The Book of Zephaniah

I. Title

       The title is the same in Hebrew as it is in the English and Greek translations. The name Zephaniah could mean "Yahweh hides", and may thus reflect the terror in the days of Manasseh, at the time of Zephaniah's birth. Sabottka, J. M. P. Smith, and J. D. W. Watts, on the other hand, have pointed out that his name might also be derived from a combination of Zaphon and Ya (an abbreviation for Yahweh). Zaphon was an important Canaanite deity who gave his name to a mountain north of Israel, where the gods were supposed to live. The combination of Zaphon and Ya could then be translated as "Zaphon is Yahweh". Such a confession would claim that the God which some people call Zaphon is really Yahweh. Zaphon is also the common Semitic word for "north" (cf. Gen. 13:14; Ex. 26:20; 40:22; Jer. 1:14; Is. 14:13, 31; Ezek 8:14; Psa. 48:3; 89:13; Job 26:7).

II. Author and Setting

       A. Author

       The name Zephaniah occurs ten times in the Old Testament and is spelled in a couple of different ways. Perhaps four different people are called Zephaniah:

1. The prophet whose book bears his name (Zephaniah 1:1)
2. A priest, the son of Maaseiah (Jeremiah 21:1; 29:25, 29; 37:3; 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18)
3. A Kohathite, the son of Tahath (1 Chronicles 6:36)
4. A priest, the father of Josiah (Zechariah 6:10, 14).

       B. Setting

       In light of the words in the superscription (1:1), the reader might suppose that the date of Zephaniah would not be a problem. Clearly, Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC). However, the question is, exactly when during his reign did Zephaniah prophesy: before the reforms of 621 BC or after?
       Most scholars prefer a date before Josiah's reform in 621 BC, because Zephaniah spends the book denouncing such syncretistic practices as Baal worship and child sacrifice, which had become more widespread in Israel since Manasseh's reign. By denouncing such practices, Zephaniah could have been a contributing influence in bringing about reform. However, some scholars have noted that the text mentions "the remnant of Baal", in 1:4, which suggests that the reforms had already come, but failed, in that a remnant of Baal worship still persisted.

III. An Outline of Zephaniah

I. Judgment on the "earth" 1:1-3
II. Judgment on Judah 1:4-2:3
III. The Day of Yahweh 2:4-3:20

Questions on Zephaniah

1. When did Zephaniah prophesy?
2. To which kingdom did he prophesy?
3. What is unusual about Zephaniah's family background?
4. How does Zephaniah characterize Jerusalem?
5. What does Zephaniah have to say about the "day of the Lord"?