Zephaniah proclaims the Day of the Lord, which has its greatest fulfilment at the second coming. God will first discipline but then deliver and restore Israel. All nations will worship God and respect Israel.
This book was written by Zephaniah, a distant cousin of the king, in the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640 to 609 BC). It is likely that it was written after the rediscovery of the scroll of the Law by Hilkiah in 622 BC (2 Kings 22:8). After this, Josiah led Judah in a period of religious revival, and cleansing of the land from idolatry (2 Kings 23). Despite this, 2 Kings 23:26-27 says that God's anger did not subside because of all that Manasseh had previously done, and God still announced that he would spurn Judah, including Jerusalem and its temple, as he had spurned Israel. The reason for this becomes apparent in Zephaniah 3:2, which says of Jerusalem, "She is disobedient; she refuses correction. She does not trust the LORD; she does not seek the advice of her God". Despite Josiah's righteous leadership, the hearts of the people were not greatly changed. Jerusalem refused the correction that Josiah tried to bring, and that God sent their way in the form of the Babylonian deportations of 605 and 597 BC.

The primary theme of the book of Zephaniah is that the Day of the Lord's judgment is coming, followed by his restoration of Israel. The Day of the Lord has an historic fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and perhaps again in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. It also has a greater future fulfilment in the end times in the events associated with the second coming of Jesus (Isaiah 61:2), which is preceded by the fall of Jerusalem to the Antichrist (Zechariah 14:1-2). And at the end of the Millennium, it has further fulfilment in the destruction of the present heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:10) before God unveils the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1). In its historic fulfillments, the Day of the Lord affected Judah and the surrounding nations. In its future fulfillments, it will affect the whole world. Although Zephaniah seems to view the Day of the Lord as a single event, he includes elements of its multiple fulfillments, without clearly distinguishing between them.

Zephaniah 1
In verses 2 to 3, Zephaniah's message begins with an announcement that God will destroy everything from the face of the earth, including people, animals, birds and the fish in the sea. This will be fulfilled at the end of the Millennium when the present earth is burned up and God creates the New Heaven and New Earth (Psalm 102:26, Isaiah 24, Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3:10). There will also be partial fulfilment of this during the trumpet judgments of Revelation 8 and 9, when a third of the earth will be burned up (8:7), a third of the sea creatures destroyed (8:9), and a third of humanity will be destroyed (9:18) during the Great Tribulation.

In verses 4 to 13, God's judgment of Judah and Jerusalem is in view, when God removed Baal worship from the land (v4), as fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonians. God judged their religious syncretism (v4-6), their love of money and corruption (v9-12), and attraction to foreign customs (v8).

Verse 14 announces the Lord's 'great day of judgment', perhaps contrasting with the lesser 'day of judgment' referred to in verse 7. Verses 14 to 18 seem to describe events associated with the second coming (v16) and the battle of Armageddon (v14). The judgments associated with these events will affect the whole earth (v18).

Zephaniah 2
In verses 1 to 3, Zephaniah warns the people of Judah of God's coming judgment, when the day of opportunity will disappear like windblown chaff. At his first coming, Jesus announced the 'year of the Lord's favour', (Luke 4:19 and Isaiah 61:2) but stopped short of proclaiming the 'day of God's vengeance', which is associated with his second coming. Today, we are still in the year of the Lord's favour, which is a time of opportunity to seek the Lord and receive forgiveness. Zephaniah encourages Judah to make the most of this opportunity, to strive to do what is right and to be humble, in the hope that the humble of the land will be protected (literally 'hidden') on the day of judgment. Zephaniah's name means 'The Lord hides', so it is appropriate that he gives Judah the hope of God hiding those who are humble. According to Zechariah 14:2, when Jerusalem falls to the Antichrist, half the city will escape. According to Revelation 12:6, they will escape to a place in the wilderness where God will protect them for 1,260 days, the duration of the Great Tribulation. Of those who remain in occupied Jerusalem, Zechariah 14:2 tells us their women will be raped. But many of them will survive, 'hidden' in God's protection. At the end of the Great Tribulation, Jewish resistance fighters from within occupied Jerusalem are seen to play an important role (Micah 4:13, Zechariah 12:5, 8). Their liberation after the battle of Armageddon is portrayed in Isaiah 52:7-8, "How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains the feet of a messenger who announces peace, a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen, your watchmen shout; in unison they shout for joy, for they see with their very own eyes the Lord’s return to Zion".

