Why did Zephaniah prophesy destruction on the nations surrounding Israel?
Zephaniah 1:2: “’I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ declares the Lord.”
After calling on Judah to repent for her sins or face judgement, Zephaniah goes on to prophesy judgement on the surrounding nations. These were traditional enemies of Israel and Judah, steeped in idolatry, and represented all the nations of the world that did not worship God.
To the West, the Philistines worshipped Baal and Asherah, long a temptation to idolatry for the Israelites.
To the East, Moab and Ammon had not always been enemies of Israel, being descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. However, the relationship had deteriorated. They worshipped various Canaanite deities.
To the South, Cush (also known as Nubia or Ethiopia) was a wealthy and powerful nation. They were closely related to Egypt and worshipped the Egyptian gods.
To the North, Assyria was a dominant power of the Ancient Near East. They worshipped Ashur, as well as other deities. About a century before Zephaniah’s prophecy, Assyria had taken a large number of Israelites into exile.