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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Zephaniah (1)

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ZEPHANIAH is the title of the 9th section of the Hebrew collection of prophetic literature, entitled ‘The Twelve Prophets,’ which was probably compiled in the 3rd cent. b.c. (see Micah [Book of]). Like other sections of this work, it contains both earlier and later materials, though these cannot always be separated from one another with certainty. In the main the Book of Zephaniah consists of a prophecy of judgment delivered by Zephaniah about b.c. 627.

1. The prophet . According to the title of the book ( Zephaniah 1:1 ), Zephaniah prophesied in the reign of Josiah (b.c. 639 608). Since the allusions in ch. 1 point to the continuance unchecked of false worships such as those of ‘the host of heaven’ which had prevailed in Judah under the previous kings Manasseh and Amon, we may infer that Zephaniah prophesied in the earlier part of Josiah’s reign, before the Reformation of the year 621, which enforced the laws of Deuteronomy. Two further inferences with regard to Zephaniah are justifiable if, as is probable, the great-great-grandfather of Zephaniah was king Hezekiah (1:1. cf. Expositor , 1900 (July), pp. 76 80): (1) Zephaniah was of royal descent; (2) like Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 1:6 ), Zephaniah when he began to prophesy was a young man say of some 25 years.

2. The book . The Book of Zephaniah ought not to be read as a continuous whole. Ch. 3 is separated from chs. 1, 2 by a very marked break. Chs. 1 and 2 form not improbably a single prophecy, which, however, appears to have been more or less amplified by subsequent editors; certainly in some places, especially at the beginning of ch. 2, it has been rendered obscure by textual corruption. In its present form this prophecy predicts as near at hand a judgment that is to involve the whole world ( Zephaniah 1:2 f.; also Zephaniah 1:18 , if ‘land’ should rather be translated ‘earth’); and it describes in detail how it will affect Judah ( Zephaniah 1:4-17 (18)), Philistia ( Zephaniah 2:4-7 ), Moab and Ammon ( Zephaniah 2:8-10 ), Ethiopia ( Zephaniah 2:12 ) and Assyria ( Zephaniah 2:14-15 ). The ground of judgment in the case of Judah is found in the prevalence of false worship ( Zephaniah 1:4-5 ), of foreign fashions ( Zephaniah 1:8 f.) and disregard of Jahweh ( Zephaniah 1:12 ); in the case of Moab and Ammon, in the contemptuous taunts with which they had upbraided Judah ( Zephaniah 2:8-10 ) (such taunts as, according to Ezekiel [ Ezekiel 25:1-11 ], these peoples hurled at the Jews after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c.); in the case of Assyria, in her presumptuous arrogance and self-confidence ( Zephaniah 2:15 ). According to the general opinion, Zephaniah, like Jeremiah, who was prophesying at the same time, expected the Scythians to be the instruments of this judgment: for at about this time hordes of these barbarians were pouring into Asia. According to Marti, Zephaniah’s original prophecy confined itself to a prediction of a destructive invasion by the Scythians, who, coming from the north, would first sweep through Judah, then southwards through Philistia to Ethiopia in the extreme south, and then, turning backwards, would overwhelm the Assyrian empire. The references to Moab and Ammon, and the touches which universalize the judgment, must in this case owe their insertion into Zephaniah’s prophecy to later editors. Many also think that the promises in chs. 1, 2 (see chiefly Zephaniah 2:3 ; Zephaniah 2:7 ) are later than Zephaniah.

Ch. 3 contains (1) a description of the sins of Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:1-7 ); this may be a second denunciation of Zephaniah’s, parallel to ch. 1 and particularizing rather different sins, or a prophetic description of Jerusalem at a later date; (2) a description of a universal judgment from which only the godly remnant of Judah will escape ( Zephaniah 3:8 ; Zephaniah 3:11-13 ; cf. Zephaniah 2:3 ); (3) a description of the glory of the Jews after Jahweh has delivered them from captivity ( Zephaniah 3:14-20 ). All of ch. 3 may be of post-exilic origin, and the third section can scarcely be pre-exilic. Inserted in the midst of the second section are two verses ( Zephaniah 3:9-10 ) which, like Zephaniah 2:11 , predict that Jahweh will be universally worshipped; these also are probably of post-exilic origin.

It seems clear that Zephaniah, like the prophets of the 8th cent. and his own contemporary, Jeremiah, was, primarily, a prophet of judgment to come upon his own people. In this respect he differed from two prophets of the same generation Nahum and Habakkuk, both of whom, however, probably prophesied after the Reformation of Josiah. Nahum is entirely concerned with judgment on Assyria; Habakkuk is perplexed by what to Zephaniah might have appeared the fulfilment of his prophecy the present troubles of Judah. Zephaniah marks no new departure in prophetic activity or thought, but by his moral earnestness, and his insistence on the need for single-hearted devotion to the demands of Jahweh for righteousness, he performed for his own generation the service rendered a century earlier by Isaiah, whose influence on his thought and teaching is obvious (cf. particularly Zephaniah 1:14-17 with Isaiah 2:12 ff.).

Owing more especially to textual corruption, parts of the book, even in the RV [Note: Revised Version.] , are unintelligible: see Driver, Minor Prophets , vol. ii. (Century Bible); G. A. Smith, Book of the Twelve Prophets , vol. ii. pp. 35 74 (containing a translation from a critically emended text); see also A. B. Davidson’s Commentary on the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] in the Cambridge Bible .

G. B. Gray.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Zephaniah (1)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/z/zephaniah-1.html. 1909.

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