Verses 4 to 7 proclaim the destruction of the Philistine cities, and that Judah will take possession of their land after God intervenes for Judah and restores their prosperity. Historically, the Philistines were conquered and exiled by the Babylonians, and unlike the Jews, there is no record of them ever returning. So the Philistines became a lost ethnic group. When the Romans conquered Israel in the 1st century BC, they renamed it Palestine in order to humiliate the Jews. And in the 20th century, when Britain took control of the region, they once again called it Palestine. Although today's Palestinians living in Gaza are not physical descendants of the Philistines, it is likely that Zephaniah's prophecy relates to the end-time occupants of Philistia, namely the Palestinians who live in Gaza. God intervenes for Judah (v8) during the Great Tribulation, after which their prosperity is restored and they take possession of Philistia.

Similarly, in verses 8 to 10, Zephaniah prophesies God's judgment on Ammon and Moab (northern Jordan). They will become like Sodom and Gomorrah, and the survivors of Judah will plunder and possess their land. The Ammonites and Moabites are accused of taunting and harassing the people of Judah. This likely happened historically, but will likely occur again when Israel is invaded by the Antichrist.

Verse 11 tells us that at that time, God will weaken (or destroy) all the gods of the earth, and all the distant nations will worship the Lord in their own lands. This is a millennial picture (see also Psalm 86:9, Habakkuk 2:14). There will be only one religion during the Millennium, when everyone will know God through Jesus.

Verse 12 tells us the Cushites will die by the sword. Cush was Sudan and southern Egypt, an area that in classical Greek literature was referred to as Aethiopia. Consequently, the NET bible translates Cushites as Ethiopians, but this is confusing since modern-day Ethiopia is further south. In Ezekiel 38:5, the Cushites (Sudanese) are allied with the Antichrist in his invasion of Israel.

Verse 13 describes God's destruction of Assyria and Nineveh. Historically, Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC by the Babylonians and their allies, so it is likely that Zephaniah prophesied before that, between 622 and 612 BC. Ancient Nineveh was located on the west bank of the River Tigris, opposite modern-day Mosul in northern Iraq. In an end-time context, the Antichrist is referred to as 'the Assyrian' by Isaiah (10:17, 14:25 and 30:31), and by Micah (5:5). It is possible that Nineveh refers figuratively to the political power-base of his end-time empire, in much the same way as Mystery Babylon refers figuratively to its spiritual power-base. In that case, verses 13 to 15 may be understood to prophesy the destruction of Antichrist's end-time empire, along with that of his allies such as Cush (v12). See my comments on Nahum 1-3 concerning the end-time destruction of Nineveh.

Zephaniah 3
In verses 1 to 7, Zephaniah warns Judah of God's coming judgment for her corruption and disobedience. Verse 2 describes her rejection of God's correction. Historically, this correction was fulfilled in the Babylonian deportations of 605 and 597 BC, as well as in the corrections that Josiah attempted to bring to the nation. Because Judah failed to learn her lesson from these, God allowed the nation's destruction in 586 BC, when the rest of the nation was exiled. In verses 6 to 7, God describes how he allowed nations and cities to be destroyed, thinking Judah would take note and respect him, but still they rejected his correction. In an end-time context, it is likely that God will use the Antichrist's invasion to bring correction to modern-day Israel. Although I'm inclined to believe that the time of Jacob's trouble (Jeremiah 30:7) was fulfilled in the Holocaust, there remains a time of 'discipline in due measure' for Israel (Jeremiah 30:11). See my comments on Jeremiah 30.

