Zephaniah prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC), and was himself of royal blood, a descendent of King Hezekiah. Zephaniah’s ministry included pronouncements of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, but with no mention of the Babylonians, which suggests that he ministered early in Josiah’s reign, before his religious reforms and the rise of Babylonian dominance.
Zephaniah’s prophesy has a rhythm familiar to us from other prophetic books: judgment is pronounced upon God’s people (chapter 1) and upon the nations (chapter 2), but in the end Judah’s enemies will be put to shame and Jerusalem will be restored.
According to Zephaniah, Judah’s judgment will come because the people are worshipping foreign gods and they are complacent about justice. As a result, the “Day of the Lord” is coming when God will make Judah a “sacrifice”: foreigners will attack Judah. Judah’s only hope is to seek righteousness and humility before God (2:3).
Judgment is next pronounced on those nations hostile to Judah at the time: Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush (upper Nile region of Egypt), and Assyria. All will meet the same end—crushing defeat at God’s hand. The defeat of the nations will lead to God restoring Jerusalem. The scattered people will be gathered once again. The city will be purified from all haughtiness, and only the meek and humble will remain (3:12).
– Peter Enns