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Book of Zephaniah
ZEPHANIAH, BOOK OF. Dated in the reign of Josiah (
The book is concerned throughout with the. This prophetic concept refers to any intervention of God in history. The ultimate expression of the Day of the Lord will occur in the end times.
The eschatological Day of the Lord is described in
Bibliography: Paul Kleinert, The, 1908; G. G. V. Stonehouse, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk (1929); H. O. Kuhner, Zephaniah, 1943.——TEM
ZEPHANIAH, BOOK OF. The work of a prophet descended from King Hezekiah, at the time of Josiah, occupying ninth place in any listing of the twelve Minor Prophets, following Habakkuk and preceding Haggai.
Most critics allow ch. 1 as the genuine work of Zephaniah, but consider that parts of
In order to avoid the onus of regarding the predictions against the nations as secondary according to the critical presuppositions, J. P. Hyatt rejected the accuracy of the superscription and moved Zephaniah to the time of Jehoiakim (609-598 b.c.) (“The Date and Background of Zephaniah,” JNES, VII , 25-33). However, his position ill accords with the internal evidence of the book; e.g. Nineveh is represented as in a state of peace and prosperity (
The religious state of the kingdom of Judah deteriorated markedly following the death of Hezekiah. The trend toward things Assyrian became increasingly conspicuous. The degenerate religious practice of the period before Josiah’s great reform are indicated in detail in
A considerable debate exists on the political background of the book. Whereas Isaiah (39:6), Habbakuk (
The majority of critics reason that the authentic oracles of Zephaniah have the invasion of the Scythians in view. F. Hitzig wrote: “The Chaldeans come still less (than the Egyptians) into account, because they did not found an independent kingdom until b.c. 625, nor threaten Judea until after Josiah’s death. On the other hand, an unsuspicious and well-accredited account has been preserved to us that somewhere about this time the Scythians overflowed Palestine too with their hosts. Herodotus relates (Book I, 105), that the Scythians after they had disturbed Cyaxares at the siege of Nineveh, turned toward Egypt; and when they had already arrived in Palestine, were persuaded by Psammetichus to return, and in their return plundered a temple in Ascalon.” Critics explain the fact that the Scythians destroyed neither Assyria nor Egypt, but, on the contrary, temporarily saved Nineveh, in contradiction to Zephaniah’s prophesies, in one of two ways: (1) the prophet made a mistake (J. M. P. Smith, ICC , 170), or (2) these oracles are secondary (J. P. Hyatt, 25).
This writer rejects this interpretation in favor of regarding the Babylonians as the divine agent of judgment in view for these four reasons: (1) the rationalistic and anti-super-naturalistic presuppositions informing the above views are contrary to the spirit of prophecy found in all of Scripture. (2) The account in Herodotus that the Scythians marched through Pal. to invade Egypt before being bought off by Psammetichus has no objective historical support (cf. F. Wilke, “Das Skythenproblem im Jeremiabuch,” Altestamentliche Studien R. Kittel zum 60. Geburtstag dargebracht , 222ff.; J. P. Hyatt, “Peril from the North in Jeremiah,” JBL, LIX , 501; “The Date and Background of Zephaniah,” JNES, VII , 25ff.). (3) Herodotus’ statement about the Scythian invasion does not comport with Zephaniah’s predictions. Having recorded the intervention of Psammetichus Herodotus continued: “So they turned back, and when they came to the city of Ascalon in Syria, most of the Scythians passed by and did no harm, but a few remained behind and plundered the temple of Heavenly Aphrodite.” But Zephaniah speaks not of a marauding band, but of the utter havoc upon Jerusalem, of the permanent desolation of Philistia, Moab, and Ammon, and of destructive war on Ethiopia. Pusey stated the case against the Scythian interpretation and in favor of the Babylonian well: “But it is an intense paradox, when men, 2500 years after his date assert, not only that Zephaniah’s prophecies had no relation to the Chaldees, in whom his words were fulfilled...but that they know what must have been, and (as they assert) what was in the prophet’s mind; and that he had in mind, not those in whom his words were fulfilled, but others in whom they were not fulfilled...” (E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets: A Commentary II , 230). This obvious lack of correspondence now forces the critic to suppose that these oracles are either inaccurate or secondary. (4) The Scriptures which normally supply sufficient historical background for the interpretation of the prophets nowhere make reference to an invasion by Scythians.
