By Joseph Benson
Zephaniah 2:1-2. Gather yourselves together, &c. — Assemble yourselves to make a public humiliation: see Joel 2:16. O nation not desired — Or coveted, as the word נכסŠproperly signifies. The Vulgate renders it, non amabilis, not lovely; and the Greek, το απαιδευτον, uninstructed, or, that will not receive instruction; that is, not to be amended but by the discipline of God’s judgments. Before the decree bring forth, before the day, &c. — Before the decree of God shall bring forth the day that shall be like the passing of chaff; that is, wherein the wicked shall be dispersed, as the chaff is by the wind. God’s consuming the wicked is often compared in Scripture to the dispersing of chaff.
Zephaniah 2:3. Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek — Here the prophet addresses some others, different from those addressed before, namely, the few pious, who still remained in Jerusalem and Judah amidst the general corruption; which have wrought his judgment — Who have obeyed his laws, and done his will. Seek righteousness — That is, continue to seek it; persevere in the practice of every branch of piety and virtue. Seek meekness — Patiently wait on the holy and gracious God. It may be ye shall be hid, &c. — That ye shall be protected and preserved by the divine providence, amidst the dangers and calamities of that dreadful time, when God shall execute his judgments.
Zephaniah 2:4-7. For Gaza shall be forsaken — The prophet digresses here to foretel the fate of some cities and nations bordering on Judea; probably with a view to show that when Judea should be invaded, and Jerusalem attacked, there would be no place for the Jews to escape to, since all the neighbouring cities would be brought to ruin, as well as those of Judea. Nebuchadnezzar, as history informs us, took many of the cities of the Philistines. Wo to the inhabitants of the sea-coasts — Wo to the Philistines who live upon the coast of the Mediterranean sea: compare Ezekiel 25:16, where, as well as here, they are called Cherethites, or Cherethims. The LXX. read, παροικοι κρητων, strangers of the Cretans. They are supposed to have been a colony removed from Crete to Palestine. O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee — The Canaanites, properly so called, were the same with the Philistines, and seated in that part of Palestine: see Joshua 13:3. And the sea-coast shall be dwellings for shepherds — The merchants, who inhabited there before, being driven far away by the calamities of the times, or carried into captivity, and no others resorting thither. And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah — This is a declaration that the sea-coasts, of which the Philistines should be dispossessed, should afterward come into the possession of the Jewish people, namely, after their return from their captivity; and that they should feed their flocks there, which should lie down in the evening in the desolate or ruined houses of Ashkelon.
Zephaniah 2:8-11. I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of Ammon — These countries were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, about five years after the destruction of Jerusalem: see the places referred to in the margin, where, as well as here, they are threatened with destruction, for their insulting over the Jews in their calamities. And magnified themselves against their border — Have invaded their territories: see Jeremiah 49:1. Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and Ammon as Gomorrah — Proverbial expressions signifying utter destruction; and a perpetual desolation — That shall never more be possessed by its former inhabitants. The residue of my people shall spoil them — Judas Maccabeus and his brethren subdued the Ammonites: see 1 Maccabees 5:6. “But this and the seventh verse,” says Lowth, “will receive their utmost completion at the general restoration of the Jewish nation. Those that then escape, and return from their several dispersions, are elsewhere called by the name of the residue, and the remnant:” compare chap. Zephaniah 3:13; and see note on Micah 4:7. The Lord will be terrible unto them — Or, The Lord, who is to be feared, is against, or above them, and will make it appear that he is terrible in his judgments. For he will famish all the gods of the earth — Such as Dagon, Chemosh, Moloch, &c., all those that are gods nowhere else but upon the earth, among the deceived sons of earth, vile, spurious gods. Though their altars are now filled with sacrifices, and their bowls run over, as if it were designed to make them fat, they shall be famished, or starved, by being deprived of their sacrifices and drink-offerings. Instead of, He will famish, Houbigant reads, He will dissipate: but it is justly observed by Bishop Warburton, that the expression, as it stands in our version, is noble, alluding to the popular superstitions of paganism, which conceived that the gods were nourished by the steam of sacrifices. And men shall worship him, every one from his place — Or, in his place: that is, not only at Jerusalem, but everywhere: see the margin. Even all the isles of the heathen — “By the earth the Jews understood the great continent of all Asia and Africa, to which they had access by land; and by the isles of the sea they understood the places to which they sailed by sea, particularly all Europe.” — Sir I. Newton, on Daniel, p. 216. Chrysostom cites this passage, according to the version of the LXX., and applies it to gospel times, as an argument against the Jews, and surely it was chiefly meant of those times; for never were the false gods so famished, or so destroyed, as they were by the preaching of the gospel. Then especially did men, in every place where the gospel prevailed, worship the true God alone. It is true, many of the people, among whom the Jews were dispersed in the time of their captivity, and also with whom they had commerce after their return, were instructed by them in the knowledge of the one living and true God; yet, what is said here seems to be much more applicable to the times of the gospel, than to any conversion of the heathen to the worship of Jehovah, which was ever effected by the Jews, before Christ sent out his apostles to preach his gospel through all the world.
