Zephaniah 2:8–11 illuminates that a day is coming in which believers will no longer be taunted, insulted or reviled for their faith in God; and to this end it uses the people of Moab and Ammon – clear enemies of God’s people – as a type (or example) of what will one day happen to all such people who act like them.
But before speaking of judgment in this passage, God first brings the spotlight on Himself. He tells Judah that He has “heard” (verse 8). This is a profound statement to make; for against the backdrop of the ancient Near East (ANE) where gods were bound to geography, this statement of Yahweh proves His transcendence. Furthermore, since gods were tied to a specific country, they could not see what happened outside of that country. Yet, here is Yahweh saying to His people that He knows what the people of Moab and Ammon are saying and doing to them. Before God acts, He wants Judah to know that He is the God who hears all and knows all. The taunts of Moab and Ammon have not escaped the sovereign King.
Now what exactly has the Lord “heard”? He has heard “the taunts of Moab and the revilings of the Ammonites” (verse 8). In particular, these neighboring countries to the east have been ridiculing Judah for her lack of size. They have continually boasted that they are so much greater in comparison to Judah; and this is certainly an offense in God’s eyes. God is angry that His people are being so belittled. For God loves His people so much that He will not tolerate any attack against them, even verbal attacks. What a reassuring truth for us even today!
Indeed, the judgment that God pronounces on Moab and the Ammonites in verse 9 show just how grave their offense is. God is going to completely obliterate these two nations. He promises that, “Moab will become like Sodom and the Ammonites lie Gomorrah.” Do you remember what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis. They were utterly destroyed by “burning sulfur” (Genesis 19:24); and, not just the cities, but also “the vegetation in the land” too (Genesis 19:25). In the same way, Moab and Ammon will be consumed by God’s wrath and what will remain of them is nothing but weeds and salt pits. This infertile wasteland will then be given over to Judah, to “plunder” and “possess” (Zephaniah 2:9) whatever is left. This is what God does to those who insult His children!
The gravity of His anger against such a crime is reiterated in verses 10 and 11. God explains further that it was because of “pride” (verse 10) that Moab and Ammon “taunted and boasted against the people of the Lord of hosts” (verse 10). Moreover, He links their pride to their worship of false gods; and, if God is to utterly crush the pride of these peoples, He must also completely destroy their gods. The way in which the LORD enumerates this in Zephaniah 2:11 is by cutting off their (the gods’) food supply. This is a jab at their petty, human-made gods that need to eat. You see, in the ANE, it was believed that the gods ate what the people prepared for them. In other words, the gods were dependent on humans for sustenance. So Yahweh is going to shrink the foreign gods by devastating the food supply. As a result, their gods will become thin and starve.
The effect of all this is that Yahweh will prove that He and He alone is God. This is why all the lands of the nations will “bow down, each in its place” (verse 11) before Him. They will witness God’s judgment against Moab and Ammon and give Him due reverence. So while this passage certainly deals with shutting the mouths of our enemies, the real focus is God; the one and only God, who is also our loving and protective Father, and who does not tolerate His children being reviled.
For us today this does not mean that God will immediately destroy everyone who speaks ill of Christians. Yet, God will indeed vindicate His people who are ridiculed, mocked, and even persecuted for bearing the name of Christ. This vindication very likely will not come in this lifetime, but when Jesus returns, God will certainly vindicate His people. In the meantime, Christians today are called to love those who hate them; to do good to those who ridicule them. For vengeance belongs to the Lord.