Zephaniah prophesied during Josiah's reign - years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC. The Babylonian army was about to sack the city of God, to destroy the temple of God and to carry into exile the people of God. And Zephaniah rightly thinks to himself – if the city of God, the house of God and the people of God aren’t safe from destruction, then nothing is safe. If the very house of God is going to be judged, then the whole world will one day be judged. And so this national crisis that Zephaniah faced made him think of the global crisis we will all face when the LORD judges the earth.
The whole world is heading for the flames (Zeph 1:18; 3:8). And these flames are the LORD's jealous love (cf Song 8:6)- see more on the jealous judgement of God here.
For the proud, who stand alone in the face of the coming judgement, this will be a judging, consuming fire. For those who are sheltered by the LORD who hides (Zephaniah means the LORD hides), these flames will only refine and bring us into the sunshine of His love.
In Zephaniah 3:9-20 we see Refining (v9-13); Rejoicing (v14-17) and Restoration (v18-20).
These verses are some of the most extraordinary depictions of our future hope ever written. From the deepest depths to the highest heights, Zephaniah takes us through law to gospel. He shows us our utter hopelessness in ourselves and then, in this passage, proclaims our glorious future in Christ.
We usually live in the dreary middle, thinking our badness is not that bad and our God and His future is not that good. Zephaniah tells us the truth. And once we have faced the realities of our helplessness he will blow us away even more by the LORD's overwhelming love.
Our biggest battle in the Christian life is to trust the LORD's love for us - sinners though we undoubtedly are. Zephaniah will urge us to renounce ourselves - our badness and our goodness. And to simply allow God's blazing love to shine on us in all His glory!