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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

- Zephaniah

by Johann Peter Lange



Pastor At St. Gertraud, And Professor Of Old Testament Theology In The University Of Berlin.


Professor Of Biblical Literature In The Presbyterian Theological Seminary At Chicago, Ill.


1. Author and Date

Zephaniah (Jehovah hides, i.e., protects; LXX. Vulg.: Sophonias) [Jerome derives the name from צפה and supposes it to mean speculator Domini, “watcher of the Lord”—C. E.] gives, in the heading prefixed to his prophecy, of the authenticity of which there is no reason to doubt, fuller notices of his person and time than Nahum and Habakkuk. He traces his descent back through four generations to one Hezekiah.1 If, from his subjoining this genealogy, we may, with Cyril, draw the conclusion that the prophet was οὐκ ά̓σημος τὸ κατὰ σάρκα γένος (Hieron.: gloriosa majorum stirpe ortus), then it follows still more certainly from the circumstance of his concluding with the name of Hezekiah, that he lays an emphasis upon the fact of his being directly descended from him; and hence a great number of modern exegetes following the lead of Aben Ezra (on Joel 1:1), have rightly considered this ancestor the king of the same name, so that Zephaniah would be descended from royal blood. If Carpzov, Jahn, De Wette object to this, that between Hezekiah and Josiah, under whom Zephaniah prophesied, only two generations (Manasseh, Amon) existed, Keil has justly referred [to meet the objection] to the long reign of Manasseh. The objection of Delitzsch, that if Hezekiah were the king [of that name], it would have been indicated by appending his official title, does not likewise absolutely disprove it. Zechariah 1:1, mentions his ancestor Iddo (comp. Nehemiah 12:4), only by name, not by office; and yet Iddo was a priest, and a distinguished one, as we may conclude from the fact that Ezra 5:1, (comp. Ezra 6:14), passing over an intermediate member [of the genealogy] designates Zechariah directly as the son of Iddo. Finally, the fables of the Pseudo-Dorotheus and Pseudo-Epiphanius, which assign this prophet, like Nahum and Habakkuk, to the tribe of Simeon, deserve no consideration.

The prophecy, according to the heading, falls in the reign of King Josiah, 641–610. That the few points of contact with Habakkuk (undoubtedly there is but one, Zephaniah 1:6, comp. Habakkuk 2:20; for the evening wolves, Zephaniah 3:3, comp. Habakkuk 1:8, stand here in an entirely different connection) afford no ground to place Zephaniah in the time of Habakkuk and consequently after the death of Josiah, has already been proved in the Introduction (2) to Habakkuk. They fall under the same point of view as the far more frequent points of contact with Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Malachi, which are noted in the exegetical interpretation. On the other hand it is evident from Zephaniah 2:13, that the destruction of Nineveh is to the prophet still in the future; and the descriptions of the condition of the times correspond in many ways to the parallel ones of the first period of Jeremiah, who began (Jeremiah 1:2) to prophesy in the thirteenth year of Josiah. By both documents is the statement of the heading confirmed.

On the other hand, it is doubtful, in what period of the reign of Josiah, which continued thirty-one years, this prophecy, which by its internal coherence (see below 3) is proved to be a unit, is to be placed. Josiah began to reign when he was eight years of age; and when the kingdom was in a very ruinous condition by the evil influence of Manasseh and Amon. As early as his sixteenth year, the heart of this youth turned to the Lord (2 Chronicles 34:3); and as soon as he had grown to energetic manhood, this pious man commenced a decided activity for the religious and moral elevation of the popular life. By this reform his reign is divided into two, more strictly considered, into three great periods of a distinct character. Namely, the narrative of the Book of Kings, according to which the reformatory activity is concentrated into the eighteenth year of the king’s reign (2Ki 23:1 ff. 2 Kings 23:21 ff.), receives a more minute statement by the more detailed account in Chronicles, according to which the first measures of the king against idolatry began as soon as the twelfth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 34:3 if.), whilst the positively final reforms, with reference to it, of which the Book of Kings gives an account, are crowded into the eighteenth, viz.: the appointment of the Temple repairs (2 Chronicles 34:8 ff.) and the events which followed the discovery of the law on this occasion (2 Chronicles 34:15 ff.; comp. 2 Kings 22:8 ff.); the consultation of the prophetess Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:20 ff.), the convocation of the people (29 ff.), and the feast of the Passover (2 Chronicles 35:1 ff).

