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. — Zephaniah 2:15
If you were to drive in the area about fifty miles south of Lake Tahoe in California, near the Nevada border, you would come across a town that has, indeed, become a “desolation” and “a place for beasts to lie down in.”
Bodie, California, became a boom town in 1877, and by 1879, it had a population of around ten thousand and boasted about two thousand buildings. Sadly, the town was renowned for its wickedness. Murders were a commonplace occurrence. Robberies, stage holdups, and street fights were daily events, and the town’s sixty-five saloons contributed to the problem. Seven breweries were kept busy day and night to supply liquor to the saloons, and whisky was brought in by horse carriages, one hundred barrels at a time. The Reverend F. M. Warrington, who visited the town in 1881, described it as “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempest of lust and passion.” One little girl, whose family planned a visit to the infamous town, wrote in her diary: “Good-bye God, I’m going to Bodie.” That phrase became famous throughout the West.(1)
However, the boom was over in just a few short years, and by 1882, the town of Bodie was declining. The mines in the area were going bad, and companies went bankrupt. Two fires blazed through the business district, ravaging the area. Bodie eventually faded into a ghost town.
In today’s focus verse, the prophet Zephaniah foretold the destruction of the great city of Nineveh. Nineveh was far bigger than a western boom town — it more accurately could be compared to Washington D.C., Baghdad, or Tokyo. In spite of its notoriety and seeming invincibility, this wicked city was destroyed so completely that its existence was even questioned until proven by archeological finds.
What lesson can we derive from Zephaniah’s prophecy and its fulfillment some ten years later? Simply this: judgment will come upon the wicked. God does not take sin lightly, and it will be punished. However, we can determine in our hearts to be part of the faithful remnant who humbly worship and obey the living God, and thus escape divine wrath and retribution!
In this passage, God’s ire was directed at the countries that surrounded Judah, which also were her enemies. The countries cited in the passage were Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, and Assyria. God’s expectation of holiness and righteousness extends to all nations. By sending His warning of impending punishment, God was reminding the people that He alone is God of all, and they would be subject to His judgment if they refused to accept His mercy.
The Philistines were Judah’s neighbor to the west along the Mediterranean Sea. These people were sworn enemies of Judah, and had fought with her constantly. The best known of such conflicts was the battle between David and Goliath. The Philistines frequently attempted to seize Judah’s land, and practically barred her access to the sea. In verse 4, God pronounced judgment on the Philistines’ four major coastal cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron. These four cities, along with Gath (Goliath’s home city), formed the confederation of the Philistines and were the pride of her existence. In addition to proclaiming their destruction, God said He would cause Judah to possess the Philistine’s land, including the strategic sea coasts.
The judgment pronounced on Ammon and Moab came in tandem, probably because their transgressions were similar. Moab and Ammon bordered Judah on the east side across the Dead Sea. Moab was directly on the opposite side of the sea to Judah, while Ammon was to the northeast. Like Philistia, the two nations were always at odds with Judah. They reproached and taunted the Kingdom of Judah and her God. Zephaniah foretold that God would destroy the two nations for their sins, and make them wastelands like Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophet gave a poignant picture of what they would become: desolate like the Dead Sea. God would also give their land to the people of Judah to possess.
The judgment upon Ethiopia was brief and not specific regarding its sin. God had a record, though, and would make the people suffer by the sword. The Ethiopia mentioned here is not present-day Ethiopia, but the Cushite dynasties that ruled Egypt at the time. They were referred to as “Ethiopians.” In effect, this judgment was directed at Egypt, Judah’s distant southern neighbor.
The last of the nations to receive judgment was Assyria, Judah’s neighbor to the far north. Located in present-day Iraq with Nineveh as its capital city, Assyria, along with Egypt, was a superpower of that era. The city was acclaimed as one of the wonders of the world of that period. It controlled immense wealth as the trade hub between the East and West, because the Tigris River served as the vital link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. God’s judgment was that Nineveh would become a desolate place and a wilderness. Instead of a bustling and prosperous city filled with people and activity, animals would inhabit it. This would be a terrible desolation.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The Day of Jehovah’s judgment
C. Judgment upon the surrounding nations (2:4-15)
1. Upon Philistia (2:4-7)
2. Upon Moab and Ammon (2:8-11)
3. Upon Ethiopia (2:12)
4. Upon Assyria (2:13-15)
There are consequences for wickedness! God’s punishment is sure to come to pass if His warnings are ignored.
1. Bodie State Historic Park, “Bodie, California,” <https://americanwest.com/pages/bodie.htm> 6 Nov. 2009.