After the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B. C. the Southern Kingdom of Judah plodded along. Eight of its kings were godly, but the rest were a worthless lot. The prophet Zephaniah was probably born during the reign of one of the most worthless of these rulers, Manasseh. He was an extremely wicked king and ruled Judah for 53 years. The people were often enamored with Baal worship but Manasseh brought this evil to a new level by officially endorsing it and allowing many of its practices to be incorporated into the worship of the Lord. Even though it is noted in Chronicles that Manasseh repented during the end of his reign, "the people still sacrificed at the high places" (2 Chron. 33:17). One of the effects of this evil diversion was to all but squelch the voice of the Lord's prophets. But a warning call needed to be sounded as a time of judgment was coming and Zephaniah was in the first wave of this movement. Along with Nahum, Habakkuk and Jeremiah (a lengthy span of time as they did not prophesy all at the same time), a forceful message and eleventh hour warning had a positive effect on Manasseh's grandson Josiah who ruled from 640-609 B. C. His reforms came after Zephaniah's ministry, but for a brief time, the evil of Baal worship was purged from the land.
What is interesting to note about Zephaniah is his credentials which are listed prominently at the beginning of the book. While some scholars believe there is no way to establish for certain that the Hezekiah mentioned in Zeph. 1:1 is the godly king, it makes no sense that Zephaniah would include his family tree just because he felt like it! So it is generally accepted that this Hezekiah is the king who lived around 70 years before the beginning of Zephaniah's ministry which in turn makes Zephaniah a man of royal blood. The book divides easily into two sections: a time of judgment (1:1-3:8) and a time of blessing (3:9-20). These two sections have on focus in particular- the Day of the Lord and Zephaniah's recorded prophesy is one of the most explicit presentation of this event in all of Scripture.
In the Hebrew culture a day was divided into two segments. The first was a period of darkness. The second was a period light. The day was usually calculated from sundown to sundown. This pattern was established in Genesis (Gen. 1:1-5 etc.). During Creation these two segments were quite literal. But in the view of Zephaniah's prophecy they also involve the activity of God concerning His people and His fallen creation. The period of darkness is a period of judgment whereby sin is purged. The period of light describes God's blessings after He is finished with His spiritual house cleaning. Isaiah's prophecy concerning the Day of the Lord focuses on the period of light (Is. 60). Zephaniah's prophecy concerns the first segment- the time of judgment (Zeph. 1:2-3:7) but concludes by looking forward to that period of light (3:14-20).
There are 6 promises in the form of a psalm of praise which finish Zephaniah's prophecy. By them the goodness of God is shown in the Day of the Lord. First, God will judge the nations and Israel's enemies (3:8, 15, 19). Second, the Gentiles will call on the name of the Lord (3:9). Third, Israel's faithful remnant will be restored (3:12-13, 20). Fourth, Israel's shame will be removed (3:11, 15, 19). Fifth, the people of Israel will be gathered back to the land of their heritage (3:10, 18, 20), and sixth, the Lord will be in Israel's midst (3:15, 17). The Lord confirmed that these promises would come to pass through other prophets and to the disciple John on the island of Patmos many centuries later. Consider the following overview and see which promises they relate to: Is. 65:1; Jer. 32:36-44; Ezek. 36:22-28; Rev. 6:1-8, 12-17, 7:15-17, 8:1-9:21, 14:1-5, 16:1, 18:4, 19:6-7, 20:11-15, 21:3-4, 22:3. Unlike the promises of Jeff's former business partner, God's promises are always fulfilled. The ultimate proof of this is Christ's resurrection (Jn. 2:19-21). So if God brought that to pass (Mt. 28:1-6), He will also fulfill those promises He spoke through Zephaniah.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div. 7/26/2015