Accordingly we have one period before the reform (1–11 year of [Josiah’s] reign); one after the reform (19–31); and the reformation period itself (12–18) between them. To place the prophecy, as H. Ewald and Hävernick do, in the first period, is clearly impracticable. For when the prophet (Zephaniah 1:4) speaks of a remnant of Baal, it supposes, that a large part of Baal-worship, which was still dominant during the reign of Amon and until the twelfth year of Josiah (2 Chronicles 33:22; 2 Chronicles 34:4), had already been overthrown. The prophecy of Zephaniah will, therefore, like the calling of Jeremiah, certainly fall after the twelfth year of Josiah. Consequently, the majority of interpreters, especially v. Cölln, Hitzig, Strauss, assign the prophecy to the reform-period itself. However, various considerations are against this. Certainly little importance is to be attached to the consideration that “the king’s sons” (Zephaniah 1:8), of whom, in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, Jehoiakim was only twelve years of age, Jehoahaz ten, and Zedekiah not yet born (comp. Delitzsch in Herzog, Real-Enc, xviii. p. 500), could not yet have exhibited in this period, the impious character denounced by the prophet; not for the reason that characters are earlier developed in the East, as Delitzsch remarks,—for the age of twelve and ten is still too young to furnish a ground for this interpretation,—but because the expression, “king’s sons,” is a comprehensive one, and may designate generally princes of the royal blood (2 Kings 11:2; comp. ver. 1; 2 Chronicles 22:11).

Another weightier reason seems to be against it [placing the prophecy in the reform-period—C. E.]. The law, certainly Deuteronomy, is very frequently quoted in this book, (comp. in the Com. Zephaniah 1:13; Zephaniah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:17; Zephaniah 2:2; Zephaniah 2:5; Zephaniah 2:7; Zephaniah 2:11; Zephaniah 3:5; Zephaniah 3:19-20), and so quoted as to show that the prophet needs only to put [the people] in mind of it, as something supposed to be known. (Compare particularly Zephaniah 3:20.) This could not take place at a time when the book of the law was as good as forgotten; consequently not at the time which preceded the discovery of the book of the law; but it finds its explanation only in the powerful impression, which the reading of the recovered law must have had upon prophets and people (2 Kings 23:1 ff). For the law seems to have come already again into public use, and it is violated by the priests (Zephaniah 3:4). Moreover, the entire book nowhere takes into view a promotion of the royal reform (which, however, might be expected, if it had been contemporaneous with it), but it represents the condition of the people as a final one (comp. 2 below), which is irrecoverably doomed to judgment; and by this as well as by isolated references [Wendungen, turns] (comp. Zephaniah 1:18), the prophet presupposes the prophecy of the prophetess. Huldah (1 Kings 22:16 ff, 1 Kings 22:19 ff). We will consequently have to come down to the third period of the reign of Josiah. That there was even in this period a remnant of Baal, we may conclude from 2 Kings 23:34, where it is said that even after the eighteenth year of his reign, the king had still to strive for the extirpation of idolatry. Comp. Ezekiel 8:12.

Luther: I pay little regard to the question raised by Hieronymus, when not only in this place, but also in others, he maintains in a verbose way, that all, who are mentioned here as ancestors of the prophet, must have been prophets. And the Hebrews in such matters, have fancied much, for they are very careful in unnecessary things. I grant that they may have been of the family of the prophets.
[Keil (Introd. to the O. T., vol. i. p. 415), says: “It seems plain, from the notice of the existing public worship of Jehovah (Zephaniah 3:4-5), at the same time that he rebukes the remnant of Baal-worship and other idolatry (Zephaniah 1:4-5), as well as from his still awaiting the destruction of Nineveh (Zephaniah 2:13), that he labored after the reformation of worship had commenced, but before it was completed,—that is, between the twelfth and the eighteenth years of Josiah’s reign; and that he supported the pious king in this work by his exhortations.” This corresponds to the second period of Kleinert.—C. E.]

[The prophecy of Zephaniah dates, according to Zephaniah 1:1, at the time during the reign of Josiah, when the power of the Chaldæans began to assume a menacing attitude.

I. It falls in the earlier period, i.e., in the beginning of the reign of Josiah, before he commenced the abolition of idolatry, consequently, between 641–630, b. c., (a) because he [Zephaniah] declaims against idolatry (Zephaniah 1:4-6), but Josiah first undertook the reform of the worship in the twelfth year of his reign (Jahn), and (b) the destruction of Nineveh is still expected. De Wette, Ewald, Häv., and others.

