The title of the prophecy informs us that the ministry of Zephaniah took place during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). The protest against the worship of false gods, and the condemnation of the pro-Assyrian court ministers who served as regents during Josiah’s minority, allow us to place the work in the first decade of the reign. Accordingly, the prophecy of Zephaniah comes rightly before that of Jeremiah, who was probably influenced by it in both language and ideas.
The age of Zephaniah was a time of religious degradation, when the old idolatries reappeared and men worshiped sun, moon, and stars. Rites completely alien to the pure monotheism taught by Moses flourished in Jerusalem. To the corrupt city Zephaniah announced the impending judgment, the day of the Lord. The prophecy may be divided into three sections, corresponding to the three chapters of the book:
The day of the Lord: A day of doom. The last few verses of this oracle give the classic description of the day of the Lord as an overwhelming disaster. The Christian hymn Dies Irae is based on this passage (⇒Zephaniah 1:2-18)
The day of the Lord: A day of judgment of the nations, traditional enemies of God’s people (⇒ Zephaniah 2:1-15)
Reproach and Promise for Jerusalem: Despite Judah’s infidelities, the Lord in his mercy will spare a holy remnant, which will finally enjoy peace. The prophecy closes with a hymn of joy sung by the remnant restored to Zion (⇒ Zephaniah 3:1-20)
The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah.
I will completely sweep away all things from the face of the earth, says the LORD.
I will sweep away man and beast, I will sweep away the birds of the sky, and the fishes of the sea. I will overthrow the wicked; I will destroy mankind from the face of the earth, says the LORD.
I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; I will destroy from this place the last vestige of Baal, the very names of his priests.
1 And those who adore the host of heaven on the roofs, with those who adore the LORD but swear by Milcom;
And those who have fallen away from the LORD, and those who do not seek the LORD.
2 Silence in the presence of the Lord GOD! for near is the day of the LORD, Yes, the LORD has prepared a slaughter feast, he has consecrated his guests.
On the day of the LORD’S slaughter feast I will punish the princes, and the king’s sons, and all that dress in foreign apparel.
3 I will punish, on that day, all who leap over the threshold, Who fill the house of their master with violence and deceit.
4 On that day, says the LORD, A cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the New Quarter, loud crashing from the hills.
Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! for all the merchants will be destroyed, all who weigh out silver, done away with.
5 At that time I will explore Jerusalem with lamps; I will punish the men who thicken on their lees, Who say in their hearts, “Neither good nor evil can the LORD do.”
Their wealth shall be given to pillage and their houses to devastation; They will build houses, but shall not dwell in them, plant vineyards, but not drink their wine,
Near is the great day of the LORD, near and very swiftly coming, Hark, the day of the LORD! bitter, then, the warrior’s cry.
A day of wrath is that day a day of anguish and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, A day of thick black clouds,
a day of trumpet blasts and battle alarm Against fortified cities, against battlements on high.
I will hem men in till they walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; And their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their brains like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to save them on the day of the LORD’S wrath, When in the fire of his jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. For he shall make an end, yes, a sudden end, of all who live on the earth.
2  He has consecrated his guests: God has prepared those whom he has invited to share as soldiers in the booty, or as beast and bird scavengers of carrion, on the day of slaughter. Cf ⇒ Jeremiah 46:10; ⇒ Ezekiel 39:17.
3  Leap over the threshold: the reference is to a superstitious custom of the pagans, witnessed to at least in regard to the worship of Dagon (⇒ 1 Sam 5:5).
4 [10-11] The New Quarter . . . the Mortar: sections of Jerusalem (cf ⇒ 2 Kings 22:14).
5  The men who thicken on their lees: those who are overconfident because, like bottles of wine in which the sediment has settled to the bottom, they have remained at peace and undisturbed for a long time.