The Old Testament prophets were commissioned by Jehovah, the God of Israel, to ‘hear the Word of the Lord’ and then to speak it out to the people, whether or not they were willing to receive it. Often they were unwilling hearers. In many cases the prophets weren’t what we in the 21st century would recognize as ‘professionals’. Instead, they were chosen for a short period was to hear what God wanted His chosen nation to know for that particular moment of time. They were God’s spokesmen, speaking for God in the times in which they lived. As they went about their normal activities they would have a positive awareness that God had a message for them. It was sometimes expressed as ‘a burden’ for often it wasn’t what the people wanted to hear and it made them very unpopular.

As true believers in the God of Israel they knew it wasn’t possible to isolate the sacred and secular parts of life into separate compartments and to say that the two don’t mix. Zephaniah was such a man. He not only had his physical eyes open but his spiritual antennae were alert to see what was going on in the world. This is important for us living in the 21st century. Jesus was constantly telling His disciples to be aware of the "signs of the times", to recognise the significance of what was happening in the world around them. As Christians we have a duty to be both spiritually and socially conscious, to evaluate what’s going on in our community.

We must always ask ourselves if our lifestyles and the practices of our community are in keeping with God’s revelation in Scripture. This has been called ‘double listening’ – hearing what God says to us through His Word and being alive to what is happening around us. If we don’t like what we see, it’s no good just closing our eyes and, like the proverbial ostrich, burying our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not there. The 18th Century Irish statesman Edmund Burke is said to have claimed ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ and all too often that’s the case.

The prophets’ message was often a combination of ‘forth-telling’ and ‘foretelling’. It was a dual role. They ‘told forth’ God’s message in their own situations. While their world, over 2,500 years ago, can seem to us strange and remote, in principle nothing changes, and we can often see equivalent situations in our world. But in addition to ‘forth-telling’ they also ‘foretold’ what would take place in the future as it would affect their nation and even the world. The actions of men and women inevitably have consequences, and especially to those to whom God has revealed His law. Rebellion would bring judgement but if there was genuine repentance God is His mercy and grace would bring about restoration and blessing.

When the prophets were speaking of what would happen as a result of what was taking place in Judah the message was very specific.