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Summary: Zephaniah prophesied during King Josiah’s reign. He was responsible for a great religious reform. This reform followed the wicked reigns of Manasseh and Amon, who led the nation into various forms of idolatry. Zephaniah pronounces inescapable judgments against Jerusalem for their sins and exhorts national repentance. He further speaks of the “day of the Lord” when God will intervene to judge sin.
The Book of Zephaniah
Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson (i.e., fourth in line of descent) of a man called in the A.V. Hiskiah, who was probably the king Hezekiah. Usually a prophet’s genealogy is not carried beyond his father, but if for any reason it was thought desirable to carry it further back, the obvious stopping point would be some man of note whose descent was a matter of common knowledge. However, as the number four plays such a large part in the plan of development of the prophecy there is possibly here an additional reason for giving his ancestors to the fourth generation.
The Prophecy of Zephaniah
The contents of several of the Minor Prophets follow a similar pattern; a pattern that can be summarised under three headings:—
The Prophecy of Zephaniah
In the third chapter of the prophecy commences with a pronouncement of woe upon the Holy City of Jerusalem whose inhabitants had not been holy and who therefore merited divine admonition. Jerusalem was “filthy,” that is, unclean in the sight of God and rebellious against Him. It was an “oppressing city” in that it oppressed unjustly the weak and the poor. Further, she obeyed not the voice of God nor accepted His instruction; she trusted not in the Lord but always in man, making alliances with surrounding pagan nations.¹ Neither did she draw near to God, but neglected prayerful contact with the Almighty. The third verse identifies the chief offenders. The princes as roaring lions were ravenous and cruel. The judges, as evening wolves were greedy and rapacious; “they gnaw not the bones till the morrow,” or as better translated in the Revised Version, “they leave nothing till the morrow,” because they are so insatiably ravenous. The prophets were shallow and unreliable and the priests polluted the sanctuary, dishonouring the Law and the Holy Temple. “The just Lord” in His omnipotence and omniscience was aware of these transgressions, and His judgements meted out upon the nations around afforded evidence of His righteousness and justice,² In the sight of the people of Judah and Jerusalem, God had “cut off the nations”—the Canaanites before the advancing Israelites, the Assyrians to the extent of one hundred and eighty-five thousand in a single night. Their towers in which they trusted for defence, He made desolate. Their cities He destroyed so that there was no inhabitant. Having seen these miraculous performances, the men of Judah and Jerusalem ought to have profited thereby, learning to repent and improve their ways in the sight of God, Who says, “Surely thou wilt fear Me, thou wilt receive instruction; so thy dwelling should not be cut off;”³ but punishment was inevitable because “they rose early, and corrupted all their doings,” that is, they more ardently adopted sinful ways and became utterly corrupt. The first phrase of verse eight, “Wait ye upon Me,” is in the nature of an exhortation to worship and obey the God of Heaven and implies the idea of earnestly waiting upon the Almighty; and it would appear that here God is addressing chiefly the class previously mentioned⁴: “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth,” for they are the ones who will “be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.” They are therefore urged not to despair, but to realise the certainty of divine action at a future fixed time—in the day when He rises up to the prey, as Zephaniah terms it; the day God has in mind and which He styles “the set time to favour Zion;” the day when “the Lord cometh forth out of His place to tread upon the high places of the earth; the day of the Lord’s anger against the wicked nations of the earth; the day when He gathers the nations and assembles the kingdoms to pour upon them His indignation, even all His fierce anger.” Truly the day of the Lord will witness stupendous events. The expression, “the fire of My jealousy,” occurs twice in Zephaniah’s writings.⁵ In the first instance, it is stated that God will make a speedy riddance of all in the land who, in His eyes are undesirable; and similar intentions are expressed again here. A time still future is here indicated; a time when the devouring of the earth with God’s jealousy will result in the fulfilment of Habakkuk’s prediction, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” “For then will I turn to the people a pure language”—probably Hebrew—“that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent.” Here God is speaking through Zephaniah, of His own people, the “remnant of Israel” mentioned later in verse thirteen, and of the “daughter of Zion, Israel, the daughter of Jerusalem,” in the fourteenth verse. He speaks too, of the regathering of His dispersed people from lands as far distant as Ethiopia whence His offering shall be brought, or, as the Revised Version gives it, “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia shall they bring My suppliants, even the daughter of My dispersed, for an offering unto Me.” “In that day,” when God restores again the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, when they call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him with one consent, her iniquities will be pardoned and God will take from the midst of her “them that rejoice in thy pride;”⁶ those who have proudly triumphed and exulted over His people. “And thou shalt no more be haughty in My holy mountain.” God’s people, the redeemed remnant of Israel will no longer have a boastful confidence because of any privileges they possess; for now they are the meek of the earth whom God will at this time beautify with salvation, making them partakers of the divine nature, and therefore, “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity.”⁷ They are the redeemed of the Lord, the Israel of Deity, the flock of Bozrah, the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed servants of God, immortal, incorruptible, purified and glorified. “They shall feed and lie down and none shall make them afraid,” for “the King of Israel is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil anymore.”⁸ Then will the Great Shepherd feed his flock; “He shall gather the lambs with his arms and carry them in his bosom.” Divine omnipotence and Divine action are the main features of Zephaniah’s writings; this intervention on behalf of Israel is to take place at a fixed time spoken of as “that day” and “that time.” This can be no other day and no other time but the “day of the Lord” and the “time of the end,” the “day of vengeance of our God” and the “time of the dead that they should be judged.” Zephaniah fixes this “day” and this “time” from the chronological point of view by his enumeration of incidents yet ‘to take place; the Divine gathering of the nations, when all the earth is devoured by the fire of God’s jealousy; the turning of the people to a pure language; the regathering of Israel from distant lands; the total absence of iniquity amongst the “remnant of Israel;” the routing of Israel’s foes; the undoing of all who afflict Israel; the getting of fame for the “remnant of Israel” in every land and amongst “all peoples of the earth.” There will then be just cause for the prophet to declare, “Sing, Ο daughter of Zion! Shout, Ο Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all the heart, Ο daughter of Jerusalem,” because “the Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy, He will joy over thee with singing.”
