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)