulation judgments that will ravish the whole earth.

Gath, the fifth Philistine city frequently mentioned with these other four, is omitted here, the usual explanation being that it was under Israelite control, having been conquered by David, and having remained under Jewish dominion since his day.

It is instructive to note that the Philistines, meaning wallowing, represent apostasy (see 2 Pe 2:22 where wallowing is also used in connection with the apostle’s description of apostates).  It is to be further noted that as the Philistines  had given their name to the land into which they had originally come as intruders, so has the great false church intruded into and taken control of the sphere that properly belongs only to the true Church; and as the Philistines were the inveterate enemies of God and His people, so is that great apostate church also the enemy of both; but in the destruction of the literal Philistines God bids us see the destruction of the great false church in the coming Tribulation.

2:5.  “Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites!  the word of the Lord is against you; O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant.”

This continues the pronouncement of woe upon Philistia, for the Cherethites, originally from Crete, and meaning cutters off, were a people who dwelt in the coastal region south of the territory occupied by the Philistines and were themselves generally regarded as Philistines.  The destruction, which was to be utter, began with Egypt’s invasion of the area in the period between 609-594 BC.

2:6.  “And the sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks.”

The inhabitants of the whole coastal plain were to be wiped out, leaving the land as pasture for sheep, with “dwellings” being understood by some to be caves, the lowly dwelling places of shepherds while tending their flocks; but the word cottage appears to signify rather shepherds’ cisterns or wells.  The general picture is of the poverty that would replace the existing prosperity, and of the fact that what had been the possession of the Philistines would become the possession of God’s people.  There is little doubt that God would have us see in this a glimpse of what will be in the Millennium.  All that has been in the possession of the unconverted will, in that soon coming day, be given to the repentant remnant of Israel and of the nations.

2:7.  “And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening: for the Lord their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.”

While this may certainly refer to the fact that the remnant of Judah spared by the Babylonians, would inherit the Philistines’ land, it seems that the ultimate application is to what will be in the Millennium, when the believing remnant of Israel emerging from the Tribulation, will inherit that which will have been left behind by the unbelievers banished into hell at the Lord’s return in glory to establish His millennial kingdom.

Since eating is synonymous with satisfaction, its being said that “they shall feed” is the symbolic announcement of the complete satisfaction and happiness of the remnant entering the Millennium.  Their lying down in the evening in the dwellings of the former destroyed occupants, speaks also of millennial rest, and safety, and satisfaction, as do also God’s visiting them, and turning away or bringing them back from exile.

Ashkelon incidentally means the fire of infamy: I shall be weighed, but in the present context it seems that the Philistine city is being used as a synonym for the devastated world which will be all that will remain following the terrible Tribulation judgments.

2:8.  “I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified themselves against their border.”

Moab, meaning from father: what father?  from (her [the mother’s]) father, and Ammon meaning tribal: peoplish, were the two incestuously begotten sons of Lot, the people descended from them being the inveterate foes of Israel, a state consistent with what they represent typologically, for a careful study of Moab indicates that he represents mere empty profession linked with the lusts of the flesh; while Ammon also represents similar empty profession, but associated with intellectualism or rationalism.

“... reproach” here means disgrace: contumely: shame (associated with exposure of the female genital organs), this latter meaning being what might be expected from one whose name is linked with the lusts of the flesh.

“... revilings” mean vilification: taunt, both meanings being related to the expression of thought rather than actual deeds, and again this is what might be expected from one who represents intellectualism or rationalism in opposition to what is of God.

Their having “magnified themselves against their border” means that they had encroached upon Israel’s borders, that encroachment being but a type of what has happened in Christendom: the professing, but apostate harlot church has encroached upon the realm of faith to the point where that incubus is accepted by many as the true church.

But as the Lord heard then, so does He also hear today, and as then He was about to pour out judgment on the offenders, so is He again about to unleash judgment upon the guilty in the quickly approaching Tribulation.

2:9.  “Therefore as I live, saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them.”

The certainty of the judgment to come upon Moab and Ammon is declared in that the Lord, than Whom there is none greater, swore by Himself to accomplish it; and that He has the power to execute that judgment is announced in that He is the Lord of hosts (armies), nor are they earthly armies: they are the countless armies of His mighty angels.  And that same God is the God of Israel, His promise to her being that she is destined to rule over all the nations of the millennial earth.  Her long years of self-induced affliction are coming to an end.  The day of her deliverance and glorification is not far off. 

In her experience, however, God bids us see a foreshadowing of our own.  The weary pilgrimage of the Church is also drawing to a close, and surely we must confess that much of our affliction, like Israel’s, has been also self-induced.  We have failed to walk obediently; but God, in transcendent grace, has transmuted our rebellion into blessing, He having used His chastisement to refine our faith and equip us for that soon coming day when we will enter into a higher experience than millennial Israel: we will reign with Christ not only over Israel and the nations, but over the universe itself, as it is written, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him,” 1 Tim 2:11-12, see also Re 5:10; 11:15; 20:6; 22:5.

