Beyond this book that bears his name, very little is known about the author, Zephaniah. His ancestry is traced back four generations, which is unique among the prophets. His lineage shows that he was the great-great grandson of good King Hezekiah. If so, he was the only prophet of royal descent.
By giving his lineage and citing King Josiah, who was a distant relative, he linked himself with the godly kings and godly remnants of Israel’s history. Josiah was the God-fearing son of Amon, who together with his father Manasseh were two of the most wicked kings of Israel’s history (II Kings 22-23).
Despite King Josiah’s well-intended civil and religious reforms, leaders were corrupt and idolatry was widespread. The Assyrian empire, the superpower that had ruled over Judah for more than a century, was disintegrating. Shortly after Josiah’s death and Zephaniah’s ministry, the Babylonians conquered Judah, destroyed the temple, and took many into exile.
Zephaniah wrote to the people of Judah warning them of impending judgment for their sins. He hoped to stir them to repentance before it was too late. At the same time, it seems that Zephaniah intended to encourage the followers of the Lord by assuring them that God would preserve a remnant and ultimately fulfill His promises to their forefathers.
Zephaniah is a book of contrasts, for no other prophet painted a blacker picture of God’s judgments or a brighter picture of Israel’s future glory. The theme of the book is the impending judgment of God on Judah for its disobedience. On the other hand, he pointed out God’s steadfast and everlasting promise to protect His people.
Upon the backdrop of describing the judgments of God on Judah, Zephaniah went further than any of the other minor prophets in emphasizing the full conversion of the Gentiles to the worship of the true God. Historically, it is thought by many that this book was used in the providence of God to prepare the nation for the reforms and revival under King Josiah.
When justice is distorted, when the line between right and wrong is blurred, or when leaders become corrupt, it is easy to become discouraged. Zephaniah reassures us that we can still trust God, and even in dark times our faith can still burn brightly.