II. During the restoration of the pure worship, consequently between 630–624 b. c., or between the twelfth and eighteenth years of Josiah’s reign.

(a) The reform of worship, which (according to 2 Chronicles 34:3-8) began in the twelfth year of his reign, could not have been already finished, for—(a) according to Zephaniah 1:4, compared with Zephaniah 3:1, the idolatrous (בְּמָ־ים) existed along with the legitimate priests; and (b), according to Zephaniah 1:4-5 (שְׁאָר הַבַּעַל), Baal and the Host of Heaven were still publicly worshipped (comp. 2 Kings 23:4-5), (comp. 3); the expression, “remnant,” shows that the reform had already begun (I.). (b) The fall of Assyria and the destruction of Nineveh, which took place in the year 625 b. c. (?), are predicted as still impending. Witsius, V. Coelln, Knobel, Hitzig, E. Meier, Strauss.

III. After the renewal of the covenant with God, which was joined with the renewal of the Passover (2 Chronicles 34:8 to 2 Chronicles 35:22), consequently between 624–609, because Zeph., Zephaniah 1:8, speaks of the king’s sons, who, during the periods I. and II., were still in their minority, and because the law, found in 624 b. c., is taken for granted as known. Bertheau. Klein.

O. R. Hertwig’s Tabellen.      C. E.]

2. Character of the Time

If we compare the delineations given by Zephaniah of his contemporaries with those of Jeremiah, who lived at the same time, the character of the period presents itself as bad enough. The phenomenon, which we observe in Micah, that sins attained to so high a pitch just under the reign of the pious Hezekiah, is repeated here in the reign of the pious Josiah. To understand this phenomenon we must call to our aid the consideration, that wherever the light rises clear, the darkness in comparison with it appears the deeper as it rolls away. [The greater the orb of light, the greater the circle of surrounding darkness.—C. E.] During the very time of the kings who promoted the reformation, the prophets had a twofold motive to accuse, before God and man, the ungodly of their incorrigible opposition.

The king to be sure is not a despiser of God, but his nearest relations are; and the abandonment of the national religion and morals has its central place (Zephaniah 1:8) in the sphere of the men of rank. The law exists, but since the ruling classes are corrupt (Zephaniah 3:3 f., compare Jeremiah 2:8), it is the same as if it did not exist: it exists for abuse and oppression (Zephaniah 3:4, compare Jeremiah 8:8 f.). The service of Jehovah is publicly reëstablished: his worship is officially purified; but the Baals, and Molochs, and the host of heaven sit enthroned in their hearts, by the side of the lip-service of Jehovah (Zephaniah 1:4 f., compare Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:17 f.). And the idolaters are far from concealing their idolatry: they have still their priests and idol-worship (Zephaniah 1:7 f.), and swear at the same time to Jehovah and the idol (Zephaniah 1:5, compare Jeremiah 5:2; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 7:9). The service of Baal is a remnant, but a powerful remnant, which is rooted in the national character and does not yield to the good; while the pure service of Jehovah having become cryptopaganism has lost the quickening power of sanctification: The prophets prophesy, but not God’s word; they utter their own fine-spun deceits (Zephaniah 3:4, compare Jeremiah 5:13). And in the great mass of the people the religious feeling, which Micah could still recognize, is extinct. Even among those, who do not make themselves directly guilty of idolatry, many are actuated not by fidelity to God, but by perfect indifference (Zephaniah 1:12, b). A perishing race and dead in a living body, they sit upon their money-bags, and regard Jehovah with unconcern (Zephaniah 1:12; Zephaniah 1:11). If Micah’s contemporaries yet at least still asked: Wherewith can I reconcile God? (Micah 6:0); they say: Jehovah does no good and no evil (Zephaniah 1:12). They are a shameless people (Zephaniah 2:1; Zephaniah 3:5; compare Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 6:16 ff.): the city is rebellious, polluted, oppressive (Zephaniah 3:1; compare Jeremiah 4:17; Jeremiah 2:22; Jeremiah 6:6). Everything that God has done for it and is still doing is thrown into the sieve; exhortations are fruitless, so also are the exhibitions of power (Zephaniah 3:17, compare Jeremiah 2:30; Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 6:9; Jeremiah 6:19). They receive no discipline willingly; and it is evident that even the final efforts of the king and of the witnesses of God have no effectual result. So the punishment cannot fail to come.