Verses 8 to 20 describe God's end-time restoration of the nation of Israel, but verse 8 indicates that because of their previous disobedience, they will have to wait for this coming deliverance. Although Judah was restored to the land after the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, the restoration described in this chapter fits their end-time restoration. God will gather the nations together to pour out his fury upon them, and the whole earth will be consumed by his anger (v8). This will be fulfilled at the battle of Armageddon and in the bowl judgments that are released upon the earth (Revelation 16). After that, God will enable all the nations to worship him together (v9), which will occur in the Millennium. Verse 10 describes tribute being brought to him from beyond the rivers of Cush (Sudan), in other words from Ethiopia. Isaiah 18 describes end-time messengers being sent to Ethiopia requesting a gift of tribute for God's dwelling place on Mount Zion. It is likely this describes the return of the Ark of the Covenant which is allegedly kept at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum in Ethiopia. Verses 11 to 13 describe Millennial Israel which will be pure, righteous and secure, with no-one to terrify them. Verses 14 to 17 call end-time Jerusalem to rejoice. Israel's king, the Lord (Jesus) will be in her midst (v15), having removed God's judgment from the nation. He will deliver them like a warrior and renew them by his love (v17). Jerusalem should shout for joy (v14), just as God will shout for joy over them (v17). God will remove the reproach of Israel being unable to observe her appointed feasts (v18). In verse 19, God (Jesus) is portrayed as a shepherd gathering his lame and scattered sheep, as in Micah 4:6-7. The lame sheep are likely those injured by Antichrist's invasion of Israel and the fall of Jerusalem, including those who escape and those who remain in occupied Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2). The scattered sheep are the people of Israel who are scattered among the nations, but whom God will restore to the land in the end-times and Millennium. At that time, God (Jesus) will lead and gather them together (v20). He will deal with those who mistreated them and cause all the nations of the world to admire and respect the people of Israel (v19-20).
Places: Judah, Israel, Gaza, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Jordan, Cush, Sudan, Ethiopia, Assyria, Nineveh, Syria, Iraq
Tags: Day of Judgment, Israel disciplined during Great Tribulation, Jesus delivers Israel, Jesus fights muslim nations, Israel inherits land from her enemies, Israel fights alongside Jesus, Ammon and Moab will be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus destroys enemy nations, Armageddon, Restoration of Israel and Judah, Millennial Jerusalem, No other religion in the Millennium, All nations will worship God, Ark of the Covenant
1 This is the Lord’s message that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah during the time of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah:

The Lord’s Day of Judgment is Approaching
2 “I will destroy everything from the face of the earth,” says the Lord.
3 “I will destroy people and animals; I will destroy the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea. (The idolatrous images of these creatures will be destroyed along with evil people.) I will remove humanity from the face of the earth,” says the Lord.
4 “I will attack Judah and all who live in Jerusalem. I will remove from this place every trace of Baal worship, as well as the very memory of the pagan priests.
5 I will remove those who worship the stars in the sky from their rooftops, those who swear allegiance to the Lord while taking oaths in the name of their ‘king,’
6 and those who turn their backs on the Lord and do not want the Lord’s help or guidance.”
7 Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the Lord’s day of judgment is almost here. The Lord has prepared a sacrificial meal; he has ritually purified his guests.
8 “On the day of the Lord’s sacrificial meal, I will punish the princes and the king’s sons, and all who wear foreign styles of clothing.
9 On that day I will punish all who leap over the threshold, who fill the house of their master with wealth taken by violence and deceit.
10 On that day,” says the Lord, “a loud cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the city’s newer district, and a loud crash from the hills.
11 Wail, you who live in the market district, for all the merchants will disappear and those who count money will be removed.
12 At that time I will search through Jerusalem with lamps. I will punish the people who are entrenched in their sin, those who think to themselves, ‘The Lord neither rewards nor punishes.’
13 Their wealth will be stolen and their houses ruined! They will not live in the houses they have built, nor will they drink the wine from the vineyards they have planted.
14 The Lord’s great day of judgment is almost here; it is approaching very rapidly! There will be a bitter sound on the Lord’s day of judgment; at that time warriors will cry out in battle.
15 That day will be a day of God’s anger, a day of distress and hardship, a day of devastation and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and dark skies,
16 a day of trumpet blasts and battle cries. Judgment will fall on the fortified cities and the high corner towers.
17 I will bring distress on the people and they will stumble like blind men, for they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dirt; their flesh will be scattered like manure.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s angry judgment. The whole earth will be consumed by his fiery wrath. Indeed, he will bring terrifying destruction on all who live on the earth.”

The Prophet Warns the People
2 Bunch yourselves together like straw, you undesirable nation,
2 before God’s decree becomes reality and the day of opportunity disappears like windblown chaff, before the Lord’s raging anger overtakes you – before the day of the Lord’s angry judgment overtakes you!
3 Seek the Lord’s favor, all you humble people of the land who have obeyed his commands! Strive to do what is right! Strive to be humble! Maybe you will be protected on the day of the Lord’s angry judgment.

