Zephaniah - Introduction
The placement of the book of Zephaniah is apparently chronological; along with the preceding books, Nahum and Habakkuk, it dates to the seventh century BCE. The superscription ( 1.1 ) traces Zephaniah's ancestry back to Hezekiah and dates his ministry to the reign of King Josiah (640–609). Since the name Hezekiah is uncommon in the Hebrew Bible, this unusually long genealogical note probably refers to the famous Judean king (727/715–698/687). Whether of royal descent or not, Zephaniah certainly was a Jerusalemite ( 1.10–11 ). His father's name, Cushi ( 1.1 ), could mean “the Cushite,” and has prompted some speculation about African ancestry for the prophet (cf. 2.12; 3.10 ). Aside from his name (which means “Yahweh has protected”) and these intriguing genealogical issues, nothing is known about the prophet.
Zephaniah's condemnation of practices prohibited by Deuteronomy ( 1.4–6,8–9,12; 3.1–7 ) suggests that he prophesied before Josiah's reforms of 621 BCE (2 Kings 23 ). The oracles thus can be dated, perhaps, to 630–620, and are roughly contemporaneous with those in Nahum.
The main motif of the collected oracles is the Day of the LORD. In the initial oracle ( 1.2–6 ), the Day of the LORD is described in terms of a global catastrophe brought on by worship of other deities ( 1.4–6 ). The next two oracles or sections of the same oracle ( 1.7–13; 1.14–2.3 ), maintain this tone of gloom. Invoking traditions about the ancient flood (see 1.2–3n. ), for Zephaniah the impending divine judgment will be one of fire ( 1.18 ). Near the end of this section, the prophet gives a muted (“perhaps,” 2.3 ) call for repentance. The next section consists of oracles against Judah's rival nations ( 2.4–15 ), followed by the speeches that indict Jerusalem ( 3.1–8 ). Oracles of salvation ( 3.9–20 ) complete, and balance, the collection.