It is a mute and insignificant point whether a Scythian invasion into Pal. awakened Zephaniah to his prophetic call as some conservative writers contend (SOTI, 343).
Because of Judah’s degenerate religious situation Zephaniah prediced the fall of Judah and Jerusalem as inevitable (
A. Introduction (
B. Universal judgment (
1. Upon the entire creation (
2. Upon Judah (
b. The proximity of judgment (
d. The proximity and horror of the Day of Yahweh (
e. The call to repentance (
3. Upon the Gentile nations (
a. W: Philistia (
b. E: Moab and Ammon (
c. S: Ethiopia (
d. N: Assyria (
4. Upon Jerusalem (
a. Her moral depravity (
b. Her intractability (
c. Her immoral leaders: civic (
d. Her inexcusability (
e. Her stupidity (
C. The establishment of the kingdom (
1. The destruction of the Gentile opposition (
2. The purified remnant (
3. The kingdom blessings (
For extensive critical bibliography see IDB, IV, 953; E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (1906, 1907); C. V. Pilcher, Three Hebrew Prophets and the Passing of Empires (1928); G. G. V. Stonehouse, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk (1929); H. O. Kuhner, Zephaniah (1943); T. Laetsch, Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets (1956).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. THE AUTHOR
2. Ancestry 3. Life
2. Political Situation
3. Moral and Religious Conditions
3. Messianic Prophecy
I. The Author.
The name "Zephaniah" (tsephanyah; Sophonias), which is borne by three other men mentioned in the
The ancestry of the prophet is carried back four generations (Ze 1:1), which is unusual in the Old Testament (compare
Zephaniah lived in Judah; that he lived in Jerusalem is made probable by the statement in 1:4, "I will cut off .... from this place," as well as by his intimate knowledge of the topography of the city (1:10,11).
For how long he continued his prophetic activity we do not know, but it is not improbable that, as in the case of Amos, his public activity was short, and that, after delivering his message of judgment in connection with a great political crisis, he retired to private life, though his interest in reforms may have continued (
The title (Ze 1:1) places the prophetic activity of Zephaniah somewhere within the reign of Josiah, that is, between 639 and 608 BC. Most scholars accept this statement as historically correct. The most important exception is E. Koenig (Einl, 252 ff), who places it in the decade following the death of Josiah. Koenig’s arguments are altogether inconclusive, while all the internal evidence points toward the reign of Josiah as the period of Zephaniah’s activity. Can the ministry of the prophet be more definitely located within the 31 years of Josiah? The latter’s reign falls naturally into two parts, separated by the great reform of 621. Does the work of Zephaniah belong to the earlier or the later period?
The more important arguments in favor of the later period are:
(b) The "remnant of Baal" (Ze 1:4) points to a period when much of the Baal-worship had been removed, which means subsequent to 621.
(c) The condemnation of the "king’s sons" (Ze 1:8) presupposes that at the time of the utterance they had reached the age of moral responsibility; this again points to the later period.
These arguments are inconclusive:
(a) The resemblances between Deuteronomy and Zephaniah are of such a general character that dependence of either passage on the other is improbable.
(b) The expression in Ze 1:4 bears an interpretation which made its use quite appropriate before 621 (Eiselen, Minor Prophets, 508).
(c) "King’s sons" may be equivalent to "royal princes," referring not to Josiah’s children at all. The last two objections lose all force if the Septuagint readings are accepted (Ze 1:4, "names of Baal"; 1:8, "house of the king").
On the other hand, there are several considerations pointing to the earlier date:
(a) The youth of the king would make it easy for the royal princes to go to the excesses condemned in Ze 1:8,9.
(b) The idolatrous practices condemned by Zephaniah (1:3-5) are precisely those abolished in 621.
(c) The temper described in Ze 1:12 is explicable before 621 and after the death of Josiah in 608, but not between 621 and 608, when religious enthusiasm was widespread.
