1. Author and Time of Writing
The name of Zephaniah means “treasured (protected, hidden) of Jehovah”. Zephaniah is the only prophet to mention four generations of his ancestors. Many scientists think that his forefather Hizkiah is identical with king Hezekiah of Judah of the same name (716 – 687 BC). According to his own indication in chap. 1:1 Zephaniah ministered in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah (640 – 609 BC). The time in between seems rather short for four generations but on the other hand his special royal descent could be a reason for this genealogy. This is also confirmed by Jewish tradition.
Zephaniah lived in the capital of Jerusalem (compare with chap. 1:18.104.22.168) and had admission to the court. The prophets Nahum, Habakkuk and Jeremiah were his contemporaries.
From chap. 2:13 one can conclude that Zephaniah must have prophesied before the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC. Many scientists believe Zephaniah to have prophesied even before king Josiah’s reformation. The reformation started in Josiah’s 18 th year which was around 622 BC. This assumption is supported by references such as Zeph. 1:4-6.8-9.12; 3:1-3.7. It is possible that Zephaniah through his ministry was the author of king Josiah’s and the people’s return to God (compare 2 Kings 22 – 23; 2 Chron. 34 – 35). There had already been a return to Jehovah under king Hezekiah but all good things had been lost again by the godless reigns of Manasseh and Amon.
2. Purpose of Writing
Zephaniah is a prophet of judgment. He prophecies of the imminent devastation of the land of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem because of Judah’s injustice, hypocrisy and idolatry (chap. 1). This prophecy was fulfilled in 586 BC. This is why the faithful remnant is called to seek Jehovah when the nations near and far will feel Jehovah’s vengeance (chap. 2). The actual corrupted state of things stands in contrast to the future blessings of the people as described in chapter 3.
The whole book makes it clear that Zephaniah looks far ahead of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem on to that dreadful day of Jehovah, the day of His anger and judgment, upon which however will follow the blessing of the millennial reign of peace.
a) The Day of Jehovah
The day of Jehovah is mentioned as follows in the book of Zephaniah:
Chapter 1:7 - the day of Jehovah
Chapter 1:8 - the day of Jehovah’s sacrifice
Chapter 1:9 - the same day
Chapter 1:10 - that day
Chapter 1:14 - the great day of Jehovah
Chapter 1:15-16 - a day of wrath, of trouble and distress
Chapter 1:18 - the day of Jehovah’s wrath
Chapter 2:2 - the day of Jehovah’s anger
Chapter 2:3 - the day of Jehovah’s anger
Chapter 3:8 - the day that I rise up to the prey, says Jehovah
Chapter 3:11 - that day
Chapter 3:16 - that day
The day of Jehovah plays an important part in Zephaniah’s prophecy. It is not the time of the then imminent destruction of Jerusalem but the time of the Messiah’s reign which is still to come. This day will start with the Messiah’s appearing to judge the nations and will include the following time of the millennial reign of peace. It is called “day of the Lord” in the New Testament (2 Thes. 2:1) but the expression must not be mixed up with the “first day of the week”, which is called “the Lord’s day” (the day belonging to the Lord) in Rev. 1:10. – The OT describes the day of Jehovah mostly under the aspect of judgment (compare with paragraph 3. Peculiarities in the commentary on Joel)
b) Zephaniah and the Other Prophets
The book of Zephaniah shows extremely many similarities with other prophetic books of the OT. By this the godly harmony is shown in the prophecies of such different men who have lived at totally different times but who always presented the one goal of God: the glory of the Messiah and His earthly people in the Millennium as well as the events leading up to it.
The following shows some parallels (surely more might be added):
Zephaniah 1:7 - Isaiah 13:6; 34:6
Zephaniah 1:13 - Amos 5:11
Zephaniah 1:14 – 16 - Joel 2:1-2
Zephaniah 1:15 - Isaiah 22:5
Zephaniah 2:13 – 15 - Isaiah 34:13 – 15
Zephaniah 3:10 - Isaiah 18:1.7
Zephaniah 3:12 - Isaiah 14:32
Zephaniah 3:19 - Micah 4:6 – 7
Jeremiah the contemporary of Zephaniah historically and morally describes the fall of Judah. Habakkuk who was a contemporary also depicts more the moral view of Jeremiah while Zephaniah shows in brevity the historical events of Judah’s and Jerusalem’s fall.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Zephaniah 1:1 – 2:3: The Imminent Invasion: A Picture of the Day of Jehovah
II. Zephaniah 2:4 – 15: Judgments of Judah’s Neighbouring Nations
III. Zephaniah 3:1 - 20: Jerusalem’s Actual Sin and Future Blessing