3. Summary of Contents

On looking over this prophecy we discover at once, as its chief objects, both the fundamental problems of all prophetic anouuncement, viz., the great day of judgment, to the description of which the first chapter is devoted, and the salvation connected with it, the announcement of which forms the subject of the third chapter from the eighth verse onward. Thus the external structure of the whole book is easily surveyed. It is divided into six parts, of which each one separately has a very evident connection:—
I. The Exordium, Zephaniah 2:1-6. Announcement of the judgment of the world, and the reason of the judgment upon Israel, arising from the evil condition of the present.

II. The description of the judgment, Zephaniah 1:7-18.

(a) In reference to its objects, 7–13.
(b) In reference to its dreadfulness, 14–18.
III. An exhortation to seek God, Zephaniah 2:1-3.

IV. An announcement of the judgment upon the heathen nations, Zephaniah 2:4-15.

V. A repeated description of the remediless misery in Jerusalem, Zephaniah 3:1-7.

VI. The promise of salvation, Zephaniah 3:8-20.

(a) The salvation of the heathen following the judgment, 8–10.
(b) The purification of Israel, 11–13.
(c) The salvation of Israel, 14–20.
It is now a question whether these parts, connected in themselves, but in relation to each other very much disunited, stand related to one another by an internal connection. Exegetes place as the foundation of the collective view the division into chapters, and thus obtain three great divisions, without, however, establishing thereby a connection of the whole: the incoherence of the parts continues to exist in the separate chapters. Compare e. g., the summary of contents which Delitzsch gives on the ground of the division into chapters, at the place cited, p. 494. Strauss combines chapters 2; and 3; Keil divides the book into three sections: 1; Zephaniah 2:7 to Zephaniah 3:6; Zephaniah 3:8-20; Hitzig, 1, 2, Zephaniah 3:1-20. However these are only imperfect remedies and partly not even conformable to the purpose. Unless we are willing to consider the prophecy a collection of fragments, to which, however, the immediate impression as well as the beautiful coherence of the beginning and the end is opposed, the attempt to seek for an internal thread of connection for all the parts is required, and we will thereby have to put the division into chapters out of the question.

In the first place it is evident, that the brief exhortation to seek God while there is still time, (Zephaniah 2:1 ff.), is naturally and self-evidently connected as a hortatory conclusion to the threatening of judgment (Zephaniah 1:0), and that we must consequently limit the extent of the first great division to Zephaniah 1:1 to Zephaniah 2:3, to the announcement, reason, description of the judgment and exhortation.

Now how is chapter Zephaniah 2:4 ff. related to it ? It refers to a series of devastations of foreign lands: Philistia, Moab, and Ammon are to be laid waste; after that the remnant of the children of Israel are to enter into their possessions. Destruction is also to come upon Cush and Nineveh. And certainly the prophet, in this description, does not follow the march of a definite historical catastrophe like Amos, who perhaps has before his eyes the military expeditions of the Assyrians, and Jeremiah, who has before him those of Nebuchadnezzar (Chapter 25); but the heathen nations are grouped together according to the order of the cardinal points of the heavens, west and east, south and north. The first pair (Philistia, Moab=Ammon), represent the neighboring nations; the second pair (Cush, Nineveh), represent the distant powers of the world; they stand representatively for heathen nations generally (comp. on Zephaniah 2:4 ff.), for it is also expressly declared to these representative nations (5:11), that the prophecy is intended to be really universal in its character.

Now this announcement of judgment seems mainly to be a simple continuation of the description of the day of judgment in Zephaniah 1:0. But the execution of these judgments upon the heathen (Zephaniah 3:6-7), is urged as a reason that Jerusalem should have changed for the better; but she continues to sin still far worse. And if the remnant of Israel is to enter (Zephaniah 2:7; Zephaniah 2:11) upon the possession of the desolated lands of the heathen, who had been destroyed (Zephaniah 2:4 ff.), it is plain, that a catastrophe, which is no other than the judgment upon Israel, must be placed between the restoration of this remnant and that state of impenitence, which continues in Jerusalem after the desolation of these lands (Zephaniah 3:6-7). Accordingly Zephaniah 2:4 ff. cannot be the amplification of the judgment upon Israel; but it, together with Zephaniah 3:1 ff., presupposes it.

