Chapter two reveals the scope of the day of the Lord. Some have concluded that Zephaniah’s prophecy was fulfilled by the Babylonians in the years following Josiah’s death. (See Habakkuk for Babylon as God’s instrument to punish Israel.) However, as terrible as the Babylonian attacks and captivities were, they did not compare to the complete annihilation described in chapter one. Additionally, chapter two lists other nations around Israel that Babylon also did not decimate – Moab and Ammon (vs. 8-11); Ethiopia (or Cush, vs. 12); Assyria (vs. 13-15).
A special point of note is in 2:9 where Zephaniah refers to the “remnant” or “those who are left.” These will be the survivors of the great day of the Lord’s wrath. The remnant is a common term used in Old Testament judgment passages and New Testament passages related to Israel (e.g., Romans 9-11) for those individual Israelites who had genuine faith in God. Using Church-Age terminology, we would call them “saved” or “Old Testament saints.” Like Abraham, they had believed God’s promises and had faithfully obeyed his law. These will not suffer God’s wrath; instead, they will enjoy the privileges of the spoils of his war on the nations. Notice the back and forth between judgment on the wicked (vs. 4-5, 8-13) and paradise for the righteous remnant (vs. 6-7, 14-15) throughout this chapter. This balance is shown throughout the Scriptures; God judges the wicked but is gracious and merciful to all who place their faith in him.