If only… is a haunting phrase. It implies that we have failed and that we wish we could go back and do things differently. As we work through the process of recovery, we often become sad and ashamed when we reflect on the past. We regret our irresponsible and destructive behavior and wish we could erase past mistakes. This must have been how the people of Judah felt when they heard the prophetic words of Zephaniah. If only they had obeyed and trusted God!
God called Zephaniah during the days of King Josiah, the last of Judah’s good kings. The prophet’s condemnation of Judah’s idol worship and self centered living fit well with the early part of Josiah’s reign, when his purges against idolatry were just beginning. Zephaniah’s prophetic support of Josiah’s actions would certainly have bolstered Josiah’s efforts. However, the apostasy of Judah’s previous kings, Manasseh and Amon, had left deep spiritual wounds in Judah. Despite Zephaniah’s ministry and Josiah’s noble reforms, visible scars remained in Judah even at the end of Josiah’s righteous reign.
The people of Judah were in need of major changes. They had seen the northern kingdom of Israel exiled to Assyria but assumed that the presence of God in the Jerusalem Temple would protect them from foreign invaders. They needed to be shocked out of their denial and spiritual indifference. Zephaniah warned the people that Judah would be destroyed if they didn’t act right away. He also let them know that recovery was still possible. Spiritual awakening could still occur if they would admit their sins and Josiah and trust God. Josiah and the people listened to Zephaniah, responded, and experienced revival and recovery.