Zephaniah :: Catholic News Agency

Author: Zephaniah, son of Cushi

Date Written: 640-609 BC


Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah (640-609 BC).  The Bible does not mention him elsewhere, but from his book we can discern that he was familiar with the Temple workings, the priests and the inner political circle of Jerusalem.  His name means "the Lord hides, keeps or stores up."


The book of Zephaniah is a short announcement of God's impending judgment on Judah (1:2-2:3) and the surrounding nations (2:4-3:8) with a note of hope for restoration at the end (3:9-20).  The book takes up many themes found in the other prophets: judgment, restoration and the in-gathering of the nations.  Zephaniah lived under Josiah between the Assyrian conquest of Israel (722) and the Babylonian conquest of Judah (587).  Josiah's reign over Judah was particularly influential in biblical history because he instituted a reform of worship and religious practice (2 Kgs 22-23).  Zephaniah probably prophesied before the 622 reform because he speaks against current idolatrous practices, which were suppressed during Josiah's reform.  Zephaniah accurately predicted the 612 fall of Ninevah before it occurred (2:13-15).


The message of Zephaniah is in harmony with the other prophets.  He announces the Lord's severe judgment against Judah because of the nation's sins of idolatry.  The people have turned their backs on the Lord and worshiped Baal, the "host of heaven," and Milcom (1:4-6).  Zephaniah tells of the Day of the Lord on which the Lord will execute his judgment on the sins of Judah (1:14-18).  Zephaniah points to Judah's betrayal of the Lord for other gods which has led to corrupt and unjust leadership (3:3-5).  But the surrounding nations will be punished for their persecution of the Lord's people Judah (2:10).  Zephaniah's voice emphasizes the Lord's rejection of sinful human pride which pits itself against the Creator.  The prophet urges "the remnant of the house of Judah" (2:7) to seek righteousness and humility (2:3) to be spared from the coming wrath.  Zephaniah points to a day when all the nations will turn to the Lord (3:9).  He prophesies that a righteous remnant will be left in the land of Israel and will joyfully share in the Lord's victory.  These will enjoy a relationship with God filled with gladness, love, singing and praise (3:12-20).


Zephaniah takes us from a terrifying message of judgment where God will "utterly sweep everything away" (1:2) to a beautiful picture of a loving relationship with God wherein he will "rejoice over you with gladness" (3:17).  He points to the immediate future as full of suffering and judgment, but the ultimate future as a time of glorious restoration.  As Christians, we can embrace the message of Zephaniah by humbly accepting the redemptive sufferings of human life while seeking the Lord, his righteousness and humility.  Yet we anticipate a coming glorious age in which he will "restore our fortunes" (see 3:20) and we will see him face to face. 


By Mark Giszczak

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