Summary: Zephaniah speaks of how God came to be with us in the person of Christ, so He might be within us through the Holy Spirit.
Zephaniah served in the reign of Josiah. He became king at age 8 after his dad's assassination. Babylon was rising as an empire and Judah was worshiping idols. He began repairs on the temple, during which, they found the Book of the Law, probably Deuteronomy, or the first five books of our Old Testament. In light of this, Josiah initiated reforms.
"Josiah also got rid of the mediums and psychics, the household gods, the idols, and every other kind of detestable practice, both in Jerusalem and throughout the land of Judah. He did this in obedience to the laws written in the scroll that Hilkiah the priest had found in the LORD’s Temple. Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since. Even so, the LORD was very angry with Judah because of all the wicked things Manasseh had done to provoke him. For the LORD said, 'I will also banish Judah from my presence just as I have banished Israel. And I will reject my chosen city of
Jerusalem and the Temple where my name was to be honored.'" - 2 Kings 23:24-27 (NLT)
Josiah's grand-father, Manasseh, introduced idol worship to Judah. Ironically, the Book of the Law found during Josiah's reign explained why God would judge the nation, despite Josiah's reforms.
"You must not bow down to them or worship them (idols), because I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands." - Deuteronomy 5:9-10 (HCSB)
During the reign of Jehoiakim, four generations from Manasseh, Judah was conquered by Babylon. I'm glad for the devotion of our founding fathers. I believe that's the reason American still stands, despite our sin.
So Zephaniah tells the people that God will allow them to be conquered because of their sin. Scholars identify nine different messages in this book. Eight speak of God’s judgment. But in the ninth, we discover that the God of judgment is also a God of forgiveness and hope. We learn of a day when God's people would be restored by His presence.
Scholars call prophesies like this "prophetic foreshortening." There's an immediate, later, and ultimate fulfillment. As we mentioned, when one stands far from a mountain range, it seems each peak follows one after the other, with no gap in between. Yet as one goes through the range, they realize there are large gaps between each mountain.
Such is the case here. Zephaniah tells of Judah's return from captivity; the 1st coming of the Messiah; and the ultimate fulfillment in the 2nd coming of Christ. God's presence with His people would be recognized as what brought restoration to Judah when they returned to Jerusalem after captivity; and His presence with His people will be the cause of the ultimate restoration of the universe when Christ returns.
But I want us to focus on the restoration the presence of God can make in the lives of those who believe in Christ as Savior - acknowledging that God came in human flesh to live a perfect life and die for the sins of the world. Who 3 days later was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, from where, through the person of His Holy Spirit, He enters into the life of everyone who will call upon Him as Savior and Lord.
"And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago." - Ephesians 1:13b (NLT)
God's presence within us through the Holy Spirit was made possible because God came to be present with us in the person of Jesus.
". . . and they will call him Immanuel (which means 'God with us')." - Matthew 1:23 (NIV)
The prophet gives three reasons why God would come to be present with us in the person of Jesus.
1. He came to rescue us - vs. 15-16
As we apply this prophecy to the first coming of Christ, we readily recognize how He came to rescue us. For through Christ, God has taken away our punishment and turned back our enemy.
". . . as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins." - Romans 3:21-24 (NLT)