I continue to be impressed with Swindoll’s summaries of the books of the prophets in the OT. Read his overview of Zephaniah at this link. https://insight.org/resources/bible/the-minor-prophets/zephaniah
Having read that, let’s do this article! Zephaniah is the great great grandson of the good king Hezekiah of Judah. Zephaniah and Habbakuk are the only two prophets who prophesied only to the southern kingdom of Judah after the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel (722 BC) and yet before the captivity of Judah to Babylon (586 BC). The other. major and minor prophets prophesied to both kingdoms (like Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah) or to Judah some after 586 BC (like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) or to some foreign nation (like Jonah, Nahum). He prophesied probably in the latter period of Josiah (some think about 630 BC), still before the fall of Assyria to Babylon in 612 BC (2:13 he predicts the fall of Assyria so it had not fallen yet). He also predicts the judgment of many other nations which would apparently be in the future at the hands of the Babylonians as they took world power from the Assyrians. Josiah was a good king of Judah whose reforms led to the discovery of the book of the Law of Moses which had been lost due to idolatry and neglect. Josiah had the book read to all the people and called on them to repent. Maybe Zephaniah is following up on that.
Zephaniah 1:7 [e]Be silent before the Lord [f]God! For the day of the Lord is near. 1:14 Near is the great day of the Lord, Near and coming very quickly;
Listen, the day of the Lord!” The day of the Lord is a day of judgment on Judah. The Babylonians would carry the first captives to Babylon in 606 BC, the second captives in 596 BC, and the last group in 586 BC when they destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple. So indeed the day of the Lord was near and coming very quickly. The NT writers talk about a day of the Lord, a judgment day on the nation of Israel, and the 2nd coming of Jesus as being “near” (Revelation 1:3; 2:10; James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7), “in a very little while” (Hebrews 10:37). Jesus had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and judgment on the Jews that the Romans would fulfill in 70 AD (Matthew 24) within the generation of those to whom he was speaking (Matthew 24:34). Jesus even predicted His coming while some to whom he was speaking would still be alive. I am amazed when people say that the word “near” could be “near in God’s time frame” and thus thousands of years since “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years ” (2 Peter 3:8). A day in God’s time frame is like a thousand years, or even a million years, since He is not bounded by time. But when Zephaniah or the NT writers predicted a day of the Lord that was near, he/they were not speaking in God’s time frame. It is obvious that he/they were speaking in the time frame of the people he/they were speaking to.
But back to this judgment that was imminent when Zephaniah prophesied. The people of Judah were worshiping idols, even the god Milcom (probably the god of the Ammonites). They might even have offered their first born to the god Molech (of the Moabites) as the evil king Manasseh of Judah did. God will judge them and send them into Babylonian captivity for 70 years (606-536 BC) to stop their idolatry. It is interesting that, while the Jews who later returned from captivity still were very sinful and disobedient to God (Malachi is a good picture of this), there is no mention of idolatry among the Jews after their captivity in Babylon all the way down to the times of Jesus. This cessation of idolatry was important to the coming of Jesus in the first century AD. At least the Jews in Jesus’ time were still believing in the one true God, Yahweh, and not idolatrous. That would have made it much more difficult when Jesus came as the Son of God (which god?), or when he claimed to be equal to the Father (John 5:18), or when Thomas called him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28-29). If they were still idolatrous, the thought would be, “which god”?
In chapter 3, he condemns their princes, judges, prophets, and priests. Josiah’s reforms had helped, but the corruption within Judah and her leadership was too deeply rooted to have a grass roots revival that might spare her from God’s judgment. But there are some who are “humble and lowly” (3:12). There will also be a remnant (2:7,9; 3:13) for whom God will “restore your fortunes” (2:7; 3:20). We know a remnant did return from Babylonian captivity in 536 BC (actually 3 returns to rebuild the temple, reform the keeping of the Law, and the rebuilding of the walls). This might be what Zephaniah is referring to.
So what application do we get from this book, if any? We might look at the corruption in the leadership and people in our nation that was once built on Christian values. We might wonder if God is about ready to send some judgment on our country. Or we might look at God’s people, the Christians, and the churches in this great country. Have we become idolatrous with the worship of pleasure, or our possessions, our materialism and greed, our hobbies, our careers? Has the leadership within the church become corrupt? I mean, we are talking about the sins of God’s people and yet today even some church leaders are telling God’s people that things like homosexuality, gay marriages, etc. are not even sinful! We are trying to get God’s people to obey God’s word and yet some church leaders are telling God’s people that the writings of the NT are not really the words of God, just the words of men. 1 Thessalonians 2: 13 “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” The church has often become more like a religious business to be run with big budgets and professional staffs and expensive buildings. May God help us to humble ourselves and return to God.