Continuing on in verse 12-15 we see what Zephaniah says to the last 2 nations we will study this week. “You Ethiopians (Cushites, Cush was the son of Ham, cursed by Noah as a result of his father’s sin after the flood) You Ethiopians also, You shall be slain by My sword.” 13 And He will stretch out His hand against the north, Destroy Assyria, And make Nineveh a desolation, As dry as the wilderness. 14 The herds shall lie down in her midst, Every beast of the nation. Both the pelican and the bittern Shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars; Their voice shall sing in the windows; Desolation shall be at the threshold; For He will lay bare the cedar work. 15 This is the rejoicing city That dwelt securely, That said in her heart, “I am it, and there is none besides me.” How has she become a desolation, A place for beasts to lie down! Everyone who passes by her Shall hiss and shake his fist.”
Here to the south of Israel, in Egypt, the Ethiopians and the Egyptians planned to take land of Israel but the Assyrians stopped them and destroyed them and also took Israel for themselves. Then Assyria was attacked by the Babylonians and destroyed and Judah was taken into captivity.
God says the Ethiopians will be judged and so will the Assyrians, making the capital city of Assyria, Nineveh, a desolation, dry as the wilderness. Let me describe Nineveh to you. There were 2 walls around the city. The inner wall was 100 feet high, 8 miles around, and wide enough that 3 chariots could ride side by side on top all the way around the city. They had springs and water works, an elaborate canal system and other incredible feats of architecture. Fourteen gates, twelve hundred towers, they thought no one could ever touch them. And yet the threat is that they will be as dry as the wilderness.
God quotes them. The city of Nineveh said, “I am it, and there is none beside me!” The pride – the arrogance.
Who was there in Nineveh? Remember that they had at one time had a revival? One hundred years before this, again, when Amos was prophesying. Another minor prophet named Jonah was sent by God to go preach to Nineveh. God said He was going to save the city. He told Jonah to go. He went the opposite direction, got into a ship, and sailed away. After a storm he was thrown overboard and a great fish swallowed him and after 3 days and a repentant prayer, that fish threw him up on the shore and he went to Nineveh where he still reluctantly preached through the entire city. As he does people immediately begin repenting and turning to the Lord! And he gets to the other side and complains and asks God why He saved the people.
Nahum came after Jonah, and he had a word for Nineveh also. He warned the city that after the revival and the great move of God through the city they were now turning back to their idols and paganism. He told them that if they did not repent and return to the Lord as they had after the preaching of Jonah then the judgment that God threatened through Jonah was going to come to pass and be even worse than was first threatened. Amos repeats Nahum’s judgments, and now so does Zephaniah 100 years later.
Guess what happened in 612 BC to Nineveh? While Josiah and Zephaniah were both still alive. The Babylonians attacked and destroyed Nineveh. And do you know that for centuries the only historical evidence for Nineveh was the Bible. No one could find the ruins of this great city or believed there were great leaders like Sennacherib, Ashurbanipal, and others.
It wasn’t until the 1820s that the ruins were discovered outside the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. And everything that the Bible says about Assyria and Nineveh has been verified by artifacts and finds. This massive city, the greatest city in the world in Zephaniah’s day, was judged and disappeared for over 2500 years. God buried them in the desert, just as He said He would do. His Word came to pass because His Word is true.
For us, in this judgment against the arrogant nations who rivaled the people of God, we find a few lessons.
First we need to start where chapter 2 starts. Seek the Lord. Seek righteousness. Seek humility. Pursue, desire, long for walking with the Lord, being right by the standard of His Word, and being humble. It isn’t about us! It is about Him. In contradiction to Nineveh, God says, “I am the Lord and there is no other.”
Secondly, learn to recognize the judgment of God upon our own nation. Don’t think that all the sin, abortion, violence, injustice – don’t think these bring God’s judgment – they are God’s judgment. When God judges a nation He turns them over to be consumed by their sin.
Also don’t think that a few drops of mercy in the midst of judgment mean that the judgment is over. God will at times intersperse drops of mercy in times of wrath – even Jesus did not carry the cross all the way to Golgotha. Don’t think because things are looking up that things are actually better. Until we as a nation repent and see genuine revival in our churches we can be sure of one thing – God is righteously judging us.
When God roars in judgment His people are called to gather together. And keep in mind that the wicked of this world are not our true enemies – they are our mission as God has His people there in every tribe from every tongue. Who knows where we will find a Ruth, or a Rahab?
As God judges, let us not seek our own comfort and safety. When the great missionary CT Studd was asked about where he wanted to serve in missions, he said that he did not want a nice, safe, pleasant mission station. He said he would prefer a station set up 10 feet in front of the gates of hell. The gospel, you see, is not a second chance. It is the last chance – the only way to be spared the judgment of God. Wicked men and wicked nations will be judged. We will rejoice in the justice and righteousness of God. But we also should be prepared to preach to sinners the great news of the gospel.
As Spurgeon said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let none go unwarned and unprayed for.”
The people were called to gather together now these 100 years after Amos. And it was less than a generation before these things started to happen with the destruction of Nineveh and exile in Babylon. Many of those who heard Zephaniah preach this message saw the fulfillment with their own eyes. Time is short. When it comes to judgment, time is short. Today is the day of salvation. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Seek Him now because at some point it will be too late. It will be too late.