Accordingly both the parts, Zephaniah 2:4-15; Zephaniah 2:1-7, are connected with a second great section, in such a way that the prophet announces a series of chastisements upon the heathen nations, which find their climax in the destruction of Nineveh (comp. Introd. to Nahum); and which, although they are at the same time exhibitions of grace on the part of God toward Judah (comp. Nahum 2:1), are nevertheless just as fruitless as the reproofs, exhortations, and threatenings of judgment, which He uttered and denounced against Israel himself (Zephaniah 3:5). Accordingly, if the promise that the remnant should enter into the inheritance of the heathen, which is the necessary result, is to be fulfilled, Israel himself must first pass through the judgment. Neither Zephaniah 2:4 ff., nor Zephaniah 3:1 ff. speaks of this; therefore the day of judgment, which was described 1–2: 3, can only be meant by it. And hence this second great division is connected with Zephaniah 1:0 as a double statement of the reason, for it also begins with בּי: the day of judgment upon the wickedness [mentioned] Zephaniah 1:4-6 is coming Zephaniah 1:7; Zephaniah 2:3; for although Jehovah overthrows the heathen (Zephaniah 2:4-15), yet Israel continues as he was (Zephaniah 3:1-7). After Zephaniah 3:7, the discourse, if the logical connection, according to our occidental mode of thinking, were to be completed, might return to Zephaniah 1:7. This is a frequent method with the prophets, to begin with that which is threatened, and then follow with a statement of the reasons. (Comp. above, p. 3, at the end.)

Instead of the repetition of chap 1 the further progress of the prophecy, which, consequently, according to the logical connection of the whole, is properly connected with [and resumes] the conclusion of the first part, Zephaniah 2:3, is, in the third division, Zephaniah 3:8-20, immediately joined with Zephaniah 3:7. After the separate judgments Zephaniah 2:4 ff., which fall upon the heathen severally in their own land, these same nations are assembled once more, in order that in a last great decisive battle with Jehovah their power may be broken, Zephaniah 3:8; then they come into the kingdom of God [treten sie zum Reiche Goltes hinzu], Zephaniah 3:9 f. Judah is purified by the judgment, Zephaniah 1:0 and his remnant inherits the promise: God is in the midst of him and his prisoners are restored (Zephaniah 3:11-20).

The whole structure [Gesammtzusammenhang] of the prophecy is accordingly closely modeled after that of Obadiah: (1) Judgment,Zephaniah 1:1 to Zephaniah 2:3; (2) Moving cause, Zephaniah 2:4 to Zephaniah 3:7; (3) Salvation, Zephaniah 3:8-20. But it is evident that in the judgment there are several distinct parts [Momente]: (1) The immediately impending separate judgment upon the heathen nations, Zephaniah 2:4-15; (2) the final judgment upon the heathen, Zephaniah 3:8; (3) the judgment upon Israel, Zephaniah 1:7-14; Zephaniah 3:11. All three parts together form the great world judgment, which is presented to view, Zephaniah 1:2 f.; and in their totalley they form the condition [Voraussetzung] of the salvation.

4. Historical Relations of the Prophecy

The Scythians, who, contemporaneously with the fall of the Assyrian empire, marched through Hither Asia, laying it waste (comp. Introd. to Nahum, p. 10), entered also the territory of the Holy Land. Herodotus (1:104) expressly states, that their march was directed through Syrian Palestine against Egypt, and that Psammetichus, King of Egypt, succeeded only by presents and entreaties, in restraining them from forcing an entrance into his territories. They marched back through the country of the Philistines, and the stragglers of their hordes plundered the sanctuary of the goddess at Ashkelon. (Comp. also Sync. ed. Dresd., p. 214.) The city of Bethshean is named Scythopolis after them, Jos. Ant., 12:8, 5. (The etymology Σκυτόπολις recently favored by Hitzig, on Hosea 10:14, is far more improbable.) The passage, 2Ma 12:30, and also Pliny (Hist. Nat., 5:16), mention Scythians still dwelling there. The fact of their marching through is indubitable. And it certainly falls within the year 634, when Cyaxares was prevented by them from investing Nineveh, and 617, when Psammeticus died. (Comp. also Delitzsch, Habakkuk, p. 18; Ewald, Gesch. Isr. [Hist. of Israel], 3:746 ff.; M. y. Niebuhr, Gesch. Assurs und Babels [Hist, of Assyria and Babylon], pp. 67, 110, 187; M. Duncker, Gesch. des Allerthums [Hist. of Antiquity], 1:751 ff.)

