Zephaniah — Intro and Chapter 1
The great-grandson of King Hezekiah, Zephaniah was part of the royal clan, a near relative to King Manasseh under whose reign he was born. This was the infamous king who drug Judah into every imaginable form of idolatry and desecration of the Temple. During his fifty years of rule, the Law of Moses was virtually forgotten, all available copies confiscated and destroyed. Earlier prophets made it clear this was the last straw with God.
After the brief reign of Amon, Zephaniah stood in the court of Josiah (637-607 BC), the righteous boy king. Nothing hints here whether this was before of after the reforms began, but surely this royal prophet urged them on with youthful zeal. More than likely, Zephaniah is responding to the insincerity of the people in responding to the reforms by simply taking their idolatries underground. Thus, Zephaniah warns it’s too late. While sincere repentance would help a few, the kingdom was forfeit irrevocably.
After identifying himself and asserting his divine calling, Zephaniah proceeds directly with dire warnings. God as Creator could easily wipe away the entire universe with a single thought. More to the point, He was promising the fat and sassy Judeans their days were numbered. Everything they could see would be gone, forgotten. It might as well be the end of the world. In order to cleanse the Land of sin, God had to remove the idols, and that meant everyone bowing down to them would also be destroyed. If you do not render your offerings to Jehovah, you will be the sacrifice He demands instead. The list of idolatrous practices is merely hinted at here in broad summary.
Zephaniah uses the term “the Great Day of the Lord” repeatedly. In popular use, it refers to the blessing of God’s wrath on His enemies, but Judah refused to acknowledge they had become the enemy. So the prophet warns there will be a great feast on that day, and they are the main course on the menu. The assault would begin with the northern edge of the city, since the Babylonians would approach from that direction. Such a massive army would raise a huge cloud of dust visible from a great distance. All the wailing to God in fear would be too little, too late. It was too late to pack up the belongings and flee. All the investments in goods and trade would be swept away by the invaders.
As with the Passover, God would notice who had been faithful, and who had not. He would scour Jerusalem day and night, hoping to find just a few worthy of saving. The rest would be pulled from their hiding places for punishment. It’s almost a play on his own name, as Zephaniah means “the Lord hides” His own from danger. He paints a poetic picture of sorrow upon sorrow as wave upon wave of devastation sweeps over the city. First came the Scythians and their scorched earth methods, then three rounds of Babylonian invasion, each time deporting more people and destroying more of the city. Words could not describe the horrors which awaited those who continued rejecting God’s just demand for their devotion under the Covenant.