Judgment on Surrounding Nations

4 Indeed, Gaza will be deserted and Ashkelon will become a heap of ruins. Invaders will drive away the people of Ashdod by noon, and Ekron will be overthrown.
5 Beware, you who live by the sea, the people who came from Crete. The Lord’s message is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines: “I will destroy everyone who lives there!”
6 The seacoast will be used as pasture lands by the shepherds and as pens for their flocks.
7 Those who are left from the kingdom of Judah will take possession of it. By the sea they will graze, in the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down in the evening, for the Lord their God will intervene for them and restore their prosperity.
8 “I have heard Moab’s taunts and the Ammonites’ insults. They taunted my people and verbally harassed those living in Judah.
9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, “be certain that Moab will become like Sodom and the Ammonites like Gomorrah. They will be overrun by weeds, filled with salt pits, and permanently desolate. Those of my people who are left will plunder their belongings; those who are left in Judah will take possession of their land.”
10 This is how they will be repaid for their arrogance, for they taunted and verbally harassed the people of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
11 The Lord will terrify them, for he will weaken all the gods of the earth. All the distant nations will worship the Lord in their own lands.
12 “You Ethiopians will also die by my sword!”
13 The Lord will attack the north and destroy Assyria. He will make Nineveh a heap of ruins; it will be as barren as the desert.
14 Flocks and herds will lie down in the middle of it, as well as every kind of wild animal. Owls will sleep in the tops of its support pillars; they will hoot through the windows. Rubble will cover the thresholds; even the cedar work will be exposed to the elements.
15 This is how the once-proud city will end up – the city that was so secure. She thought to herself, “I am unique! No one can compare to me!” What a heap of ruins she has become, a place where wild animals live! Everyone who passes by her taunts her and shakes his fist.

Jerusalem is Corrupt
3 Beware to the filthy, stained city; the city filled with oppressors!
2 She is disobedient; she has refused correction. She does not trust the Lord; she has not sought the advice of her God.
3 Her princes are as fierce as roaring lions; her rulers are as hungry as wolves in the desert, who completely devour their prey by morning.
4 Her prophets are proud; they are deceitful men. Her priests have defiled what is holy; they have broken God’s laws.
5 The just Lord resides within her; he commits no unjust acts. Every morning he reveals his justice. At dawn he appears without fail. Yet the unjust know no shame.

The Lord’s Judgment will Purify

6 “I destroyed nations; their walled cities are in ruins. I turned their streets into ruins; no one passes through them. Their cities are desolate; no one lives there.
7 I thought, ‘Certainly you will respect me! Now you will accept correction!’ If she had done so, her home would not be destroyed by all the punishments I have threatened. But they eagerly sinned in everything they did.
8 Therefore you must wait patiently for me,” says the Lord, “for the day when I attack and take plunder. I have decided to gather nations together and assemble kingdoms, so I can pour out my fury on them – all my raging anger. For the whole earth will be consumed by my fiery anger.
9 Know for sure that I will then enable the nations to give me acceptable praise. All of them will invoke the Lord’s name when they pray, and will worship him in unison.
10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, those who pray to me, my dispersed people, will bring me tribute.
11 In that day you will not be ashamed of all your rebelliousness against me, for then I will remove from your midst those who proudly boast, and you will never again be arrogant on my holy hill.
12 I will leave in your midst a humble and meek group of people, and they will find safety in the Lord’s presence.
13 The Israelites who remain will not act deceitfully. They will not lie, and a deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. Indeed, they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down; no one will terrify them.”
14 Shout for joy, Daughter Zion! Shout out, Israel! Be happy and boast with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has removed the judgment against you; he has turned back your enemy. Israel’s king, the Lord, is in your midst! You no longer need to fear disaster.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid, Zion! Your hands must not be paralyzed from panic!
17 The Lord your God is in your midst; he is a warrior who can deliver. He takes great delight in you; he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.”
18 “As for those who grieve because they cannot attend the festivals – I took them away from you; they became tribute and were a source of shame to you.
19 Look, at that time I will deal with those who mistreated you. I will rescue the lame sheep and gather together the scattered sheep. I will take away their humiliation and make the whole earth admire and respect them.
20 At that time I will lead you – at the time I gather you together. Be sure of this! I will make all the nations of the earth respect and admire you when you see me restore you,” says the Lord.