The Book of Zephaniah
In Zephaniah 1:1a, the author introduces himself as ‘Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah’. Among the prophets, this is a unique introduction with its long list of fathers back to Zephaniah’s great-great grandfather Hezekiah. So why stop with Hezekiah? Most likely, the prophet wanted to highlight his royal lineage as a descendant of one of Judah’s good kings. The reference to ‘this place’ in Zephaniah 1:4 indicates that he prophesied in Jerusalem, while his many references to temple worship display a strong familiarity with Israel’s religious culture. All these factors paint the picture of a man who was at the centre of Judah’s political and religious world, a man whose close proximity to those in power would have given his shocking message an even greater impact.
The book records that Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, the king of Judah from 640-609BC (1:1b). This allows for an accurate calculation of when Zephaniah prophesied by accounting for a few details in the text. First, in 2:13 the prophet predicted the fall of Nineveh, an event which occurred in 612BC. Further, Zephaniah made frequent quotations from the Law, for example, compare 1:13 to Deuteronomy 28:30 and 28:39, a document that remained lost in Judah for much of Josiah’s reign. Therefore, Zephaniah more than likely prophesied in the latter part of Josiah’s rule, after the king discovered the scrolls of the Law in 622BC (2 Chronicles 34:3–7).
This all means that Zephaniah grew up under the reign of Josiah’s predecessors: Josiah’s grandfather, the evil king Manasseh, and Manasseh’s son, the young and evil Amon. As a young man, the prophet would have been surrounded by the trappings of idolatry, child sacrifice and unjust killings, strong influences on a young mind (2 Kings 21:16 and 2 Chronicles 33:1–10). But Zephaniah grew into a man of God, able to stand before the people and proclaim God’s message of judgement and hope to a people that had gone astray.
This book mentions the Day of the Lord more than any other book in the OT, clarifying the picture of Judah’s fall to Babylon and the eventual judgement and restoration of all humanity in the future. In this case, it refers primarily to God’s impending time of judgement on the nation of Judah. Zephaniah saw in the Day of the Lord the destruction of his country, his neighbours, and eventually the whole earth (1:2-4 and 2:10). Zephaniah wrote that the Day of the Lord was near (1:14), that it would be a time a wrath (1:15), that it would come as judgement on sin (1:17), and that ultimately it would result in the blessing of God’s presence among his people (3:17).
As with the writings of many of the prophets, the Book of Zephaniah follows a pattern of judgement on all people for their sin followed by the restoration of God’s chosen people. Zephaniah’s primary target for God’s message of judgement, the nation of Judah, had fallen into grievous sin under the reign of King Manasseh. Zephaniah’s prophecy shouted out for godliness and purity in a nation sinful to its core. The people of Judah had long since turned their backs on God, not only in their personal lives but also in their worship. This reflected the depth of their sin and the deep need for God’s people to be purged on their path to restoration.
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