To this expedition of the Scythians, for conquest, this prophecy has, in modern times, been referred (Cramer, Bertheau, Ewald, Hitzig). Now it is certainly scarcely to be denied, that among the enemies, by whom Jeremiah, the contemporary of Zephaniah, announces great devastations, Jeremiah 4-6, the Scythians are included; for the manner in which he here and there describes them (the Scythians were a Mongolian tribe, Duncker, at the passage cited, 1:734, comp. Neumann, Scythen in Hellenlande, 231 ff., 264 ff.) as a strange, uncultivated, nomadic people (comp. namely, Jeremiah 4:16 f.; Jeremiah 4:5; Jeremiah 4:15 ff.; Jeremiah 6:3), differs very much from that in which the dense military hosts of the Mesopotamian conquerors (e. g., Isaiah 5:0; Habakkuk 1:0) are described. But in Zephaniah the matter is far from being very clear. The description of the devastation of the heathen lands, (Zephaniah 2:0) bears, as we see, a universal ideal character; for of the countries mentioned there Cush was not reached by them, Nineveh was not destroyed by them, and Moab and Ammon were probably scarcely touched by them. Just as little can the chief contents of the prophecy, in the judgment threatened upon Jerusalem, be applied to the Scythians. That the enemy falls upon the city from the north (comp, on Zephaniah 1:10 f.) is certainly not, as some interpreters think, decisive of its application to the Babylonians: the Scythians also came at first from the north; and the north side is the most accessible part of the city; but it is certainly likewise a purely ideal march: the harassing of the country from the north is, since Joel 2:20, a permanent characteristic of all threatening prophecies. And moreover the final judgment by which the holy remnant is to be restored and to which all the heathen nations are to be gathered, is pressed, but with the most unnatural violence, to a special historical reference. There remains, viewed impartially, only a single passage, in which it seems that notice is taken of the expedition of the Scythians, and that is the reference to the taking possession of Philistia (Zephaniah 2:6). Here the contact with Jeremiah 6:3, and the reference to a migratory people are so apparent (Jeremiah 6:7 is disjoined from Jeremiah 6:6 by the intervening judgment of Israel), that it seems almost in accordance with a definite aim to exclude, as Küper, Maurer, Strauss, Delitzsch, and Keil do, the expedition of the Scythians, of which, however, Zephaniah, from the condition of his time, must have had knowledge; and yet for this aim [Tendenz] no rational ground can be seen. But it can be certainly said of this passage, in the first place, that the reference to the Scythians is not indispensably necessary (comp. on Zephaniah 2:7), and, in the second place, that we are not yet necessitated to find, even in this reference, an immediately and directly historical expedition. As Zephaniah 2:12 is taken from Nahum 3:8 ff.; Nahum 2:13; so this march in the description of the day of judgment is taken from Jeremiah 6:3. The description is an abstract one, which deals not so much with historical details as with the idea of the judgment, and hence prefers to fall back upon types, or examples. Both the obstinate support of the hypothesis of a Scythian expedition throughout the book, and the entire exclusion of the Scythians in favor of the individual application to the Babylonians, which is just as little indicated, show a want of the faculty of discriminating between special prediction (as Habakkuk 1:0, Nah.) and general prophecy (as Isaiah 24 ff, Isaih 34 f, Micah 6:7).

[Keil’s Introd. to the O. T. vol. 1, p. Zep 418: “Against the opinion of Cramer, Eichhorn, Movers, Hitzig, Ewald, and E. Meier, that Zephaniah prophesied of the invasion of Palestine by the Scythians (Herod. 1:105), there are these considerations: (a.) That Zephaniah does not give any more precise designation of the enemy, Zephaniah 1:7, Zephaniah 3:15; but that in Jeremiah 4-6, where there has likewise been the wish to find Scythians, the Chaldæans are most undoubtedly intended (comp. Küper, Jer., p. 13 f.). (b.) That the very narrative in Herodotus leaves it doubtful whether that invasion by the Scythians touched the kingdom of Judah. (c.) That Zephaniah’s prophecy of the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem, and of the chief cities of other kingdoms, does not suit the marauding incursions of the Scythians, who, like savage hordes as they were, did no more than plunder countries, and were satisfied with booty. Comp. Strauss, p. 18 ff.; Häv., pp. 392–93; and Maurer, Comment., 2 p. 572.”—C. E.]

