The book of Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1)

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We know nothing about Zephaniah beyond what we read in Zephaniah 1:1 and we can infer from the rest of the book. It is unusual that the prophet traced his ancestry back four generations; some suggest that he did this because the Hezekiah who was his great-great-grandfather was in fact king Hezekiah of Judah. Unlike Micah, who focused on Judah’s common people, Zephaniah was evidently at home in the political arena and in distinguished court circles.

The book is dated to the reign of Josiah, placing it written within the span of 640-609 B.C. The reference to “the remnant of Baal” in 1:4 has been taken by many to suggest that the reform initiatives of Josiah were already well underway and that most of the conspicuous shrines to Baal had already been removed. Others assert that Zephaniah appears to allude to Deuteronomy in several places (e.g. Zephaniah 1:13 echoes Deuteronomy 28:30 and Zephaniah 1:17 resonates with Deuteronomy 28:29), implying that the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22) had been found and read aloud by the time of Zephaniah’s writing. This suggests that the prophecy may well have been written toward the end of the seventh century B.C.

Zephaniah wrote to the people of Judah to warn them of God’s impending judgement, to urge them to repent and to offer them the hope of restoration.

The focus of Zephaniah’s message is “the day of the Lord”, which the prophet conceived to be a day of judgement first for Judah (Zephaniah 1) and only afterward for the other nations (chapter 2), although he also anticipated a final day of salvation (chapter 3). It is possible that Zephaniah recognized that Josiah’s rigorous reform efforts had not fully penetrated to the hearts of the people. Sadly, any resurgence of covenant faithfulness that Josiah had inspired was doomed to be short-lived. Judgement was both deserved and unavoidable.

As with Habakkuk and several other Old Testament writing prophets, be aware of the stark contrast between the author’s graphic images of horror and doom and his comforting words of hope for restoration.

Did you know that incense to pagan deities was often burned on rooftops (see Isaiah 15:3, Jeremiah 1:16), and the kings of Judah had gone so far as to erect pagan altars on the roof of the palace in Jerusalem (Zephaniah 1:5)? Did you know that there was evidently a general and widespread pagan idea that the threshold of a home, temple or other building was the dwelling place of spirits (1:9)? Did you know that Nineveh was destroyed in 612 B.C. and its location was later forgotten – until it was discovered by archaeologists in 1845 (2:13)?


 

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