It is out of character for Zephaniah, one of the gloomiest of the Old Testament prophets, to offer this joyful song of promise: “I will remove disaster from you. . . . I will gather the outcast. . . . I will bring you home, says the Lord.” Zephaniah took special delight in predicting “the day of the Lord,” when things were going to turn out badly for the people of Judah and Israel. Zephaniah could give the Grim Reaper a run for his money.
Because the bright message of the lectionary reading is strikingly different from the rest of his prophecy, biblical scholars suggest that it was added during the Babylonian captivity, when the children of Israel were languishing in exile. What could be more reassuring to people who were far from home than to receive word that there was a place where they belonged, and, as my southern grandmother was fond of saying, that they could “get there directly”?