5. Literary Character

The form of representation of this prophet differs essentially from that of Nahum and Habakkuk. This lies, in the first place, in the more significant character of the contents. His language wants the plastic power and concinnity of expression, which spring from the powerful intuition of an immediately impending event: it is more suited to things than to events. He has in this respect his exemplar in Joel, who certainly excels him in the poetic coloring of his description. And this brings us to a second particular, to an individual peculiarity of Zephaniah. His prophecy lacks the sustained poetical character. However in this respect also he has his example, in single passages, in Micah (comp. viz. Micah 3:0), as in the first his style is essentially influenced by Micah 6:7, and, in general, he frequently reminds us of that prophet. He has even imitated him in individual embellishments of speech, as e. g. the paronomasia of the names of cities, Zephaniah 1:4, without, however, attaining the weight of his powerful predecessor. Next to Micah the influence of Isaiah upon his mode of expression is everywhere manifest. Finally, peculiar to his style is the fullness of verbal allusions to earlier prophecies and to the Torah, by which it frequently receives a somewhat “abbreviatory” (Delitzsch) character. Yet this peculiarity [Erscheinung, phenomenon] has perhaps, under the immediate impression of the reading, been frequently exaggerated by interpreters. While they involuntarily and unconsciously add to the numerous points of agreement drawn from the earlier prophets also the not less numerous known expressions, which the later prophets have borrowed from him, it has become the custom with the majority of exegetes to treat him merely as a compiler, and e. g. in the inquiries concerning the age of controverted prophecies, instantly to urge the circumstance that the same constructions are found in Zephaniah that are found in them, as an argument for their higher antiquity. This is done by Delitzsch. But it is unfair. Although his style is more pathetic than poetic; although single figures are constantly occurring, which may appear exaggerated to the more than æsthetic taste of an Eichhorn; although here and there the form, but nowhere the peculiar color, the energetic rhythm of the prophetic parallelism, seems to be preserved; although finally he is well acquainted with the Scripture, and readily leads the spirit, that speaks by him, into turns of expression employed by his predecessors, yet this spirit, also in him, is one that is entirely independent and fully conscious. And the impressive deeply impassioned severity of his style, well deserves that his book should be designated, as the dies irœ of the Old Testament. (Comp. the Vulg. Zephaniah 1:15.)

6. Position in the Organism of Scripture

The division of the prophets, which has recently come into use, into an Isaian and a Jeremian series, according to which Delitzsch briefly states the characteristic of Zephaniah, by saying that he begins the Jeremian series, cannot, according to the remark under 5, and in general, be maintained. Each of the prophets has his peculiarity; and if, as we saw, the influence of Jeremiah upon Zephaniah is not to be mistaken, yet his peculiarity is not thereby impaired. Next to Jeremiah may be mentioned Joel, Micah, and also his immediate predecessor, Nahum, with whom in part internal relationship, and in part numerous points of contact (comp. the Exeget. Expos.), closely connect him.
His significance in the collection of the prophetic canon lies in the first place in the centre of his prophecy, the doctrine of the judgment. In no prophet is this doctrine so affluently set out, and so characteristically grasped as in him. The doctrine of the purifying judgment upon Israel, and that of the retributive judgment upon the powers of the world, which effected the redemption of Israel, and which are presented as they gradually come to light, the former in Isaiah and Micah, the latter in Obadiah, Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum, are combined in Zephaniah with the doctrine of the final judgment upon the whole heathen world, which, prefigured by Joel, by Ezekiel 38 f., and Zechariah 12:0, is here expanded. By the side of the preceding separate prophecies of the judgment the prophecy of Zephaniah ranks as an apocalypse of the general judgment, which does not belong entirely to any of the four periods of prophecy relating to the judgment (comp. Com. on Obadiah, p. 14), but is one in which the rays of all meet and unite in a well arranged picture of the whole. And thus his significance in the second place is in general this,—that he is in a certain degree a thesaurus of the prophetic theology. For even of the other problems of prophecy a series of the most important is treated and placed in its necessary connection with the law and with the whole of the development of the kingdom. The words, in which Bucer in the preface to his commentary, assigns his reasons, why he undertook to expound this prophet: “Brevis quidem ille, sed sensibus adeo fecundus, ut omnium sane quœ prophetœ reliqui quam libet maqnis libris ad nos transmiserunt elegantem nobis epitomen composuisse recte dicatur,” are, although somewhat extravagant (for, e. g., Zephaniah does not have the doctrine of the personal Messiah), yet on the whole justly characteristic. Along with the prediction of the judgment the old prophetical theologoumenon of the remnant, which receives the promise (פְּלֵיטָה, שְׁאָר, שְׁאֵרִיה, יֶהֶר), is brought into clear light (Zephaniah 2:7; Zephaniah 3:12 f.; comp. Obadiah 1:17; Joel 3:5; Amos 5:15; Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 37:32; Micah 5:6 f.). So also the conversion of the heathen, Zephaniah 3:9 ff.; comp. Isaiah 18 ff.; the gathering of Israel effected by the return of the captives, Zephaniah 3:19 f.: the grounding of salvation upon the pardoning grace of God, etc. Finally, there is a trait peculiar to him, viz., the intimate relation of worship to the sanctification of the heart. If in the series of the threefold judgment before the salvation the incidents from the life of Elias are realized in history, 1 Kings 19:0; 1 Kings 1:0 Kings 11 : f. (comp. also, Zephaniah 1:7 with 1 Kings 18:40), so in the reproof of the mingling [of idolatry] with the service of God, Zephaniah 1:4 ff., we perceive a realization of: “How long halt ye between two opinions? (1 Kings 18:21.) And as Zephaniah considers the impurity of heart, calling for judgment, proved by this corruption of worship, so he describes the salvation by the pure lips with which the heathen praise Jehovah (Zephaniah 3:9).

