Zephaniah (Biblical book)

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A 14th century manuscript showing the beginning of the Book of Zepheniah.

The Book of Zephaniah is a book in the Old Testament, and the ninth of the Minor Prophets. It has been called "the compendium of all prophecy", containing as it does many elements found in other prophets' work,[1] such as Isaiah, Amos, Joel and Micah. This parallelism has been called the thread of "Godly harmony [visible] 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."[2] The book is concerned with judgement, and stands as "a powerful reminder for Christians that they also should expect God's discipline."[3] It warns against foreign religious practices, idolatry, and those who doubt the threat of the Lord's wrath. The Day of Judgement is the key concept, with the possibility for deliverance if the people repent. The judgment will leave a "humble remnant that will seek its refuge in the Lord."[4][5]

The book also closely parallels the Book of Revelation. Both have the same basic structure:

  • Judgement of God's people - Israel/the Church
  • Judgements on the nations - Zephaniah 2/Revelation 4-15
  • The Day of Judgement - Zephaniah 3:1/Revelation 20
  • God's blessing - Jerusalem/new Jerusalem
  • The return - God as King/Jesus as King

An otherwise obscure prophet from the distant past is thus revealed as being central to Christian understanding of the future. This is an important example of progressive revelation in the Bible, and how the concepts in the New Testament reflect and fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament: "Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).

Contents

Language

The book was written entirely in Hebrew. Stylistically, it has been described as "a forceful book. Its language is vigorous... and betrays an acquaintance with the Earlier Prophets."[6] Faulhaber, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, observed: "it is confined to the range of thought common to all prophectic exhortations: threats of judgment, exhortation to penance, promise of Messianic salvation. For this reason [it] might be regarded as the [archetype] of Hebrew Prophets and as the final example of the prophetic terminology. [The author] does not seek the glory of an original writer, but borrows freely both ideas and style from the older Prophets... The language is vigorous and earnest, as become the seriousness of the period, but is free from the gloomy elegiac tone of Jeremiah. In some passages it becomes pathetic and poetic, without however attaining the classical diction or poetical flight of a Nahum or Deutero-Isaiah. There is something solemn in the manner in which the Lord is so frequently introduced as the speaker, and the sentence of judgment falls on the silent earth. Apart from the few plays on words [he] eschews all rhetorical and poetical ornamentation of language.[7].

Author

Zephaniah is described as "the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, King of Judah... If he was of royal descent, he probably lived in Jerusalem; and evidence of this is seen in his prophecies, where he describes various parts of the city."[8] His familiarity with activities at the royal court, and references to members of the royal family, offer further support for this.[9] The opening line of the book, however, does not state that Zephaniah himself is the actual author - rather, it identifies the book as a revelation received from God by Zephaniah: "The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah" (Zephaniah 1:1) While the author of the prophecy is therefore almost certainly Zephaniah, the scribe who actually penned the work - and at which point in time - remains anonymous and unrecorded.[10]

Provenance

Sweeney[11] dates Zephaniah to the early sixth century B.C. based upon the often subtle differences between the Masoretic Text, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, and targums. The oldest surviving copy was written in 75 B.C.

To whom written

The book is directed towards the people of Judah and neighbouring states.

Structure

The book is structured around 8 major themes, which serve:

  • To proclaim judgment on the entire world
  • To proclaim the Day of the Lord as a time when God will come to judge the wicked (including the wicked of Judah) and deliver His own
  • To proclaim judgment on the nations which surrounded Judah: Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Assyria and Egypt
  • To proclaim hope for the remnant of Judah
  • To expose the unfaithfulness of Judah's rulers
  • To encourage Judah to accept correction by hearing of the judgment on her neighbors
  • To expose Juda's unwillingness to accept correction from Yahweh
  • To describe the ultimate changes which God will bring about as the nations become worshippers of Him and He becomes Judah's King/Defender[12]

Message

The message of the book can be concisely summarized as judgment of the wicked and hope for the faithful. "Zephaniah reminds us that God is offended by the moral and religious sins of His people. God's people will not escape punishment when they sin willfully. Punishment may be painful but its purpose may be redemptive rather than punitive. The inevitability of the punishment of wickedness gives comfort in a time when it seems that evil is unbridled and victorious. A person has the freedom to disobey God but not the freedom to escape the consequences of that disobedience. Those who are faithful to God may be relatively few, but He does not forget them."[13]

See also

Zephaniah (Translated)

External links

  • Zephaniah Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible (1706). Hosted at Crosswalk. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
  • Keathley, Hampton IV Study on Zephaniah (Biblical Studies Foundation 1993). Hosted at Bible.org. Retrieved 19 November 2008.

References

  1. Pawson, J. David Unlocking The Bible p.544 (London, Collins; 2003) ISBN 978 0 00 716666 4
  2. Remmers, Arend Zephaniah and the Other Prophets Zephaniah (2006) biblecenter.org. Retrieved 29 July 2008.
  3. Pawson, p.553
  4. Eaton, J. H. Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (London: SCM Press; 1961)
  5. Soggin, J. A. Introduction to the Old Testament (rev ed; London; 1980)
  6. Hirsch, Emil G., Price, Ira Maurice Zephaniah (1901) The Jewish Encyclopedia.
  7. Faulhaber, Michael. "Sophonias (Zephaniah)" The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. Retrieved 29 July 2008.
  8. The Jewish Encyclopedia op cit.
  9. Blenkinsopp, Joseph A History of Prophecy in Israel p.113 (Westminster John Knox Press; 1983) ISBN 0 6642 4479 3
  10. Floyd, Michael H., Knierim, Rolf P. Minor Prophets: Part 2 pp.169-171 (Wm. B. Eerdmans; 2000) ISBN 978 0 8028 4452 1
  11. Sweeney, Marvin A. Zephaniah (Hermeneia/Logos 2003)
  12. Malick, David An Introduction to the Book of Zephaniah Bible.org. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
  13. Book of Zephaniah (2008) Got Questions Ministries. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
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