The Prophecy of Zephaniah
Chapter two of the prophecy opens with a divine call to Judah. “Gather yourselves together, Ο nation not desired,” or “not desirous,” as the marginal note states. Judah was not desirable in the eyes of God, nor desirous of serving God in righteousness; hence the exhortation to correct their conduct “before the fierce anger of the Lord” comes upon them. “Seek ye the Lord,” says Zephaniah, “seek righteousness, seek meekness”; and especially do the words apply to those who are still “meek,” and who have “wrought His judgement,” or obeyed His commandments. To those Zephaniah says in effect, “Continue to seek righteousness,” for “it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger”; and this brings to mind again, the meaning of the prophet’s name, which is, “Whom the Lord hides,” or, “Hidden of God,” and it recalls also the words of Psalm thirty-one, “How great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man.” “For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people; He will beautify the meek with salvation.” Verses four and onwards turn our thoughts to judgements to be meted out upon the nations surrounding Judah. Those nations include Philistia in the west, Moab and Ammon in the east, Ethiopia¹ in the south and Assyria in the north. It is noticeable, therefore, that all the regions round about Judah are involved, north, south, east and west; and with regard to distant Ethiopia, the Divine record shows that part of Shishak’s Egyptian army was composed of Ethiopians. These details have their importance because of the words of the prophet in verse seven. “And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon; in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening; for the Lord their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.”
Studies in the Minor Prophets: Zephaniah
Fifty-seven years of almost complete apostasy separated the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. During that period, Judah sank to the very depths of moral and spiritual degradation. It is true that Manasseh experienced something of a change of heart and mind as a result of his defeat and capture by the Assyrians, but the evil was not stayed. The canker of his ruinous example had eaten deeply into the character of his subjects and could not be eliminated by his half-hearted attempts at reformation.
Read Scripture: Zephaniah
Watch the book of Zephaniah come to life in this animated sketch of its literary design. Zephaniah announces God’s coming judgment on Israel’s injustice and covenant unfaithfulness. It will devastate Jerusalem and end in exile. But God’s love and mercy will endure, and so Zephaniah sees this purifying judgment as the true hope of the world, as God creates a world where all people can flourish in safety and peace.
Zephaniah, Apocalypse of
A (probably) Jewish apocryphal work of this name is mentioned in the Stichometry of Nicephorus and another list practically identical with this; a quotation from it is also preserved by Clement of Alexandria (Strom., v. 11, 77). Dr. Charles thinks this indicates a Christian revision (Encyclopedia Brittanica, II, article “Apocalypse”); others suppose it to point to a Christian, rather than a Jewish, origin. See Schurer, HJP, div II, volume III, pp. 126-27, 132; GJV, III, 367-69.
Zephaniah, Book of
The name “Zephaniah” (צפניה, cephanyāh; Σοφονίας, Sophonías), which is borne by three other men mentioned in the Old Testament, means “Yah hides,” or “Yah has hidden” or “treasured.” “It suggests,” says G. A. Smith, “the prophet’s birth in the killing time of Manasseh” (2 Kings 21:16).
zef-a-nī ́a (צפניה, cephanyāh, צפניהוּ, cephanyāhū, “Yah hath treasured”):
Book of Zephaniah
The Book of Zephaniah (Hebrew: צְפַנְיָה, Modern Tsfanya, Tiberian Ṣəp̄anyā, /ˌzɛfəˈnaɪ.ə/) is the ninth of the twelve minor prophets, preceded by Habakkuk and followed by Haggai. The name Zephaniah means “Yahweh has hidden/protected,” “Yahweh hides,” or “Yahweh is my secret.”
Zephaniah /ˌzɛfəˈnaɪ.ə/ or Tzepfanyah (Hebrew: צְפַנְיָה, Modern Tsfanya, Tiberian Ṣəp̄anyā; “Concealed of/is Lord”) is the name of several people in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Tanakh. His name is commonly transliterated Sophonias in Bibles translated from the Latin Vulgate or Septuagint. The name might mean “Yah(weh) has concealed,” “[he whom] Yah(weh) has hidden,” or “Yah(weh) lies in wait”.