It is very different, however, with unbelief, which is represented by Moab and Ammon.  As they were to become like Sodom and Gomorrah, so also will every unbeliever pass into an eternal state pictured in the desolation which the area of those wicked cities has become.  Nor is it easy to imagine more utter desolation: the only vegetation would be clumps of stinging nettles interspersed with salt pits where nothing could grow, and the condition would be permanent.

The “residue” refers here to that part of the nation that will pass out of the Tribulation into the Millennium; and their being described as a remnant emphasizes the truth that they are believers who even at the risk of their lives, would not worship the beast.  As already noted, that godly remnant will be the new millennial Israel that will be given dominion over the whole earth.

The spoiling and possessing refer to the fact that everything that had formerly belonged to the banished unbelieving nations will then be left for the enjoyment of the believing remnant of Israel and of the nations.

2:10.  “This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of hosts.”

Their judgment was to be because of their pride, relative to which it is to be noted that it is first on the list of seven things which God hates, see Pr 6:16-17, “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, etc.”

This will also be God’s requittal, not only of the great harlot church, but of all who will have disparaged and mocked those who belong to Him.  In every generation there have been those who look with disdainful pride on simple believers who have little of this world’s wealth, but who are rich in the things that have eternal worth.  What these arrogant unbelievers fail to realize is that in reproaching believers, and in exalting themselves against God’s saints, they are doing it against God Himself, and are making themselves heirs of his terrible wrath.

2:11.  “The Lord will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen.”

The Lord’s being terrible unto them means that His judgments would strike terror into their hearts; but beyond the judgment that was then to fall upon Moab and Ammon, we are being pointed forward to Christ’s judgment of the nations at the end of the Tribulation.  That judgment will fill the hearts of every rebel with horror as they are arraigned before the Lord Jesus Christ and are banished bodily into hell with its never ending torment, to await their ultimate consignment to continued torment in the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire.

“... he will famish all the gods of the earth” is a metaphorical way of saying that He will cut off the worship formerly offered to idols, by showing their deluded votaries that what they had worshiped as gods were powerless things unable to see, speak, or hear, or respond in any way.  They are of earth, not heaven.  That enlightenment will come too late for the unbelievers arraigned before Christ at the end of the Tribulation.  The universal worship of Jehovah spoken of here  will be that of the believing nations in the Millennium, “from his place” reminding us that in addition to the worship that will be offered in Jerusalem, every man will worship the Lord continually in his own home, even as true believers do today.

2:12.  “Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword.”

Because the Ethiopians were allied with Egypt and had apparently joined with her in oppressing Israel, they too were to be destroyed, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon being the instrument used by God to do that work.

2:13.  “And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.”

While God has chosen to use nations such as Assyria to be His instruments of chastisement against Israel (it was Assyria that led Israel, the ten northern tribes, captive in 722 BC) it doesn’t necessarily follow that He looks upon them with favor.  The very opposite is true.  He in His own time will punish them, not only for their own wickedness, but also for having delighted in being cruel to Israel.  This threatened destruction of Assyria was carried out by the Babylonians and Medes in the period between 612-609 BC, as recorded in the book of Nahum.

The reference to Nineveh’s becoming “a desolation, and dry like a  wilderness,” is generally understood as referring to the destruction of the numerous irrigation canals and ditches which contributed much to the fertility of the region.

2:14.  “And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work.”

All of this was literally fulfilled.  After its fall in 612 BC Nineveh lay a ruin that was never rebuilt.  As it decayed its ruins became the homes of the creatures mentioned here, and in process of time even the ruins crumbled away, and eventually the whole area became overgrown so that three hundred years later it is reported that Alexander and his army marched over it without being aware that the great city Nineveh had once occupied the site.  Surely this is a testimony to the impermanence of everything earthly, and a warning of the need to have our citizenship in heaven.

It became pasture for sheep only after time had removed all trace of the ruined buildings, and changed the site to grass covered mounds; and “beasts of the nations” is simply another way of saying “many varieties of wild creatures.”

2:15.  “This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in!  every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.”

Proud defiant Nineveh had imagined herself impregnable and peerless, and would have laughed to scorn anyone who might have told her what she would become, but none laughed that night when the river rose and swept away the foundation of the king’s palace and a huge section of the city wall, thus enabling the invaders to enter and destroy great Nineveh in a night.  So will it be with every man who dies unrepentant.  The expulsion of his last breath will project his soul from time into eternity, where in darkness that will never be penetrated by a ray of light he will suffer eternal torment bewailing his misspent life on earth when God had offered him eternal life in heaven, but he had refused to accept that priceless gift.

In the days of her glory many undoubtedly had viewed great Nineveh with awe and wonder, some perhaps in fear, but now those who beheld her hissed and waved their hands either in derision, or in even greater wonder at the destruction that had come in one night to the once great city.  It will be with similar awe that the survivors will view the desolation of this earth devastated and brought to ruin by the Tribulation judgments.

[Zephaniah 3]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough