Does the Bible speak specifically of Gaza? Peter Sammons considers.
This article is prepared in some haste and does not allow for the detailed assessment I would normally make, but times are moving on so fast and Christians are (legitimately) asking searching questions in true Berean style. So it should be. And I have been specifically asked!
In terms of approaching the future (eschatology) and especially in context of Middle East/Israeli geopolitics, how do we assess Zephaniah’s specific prophecy over Gaza? Where should Christians stand? How should we pray? And what might be our clarion message to the disbelieving world? The relevant text is Zephaniah chapter 2, and especially verses 3 to 5.
The re-tweeted article from Emmaus in this November edition states with some clarity what can be described as an informed, premillennial, Biblical and faithful understanding of the future in its broad prophetic outline. Some people are today wondering whether Zephaniah’s prophecy is about to come true, quite literally. A few on the extreme anti-Israel fringe claim – with vehemence – that either Israel herself, and/or so-called “Zionist Christians”, are pushing the Middle East deliberately and determinedly towards a man-made realization of broad Biblical eschatological truths. Zionist Christians are war mongers, they say …….
Where to start in such a complex and urgent analysis?
Was one of God’s prophets who was called and prophesied to Israel (well, to Judah, to be very precise) about the impending disaster that would overtake Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. Our illustration above reminds us that the Tanach’s prophets were called to warn Israel about the Assyrian judgment, and the later Babylonian judgment. In terms of the Babylonian threat the Bible demonstrates God’s prophetic warnings before (‘pre’), during, and after (‘post’) the judgments foretold.
One straightforward question for the modern Christian is, does all this stuff lie in the past? Are the prophecies all fulfilled and therefore of no current relevance? On the ‘Liberal’ fringe of this in-house Christian debate, this is their stock answer – assuming they believe prophecy at all! Yet many prophecies have a double-life (and in some cases arguably a triple life), with a past outworking (fulfilment) as well as an as yet unrealised future outworking, still awaited. In my 2009 book “The Birth of Christ” it was my privilege, and joy, to reflect on some of the prophecies of Messiah’s birth that were fulfilled more or less immediately at the time the prophecy was given, and yet were realized a second time in all those events we collectively think of as the ‘Christmas story’. Serious students of Biblical prophecy recognise this principle (this truth) of more than one outworking, albeit there may occasionally be challenge and disagreement on precisely how these things work out. Perhaps that is today’s key question in regards to Zephaniah.
So here are my thoughts and prayerful insights as regards the Zephaniah prophecy and its specific reference to Gaza.
Time, gentlemen ….. please!
Some will be aware of this old fashioned ‘chucking out’ signal in the traditional English pub, when the Landlord wants to give his pub-guests a ten minute warning to get out, and after which announcement he will serve no more ‘drinks’. Some befuddled drinkers may have lost track of time and be unaware how close they are to ‘chucking out’!
Regarding Zephania our first key question is, when was Zephania prophesying, and what was the status of Philistia (the Philistines) and of Gaza at that specific time? If I am reading all this correctly (and I think I am!), Philistia was by now largely absorbed into other cultures – they did not remain a vigorous and virile people group in Zephaniah’s day. So why did Zephaniah single-out and include references to them (and to Gaza) as being destined to be laid-waste?
The Israelites of Zephaniah’s time would presumably have understood his reference to Gaza as highlighting a place where the God of Jacob was still not welcomed/worshipped, and so had been thoroughly sidelined because of its past opposition to God Himself. Whilst they were not an existential threat at this time (in contrast to the times of King Saul and King David, when the Philistines were an existential threat) they still represented a memory of a real opposition that might recur. Perhaps there was an insight that the old Philistine enemy would again rear his ugly head and, once again, proudly boast against the God of Israel. That is how Zepheniah’s prophecy might have been received at the time it was made. To that extent, it might have been understood as expressing a spiritual truth in preference to a geopolitical truth.
Some have called Zephaniah a summation of ALL the Old Testament prophets! I can ‘see’ the point they are making. A number of summary headings or ‘key points’ have been made by scholars about Zephaniah. I find David Pawson’s headings to be helpful. Pawson perceives these key contours:
Foreign religion (1:4 – 2:3); Foredoomed regions (2:4-15); and Future redemption (3:1-20). As regards the regions Pawson subdivides these into: *the West (Philistia (2:4-7); *the East (Moab and Ammon (2:8-11); *the South (Egypt and Ethiopia) (2:12); and *the North (Assyria) (2:13-15). Perhaps they key for us today is that Israel’s enemies were then at all points of the compass. Does that ring any bells today?