Zephaniah 2:12. Ye Ethiopians also shall be slain — Here a denunciation of divine wrath is uttered against the Ethiopians, as, Zephaniah 2:8, against the Moabites and Ammonites. It is said that they should be slain by God’s sword; because Nebuchadnezzar, who was to subdue them, was raised up by the divine providence, in order to execute its purposes; and to cut off those whose wickedness called for the infliction of divine vengeance. This denunciation against the Ethiopians was fulfilled by Nebuchadnezzar, by whom they were overthrown, when they came to assist the king of Egypt against him.
Zephaniah 2:13-14. And he will stretch out his hand against the north — Nor will the southern nations only be punished, but judgments will be executed by the divine justice on the nations lying toward the north; and will make Nineveh a desolation — What is here foretold was fulfilled before the predictions recorded in the foregoing verses. Dr. Prideaux observes, that “Chyniladanus being king of the Assyrian and Babylonian empire, Nabopolassar, his general, took the latter from him, in the sixteenth year of Josiah; fourteen years after which Saraccus the king was slain, and Nineveh destroyed, which completed the fall of Assyria.” And dry like a wilderness — A multitude of people are often compared to, and called waters, in Scripture language; and therefore, figuratively speaking, to make Nineveh dry like a wilderness, may signify depopulating her. Or the words may be taken literally; for “Rauwolff observes, in his Travels, that on this side the river Tigris, in Mesopotamia, the ground is so sandy and dry, that you would think you were in the middle of the deserts of Arabia.” — Prid. Con., Ann. 612 and 626. And flocks shall lie down, &c., all the beasts of the nations — The several kinds of wild beasts that are in the country. What is said in this verse, is descriptive of a place lying in ruins and desolation; for in such a case it soon becomes a haunt of wild beasts and birds of every kind. Both the cormorant and the bittern, &c. — Bishop Newcome reads, Both the pelican and the porcupine shall lodge in the carved lintels thereof; observing of the former, “These birds fed in the Tigris, and made their nests in the deserted ruins of the city.” The next clause he renders, A cry shall resound in the window: the raven shall be in the porch. For he shall uncover — Or lay bare, the cedar-work — God will reduce the houses of Nineveh to such a state of desolation, that the floors and ceilings of cedar shall lie open to the injuries of the weather, and to birds to roost and build their nests there. “This reference” (in mentioning cedar-work) “to the former elegance of the city, is finely introduced; and, in the next verse, the grand and affecting description of her desolate state is beautifully contrasted, by her late festivity and pride.”
Zephaniah 2:15. This is the rejoicing city — This is supposed to be said by those who should pass by it after its desolation; that said in her heart, I am, and there is none besides me — Its inhabitants indulged themselves in their ease and pleasures; and they arrived at that degree of presumption, as to fancy that no strength or power could bring them down from the height of grandeur at which they were arrived. Babylon is charged with the same degree of pride and carnal security, Isaiah 47:8. Every one that passeth by her shall hiss, &c. — In astonishment at the condition to which she is reduced: see a like topic, of a great city laid waste, pursued in a train of images full of sublimity and terror, Isaiah 34:11-17.