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Zephaniah Essay

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Zephaniah Essay

The book of Zephaniah contains messages of divine judgment against Judah and Jerusalem, as well as against other nations. It addresses a rare concentration of references to central issues in the history of ancient Israel. Idolatry, violence, and deception abound in Judah when Zephaniah began prophesying. Zephaniah’s prophesying made it clear that Yahweh would execute vengeance upon unrepentant wrongdoers. His adverse judgments would be visited not only upon Judah and Jerusalem, but also upon other peoples: the Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Ethiopians, and Assyrians. Significantly, Zephaniah, the prophet, never stands at the center of the book of Zephaniah; the word of Yahweh is at the center of the book. Zephaniah is mentioned only insofar as he is necessary for the interpretation of the text.

Zephaniah neither performs miracles nor claims that his prayers may influence or even change the expected course of events, he does not perform any symbolic acts, and is not related to the Temple. Instead, he is a speaker who delivered a sophisticated speech concerning the future and called for repentance (Zvi). Relatively little is known about the prophet Zephaniah, whose name in Hebrew, Tsephan-Yah’ means, “Jehovah has concealed (Freedman). In contrast with other prophets, however, Zephaniah provided his genealogy to the fourth generation, back to Hezekiah. (Zephaniah:1:1, Jeremiah: 1:1, Ezekiel:1:3) Most commentators agree that his great-great grandfather was King Hezekiah. Therefore, Zephaniah was of royal descent and this would have added to his harsh condemnation of the princes of Judah and have shown that he was a courageous prophet of Yahweh. (Zvi)

In Zephaniah 1:1 the “Word of Yahweh” came to Zephaniah at a certain historical time, in the days of Josiah. Thus, the days of Josiah are set as a background against which the text is read. (Zvi) Josiah ruled from 640-609 B.C.(Mason) However, when in the days of Josiah, whether it was before or after the reform is a question that does not have a definite answer. The arguments brought on behalf of the idea that he prophesied before the reformation are that the kings are not mentioned in Zephaniah 1:4-9, and especially in verse 8 where the officers and “the sons of the king” are mentioned. Therefore one may infer that the king had no real influence and power. An additional argument supporting his prophesy before the reformation was that the cultic notice in Zephaniah 1:5 reflects the situation before the reform but not after. The proposal that Zephaniah prophesied after the reform is based on the understanding in Zephaniah 1:4 as “the remnant of Baal.” Provided that this understanding is correct, one may assume that Zephaniah knew about the reform, and in spite of it, or because its success was only partial, prophesied the coming judgment.(Zvi)

The book of Zephaniah opens on a note of doom. “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the LORD” (Zephaniah 1:2). Nothing will escape, of man or of beast. Baal worshipers, foreign god priests, rooftop worshipers of the heavens, those who mix Yahweh’s worship with Baal’s, those drawing back, and those not interested in seeking him- all must perish. The prophet commands, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests” (Zephaniah1:7). And in Zephaniah 1: 4-6 Judah is given special mention. Zephaniah 1:7-13 describes how the day of the LORD is at hand. It describes how there will be wailing and mourning in the city of Jerusalem, and the LORD will search out and punish the complacent. This day is described as “a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zephaniah 1:15). Zephaniah 1:8 describes how Yahweh will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who dress themselves in foreign attire. A post-monarchic community can be interpreted that the supposed saying of Zephaniah concerning the day of Yahweh in Zephaniah 1:7-8 as prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Then, the temporal awareness along with a minimum of historical knowledge, leads to the conclusion that Zephaniah must have prophesied about a future not too distant from his days but by no means imminent, if his prophecies were fulfilled. (Zvi)

Zephaniah proclaimed the coming day of the LORD, “The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against fortified cities and against lofty battlements” (Zephaniah 1:14-16). Chapter

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