Assyria had already absorbed the northern Kingdom of Israel (remember Zephaniah was prophesying ahead of the as yet unrealized threat of Babylon, and Babylon’s threat to the southern kingdom of Judah), so his reference to challenges at all points of the compass lay towards the future. Did Babylon invade the old and tired lands of Philistia and ‘Gaza’? Yes they did, but this does not seem to have been what Zephaniah had in mind, especially when we consider that his entire prophecy is focused on “that day” when God would wipe away everything from the face of the Earth (see 1:2). And God’s sweeping-away would be energised first and foremost, and finally, because of the World’s opposition to His chosen people.
The God of Jacob
This understanding gives us much more confidence to assert that Zephaniah’s prophecy had a near-term outworking – being the impending Judah capture and exile at the hands of the Babylonians, as well as a far-term outworking, arguably in our future, and as yet unrealized today.
Is God a God of judgment who ‘sends’ wars and woes? The answer here is simultaneously ‘yes’ and ‘no’. There is no simple nor simplistic answer. And we must avoid the trite and simplistic answers given by some. But most serious and biblically astute Christians are well enough aware that a time of unprecedented trouble is coming to this World (see the Revelation of John, and See Matthew chapter 24) and that these troubles will be energised by demonic opposition to God’s people generally, and to Israel specifically.
Given that today the ‘Palestinian’ question has become the World’s focus, and Gaza is presently the world’s ‘darling’, so we might well see that opposition to the God Who most closely identifies Himself as the God of Jacob [see next paragraph ] will entail the final overturning of Gaza, which was historically the capital town of Philistia.
[ “The God of Jacob is our refuge.” Psalm 46:7. This divine title—”The God of Jacob”—is found at least fourteen times in the Old Testament; and in addition, three times as “The mighty God of Jacob.” Such frequent repetition indicates a deep significance, and suggests valuable lessons for us to learn. We never read of the God of Moses, the God of Joshua—or the God of Solomon! Why then does God identify Himself with Jacob? What is there in the Lord’s dealings with this man, which might suggest to us the import of this title? What is the particular significance of this expression which occurs and recurs through the Psalms as a familiar refrain? Since Jacob was renamed Israel, surely the real reason is that God identifies first and foremost with his chosen people Israel. Opposition to the God of Israel therefore inevitably entails opposition to the God of Jacob. ]
Given these insights, it is entirely possible that Gaza may be laid waste. I do not write that with any sense of ‘satisfaction’ nor eager anticipation, but a dispassionate analysis suggests to the eyes of faith that a reckoning is going to happen sooner or later. Hamas (see other articles in this November edition) has made it crystal clear it exists to wipe out Eretz Israel. And the world at large has chosen to combine with Hamas in this ambition.
Today’s unfolding tragedy in Gaza might presage a false peace where the world (through its so-called United Nations) pressures Israel to accept terms seemingly to guarantee it safety and a place to worship, but which will ultimately prove false. Daniel 9:27 is often cited as the ‘proof text’ indicating this future event. From today’s perspective it may be years, yet, before the Daniel chapter 9 prophecies become our today. But I concur with others that whatever else emerges from the present unfolding tragedy in Israel, and in Gaza, we are undoubtedly today living in Biblical times. And time is running out.
A Christian comment
Where should Christians stand? How should we pray? And what might be our clarion message to the disbelieving world? “Christians” have a history of anti-Semitism, sadly. Will the institutional churches side with Gaza at this time? The answer here seems to be broadly ‘yes’ – the institutional churches have found yet another convenient excuse to hate Israel. How should we pray? Of course we should pray for peace – but peace with righteousness. Our clarion message to the world at large? This should be to get serious with God – time is undoubtedly running out.
Of Zephaniah’s prophecy? We might well ask ourselves, what does all this mean to me, and to you, and to the unsaved world at large? Surely it means that more trouble is definitely coming, and that we shall need to decide where we stand as regards Jesus. One day Jesus WILL return as judge and at the absolute crisis of all history. When He comes to judge, where will you stand? Who will argue on your behalf? Surely today, this is the day of salvation. If you have not made peace with Jesus yet, then NOW is the time. Do not delay!
Psalm 2:12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
2 Corinthians 6: 2 For He says: “In the acceptable time I listened to you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is the time of favour; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Peter Sammons recently published “Last Days and End Times – Making the Connection”. His book is freely available as a PDF here: https://christian-publications-int.com/images/PDF/LastDays.pdf
The book can be bought as a traditional paper copy here: https://christian-publications-int.com/Last_Days_and_End%20Times.html