Zephaniah 2

We’re invited to gather as a nation – as Judah around Jerusalem – before we are blown away and scattered as a consequence of this ‘day of God’. Seek God, seek humility, seek humbleness – remember Micah 6:1-8? You are not called to win some war of ‘me and my army’ against ‘them or theirs’, but to hope to hide.

Look south and west, to the Gaza strip, also known as Philistia – the bustling trade routes and harbours of the sea-coast will have so little traffic that sheep can graze. I recall a broker friend’s observation that in market recessions, Bay Street is just a bit quieter a bit longer in the morning or evening.

Look north and east, to Moab and Ammon, across Jordan, nearer the King’s highway of caravan trade. Those folks also looked down on the ‘hill people’ between them and the coast – but lived just upstream from the Dead Sea, the salt flats associated with the tale of fire and brimstone, Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now zoom back on your Google Earth screen, and hear the oracles against the nations, from Cush up the Nile into Africa, to Assyrian Nineveh and the Tigris Euphrates basin. Beasts and birds, carrion eaters, take over the formerly glorious cities – so who thought Jerusalem was more special?

Think of some post-apocalyptic movie you’ve seen, centuries after the nuclear war, as the barbarians traipse among the artifacts of technology. Was it utopian or dystopian, this meadow? It had its roots here, in the visions of Zephaniah of civilization or culture being razed, and covered with pastoral land.

Zephaniah 2 (NRSV)

1 Gather together, gather, O shameless nation,

2 before you are driven away like the drifting chaff,* before there comes upon you the fierce anger of the LORD, before there comes upon you the day of the LORD’s wrath.

3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the LORD’s wrath.

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.