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«Introduction TITLE AND WRITER The title of the book comes from the name of its writer. Zephaniah means Yahweh Hides [or Has Hidden], Hidden in ...»

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Notes on


2016 Edition

Dr. Thomas L. Constable



The title of the book comes from the name of its writer. "Zephaniah" means "Yahweh

Hides [or Has Hidden]," "Hidden in Yahweh," "Yahweh's Watchman," or "Yahweh

Treasured." The uncertainty arises over the etymology of the prophet's name, which

scholars dispute. I prefer "Hidden by Yahweh."1

Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah (1:1), evidently King Hezekiah of Judah. This is not at all certain, but I believe it is likely. Only two other Hezekiahs appear on the pages of the Old Testament, and they both lived in the postexilic period. The Chronicler mentioned one of these (1 Chron. 3:23), and the writers of Ezra and Nehemiah mentioned the other (Ezra 2:16; Neh. 7:21). If he was indeed a descendant of the king, this would make him the writing prophet with the most royal blood in his veins, except for David and Solomon. Apart from the names of his immediate forefathers, we know nothing more about him for sure, though it seems fairly certain where he lived. His references to Judah and Jerusalem (1:10-11) seem to indicate that he lived in Jerusalem, which would fit a king's descendant.2 UNITY Criticism of the unity of Zephaniah has not had great influence. Zephaniah's prediction of Nineveh's fall (2:15; 612 B.C.) led critics—who do not believe that the prophets could predict the future—to date the book after that event. Differences in language and style influenced some critics to divide the book up and identify its various parts with diverse sources. Yet the unity of the message and flow of the entire book, plus ancient belief in its unity, have convinced most conservative scholars to regard Zephaniah as the product of one writer.3 1Cf.Ronald B. Allen, A Shelter in the Fury, p. 20.

2See Vern S. Poythress, "Dispensing with Merely Human Meaning: Gains and Losses from Focusing on

the Human Author, Illustrated by Zephaniah 1:2-3," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57:3

(September 2014):481-99.

3For further discussion of the book's unity, see Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, pp.


Copyright © 2016 by Thomas L. Constable Published by Sonic Light: http://www.soniclight.com/ 2 Dr. Constable's Notes on Zephaniah 2016 Edition DATE Zephaniah ministered during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 B.C.; 1:1).

Scholars debate just when during his reign Zephaniah wrote, before4 or after5 Josiah's reforms, which began about 622 B.C. There is support for both views.6 Zephaniah made no explicit reference to Josiah's reforms, and the evidence is really insufficient to settle the debate.7 However, Zephaniah alluded to Deuteronomy often. He may have done so because the discovery of the Law, which triggered Josiah's reforms, had made the people more aware of it than they had been before its discovery.

Zephaniah's reference to the future destruction of Nineveh (2:13) definitely fixed his writing before that event in 612 B.C. So the prophet ministered between 640 and 612 B.C. His contemporaries were Nahum, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah, though Jeremiah's ministry continued beyond the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 586 B.C.


References to Jerusalem in 1:10-11 seem to indicate that Zephaniah knew Jerusalem well.

Since he ministered to the Southern Kingdom, it is likely that he lived in Judah and probably in Jerusalem.


The fact that Yahweh's word came to Zephaniah during Josiah's reign (640-609 B.C.), means that he could not have ministered to the Northern Kingdom, because it fell in 722 B.C. Thus, Zephaniah's audience consisted of the people of Judah: the surviving Southern Kingdom. He apparently ministered primarily to the upper echelons of society rather than to the average Israelites, as evidenced by his references to the princes, judges, prophets, and priests (1:8-9; 3:3-4).

