Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. Woe to you who live by the sea, you Kerethite people; the word of the Lord is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines. He says, “I will destroy you, and none will be left.” The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks. That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes. – Zephaniah 2:4-7
Today’s passage is talking about a geographic area that is frequently in the news today, the Gaza strip along the Mediterranean Sea. It sounds like God is predicting a change in ownership and perhaps a change in geography. Many of the cities mentioned in this passage are still on the map today cities like Ashdod and Ashkelon. This territory was granted to Israel as part of the 1949 armistice agreement, although it is still a very contentious area.
The water-related part comes toward the middle of the passage when God says “The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks.” I do not know a lot about the soils or agriculture of this area, but in my experience land by the sea is not a good place for pastures or wells. This is primarily because of several factors that are related to proximity to the sea: 1) sandy soils devoid of nutrients; 2) shifting sands and sand dunes which can cover crops; 3) salty soil as a result of salt in the air; and 4) salty groundwater. In order for this areas to become pastures one would have to overcome these problems.
Parts of this area are clearly settled and being farmed today. Some of this is made possible by extensive desalinization plants located near the sea in the Gaza strip. Interestingly one of the largest of Israel’s desalinization plants is located in Ashkelon. About 15,000 to 16,000 cubic meters of seawater is converted into fresh water every hour and provides about 15% of Israels fresh water supply. So this is not exactly a “well” but it certainly is functioning to provide the water needs of a lot of people in the region. The question is whether this is a well the people did not dig or not.
There is apparently also a lot of hydroponic agriculture in this area as well. Farmers sometimes raise fish as part of the closed loop water system to provide both protein and fertilizer from the fish that are raised. Again this is not exactly “shepherds and pens for flocks” but it is close. I suppose one could see the current geography and political boundaries as a fulfillment of the statement “That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.”
I am not saying that the current state of affairs is a fulfillment of this prophecy. I do not know, and I am not going to wade into the deep water and political debate about who owns this land and whether the people of Israel should be there or not. In my experience God is much more interested in breaking down borders and opening doors than creating or maintaining barriers to keep out our neighbors.
I think regardless of who owns the land, and what they are doing with it, the main take home message for me here is in the last sentence of the passage, “The Lord their God will care for them”. What this “care” looks like is open to debate and depends somewhat on the posture and perspective of the person receiving God’s care. I suppose one could argue that the knowledge, wisdom, and skills being used by modern settlers in Israel is a gift from God to allow them to be in this diffuclt to settle land. I think what God desires is that we acknowledge His care and ownership of all that we have regardless of our nationality, religion, or political background. In the end God wins.
Prayer: God everything we have is really Yours, help us to acknowledge Your care and ownership.