Introducing the Book of Zephaniah

The tracing of Zephaniah’s genealogy through several generations to his great-great-grandfather Hezekiah is unique in the prophets. There is no way to know, however, whether or not his great-great-grandfather is the renowned king of Judah. In any case, Zephaniah’s oracles are set in the days of Josiah. His preaching may have been early in Josiah’s reign as this compendium of sermons condemns the kinds of sins renounced in Josiah’s reformation. The book is a collection of Zephaniah’s sermons, arranged as judgment and salvation, for Judah and the nations.

The General Structure of the Book of Zephaniah[1]

Who can withstand the anticreational terror of the coming day of Yahweh?

I           Introduction (1:1-3)

A         Heading (1:1)

B         Anti-creation of the earth (1:2-3)

1:2-3 The thematic scope of the judgment is set in 1:2-3. The Creator will anti-create the rebellious nations, beginning with his own people. The order of creation—fish, birds, animals, humans (Gen 1:20-26)—is reversed. Compare Jer 4:23-26 (cf. Hos 4:3).

I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says Yahweh. I will sweep away humans and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will make the wicked stumble. I will cut off humanity from the face of the earth, says Yahweh (1:2-3).

II         Oracles of disaster (1:4-3:8)

C         against Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-2:3)

1:7 Be silent; compare Zeph 1:7; Hab 2:20. 1:7 Sacrifice imagery is used to depict the judgment of the people of God in the day of Yahweh (1:7, 17, 18). 1:8 “princes” and “king’s sons” lead some to think of Zephaniah as later in Josiah’s reign, after the revival had begun (thus, he offers support and corroboration). 1:14-18 Note the tenfold use of “day” (yom) to accent the “sacrifice” of judgment upon the people for their sin in the near great day of Yahweh. Compare the tenfold use of “in the day” in Obadiah 11-14. 2:3 The call for the humble to seek Yahweh, righteous, and humility, is along the lines of the Davidic hope of Psalm 22:26. The same themes are repeated later in Zephaniah in terms of the hope for salvation (see 3:12, 19). Moreover, compare the humble as the subjects in Yahweh’s new rule in Isaiah 66:1-2.

D         against the nations (2:4-15)

1          Philistine cities (2:4-7)

2:5 Cretans (Cherethites) may have been mercenaries from Crete who migrated to Canaan along with the Philistines, another seafaring people (they are also mentioned in 1 Sam 30:14; 2 Sam 8:18; 15:18; 20:7, 23; 1 Kgs 1:38, 44; 1 Chron 18:17; Ezek 25:16). 

2          Moab and Ammon (2:8-11)

The remnant of Judah is pictured as inhabiting the destroyed kingdoms of the Philistia, Moab, and Ammon (2:7, 9; cf. 3:13). The comparison between Moab and Ammon and Sodom and Gomorrah speaks of the gravity of the judgment. The remnant of Judah will take over of the kingdoms of their enemies; this is here expressed in new covenant language—restore their fortune (2:7; 3:20; cf. Deut 30:1-6).

 3          Ethiopia (2:12)

4          Assyrians (2:13-15)

E          against the city of God (3:1-5)

F          against the nations (3:6-8)

3:8 The fire of Yahweh’s zeal/jealousy echoes the rationale for the sacrifice of his people in 1:18.

III        Promises of salvation (3:9-20)

G         a day of hope for the nations (3:9-11)

H         a day of salvation for the people of God (3:12-20)

3:12-20 Note the connection between the salvation and judgment oracles: humble 3:12, 19//2:3; remnant 3:13//2:7, 9; restore your fortunes 3:20//2:7.

[1] Structure based upon my own reading, and observations in Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 457-62; John S. Kselman, “Zephaniah, Book of,” ABD, 6: 1077-1080.

Also see introduction to the prophets, and see bibliography on the prophets.

Copyright 2011