(d) Only the earlier part of Josiah’s reign furnishes a suitable occasion for the prophecy.
Evidently at the time of its delivery an enemy was threatening the borders of Judah and of the surrounding nations. But the only foes of Judah during the latter part of the 7th century meeting all the conditions are the Scythians, who swept over Western Asia about 625 BC. At the time the prophecy was delivered their advance against Egypt seems to have been still in the future, but imminent (Ze 1:14); hence, the prophet’s activity may be placed between 630 and 625, perhaps in 626. If this date is correct, Zephaniah and Jeremiah began their ministries in the same year.
2. Political Situation:
Little can be said about the political conditions in Judah during the reign of Josiah, because the Biblical books are silent concerning them. Josiah seems to have remained loyal to his Assyrian lord to the very end, even when the latter’s prestige had begun to wane, and this loyalty cost him his life (
3. Moral and Religious Conditions:
The Book of Zephaniah falls naturally into two parts of unequal length. The first part (1:2-3:8) contains, almost exclusively, denunciations and threats; the second (3:9-20), a promise of salvation and glorification. The prophecy opens with the announcement of a world judgment (1:2,3), which will be particularly severe upon Judah and Jerusalem, because of idolatry (1:4-6). The ungodly nobles will suffer most, because they are the leaders in crime (1:8,9). The judgment is imminent (1:7); when it arrives there will be wailing on every hand (1:10,11). No one will escape, even the indifferent skeptics will be aroused (1:12,13). In the closing verses of chapter 1, the imminence and terribleness of the day of Yahweh are emphasized, from which there can be no escape, because Yahweh has determined to make a "terrible end of all them that dwell in the land" (1:14-18). A way of escape is offered to the meek; if they seek Yahweh, they may be "hid in the day of Yahweh" (2:1-3). Ze 2:4-15 contains threats upon 5 nations, Philistia (2:4-7), Moab and Ammon (2:8-11), Ethiopia (2:12), Assyria (2:13-15). In Ze 3:1 the prophet turns once more to Jerusalem. Leaders, both civil and religious, and people are hopelessly corrupt (3:1-4), and continue so in spite of Yahweh’s many attempts to win the city back to purity (3:5-7); hence, the judgment which will involve all nations has become inevitable (3:8). A remnant of the nations and of Judah will escape and find rest and peace in Yahweh (3:9-13). The closing section (3:14-20) pictures the joy and exaltation of the redeemed daughter of Zion.
The authenticity of every verse in Zephaniah 2 and 3, and of several verses in chapter 1, has been questioned by one or more scholars, but the passages rejected or questioned with greatest persistency are 2:1-3,4-15 (especially 2:8-11); 3:9,10,14-20. The principal objection to 2:1-3 is the presence in 2:3 of the expressions "meek of the earth," and "seek meekness." It is claimed that "meek" and "meekness" as religious terms are post-exilic. There can be no question that the words occur more frequently in post-exilic psalms and proverbs than in preexilic writings, but it cannot be proved, or even shown to be probable, that the words might not have been used in Zephaniah’s day (compare
The objections against Zephaniah 2:4-15 as a whole are equally inconclusive. For 2:13-15, a date preceding the fall of Nineveh seems most suitable. The threat against Philistia (2:4-7) also is quite intelligible in the days of Zephaniah, for the Scythians passed right through the Philistine territory. If Ethiopia stands for Egypt, 2:12 can easily be accounted for as coming from Zephaniah, for the enemies who were going along the Mediterranean coast must inevitably reach Egypt. But if it is insisted upon that the reference is to Ethiopia proper, again no difficulty exists, for in speaking of a world judgment Zephaniah might mention Ethiopia as the representative of the far south. Against 2:8-11 the following objections are raised:
(a) Moab and Ammon were far removed from the route taken by the Scythians.
(b) The "reproaches" of 2:8,10 presuppose the destruction of Jerusalem (
(c) The attitude of the prophet toward Judah (Zech 2:9,10) is the exact opposite of that expressed in Zephaniah 1.
(d) The qinah meter, which predominates in the rest of the section, is absent from 2:8-11.
