ZEPHANIAH, BOOK OF
This book of the Hebrew Scriptures contains the word of Jehovah by means of his prophet Zephaniah. It was in the days of Judean King Josiah (659-629 B.C.E.) that Zephaniah carried on his prophetic work. (Zep 1:1) In the 12th year of Josiah’s reign, he being about 20 years of age, the king began an extensive campaign against idolatry, and from the 18th year of his rule until its conclusion, his subjects “did not turn aside from following Jehovah.” (2Ch 34:3-8, 33) Therefore, since the book of Zephaniah mentions the presence of foreign-god priests and the worship of Baal and heavenly bodies in Judah, the time for its composition may reasonably be placed before the start of Josiah’s reforms about 648 B.C.E.—Zep 1:4, 5.
Idolatry, violence, and deception abounded in Judah when Zephaniah began prophesying. Many were saying in their heart: “Jehovah will not do good, and he will not do bad.” (Zep 1:12) But Zephaniah’s prophesying made it clear that Jehovah would execute vengeance upon unrepentant wrongdoers. (1:3–2:3; 3:1-5) His adverse judgments would be visited not only upon Judah and Jerusalem but also upon other peoples—the Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Ethiopians, and Assyrians.—2:4-15.
The prophecy of Zephaniah would have been especially comforting to those who were endeavoring to serve Jehovah and who must have been greatly distressed about the detestable practices of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, including her corrupt princes, judges, and priests. (Zep 3:1-7) As rightly disposed persons would have looked forward to the execution of divine judgment upon the wicked, they are evidently addressed with the words: “‘Keep yourselves in expectation of me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘till the day of my rising up to the booty, for my judicial decision is to gather nations, for me to collect together kingdoms, in order to pour out upon them my denunciation, all my burning anger.’” (3:8) Eventually, Jehovah would turn favorable attention to the remnant of his people Israel, restoring them from captivity and making them a name and a praise among all other peoples.—3:10-20.
Authenticity. The authenticity of the book of Zephaniah is well established. Often the thoughts expressed in this book find a parallel in other parts of the Bible. (Compare Zep 1:3 with Ho 4:3; Zep 1:7 with Hab 2:20 and Zec 2:13; Zep 1:13 with De 28:30, 39 and Am 5:11; Zep 1:14 with Joe 1:15; and Zep 3:19 with Mic 4:6, 7.) It harmonizes completely with the rest of the Scriptures in emphasizing vital truths. For example: Jehovah is a God of righteousness. (Zep 3:5; De 32:4) Although providing opportunity for repentance, he does not indefinitely allow transgression to go unpunished. (Zep 2:1-3; Jer 18:7-11; 2Pe 3:9, 10) Neither silver nor gold can deliver wicked persons in the day of Jehovah’s fury. (Zep 1:18; Pr 11:4; Eze 7:19) To be favored with divine protection, a person must conduct himself in harmony with God’s righteous judgments.—Zep 2:3; Am 5:15.
Another outstanding evidence of the book’s canonicity is the fulfillment of prophecy. The foretold destruction came upon the Assyrian capital Nineveh in 632 B.C.E. (Zep 2:13-15) and upon Judah and Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. (Zep 1:4-18; compare 2Ki 25:1-10.) As allies of the Egyptians, the Ethiopians evidently experienced calamity at the time Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt. (Zep 2:12; compare Eze 30:4, 5.) And the Ammonites, Moabites, and Philistines eventually ceased to exist as a people.—Zep 2:4-11.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF ZEPHANIAH
Messages of divine judgment against Judah and Jerusalem, as well as against other nations; also an announcement of restoration for Jerusalem
Written by Zephaniah early in Josiah’s reign, before the reforms that he began in about 648 B.C.E.
Jehovah’s day of judgment is near (1:1–2:3)
Jehovah will finish everything off the surface of the ground
All in Judah and Jerusalem who practice idolatry, who swear to Jehovah as well as by a false god, who draw back from serving Jehovah, or who have not sought him will be cut off
Princes, violent ones, deceivers, will be among those sought out for attention; all who feel that Jehovah will not act for good or for bad will see their wealth and property come to nothing
Jehovah’s day is coming, a day of fury; neither silver nor gold to provide escape
Meek ones of the earth should seek Jehovah as well as meekness and righteousness; then, probably, they will be concealed in the day of his anger
Punishment for Judah’s neighbors and more distant Ethiopia and Assyria (2:4-15)
The Philistines will be destroyed; Moab will become desolate like Sodom, and Ammon will be like Gomorrah for reproaching Jehovah’s people
Ethiopians will fall by the sword; Assyria will be destroyed; Nineveh will be devastated, with wild animals taking possession of its ruins
Jerusalem’s rebellion and corruption (3:1-7)
The oppressive city, Jerusalem, is also marked for judgment; she did not trust Jehovah and draw near to him; her princes, judges, prophets, and priests all acted corruptly instead of using their influence for good
The people did not fear Jehovah and change their ways even after witnessing his judgment on other nations
The outpouring of Jehovah’s anger and the restoration of a remnant (3:8-20)
Jehovah’s anger will be poured out on nations and kingdoms
Peoples will be given a pure language so as to call on Jehovah’s name and serve him shoulder to shoulder
Only the humble and lowly will remain among God’s people Israel and enjoy security under His protection
All those responsible for afflicting Israel will be punished; the regathered remnant will be made “a praise among all the peoples of the earth”