God Deals with His Enemies

Zephaniah 2:4-15

One kind of criticism aimed at Bible and what it teaches about God focuses on OT narrative. According to that view, God is portrayed in OT as harsh, vengeful, using various means to slaughter hordes of people he didn’t like. Give as examples: Flood, first Passover, crossing of Red Sea, conquest of Canaan… then prophecies / promises like present text. Might not go quite as far in criticizing God but many evangelicals contrast mean, brutal God of OT with loving, forgiving God of NT.

Might at quick glance appear to be POV with some merit, but does it hold up to closer inspection? Know from God’s declaration of name to Moses some of attributes God thought important:

“The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”Ex. 34:6-7

Was that way God was only toward his people, saving rest for enemies? part about “by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” Clearly people of God given far more attention in Bible than other people groups. Does not mean should judge how much contact existed between peoples by how often mentioned in Biblical accounts. Also important to remember in those days people / nations not as particular about precise national boundaries as today. Sheep / camels / cows don’t read maps, those tending them mostly figured out how to coexist peacably with neighbors in spite of other details.

One more particular: international highway ran length of Israel. One of major trade routes between Persian Gulf area and Africa with connections to Silk Road passed along eastern coast of Mediterranean. Trade routes also served as communication paths between peoples and lands. Was God’s purpose that Israel be light to nations, not light under a bushel. Strategically placed for that role. Had their moments during history as nation when they did it well, other times not so much. Important to keep in mind: every one of these people groups singled out here knew who the true God really was, knew who his people were. And… though Zephaniah’s warning primarily for Jews, Gentiles could have responded and God would have received them too.

A. west – Philistia v.4-7

name and place

name means “migrant” – came from away, had presence in Philistia from around time of Abraham, settled in general area (coastal plain) we know as Gaza Strip

were five major cities, four named in v.4, Gath being the fifth – Gath the home of Goliath, place where ark of covenant taken for a time

religious influence

Philistines ongoing source of irritation to Jews, taking territory from them then “losing” it back; enslaved Jews on several occasions during time of Judges

much mingling between Jew and Philistine, enough so much of Philistine worship rubbed off on Jews to displeasure of God; was certainly opportunity for influence to go in other direction, at least on individual level

and… don’t forget outcome of capture of ark – thorough humiliation of their own god Dagon – clearly evident which God was superior

crimes

most notable among them during time of minor prophets: signfiicant involvement in human trafficking described by prophet Amos

in days of Judges, were responsible for convincing Jews of benefits from worshiping idols: “Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him.” Judg. 10:6

notice Philistines persisted in their own idol worship and drew God’s people away from worshiping true God… in face of truth accompanied by evidence… for generations

housecleaning

Philistines some of enemies Hebrew children most fearful of, significant part of reason for spies’ discouraging report, subsequent 40-year stay in desert

among those Jews failed to drive out when conquering Canaan – Judg. 1:9 – now God promises to finish task, give land to his people… the faithful remnant

B. east – Moab and Ammon v.8-11

heritage

enemies of God and his people from beginning – had roots in conflict between Abraham and Lot, really based on worldview

Moab and Ammon the offspring of Lot and daughters after destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – much more of city culture in daughters than might expect in ones who agreed to flee

in later years Moab not without godly influence – Elimelech and family, perhaps others went to Moab during famine, brought back at least one convert we know about

behavior

is one thing to have different worldview, belief system, and mind own business – you do your thing, I’ll do mine, live and let live

descendants of these two were activists – ridiculing Jews and Jewish God, refusing to give passage after deliverance from Egypt

arrogantly did all they could to impose their belief system on Jewish people – tolerance not enough, tried to require acceptance

God’s response

their pride would have payback – same kind of outcome as S & G – land made barren and unproductive, people disappear from historical record

once again true God would demonstrate total and absolute superiority over gods of mankind’s making just as did in Egypt

God tolerated their arrogant pride for nearly 1000 years, gave countless opportunities to hear truth and respond, would delay no longer but deal decisively with enemies of righteousness

–slight break in action of God’s judgment for him to declare purpose and result: God intends to be worshiped from every corner of earth – will be a believing remnant preserved through his acts of judgment up to and including that on Great Day

C. south – Ethiopia v.12

location

probably represented end of world going south to Zephaniah – God making clear through prophet that his judgment would have global scope and effect, no exaggeration

not only no escaping God’s righteous judgment, no part of earth left out of Gospel presence or his purifying work

aggression

had sent massive army more than once to conquer Israel during time of Rehoboam, sent million-man army when Asa was king

would eventually be under rule of Ahashuerus and his 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia… according to God’s divine plan

even Ethiopians had contact with people of God, opportunity for good influence from time of Moses – he married one (Num. 12:1)

like all others, wilfully rejected good opportunities God graciously gave – refused to live according to light they had, would reap harvest of their rebellion

D. north – Assyria v.13-15

judgment deferred

had visitation from God’s prophet Jonah little more than 100 years earlier – heard warning of judgment, responded right way

should have expected if they went back to old ways, all bets were off as far as God’s response – likely what he threatened then would come about

tells something about God’s expectations on individual level – true repentance and saving faith has permanent effect, no relapse

epitome of self-delusion

in some ways goes beyond simple atheism, idea that need no god – Assyrians decided they could make their own god, the king

in reality, each thought himself his own god: “I am, and there is none besides me.” cp. Isa. 45:6 “That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other;”

put absolute trust in themselves, their army, local and national defenses, reputation for unthinkably barbaric treatment of enemies

believed because of size and wealth and power were invincible, especially walled city of Nineveh – thought had nothing to fear

enduring example

would not only lose the city, would lose the empire as well – Nineveh fell 612 BC, Assyrian empire 609 BC at Battle of Carchemish

city of affluence and excess surrounded by nations in abject poverty so thoroughly destroyed some not rediscovered for 25 centuries or more

Battle one still studied in war colleges – good example of how seemingly invincible force can be overcome by right strategy… as we know, inspired by God, of course

A number of take-away’s from text like this. God wins. God knows what his enemies the enemies of his people are up to, will deal with them decisively according to his perfect plan. In all things, God has his glory and good of his people in view, does all things to that end. God is committed to preparing place for his people, preparing his people for that place. No matter how dire circumstances look, can count on God to take care of us. Not true for everyone. Means while we are resting in comfort of that knowledge should be warning the lost about their danger, showing them way to safety.

 

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