(e) Ze 2:12 is the natural continuation of 2:9.
These five arguments are by no means conclusive:
(a) The prophet is announcing a world judgment. Could this be executed by the Scythians if they confined themselves to the territory along the?
(b) Is it true that the "reproaches" of 2:8,10 presuppose the destruction of Jerusalem?
(c) The promises in 2:7,8-10 are only to a remnant, which presupposes a judgment such as is announced in chapter 1.
(d) Have we a right to demand consistency in the use of a certain meter in oratory, and, if so, may not the apparent inconsistency be due to corruption of the text, or to a later expansion of an authentic oracle?
(e) Ze 2:8-11 can be said to interrupt the thought only if it is assumed that the prophet meant to enumerate the nations in the order in which the Scythians naturally would reach their territory.
From Philistia they would naturally pass to Egypt. But is this assumption warranted? While the objections against the entire paragraph are inconclusive, it cannot be denied that 2:12 seems the natural continuation of 2:9, and since 2:10 and 11 differ in other respects from those preceding, suspicion of the originality of these two verses cannot be suppressed.
Ze 3:1-8 is so similar to chapter 1 that its originality cannot be seriously questioned, but 3:1-8 carry with them 3:9-13, which describe the purifying effects of the judgment announced in 3:1-8. The present text of 3:10 may be corrupt, but if properly emended there remains insufficient reason for questioning 3:10 and 11. The authenticity of 3:14-20 is more doubtful than that of any other section of Zephaniah. The buoyant tone of the passage forms a marked contrast to the somber, quiet strain of 3:11-13; the judgments upon Judah appear to be in the past; 3:18-20 seem to presuppose a scattering of the people of Judah, while the purifying judgment of 3:11-13 falls upon the people in their own land; hence, there is much justice in Davidson’s remark that "the historical situation presupposed is that of
The teaching of Zephaniah closely resembles that of the earlier prophetic books. Yahweh is the God of the universe, a God of righteousness and holiness, who expects of His worshippers a life in accord with His will. Israel are His chosen people, but on account of rebellion they must suffer severe punishment. Wholesale conversion seems out of the question, but a remnant may escape, to be exalted among the nations. He adds little, but attempts with much moral and spiritual fervor to impress upon his comtemporaries the fundamental truths of the religion of Yahweh. Only a few points deserve special mention.
1. The Day of Yahweh:
Earlier prophets had spoken of the day of Yahweh; Amos (5:18-20) had described it in language similar to that employed by Zephaniah; but the latter surpasses all his predecessors in the emphasis he places upon this terrible manifestation of Yahweh (see Eschatology of the Old Testament). His entire teaching centers around this day; and in the Book of Zephaniah we find the germs of the apocalyptic visions which become so common in later prophecies of an eschatological character. Concerning this day he says
(a) that it is a day of terror (1:15),
(b) it is imminent (1:14),
(c) it is a judgment for sin (1:17),
(d) it falls upon all creation (1:2,3; 2:4-15; 3:8),
(e) it is accompanied by great convulsions in Nature (1:15),
(f) a remnant of redeemed Hebrews and foreigners will escape from its terrors (Ze 2:3; 3:9-13).
The vision of the book is world-wide. The terrors of the day of Yahweh will fall upon all. In the same manner from all nations converts will be won to Yahweh (Ze 3:9,10). These will not be compelled to come to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh (
3. Messianic Prophecy:
The Messianic King is not mentioned by Zephaniah. Though he draws a sublime picture of the glories of the Messianic age (Ze 3:14-20), there is not a word concerning the person of the Messianic King. Whatever is done is accomplished by Yahweh Himself.
Cornms. on the Minor Prophets by Ewald, Pusey, Keil, Orelli, G. A. Smith (Expositor’s Bible); Driver (New Century); Eiselen; A. B. Davidson, Commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Cambridge Bible); A. F. Kirkpatrick, Doctrine of the Prophets; Eiselen, Prophecy and the Prophets; F. W. Farrar, "Minor Prophets," Men of the Bible; S. R. Driver, Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), article "Zephaniah, Book of"; Encyclopedia Biblica, article "Zephaniah."