## Author and Title While the originator of the words of this book ultimately was Israel’s God (“the Lord”), the prophetic intermediary who delivered them to Judah was Zephaniah, after whom the book is named. Little is known about him apart from his name and pedigree. That the prophet was named “Zephaniah,” which means “Yahweh has hidden/protected,” could indicate his parents’ piety, as they trusted in God during the godless reign of Manasseh. Indeed, the genealogy in 1:1 may indicate that Zephaniah was a descendant of Hezekiah, the pious ruler of Judah before two wicked kings assumed the throne. ## Date The prophecy takes place during the reign of Josiah (640–609 b.c.), a significant Judean king (2 Kings 21:26–23:20; 2 Chron. 33:25–35:27). The northern kingdom of Israel had already been exiled, in 722b.c., so “Israel” (Zeph. 2:9; 3:13–15) does not refer to it. Rather, these references speak of the remainder of the nation of Israel: little Judah and its capital, Jerusalem. Josiah was a reforming king, trying to reestablish acceptable worship practices that had fallen out of use since the time of his great-grandfather Hezekiah (2 Kings 21:1–26). Some suggest that the prophecy comes from the beginning of Josiah’s reign, since the people are still engaging in condemned pagan practices (Zeph. 1:8–9). This is not compelling evidence, however, since even after a religious reform, not all lives are changed. This is clear from the other prophets preaching during this same time (e.g., Jeremiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk), indicating that no matter how clear the call to repentance, there were always those who refused to respond and who need to hear the prophetic word afresh. ## Theme The theme of Zephaniah, one preached more consistently by him than by any other prophet, is the “day of the Lord” (1:7, etc.). This approaching day shows two faces: one of judgment against those who sin against God, and one of blessing for those who follow him. God will show himself just in both punishment and praise. ## Purpose, Occasion, and Background In spite of having seen the destruction and exile of her sister, Israel, a generation or two previously, Judah refuses to turn back as a nation to her covenant obligations toward God. The reign of pious Josiah provides an ideal opportunity to make this move, and God, through Zephaniah, wants to clarify the decision that lies before Judah, and indeed before all the other nations, along with the consequences of that decision. God is calling for Judah’s punishment because she has already shown herself sinful. If she should repent and abandon her evil, “perhaps” God will forgive (2:3). The book is set against the background of numerous nations, many of which opposed God through opposition to his people, Israel. The Philistines (2:4–7) had been vying against Israel for the same land since the time of the conquest (e.g., Ex. 13:17; Josh. 13:2), while Moab and Ammon (Zeph. 2:8–11), distant relatives of the Israelites (Gen. 19:36–38), had opposed Israel’s passage through their land before the conquest (Numbers 22–24). “Cush” (Zeph. 2:12) possibly refers to the Egyptian Twenty-fifth (Ethiopian) Dynasty (see Isaiah 18), while Assyria (Zeph. 2:13–15) is the foreign power controlling Judah at the time of the prophecy. Surprisingly, the last among the nations being warned is represented by Jerusalem, the capital of another of God’s enemies, Judah (3:1–7). This places the message of God’s displeasure right in the face of those who claimed to be his own people. ## Key Themes 1. God will judge the whole earth (1:2–3, 17–18; 3:8), Judah (1:4–16; 3:1–7) and her pagan neighbors (2:4–8) alike. 2. God, as covenant keeper, will bless his people when they return to their covenant relationship with him (3:11–20). 3. God wants to extend blessing and grace to all peoples and nations (3:9–10). 4. Judgment and blessing occur both in the near future for the prophet and his audience (1:4–18; 2:3) and also in the more distant future (3:8–9, 11, 13–17). 5. There is no such thing as a second-generation child of God. Every generation must own God’s covenant, not relying on the faith of a previous generation. ## History of Salvation Summary God visits judgment on his own people to purge the faithless from their number. At the same time, he preserves the faithful and will use them to bring knowledge of God to all peoples. On the great day of judgment, God will purge the faithless from all mankind and bring the faithful into their full inheritance. (For an explanation of the “History of Salvation,” see the Overview of the Bible. See alsoHistory of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ.) ## Literary Features The book of Zephaniah is a typical work of prophecy, but with distinctive features woven into the tapestry. The primary genre within this prophetic book is the oracle of judgment, with an oracle of salvation coming at the expected place, namely, at the end. Zephaniah, almost uniquely among the so-called “minor prophets,” looks like a “major prophet” in miniature: it has oracles of judgment (1:1–18), oracles against foreign nations (2:4–15), and oracles of hope (3:8–20), with 2:1–3 and 3:1–7(modulating from foreign to domestic interest, much as Amos does in Amos 2:4ff.) functioning as “transitional” oracles which make pointed application to Jerusalem. The literary intentions of the book are as follows: to picture God’s judgment of sin by means of the motif of a coming day of the Lord; to use the resources of poetry to paint vivid word-pictures of the coming judgment; to evoke fear of the coming judgment with a view to awakening repentance; to embody the possibility of God’s blessing in the form of a concluding oracle of restored favor with God; and to identify with the people and show concern for the poor (esp. Zeph. 2:3) while indicting those with position and wealth (1:8–9, 12, 18; 3:3–4), both encapsulated in 3:11–13. ### The Near East at the Time of Zephaniah c. 620 b.c. Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, when Egypt, Judah, and Babylonia (with the help of the Medes) were regaining their autonomy and eroding the power of Assyria. Shortly after this time the Babylonians would replace the Assyrians as the dominant power in the Near East. ![The Near East at the Time of Zephaniah](http://static.esvmedia.org/media/esv-study-bible/images/medium/map-36-01.jpg) ## Outline 1. Heading (1:1) 2. Judgment Coming Against Judah (1:2–6) 3. The Day of the Lord (1:7–3:20) 1. Day of sacrifice and punishment (1:7–9) 2. The coming wrath (1:10–18) 1. Against God’s people (1:10–16) 2. Against all humanity (1:17–18) 3. Repentance is still possible (2:1–3) 4. Nations warned (2:4–3:8) 1. Philistines (2:4–7) 2. Moab and Ammon (2:8–11) 3. Cush (2:12) 4. Assyria (2:13–15) 5. Jerusalem (3:1–7) 6. Summary (3:8) 5. Anticipation of hope (3:9–20) 1. Conversion of the nations (3:9–10) 2. Judah’s return (3:11–13) 3. Joyful song (3:14–17) 4. God’s promised restoration (3:18–20)