The political situation in Judah during Josiah's reign was fairly peaceful. Following Assyria's capture of Samaria in 722 B.C., the Assyrian Empire began to decline. With its decline, Nabopolassar, the first of the Neo-Babylonian kings (626-605 B.C.), began to lead Babylonia forward. Assyria declined and Babylonia advanced until Babylonia, assisted by the Medes and Scythians, destroyed Nineveh in 612 B.C. and a few years later replaced Assyria as the dominant power in the ancient Near East. This happened in 605 B.C. when the Babylonians defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at Carchemish. Judah benefited during this transitional period in Near Eastern politics. Josiah was able to get rid of some Assyrian religious practices, and he extended Judah's territory north into the tribal territory of Naphtali. Unfortunately, Josiah died prematurely in 609 B.C. (cf.

2 Chron. 35:20-27).

4E.g., ibid., p. 276; H. A. Hanke, "Zephaniah," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 883; David W. Baker, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, p. 91; Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 320; Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 839; George L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, p. 132; et al.

5E.g., John D. Hannah, "Zephaniah," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1523; et al.

6See Patterson, pp. 275-6, and Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, pp. 121-23, for other scholars who held each of these views.

7Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 472.

2016 Edition Dr. Constable's Notes on Zephaniah 3 Josiah's evil predecessors, Manasseh (695-642 B.C.) and Amon (642-640 B.C.), had encouraged the people of Judah to depart from the Lord for over 50 years, so wickedness had become ingrained in them. In the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign (622 B.C.), Hilkiah the priest discovered the Law of Moses in the temple, and after Josiah read it, he instituted major reforms throughout Judah. Josiah's reforms were good because they were official. He eliminated much of the display of idolatry in the land and revived the celebration of the Passover, among other things. See 2 Kings 22:4-25 and 2 Chronicles 34:3—35:19 for lists of his extensive reforms. But unfortunately his reforms did not change the hearts of most of the people, as Jeremiah revealed in his earlier prophecies. So the people to whom Zephaniah ministered had a long history of formal religion without much real commitment to Yahweh.

God sent a prophetic word to Zephaniah because the Judeans of his day still needed to get right with Him in their hearts. The prophet announced that God was going to send judgment on Judah for her wickedness. He also assured the godly few in the nation, the remnant, that the Lord would preserve them and remain true to His promises concerning ultimate worldwide blessing for Israel in the future. Perhaps 1:7 summarizes what the book is all about better than any other single verse: "Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the LORD is near."

–  –  –

"Literary genres used include judgment oracles (1:2-3, 4-6, 8-9, etc.), calls for response (1:7; 2:1-3; 3:8)—including a call to praise and a psalm of praise (3:14-17)—as well as salvation oracles (3:9-13, 18-20)."14


The Book of Zephaniah has been called "a compendium of the oracles of the prophets."15 This is true for two reasons. First, Zephaniah's general message is similar to that of most of the other writing prophets. Second, he used the same terms as several of the other prophets (cf. 1:7 and Hab. 2:20; 1:7 and Joel 1:15; 1:7 and Isa. 34:6; 2:14 and Isa. 13:21;

34:11; 2:15 and Isa. 47:8).

–  –  –

Zephaniah contains more references to "the day of the LORD" than any other Old Testament book. This phrase sometimes refers to the past, sometimes to the near future, sometimes to the distant future, and sometimes to the far distant, eschatological future.

The phrase always refers to some period of time in which God is working in the world in a recognizable way. It usually refers to a time of blasting, but sometimes it refers to a time of blessing.

–  –  –

Zephaniah 1:14-18 has been called "emergent apocalyptic."19 This pericope contains material that would one day become prominent in Jewish apocalyptic literature.20 Theologically, Zephaniah stressed the sovereign justice of Yahweh (1:2-3, 7, 14-18; 3:8) and His willingness to receive the repentant (2:3). He also emphasized the wickedness of man (1:3-6, 17; 3:1, 4). The theme of Yahweh's relationship to Jerusalem is prominent in Zephaniah as well (1:4-13; 3:1-7, 11-17).

Structurally, the book is a carefully crafted collection of oracles that compose one coherent message.21

–  –  –

MESSAGE The key to the Book of Zephaniah is the phrase "the day of the Lord." This phrase appears in most of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. As the prophets used the phrase, "the day of the Lord" can be a past day, a day in the relatively near future, or a day in the far distant (eschatological) future. It is any day in which God is obviously at work in human affairs.

