Zephaniah lives in a time of decay and rapidly changing world, to which, the savage horde of Scythians poured onto the plains of South Russia and instilled fear into the hearts of the Palestinian people. They were cruel, bloodthirsty, fearless, and ruthless people who drove on toward Egypt. Such merciless behavior only created more panic in the hearts of men, and the great Assyrian power that had absolute rule was not losing its grip. Nineveh was yet destroyed, and Babylon was really the mistress of the nations. The union of the Medes, Scythians, and the Babylonians caused a mighty upheaval in the land.
Then, we see Josiah come to the throne in Jerusalem following the deaths of Manasseh and Amon. They had converted the nation to heathenism, and now the task of Josiah was to clean the Temple and turn the people back to God. A book was found, which was part of the Pentateuch, and it gave directions that made a big impression on the King and people. Zephaniah and Jeremiah had played a big part in the reformation; encouraging Josiah in his ambition and that helped stir the people up to carry out the King’s orders.
He presents the “terror and tenderness” of divine love, as we see in 1:2, “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.” Also, 3:17, “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” Zephaniah pictures Christ as, “The Lord in the Midst,” as we see in 1:8 for example, “And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.” He also pictures Christ as, “The King of Israel,” as we see in Zephaniah 3:15, “The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.”
Zephaniah, unlike other prophets, was not a spokesperson for the poor, but rather, he was an aristocrat who didn’t have a voice for the everyday peasant. His name means, “The hidden Jehovah.” He was a silver-tongued orator and graphically foretold the doom of Nineveh. This came shortly after the beginning of his ministry. With a scathing eloquence, he denounced much idolatry, which was swept away at the reform of Josiah. Many Biblical scholars believe that it was Zephaniah who was the principal agent of God behind the scenes of the reform, bringing back Godly concepts to the nation. He had a grim, albeit sober nature that gained him the term, “puritan” or “protestant.” He was obsessed with the conception of the doom that was coming upon the wickedness. He blistered with his words princes, prophets, and other people for their unrestrained wickedness and lack of true, sincere worship of God. He was not a poet, but was sensitive to the faintest whisper of God – therewith imagination and emotion played a great part in his preaching.
He said that He would utterly consume all things from off the land, which includes man and beast, fowls of the heaven, fish, and the obstacles with the wicked. He also said He would cut off man from the land and stretch his hand toward Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He said He will additionally cut off the remnant of Baal from this place and the name of the Chemarims with the priests, those that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops, those that worship and that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham. Those that are turned back from the Lord and those who have not sought the Lord or enquired for Him shall also be cut off.
God’s people may have been previously sorrowful for the punishments upon them, now they will have joy, as they dwell together with God, their King – especially without fear or judgment. However, they are not to be lazy or discourage, but rather, alert and full of confidence. Defeat shall be replaced by victory, and God will take away their shame – to which, in His Love, He shall give them new life. Exiles will be gathered from the lands of their oppression and be established again in their own land. Therefore, under God’s rule, they will share with him in receiving praise from the whole earth!