With the assassination of Amon and the coronation of Josiah, the people of Judah thought they might continue in their old ways. After all, his grandfather was enthroned as a boy and, at least until a few years before his death, Manasseh had led God’s people in the paganism they enjoyed so much. If they were hoping for a repeat with Josiah however, they were to be disappointed. Josiah did his best to turn the nation around.
It was, however, too little too late. God promised: “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose” (2 Kings 23:27).
Zephaniah insists God has had enough. Note God’s vocabulary:
I will sweep away
I will stretch out my hand
I will cut off
The day of the Lord is near
Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.
But God does not plan on being angry for ever. His discipline is intended to “purify the lips” of His peoples that “all of them may be able to call on the name of the Lord and serve Him shoulder to shoulder.”
God’s care for His people never disappears except in the minds of those being punished. They wonder why God is treating them as He is, blind as they are to their own sin. But God expects them to open their eyes. Which leads us to the second lesson from chapter three: No child of God has a chance of serving God alone. The task is too difficult. But in a community of the faithful, each person can draw on the strength, wisdom and direction of those about him and walk in the way of God. It’s always easier to go along with the crowd, and there’s nothing wrong with that (God seems to intend it), provided the crowd is going in the right direction. The Church is to be that supporting community. To do so, there must be unity, and there must be dedication as the community to living the life of holiness.
When God’s people act in this way, God will comfort His people as a parent comforts a child whose punishment has brought penitence (note the image of God singing to his child in 3:17).