Zephaniah prophesied “in the days of Josiah” (1:1), between 641-610 BC. Not only was Zephaniah of the tribe of Judah, but his ancestry was of royal blood. His great-great-grandfather was king Hezekiah (727-698 BC).
Zephaniah warned, “the great day of the LORD is near,” a day of noise and wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of trumpet and alarm (1:14-16).
Several prophets revealed Babylon as the destroyer who would come upon them, yet Zephaniah makes no mention of Nebuchadnezzar or his men. It is not that he did not know, rather, his focus was on the Lord’s role in this judgment. The Chaldeans were a tool in God’s hand to judge His people for their sin (1:17); for idolatry (1:4-6), for violence and deceit (1:9), for complacency (1:12),
Zephaniah repeatedly mentions “the day” when the Lord will accomplish this, when the judgment would come (1:7, 8, 9, 10, 14; 15, 16, 18; 2:2, 3; 3:8, 11, 16). He urged the people to make themselves right with God, to seek the LORD, to seek righteousness and humility—for they (a remnant of the people) would be spared from the Lord’s anger (2:3).
In chapter 2, the prophet expands the list of those who will fall in judgment before the Lord. Judah had acted like the nations and would judged among them—the Philistines (2:4-7), the Moabites (2:8-9), the Ammonites (2:8-9), the Ethiopians (2:12), even the mighty Assyrians (2:13). They would be judged for “…their pride, because they have reproached and made arrogant threats against the people of the LORD of hosts” (2:10).
In chapter 3, the prophet gave more detail about why Judah and Jerusalem would be judged and destroyed. They were rebellious, disobedient, distant from God, their leaders were like ravenous beasts, their prophets were insolent and treacherous, their priests had polluted the sanctuary and ignored the law (3:1-4). Therefore, because of their corruption, God would cut His own people off along with the nations; He would pour out His indignation and devour them with fire (3:6-8).
However, the Lord’s purpose was not destruction alone, but also purification. In 3:9 we read, “…then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD…” Zephaniah foretells the restoration of Judah and reestablishment of the city following the captivity. The Lord “will bring you back” and “return your captives” (3:20), but there is something greater in view—the establishment of the messianic kingdom. All would serve the LORD with one accord, even worshippers from pagan lands (3:9-10). They are pictured as meek and humble people who trust in the LORD (3:11-12), who neither do nor speak evil things (3:13), but declare the praises of God (3:14). He would remove their enemies and be the strength and salvation of His people (3:15-17) and He would exalt His people in the land (3:19-20).
Our next book summary will be on Haggai…