Zephaniah strongly castigated Israel: “You are filthy! You are corrupt from the top of your head to the tip of your toes—your princes, your prophets, your priests, and your judges!” His hearers would have felt he was using tough and insulting talk, likening them to ravening wolves. In referring to their condition, the prophet spoke truth boldly. Most of his hearers were angry, but the right-hearted element hearkened and looked inward. Thus Zephaniah gave a carte blanche condemnation of the people, yet among them were some with a proper heart condition. While his message was helpful in his day in regard to encouraging the people to go back to Israel and build the Temple, he was actually addressing individuals in our day. The main thrust will be fulfilled when God assembles all nations in the near future. While some of these verses had a partial application back there in the prophet’s day, the primary emphasis is on the end of the Gospel Age.
The first chapter of Zephaniah and part of the second chapter speak of the complete desolation that occurred when Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land and left no inhabitants. Although the judgment to occur on the Arabs in the near future will not be utter desolation, there will, nevertheless, be devastating developments to remove the Arab threat. This judgment will solve the problems with Israel’s more local and surrounding enemies, but not with the distant ones, who will be dealt with when God saves the Holy Remnant out of Jacob’s Trouble.
In other words, for 70 years, God would clean the land of all kinds of false worship and atheistic tendencies. Zephaniah went into detail to show just how thorough the Lord’s reform would be—a thoroughness that was guaranteed! Hearing the prophet’s words, Josiah tried to establish the reform, and he will be blessed in the Kingdom Age for his efforts, even though pockets of idol worship remained. He risked his kingship and suffered unpopularity for a while, but when temporal benefits began to accrue from his reform efforts, the people followed him. Josiah must have been a wonderful leader and very unusual to win the confidence and support of the people. Other prophets tried to effect a reform through their message and were persecuted as a result.