Introduction to Zephaniah

The prophet Zephaniah was possibly the great grandson of King Hezekiah, who was a reformer. However, Hezekiah’s successors went to the opposite extreme and promoted idolatry. Zephaniah wrote during the reign of King Josiah, who was another reformer. It is possible that Zephaniah played a role in inspiring Josiah’s attack on idolatry. Zephaniah’s work may have come before Habakkuk.

Despite Josiah’s strong efforts, Zephaniah does not mention his fight against Baal worship or his revival of feasts and temple worship. It seems that Zephaniah believed that Josiah’s reforms were only superficial and did not truly turn the people back to God. Therefore, the prophet speaks of judgment at the hands of the Chaldeans. This judgment would not just bring hard times or defeat, but complete destruction, compared to a flood. In fact, we know that only 50,000 people returned from the Babylonian captivity out of a population of over 2,000,000 during the time of Joshua. The people are condemned as idolaters and syncretists. Jerusalem is described as filthy and polluted, its rulers as abusive, and its judges as wolves. The false prophets, who were numerous and countered the true prophets with reassuring words, are described as deceitful and treacherous. The priests are said to defile the sanctuary with their actions.

Zephaniah, like other prophets, speaks of “the day of the Lord.” This term refers to a time of God’s judgment, when His patience gives way to His judgment and the prophets no longer exhort the people but announce their doom. Zephaniah’s message is about the end of Jerusalem and the nation, not the end of the world. Zephaniah saw political upheaval and the rise and fall of empires as God’s work through human agents. The Chaldean armies of Nebuchadnezzar were the immediate agents of judgment, but Zephaniah quotes God as saying “I will…” repeatedly.

While judgment is certain, Zephaniah also speaks of a future growth of righteousness in broad terms. He prophesies that God will be worshipped by people from all nations and that offerings will be brought from faraway lands.

At the time of Judah’s history when apostasy was widespread, there was a belief that God was inactive and would not intervene in human affairs. Zephaniah challenges this false thinking by declaring that “the just Lord is in the midst.” This is a reminder that we, moderns, must also take to heart.

Zephaniah FAQs

How to pronounce Zephaniah?

Zephaniah is pronounced “Zef-an-i-uh”

How many chapters are there in Zephaniah?

Zephaniah is amongst the books of the Bible known as the minor prophets because they are shorter in number. Zephaniah has only 3 chapters.

Where is Zephaniah in the Bible?

Zephaniah is the 36th book of the Bible being the 9th of 12 minor prophets located after

What is the central theme and message of the book of Zephaniah?

While the theme of Zephaniah is commonly said to be the day of the Lord, there is a case to be made that the overall message is that “God is in the midst” or that God is among them (Zeph 3:5, 3:15, 3:17). This is a theme central to the overarching thrust of Scripture that God is setting aside a people for Himself and that He will dwell among them and be their God (Gen 8:8, Ex 29:45, and so on).

What is the Day of the Lord in Zephaniah?

The Jews in Zephaniah’s time were looking to the day of the Lord as their own vindication. Zephaniah takes that expectation and and turns it on them. Since they are wicked, the day of the Lord is going to be a time of judgment and destruction. This was accomplished in stages first with the Scythians who make trouble for the Jews after which come the Babylonians who destroy the temple so that the Day of the Lord came to Judah in 586. Zephaniah is alluded to in Matthew and Revelation for judgement that came in 70AD. There will also be a final Day of the Lord at the end of time where all people will give an account.

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