Wherever we find the phrase "the day of the Lord," it always suggests a contrast with the "day" of man. The day of man is any day when man appears to be in control of human affairs. It Is a day of God's patience. The day of the Lord is any day when God is clearly in control of human affairs. It is a day of God's judgment and or blessing. The phrase "the day of the Lord" is by no means unique to Zephaniah, but it is the key to the message of this book. Zephaniah used it more frequently than any other prophet. It was his burden, and he explained the meaning of this phrase more than any other prophet.

Zephaniah ministered during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (1:1). It is rather remarkable that the prophet did not refer to Josiah's reforms, which were his great spiritual contribution to the history of Judah. Perhaps the reason for the lack of mention is that Josiah's reforms were a result of his personal dedication to Yahweh, rather than the result of a revival of spiritual life among the Judahites generally. Huldah's prophecy reflects this difference (cf. 2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chron. 34:22-28). Zephaniah took no note of Josiah's good heart, but addressed the spiritual need of the Judahites. The contrast between this king and his subjects is striking.

The "day of the Lord" that Zephaniah predicted was an eschatological day in which God would judge the people of Judah and Jerusalem. This judgment will take place during the first part of the eschatological day of the Lord, the period we refer to as the Tribulation.

Zephaniah also predicted restoration following judgment (ch. 3). This refers to the second part of the eschatological day of the Lord, the period we refer to as the Millennium.

But Zephaniah also had in mind an eschatological day of the Lord even after the Millennium. This seems clear from the extent of devastation he described, as well as the picture of restoration he painted. That "day of the Lord" will be the judgment of the Lord at the end of the Millennium, including the destruction of the present earth and heavens, which will be followed by the creation of new heavens and a new earth.

2016 Edition Dr. Constable's Notes on Zephaniah 7 Other revelation helps us see that there are, in fact, two periods of future judgment followed by restoration, not just one, which we might conclude if all we had was Zephaniah's prophecy (cf. 2 Pet. 3; Rev.).

The timeless value of the Book of Zephaniah is its unveiling of the day of the Lord. The book does not reveal exactly when that day will come. The only chronological reference in the book is in the first verse, which locates Zephaniah's ministry in history. The book pictures God judging in the undefined future. This is not judgment through armies of invading soldiers, or through any human instrumentality. It is direct judgment from God Himself.

There are three things that this book reveals about this coming day of the Lord: its content, its extent, and its intent.

The content of the day of the Lord is clear from 1:2-3. God will visit earth with direct and positive retribution, not in the general administrative sense of bringing people to account eventually, but in the narrower sense of executing vengeance on humanity in cataclysmic judgment (1:14-16). This judgment will fall in spite of human unbelief (1:12). When people will be disregarding God, He will break into human history dynamically, supernaturally, to judge. Peter's description of the day of the Lord is remarkably similar (2 Pet. 3:1-10). People today are saying what these two prophets said they would say so long ago. They are saying that God will never intervene in judgment this way. The great statement of the Book of Zephaniah is that God will indeed do this in a day yet future.

What will be the extent of this judgment? Zephaniah reveals that it will be discriminating.

His people Israel will be the special target of this judgment, though all humanity will also suffer (1:12). As we can see from this verse, the last stages of sin are complacency and indifference. It is an interesting fact of history that complacency and indifference have frequently preceded the destruction of great empires of the past. Assyria fell to Babylonia because she was complacent and indifferent (cf. Nahum). Remember the fall of the Babylonian Empire that we read of in Daniel 5. The Roman Empire fell to the Visigoths from the north because it had become complacent and indifferent. And earlier, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and later the Southern Kingdom of Judah, fell to Assyria and Babylonia respectively for the same reasons. The spirit that produces these conditions is disregard for God and His Word (3:1-2). The result of such a spirit is that the leaders of the people forsake their proper servant role and turn to abusing the people to fatten themselves (3:3-4).

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