The Book of Zephaniah
Being the great-great grandson of Hezekiah (1:1), it is very likely that Zephaniah was from the royal house of David.
Author, Date and Locale
Zephaniah likely ministered in Jerusalem. Since he ministered ‘in the days of Josiah’, the last good king of the Southern kingdom (Judah), this dates the writing of Zephaniah between 640-609 B.C. A slight narrowing of this dating range can be made, because the city of Nineveh was still standing when Zephaniah was written (cf. 2:13-15). Zephaniah was therefore written sometime between 640-612 B.C. As such, Nahum, Habakkuk and Jeremiah were contemporary prophets of Zephaniah. It is crucial that people be found hidden in the Lord when the eschatological Day of the LORD arrives (cf. 2:3) — and the name ‘Zephaniah’ means ‘hidden in Yahweh’ (Constable 2017:1).
Broadly speaking, Zephaniah consists of an introduction (1:1), the Day of the LORD in judgement (1:2-3:8) which is followed by the Day of the LORD in blessing (3:9-20). Of the various detailed structures that have been proposed for the whole Book of Zephaniah, we note two. The first structure we highlight is proposed by Patterson (2003:256, 261):
1. The announcement of the Day of the LORD 1:2-2:3
A Pronouncements of judgement 1:2-6
On all the earth 1:2-3
On Judah and Jerusalem 1:4-6
B Exhortations based on judgement 1:7-13
C Teachings concerning the Day of the LORD 1:14-2:3
Information concerning that day 1:14-18
Instructions in the light of that day 2:1-3
2. Additional details concerning the Day of the LORD 2:4-3:20
A Further pronouncements of judgement 2:4-3:7
On all nations 2:4-15
On Jerusalem 3:1-7
B An exhortation based on judgement 3:8
C Additional teachings concerning the Day of the LORD 3:9-20
Information concerning that day 3:9-13
Instructions in the light of that day 3:14-20
A second structural proposal is by Dorsey (1999:313):
A Coming judgement upon the wicked of Jerusalem 1:2-6
They are idolatrous, follow Baal, swear by Molech, and do not seek the LORD or inquire of Him
B Coming judgement of corrupt leaders and rich in Jerusalem 1:7-13
Their greed, violence and corruption; their view: the LORD will do no good, nor will He do ill
C LORD’s judgement on all nations: great & terrible Day of the LORD 1:14-18
Against all the earth and all the inhabitants of the earth
D Centre: Call to repentance 2:1-3
C’ LORD’s judgement on all nations: oracles against the nations 2:4-15
LORD will be against all the gods of the earth and against all the inhabitants of the seacoast etc.
B’ Coming judgement of corrupt political/religious leaders of Jerusalem 3:1-8
Their greed, violence against the law, and corruption
A’ Coming restoration of Jerusalem and its fortunes 3:9-20
They seek refuge in the LORD and call upon His name, serve Him with one accord; LORD will purify speech of His people
While obviously not a proposal to structure the whole of Zephaniah, we note the following interesting chiastic structure that Baker (1988:84) proposed for Zephaniah 3:14-3:17:
A Zion shouting 3:14a
B Israel shouts 3:14b
C Jerusalem’s joy 3:14c
D The LORD’s deliverance 3:15a, b
E Presence of the LORD the king 3:15c
F No more fear 3:15d
G Jerusalem’s future message 3:16a
F’ No more fear 3:16b, c
E’ Presence of the LORD the God 3:17a
D’ The mighty deliverer 3:17b
C’ God’s joy 3:17c
B’ The LORD’s silence 3:17d
A’ The LORD singing 3:17e
Theme, Purpose and Conclusion
The theme of Zephaniah is undoubtedly the Day of the LORD and various descriptions of that day (1:7-10, 14, 15-16, 18; 2:2, 3; 3:8, 11, 16). This is a very serious and sobering book. What is described in Zephaniah is, for the most part, the eschatological Day of the LORD, as the LORD will judge all the earth (1:2-3; 3:8) and all the nations (1:4-3:8). This eschatological Day of the LORD has not yet arrived, but it will, like a thief in the night, when they say ‘peace and safety’ (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3; cf. Daniel 9:24-27). ‘Be silent before the LORD God! For the Day of the LORD is near’ (Zephaniah 1:7). The only survivors of the judgement of the Day of the LORD will be those who seek and are found hidden in the LORD (2:3; 3:12). Then the remnant of Israel will say, ‘Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! (3:14). For after this judgement, the ‘King of Israel, the LORD’ will be in your midst (3:15). What is described in Zephaniah is, for the most part, the eschatological Day of the LORD, but this day is not only a day of judgement, it is also a day of blessing, for Israel (3:11-20) and all the nations of the earth (3:9-10). Zephaniah is sobering, but it ends with a note of blessing and restoration, starting with the remnant of Israel. For the Day of the LORD will culminate in the Messianic kingdom, when the King rules not only over Israel from Jerusalem, but also over all the nations of the earth.
Baker, D.W., 1988, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (TOTC), IVP Academic, Downers Grove.
Constable, T.L., 2017, Notes on Zephaniah, 2017 edition.
Dorsey, D.A., 1999, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.
Patterson, R.D., 2003, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah: An Exegetical Commentary, Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.
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