With respect to its external position in the Canon, it is certainly in time older than Habakkuk, and follows close upon Nahum. Yet it is, as it appears, for two reasons, placed in its present position: after Habakkuk, on account of the coincidence of his exordium, Habakkuk 1:6, with the conclusion of the properly prophetic discourse of Habakkuk 2:20 (חַס); and before Haggai on account of the coincidence of his ending Zephaniah 3:20 with the beginning of Haggai 1:2 (עֵה). Comp. above, p. 3.

[“There was extant in the ancient Christian Church an apocryphal work in Zephaniah’s name (ἀνάληψις, or προφητεία τοῦ Σοφονίου προφήτου),out of which Clemens Alex. (Strom., 5 p. 585), and Pseudo-Epiphan. (De Vitis Prophetarum), quote passages. In the Synopsis Scripturœ Sacrœ, and in Nicephorus, Stichometria, No. 9, it is added among the Apocryphal Books of the Old Testament, and its extent is stated as six hundred verses.”

Bleek’s Introd. to the Old Testament, vol. 2 p. 157.      C. E.]

7. Literature

Separate Commentaries. Mart. Bucer, Comment, in Tzephanjam, Argentor, 1528. [Martin Lutheri, Comment. in Sophon. Prophet. Opera Latina, t. 4—C. E.] P. Höcke, Zergliedernde Auslegung der Propheten (Nahum, Habakkuk, und) Zephanjah, Frankf., 1710, 4to. [Analytical exposition of the prophets (Nahum, Habukkuk, and) Zephaniah. J. H. Gebhardi: Erklärung des Propheten Zephanjah [Interpretation of the Prophet Zephaniah], Frankft. Aa. O. 1728, 4to. D. v. Cölln, Spicilegium Observatt. Exeg. Critt. ad Zephanjœ Vaticinia, Vratisl, 1818, 4to. P. Ewald, Der Prophet Zephanjah, Erl., 1827. F. A. Strauss, Vaticinia Zephanjah Comm. illustr., Berol., 1843.

Separate Treatises. J. A. Nolten, De Prophetia Zephanjœ, Francf. ad. V., 1719. Ikenius, De Cemarim, Bremæ, 1729, 4to. C. F. Kramer, Scythische Denkmäler in Palästina [Scythian monuments in Palestine], Kiel, 1777. C. Th. Anton, Versio c. iii. Proph. Zeph. c. nova v. 18, interpret, Gorl., 1811, 4to. J. A. Herwig, Beiträge zur Erläut. des Propheten Zephaniah, in Bengel’s Archiv., Zephaniah 1:3. [Contributions to the explanation of the prophet Zephaniah, in Bengel’s Archives, Zephaniah 1:3.]

Devotional. Joh. Cäsar, 21 Predigten über den Propheten Zephaniah, Wittenb. [21 sermons on the prophet Zephaniah, Wittenberg], 1603.

[F. Delitzsch, art. “Zephanja,” in Herzog, Real-Encyc. L. Reinke, Der Prophet Zephanjah, 1868. Hitzig, Keil.      C. E.]


[1][The A. V. has Hiskiah; but Hiskiah and Hezekiah have the same from in the original. There is no reason, therefore, for a different orthography.—C. E.]

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