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Zephaniah, ninth in order of the minor prophets, prophesied "in the days of Josiah" (Zep 1:1), that is, between 642 and 611 B.C. The name means "Jehovah hath guarded," literally, "hidden" (Ps 27:5; 83:3). The specification in the introductory heading, of not only his father, but also his grandfather, and great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, implies that the latter were persons of note, or else the design was to distinguish him from another Zephaniah of note at the time of the captivity. The Jews' supposition, that persons recorded as a prophet's ancestors were themselves endowed with the prophetic spirit, seems groundless. There is no impossibility of the Hezekiah, who was Zephaniah's great-great-grandfather, being King Hezekiah as to the number of generations; for Hezekiah's reign of twenty-nine years, and his successor's reign of fifty-five years, admit of four generations interposing between. Yet the omission of the designation, "king of Judah," is fatal to the theory (compare Pr 25:1; Isa 38:9).
He must have flourished in the earlier part of Josiah's reign. In Zep 2:13-15 he foretells the doom of Nineveh, which happened in 625 B.C.; and in Zep 1:4 he denounces various forms of idolatry, and specially that of Baal. Now Josiah's reformation began in the twelfth and was completed in the eighteenth year of his reign. Zephaniah, therefore, in denouncing Baal worship, co-operated with that good king in his efforts, and so must have prophesied somewhere between the twelfth and eighteenth years of his reign. The silence of the historical books is no argument against this, as it would equally apply against Jeremiah's prophetical existence at the same time. Jewish tradition says that Zephaniah had for his colleagues Jeremiah, whose sphere of labor was the thoroughfares and market places, and Huldah the prophetess, who exercised her vocation in the college in Jerusalem.
The prophecy begins with the nation's sin and the fearful retribution coming at the hands of the Chaldeans. These are not mentioned by name, as in Jeremiah; for the prophecies of the latter, being nearer the fulfilment, become more explicit than those of an earlier date. The second chapter dooms the persecuting states in the neighborhood as well as Judea itself. The third chapter denounces Jerusalem, but concludes with the promise of her joyful re-establishment in the theocracy.
The style, though not generally sublime, is graphic and vivid in details (compare Zep 1:4-12). The language is pure, and free from Aramaisms. There are occasional coincidences with former prophets (compare Zep 2:14, with Isa 34:11; Zep 2:15, with Isa 47:8; Zep 3:10, with Isa 18:1; Zep 2:8, with Isa 16:6; also Zep 1:5, with Jer 8:2; Zep 1:12, with Jer 48:11). Such coincidences in part arise from the phraseology of Hebrew prophetic poetry being the common language of the inspired brotherhood. The New Testament, at Ro 15:6, seems to refer to Zep 3:9.
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